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Friday, 28 June 2013

The Violation (2013)

Director: Christopher Bradley
Stars: Slade Pearce, Elaine Hendrix, Shayne Topp, Chelsea Ricketts and Beth Grant
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
This film was an official selection at the Jerome Indie Music & Film Festival in Jerome, AZ in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
The Arizona Shorts selection at the Phoenix Film Festival is usually an interesting affair. This year's standout for me was The Violation, an edgy movie written and directed by Hollywood actor turned ASU lecturer, Christopher Bradley. It grabs our attention from moment one, as we realise that we are indeed looking at what we think we're looking at, and progresses on from there, disturbing us while simultaneously asking us why we're disturbed. Given that it was clearly the best film shown, it's surprising to discover that it only made it into the festival on its second attempt and only after some concerted lobbying. Another fan of The Violation is Bill Pierce, who has covered local film for The Examiner since 2010. He championed it at the Phoenix Film Festival and selected it himself to be part of a set of short films he programmed for the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival, that he called AZ Forbidden Films and which was the highlight of that festival for me and others.

I find myself torn as to which set fit it best. It felt far more at home in Pierce's AZ Forbidden Films because everything he selected had an edge and the whole set had a sharper edge because of it. However, the varied but generally polite films in the Arizona Shorts selection really didn't prepare us for what Bradley had in mind and so The Violation stood out from the crowd all the more. Shot in four days as a response to the US military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, around the time of the discussions about potential repealment, it constructs a believable, if carefully contrived, scenario where we voyeuristically bear witness to a pair of perverse acts. What's important is that they're really the same act, but society, in its infinite wisdom, has traditionally applauded one but vilified the other. The film leaves us at a point where one character asks why the two are seen differently and another simply cannot answer. The punchline to this film is silence and it's utterly perfect.

What Bradley gives us is a love triangle, albeit not the usual sort of love triangle. Oscar Heim is a seventeen year old from a wealthy family, who looks good in both a pair of swimming trunks and a tux. He 'has a thing' for his sixteen year old neighbour, Tina Dougherty. Pretty standard, you may feel, but then he spends the opening scene of the film feeling up a pillow with her stolen bikini on it. This is the sort of thing that's joked about in every frat house movie ever made, but watching it feels a little more freaky. That's aided by the fact that we watch it through a telescope pointed at his bedroom window by Tina's younger brother, fifteen year old Mickey. He has a crush on Oscar and he soon gets the chance to act out a similar fantasy when the Heims have a wedding to go to and need someone to babysit their house. In only ten minutes, Bradley raises gay prejudice, class differences and sexual coming of age, yet all in such a way that the complex seems simple.
Slade Pearce is top billed as Mickey Dougherty and he does a solid job in the presence of far more experienced co-stars who get an agreeable amount to do even without being the focus. His white trash mother is played by Elaine Hendrix, one of those memorable actors you've seen and enjoyed in at least a dozen movies but can't quite place what she's best known for. That may be Romy and Michele's High School Reunion or The Parent Trap, in each of which she played major support. The other mother in the film, Oscar's mum, is played by Beth Grant, about whom everything I just said about Hendrix goes double. She alternates Oscar fare like Crazy Heart, No Country for Old Men or The Artist with odd films like this, but may still be most remembered for Donnie Darko or Speed. Yet with experience like theirs to compete with, Pearce holds his own and makes this his picture, literally getting the last word, exactly the right one, and letting it float in the air to stay with us.

I first met Christopher Bradley in a coffee shop, of all things, and I hadn't a clue who he was, even after being introduced. He was Chris who teaches scriptwriting and I was Hal who writes reviews of movies, so we ought to know each other. Only partway into the conversation did I realise that this was Christopher Bradley, who I'd never got to meet at the Royale in Mesa, at which we both saw many movies and at which he presented a screening of Waxwork, in which he appeared at a much younger age. Since then, he's proved to be a gentleman as well as an actor, allowing me to screen Black Gulch, a short film he appeared in back in 2003, at the film festival I programmed at LepreCon 39, and coming out in person to support me and do a Q&A. The Violation underlines that he's also a writer and a director of note, this being easily as important a film as it is a good one. It deserves to be seen widely, and more importantly, discussed. If it plays a festival near you, see it.

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