The Last Lullaby (2008)
“Movies today are getting louder, and faster. At some point, it will become illogical.”
Jeffrey Goodman, the director of ‘The Last Lullaby’, a gem of an indie film, discussed his film after a recent screening at Camera Cinema Club in San Jose, and I could not agree more with his assessment on where today’s Hollywood movies are headed (read on after the review for more on the discussion).
Last Lullaby is the perfect counterpoint.
A brooding, patient, film noire with strong acting and compelling story, violence here serves only to punctuate the character’s search for meaning, direction and some sort of end game. Lives are lived on two levels. The superficial: Prince (Tom Sizemore) “imports” kids toys, Sarah (Sasha Alexander) works at a library with aspirations of becoming head librarian. Then there’s the troubled. He’s a hitman trying to retire, find meaning in life and enjoy moments of respite while swimming bathed in moonlight. She’s dealing with family demons, finding solace only with her dog, and also solo swimming. Two lost souls, who invariably are drawn to each other under occasional Tarantino-like circumstances.
Tom Sizemore as the lead carries the movie very effectively. Goodman give scenes time to build, allowing Sizemore’s fidgetiness, twitching and sombre gaze to accentuate the character’s melancholy. I was curious to see how Sizemore would fare, especially given his notoriety. Any doubts were quickly removed in the opening scene as he impatiently kills time reading, playing chess, and walking his house unable to sleep. With nary a word, the tone for the rest of the movie was set.
You may be trading devils, him for me.
At times Sizemore channels a creepier Tony Soprano; moments of almost teddy bear like ineptitude are followed by abrupt strikes of violence. Other moments during the film, you could almost equate his performance to that of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. How much of this was acting, and how much simply a reflection of some real-life, hard years?
Sasha Alexander is also strong as the love interest and disparaged soul mate. Her acting was also understated, with a casual glance here at once provoking thought, and at the next, confusion.
The plot devices are generally familiar. There are a few revelations that are well done, and the storyline never gets caught up in itself or sidetracked. Although, there is one key cat and mouse scene that takes place in a library that I thought was quite nostalgic in this day and age. Then again, that was by design. This is a film, thankfully, without explosions, green screens or mind numbing action.
The film looks beautiful too. While M Night takes all the headlines (good and bad) about artistic film-making with an “eye”, it’s really a movie like The Last Lullaby that demonstrates the success of combining arresting natural visions, together with, yes, a compelling story.
The soundtrack is reserved, arching occasionally in the background, but allowing the drama to unfold without the knee-jerk MTV videos so commonly used as a crutch.
The ending was satisfying. I suspected it could go one of two ways. Would it be the happyland finish with a wrap-it-all-up finale in Spain, or would the leads find themselves in pools of blood, with a told-you-so narrative of some kind?
I won’t give it away, but if you learn more about Goodman’s perspective on life, you will discover hope. Not necessarily happiness or peace. But hope. And the same can be said about The Last Lullaby. A movie that gives the movie industry hope. Less action. Less noise. Accomplished, passionate film making. Now, that is completely logical.
Superb. Highly recommended. 4.5/5 stars.
Thanks to Baja Barry
Loni and I want to thank Baja Barry for inviting us to this special screening at Camera Cinema in San Jose. Those in the Bay Area interested in independent film (as well as mainstream releases) should look into joining Camera Cinema Club. They put on first class screenings.
A Conversation with Jeffrey Goodman
After the screening, director Jeffrey Goodman, of Shreveport, Louisiana, discussed the film. It was 20 minutes of insight into the challenges of bringing an Indie movie to market, the trends in the movie industry especially related to distribution and how promoting movie can mean even a net positive profit of $2 is a success. One step, one screening, one festival at a time.
