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EXPRESSWAY TO YOUR SKULL (2014)
Reviewed by Luke Rodriguez
Posted November 07, 2015
I had a conversation earlier this morning with some fellow Modern Horrors staffers about the conveniences of modern filmmaking. Cameras, microphones, and post production software are all better and more affordable than they have ever been. I'm sure that's why there is no shortage of micro budget horror films these days. A few thousand dollars and a trip to your local Best Buy is really all it takes before you can consider yourself a bonafide filmmaker. Or is it? You can have the greatest gear in the world, but if you have no vision, or style, or passion - none of that really matters. That's what lead me to Expressway to Your Skull. Writer/Director Michael Okum's budgetary constraints are often apparent in his feature film debut, but there's no denying the man's passion or vision.
The film follows a young couple that takes an impromptu trip to the forrest to "get back to nature". It's never really made clear why they're going off the grid (other than some vague stuff happening with the boyfriend), but none of that matters. They're there, and they have a backpack full of weed and mushrooms. What could possibly go wrong, right? As you may imagine, shit goes south for our nature-loving couple, but not in the ways you may think. There's no local legend parading around in a goofy mask with a pitchfork, no native american creatures or werwolves stalking them through the trees, and no nearby haunted cemetery leaking paranormal entities into the woods. Just a man.
I've always been a fan of stories where real people do bad shit to other real people. Something about them always seem plausible no matter what backdrop they're placed in front of. That's (mostly) the case in Expressway to Your Skull. A great deal of the film's marketing is directed towards this being a "trippy" film, and I'm not so sure that's the case. Yes, there are some vibrant colored transition animations, and the main characters do go on the hunt for mushrooms once they find themselves disappointed with their own stash - but that's far from the crutch of this film.
In my opinion, any time Expressway to Your Skull begins to lose its footing or direction, Mark Aaron (Charlie) firmly places it back on the track of horrifying realism. Not to discredit the other leads, but this would have been a drastically different experience if not for the performance turned in by Aaron. While the story may plod along from time to time - stick with it - the finale is truly tense. I found myself holding my breath, listening to every sound, and reading the lips of two people in desperate need of help. This one scene colored the lens in which I now see the film through.
This isn't a standard horror movie, at least not by today's standards. Expressway's "subject matter, film style, musical composition, and overall vibe would fit much better in the 1970's; in a smoky video store next to Wes Craven's Last House on the Left or Michael Winner's The Sentinel. If you're into that type of thing, then this one's for you. If not - I say check it out for the final act alone.
Reviewed by Baron Craze
Posted by Duane
At no time does the film screw into wondrous abandonment of senses, it stays rooted, focus on a hidden agenda and goal, but mixes the genres from romance to thriller to dark drama ending in horror. Ed (Paul S. Tracey) and Amy (Lindsay Atwood) meet the intriguing hermit Charlie (Mark Aaron) who already makes his appearance with creative designs to a believable vulnerable Cindy (Katie Royer), who he hope would become his spiritual connection. It is difficult not to provide too many details, as one really needs to discover this gem, especially as the scenes involving Aaron, a feisty man, trained in all elements of the survivability in the woods, firearms and knives, an intriguing mentality and yet at peace with the connection to a more evolve spiritual plane, of strength and love. Charlie has a deep and layered discovery awaiting the viewers, while Tracey and Atwood characters stay very engage with each other and thereby capture the attention of everyone.
Nothing is further from the truth, Charlie's presence adds volumes of depth just from his stature and echoes through his demeanor, measure only by his tone and affliction in stress of words. The story has a masterful touch of generating suspense, producing a film worth of tension filled terrorizing moments striving for the attention from every supporter of the independent market.
Reviewed by MGDSQUAN
October 21, 2015
Here's why I think Expressway to Your Skull will stand out from the crowded "young couple goes into the woods" subgenre of horror. I think, for a reason I can't seem to understand myself, the viewers are going to root for the killer more than the couple he targets for most of the film. There's something very charming about him, a quality that a murderer would want to possess in order to trick unsuspecting victims. The actor, Mark Aaron, is also quite chiseled for a man of his age, so he's deadly in all aspects - guns, knives, wit and strength. He also dabbles in black magic a little, but I don't want to give too much away.
Reviewed by DanielXIII
December 3, 2015
The woods they choose are home to a psychotic black magic practicing psycho named Charlie (Aaron). And that dude is exactly why this flick is a cut above most in the slasher game! Charlie is the most engaging, charismatic character in the film. He's always up to no good, and the supernatural leanings make him even more appealing as he's not just you average "every psycho" with an axe or knife. He pores over arcane texts, sacrifices victims like a high priest of evil, and absolutely commands every scene he is in.
Reviewed by We Are Indie Horror
Soon the couple cross paths with a so-called "hunter" named Charlie (Aaron) who carries his rifle with him into their camp. At first they are only mildly suspicious of him being a threat. But as their plans for a drug-fueled getaway turn sour they find themselves in a fight for their lives against a psychotic survivalist with a diabolical, mind-expanding scheme of his own.
The name of the film comes from a Sonic Youth song with the same title, which absolutely captures the overall feeling of Expressway To Your Skull. Right off the bat we are shown the dangers and horrors of being alone in the woods. Mark Aaron gives a stellar performance as Charlie, the creepy old hermit. His nuanced performance send chills through the spine throughout the entire film. There are few actors who can fully embrace the rolls they are given, and Aaron takes his to the limit in the best way possible.
Reviewed by Saren Suture
November 4, 2015
In fact, the drugs are used more as a clever plot device and not (as I feared would be the case) a replacement for plot. By the time they meet Charlie, our complex villain, it isn't totally ridiculous that they would decide to go off through the woods with him for the promise of killer hallucinogens.
Charlie, played by the very expressive and effective Mark Aaron, offers an understandable villain. Frightening in his blind and arrogant delusions, as well as the obvious trauma and loss that fuels his need for such ludicrous self-inflation of perceived power, he is one human-sized pile of crazy shit that poor Amy and Ed step right into. Again, the hallucinogenic cinematography seeks to enhance the viewer's empathy and show the fear and confusion of characters in a fight or flight situation trying desperately to pierce through the fog of an altered consciousness flight situation trying desperately to pierce through the fog of an altered consciousness.
