BLACK ROAD. I occasionally lament the fact that, even at my most esoteric, I tend to watch widely distributed, well-known if not always well-regarded movies. Unlike a rock nerd, who might happen upon some transcendent three-piece at a nothing bar in the small hours, I take in mostly what the cinematic establishment pushes at me. Sure, I could scour the Internet in search of burgeoning new voices, but let's be honest: I can barely make this machine work as a word processor. Instead, particularly in recent years, I consume the main-est of mainstream fare and find myself increasingly bitter about the international conspiracy of movie distribution, the studios and their investors who are only interested in multiplying their billions and the stifling of countless frustrated artists. Then, if I'm lucky, I'll sometimes get a little nudging reminder. In this case it came in the form of a streaming Vimeo screener (let's not get too excited about my graduation to 21st century technology; it took me 15 minutes, two cables, multiple forgotten passwords and a litany of curses to make it work) of Black Road, a little sci-fi indie shot in Southwestern Oregon and somehow supported by Coming Attractions Theaters. I caught the trailer some weeks ago, snuck in among regular ones like a homemade headshot at a casting call. It's a rare occurrence to see anything remotely "indie" at the multiplex, much less with a close-to-local setting. My enthusiasm was tempered, though, by the notion of a high-concept, dystopian future story executed on a minimal budget. Truly independent moviemaking is a proving ground for the imagination: The constraints on budget, location, equipment and casting should force an emphasis on writing, preparation and basic cinematic technique. In the most successful cases, restrictions can become crucibles for creating works of art and genius. In the rarest among those, someone pulls off high-genre on a tiny budget: Shane Carruth's Primer (2004) is a perfect example, also David Sandberg's Kung Fury (2015), although it is a short, not a feature, but who's counting?
So, the trailer for Black Road worried as much as excited me, because writer/director Gary Lundgren seemed to have ignored what I see as hard-and-fast dictates for the independent moviemaker. He obviously wanted to make a futuristic science fiction movie without a deep-pocketed benefactor, but rather than simplify, he took to the Internet, crowd-sourced the money he needed for aerial shots and visual effects, and plowed ahead without the aforementioned attention to the basics.
In 2029, cyborg mercenary Dylan (Sam Daly) makes his way to the secessionist state of Jefferson (a nebulous section of Southern Oregon and Northern California) to check in on his ex-girlfriend Sarah (Michelle Lombardo). Though mostly aimless, Dylan gets some guidance from a super-computer he inserts in his head. That computer, Clyde, is voiced by Andrew Wilson, brother of Owen and Luke, Futureman of Bottlerocket, and the closest thing to star power here. Upon arrival in mostly featureless Jefferson, Dylan learns that Sarah has taken up with a cop named Bruce (Danforth Comins), so it looks like a reunion is out. Soon enough, he falls in with Lisa (Leilani Sarelle), the sexpot of the piece. She draws him into a scheme to steal a fortune in gold from her maybe-ex-husband Sterling (Simon Templeman), a former government weapons developer/shaman who uses his "witchcraft" and some sort of psychoactive beet juice for mind control. To what end is and shall remain unclear. The plot sort of rattles on until it accelerates erratically to the definitively indecisive and unsatisfying conclusion.
It pains me to denigrate someone's hard work, given the commitment and drive required to see a project like this through. And, to Gary Lundgren's credit, there are some appealing elements to Black Road: surprisingly high production value, some deliciously lurid lighting, a few meticulously planned and executed camera moves. But the positives are eventually undone by the limitations of the effects, lack of preparation among the cast, and a script that could have used a few more eyes on it, far fewer expository passages and more attention to pace and concision. NR. 80m. BROADWAY.
DIRTY GRANDPA. In explaining to a friend that Robert DeNiro calling Zac Efron a "buttfucker" doesn't qualify as high comedy, I was met with, "So, it was too much for you?" This gave me pause. Upon consideration, the answer is no, it is not too much for me. I am difficult to offend and believe that comedy can be found just about anywhere. Nothing is truly taboo; it just has to be funny and, hopefully, original. And while the idea of making perhaps the greatest movie actor alive sling homophobic slurs at a Mousketeer could seem funny on the page, it loses something in the execution. Especially when repeated ad nauseam for 102 minutes.
The plot, briefly: Grandpa (DeNiro) has just lost his wife of 40 years. He asks Jason (Efron) to drive him from Atlanta to Boca Raton, ostensibly to drop him off at his condo there. Grandpa turns out to be lecherous iconoclast and former Green Beret, crazy antics ensue. Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) has a few standout moments as a ferocious man-eater. Improv genius Jason Mantzoukas does what he can with paltry material. R. 102m. FORTUNA.
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards's Goat Tavern & Tea Room 630-5000.
FIFTY SHADES OF BLACK. A Marlon Wayans parody because the original wasn't funny enough. R. 92m. BROADWAY.
THE FINEST HOURS. Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger and Casey Affleck in a true-story drama about Coasties attempting to rescue oil tankers in a New England winter storm in 1952. Bring a hot beverage. PG13. 117m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
JANE GOT A GUN. Natalie Portman saddles up for a Western about a woman who enlists her ex (Joel Edgerton) to help fend off bad guys. R. 98m. MINOR.
KUNG FU PANDA 3. Po (Jack Black) meets his bio dad and gets back to his roots training a panda army to battle a supernatural bovine villain. R. 102m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI. Drama based on the 2012 terrorist attack starring John Krasinski. R13. 144m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE BIG SHORT. Director Adam McKay helms a talented cast (Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling) in a brilliant, entertaining, troubling movie about the madness of the subprime mortgage crisis with real emotion that succeeds as art and cultural commentary. R. 130m. MINOR.
THE BOY. A woman takes a nannying gig for an English couple's life-size doll. Who knew it would turn creepy? PG13. 97m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE FIFTH WAVE. An alien invasion with disasters, disease and body snatching. Chill — attractive teens are handling it. Starring Chlöe Grace Moretz as a young woman looking for her abducted brother. PG13. 112m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
THE REVENANT. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a frontier survivor Hell-bent on revenge in a gorgeous, punishing Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu film that offers little beyond beauty and suffering. R. 156m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
ROOM. Here's your second chance at seeing this remarkable stunner about a woman struggling to raise her son while they are held captive in a shed. Starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. R. 118M. MINOR.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. The writing and visuals are a bit too faithful to the original, but they work in this nostalgic return. Leads John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are as compelling as more familiar faces. PG13. 135m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill