Review of “Man From Reno” at the Sarasota Film Festival #SFF2015

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Review by: Rodger Skidmore

Man From Reno opens, before the credits, with a man driving through dense fog. It is tempting to say that the film is dense and that the fog never lifts but that would not be doing it justice as the film is dense in a layered sort of way. This layering of complexities, rather than just a heaping on, permits the director, Dave Boyle, to interweave each new character with the older ones to make the plot line comprehensible. And yes, there are sub-plots within the sub-plots.

The driver of the car, a sheriff (Pepe Serna) from a small town between Reno and San Francisco, hits someone walking on the highway while driving through the fog. Because of his personnel interest in the victim, who disappears from the hospital the day after the accident, the sheriff gets deeply involved with the rest of the story, which takes place in San Francisco.  Aki Akahori (Ayakyo Fujitani), is a mystery writer from Japan who is on a book tour of the US,  has an identity crisis and goes to ground. She meets a handsome fellow (Kazuki Kitamura) in the hotel bar while having a quick drink to  induce sleep after jet lag. He, or course, is involved in a scheme or two which leads to various murders, chases and altered identities. The acting is fine and the interaction between the sheriff and the crime writer is wonderfully done – both are appealing.

A problem one could have with the film is the number of coincidences. If you’re OK with that, great. I understand that without them you’d have someone walking down the highway and not being hit by anyone, let alone the sheriff, and a Japanese crime writer on a US tour visiting Los Angeles instead of San Francisco, who has a drink out of her minibar and goes to bed alone.

A separate problem is motivation. Not yours in going to see the film, but the killer’s in not taking a whole pile of available money and instead continuing to keep on doing what he had been doing. But of course if he were to take the money and run there would be no plot and no plot twists,. And how do you get funding to make a film without plot twists.

And speaking of plot twists, the movie/film/cinema industry has a new one, and that is crowdsourcing. This film, like many others in this festival, has the same artist as both writer and director. That is to say, someone had an idea and wrote it up but could not get the attention of any of the big studios, or any studio for that matter. They then go to Kickstarter or some other crowdsourcing group, made a pitch to unsophisticated wannabe angels who invest some of their disposable income and, lo and behold, production starts. If the above scenario is correct it follows that, had they been accepted by a studio, the studio would have reviewed the script and requested (demanded) revisions. This would have tightened up the script but, possibly, also strangled it to death. Without crowdsourcing the film would not have been made, with crowdsourcing the film is not as well made as it would have been by the people who would not make it. A Catch-22 of the first magnitude. A thumbs up, but with a bit of a wiggle.

Wildlike is an apt title for this film, as the main character, Mackenzie (Ella Purnell), is not as wild as the persona she first emits, therefore is more wild-like. This drama, by Frank Hall Green, takes place in both the urban and completely wild sections of Alaska – the city of Juneau and the wilds of Denali State Park. Both have predators and nether is a great place for a wounded rabbit. Getting out of the snare is one thing, staying out long enough to make it home is another. Mackenzie does this, not with the help, but with the reticent acceptance, of a recent widower (Bruce Greenwood) who is trekking through his own troubled past. He and Mackenzie meet up with not just the ghosts of his past and her present but with Joe Boxer, a resident of the woods on the slopes of Denali. The fact that Joe Boxer is the stage name for a not very domesticated grizzly bear does not take away from the shock and awe of their meeting. But cute “Bear meets wounded rabbit, bear paws the air, bear goes back into the woods” sequences aside, this is a film of high drama with great moments of tension and release.

During the Q and A one question (of importance to the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council and to Florida taxpayers) was “In what way did the state of Alaska participate in the funding of the film”. The answer was that it gave tax credits equal to a percentage of the cost of the money spent on the film in Alaska. The film company could not use the tax credit, but it could sell the tax credit to some corporation for 90 cents on the dollar, thus reducing it’s direct cost. If I remember correctly, this came to roughly 30% of the costs of production. A good reason to film your next Caribbean adventure in Alaska.

This film has been entered into 75 competitions so far and has, according to its director, won 16 in one category or another. I think the film deserves all the acclaim it has received. Did I say that the Alaska shown in this film is dramatically gorgeous? Well, it is.



For a description of every film’s plot, as well as show times, please go to:

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Man From Reno
Feature | 111 Min
Japanese mystery author Aki Akahori takes a trip to San Francisco in order to escape the press tour for her latest book–a potboiler in her world famous “Inspector Takabe” series. Feeling lonely and vulnerable, she begins a romantic affair with a mysterious Japanese traveler from Reno. Her new lover is charismatic and charming but abruptly disappears from the hotel, leaving behind his suitcase and a trail of questions. This film won the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Film Info
Genre: Narrative
English Title: Man From Reno
Category: Narrative Feature
Release Year: 2014
Runtime: 111 minutes
Type of Film: Narrative Feature
Production Country: Japan
Original Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Cast/Crew Info
Cast: Ayako Fujitani
Kazuki Kitamura
Pepe Serna
Director: Dave Boyle
Executive Producer: Nelson Cheng
Fredric Delmais
Ron Eliot
Daryl Furr
Pepe Serna
Emily Ting
Timothy Wenhold
Wade Winningham
(co-) Joel Clark
(co-) Michael Lerman
Produced By: Ko Mori
Co-Producer: Taro Goto
Shoshei Sano
Alex Verba
Ben Lyon
Screenwriter: Dave Boyle
Joel Clark
Michael Lerman
Cinematography: Richard Wong
Editing By: Dave Boyle
Sean Gillane
Yasu Inoue
Production Design by: Katy Porter
Music By: Micah Dahl Anderson
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