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Overall Rating
3.29

Awesome: 14.29%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average85.71%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 1 rating


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cicadas
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by Chris Parry

"Heartfelt, capable, valiant, but not quite ready for prime time."
3 stars

Reviewing a first time filmmaker's debut outing is rarely easy when the budget is low and the filmmaker has put a year or two of their heart and soul into things. When it all clicks and the acting is stellar and the locations grand and the story polished, then it's easy. That's the time when you say things like "I can't believe nobody has picked this gem up," and in the back of your mind you know you just made a friend for life. But most of the time you have to find ways to say "hmm... sorry man, sucked," or "nice try, but you might have held off for another year and done this thing right," without feeling like you're sending the filmmaker out to the garage with a shotgun. cicadas (there are no caps in the title) floats somewhere around the middle ground between these two extremes. It's most definitely a first time feature filmmaker's work, and the low budget is right there on the screen for all to see, and the acting is middling, and the DV format looks washed out, and the script needed a kick up the ass... but somehow it all comes together to be a very watchable film experience.

Anna (Lindsay Broockman), a young teenage girl considered a nerd by most, has the unenviable job of looking after her two brothers while her parents take off on weekly trips out of state on business. Thankfully, it's not a tough job, as little brother Simon (Bryan Chafin) spends his days sitting in a tree, while older brother and troll freak Jacob (Paul Conrad) spends his days playing video games and drawing. There are potential dangers everywhere, not the least of which is Jacob's buddy, who insists on cornering Anna at every opportunity and making grabs at her breasts, and the kids that extort young Simon every day at school aren't exactly pleasant. But for the most part, life's worst moments for Anna involve having to wash the dishes and not being able to pick the music as her brother drives her to school in the morning.

Then along comes James (Brandon Howe), the Christian slater-esque new kid at school, who has weird hair, an earring, and a ready-to-flip middle finger. James has an attitude problem, and could care less about Anna, or anyone else for that matter. He's a writer, a poet, and he's had trouble at his old school, which led to him being booted. Oh yeah, his brother died, dad fled and his mom's a drunk. Because, that's the way these things work.

Anna and James are thrust together by a well meaning teacher and thus begins the love/hate relationship that will be at the core of the film for the next hour plus.

So is it any good? Geez man, such questions are tough to answer in cases like these. Here's one way of measuring it - you write a script, then go out and shoot it with first time actors, a small crew, no money and a digital video camera that really isn't at a tehcnological stage where it looks good yet. Do all that in and around a house with cramped rooms and then cut it together and let's see what you managed to create. In that context, cicadas is a triumph of talent and drive over lack of resources.

But in order to really evaluate a film, we have to look at it against every other film out there. Sure, it's admirable to work with a low budget and pull it off, but the final product has to be measured against not only similarly low budget movies, but also other movies in the genre, and for that matter, other movies outside the genre. It has to be judged against Scooby Doo, and Citizen Kane, and Iron Giant and You've Got Mail and Hellraiser 5. And that's where cicadas begins to wane.

It's a big job to rest an entire film on one young inexperienced actress' shoulders, and Lindsay Broockman struggles to pay back that confidence. A Leelee Sobieski-like teen who has a few TV credits to her name, the task of taking on the lead in a teen angst romantic drama proves to be just too much a lot of the time. Granted, writer/director Kat Candler's screenplay has a few first timer glitches, which certainly don't help the sometimes nervous-looking cast, but credit where it's due, they don't shame themselves in the effort.

Paul Conrad stands out above the rest of the cast as a guy who can at least convince himself that he is the character he's playing, but Brandon Howe certainly doesn't, and he has far more screen time to contend with as the new bad boy in town.

The screenplay itself is the biggest problem cicadas has to deal with. Problems arise but are dealt with in quick fashion. Menacing situations are let slide and turn into minor speedbumps in the road of teen angst existence within seconds, and the big finish that is supposed to make all the previous problems meaningful comes across as maudlin and simplistic. To be sure, there's a great story hidden beneath the Lifetime solutions here, but Candler possibly just wasn't experienced enough at the time that this was made (2000) to see the issues and deal with them properly.

One such issue is the grab-ass loving buffoon that menaces Anna regularly. She never mentions this to her brother, who most certainly would have stopped it, and when the situation comes to a head, rather than be a turning point in the film, everything is ended with a slap. That's all? Come on Kat, surely there's more to it than that?

I saw a fantastic film in a similar vein this year at Sundance, called Speak. It too followed a young girl trying to find her feet romantically being menaced by a guy, and it too was made on a low budget, in a hurried schooting schedule, but it told its story in such an assured way, with actors who clearly know their art up and down, that people in the audience were moved to tears.

cicadas, on the other hand, is the TV version, watered down into half hour installments where any subplot can be fixed in minutes and really won't change anything in the end; a 'fuck you' today is forgotten tomorrow.

It would be easy to give everyone involved an A for effort, and it would be easier still to stand and applaud a debut feature filmmaker who certainly showed she's on the way up, but truth be told, cicadas is not the effort that will get Kat Candler up the ladder to filmmaking glory. Her short film, Roberta Wells, which played at Slamdance this year, is infinitely better, very much more assured, and a fine example of a filmmaker who understand the medium. Good to see Kat's been learning something, and I genuinely hope she gets another chance to take a stab at a feature. If nothing else, cicadas shows she deserves that chance.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9066&reviewer=1
originally posted: 03/25/04 08:41:06
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User Comments

1/30/06 Michael I saw only fragments of film. Bryan has perfectly played the role. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  N/A (NR)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Kat Candler

Written by
  Kat Candler

Cast
  Lindsay Broockman
  Paul Conrad
  Stacy Hopcus
  Brandon Howe
  Don Cass
  Bryan Chafin
  Cheryl White



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