No Right Turn

4/54/54/54/5

Part Fantasy. Part Mystery. All Pulp!

Writer/director, David Noel Bourke has a real talent for capturing the underside of Danish society. I have no idea as to the accuracy of his portrayal of the minor criminals that populate this film, but it certainly all feels sleazily realistic.

No Right Turn centres on four main characters. Johnny (Tao Hildebrand) is a drug-addled drug dealer full of empty plans and married to Nina (Laura Bach), a former prostitute who Johnny believes has abandoned her previous profession for him. Teddy (Lars Lippert) is a client of both Johnny and Nina.

Into all of this steps Monella (Sira Stampe), a painfully shy artist with whom Nina develops a friendship. As the relationship between the two women progresses, Nina eventually tells Monella of her plans to escape Johnnys seedy world – with his money – and asks Monella for her help

So far we have all the tropes for a familiar story of betrayal and revenge. But a number of things set this film apart from the run-of-the mill crime thriller, the first one being the atmosphere of the film. Although this is an independent film and not one that is flush with cash, Bourke manages to achieve a great deal with the budget that he has – so much so that the film is more than capable of holding its own in comparison to bigger budgeted films within the genre.

The production values are remarkably high throughout, and the city in which most of the action takes place is a beautifully evoked neon-lit sleazefest of drugs, dive-bars and the low-lives that inhabit them. A selection of very well chosen locations are superbly brought to life by both the cinematography and a soundtrack that really does set the tone for the on screen events.

Not content, however, to remain a straightforward crime story, the film also includes a remarkably well integrated fantasy element. Close to the city is a snow-filled landscape which is not only home to Monella but which also provides a striking contrast to the grim reality of the city.

Ultimately, though, this is a film that depends on the performances of the cast for its success and here, all four of the main characters do a sterling job. This is especially true of Laura Bach and Sira Stampe whose characters relationship provides most of the direction for the plot. The two actresses really do bring both Nina and Monella to life in a manner that is engaging, consistent and utterly believable.

It helps, of course, that the characters are well rounded and – if not always sympathetic – interesting enough that you want to know how things will pan out for them. This is especially true of Johnny who really is one of lifes failures, even if he doesnt realise it. And it does say a lot for the strength of the script that even when faced with someone as unpleasant as this, I still found myself fascinated by his story.

At the end of the day, No Right Turn is a fairy tale masquerading as a crime thriller. The film incorporates familiar themes of innocence and corruption, and guilt and redemption but, by placing these themes into a gritty modern setting, manages to become something utterly unique.

The film has yet to start its festival run but when it does, I heartily recommend that you check it out.

Barstool Cowboy

4/54/54/54/5

Dumped by his girlfriend, Mick (Tim Woodward) – an unemployed cowboy - resolves to remain on a barstool for the next three months while he tries to find some answers to his life at the bottom of a beer bottle. Then he meets Arcy (Rachel Lien), an aspiring artist. A friendship quickly develops between the two and, as it does so, they begin to transform each others lives. Mick, especially, finds himself becoming happier, healthier and much more motivated.

When I read back over that one paragraph summary, it doesnt sound like a lot. And, to be honest, there isnt a great deal of plot in this film – it takes place over a couple of days and Mick and Arcy limit their activities to drinking, dancing, talking and walking.

Where the film does score very strongly, however, is in its two main characters, both of whom are well rounded and genuinely sympathetic. It helps, of course, that both Tim Woodward and Rachel Lien put in such strong performances that really do bring their characters to life. So much so that you quickly develop a very real sense of who Mick is and how he gets so burned so easily. And, as the characters come to life on the screen, you do find yourself wanting to know whether, and how, things will work out between the two of them.

The other real high point of this film is the soundtrack from Natalie Illeana which is beautifully integrated into the film is such a way as to very effectively convey both the tone of the film and the mood of the characters.

Although Barstool Cowboy is a very straightforward story, its also one that is very well told. The two lead characters are both well rounded and genuinely sympathetic characters are beautifully brought to life by a cast and crew with a very evident talent for visual storytelling. Your reaction to the films central message will probably depend largely on the extent to which you identify with Mick but, whatever your reaction, this is a film well worth seeing.

Flying Saucer Rock N Roll

5/55/55/55/55/5

Imagine, if you will, Plan 9 From Outer Space written and directed by someone who not only shared Ed Woods enthusiasm for his chosen genre, but by someone who not only knew what they were doing but also had a sense of humour. And if you can imagine that, you are pretty close to Flying Saucer Rock N Roll.

The film is set in 1957, a happy time (to quote from the synopsis) of big fins, Rockabilly music and innocent teen love. The teens in question are Johnny (Joshua Duthie), the local square who has finally managed to land himself a date with Susie (Shannon Lark).

After a couple of false starts, things finally start to to go right for Johnny. But this cant last and he and Susie are intruded on by Maynard (Elan Freydenson), a beatnik stoner who tells them that the Martian zombies are coming!

