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.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Greenberg
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Racing Extinction

3 Backyards


3 Backyards

Edie Falco clearly misses her days on “The Sopranos.”

(2010) Drama (Screen Media) Elias Koteas, Embeth Davidtz, Edie Falco, Kathryn Erbe, Rachel Resheff, Wesley Broulik, Danai Gurira, Ron Phillips, Dana Eskelson, Randi Kaplan, Louise Millman, Pam La Testa, Antonio Ortiz, Nicole Brending, Kathy Searle. Directed by Eric Mendelsohn

 

The suburbs are quiet, peaceful places where we go to raise our children in an environment that is far from urban. Away from the noise and the hectic place, it is a place of lawn mowers, shopping malls and chain restaurants. Still, the peaceful facade can sometimes disguise the most painful of hearts.

Long Island is maybe the ultimate suburb. Being so close to New York City, it offers a respite from the concrete and asphalt, a bit of greenery and wildlife within shouting distance of skyscrapers and taxis. But for all the manicured lawns, the sweet songs of robins and blue jays, all is not perfect here.

Take John (Koteas). His marriage is far from perfect; he and his wife (Erbe) are always fighting and finances aren’t so good. He is going on a business trip but his flight is canceled. Instead of going back home, he checks into a hotel provided by the airline. Instead of staying put, he goes back home and stalks his own family and home. When he calls his wife, he pretends he’s on the plane instead of watching her from the shrubbery. What is he looking for? What does he expect to see? He retires to a diner where he overhears a young woman (Gurira) applying for a waitress position. He follows her out of the restaurant and becomes witness to tragedy.

A little girl (Resheff) impulsively steals some of her mom’s jewelry. Her inexplicable action causes her to miss her school bus. Scared of her crime being discovered (which it surely will if she is late for school), she determines to walk the distance via a shortcut she knows. She comes upon an intimidating young man (Broulik) masturbating in a shed. She also frees a stray dog tied to a tree. Both of these events will have consequences later.

Peggy (Falco) lives a life of quiet unfulfillment. She yearns for recognition, glamour, acknowledgement but instead must settle for a suburban existence of gossip and shopping. She paints as a means of expressing herself, but when a well-known actress (Davidtz) moves into the neighborhood, her imagination is excited. Then when the actress needs a lift to the ferry, Peggy volunteers to drive her, leading to a conversation that is much more revealing of Peggy than it is of the actress.

These three tales are not so much interconnected so much as parallels within the same environment. Mendelsohn’s first film, Judy Berlin, was made very much within the same kind of suburban purgatory as this, his second which follows ten years after the first. Notably, Falco stars in both films and is really the chief reason for seeing both.

All of the characters are for the most part drifting through their own landscapes, powered by their yearnings and melancholy. That pervasive aimlessness colors the movie and prevents it from really taking hold in the imagination, or at least mine – the movie has been well-reviewed and obviously it is connecting with critics other than myself, so take my own lack of connection with a grain of salt.

Falco, who most will remember from her television roles in “The Sopranos” and “Nurse Jackie” is one of the best actresses working today. That she isn’t doing more movie work is most likely due to her heavy television schedule, but she always puts on a marvelous performance and this is no exception. Her story arc is the most compelling of the three and she and Davidtz work well off of each other and even though much of her storyline puts her in a car having a conversation, it nevertheless has the most dramatic tension.

Koteas, a longtime character actor who has had moments of brilliance throughout his career, turns in another fine performance as John. While it is at times difficult to understand what is going on inside his head (which to be truthful is true of most of us in real life), we get a sense of his frustrations thanks to Koteas. John’s not getting what he needs in his marriage and career so he plays hooky one day, probably not understanding why he’s doing it himself.

There is a lot of passive-aggressiveness in the movie, if I may do a little armchair psychoanalyzing and that’s okay although it gets a little bit tiresome here. The dialogue sometimes doesn’t ring as true as it might – I get a sense of a writer trying to be clever rather than real people talking.

I also get a sense that there is a good movie here and I’m just not seeing it. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood that day to absorb it properly, or for whatever reason I just couldn’t find a place to latch myself onto. That happens sometimes. I can’t really recommend the movie – I can only go by how I react to it and as you can probably guess, my reaction is fairly negative but those who like Edie Falco should see it and if any of this sounds appealing to you (particularly if you are looking for a suburban-set slice of life) do feel free to disregard my un-enthusiasm and give it a whirl.

WHY RENT THIS: Superior performances from Falco, Davidtz and Koteas.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Meanders a bit too much. Dialogue  a bit stilted in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is one scene that has some sexuality involved but most of the rest of the film carries some fairly adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mendelsohn is the only director to have won the Best Director prize at the Sundance Film Festival twice; for this film and also for Judy Berlin in 1999.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43,073 on an unreported production budget; might have broken even but it probably didn’t.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Tree of Life

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Mission: Impossible 2