We’re wrapping up our coverage of the 16th Annual Waterfront Film Festival with three more reviews. As always, we had an amazing time at the Festival. If you want to see some great independent films, enjoy some lovely scenery, and meet some cool people, you need to come to the Festival next year. Check out their website and follow them on your favorite social media sites for updates throughout the year!
This time, I’m reviewing Cas & Dylan and I Put a Hit on You plus the short film, The Other Side.
Cas & Dylan – Yeah, like I’m not going to see a movie starring Tatiana Maslany. Generally, I tend to skip anything described as a “road movie”, because when those go wrong, they really go wrong. But between Maslany and Richard Dreyfuss, I felt like I could count on this to at least be well-acted. And then it turned out to be a funny and thoroughly charming movie.
Richard Dreyfuss is Dr. Cas Pepper, a man with a terminal diagnosis who’s heading west with a dead dog in a cooler. Maslany plays Dylan Morgan, a young flake who hits him for a short ride home. But then Cas accidentally runs over Dylan’s abusive boyfriend and then they’re on the run. The story is lots of fun, and it owes a lot to the well-drawn characters. Dylan is miles away from, well, any of Maslany’s characters on Orphan Black, a likable chatterbox without any sort of plan for her life. Even better is Dreyfuss’ complete refusal to be won over by her. I realize that cranky old man and outgoing young woman is not an unheard of Odd Couple pairing, but the script makes these well-worn archetypes seem fresh again.
There’s just enough for Cas and Dylan to do in the film that it never falls into the standard road movie traps. Her kleptomania and insistence on helping write his suicide note, the mysterious name on Cas’ phone, even the possible criminal investigation into the hit and run; there’s never a time when the movie runs out of steam and just focuses on getting from point A to point B. The clever script by Jessie Gabe (who has a very funny scene as a publishing house receptionist) stays interesting and director Jason Priestly (Yes, that one) makes it look great.
It’s the rare movie that can be described as “feel good” without ever pandering, but Cas & Dylan hits that sweet spot. It’s genuinely warm and funny, and I was completely caught up in it.
The Other Side – I don’t usually review the short films that run with most of the features, because it’s hard to say much about something that runs for five minutes. They’re usually quite good, though. But I wanted to say something specifically about The Other Side, which I loved. It’s this perfect fifteen-minute story of a journalism student meeting with a death row inmate who’s probably innocent. That’s all I want to say about the story, because there’s a twist. Or multiple twists. You’ll get no spoilers from me!
But it’s stunning – it’s just two characters on either side of the glass. Minimal camera set-ups, nothing flashy (except for the clever sound mixing that follows the camera across the glass partition perfectly), just two people sitting down and talking. Josh Wingate and Adele Heather Taylor are exceptional in their roles, and the dialogue is pitch-perfect. It’s an excellent psychological drama that hits harder than you’d expect from even a feature-length. I want to see more from writer/director John Humber in the future – I’m going to be watching for his name.
I Put a Hit on You – I like to close out the festival with a dark comedy whenever possible, and this was exactly what I was looking for. Harper proposes to her boyfriend, Ray, and he rejects her. So she does what any of us would do and gets drunk, then goes on Craigslist and offers to give the ring to anybody willing to assassinate her ex. Once she sobers up, she realizes this was a phenomenally bad idea. But by that time, somebody’s already accepted the contract and so she has to go to Ray’s apartment to warn him and work out exactly what went wrong in their relationship.
Hit gets both parts of the story just right – their preparations for a possible assassin (there’s a mysterious van outside the building after all) are very funny and also seem like exactly the things that regular people would do in a life-or-death situation. And the real surprise is how well the relationship stuff works. It never gets overwhelmed by the high stakes and we get to see Harper and Ray interact enough that we can figure out what isn’t working. And it stays funny the whole time.
More than that, it stays tense. Even when it looks like the contract might be a joke, I just kept waiting for the red dot of a laser scope to appear on Ray’s chest. Somehow, Hit kept me engaged with the character development even while I was all keyed up for something potentially horrifying. Sara Canning and Aaron Ashmore do a great job of balancing out a whole lot of opposing emotions and keeping the audience engaged. The whole thing was suspenseful and funny, and it made for a perfect wrap-up to my weekend.
We’d like to thank the good people at the Waterfront Film Festival for another outstanding experience. Make plans to get out there next year – you will not regret it.