Reviewed by David J. Sharp
Oct 25, 2015
The performances from all three leads is something to behold. Mark Aaron gives the psycho in the woods character heavier depth than what we are accustomed to, especially when things branch out into more uncharted territory.
Reviewed by Roderick Heath
Posted January 2016
Okum handles his small cast with authority - Aaron in particular has peculiar charisma even when being monstrous. When the gloves finally come off, the film becomes genuinely gripping. Like Wes Craven, Okum scrapes off the skin of civility on his characters to note the primal reflexes lurking under our socialised behaviours, and he takes on a theme other survivalist thriller makers tend to graze with less consideration - reducing the drama to a macho pissing contest where Ed has to essentially face Charlie on the level of caveman fighting for mating rights.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Young pretty people Ed and Amy (Paul S. Tracey and Lindsay Atwood) are in love and what to young pretty people do in horror movies? They go camping, of course. But when the mushrooms they packed don't have enough kick to them, they happen across a skuzzy old guy named Charlie (Mark Aaron) who promises them some good drugs if they just come back to his rundown Unibomber shack in the middle of the woods. What could go wrong? The performances here are top notch as well as I would imagine all of the cast, especially the creepy Mark Aaron as Charlie, will go on to do bigger and better things. Okum even is able to make bit parts like the hitchhiker (Katie Royer) stand out.
Reviewed by Jesse
February 03, 2016
The other side of the movie follows Charlie, the maniacal character who lives in a shack in the woods. His story is a little more interesting than the couple's as it involves him kidnapping a hitchhiker and keeping her captive in his home. He's also a little bit insane so it makes him a little bit more entertaining to watch. Mark Aaron did his best to fill the role he was given and stands out as the highlight of Expressway to Your Skull.
About two thirds of the way through Expressway to Your Skull is when the two stories collide in a violent climax. This is easily the best part of the movie as everything that happens matters. It does not involve inconsequential story like the couple in the woods, and it turns Charlie up to eleven in terms of his lunacy. Mark Aaron is able to go as crazy as he wants in the role and makes the final third into an entertaining half hour of the movie.
Posted by Really Awful Movies in Horror
Monday, November 02, 2015
The film is challenging, tense and unnerving. And Mark Aaron as antagonist Charlie is pretty fantastic. It wouldn't be hard to imagine Rob Zombie casting him as Otis if Bill Moseley didn't wish to appear in a sequel to The Devil's Rejects.
Reviewed by Splat EHC4Life!
November 11, 2015
Obviously, from what I have already stated, I dug Charlie as well. Charlie reminded me of this American guy I met last year when he was on holidays with his wife. He was a student of Andy Warhole's in San Francisco back in the day. Naturally he is an artist. Invokes religious and spiritual influences in his art that takes the form of intricate drawings. Delves into government conspiracies such as chem trails and what have you. Each year he would drive out into the desert to create and partake.
Watching Charlie he had the same vibe, which was awesome to see!
Reviewed by Ronny Carlsson
Plot: Packed with a tent and drugs, a young couple go on a camping trip because they need to get away and experience something new. In the woods, they meet the local hunter Charlie - and they're about to learn that what Charlie hunts best is man. Charlie is looking for the perfect woman for his ritual.
Review: The movie is made with a small budget and it looks and feels way better than your average B-horror. Simply put, the movie looks good. It's well shot and you rarely get the feeling that you're watching anything of low quality, which is more than I can say about many movies that come out way. The same goes for the acting, which Mark Aaron makes up for if it ever gets bad. The leads, Paul S. Tracey and Lindsay Atwood are definitely competent, but Mark Aaron has an aura that just describes everything about his character in seconds: he's a deceiving and evil bastard and we know it.
CineVegas Review: Redland
by Eric D. Snider
Redland is an art film in the most literal and complimentary sense. Every frame of it looks like an Impressionist painting or an exquisite photograph, and the dialogue is overheard in snippets, the way you half-hear conversations when you're drifting to sleep. The story is non-linear and dreamlike. The film's substance, its actual content, is good, but its style is nothing short of astonishing.
The setting is a rural, isolated mountain home during the Great Depression. These are not the Waltons, though. The unnamed family is dirt-poor, living in a ramshackle house and barely staying ahead of starvation. They subsist on the few chickens and other animals kept on their property. You know the old cliche about how we were poor but we didn't know it, because we were happy? Not these people. These people are poor and miserable.
Worse, the teenage daughter, Mary-Ann (Lucy Adden), has been having a sexual affair with Charlie Mills (Toben Seymour), a neighbor boy her age ("neighbor" means he lives a few miles away), and has been trying desperately to keep it hidden from her father (Mark Aaron) and mother (Bernadette Murray). Father suspects something is wrong with his daughter and asks her brothers -- older Job (Sean Thomas) and younger Paul (Kathan Fors) -- if they've noticed any visitors lurking around, but they say they haven't.
When the family's plight becomes truly life-threatening, with Mother on the brink of death from malnutrition, Father and Job set off on a dangerous trek across the river in search of wild game. Charlie Mills is invited to accompany them, though Father has already grown suspicious of him. (When you live in desolate isolation, the list of possible secret boyfriends for your daughter is short.)
The writer and director is Asiel Norton, who grew up in the isolated mountains of Northern California where the picture was shot and graduated from USC's film program in 2004. (This is his first feature.) He tells the story as if he were eavesdropping on it, with characters half-obscured and camera angles that suggest the point of view of someone spying on them. As a result, some of the more shocking elements are diluted (you'll often think, "Wait, did that really happen?") -- which makes it all the more powerful when something is presented straightforwardly.
This is not an action film. It is quiet, contemplative, and dreamy, reminding me of Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (or anything by Malick, really). The film is the equivalent of a lazy summer afternoon spent napping next to a slow-moving stream, except that the nap is occasionally interrupted by ghastly nightmares.
Norton's characters are inextricably connected to Nature. For all intents and purposes, they live outdoors. They are at the mercy of the weather, and of the abundance or scarcity of wildlife. When the laws of nature are violated, Nature responds violently.
