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quietearth [Film Festival 09.20.08] movie review noir crime

Year: 2008
Release date: Unknown
Director: J.L. Vara
Writers: J.L. Vara
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: quietearth
Rating: 6 out of 10

Technicolor neo-noir was how I described this, and I think that's appropriate considering the flamboyant nature of not only the acting, but the entire production design. Technicolor? The costumes were bright solids, reminiscent of the 1950's and with a heavy country twang. The acting? Mad Dog insanity (and I mean Mad Dog, not Crazy Dog), barbershop quartet gangsters, the pre-requisite femme fatale, and polite quiescence. For all the films sensations, the first hour hinted at something much bigger, but remained dull and flat. However, after this hour all the loose ends came together and the story ended on an enjoyable note.

Beginning with a cartoon explanation and credits, my friend turns and asks, "Is this the beginning?". I wasn't sure, but you'd better pay attention because it is. Moving into one of the few sets used for the film, Roy Coop is just home from the Navy to write a book, but unfortunately for him, those barbershop quartet gangsters mistake him for his brother while looking for their boss's kidnapped daughter. Two fingers lighter, they leave him lumped up without the desired information. In comes the femme fatale, Veronica, like she just stepped out of Nadja, oh and I forgot to mention: one of the hoods is Jon Gries who was Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite. Now that was enjoyable! Veronica's position is apathetic and ambiguous, and in the end she leaves Roy to write his novel with his remaining fingers.

At some point I wondered, "Why is Roy staying here?" because the hoods keep coming back and as part of the storyline, both his situation and amount of digits, worsens. While he doesn't know anything, his brother Dale is off with Mad Dog Mantee who committed a sweet sixteen birthday massacre which unfortunately barely gets a mention. This was one of the points in that first hour in which I wished they had some better storytelling. They're off to the hideout with one hostage in tow! And if you're wondering, he's called Mad Dog because he's a bit off-kilter, although his faculties justify his actions just perfectly fine. It seems Dale Coop has been unwittingly pulled into Mad Dog's world, and much of the storyline revolves around Dale's subservient relationship, er, I mean partnership. The kind where 50/50 drops, to 60/40, then to 70/30.

The photography was nothing special and the sets used were very minimal, but as this is a character driven film it wasn't hampered by these things. The filmmakers even went as far as using painted backdrops for the majority of the film as none of it was shot outside unless you count a projector behind a car to simulate movement. There's really not much more to say about it then the design and all its frills were great, right down to the refrigerator.

All of these story lines eventually converge bringing about some semblance of closure, but we're still left wondering about certain things. Generally, this is the other way around in films, they have great beginnings but halfway through fall flat. South of Heaven has some fantastic ideas and a great plot, but in the end needs some re-writing or editing to fix the muddled beginning. I'd still recommend it because even with all it's problems, it's an unusual piece of work.

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