Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night
“Coming of age” might not be the first descriptor that comes to mind for a story focusing on a woman in her 20s, but the way writer/director Lara Jean Gallagher incorporates that idea into her psychological drama is a lot of what makes it work. Otmara Merrero plays Karen, a 20-something woman unmoored by the breakup of her relationship with an older professional artist. Karen travels from Los Angeles to break into her ex’s Oregon lake house, where she meets Lana (Sydney Sweeney), an enigmatic teenager who seems both older and younger than her years. With the exception of a caretaker for the house (Will Brittain) who appears halfway through, this is largely a two-hander, and both lead performances are strong even as the characters keep things hidden. And Gallagher directs with a slick confidence that somehow manages to evoke something portentous from a stream of roadside pee. Mostly, it’s a strong story about the point when you realize you’ve evolved from needing a mentor for life lessons to potentially being that mentor, and how easy it is to take advantage of that relationship. It’s a solid minimalist exploration of what it means to become “old enough to know better.” Streaming May 15 via Utah Film Center Virtual Cinema.
New French Shorts **1/2
What’s true of most short films programs—uneven quality, even taking into account individual viewer preferences—is perhaps even more so of this collection of seven 2018 and 2019 French shorts from various film festivals. Some of the narratives feel too truncated by a 25-ish minute running time, like Foued Mansour’s Ahmed’s Song
, about a surrogate father-son relationship between a longtime worker at a Parisian public bathhouse and the troubled teen assigned to work there as community service. And others set up an idea that doesn’t quite connect, like Clémence Poésy’s The Tears Thing
and its tale of an actress who reconnects with an ex-girlfriend. There is the chance to see a director show some fun filmmaking skills that warrant a bigger canvas, like the playful visuals Marine Levéel brings to Magnetic Harvest’
s story of a pig farmer trying to find a love connection. Otherwise, there’s a bit too much seriousness until we get to the energetic finale of Benjamin Crotty’s The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin
, which allows a legendary hero of Napoleonic France tell his (self-aggrandizing) story before getting punctured by historical fact. Too few of these films satisfy fully on their own merits, rather than seeming like calling cards for a career in features. Streaming May 15 via ParkCityFilm.org Virtual Cinema.
On a Magical Night **1/2
See feature review
. Streaming May 15 via SLFSatHome.org.
Up from the Streets – New Orleans: The City of Music ***
There’s a fine line between a documentary that strives to be comprehensive and one that ends up feeling overstuffed, and director Michael Murphy manages just to stay on the positive side of that line. Jazz trumpeter and Spike Lee film composer Terence Blanchard narrates an overview of The Big Easy’s musical legacy that begins with the city’s unique status as a mixing place for French, Spanish, African, Native American and Caribbean cultures, and how the mixture of those cultures’ musical traditions gave birth to a peculiarly American art form. Most of what follows involves taking a few minutes each to pay respects to multiple influential figures from New Orleans—Louis Armstrong, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Earl King, Allen Toussaint—with commentary by contemporary musicians like Keith Richards, Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. There’s not much chance to get into depth about any of them, but when lined up end to end—accompanied by plenty of performances of the amazing songs they left behind—you get a solid lesson in what makes this one place so significant in the history of American music. Streaming May 15 via SLFSatHome.org.
The Vast of Night ***1/2
Director Andrew Patterson and screenwriters James Montague & Craig W. Sanger wear their influences baldly on their sleeve, but the result is a nifty low-tech sci-fi tale suffused with bubbling menace. The framing sequence positions it as an episode of a late-1950s Twilight Zone-esque series—complete with Rod Serling sound-alike narrator—set in Cayuga, New Mexico. Over the course of one evening, radio station deejay Everett (Jake Horowitz) and switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) become aware of a strange radio transmission that may portend world-changing events. The first act does a terrific job of re-creating Eisenhower-era small-town life, and establishing an easy chemistry between the cocky Everett and gee-whiz Fay. That prologue also provides a solid context of this story in an era where people are fascinated with the prospect of futuristic technology (like phones people can carry around with them!). Once the plot kicks in, Patterson plays with his direction in engaging ways, like fading to black during a phone call from a military veteran who knows things, giving The Vast of Night
the occasional feel of a War of the Worlds-like radio broadcast (it’s no coincidence that the radio station’s call letters are WOTW). It’s hard for the payoff to match Twilight Zone for a thematic kick, but The Vast of Night
largely evokes an era of curiosity and anxiety. Opens May 15 at Redwood Drive-In.