Fittingly, next to Mother Nature, the real star of the film is the cinematographer, Zoran Popovic. Redland features some of the most breathtaking photography I've ever seen in a movie: gauzy one moment, grainy the next, crystal-clear after that, with a wide range of colors and compositions that are always used for a particular effect, never just to be "artsy." On the big screen, in vivid, widescreen glory, the film can be a completely immersive experience.
We Are Movie Geeks
You know well from the opening shots of 'Redland' the direction Asiel Norton is taking you. The less said, the better, even in the film's opening scene, but the starting point of Norton's film, which he wrote and directed, is as memorable and as shocking as anything else found in the film.
It is a film about a family living in the rural area of America during the Great Depression, but that's like saying 'Saving Private Ryan' is a film about a war. On the surface, 'Redland' tells the tale of a young girl who lives in the wilderness with her two brothers, mother and father. The family is struggling, fighting off the hunger and even starvation that faces them day-in and day-out. The young girl is hiding a secret from her family. She has had an affair with a young man, and that affair is the catalyst that drives the narrative forward.
Norton's story, which was co-written by Magdalena Zyzak, goes to the heart of what holds a family together and what can, eventually, tear it apart at the seams. It is a story that never wavers, never lets you feel that the screenwriters behind it have lost their own way. Norton and Zyzak know full well where their story is headed, and every, little detail that stems from the screenplay serves towards the film's final moments. There aren't any real surprises to be found in the screenplay, but that is hardly an issue in the way 'Redland' plays out. Even if you have a sneaking suspicion where the story is headed, you aren't fully sure how Norton is going to handle it or what the ultimate outcome will truly be.
There is a feeling of mystery at play within 'Redland,' as well. The characters are splayed out before you. The story is set. However, you aren't quite sure what direction the film will take in the overall sense. There are countless paths Norton's film could follow. It could grow incredibly violent. It could even delve into the supernatural. Norton never hand-delivers the film in any, single box to its audience. Instead, he forces you to sit back, observe what he has in store for you, and, once it has reached its conclusion, make your own decision as to what it was truly about.
Not long into the film, the story breaks off into two directions. A trio of men go off into the wilderness to hunt for food while the young girl stays at home with her mother and younger brother to fend off the starvation that is slowly creeping in. The screenplay neither neglects one party nor favors the other. Equal time is given to both sides and the struggles each party must endure, and nothing, not one intricacy about the ways the two groups must survive, is left out. This level of detail brings the world of Norton's film into full view. It surrounds you, forces you to see it through the character's eyes, even when what you are forced to see is anything but pleasant.
But, even with the powerful story the film tells and the underlying themes that resonate, Norton captures so much more here than just an interesting story. 'Redland' is a beautiful film. You can just sit back and look at the visuals Norton and cinematographer Zoran Popovic have culminated together to help move the story along. There is a very Terrance Malick feel to 'Redland.' Often we get seemingly random shots of nature and glimmering light through the trees. However, nothing is random in Norton's film. As the message he puts before the end credits states, 'There is no beginning and there is no end. 'Redland' is about, more than anything, life in the face of certain death, the notion that everything goes on, even when death touches you.
Norton is a lover of the craft, and he knows full well how to handle his way around a shot. Every frame of the film is a painting, and Norton and Popovic utilize every aspect they can get their hands on to make the film as appealing to look at as possible. But the film never falls into the "style over substance" trappings that it easily could have. Everything builds the film up as a complete package, and it's power is undeniable.
There is even room in 'Redland' for its actors to shine. A few of them appear to act as stand-ins for necessary roles, but a few of them are quite remarkable. Lucy Adden as the young girl and Mark Aaron as her father serve as the film's leads, and they each give incredible performances that are as subtle as they are bold.
'Redland' is a film that stays with you. Every aspect of it, from the story to the acting to the immaculate usage of the Northern California environment helps aid in the full effect of the film. It is a hard film. Even when the lens appears soft around the edges, the story and theme is certainly not. Regardless, each aspect is unquestionably flawless. 'Redland' is a film as beautiful as it is painful, and, sometimes, painful is necessary.
CineVegas 2009 Review ("The Promised Land")
by The Auteurs
Cheap to fund, digitally shot portraits of everyday life compose the heart and soul of contemporary American independent film. But when a director makes the decision to reject casual naturalism, shoot on film and concentrate on visual beauty, the contrast with typical indie fare is revelatory. Shot on 35mm, Asiel Norton's Redland, which premiered at the 2009 CineVegas Film Festival, is a reminder of how long the spirit of 70's era Malick, Weir, and Altman have been missing from the independent film landscape. Norton says he wanted "the film itself to look alive, like the film was breathing," and Redland does seem like a living entity, resplendent with flaws and blurs, textures and shadows.
Set in an outpost of civilization, Depression-era Redland County, California, the plot follows the stark lines of a Greek tragedy or a passage from the Old Testament. Mary Ann (Lucy Adden), the teenage daughter of a family scraping out an existence on a mountainside, aborts her own child to keep a love affair secret. Her father embarks on a hunting expedition with her lover, and after a delay in the trip, the family begins to starve. Events are abstracted and swallowed up by the atmosphere of the forest, the ebb and flow of nature muting human violence and tragedy. Like McCabe and Mrs. Miller or Picnic at Hanging Rock, the terrain becomes as much a character as the human lives that scramble over it.
With shaggy beards and a laconic, muffled manner of speaking, the almost interchangeable male characters appear to have wandered directly out of shantytowns and homesteads. Their dignified bearing and hollow cheekbones make them resemble Civil War soldiers gone AWOL, more Mathew B. Brady than Walker Evans. The gamine, blonde Mary Anne, functioning as a lighting rod for the emotions of the male characters, is almost animalistic, melting into woods and fields, a lost soul whose fertile body dictates her fate. Throughout the film she provides a colloquial, enigmatic voiceover, an homage to the naÃ¯ve narrators of Badlands and Days of Heaven.
