Kensho at the Bedfellow

New York can be a real lonely zip code.

New York can be a real lonely zip code.

(2015) Romance (Kensho Films) Brad Raider, Kaley Ronayne, Steven Klein, Grainger Hines, Kathryn Erbe, Sahr Ngaujah, Christina Brucato, Dana Ashbrook, Kiran Merchant, Danny Deferrari, Madison McKinley, Mara Davi, Shyaporn Theerakulstit, Matt Burns, Michelle Cameron, Meliki Hurd, Chaka Desilva, Sally Gifford, Michael Hogan, Maximilian Frey, Lindsey Gates. Directed by Brad Raider

Discovering who we are is never an easy process. Sometimes we are taken in by easy joys – sex, drugs, alcohol – and we end up losing our way. Sometimes that’s because we can’t bear the pain.

Dan Bender (Raider) at 33 years old is stuck in a rut. Once a promising playwright, he works the overnight shift at the Bedfellow Hotel with his roommate Max (Klein) who is in the midst of presenting a seven night stage festival of seven different seven minute long plays each night. Dan, who hasn’t written a thing in years, at least since his sister April (Cameron) died of a drug overdose, for which he blames his father (Hines) who used to do drugs with her when she was a teen. That event has been a central milestone of his life; he continues to talk to April and occasionally, she talks back. His inability to form lasting relationships with others can be traced directly to her passing.

The Bedfellow is full of characters – Darpak (Merchant) who talks to his cat and seems overly enthusiastic about fresh towels just out of the dryer; there’s also Byron (Theerakulstit), the hotel’s security chief who is a Korean who converted over to Judaism, which Dan, a natural-born Jew, is entirely skeptical about. He also hangs out with Ashley (Brucato), his former girlfriend who isn’t quite convinced they’re broken up. She manipulates him somewhat, but he also doesn’t mind having sex with her now and again.

After a sexual encounter with a hotel guest (Davi) gets him fired from his job, Dan begins to spiral into complete emotional chaos. Already on the edge financially, with Max having had to cover his rent already, the self-absorbed Dan begins to alienate the few friends he still has. Then, he encounters Kate (Ronayne), an old friend from his childhood who is back in New York working with an aid organization that reunites families torn apart by civil wars in Africa. Kate finds this work appealing, while Dan who is becoming very attracted to her, lies about his situation in order to keep from scaring her away. Of course the truth eventually comes out, especially when Dan pilfers some drugs from his dealer (Ashbrook) which is probably not a very good idea. In fact, it certainly isn’t.

When Dan hits rock bottom, having lost everything, an unexpected act of kindness from an unexpected source leads to something of a spiritual experience for Dan. The trouble is, how is he going to share his new-found wisdom with the world when the world basically has no desire to hear anything he has to say anymore?

This micro-budgeted indie was shot on the RED Epic camera in both the New York City area, but also in L.A. where Raider now calls home. For tyro filmmakers just starting out, a viewing of this film should be a good primer as to what is possible with almost no budget but with the right equipment, the right cast and the right crew. This is an exceptional looking film that looks like it was shot on much more expensive equipment with a professional crew.

The cast is also quite professional; most have a fair amount of experience (although Erbe, as Kate’s boss for the non-profit is the best-known for her work on Law and Order: Criminal Intent) there are also actors here who had regular roles on shows like Twin Peaks, Public Morals and Last Resort. Usually it’s not a good sign when you see someone who is directing, writing and starring in the same movie; more often than not they end up putting more focus on one or two of the roles at the expense of the third. That doesn’t happen here; the writing is pretty strong (although there are a few areas in which it seems that Raider was utilizing some indie tropes), the direction assured and the acting – well, let’s just say that Raider looks like the love child of Tom Cruise and Zachary Quinto and has the chiseled features of a superhero. He has all the elements he needs to be successful in this business.

Raider is trying to write a movie that explores our own self-awareness and that’s not an easy feat and it can be forgiven if there are a few stumbles along the way; however, he does seem in places to be striving too hard to be deep and I think that hurts the film a little bit. Towards the end, Dan ends up in a hotel room with a giant cat who leads him on a psychedelic journey of discovery which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it just comes out of left field and is a bit too 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque for my tastes. While I admire the imagination, it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie.