Johnny and Susie, of course, find this more than a little difficult to believe until they see the proof with their own eyes and then its up to Johnny to discover his inner cool, rescue his girl and save the world.

It is all very stereotyped, but these are fun stereotypes and they are very effectively brought to life by some very strong performances by the cast. So much so that you find yourself genuinely caring about what is going to happen to the characters, even while laughing at the jokes.

Obviously, being a monster movie, the make-up and special effects do matter and here the film performs admirably. Although the film was made for a very low budget, every penny clearly made it onto the screen and the effects are both effective and (in one case) quite painful to watch.

Music also makes up a large part of the films success with a rockabilly soundtrack – and performances – that manage to capture the spirit of both the film and the era it portrays.

Flying Saucer Rock N Roll is an affectionate, and very funny, tribute to the dodgy science fiction films and monster movies of the 1950s. Writer/director team Joe Eric Callero clearly know and love these films and manage to pay tribute to them in a way that is a lot of fun without needing to descend into overt caricature.

Its well written, solidly acted, and packed with lines that are laugh out loud funny. Id recommend it to anyone.

Womens Studies

3/53/53/5

Open your mind before it gets opened for you

Sam Harris has famously argued that by being accommodating towards moderate religious beliefs, we open the way for more extreme values to insist on the same acceptance. The target of Womens Studies is a political rather than a religious ideology but fanaticism is fanaticism (and religious fundamentalism has much more to do with political power than with finding faith) and the film tries to explore the way in which the process of radicalisation works.

Mary (Cindy Marie Martin) is a feminist and graduate student in Womens Studies with a bright political future ahead of her – until she realises that shes pregnant. This leaves her torn between her political idealism, Catholic guilt and career aspirations and uncertain of what to do next when she, her boyfriend, Zack (James A. Radack) and two friends Beth (Melisa Breiner-Sanders) and Iris (Laura Bloechl) share a car back to college for the start of a new term.

Marys car is stolen while the four are en-route and a group of students offer to put them up in their nearby academy temporarily. And then things start to get strange.

The Ross-Prentiss Womens Academy is a women only institution, and one that emphasises subjects such as womens studies, business and politics – all of which are studied from an exclusively feminist perspective.

Mary finds herself drawn to the ideals of Judith (Tara Garwood), a senior student at the academy and the prime mover of much that happens here, who quickly ensures that the four friends are separated from each other. Iris, uncertain and more than a little naïve, finds herself under increasing pressure to not only buy into the student ethos, but also to become a student herself. With Zack isolated and, frankly, a bit useless it falls to Beth to see that something is wrong here. Unfortunately, the others arent listening

Womens Studies is an original take on the Isolated teenagers genre of slasher films and one that does make a serious stab at exploring the sort of exclusionary behaviour, peer pressure, groupthink and bonding rituals that typifies a cult and that can draw someone along the line from idealism to terrorism. It helps that the characters are consistently well rounded and given real depth by a consistently strong cast. These characters – both the protagonists and the academy students – manage to remain both consistent and believable and it is this that gives the film a lot of its strength and makes it such a shocking experience.

In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of the characters – and they were certainly strong enough to have supported some deeper development – and less of the ending, which was longer than it needed to be and tended to over-labour some of the points.

That said, the film does have an excellent coda.

TV The Movie

3/53/53/5

Don't find Jesus, find my money!

Oscar (Oscar Castro) and Brett (Brett Poquette) are a pair of producers – their production being a public access cable TV show. They are also behind on their mortgage – three months behind, and facing foreclosure. Our heroes need to find funds, and quickly.

So begins an absurdist mockumentary about a group of film school graduates, a small time gangster and a Muppet as they try to find a way to keep themselves – and their programme – afloat. Their schemes range from the silly to the surreal until they finally hit upon the idea of making a film about making a cable TV show.

Making a film about making a film is something that has been done before, but what separates this film from similar efforts is that the programme at the centre of events – The Adam Bomb Show – really does exist. The people involved in the film are the same people that are behind the TV show (Im not so sure about the Muppet, though) and this really does add to the sense of camaraderie amongst the characters.

This approach also makes for a unique combination of faux documentary, character comedy and absurdist sketches all of which slot together rather effectively. But what really carries this film forward is the sheer likeability of the two main characters.

The characters of Oscar and Brett are very well drawn and rounded enough to feel like real people and to generate some genuine empathy. The writing is thoroughly brought to life by the two actors who both put in strong enough performances that, even when things start to get silly, they remain both believable and sympathetic.

I found the film is a little hit and miss in places, although at least some of this is probably down to a lack of familiarity on my part with public access TV. However, the jokes do come thick and fast, and there are many more that work than dont.

Overall, this is a fun film peopled with a collection of amiable characters whose circumstances do keep you genuinely interested in how things will pan out. The structure of the film also allows it to take a subtle dig at the accuracy – or otherwise – of more mainstream documentaries and, as a gentle satirist, I think that writer/director T. Anthony Moore could have a great future.

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