Indie Film Spotlight: GUNN + Interview with writer/director C.J. Renner & four cast members

It’s always fun being able to wear my film journalist hat once in a while. So whenever there’s an opportunity to chat with a filmmaker, whether locally or from other parts of the world, I always jump at the chance. This time, we’ve got something special because I get to do the interview on a different format… on video! Thanks to Minnesota-based filmmaker C.J. Renner and producer Sasha Michelle, as well as four of GUNN cast members for taking the time to chat with me last Friday afternoon.

I always love a good noir. GUNN is a gangster crime drama unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From the way the story is written to the deliberate surrealistic production style, it’s so refreshing to see a classic story done in an unconventional way.

All Elston Gunn ever needed to survive was a little luck and his Tommy gun. But when he discovers his whole world is just a staged play, he must dodge not only cops but stagehands… he must save not only his crumbling empire, but his last hold on reality.

There’s a lot to like about GUNN. The film is quite stylish with great camera angles and lighting for maximum effect. Despite the limited indie budget, Renner and his team are very creative and resourceful in constructing the minimalistic sets to support the narrative. Right from the fantastic Mondrian style opening credits, this is a cool, stylish film. I like the deliberate dreamy/surreal quality which fits the themes and storyline well, and he’s got a terrific ensemble cast to bring his story to life.

Andrew Stecker as Elston Gunn

Andrew Stecker portrays the inner conflict of Elston nicely. The fact that he doesn’t look like a typical gangster works in the story’s favor, and I like the vulnerability he brings to the role. Amanda Day and Anna Stranz are two wonderful talents I’ve seen in previous films before, glad to see each have a decent character arc in the film. Richard Keats as the mob boss and Noah Gillett as Elston’s closest crony, as well as Peter Christian Hansen and Tyson Lietz as the two cops hot on the gangsters’ tail, are all terrific in their roles.

Click to see a larger version

Some films that are shot mostly on set sometimes felt constricting, but that’s not the case here. Once you accept the surrealistic nature, the film flows quite nicely. The creative use of lighting and camera work create some striking imagery on screen. Because of the minimalist set, the costumes play a huge part in conveying the Prohibition era and boy, do the cast look fabulous in 1930s outfits. I love the satin dresses, fur accessories on the women… and the guys look oh-so-dapper in vests, suspenders and Fedoras.

I can’t write this review without mentioning the wonderful music by Travis Anderson, one of the biggest strengths of the film. The jazzy score and some of the songs performed in the film are not only catchy, but they add so much to the mood and atmosphere.

The pacing could be a bit more dynamic, some of the heavy-dialog scenes, as the scene between Keats and Stecker in the middle of the film felt a little too long. But really it’s a small quibble in an otherwise a smart, enjoyable debut film. Kudos to C.J. for coming up with such a cool story, but also in executing it in such a clever way.

The film is now up on Amazon… FREE for prime subscribers! Just search “gunn” wherever you watch Amazon, or click banner below:

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Interview video with writer/director C.J. Renner:

In my 7+ years covering Minnesota films and filmmakers as a blogger, I’m even more impressed by the local talents we’ve got in this town. C.J. is definitely a filmmaker to watch and I truly hope he continues to write and make more films in the future!

Interview video with cast members Andrew Stecker, Noah Gillett, Anna Stranz and Peter Christian Hansen:

It was so fun interviewing the cast! It was so great meeting Andrew for the first time just before the interview. Peter & Noah are both in my short film Hearts Want, so it was lovely seeing them again. I had met Anna last year at Twin Cities Film Fest and was impressed by her performance in Miles Between Us, surely she’ll have a fruitful acting career ahead of her.

I’m really grateful to everyone for taking the time out of their busy schedule to do this on a Friday afternoon. In fact, Peter had just got done filming another MN indie film shortly before the interview!

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Thanks so much C.J. Renner + Sasha Michelle + the GUNN cast
for the delightful interview!

Everyone’s a Critic – Flame & Citron, Faster Reviews

Welcome to another edition of Everyone’s a Critic! It’s been about three months since the last EaC post, and as always, we’ve got two very different genres from FC’s loyal readers/contributors. Special thanks to my pals Paula and Ted!

FLAME & CITRON (2008)



Made in Denmark in 2008, and based on actual events, the largely unseen Flame and Citron takes us into the world of two members of Holger Danske, the Danish Resistance during World War II. The Nazis have invaded and taken over Denmark. The Gestapo, Wehrmacht, Abwehr, and SS are everywhere. In this lethal atmosphere, two Danish patriots liquidate traitors—Danes who collaborate with the Nazis—knowing that being caught means certain death. Baby-faced killer Bent (Danish actor Thure Lindhardt), known to the authorities and his colleagues in the Resistance as Flame , is intense and reckless, though there’s an ever-increasing price on this head.