To make the film look like a Hudson River School painting come to life, the DP used anywhere from 7 to 13 filters to impart redwoods, livestock, and flowers with an orange gold glow and hyperreal level of detail. Beads of moisture stand out on mushrooms, salamanders and ants glisten in sun, white feathers on the breast of a chicken look soft and strokeable. The palette of the film, limited to yellows, blues and browns, is at times so sepia toned that it resembles a faded old family album. Intentionally jarring sequences abandon composition for stuttering, hand held camerawork, brushing so close to the characters that only limbs or faces are caught looming out of ambiguous murk. Audio of heavy breathing and shuffling clothing suggests death throes or physical arousal.
Redland ultimately creates a sense of metaphysical fragility, of lives fractured in the crucible of nature. But more important than the film's meaning is its look- an American independent film that looks like Redland hasn't been made in years. The director's dedication to an aesthetic vision is what makes the film so satisfying and unexpected, especially in the world of independent film. Every single frame of celluloid has been fully realized and produced, resulting in an unusual example of cinematic beauty.
By Joshua Miller
The positive spin on Redland - the uncompromising new arthouse drama from first-time director Asiel Norton - would be to call it contemplative. The negative spin would be to call it boring. Regardless of how the film hits you it is undeniable that Redland is slow as fuck. Sadly, I think I easily could have been sucked into the contemplative camp, were it not for Norton's contrived stylistic choices, which made the film feel more pretentious than its story deserved, and worse, made it a chore for me to watch.
The film opens with a gut-wrenching blow. Literally. Mary-Ann (Lucy Adden), a wispy childlike teenage blond, alone in a field, gives herself an abortion caveman style - by repeatedly punching herself in the stomach with increasing violence. The most disturbing aspect of the scene is that it takes a moment for you to figure out what the hell you're witnessing. It is a jarring and intense way to begin a film, and it signals that despite the near nap-inducing section of the film that follows, there will be more disquieting moments to come.
Redland is set during the Great Depression (though the film never actually says so; I only confirmed this by checking with the press material), and focuses on a family scraping to eek out an existence in the deep forest of an unspecified area of America. As far as portraits of young females in a hardscrabble community, Mary-Ann's life makes Winter's Bone seem like Keeping Up With the Kardashians. This family - comprised of Father, Ma, older brother Job, and younger brother Paul - has it rough. Already desperate for food, tragedy strikes when the family's store of rabbits escape. Father decides there needs to be an elk hunt, for hides and food, so he summons a "neighbor's" son, Charlie (Toben Seymour). But Father also suspects that Charlie was the one who impregnated Mary-Ann, so tensions run high on the lengthy hunt. Dangerously so.
This is a "heart of darkness" kind of tale, where our characters descend down a dark path either of their own actions or the tragic confluence of events. While the trailer for Redland wisely focuses on the thriller aspect of the men's elk hunt (which is rarely thrilling in actuality), the most captivating/devastating portions of the film happen with Mary-Ann, Ma, and younger brother Paul back home while the older men are away. As the three are slowly starving, Mary-Ann picks a bunch of mushrooms for the three to feast on. Alas, the mushrooms turn out to be of the hallucinogenic kind, and the three really pigged out on them too. What sounds like a plot point from an American Pie sequel is played deadly serious in Redland, and contains some of the film's most haunting imagery. I gotta hand it to Norton for making a scene in which a cute blond dry humps of log neither sexy nor comical. But he does. It is plain unpleasant.
The performances are all uniformly naturalistic and solid, with a special nod to Mark Aaron as the joyless, hard-nosed Father. And though I've already described almost everything that happens in the film, I liked the story and this window into a world rarely captured in cinema. But man o' man is this film slow. All things considered, like any red-blooded American, I would prefer that a film err on the side of being too fast-paced, versus too slow-paced. This isn't to say I dislike slow-paced films. I think the number of buddies and ex-girlfriends I've lulled to sleep by forcing them to watch Fantasia or The Dark Crystal would beg to differ. It is the contemplative stride of films like Assassination of Jesse James that makes them so electrifying.
Despite the almost agonizing pace, I think Redland could have worked for me. Yes, it's a slow burn, but it builds and builds, and resolves in the most unpleasant happy ending I've seen in a while. But Norton's execution of the film just didn't work for me. This is the kind of film that includes a lot of static bumper footage of the locale. 5% of the film's runtime is made up of macro-lens shots of insects. Another 5% of shots of trees. Another 10% of the various characters just sitting/standing there thinking or doing something tangential. This isn't what rubbed me the wrong way. In fact, some of these shots - particularly of the immense vegetation of the forest - are quite beautifully photographed. But Norton and Director of Photography Zoran Popovic made the choice to execute the film with three alternating styles of visuals: 1) regular unadorned shots, 2) extreme tight focused close-ups, and 3) blurry selective focus shots that almost bring to mind the silent-film-era mimicry of Guy Maddin, minus the whimsy.
If Redland had been shot in a straight-forward fashion, I might have even loved it. Impossible to say. But the focal gimmickry kept pulling me out of the film, and at its worst reminded me of watching student films, as it felt more like an artistic experiment than something that was supposed to enhance the narrative; like a grad student obsessed with Terrence Malick still at that phase in his development where he is poorly aping his idols. Here is obviously where subjectivity comes into play. For those who dig a good artistic expression experiment, you may dig Redland. You may dig it a lot. For me it felt a bit too pretentious.
I know a guy who hates it when people refer to film (or art in general) as "pretentious." He feels that calling art pretentious is itself pretentious, because it seems to demand that artists should be penalized for affecting importance in their work. While it's fun to listen to him wax on the subject, I disagree. Pretension is like comedy. It's all subjective. If nothing is pretentious than nothing isn't funny. It's a boring "everything is terrible, thus nothing is terrible" philosophy that destroys the fun of creative discussions and critiques. Norton crafted a simple, effective, and powerful story about family ties, jealousy, and the will to survive. There is nothing pretentious about the ideas or elements presented in the narrative, but the intentionally conspicuous visual styling of the film (when combined with its snail's pace) makes Redland feel like every art-film-phobe's worst nightmare.
