A Review of “Pastor’s Kid”

Pastor’s Kid, a film by Benjamin I. Koppin, must be a labor of love. Billed as being based on a true story, the movie does indeed function with a strong sense of authenticity, at least to my eyes. Viewers follow Riley (Courtney Bandeko), a disaffected and conflicted young woman, in the hours and days after being roofied at a bar. Our perspective trails Riley in moments of reflection and realization that attend her dismay, not only at what happened at the bar, but at the experiences she’s had her whole life. In some sense the entire film is comprised of vignettes of those reflective moments, and we pop back and forth between the present moment and key situations from Riley’s past.

Anchoring the past is young Riley, played with grace and unique presence by Marisol Miranda. The filmmakers struck gold with this actor, who mirrors the pensive inner life that Bandeko gives to older Riley. Both act well with their eyes, and the interiority suggested by their performances allows them truly own their scenes. In many ways, the world of the film orbits them. They become a still point in the midst of the tumultuous realms that surround them.

This is a film that lives in the tension between active seeking and accidental finding, between finding yourself lost and being surprised that you’ve been found. Coming as it does in the midst of a potent moment of spiritual deconstruction among younger Americans, the film is situated to strike a particular chord. It could easily have come off as preachy, or too easy, or – indeed, in one of the strongest lines from the movie – as “a cliché.” I think the filmmakers and actors managed take it beyond those kinds of trite, pedantic resolutions.

Without giving anything away, I think Pastor’s Kid is able to highlight the potential for redemption in the midst of what simply can’t be undone in our lives. We do things that can’t be taken back. Things are done to us that we alone can’t repair. Riley understands that she’s lost something of herself in the attack; that loss is disconcerting and painful. But the event is also a catalyst causing her revaluate her relationship with her estranged mother and – maybe – with her equally-estranged faith. Riley is both a protagonist and an antagonist. Will she return to numbing herself or will she allow herself to open up to past experiences and emotions? Whichever route she chooses will hurt.

Healing wounds requires touching them, and that’s the painful part; sometimes running away is the only response that seems valid. We’re all traumatized, and we all live in various states of fight, flight, or freeze. It makes sense, then, when Riley’s mother, the voice of God, and even Riley herself are left asking, “Are you done yet?” Done with anger, done with fear, done with running, done with dissipation; the viewer is left to parse the potential of that question and any answers that might follow.

Pastor’s Kid is a unique movie with intriguing pacing, strong performances, and solid, memorable characters. It feels like a distant cousin to Rian Johnson’s classic neo-noir film, Brick. Though less stylized than that movie, Pastor’s Kid is a film with a similarly confident perspective. To me, it succeeds most strongly in moments of subtlety and ambivalence. It’s a film worth your time.

On a personal note, I’ve known a lot of PKs. I’ve seen their struggles up close. It feels honorable to provide a particular view into their world in a way that feels honest and heartfelt. Kudos to Koppin and the whole writing and production team for that.

For more information, see https://pastorskidthemovie.com/

All imagery here copyright Ironside Films.


Full disclosure: the featured actor in Pastor’s Kid, Courtney Bandeko, was a model for many of my Drawing classes in the Art Program at The University of Missouri. I’m glad to know she’s gone on to do creative work she loves.

Quarantined With Nicholas Cage

What did you do during the pandemic?

A lot of people picked up a new skills and or hobbies during our collective quarantine. Some people got going with a sourdough starter. Some people began learning a new language. Others just worked on their alcoholism.

What I did was decide to watch as many Nicolas Cage movies as I could.

Nicolas Cage in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” 2022.

While I didn’t make it through his entire oeuvre, what I did do was see a good mix of older and newer movies, both good and not so good. From that exploration I’ve collected five below that I think demonstrate the recent best of Nicolas Cage. I’ll also rank them from #5 to #1.

Nicholas Cage in “Vampire’s Kiss” 1988.