A key takeaway for me from the conversation: getting an independent film made shares several similarities to raising VC money for start-ups. The odds are against you (according to Jeffrey around 99% of indie films in the $100K-$7.5M budget rand never make their money back). You will need to sell your soul, work 7/24 and never for a moment doubt (or at least show external doubt) that you will succeed. And that’s just for the first 6 years.
I have new-found respect for what it means to work hard. Jeffrey Goodman, in his words, “I’ve put about 6-7 years of my life into this film.” And, when asked about all the extra effort now on sales and marketing, in hopes of landing a distribution deal, “well, what’s an extra year!”
The events that led him to successfully acquiring the rights to the adapted screenplay are also a demonstration of perseverance. Originally, about 10 years earlier, there was little interest from writer Max Allan Collins who penned the adaptation (based on the short story ‘A Matter of Principle’). Ironically, it was only after Collins hit a home run with his script for Road to Perdition and the resulting blockbuster movie starring Tom Hanks that Goodman was able to strike a deal.
Jeffrey Goodman’s approach to the movie would immediately set it apart. He would film only on location to lend the film a natural feeling, with no special effects or studio sets. Also, there would be no in-jokes, with a conscious effort to remove irony, and keep it real. In effect, this would be a throw back to the classic, hard-boiled, authentic film noires. It would be played straight.
Growing up, violence came out of nowhere.
Partly his mood was admittedly influenced the then recent terrorist attacks, “I think on some level in my mind, it represented some of my own paranoia — the quiet, the emptiness of what was happening in the world, how I was feeling post 9/11.”
Investment, like many Silicon Valley start-ups, came in the form of $50K units from hundreds of investors from Louisiana. Then came the classic “chicken and egg” casting challenge of finding a lead actor with enough brand name recognition willing to even read the script. Goodman used a pay or play offer for Tom Sizemore, meaning if he read the script and wanted it, the part was his — and he would be paid even if the picture fell apart.
Three criteria were established for the lead role, the actor had to be: middle-aged, believable as a hitman and mid-western.
After Tom Sizemore read the script, he told Goodman, “I am this guy!” Later, Goodman revealed “I wouldn’t be totally shocked if someone told me Tom has killed someone before.”
On the feeling of The Last Lullaby: “Movies are 50% sonic.” He was most influenced by the French Connection and “spent a great deal of time on mood and sound.”
When someone told him the hard part was done now that shooting was finished, Goodman laughed. Are you kidding?
Now, years later, the film is achieving critical success, even if only in pockets around the US so far. Iowa, San Jose (Cinequest), Louisiana, San Diego. One city at time. Goodman grabs his backpack, his business cards and email list, and hits the indie film campaign trail.
Even though response has been positive, it’s hard to find the right distribution deal. HBO, he says, “would probably make it a midnight movie. I don’t want that necessarily.” Others, would buy the rights, take their profit margin, and shelve it as soon as they’ve satisfied their investors, even if it means robbing it of a longer run.
The dynamics of distribution he says have changed, “it’s a horrible time in independent film.” The landscape is crowded, and “anyone with a camera and computer can make a film.” And people go to movies less he says because of home theater systems, and increased competition from alternative sources of entertainment like video games.
But if one thing is clear: Jeffrey Goodman is a passionate, hard working guy with a tonne of optimism and hope. In person, he’s unassuming, and willing to strike up a conversation in his excited, slight Louisiana drawl. With trendy, unkempt shirt hanging out of his jeans, sports jacket and slightly disheveled bear and hair to match, it’s a bit like Jay Kay of Jamiroquai meets Dennis Weaver of Duel.
How ironic, on this day, that the next film playing in the theater is Star Trek. I could not help but think that, although I’m sure it’s an entertaining Hollywood movie, the true art form and future of film-making was screened just over 90 minutes earlier.
‘The Last Lullaby’ Returns to San Jose
If you didn’t get a chance last time The Last Lullaby was in the SF Bay Area, you’re in luck. The film, and Jeffrey Goodman, are returning June 12-18 at Camera 12 downtown San Jose.