CineVegas '09: Review of avant-garde western REDLAND
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
If Stan Brakhage tried his hand at narrative filmmaking, I imagine the results would look a lot like Redland - that is to say, the film is a visual and thematic powerhouse. It is a one-of-a-kind, avant-garde film experience where every shot is a painting, every utterance a poem. And, though the film often transgresses its storytelling to meander through the realms of the lyrical (reminding me of Terrence Malick's work at times), the simple story of a family trying to subsist in the wilderness during the "great depression" is made no less of an intoxicating tale of humanity laid bare.
At the heart of the film is a story of two lovers who were thrown together at the worst possible moment in history and now have to deal with the consequences of their ill-timed affair. I had an Aunt who used to say "you can't live on love," and I feel as though that applies here. With everyday being a struggle to just stay alive, love starts to look like a foreign, selfish concern, and something fathers would tend to frown upon at a time of spiritual upheaval. Of course, food in the belly isn't what nourishes the soul. So what does? In Redland, it's equal parts love and revenge.
This affair is the catalyst for both in the film. When young Mary-Ann's father finds out she's had an affair, he's hell-bent on finding out who it was. When he heads into the wilderness on a hunting trip he takes the neighbor boy, Charlie Mills, with him. He finds out it was him and makes it his mission to exact revenge.
In this sense, Redland feels like it could be a Western. It's earthy and tough, and deals with (and debunks) classic subjects of American mythology like family, honor, religion, selflessness and a host of others, but it's not really. It also looks like a western and once and a while I often found myself wondering why, with so much great attention to detail put into the period costumes, sets and props would they hide them all in such fluid framing. In the end though, the filmmakers juggle all aspects of their piece and proved their artistic intentions are more than sound.
Redland is not for everyone. The subject matter is graphic and tough and the visual style is eccentric and intensely lyrical. However, once you give yourself over to it, the film is vastly edifying. The music, the acting, and the writing are all amazing. At times it reminded me of The Proposition, though Redland manages to reach poetic heights that even Hillcoat's film just wasn't willing to climb to.
Highly recommended to adventurous viewers.
E Film Critic.com
CineVegas 2009 Review: Redland ("The Great Depressive")
5 stars (Awesome)
Reviewed By Charles Tatum
For the first half hour of this film, I seethed with anger. I was bored, drowsy, and pissed. I couldn't stand it. Eventually, I realized I couldn't stand what the film was doing to me, and continued to watch this cinematic dream.
Taking place during the Depression, a backwoods family is starving to death. Mary-Ann (Lucy Adden) has been carrying on an illicit (i.e. unmarried sexual) affair with local boy Charlie (Toben Seymour), meeting him in the woods. Lucy's father (Mark Aaron) catches wind of the situation (seeing Lucy going through some bloody womanly issues during the film's first few minutes), and begins questioning Lucy's brothers, older Job (Sean Thomas) and younger Paul (Kathan Fors) about any men coming around.
Out of desperation, Father, Job, and Charlie decide to head out on a long hunt to get food for the family, leaving behind Mary-Ann, Paul, and their mother (Bernadette Murray) to fend for themselves. Tensions rise between both sets of characters as Father eventually suspects Charlie of sleeping with his daughter (and everyone is carrying a hunting rifle), and the family back home resorts to eating a pet chicken, wild berries, and then some possibly poisonous mushrooms.
While a plot summary can be straightforward, this film is anything but. The director, Asiel Norton (who co-wrote this with the film's producer, Magdalena Zyzak), set out to shoot a cinematic dream, and succeeded. Thanks in large part to cinematographer Zoran Popovic, this film quickly gets inside your head and shakes things about. I would compare it favorably to the 1970's output of Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, or Terrence Malick. Every image looks like a hand-tinted old photograph come to life. The characters are covered in grime and dirt, suffering from starvation and rural boredom (a condition I have witnessed in my home state on many an occasion).
The film is frustrating. I didn't like the characters, couldn't quite make sense of things, and felt as isolated and out-of-sorts as the film's family. The sound design and music, both from T.K. Broderick, seemed determined to increase my unease... which they did. Just as in real life, dialogue is understood in snippets. I realized Norton was taking a mere snapshot of life in these creepy woods (which become a character as well), and the viewer may begin questioning the entire hero/villain, good/evil paradigm as they witness these people do what they must to survive. Just like "The Passion of the Christ" or "Saving Private Ryan," this is not a popcorn munching flick, constantly interrupted by trips to the bathroom or cell phone calls. This film doesn't simply ask you "what would you do in this situation?," Norton's direction puts you in the situation shown, where simple answers to stock characters' dilemmas are difficult to come by. There is one sequence near the end of the film, you will know it when you see it, that is so heart breaking and so repulsive at the same time, I had problems watching it, yet Norton keeps your eyes on the screen, witnessing the horror.
The cast is so good, I cannot believe they were acting. I kept wondering if every shot of the film was planned, or did Norton and his crew happen upon some impressive footage they were able to utilize during editing? Either way, your eyes will dart all over the screen, trying to take every shaded detail in.
"Redland" is difficult. You won't want to go running down to the nearest coffee joint afterward to gab about it, it will stay with you, asking you the very same questions it asks of its characters. In this computer generated day and age, it's a throwback to intelligent film making, and it's brilliant.
"Hammer to Nail Pick of the Week"
at the Filmmaker Magazine blog.
by Michael Nordine
Though the influence of its cinematic forebears is readily apparent, nary a film comes to mind whose approach is as singularly visual as Asiel Norton's Redland. Words prove woefully insufficient in conveying its imagistic intensity, but a few descriptions nonetheless come to mind: an aged photograph come to life, key aspects of which are out of focus or otherwise difficult to discern; a visual tone poem saturated in golden light from the seemingly alien sun hovering over it. Complemented by ruminative voiceovers that serve mostly as further reminders of words' inability to express what images so easily can, this light dominates tonally as well as visually. And though they lean into the sun, Norton's characters aren't basking in its glow so much as avoiding the innate darkness contained within: Redland is defined by its light, but it's also painfully aware of its shadow.
