Underground A.C. in ‘Ice Grill, USA’; Clive Owen’s ‘Boys’
This is a tale of film festival movies, one from the big name Toronto International film fest starring Clive Owen, and one from the recently concluded Atlantic City Cinefest presented by the Downbeach Film Festival.
Let’s begin with Ice Grill, USA, a labor of love by co-directors and co-screenwriters Greg Santarsiero and Mark Bernardi. The filmmakers spent part of their childhood in Brigantine where they met and became friends. Now they are part of the independent film movement, which is really an underground film movement.
Just like self-produced bands that make and distribute their own records, Santarsiero and Bernardi write and direct their own movies, then sell them on the Web and on the film festival circuit, hoping to finance more movies off the DVD sales. Occasionally this guerilla, ultra low-budget filmmaking breaks out into the mainstream with a theatrical run, ala The Blair Witch Project.
Ice Grill, USA is a surprisingly well-acted tale that feels like a low-budget take on Mean Streets (A.C. style), about a couple of brothers from Atlantic City who are looking to cash in on the action. Their job is to cater to the special needs of certain casino high rollers whose desires aren’t exactly mainstream or legal.
Auggie Logan (Connor Fox), while beginning his new gig working with his brother in the high-roller game, is also moonlighting as a drug dealer with his childhood pal Cesar (Michael Angelo Ortiz). Despite his illegal activities he still has some scruples, and is trying to balance making dirty money with living by the working-class principals he learned from his dad. His brother Bobby (Mark Kochanowicz) thinks scruples are for chumps.
Auggie loves Cesar’s sister Claudia (Denise Ramirez), but she is playing a dangerous game as the gal pal of two gangster wannabes. It is an explosive set of circumstances and several characters will get caught in the crossfire.
Ice Grill, USA is a cut above the standard self-made movies, thanks in large part to a solid script and the casting of professional actors, rather than all family and friends. The filmmakers wisely decided to use professional casting with Katherine Hinchey as the casting director, and local and background casting by the Atlantic City-based Wiest-Barron-Ryan casting agency.
Ice Grill, USA is film that shows that Greg Santarsiero and Mark Bernardi have enough drive and talent to one day have a film that finds its way to a mainstream release.
For more info on their film visit their Web site icegrillusa.com.
Clive Owen changes gears from his recent high profile Hollywood work (Duplicity, The International) to a low key and effective film about death, parenting and working through the pain, The Boys Are Back, which played at the Toronto Film Festival. Directed by Scott Hicks (Shine) and based on the true events chronicled in the book by Simon Carr, Owen stars as Carr’s stand-in, Joe Warr, a sportswriter in Australia who has lost the wife he worships and depends on to cancer. He has no clue how to be a single parent to his six-year-old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) and Harry (George MacKay), his teenage son from a previous marriage. His solution is to deal with his grief by tossing aside discipline and letting the boys run hog wild while he joins in the fun as a willing participant, rather than as a parent. This solution vexes his in-laws and the poor young woman from Artie’s school who is looking to Joe for a romance, and instead winds up with additional childrearing responsibilities without any perks.
The acting is first rate in this film that presents some inevitable clichés from the grief-dealing playbook, but also tosses in the occasional change of pace zinger to keep the film from drowning in sorrow. The triumph of learning how to be a good father is the payoff that evolves from the grief, making for a quietly uplifting finale. n
Ice Grill, USA **1/2
Written & directed by Greg Santarsiero and Mark Bernardi
The Boys Are Back **1/2
Directed by Scott Shine; rated PG-13