Cinetopia Reviews: 1982

Greg's Cinetopia coverage continues with his review of 1982.

"I'm Wayne Brady, bitch. I'm the
most bad ass gangster this side
There is the father, Tim Brown (Hill Harper), a working-class man who struggles to provide for his family. There is the mother, Shenae (Sharon Leal), the classic wife figure audiences see so often in film. And then there is the daughter, Maya (Troi Zee), a little girl no older than ten years old who is seen reading The Iliad at one point. The family must deal with the psychological and physical dangers of drug addiction when it re-enters the life of the mother when she rekindles a relationship with drug dealer Alonzo (Wayne Brady). This is the familiar setup writer/director Tommy Oliver supplies to the viewer in his directorial debut 1982.

The primary problem this film faces is that Oliver doesn’t seem to understand how most characters work. There has to be a certain consistency in how they feel and react to their situations. This does not mean they have to be flat and unchanging throughout the film, rather, their persona can’t change radically without setup. Tim Brown is introduced as a rather quiet and strong type. He stays that way through about half the film. The other half he’s screaming and shouting angrily. Sometimes this shift happens suddenly and randomly within scenes. That’s not development. That’s not characterization. That’s lazy writing.

There is a similar problem in the character of Shenae, who is somehow more frustrating. Mothers tend to have mothering instincts, especially when it comes to their young. I simply can’t accept the possibility that she would so readily and quickly leave her child and ignore her for the rest of the film. Drugs are bad and really change people, sure, but when you have a character (I use the term loosely) care with love and affection for a child at the beginning of a film, there is no situation in which one would turn that completely around instantaneously. That’s not creating a fear for drugs, like I’m positive Oliver is attempting to do with the film; it’s being ridiculous.

It may seem like I hate the film; I do not. Two characters are really well developed: Maya and Alonzo. Maya starts off really confident, smart, and funny, like a little kid should be. As the horrors of her family life progress, her shell becomes thicker and thicker. In the Q&A after the film, Oliver revealed that this is based loosely off of his life and that Maya represents him. The character feels crafted in a very personal way, and the origin of the character explains why. Alonzo is a different story -- he’s not given a lot of screen time. He is not given a lot to work with. Yet, his character is probably the most memorable one. Why? Wayne Brady. His charisma seen quite often in his more comedic characters is brought over to a darker one to wonderful results. The manner in which he carries himself is better than anyone could hope for, and he makes a compelling case for why he should be cast more often in more dramatic work.

"Honey, give daddy back the camera.
Me and mommy need to make a
video, damn it!"
The aesthetic for the film is very hit-or-miss. Its ‘80s setting seems rather shoe-horned in at times. Other
times, it’s very pleasing on the eyes. This is mostly because of the work of cinematographer Daniel Vecchione, who doesn’t have anything big to his name, but hopefully will soon. The general technical side of the film is very strong, Oliver clearly skilled at moving the camera around. There’s a fantastic one-shot about halfway through that is about three minutes long with a wonderful and disturbing reveal at the end of it. While he isn’t very skilled at pacing yet (it feels a lot longer than it actually is), that is something one learns through working more and more.

While not a particularly strong nor compelling film, neither original, fresh, or any synonym of those words. We’ve seen everything that happens in better and more disturbing films like Requiem for a Dream. It does, however, have some strong moments showing that those involved deserve bigger and better films where they will shine even brighter.

The Cinetopia International Film Festival is an Ann Arbor and Detroit based film festival that took place from June 4th to the 8th where there were 110 screenings of about 50 films in 10 venues. Created for the people of southeastern Michigan, the Cinetopia International Film Festival features the best feature-length dramas, comedies, and documentaries from the world’s best film festivals (e.g. Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin, SXSW, Tribeca, etc.). The extensive festival program is selected exclusively for Cinetopia by a team that includes Indiewire Influencer Russ Collins (from the Michigan Theater) and the national “dean” of art house programming Elliot Wilhelm (from the Detroit Film Theatre). Cinetopia honors the rich heritage of cinematic culture and Michigan’s proud legacy of outstanding cinema artists through special pre- and post-film events, including presentations, discussion panels, and Q&A sessions with directors, writers, and stars.

-Greg Dinskisk