Fragmented yet fluid, Norton's film is more a collage of sights, sounds, and (to a much lesser extent) events than it is a linear narrative; early scenes in particular employ an almost constant use of montage in telling the story of a young girl named Mary-Anne hiding a forbidden affair from her family in Depression-era Northern California. Even after the first act, however, the main action of Mary-Anne's brother, father, and lover on a trek through the woods in search of elk is interspersed with flashbacks and cuts back to Mary-Anne at home. Norton presents his characters - which, aside from those just mentioned, consist solely of Mary-Anne's mother and younger brother - more as sketches than portraits. Dialogue is sparse, interactions brief. Given the accompanying (which is to say, deliberately meandering) narrative, it sometimes seems as though Norton is toeing a fine line between style and substance, but a more accurate assessment might be that the film finds its meaning through its evocative presentation. The two are inextricably linked; one cannot exist without the other, and Redland's mise-en-scene is as sun-drenched and ambient as it is because a family so wholly bound to the soil as this one can only flourish when the land itself does. They live off that land, under that sun, and are subject to the beauty and cruelty of both in equal measure.
Norton's camera occasionally makes its way indoors and, when it does, the otherwise-golden light takes on a reddish tint. Perhaps this is a mere visual trick - there but not, only holding what significance the viewer projects onto it-but more likely it seems an almost foreboding nod toward Mary-Anne's tenuous relationship with her family. Told "the Devil made her" by her prayer-leading mother (Norton often evokes the Devil in much the same way he reminds us of the darkness: by focusing on its opposite) and most often met by silence from her father, she's a stranger in her own home. Indeed, Mary-Anne is more often seen nestling a chicken under her arms and even bringing it under the covers with her than interacting with her siblings or parents in any meaningful way. (That a birth-related trauma is the film's starting-point and a chicken's primary utility on a farm is its ability to lay eggs lends these moments a special poignancy.) Much like the facility between apparent visuals and latent meaning, Redland presents sex, life, and death (though not necessarily in that order) as a continuous cycle-each flows into the other until they're nearly indistinguishable from one another.
If Norton isn't quite elegiac in his approach, it's because the time and place he depicts doesn't particularly seem worth mourning. The land is harsh and largely unfruitful, the family bonds a matter of survival rather than love and affection. In this way, Mary-Anne and her kin are linked to each other just as they are to the earth, the key difference being that the land is indifferent to their presence rather than dependent upon it-they need it, but it certainly doesn't need them. What's more, there's no sign of the goings-on ending anytime soon (as there so often are in films of this sort): these characters are very much in the middle of an era that only hindsight and history tell us isn't as all-encompassing and timeless as Norton so often makes it seem.
UNBROKEN CIRCLES (2009)
The Odyssey Theatre
By Madeleine Shaner
One hopes the Moss Family Singers are a fictional family, or their dysfunction would give God-besotted country music groups a bad name. The family consists of 13 rolling stones, each in some way addicted or afflicted. Several generations of a gold record-winning family bring their long-held beefs to the 75th birthday party of tough-minded Mama Jo Moss (a feisty Helen Richman), which daughter Booth (a conciliatory Maureen Teefy) hopes will bring everyone back together -and back to Jesus. Mama Jo's on-the-edge daughter, Maggie (a believable Sheila Schmidt), just out of rehab, is not sure she needs this eternally combative family situation. With her is her latest boyfriend, Preacher Luke (a loose Mark Aaron), but it seems Johnny Bill (Edmund Wyson), a bachelor uncle, is the most obliging go-to-guy in case of need; ask Mama Jo's niece, Odena (Ruth Macy), who has just completed a missionary tour of Iraq with her husband, Dickie (Craig Pearman), who's much more into that old-time religion than is his dissatisfied wife. And then there's granddaughter Shelley (Wendy Norton), who could be the next country and gospel star when she finishes dealing with her violent husband's (Andrew McGuinness) posttraumatic stress disorder.
With these disparate characters, and three hours to sort them out, writer-director Greg Phillips' play is a huge, overlong jigsaw puzzle of idiosyncratic pieces, most so familiar that we already know them, some so outlandish we wouldn't want to. The best moments of this rather obligatory down-home show are when the Moss "girls," including Mama Dot (Jamie Corbin) and Cleo Moss (Suzanne Altfeld), give us a final (country-costumed) chorus of "Down to the River to Pray." More of this and less of the oh-so-familiar melodrama would be a more pleasing, less cliche package.
Presented by the Phillips Project at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. January 31 - March 1. Thu.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.
HE WHO ENDURES (2007)
Wassup in Hollyhood
by Rych McCain
He Who Endures, written by Bill Harris was the mentally heaviest of the three plays presented. It focused on the lifelong rivalry and difference of philosophies between famed orators and civil rights leaders Frederick Douglass and Henry Highland Garnet during the winding years of U.S. slavery in the mid 1800's. On this set, Antonio Ramirez as Shields Green turned in an outstanding performance, considering he was a last minute replacement with only two days to memorize his lines (none of which were dropped!). Marcus K. White as Frederick Douglass displayed a very effective amount of vibrato and aplomb that characterized the real life Douglass. Theo Ogunyode as Henry Highland Garnet administered an effective counter presentation with deep, moving pathos. His use of a walking cane was subtle and not relied upon to enhance his performance, as a lesser actor might be tempted to do. Mark Aaron as John Brown makes a really explosive entry on the scene with his call to action and revolutionary stance, which is followed with a fiery and emotionally charged debate exchange with White (Douglass) over his planned raid on Harper's Ferry. Aaron looked and acted the part with authentic authority.
THE CRUCIBLE (2004)
Theatre Review: "The Crucible" Resonates Today
By Alyson Sena
Palisadiall-Post Staff Writer
"Are you gathering souls for the Devil?"
"When did you compact with the Devil?"
"You would be a good Christian woman, would you not?"
"When the Devil comes to you does he ever come-with another person? Perhaps another person in the village? Someone you know?"
These questions carve out the chilling landscape of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," set in Salem, Massachusetts during the witch hunts of the late 17th Century. Yet just as Miller's 1953 play conjures McCarthyism and the Communist hysteria of the early 1950s, it still reverberates with contemporary relevance.
After all, the suspicion, fear, interrogation and accusation of 1692 Salem might also characterize the disturbing scenarios we read about taking place in prisons in Guantunamo. Bay, Cuba, and Abu Ghraib, Iraq or even in U.S. airports post-9/11.
