Into the Wake (USA 2012 – 77 minutes – Director: John Mossman)
The kind of movie one hopes to discover when watching unsigned, unknown movies at film festivals, Into the Wake is a smart impressionistic mystery-cum-thriller. Co-written by director Joss Mossman and lead actor Tim Miller, Into the Wake begins with very little exposition. We are introduced to Miller’s character, a likeable truck driver without a steady job, and his girlfriend, a tattoo artist. They seem a happy enough couple – that is, until he gets a mysterious phone call suggesting something darker in his past.
Thanks to an intelligently structured script and some even-handed direction, Mossman is able to toy with us for quite a bit, giving us just enough to care but still keep us guessing. Admittedly, some less-than-stellar supporting actors and weak moments of writing threaten to drag the film under, but there’s far more good than bad, notably impressive sound design, some beautiful camera work from cinematographer David Clawson, and a confident performance from Miller. Combined, they make Into the Wake an impressive directorial debut, and a film worth checking out should it hit a festival near you (or more likely cable/Netflix).
The Longer Day of Happiness (USA 2012 – 99 minutes – Director: Shane Stevens)
In director Shane Stevens’ The Longer Day of Happiness, three siblings, the daughter and adopted sons of a well-known television actress, are faced with dilemmas that will affect the rest of their lives. Each involved in the entertainment industry like their over-bearing mother, their lives appear wonderful from the outside, but internally they’re unfulfilled. Intuitive Lisa (Judith Scott) is treading water both in her career and marriage after giving up a successful acting gig, self-confident Jack (Tyler Brooks, also the film’s writer) is trying to write life back into a stagnating television show, and nervous Garret (Brett Hicks-Maitland) has been preventing his own growth by refusing to take any chances, either in his plays or his own life. Basically, they’re like a lot of people in LA: incredibly self-centered and irritating. So while The Longer Day of Happiness begins as a well-directed and occasionally funny portrait of entertainment professionals, it loses steam, partially because it becomes impossible to empathize with these whiny adult brats thanks to irritating behavior and questionable moments of acting. Longer Day of Happiness starts off with real potential, but it is ultimately marred by uneven performances and a group of self-entitled characters that are at best uninteresting.
Blissestrasse (Canada/Germany 2011 – 100 minutes – Director: Paul Donovan)
A satiric take on fundamentalist Christians, Blissestrasse (or “Blissestraße” which translates to “Bliss Street”) is the story of a pastor who takes a group of American youth to Germany to share the word of Jesus. But sexual desires get the better of the missionaries, including the pastor who blames his homoerotic urges and thirst for booze on the gay demon inside of him. Directed by Paul Donovan and starring Michael McManus, who previously worked together on cult Canadian series Lexx, Blissestrasse has something of a built-in audience. However, for non-fans who don’t have the urge to see anything the actor or director do, there’s nothing here to suggest hunting this film down. While the story sounds hilarious, there are few actual laughs in the film since Donovan seems to have envisioned it as more of a dramatic thriller, which is bewildering when there is a scene with someone defecating himself while running without pants. But instead of having fun with the film or making any kind of scathing indictments, Blissestrasse comes off just as preachy as the characters it attempts to mock. Lacking a unified vision, the story and direction are all over the place, and finishing the second half of the film becomes a chore.