Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 18, 2019 10:05 pm 
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A respite from Winter Movie Doldrums

A wispy, sensitive little coming-of-ager set in a world of boys without dads, Don't Come Back from the Moon is a handsomely lensed Terrence Malick-ish mood piece of abandoned youth from a novel by Dean Bakopoulos set in Detroit relocated to the edge of the California desert, near the Salton Sea. Cheung is a cinematographer turned director, and the accent is on the visuals. It's no accident that the slim, dark lead, Jeffrey (or Jeff) Wahlberg, nephew of Mark, and rumored to be very much under his protection, has lips and eyebrows to die for and lustrous olive skin. It's nearly a ghost town, the factory closes, the resort hotel long ago blew away, and the men all run off with the cash leaving notes saying they've "gone to the moon." The story is narrated by 16-year-old Mickey (Wahlberg), an aspiring writer. He and his little brother Kolya (the busy child actor Zackary Arthur) are abandoned by James Franco (a producer of this movie) and left with their youthful mom, Rachida Jones. Their parents were high school sweethearts.

Festival blogger Melissa Stang envisioned the filmmakers in an idea session coming up with "like [shooting] an Urban Outfitters catalog in Burning Man. . . using notes from What's Eating Gilbert Grape and The Last Picture Show?" My thought was also of a photo shoot, only one Bruce Weber might stage at a desert junior high school by getting the kids to get pretend-drunk and smooch.

But Jeff Wahlberg not merely has a face the camera loves. He also exudes some real sensitivity. His voice-over, so essential to whatever forward motion the loosely structured film acquires, is disarmingly offhand and subtle, spoken in a confiding undertone. As Mickey, he has to be the man in the family now, or at least cook eggs for his little brother and mom, and amid the teen wildness that ensues upon the male exodus of the town he falls in love with a girl (Alyssa Elle Steinacker) whose dad also has "gone to the moon." The rest is weird, surreal stuff, sort of Sci-Fi, really, not always quite coherent, with lots of shaky-cam, and longeurs, even though this is short. But with its beauteous images, this is still a good calling card movie for the young actors, should they need one.

Don't Come Back from the Moon, 85 mins., debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival June 2017, where it was reviewed by Sheri Linden in Hollywood Reporter, who heralded the director's "unaffected compassion for his characters." It has its theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles and in VOD Jan. 18, 2019. Watched for this review on an online screener Jan. 10, 2019. TRAILER.


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