I’ve got a lot to say about each of these films but I will constrain myself to just a few sentences, a few tasty bits of weirdness, to get you in the door. Why try to convince you? Because I really think that these are high-quality Nicolas Cage movies. You may have a sense that Nicolas Cage is not the greatest actor of his generation and, sure, there are some reasons why one might think that. He is a polarizing figure. Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t say he’s boring. I think that if you look at specific moments in the Oscar-winning actor’s career, you will see that he has moments of pure transcendence.

Given that, I’m always down for a foray into cinematic ridiculousness with him.

5) Pig (2021)

Nicholas Cage as a grimy, crazy, disaffected former-chief who goes all Fight Club in an attempt to recover his stolen truffle-sniffing pig. What more do you need? Best part: When our pig hunter shames the hell out of the hoity-toity world of fine dining.

“Pig” movie poster

4) Mom and Dad (2017)

This genre-bender reverses a lot of what you might expect from where you think it is headed, and that’s good. There are classic one-liners, great Cage rage sequences, and some fun camera work and editing. Best part: Selma Blair (i.e. Mom) in a great match up with Cage in a role that plays off his crazy with some crazy of her own.

“Mom And Dad” movie poster

3) Between Worlds (2018)

Ok, listen. This is one weird movie. It’s got an interesting sci-fi premise and would have been a much worse movie in less confident hands. Cage and veteran Franka Potente (Run Lola Run, The Borne Identity) anchor the film with seriousness and earnestness, in spite of how ridiculous parts of it are. And parts are really ridiculous. The scene where Cage’s character is being hosed down while dancing is just next level. And then there’s the scene where the character is having sex while READING A BOOK OF POETRY BY NICHOLAS CAGE. Ok? We’re getting meta here. It’s worth the watch just for the water hose thing.

Nicholas Cage and Penelope Mitchell in “Between Worlds”

“Between Worlds” movie poster

2) Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

Imagine walking into an abandoned, decrepit Chuck-E-Cheese’s and being attacked by animatronic characters that have been possessed by evil forces. That’s the basic idea here. Ok, now imagine you’re Nicholas Cage AND YOU HAVE NO DIALOGUE AT ALL. No words are spoken by the star and top-billed actor in the movie. None. This movie is mostly just campy fun, but half of the tension it carries is found in waiting for and expecting words to come out of Cage’s mouth. This full-on indie project must have been someone’s labor of love that just happened to get Cage behind it. It’s so odd and off-tone in ways, yet it works. Come for the epic death blows to possessed animatronics, stay for Cage’s wordlessness.

“Willy’s Wonderland” movie poster

1) Mandy (2018)

Mandy is a work of art. Italian-Canadian Director Panos Cosmatos continues in Mandy the qualities that made his epic Beyond the Black Rainbow so strange and powerful. Atmospheric space and light. Intense color. Aural compositions that influence the space and visuals. The use of chiaroscuro to force viewers to complete the dynamics of action and scenic structure. Absolutely one of the best movies I’ve seen a decade, Mandy embraces its heavy-handed narrative and unanswered questions. Yet the emotion that comes through is palpable and so important to how it remains re-watchable. Andrea Riseborough’s subtle and keenly-felt performance is a wonderful foil to the insanity mounting in Cage’s character. If you see only one movie here, see this one.

“Mandy” movie poster

To conclude, I have to say that the movies Nicholas Cage has made in his mid to late 50s are bending toward a quirky and chaotic quality that can’t be easily dismissed. Yes, there are duds, and perhaps Cage himself is a dolt of a dude. But with roles like the ones I’ve listed above, he’s continuing to show himself to be a capable, if odd, actor more often than not.

Becoming the Student #6: 2nd Corporal, 3rd Missouri Infantry, CSA

Jeremy Grove is a man who loves family and history. Through some interactions with friends a few years ago he ended up witnessing a Civil War reenactment event. In conversation with the participants he found that he wanted to participate as well. Soon thereafter he joined a Confederate reenactment unit. I asked him if he was a secret Rebel, but he had ancestors who fought on both sides in the war. Jeremy had a great, great, great grandfather who marched for the Confederate States of America with General Shelby’s Iron Brigade, while another was among the first Union soldiers to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

IMG_84942nd Corporal, 3rd Missouri Infantry, CSA (Jeremy Grove), Acrylic on paper, 27 by 22 inches. 2014.

