This is the intro to our talk about Rear Window at The Hive yesterday, and it takes my central belief - Rear Window is all about television and it's role in the early 1950s.
What does it mean to feel pain?
I'm not talking in the emotional sense, but as in "OH MY GHOD I'M FUCKING BLEEDING" sense that I have encountered so often. Painless explores that question beautifully, but there's far more to it than a single question, in fact I see something underneath the surface that I find both lovely and troubling - is it possible to form any sort of connection with someone who doesn't experience pain of all kinds.
Stick with me, this is going to get deep...
Henry was born without the ability to feel pain. He deals with the practical problem of living without the ability to detect injury by basically shutting himself off from the world, physically and emotionally. He's attempting to fix his problem by delving into science, but at the same time, he's finding the problems of being a human who has to deal with different paths of development.
The performances here are the drive, but the clean direction, and specifically the precision editing, is what makes Painless into something really special. The performances are allowed exactly enough space to develop, and at the same time, it provides a focus, putting our eyes exactly where we need them to be. The sound design should also be called out. There is layering here that feels natural, but at the same time, when I went back and re-examined the sound, it was so developed. If you look at a coffee shop scene, you can see how a gentle music that exists in the space merges with the conversation to give a sensation, a reality, that brings us in because we understand the space, we get the setting. The way it is shot, and the way the actors present themselves to the camera, are then placed into a stylized reality of the frame, which then allows connection.
Henry is played by Joey Klein, and he's got a rough path. He has to play the distance without seeming cold, or maybe he has to play the cold without seeming distant. Evalena Marie as Shani is one of those roles that seems far simpler on the surface than it does in the analysis. The fact is she's the open heart of the film, and it is through her that we experience Henry in transition. I've been a big fan of Evalena since her remarkable turn in Withdrawl and have to say that she gives a performance that should cement her in my pantheon of actresses to watch!
Overall, I enjoyed the hell out of Painless. It's stylish, yet not overwhelming; it is subtle without being coy. It presents a story which may be science fiction without actually being genre, which is a zone of film that I really love.
There is a kind of film I call the Walkin' Around flick. It's fun, and the point of the film is not the progress of the characters through the setting or their encounters, but the way the characters interact with themselves. The road trip movie is the automated form of this sort of thing; the motorcycle to to bike, in essense. The British film Forgotten Man is of that ilk, and it's great fun!
The basic story is a guy who is a part of a theatre company for the homeless, Carl, meets Meredith, and they spend the day and night together walking, talking, encountering, and basically enjoying one another. Carl is dressed nice, because that's his role in the play, and Meredith comes from money.
The real thing here is the acting. Each and every performance is the kind of thing you'd tell folks about. The leads, Obi Abili and Eleanor McLoughlin, are phenomenal, and have all the chemistry you need to pull off a film like this. The stunning black-and-white cinematography allows the subtleties to play across their faces in a way that never intrudes on the bigger picture. I got the feeling that this film would work in Glorious Colour, but as it stood, it was so much more monumental due to the impact each tiny gesture made upon the entirety of the shots.
McLoughlin is magnetic, and Abili has a difficult role to play that he hits perfectly. I've seen other actors walk into this kind of role and go ill off-course into the weeds. Instead, he plays it with a combination of realism and a sense of direction without purpose. That may not make sense when you read it on-screen, but when you see it play out, it totally works. Meredith is a different animal, and she nails it by allowing every event to wash over her and giving into it as if it is a normal reality instead of an unusual occurance. That's another difficult pass, but she makes it happen, and damn well.
Forgotten Man shows twice more at Cinequest, on the 9th at Santana Row in San Jose at 1:30, and at the Century Theatre in Redwood City on Saturday the 11th at 9pm. YOu should go and see it, because it really hits it out of the park... or an appropriately British version of that cliche.
When I watch movies, I have an agenda. It's not fair to the filmmakers, I know, but if I didn't have an agenda, I'd never be able to program film festivals, I'd never be able to write a single review. I watch for pleasure, sure, that's always under the surface, but almost always I am watching with an endgame in mind. In the case of the science fiction film Prodigy, the plan was not specifically defined beyond 'watch, write a review' and then 'promote', because I am always the one who champions Cinequest's science fiction offerings, but what I got was much more than I expected, much more than I would be able to easily talk about.
Let me start with the image on the screen. Science Fiction exists in two worlds - one is full of colors either muted or over-saturated, giving us a sense of a reality that we can find around us every day. The other is black and white, greyscale, The classic scifi of the 1950s that didn't have the budget to go colour made the most of it, infusing the cinematography with contrast, the scripts with fascinating dialogue and a style of acting that was both broad and full of subtlety. In Prodigy, we return to the latter, especially with regards to the acting, and a form of restraint in both script and performance.
The story is simple - a psychologist, Fonda, is called in to evaluate a young telepahthic girl, Ellie. She's a psychopath, and is being held by the a vague-but-menacing government agency, and they've got a dark plan for her.
Really, that's all you need to know about the story, because what starts to unfold is a deep set of personal interactions that examine the boundaries of what we can expect when we are presented with a potential end-game we do not approve of, as well as how our pasts are exploitable, and not only by those that would do us harm.
Almost the entirety of this film is about the interactions between Ellie and Fonda (played by the excellent Richard Neil who also is in the wonderful short film EXO which we're showing as a part of Mindbenders) in a single room. They have limited physical space while being given room to explore their characters. In a scene where they play chess, they work towards a result that we are certainly aware will come, but the way they work together, the way the chess game becomes darker and more deeply layered, it infuses everything from that point forward with a sense that this is a two-player game where we do not fully understand who is playing on what side.
The performances are all strong, especially the way that Savannah Liles plays Ellie. She hits her emotional marks perfectly, but also puts out the hooks for Richard Neil to hang his performance on, and for the emotional reservoir that every other character draws from. She is stunningly tied-in with her performance, and the direction of every scene is exceptional. The acting here is flawless.
The shooting of Prodigy is gorgeous, sumptuous. The kind of black-and-white contrast-y lensing that I am drawn to, not only because it gives that sort of space to the acting, but because it also allows us to dig into the idea that there is a black-and-white world that these characters live in, and all the attempts to find middle-ground result in loss, in muddled thinking. It seems that everyone understands that there is an outcome that they approve of, and one they do not, and there is no potential for anything in-between. The one who is trying the hardest to come up with the middle ground is also the one whop truly understands that they're almost certainly never going to be able to achieve it. That sort of paranoia/determinalist sensation is perfectly heightened by the shooting, and the effects chosen, and how they are handled, never stick out. That is something that even my old buddy Robert Wise would have appreciated. The acting is remarkable, the script is smart, but what really hit as the film went on, was the way it was laid out.
The pacing is phenomenal. As the film moves along, at first largely measured, but they begins to find purchase within the discussions, and then we are moved through things with greater alacrity. We are never shoved, nor are we ever so firmly downshifted that we lose the thread or momentum. There is a thoughtful pacing, and such strong writing and characterization.
I had an agenda; I would write a review, look at it through the lens of science fiction fan and festival lover. What I got was a feature film that moved me and carried me to a place that reminded me of why I love science fiction film, why I love high-contrast cinematography, why I love movies.
Klaus at Gunpoint
A Film Journal dedicated to all film.A segment of Office Supply Publishing.