Tuesday, July 2, 2013

At the NYCIFF, Samuel Ashton Hall's tale of loneliness and murder: SIMPLE THINGS

TrustMovies saw only two films in the recently concluded New York City International Film Festival (NYCIFF): Full Circle and SIMPLE THINGS. The former seemed to him a standard, if stylish, piece of ghetto-pleasing pizzazz (and pizza), while the latter proved a much slower-paced combination of thriller and character study that, despite some faults, has a noticeable level of integrity.

The work of first-time British filmmaker, Samuel Ashton Hall (shown at left), Simple Things tells the tale of two people: a young man named Luke (played with a nice combination of empti-ness and seeking by relative newcomer Christian Edwards, shown in the penultimate photo, below) and a young woman called Kate, equally lonely but a bit more socially integrated (a very real and easy-to-empathize-with performance from Tara Godolphin, shown at bottom, and at the computer further below). That these two will meet is no surprise, but how and why they do makes for some pretty-good story telling, a little action and bloodshed, and finally some thoughtful, even moving moments.

Mr. Hall wrote, directed, shot, edited, did the sound and a few other things on his movie, so this is pretty much a one-man show. It is low-budget in the extreme but looks rather good, considering the £2,500 that it cost to make. Hall's writing is always serviceable and sometime much better than that, and his camerawork and composition (above) are, as well. He seems particularly good with his actors, drawing excellent performances from his two leads, as well as from his two major supporting players.

Hall's opening scene is a nifty one, and on the off-chance that you might be able to see the film eventually, I don't want to spoil it by going into the plot. (It took my companion completely by surprise.) Later there's a terrific scene between a gangster named Frank Mills (is this what happened to the missing guy who provides the title of that famous song from the musical, Hair?) and Luke's lovely business partner, Andrea. Hall manages all this in extreme close-up, with sharp dialog, a couple of traces of blood, and actors -- Charlie Kemp (above) and Rebecca Keatley (below) -- who are first-rate. It's a very immediate and frightening scene, and could stand on its own as an calling-card example of what can be done with little money but a lot of creativity and talent.

The film's pivotal scene will probably divide audiences. My companion didn't buy it, but I did. It involves a conversation, the first they've had, between Luke and Kate, the outcome of which changes Luke, and it changes the course of the movie, too. This is another first-rate few minutes in which the actors give their all and the payoff is grand.

That said, for a movie that lasts only 73 minutes, there's too much time spent with the camera gazing at our two leads as they look lonely. We could have done with learning a little more about the lives of the these two instead. Also, the camera is awfully fond of following our “hero" as he walks and stalks and run and chases. A little of this goes a long way. And as for the routing of the bad guys, this takes place far too easily.

Though I did not give away plot, I must at least say that the movie is about moral choice and redemption (a word I tend to run from as fast as possible, given its tendency to dunk the audience in a wallow of sentimentality). Here, we don't wallow; Hall is too smart for that. Still, he has made his Simple Things a little too simple for the vast questions raised and lives changed, or snuffed out.

So how do you get to see this movie? I've no idea, as its showing at the NYCIFF has ended. Right now, instead of worrying about getting this movie seen, Mr. Hall tells me via email that, while he is considering the idea of putting Simple Things on a Vimeo -- or some such -- link (if anything like that happens, I'll note it here in the days to come), he in now seeking funding for a new film on which he has just begun pre-production. In his own words, "It’s called Butterfly and its short synopsis is: 'A young contract killer attempts to come to terms with her troubled past.' It is, dare I say, ‘a hard-hitting crime drama/thriller,' with a Lisbeth Salander-esque main character." Meanwhile, you can learn more about the director's likes and dislikes on his Facebook page here.

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