Quick Reviews: 'A Love Song', 'Firestarter' | Gentle Western Drama, Supernatural Horror Adaptation
A LOVE SONG
Ah, isn't it good time to crank out some awful amp tones and jam some electric guitar, while you're also taking in the American landscapes as intended: through a small window of a mobile home. That truly is the essence of director-writer-editor Max Walker-Silverman's feature debut, western drama A Love Song. Mostly known for her character actor turns, Dale Dickey stars as Faye, widowed about-60-year-old traveller who's parked her car and mobile home in rural Colorado. When we meet her, she's waiting for an old, also widowed, childhood friend Lito (Wes Studi) to visit while some locals ask her to move as they have some digging to do. Faye seems nervous but is seemingly ready to flirt and make a move on Lito, two of them end up then spending a night together when he finally does arrive.
Walker-Silverman seems to be more fluent with his directing than writing, as far as A Love Song is any proof of those skills. There are nice, small touches to make the otherwise ordinary setting feel a bit more lively, like with the group of locals led by a kid sister that brings some quirkiness to scenes where Dickey is quite subdued. Small scale of the story and few distractions also offer Dickey and Studi's acting a chance to pop, and they certainly have terrific chemistry with each other. In moments that their characters share, there's enough room left between lines and topics to indicate that Lito and Faye have indeed known each other beforehand. Walker-Silverman's writing and his and co-editor Affonso Gonçalves' cutting rhythms are on shakier ground once the next morning comes, as Faye gets left roaming around the hills and there doesn't seem to be a proper idea for the ending, even one where her life just simply goes on and we don't know her next move.
Smileys: Acting, directing
Play with fire and you'll get burned, teased for having no Google and studied extensively by evil scientists. Film studios famously don't like to scatter the ashes so here's a remake of yet another film adaptation of a Stephen King novel called Firestarter, this time directed by Keith Thomas and written by Scott Teems. 11-year-old Charlie McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) was born with powers involving pyrokinesis and is now living a rather secluded life with her mind-controlling dad Andy (Zac Efron) and telekinetic mom Vicky (Sydney Lemmon), except that she doesn't seem to control her powers, especially when she gets bullied at school. This gets the attention of authorities that got parents their powers through drug trials, leading Andy and Charlie to be on the run as they get chased by powerful hunter John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes).
There's a lot of richness available with all that setup, whether that's a father-daughter relationship, rising above the bullies and standing up for yourself, coming to terms with one's body or corrupt motivations behind the authorities' trials. Unfortunately Firestarter only occasionally manages to build on those things, mainly with the first one, but the movie is such a mess elsewhere that much of it doesn't come together. Tonal shifts between scenes are harsh, Thomas isn't quite able to draw complementary performances from his cast and even the main trio portraying the family doesn't have much chemistry. You could also make an argument that the score has top billing here (work by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies) but even that rarely gels with the visual language, despite sounding great by itself. In fact, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to hear if this movie got significantly re-arranged based on studio notes since there's not a lot of rhyme or reason in its flow, aesthetics or world-building.
Frowneys: Tone, directing, casting, VFX