Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Christmas present from Minnesota (but one you can't unwrap just yet): Dave Ash's 2021

It's always nice -- in addition to covering filmmakers based in California, New York and countries all around the world -- to have an independent movie-maker from some of the culturally lesser-known American states check in with us here at TrustMovies. Earlier this year we heard from Oklahoma via a lovely little narrative film called Home, James. Arizona's been represented by the taste-free Pizza Shop: The Movie and a nice little documentary, Underwater Dreams. And now, on Christmas Day we're covering a film (his second) from Minnesota-based filmmaker, Dave Ash. If his 2021 (the title doubles as the year the film takes place) is any indication, this oft-frozen state is a hotbed of sublime talent.

Mr. Ash, shown at right, has done something rather remarkable here. He's combined several genres -- rom-com, sci-fi, dystopian future, mystery, character study, and maybe a few more I'll discover via a second viewing -- into a single slim-but-bracing little movie. It looks very homemade, as indeed it is. Even a few minutes into it, however, I suspect you'll be hooked. This is because, in each genre he tackles, Ash finds the one thing that makes it matter -- the humanity at the heart of it all. 2021 may be lacking in certain stylish factors, but in terms of content and characterization, this is one special movie.

Who knew that such first-rate talent existed in the Minneapolis area as leading man Clarence Wethern (above), a New Orleans-born actor who relocated to Minneapolis after most of his family lost their homes during Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana's loss in Minnesota's gain, for Mr. Wethern excels in every respect as John, the nerdy, exceedingly bright and maybe Asperger-tinged fellow at the center of Ash's film, who falls hard for a young lady named Emily (Bethany Ford, below) who is something of a mystery and may be every bit as problemed as is our hero.

John, you see, is something of a programming genius, who is asked by his immediate boss, as well as by that boss' boss, to solve a certain singularity problem that is looming and, in fact, is en route to be solved, perhaps by his company's competition. Setting his movie a mere seven years hence, Mr. Ash makes it unnecessary to dabble much in any special effects, for our physical lives and environments won't have changed much in the intervening time.

The filmmaker is either a very smart guy, or he and the other fellow responsible for the story here, Michael Lent, have done their research and due diligence in order to make the "science" part of the equation seem real and even somewhat understandable to the viewer. Einstein, Gödel, Turing and Kurzweil all figure into this mix, though you don't have to be a scientist to understand how and why.

More important, the human equation is always in front of us -- and just as understandable, whether it is taking the form of John's therapist (a very intriguing and humorous performance by Charles Hubble, above); his best friend, Mitch (a sleazy-but-lovable Sam Landman, below, who notes pridefully to John that, "While you were out there searching for the perfect 'ten,' I nailed five 'twos'!"). The dialog here is often quite funny and on the mark, as well.

Also on tap is John's not-particularly-to-be-trusted boss, Brandon (played with just the right amount of enthusiasm and withholding by Scot Moore, below). But finally, it is the performances of Wethern and Ms Ford that makes this movie a don't-miss. Wethern, especially, is so real and unsettling that it often hurts to watch the guy. Your heart goes out to him, even as you're eventually frightened as hell by what he might do.

One of the nicest surprises of 2021 is that you won't really know what the film is about until it's over. The workplace, a promotion, therapy, love, success, science, technology and art -- all of these swirl around as the story works its way to a climax in which everything zeros in on exposing... what? Well, among other things, the content of our character.

In my headline above, I mention that this film is a kind of Christmas present that you can't yet unwrap. Too true, since 2021 is not now available for my readers to view. A release of some sort is planned for 2015, but because I love this film so much and want to see it reach as wide an audience as possible, I am beating the drum a bit in advance here. As soon as some kind of release is scheduled, I will re-post this review, with updated info on how you can see it.

Meanwhile, get ready, eventually, for your tardy and very unusual holiday gift from Minnesota.

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