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“Rogers Park” Offers a Compelling Drama About Relationships in Crisis

In Kyle Henry’s Chicago-based Rogers Park, an anniversary bash devolves into a sibling screaming match that kicks off a taut exploration of midlife crises. As they celebrate ten years, Zeke (Antoine McKay) gives Grace (Sara Sevigny) a sparkling ring in front of their friends, but she later needles him about the price tag until he admits that it’s actually cubic zirconia. The seemingly stable union that they perform in public actually teeters on the edge of ruin, plagued by financial and sexual woes threatening their long-standing union. Grace’s brother Chris (Jonny Mars) isn’t any better off, in part thanks to lasting trauma from their abusive father. He and his girlfriend, Deena (Christine Horn), are on rocky ground, too: Chris’s career as a navel-gazing writer hits a wall while Deena’s wandering eyes lead her into someone else’s bed. One night, over laced cupcakes and glasses flush with wine, everyone’s problems come to a tempestuous head.

Writer Carlos Treviño deftly crafts a compelling relationship drama out of what might have seemed like banal catastrophes. It helps, too, that cinematographer Drew Xanthopoulos trains plenty of close-ups on the understated quartet at this quiet indie’s center. Their interpersonal disasters could happen anywhere, but Henry showcases the very real neighborhood to great effect. There’s no sparkle in Rogers Park, but there’s enough charm in it to make it worthwhile to weather the brewing storm.

Rogers Park
Directed by Kyle Henry
Opens April 27, Cinema Village

 

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‘Room’

Asparse, enigmatic tale of a woman’s ultimately mysterious quest, Kyle Henry’s Room is one of those rare American indies that confidently and successfully propose their own narrative logic, drawing viewers into a mental puzzle that may not contain a single clear solution. Miserable middle-aged Julia (Cyndi Williams), a Texas mom suffering through her shit job at a bingo parlor, suddenly begins experiencing migraines and blackouts, eventually crashing her car during one episode. Still stunned and bloody, she boards a plane for New York on impulse at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Once there, she sets off in search of the industrial-looking room that has begun to appear to her through invasive images flooding her consciousness with a staticky pirate-transmission buzz. (Henry’s background in experimental filmmaking suggests the similarities between Julia’s inner visions and Michael Snow’s visionary classic Wavelength aren’t accidental.) As in Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy or Jennifer Reeves’s The Time We Killed, snatches of media broadcasts from recent political events act as an outward sign of Julia’s inner barometrics. And like those two films, Room uses the psychic vagaries of individuals to serve as metaphors for a nation that has itself gone dangerously adrift with no certain goal in sight.

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Gangs of Winnipeg: Shapeless Canadian Indie Strikes Out

Referring not to the old Burt Reynolds show nor the armored fighting vehicle so deck in Iraq, the title of Canadian indie Noam Gonick’s film alludes to a mute, pyromaniac First Nations teenager (Kyle Henry) adrift in the South Central–ish urban hellhole that is the north end of Winnipeg. The name is Canadian-ese for a prospective gangbanger, and this is not Guy Maddin’s whimsical-eccentric hometown; these gray, cold neighborhoods bear the deep cuts of decay and poverty as glumly as any Detroit development. Gonick, whose credits include the Maddin doc Waiting for Twilight, is deep into a post–John Singleton wallow here: Having run away from the Brokenhead rez, the boy strolls obliviously into the middle of a pissant drug war between the Indian Posse (a real gang, but here they number six or seven) and a leather-bound mob of Filipinos, led by a high-strung sociopath named Omar (although the actor, Ryan Black, is actually Ojibway, and Omar’s drunken mother appears to be Slavic). Toss in a gaggle of cackling streetwalkers, crack-sucking trannies, and a retarded street stooge, and you’ve got a paradigmatic afternoon of overwrought ghetto sermonizing, which is the same whether the self-annihilating underclass involved is black, Native, or an immigrant mix.

Shot by Ed Lachman, the movie delivers a wintry reality that cuts through your clothes, but Gonick’s story (co-written with David McIntosh) is unadventurous and shapeless, a matter hardly energized by the protagonist’s utter impassivity. Time and again, Stryker watches gang brawls, parties, and sex, and then sets something on fire. The dead-end social points Gonick is making are so blunt they’re hardly points at all anymore, but the galleon anchor that’s weighing down this well-intentioned homey is the amateur acting. With the exception of Black—who co-produced the film, and whose pro acting chops translate to soap opera–ish malevolence—Gonick’s entire cast sounds as if they are reading the phone book, even as they rap (in the native
tongue) and fuck-fuck-motherfucker-fuck in each other’s faces. The sense of scald
ing realism withers on the vine without any convincing line readings; Gonick has attested to weeks of rehearsals, but he needed more.