The Santa Monica Theatre Guild's poignant production of "The Crucible" asks viewers to examine the paranoia and intolerance that can break down a society. What must one man sacrifice in order to stand up for his beliefs and against injustice? Directed by William Wilday and produced by Thomas DeBacker, the show runs through November 20 at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica.
The strict Puritan values of order, discipline, unity and conformity are embodied in Salem's ministers and judges, who rule the small community under a tight moral and religious code, "There is either obedience or the church will burn," says Reverend Samuel Parris (Donald Heath), who discovers his niece Abigail Williams (Bevin Hamilton) and daughter Betty (Moriya Shachar) dancing wildly in the forest with black servant Tituba (Valeri Braun).
When Betty falls ill from the shock of seeing her father jump from the bushes, suspicions of the girls' actions and fear of "unnatural causes" cause the leaders to tighten their grip. An intense period of questioning follows, under which Tituba and the girls buckle from fear of punishment and feed off of one another's accusations of witchcraft.
Abigail becomes the leader of the pack, driven by ulterior motives to continue an affair with farmer John Proctor (Thomas DeBacker) and take revenge on his wife, Elizabeth (Candice Balen), for discharging her as the family's servant. In the role of Abigail, Hamilton is moving and convincing as she feigns being possessed by the devil, demands the other girls" loyalty and compliance, and flirts with Proctor.
DeBacker gives a commanding performance as Proctor, who represents the Puritan belief in hard work but rejects the culture's rigid laws, which leave no room for human error.
Failing to name all 10 Commandments when asked is a sin in this society. But when Proctor's wife reminds him of the one he left out: adultery-we understand that Proctor's real struggle is with his conscience and what he calls "the single error of my life."
Proctor is a characteristic Arthur Miller character in his tragic struggle. He earns the respect of his wife and neighbors when he ultimately refuses to sign a false confession that he compacted with the Devil. "I have given you my soul; leave me my name!" he exclaims at the production's climax.
The sexual repression of the people of Salem is manifest in Abigail's seemingly uncontrolled groping of the air and her body, and in her accusation of Tituba: "Sometimes I wake and find myself standing in the open doorway and not a stitch on my body! I always hear her laughing in my sleep. I hear her singing her Barbados songs and tempting me with--"
In this society's extremist mentality, even a woman reading a book becomes anathema, as Giles Corey (Dan Adams) learns when his own curiosity about his wife's book reading results in her arrest. Corey is one of the few who stand their ground against the wrath of Deputy-Governor Danforth (Christian Morgan), the fierce judge who arrives to purge the Puritan society of evil. With ease, Morgan delivers his lines and plays the terrifying character who abuses his power in order to protect his pride.
Pity and compassion in the rigid society are scarce, but do exist in the Reverend John Hale (Mark Aaron), who is called upon to lead the girls back to God's grace. In devoted attempts to help the people, Hale reveals his own inner conflict between society's moral and religious code and an individual's right to justice. Aaron is well cast in this emotionally demanding role that bares open his character's struggle to maintain some degree of faith in the eye of injustice.
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (2003)
by Jose Ruiz
When you borrow a line from Shakespeare as the title of your story, you better be darn sure you can live up to it. In the case of Ray Bradbury, there's no question that he can live up the title and then some. This wicked story that Bradbury offers is not his patented Sci Fi, but delves deep into the supernatural with eerie and creepy characters sure to bring nightmares even to the most jaded. Bradbury's Pandemonium Productions teamed up with the Edgemar Center in Santa Monica to bring about this new presentation.
Director Alan Neal Hubbs starts out with an austere set using clever projections of houses and other elements of the play, and eventually the stage becomes a full carnival complete with house of mirrors and even a ghostly carousel.
With a cast of dozens, led by Grady Hunt and J. Skylar Testa who are great playing the youths, Jay Gerber gives a compelling performance as the father whose son's love inspires unexpected courage. Mark Aaron is excellent as villain Dark, with frightening steely stares and hissing whispers, and David Polcyn gives Cooger the right blend to be the requisite villainous sidekick, not totally bright, not totally evil, but totally loyal.
Other actors include Cris Capen, Bruno Marcotulli, Priscilla Allen, Robin Poley, Laura Raynor, Gudrun Giddings, Kacey Camp, Darian Weiss, Howard D. W. Yates, Carlie Westerman, Rachel Lane, Felisa Kazen, Douglas R. Clayton, and Patrick Stone.
Of all the imaginative sets by John E. Blankenchip, the best is the carousel, where actors use distorted stylized animal masks as they circle the carousel's diameter with an almost reluctant gait. It's as if some force was compelling them to circle against their will. The carousel is the focal point of the story, providing a double metaphor that clearly exemplifies that the greatest wish of eternal youth for some can become the worst fear of others.
The Edgemar Center for the Arts
Talkin' Broadway Regional News & Reviews:
Los Angeles -"Something Wicked This Way Comes" -10/9/03
By Sharon Perlmutter
For kids used to Buffy and The X-Files, not to mention Jason and Freddy, Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" just isn't all that scary. It's actually a sweet, old-fashioned sort of story where the forces of Good figure out how to outwit the forces of Evil, and learn a little something about them selves along the way. And, if it happens to make you jump out of your seat, well, that's a little added bonus.
Every element you expect in a standard tale of this type is in place and ready to go: the slightly creepy old man who warns our two young protagonists of the trouble headed their way (Cris Capen, who does a nice job painting pictures of unnamed evil); the travelling carnival offering tantalizing peeks at all sorts of grotesqueries (John Edw. Bankenchip's set covers the simple black and white of the town with broad strokes of red); the imposing yet inviting proprietor of the travelling carnival (Mark Aaron, whose impossibly tall and thin frame makes him look just perfect for the part); the carnival performers themselves, who evoke mysticism and spookiness with all they do; and the townspeople, who react with suitable amounts of disbelief and (when necessary) terror.
