Alliance Films' March '08 Releases
Almost Heaven (March 21/08)
Almost Heaven casts Donal Logue as Mark Brady, an alcoholic Canadian director who receives a shot at redemption after he's hired to helm a low-rated fishing program in Scotland. There, Mark must contend with a village full of quirky figures (including a wise yet perpetually drunk bartender, played by Tom Conti) - as well as with the presence of his bitter ex-wife, who just happens to be the series' star. While there are admittedly few plot points within Almost Heaven that even the most dim-witted viewer won't see coming, the film nevertheless establishes itself as an exceedingly pleasant effort that benefits from the downright charming romantic subplot that forms between Mark and a scrappy local fisherwoman (Kirsty Mitchell's Nicki). Logue's effortlessly compelling performance certainly goes a long way towards smoothing over some of the more overtly rough edges within Richard Beattie and Shel Piercy's screenplay, while the supporting cast assuredly cements the film's laid-back, easy-going vibe (there's little doubt that Erin Karpluk, playing an earnest crew member, provides the movie's biggest laugh). The increasingly sappy third act - which does possess a fake break-up, not surprisingly - isn't even remotely as intolerable as one might've feared, and there's ultimately no denying the effectiveness of the film's uplifting, flat-out affecting finale. It's that kind of unapologetic sweetness that assures Almost Heaven's success, although it's subsequently not difficult to envision certain viewers rolling their eyes at the movie's rampant sentimentality.
Our Very Own (March 22/08)
The familiarity of Our Very Own's thin premise is generally offset by the pervadingly easy-going atmosphere, and there's ultimately little doubt that the film benefits substantially from the almost uniformly superb performances. Set in 1978, the movie follows five small-town friends (including Jason Ritter's Clancy and Autumn Reeser's Melora) as they while away their ample time by hanging out with one another and participating in a number of youth-centric activities (ie they toilet paper one of their own houses). It's only with the imminent return of local celebrity Sondra Locke that the quintet finds something worthwhile to do, as they conspire to put on a show designed to capture the actress' interest - which will, they hope, encourage her to bring them back to Hollywood. First-time filmmaker Cameron Watson also devotes a fair bit of screentime to the problems of the teens' parents, with a particular emphasis on the hard-luck escapades of Clancy's folks (Allison Janney's Joan and Keith Carradine's Billy). The aimless, plot-free modus operandi of Watson's screenplay assures that Our Very Own primarily comes off as an authentic slice-of-life effort, though there's little doubt that the movie - saddled with an overlong running time - does start to run out of steam as it passes the one-hour mark. The inclusion of several needless elements (ie a scene in which Carradine's drunk character encounters a mute figure in the middle of the woods) sporadically threatens to overwhelm the effectiveness of the movie's first two-thirds, yet it's the strength of the acting that finally assures Our Very Own's mild success (and unlike most films of this ilk, one can't help but ponder the various characters' future endeavors).