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Quint takes a look at a Slamdance flick about suicide, phone sex and dead bodies called CITY RATS!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a brief look at a flick playing Slamdance currently called CITY RATS. I was sent a handful of screeners for films playing both Sundance and Slamdance which has helped ease my depression for not making it this year, which I hear is a banner year as far as programming is going. It’s driving me a bit crazy reading all the Facebook status updates from everybody I know, half-know and only know in a Facebook friends way and hearing how much people are enjoying the fest. I’ve gone the last two years, but my schedule has been a bit up in the air and I honestly didn’t know where I would be for the month of January, so I couldn’t commit to the fest. I miss the films and crisp cold snowy weather, but I can’t say I miss the stress-out that Sundance usually is. While I haven’t seen one film yet from either Sundance of Slamdance that has knocked me on my ass, CITY RATS has come the closest. First and foremost, it looks like a real movie, thank God. I can’t tell you how annoyed I get at indies that skimp on the production value. I understand at that budget it’s a challenge, but it can be done. Look at films like BRICK, BUBBA HO-TEP and hell… even EL MARIACHI and RESERVOIR DOGS. They all looked like movies and probably had the same budget or less than most indies. It’s possible. Director Steve Kelly obviously made production design a priority and chose a good cinematographer for his story of multiple threads, all dealing with pain of some sort. In a way CITY RATS is a fairly typical indie film in structure. Seemingly unrelated storylines all connect in odd ways, but never directly interfere with each other. It’s a common structure, but Kelly makes the most of it. One thread follows a lonely man who is separated from his wife and is falling further and further into a deep depression. Tamer Hassan (UNLEASHED, LAYER CAKE and EASTERN PROMISES) plays this man, whose only connection is in the conversation he has with a phone sex operator. He constantly dreams of standing on the edge of a rooftop, looking down. He views it as a sign that he should just end it. When he gathers up the courage to at least go up and give it a look he looks over and sees a woman (MyAnna Buring of the upcoming LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS) on another rooftop about to jump. He calls out to her and stops it, but has to chase her down. They strike up a kind of shaky friendship based on their mutual depression. They’re brutally honest, telling the other things they’d never utter to anybody else, but it seems that this new friendship is probably not going to be enough save them. It’s not a happy story, but none of them are. But like the rest, the cast imbues their characters with a likability that compliments the strong writing (by Simon Fantauzzo). Those key elements are what keep this film from disconnecting, especially since Fantauzzo is mindful enough of not just hitting rinse/wash/repeat on the indie film structure, throwing curveballs with each character at just the right moment. Another thread follows a closeted drug addict who is charged with keeping tabs on his full grown Autistic brother. He notices he’s hording gay pamphlets, which forces him to not only accept that his brother has yearning that he doesn’t comprehend and can’t fulfill, but that he also has that same yearning, but refuses to indulge it. Their story is sweeter than the rest as the closeted brother embarks on a mission to get his Autistic brother laid, diving head first into the gay scene in London. Again, stereotyping is avoided. The gay club-goers aren’t played as savages or perverts out looking for a kink, but real people looking for love. Another thread follows a flawed love story between Tamer Hassan’s phone sex operator (Susan Lynch) who is very attractive, but slightly disabled, requiring the use of Forrest Gump-like leg braces to walk. She’s on permanent disconnect, letting cynicism and biting remarks protect her from opening up. She loves her job, which is the smart twist on her character. She’s also a prostitute and deals with what the audience views as disgusting perverts (like a nearly 400 pound man who wants to dress her up as an Indian, tie her up and pretend to force himself on her while wearing ass-less chaps and a cowboy hat). We see these regulars through the eyes of her downstairs artist neighbor played by Ray Panthaki, who thinks he’s in love with this girl… or at the very least obsessed with her enough to think she’s his muse. But that’s not her point of view. She views what she does a necessity for society to continue and genuinely enjoys bringing pleasure to people like her cowboy, giving him a happiness he can’t achieve anywhere else in his life. The last story I haven’t touched upon is my favorite of the movie, about a washed up, strung out burger flipper played by Danny Dyer, who was awesome in the Brit-Horror Comedy SEVERENCE, which kind of got lost in the SHAUN OF THE DEAD wave of (much deserved) love. One day after work, he’s followed by woman with a giant afro who he tells to fuck off, thinking she’s a bag lady. Without a word she shadows him, finally talking to him on the ferry after he unleashes a particularly entertaining string of vulgarities at her. She simply asks if she can buy him a drink. Of course she can. So, as he’s drinking she lays it on him that she is the mother of Dyer’s former partner, someone who has gone missing. Dyer and this man used to run drugs for a local violent dealer and when that went bad (doesn’t it always?) his partner disappeared and Dyer was let go. Of course, his partner was the one who stole drugs and tried to cheat the dealer, so Dyer was just thankful to move along when he got the chance. But now this man’s mother finds him and he’s compelled to help. In an odd way he didn’t particularly like this guy, but he feels responsible to find out what happened. That’s the twist of his character. He’s insulting towards this man, assuming his death, even in front of his quiet mother, but he does end up putting his life on the line, confronting the dealer and ultimately going on a hunt for something buried that he suspects might be his ex-mate’s body. And the mother, played by Natasha Williams, is my favorite character in the whole movie. She has a quiet strength, relying on her body language and face, using her words carefully and sparingly. She just wants closure, even if that means finding her son’s body. Dead or alive, she’s prepared for both, it’s the uncertainty of which that she can’t stand. Pairing with Dyer is perfection… a guy who brings humor to every role, even as dickish as the dude in this movie. He can talk a mile a minute, usually insulting, but Dyer brings a heart to the character that makes him very likable despite of all his bravado (or maybe even because of it). Williams on the other hand is the perfect listener and unmovable rock of a person. Like I said, there’s not many happy endings in this movie, but a few of the characters find the salvation they’re looking for, even if it’s painful or in ways they don’t expect. Others end up just as they expected they would… Maybe that’s their own salvation, even if it’s tragic. Perhaps it’s what was best for them. It’s my understanding that this movie has a screening tomorrow during Slamdance. If you’re attending that fest and haven’t caught the flick I highly recommend it. I have no idea what it’s playing up against, but I can tell you this one’s very well put together and avoids the trappings of the typical semi-depressing indie drama. You can view the trailer at the official site. Click here for that! I also have reviews of Sundance’s HUMPDAY and two Slamdance comedies, one called WEATHER GIRL and another that I really dug called YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE. I’ll also be covering the Santa Barbara Film Festival starting this week, so keep an eye out for my adventures there. -Quint

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