All in all, this is a solid feature. It’s just beginning to hit the festival circuit as we speak and hopefully it will make it to a festival near you. Keep an eye on their website (you can get there by clicking on the photo above) for future screenings. In any case, this is a surprising but solid debut by someone I think we’re going to hear a lot more of in the very near future.

REASONS TO GO: Raider is a star in the making. Surrounded by good acting.
REASONS TO STAY: Psychedelic sequence comes out of left field. Reaches a bit too hard for depth.
FAMILY VALUES: Some foul language and sexuality, as well as a bit of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Bedfellow is an actual hotel in the Tribeca area of New York.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
NEXT: Racing Extinction


The Escapist

The Escapist

No cage will hold Frank Perry.

(IFC) Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Dominic Cooper, Seu Jorge, Damian Lewis, Steven Mackintosh, Ned Dennehy. Directed by Rupert Wyatt

Those who are imprisoned for life at some point become resigned to their lot in life, finding a way to come to terms with their situation. It becomes necessary to find a way to fit into the vicious prison society, making no waves and calling as little attention to themselves as possible. It is a means of survival for those who can find no other way.

Frank Perry (Cox) is such a man, in a British prison for the rest of his life. He exists day to day within his own routine, allying himself neither with the Screws nor with the Cons, a prison gang led by the reptilian Rizza (Lewis) whose brother Tony (Mackintosh) is a despicable, heartless monster who takes an unhealthy interest in Lacey (Cooper), a newly arrived inmate convicted of a white collar crime who becomes Frank’s new cellmate.

Frank has bigger problems than that however. He receives a letter from his wife informing him that his daughter has overdosed and is in critical condition. He rises from the fog he lives in, his instincts as a father driving him to be by his stricken daughter’s side. The only way he can do that is to escape.

He gathers with him a crew of the silent and violent Lenny (Fiennes), the drug concoctor Viv Batista (Jorge), the smart and brutally efficient Brodie (Cunningham) and somewhat accidentally, Lacey. However, the machinations of Rizza and Tony put Frank’s plans at risk, leading to an act of violence which will change the entire outcome of the prison break.

It’s a very simple concept and really, this little bit gives you all the plot you need to know. The mark of a good movie is that it makes the most use of a very little. The result is neither boring nor standard.

First-time director (and co-writer) Wyatt tells the back story and the escape concurrently as parallel arcs, letting them weave through each other in such a way that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s very effectively done, increasing the dramatic power of the ending nicely.

Cox is perfect for the role of the cynical con, keeping his head down in an environment that is without pity or morality. It is Darwin taken to its logical but remorseless extreme and Cox’s Frank Perry fits in like a chameleon, surviving under the radar. Frank has the instincts of a survivor; it’s not that he isn’t tough when he needs to be but he’s smart enough to realize that his toughness isn’t going to get him through. All that changes when his daughter’s life is on the brink and his instincts as a father take over. It’s a powerful transformation and Cox pulls it off nicely.

In fact, the supporting roles are nicely drawn up and are somewhat more complete than usual, a refreshing and admirable movie experience. Fiennes is particularly a revelation, having very little dialogue but pulling off a persona very different than his most prominent role as William Shakespeare.

The prison environment depicted is realistic; less the high-tech environments depicted in television shows like “Prison Break” and “Oz” and more along the lines of the kind of slammer you’d find in The Shawshank Redemption. It isn’t pretty, but then you wouldn’t expect it would be.

This isn’t a movie for the faint of heart, nor is it one for those who like having their stories spoon fed to them. It requires a little adventurousness from the viewer and a little bit of faith that the payoff will be worth the ride, and so it is. The Escapist doesn’t reinvent the prison break movie but it certainly delivers a new take on it, and on that basis alone is worth checking out.

WHY RENT THIS: Cox delivers a powerful performance as a man moved to desperate acts. The parallel storytelling lends dramatic punch to the climax.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The depiction of prison life may be too realistic for some.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of prison brutality, violence, and sexual assault, enough to make this for mature audiences only.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of Frank Perry was written specifically for Brian Cox.



TOMORROW: Shrek Forever After