Saturday, May 9, 2020

Teen hero ignites 'Soundwave'; 'Third Strike' listens to wrongly imprisoned

If you search long and hard enough, you might uncover a kinda cool little sci-fi thriller streaming on a laptop or TV near you. It's called "Soundwave," which starts in style with the attractive night landing of a jet over the opening credits, as small talk and simple noises from a slew of passengers gets mixed in meaninglessly. Or so it seems.

The sequence serves as a serene prologue to what immediately follows: seriously urgent foot chase; soon-to-be repeated, though initially compelling stop-action images; and nicely amplified conversation track with a whooshing/whirring vibe that won't hurt your ears -- at least not yet.

By the time the young lad being pursued suddenly leaps off a building and into ever-requisite flashback mode (signaled by the caption reading "One Week Ago"),  writer/director Dylan K. Narang already has shown off a bag of nifty tricks on how to make a low-budget film look like a million or more.

I mean, there's a reason why the potboiler is titled what it is, and such an impressive opening allows us to watch -- and mostly listen -- to the setup with some alacrity. The leaper, we soon find out, is teen techie Ben Boyles (Hunter Doohan), who works in a small audio appliances store and, most importantly, has invented a gizmo that allows him to hear conversations from the past.

Somewhere along the way, the kid has shared his wares with an aggressive cop (Vincent Nappo) now paying him a standard fee to help solve cases. That work does not sit well with his employer, the nice-guy shop owner (Mike Beaver) who worries that Ben may end up in trouble -- or maybe worse. After all, Ben's late father apparently died under mysterious circumstances that his similarly talented boy is eager to unravel.

Enter the rather obvious bad guy (Paul Tassone), an "agency" bigwig not afraid to kill people to get what he wants. Ben's listening device also gets him mixed up with a potential love interest (Katie Owsley) who, ironically, has some theories on why her own mom committed suicide, a detail that mostly comes out of nowhere.

Still, if we dare actually jump out of the past and into the future, the dead-parent issues likely could get resolved as part of a sequel just dying to happen. For now, though, we'll just have to enjoy the small pleasures of this odd, but beguiling tale, including the "Midnight Express"-like music that sounds appropriate enough in most tense situations.

Not rated by MPAA (but with violence, blood and language); 1:38; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("Soundwave" is now playing on Prime Video, Apple TV, and other streaming services after successful festival showings in Orlando, North Hollywood, and Virginia, to name a few locales.)

A soulful, if limited score helps lift a new documentary as well, especially since it currently includes Beyonce's aptly named "Freedom" in the often sad story of "The Third Strike." But, please, don't confuse the title with baseball and the worst thing that can happen to a batter in that sport.

Life becomes no game here, as talked about by an assortment of political personalities, including President Barack Obama, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions (during his 2017 confirmation hearings), and still-sitting senators Dick Durbin and Cory Booker.

Appearances by the latter, whose own presidential hopes likely already had been ignited, play occasionally as if he's in a campaign commercial. Still, those moments don't take much away from other discussion surrounding a controversial 1994 federal law which, in too many cases, wrongheadedly punishes three-time offenders with life sentences for minor crimes.

That means this "third strike" provision affects male minorities most significantly, with many young families left behind. Thankfully, as the film from first-time director Nicole Jones portrays, legal eagles such as MiAngel Cody and other distaff members of  her "Decarceration Collective" have worked doggedly to free more than 30 prisoners serving their own collective 638 years behind bars.

During an early interview, Cody explains why members of her team "are just trying to be the best lawyers that money can't buy," and their payoff will become yours by watching how a handful of her most grateful clients memorably react to their release with both words and actions.

If there truly is any justice, "The Third Strike" eventually will attract a wider audience than it has been able to find so far.

Not rated by MPAA; 1:22; $ $ $ out of $5

(This is one in an intermittent series of reviews, featuring buzz-worthy films currently playing the festival circuit, soon to be released, or ready to stream. "The Third Strike" reportedly received a standing ovation after a March 7 showing at Cinequest before concerns over Covid-19 cancelled the second week of the San Jose-based film and creativity fest. It will be screened there again in August if  state health policy permits Cinequest to resume. The doc currently also remains on schedule for August's Black Harvest Film Festival in Chicago, and another film gathering in Denver slated for Oct. 6-10.)

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