And at the center of it all is Halloway - a man who feels the full weight of his age and the weight of his son's dismissal of him as an old man who suddenly finds himself the only man who can stand against the evil of the carnival. Jay Gerber gives a standout performance as Halloway, clearly conveying his fear that better days are behind him and, ultimately, his strength and the source from which it flows. At the top of the second act, Gerber has a beautiful scene where Halloway answers his son's questions about the nature of goodness. It's a delicate little piece of acting that serves as a break from the fast pace of the evil tricks of the carnival and is a moment sadly brought to an end too soon.
THE SPITFIRE GRILL (2002)
Los Angeles Times, WHERE LIFE IS SERVED SUNNY SIDE UP
by Don Shirley
Times Staff Writer
Sentimentalism is the special of the day in the superb 'Spitfire Grill.' Revamped from a gritty film, the musical makes its West Coast debut at Laguna Playhouse.
Three hard-luck women heal their broken spirits after they're thrown together running a small-town diner. It's a simple premise for an upbeat script.
But "The Spitfire Grill" was developed in two disparate directions - into a rather hysterical melodrama in the 1996 film by Lee David Zlotoff, and into a more sentimental and sunnier 2000 musical by composer James Valcq and lyricist Fred Alley, who collaborated on the book.
The musical is making its first West Coast appearance, at Laguna Playhouse, in a superb staging by Nick DeGruccio. Despite the artifice inherent in the musical format - contrasted with the grittier surface reality of the movie - it's the stage version that emerges as the more coherent and convincing of the two "Spitfire Grills."
The musical is set in Wisconsin, where lyricist Alley was based, instead of the movie's Maine. Perhaps Alley didn't want to grapple with a severe New England accent in the lyrics.
The first part of the musical is very similar to the movie. Still a young woman, Percy Talbott (Misty Cotton) is released from prison after serving five years for manslaughter and chooses to live in the tiny hamlet of Gilead. The only available job and lodging is at the town's only restaurant, the Spitfire Grill, operated by crusty old Hannah Ferguson (Jomarie Ward). After an accident temporarily incapacitates Hannah, Percy is assisted at the diner by Shelby Thorpe (Kim Huber), the wife of Hannah's bossy nephew (Michael Piontek).
The musical combines two of the movie's characters into Joe Sutter (Kevin Earley), the town sheriff, who eventually becomes Percy's suitor.
The postmaster and chief gossip (Linda Kerns) is still on hand, as is a mysterious hermit (Mark Aaron) who makes nightly stops in back of the diner for the food that Hannah leaves there for him.
Hannah has tried to sell the diner for a decade, but there are no takers.
Percy suggests Hannah hold a raffle, in which potential owners send $100 and an essay explaining why they want the Spitfire; the best essayist will win the diner at no additional cost, and Hannah will keep the hundreds of dollars that arrive from throughout America.
We learn more about the character's pasts in the second act, and these details remain largely the same as in the movie. But the resolution of the story could hardly be more different.
The music also makes a big difference. It's a folk and country influenced score that alternates most of the time between rousing ensembles and pensive solos as well as one especially rousing solo, "Out of the Frying Pan," which the novice short-order cook Percy sings while trying to prepare breakfast for the diner's customers by herself.
The cast couldn't be better. DeGruccio brought along two of his confederates, Cotton and Earley, from his staging of "Side Show" at Burbank's Colony Theatre, and they are again stellar, with Cotton unveiling a young Sissy Spacek look as well as her wide-ranging pipes. Ward is as rumpled and persuasive as Ellen Burstyn was in the movie, and Huber enlivens the familiar character of the suppressed wife who begins to stand up for herself. Tom Griffin's musical direction makes every note sound clear and true.
The musical makes much of seasonal change, and the visual design team Raymond Kent on the sets, Paulie Jenkins on lights and Dwight Richard Odie on costumes responds well to the challenge.
Born at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey in 2000. the musical opened in New York last fall in the wake of Sept. 11, only five months after the unexpected death of co-creator Alley. Its sense of uplift must have seemed perfect for that moment, but even now there is something irresistible about this show.
|Misty Cotton||..............||Percy Talbott|
|Jomarie Ward||..............||Hannah Ferguson|
|Kim Huber||..............||Sheriff Sutter|
|Kevin Earley||..............||Shelby Thorpe|
|Michael Piontek||..............||Caleb Thorpe|
|Linda Kerns||..............||Effy Krayneck|
|Mark Aaron||..............||The Visitor|
Book by James Valcq and Fred Alley, based on the film by Lee David Zlotoll. Music by Valcq. Lyrics by Alley Directed and choreographed by Nick DeGruccio. Musical direction by Tom Griffin. Sets by Raymond Kent. Lighting by Paulie Jenkins. Costumes by Dwight Richard Odle. Sound by David Edwards. Production stage manager Nancy Staiger.
THE RIVALS (1998)
L.A. Weekly, 10/08/1998
by Terry Morgan
THE RIVALS Demeter Theater's inaugural production is a lively outdoor diversion, a modern-dress rendering of Richard Sheridan's 18thÂ·century comedy revived by a sparkling company. Captain Jack Absolute (Patrick Hancock) in love with Lydia Languish (Andrea Gall), but her idealized notions of romance require him to woo her under an assumed persona. He is thus pleasantly surprised when his strict father, Sir Anthony (Gary Lynn Collier), and Lydia's aunt, Mrs. Malaprop (Rebecca Nibley), arrange for the two young people to be married. Happy to drop his pretense, Jack is aghast to realize that Lydia is ready to spurn his proposal, angry at his deception and more in love with her idealization of him than his true self. Hancock is perfectly cast as the clever Jack and an expert at display of emotional dexterity and comic timing. Collier and Nibley are both excellent, their respective strengths being impressive crescendos of volcanic temper and skillfully delivered wordplay. Gall is also very convincing as the misled Lydia, and one wishes there were more of her in the play. The entire cast does a fine job, particularly Mark Aaron, Marissa Hall, Marcelina Willis and Kerri Noms. Director Jennifer Epps ably displays how to deliver quality theater without the physical encumbrance of the theater itself. Demeter Theatre at UCLA (behind College Library), Thrus-Fri, Oct. 8-9, 2 p.m., Carlson Park, Braddock Dr. & Motor Ave., Culver City, Sat-Sun, Oct. 10-11, 2 p.m. free, bring lawn chairs or blankets. (Terry Morgan)