Told by his partner Jørgen to dye his ginger hair or wear a hat, Bent ignores the suggestion. Jørgen, a.k.a Citron (Mads Mikkelsen – Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising), is quiet and determined. He is a relatively old hand at Resistance activities; he was involved before Bent and is the last surviving member of an earlier underground group. His involvement is presumably what led to his split from his wife and his pill habit…he sleeps in his car. They have the chemistry of longtime law enforcement partners chasing bad guys in a buddy picture (which, if you think about it, they are), but these characters are well-drawn and well-acted, so they go beyond rookie and veteran stereotypes. We see their personalities and quirks and are invested from the beginning.

Their boss is the shadowy Aksel Winther, a well-connected police solicitor, who is supposedly getting orders from the British. Can they trust him? Bent and Jørgen, and the viewer, only have Winther’s word for it. Because business must be conducted in secret, no one really knows. “There aren’t many of us, and it’s hard to tell who does what,” Bent says. As the film begins, they run afoul of Winther for a killing he didn’t order. Winther says he just wants them to be disciplined, but later it seems he is shielding some of the traitors who make Bent’s trigger finger itch. Why does Winther order Bent and Jørgen to execute certain people but forbid them from taking out the head of the Gestapo in Denmark? Is he trying to maintain all of their covers or is he a double agent?

Flame and Citron draws on film noir and previous WWII espionage movies. Director Ole Christian Madsen has acknowledged particularly Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 neo-noir Army of Shadows, about a group in the French Resistance. As in that film, colors are mostly desaturated, suggesting the austerity of life during a Nazi occupation. There is a femme fatale, of course. Mysterious and cool, Ketty (Stine Stengade) is introduced with a building dissonance on the soundtrack. She reels Bent in even though he thinks he knows her game. And in the beginning, there is also a weary-detective-style voiceover by Bent, which Madsen uses to place the viewer in much the same position as our anti-heroes. We get pieces of the puzzle, but never really know exactly what’s going on, until the end. If then. But the film is resolutely its own thing—a shadowy spy thriller with a dose of documentary style, a partial history of the Danish Resistance including a side order of star-crossed romance, all in one fascinating and affecting film. As it progresses, there is sense of increasing paranoia as the Nazis close in and the two become tangled in an ever-thickening web of lies. It kept me guessing until the end and made me think about what I would do if I were in their places.

– review by Paula @ Paula’s Cinema Club


FASTER


Faster was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson first true action film since Doom and it was pretty entertaining. The story is about an ex-con who just got released from prison and decided to go on a killing spree to avenge his brother’s death years ago. Along the way, he was being tracked by a contract killer and a veteran cop with a suspect background. The movie pretty much focused on these three characters, The Rock played a character simply named Driver, Billy Bob Thornton played the cop and new comer Oliver Jackson-Cohen played the hired killer. Director George Tillman Jr. was really trying to pay homage to 1970s action thriller, if you’re a fan of 70s cinemas like myself then I think you’ll know what I mean when you see Faster. For the most part he succeeded, but I thought he totally messed up the last 20 or so minutes of the film.

The movie starts out like its title, fast and faster. Driver got out of jail and proceeded to start killing his prey one by one. Then we were introduced to the other two characters, Killer and Cop and also we got to know a little bit about their personal lives. I think it was bold move by the filmmakers to tell the story this way, considering the trailer made it look like the film was about The Rock going on a killing spree and kicking ass, well he did a lot of that. But it was kind of surprise to see these other two characters shared the same amount of screen time as the lead character. I think that’s the weakness of the movie, instead of focusing on the lead actor, they’ve decided to also focus on the two lesser interesting characters. I would’ve preferred to see more of Driver’s background and have the cop and killer just in supporting roles.

As I mentioned before, I really enjoyed this movie up until the last 20 minutes or so. I thought the ending was quite predictable and didn’t live up to its title. I wanted to see hard and fast action for the finally but it never happened. They included the alternate ending on DVD/Blu-ray that has a big action scene but it didn’t make sense so I was glad they cut it out. I just think the writers should’ve came up with a better ending and delivered a rousing action for the climax.

I do recommend it if you’re in the mood from mindless action flick, but don’t expect too much from it.

– review by Ted S.


Any thoughts about either or both of these films? Do share ‘em below in the comments.