Friday, September 4, 2020

Blue-collar blues: 'Working Man,' 'Shooting Heroin,' and 'Northwood Pie'

Some familiar-looking faces, serious societal issues, and just a very few laughs dot America's smalltown landcapes in a trio of films currently streaming far and wide.

Brown (left), Gerety, and Shire all serve up some grand "Working" moments.
The great Peter Gerety, most recently seen as a very bad guy on the last season of Showtime's always audacious "Ray Donovan," plays the titular "Working Man" in a wonderful little indie about layoffs, mental illness and camaraderie at the local workplace. 

In fact, if there's any justice, veteran character actor Gerety, Talia Shire (Connie Corleone from "The Godfather" saga, not to mention the franchise-long wife of "Rocky"), and Billy Brown (ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder") all might be in serious contention for acting honors whenever the next awards season actually rolls around. They are simply that good here in what likely could be called a story for our times.

When the plastics factory where Gerety's Allery Parkes has worked forever shuts down for good somewhere in the middle of Illinois, not only is our sadly quiet hero the last man out the door on closing day, but he's also the first guy back on the job the next. 

Huh? How can this be? And, it's not only Shire, as good and devoted wife Iola, who's wondering if her longtime hubby finally has lost his troubled mind. Neighbors and former co-workers watching Allery walk past their homes with lunch pail in hand each morning and late afternoon remain puzzled, too. Then, Brown's Walter, a relative newcomer to the New Liberty Plastics assembly line, joins Allery in staying on the job, and his loud and positive demeanor really gets the joint jumping again, at least the way screenwriter Robert Jury tells it.

By the way, Jury is a 50-year-old Iowa native whose movie plays as if the first-time director/scripter may have experienced some of its mildly extraordinary twists and turns himself along the way. No surprise if he gets a second filmmaking assignment very soon.  

Not rated by MPAA (with some language but not enough to seriously offend); 1:38; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Our next smalltown entry takes place in Whispering Pines, Pa., where "Shooting Heroin" becomes much more than a way of life for the opium-addicted citizenry. Some even attempt to end the menace and thus arrives the dark and double-edged meaning of the title.

A hard-drinking ex-veteran and single dad -- named Adam (Tim Powell) in this more rugged than usual faith-based film -- teams up with a few neighbors to rain hell on dealers he blames for his sister's death by drugs. His foremost sidekick is a mother (Sherilyn Fenn of "Twin Peaks" fame), who lost two young sons to heroin in a 12-hour span, while a committed correctional officer (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, still likely best known from his work on "Welcome Back Kotter") also fights back after getting the blessing of his rival, the local police chief (a fine Garry Pastore).

Speaking of recognizable faces, one belongs to Nicholas Turturro ("NYPD Blue"), as the warm-hearted Reverend John. Another, Oscar-nominated Cathy Moriarty ("Raging Bull"), might be responsible for the most important scene in the movie as Adam's well-worn mom.

Like the two other offerings reviewed in this piece, theatrical release plans for "Shooting Heroin" were foiled by the Covid-19 pandemic, which some could argue pales in comparison to the more potentially fatal consequence of an opium epidemic often fueled by professionals who should know better. Regardless, writer/director Spencer T. Folman's message-filled story did pick up three major awards at the Hell's Kitchen movie gathering in New York during its extensive film festival run.

Rated "R" by MPAA: drug content, and language throughout; 1:31; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Finally, and also streaming on Amazon, among other platforms, comes "Northwood Pie," a millenials' coming-of-age tale, dressing itself up as a teen comedy, at least in the early going.

Actually, any solid laughs are few and far between in this suburban Irvine (California) vehicle, which finally coughs out its strength during conversations between so many of its mostly unknown principal players. Leading the way in this "micro-budgeted" quickie are the eager-to-mature Crispin (co-writer Todd Knaack) and the mostly already there Sierra (Annika Foster).

The potentially cute couple become co-workers in a busy pizza joint operated by the harried manager (Aj Hamilton), who hires Crispin after a 20-second interview, a funny bit that sets the stage for the workplace as low-rent comedy club.

Fortunately, discussions and sequences heat up more seriously away from the pizza ovens, until a party scene that you expect might turn mindlessly juvenile unveils at least one heartbreaking moment among its surprises. 

Credit young director and co-writer Jay Salahi for finding where the real truths lie in his feature film debut instead of peppering a "Pie" with ingredients an audience might think taste better brainless.

Not rated by MPAA (but rarely as sexually motivated as one might expect); 1:15; $ $ $ out of $5

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