Jeremy on Reenacting for the Confederate Army:

“A good thing to come from my participation in reenactments is that we highlight a time when slavery was an issue. The reality is that human trafficking is still an issue; slavery is still an issue. And if, through my portraying a Confederate soldier, I can have conversations and engage with people – and ultimately raise awareness of the reality that human trafficking is perhaps worse now than it has ever been in history – then I feel that it’s a good way to use history to learn from our past and make a change.”

On the History of War:

“Sobering and horrifying. All wars are wars about resources, nothing more.”

As we dialogued through the evening, our topics ranged from specific events during the Civil War to the idea of state sovereignty, from public history to personal history. Jeremy’s discursive narratives on the battles and movements of governments and armies as they impacted Missouri was amazing. Later on we moved into eastern European folklore, film appreciation, the Large Hadron Collider, faith trajectories, China, Japan, and hardcore table-top gaming. We rounded things out sharing our experiences of the adventure of marriage and the glory of parenting.

Each moment of our talk was charged with intensity and meaning; there were so many quotable, memorable moments. Jeremy’s energy, passion, and desire to live with awareness and thoughtfulness is inspirational. He’s a good man. Thanks for sharing so many grand histories, ideas, and laughs with me, sir!

Sci-Fi Film Worth Seeing Again (and Again [and Again])

It’s been nearly a decade since Shane Carruth’s Primer came out. The movie is an unconventional time-travel* film and extremely low-budget ($7,000) project that delivers on every level. On a whim, I watched it again yesterday and was pleasantly surprised at how well it holds up. In some sense, it’s even better now.

primer

One of the things that makes it feel better to me in 2013 is that it is clearly from a time before social media really took off – the computers are as big as Buicks, the pace of life and modes of interpersonal exchange are still face-to-face, and the technology is less ubiquitous, more alchemical. The film plays on ethos of now-tech giants having started around the kitchen tables and in the garages of 70s, 80s, and 90s suburbia. The film also succeeds in bringing the human equation – the brokenness of human nature and the contingencies of our perceptions of reality – to the fore, never cramming the sci-fi down viewers’ throats. Even the technical jargon, which actually seems to bear some relationship to real science, is presented as asides rather than lame attempts at pseudo-explanation (I’m talking about you, Prometheus).

The filmmaker also presents compelling and simple camera work. Nothing flashy. Useful cuts. Good pacing. Subtlety. Nice compositional balance. All the basics of fundamental visual dynamics where the audience doesn’t need to be firebombed to understand what’s happening. We never focus on the technology, we focus on people.

Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 11.20.40 AMAaron and Abe realize something unique is going on inside The Box.

In an era where lame reboots and aimless, mindless sci-fi films are a dime a dozen, it’s gratifying that a well-executed, thoughtful movie can be made in the genre and stand the test of time. To me, Primer holds a position similar to films like Donnie Darko or Brick (both of which also happened to be made in the first half of the 2000s). These are noir-ish, psychological films that ask big questions and mix realism and surrealism in such a way that they feel like lived experiences. The dislocations, paradoxes, neurotic turns, and seemingly inconsequential points of aesthetic and conceptual concern upon which these films pivot put the big-budget/shoot-em-up/blow-everything-up/summer-block-busters to shame. What Shane Carruth did with seven grand makes Michael Bay (with his hundreds of millions) look like a chump.

That Primer won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004 makes complete sense. If you haven’t seen the film, do it now. It’s streaming on Netflix.

*People who know me know that, in general, I HATE time-travel movies – they’re usually bogus and annoying plot devices that offer little in terms of real narrative, conceptual, or emotional meaning. But when it works, it works.