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American Wake (2004)

6.9
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A musician and a fireman work against certain expectations in order to pursue their respective dreams.

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Cast

Credited cast:
...
Jack
Elaine Qualter ...
Noy
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Ava
...
Henry
Vladimir Aseneta ...
Ming
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Sam Amidon ...
Niall
Molly Cranna ...
Nursery Employee
Seamus Egan ...
Mack
Dan Fallon ...
Man in Bar
Katie Honaker ...
Maisie
...
Audrey
...
Spider
Thomas Olson ...
Drunk #1
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Storyline

A film about finding the path that sets you free, AMERICAN WAKE is a music-infused portrait of a fireman and a musician in search of meaning and connection. Jack Connolly has fulfilled the dream of his late father, a Boston cop, by becoming a distinguished firefighter and hero. But in the aftermath of a blaze in which he lost his oldest friend, he is struggling to make sense of life. As is Niall McKnight, a gifted young fiddle player, whose father harbors the hope that his son will accompany him back to Ireland, a homeland Niall barely remembers. For Jack and Niall to embrace the lives they want to live, and the women they are coming to love, they must choose what to keep and what to leave behind, and learn that with every leap of faith comes both sorrow and joy. Written by Maureen Foley, writer and director of the film

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Sometimes the greatest joy is just a heartbreak away.

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Drama | Romance

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12 May 2005 (France)  »

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User Reviews

 
American Wake on Reel 13
15 January 2008 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

So, did y'all watch American Wake the other night – Channel 13's first independent narrative film airing as a part of their Reel 13 project? Right away, it lost points with me just by virtue of it taking place in Boston (I am of the opinion that nothing good comes out of Boston, except maybe Gone Baby Gone). Beyond that, pretty much all my thoughts on the film can be summed up in one word – awkward. Awkward blocking, awkward transitions, awkward beats, awkward accents, awkward shot selection, awkward framing – the list goes on and on.

This awkwardness is a common trait amongst low-budget films and many people assume that it's caused by the financial limitations the filmmakers faced. I would argue, however, that there is a difference between the "awkwardness" I am talking about and the somewhat more forgivable type of "emptiness" that is a result of insignificant funding. As a matter of fact, American Wake manages to avoid some of those typical low-budget pitfalls – many of the scenes are actually quite "full" – the public scenes are rife with extras and the more private scenes have plenty of appropriate production design elements to add to the verisimilitude. No, the kind of awkwardness I'm talking about can be avoided at any budget level – it relates to the way in which the story unfolds and the relationship between the actors and the camera – it is the kind of awkwardness that results from ineffective direction.

The auteur theory suggests that the director of a film is the "author" of any given film and is responsible for all the final creative decisions. While there is some truth in that, anybody that's ever worked on a film (especially an indie) will tell you that film-making is one of the most collaborative art forms ever conceived and many times, criticism (or praise) of an individual director is unwarranted. However, one of the primary responsibilities of the film director is to use the tools at his or her disposal to create a believable world inhabited by believable characters. If this is not achieved, it doesn't matter how beautiful the setting, the lighting or the music are – you've lost your audience. American Wake struggles to accomplish this and the breakdown begins with the lost art of blocking for the camera.

It is a skill that many film classes/programs fail to spend too much time on, which is a shame, because it's probably the most basic skill required for a filmmaker. There are several occasions in American Wake in which character movement feels too "staged", i.e. forced or the actors are not blocked in such a way that works for the camera (this point is more of a tightrope because you don't want to force the actors into a good frame – you want them to seem to fall naturally into a good frame. However, you certainly don't want to block them purposely into a below average frame, as is often the case here).

An example of this awkwardness would be a scene in which the character of Noy (Elaine Qualter) is walking through a long hallway, ostensibly in her apartment that I guess she shares with a bunch of people. The camera tracks back with her as she goes from room to room to room and as she goes, she has to maneuver around several different questionable people (roommates?) just to get out. However, the way in which the crossers pass her – one at a time, several beats apart and seemingly always in one of the many doorways – seems awfully staged and unnatural. The point of the shot is to display the inadequate living conditions that Noy has to deal with, but the point is made within five seconds of the forty-five second shot – a waste of precious screen time. One might assume that the filmmakers were so enamored with the dolly (or Steadicam) shot that they didn't realize that there wasn't enough information being given to warrant the length or nature of the shot.

There are a few other scenes also with superfluous camera movement. There are also a few scenes that don't begin until after we cut into them. In other words, we will cut to a scene, see the actors almost frozen (not like a statue, but they just aren't doing anything), there would be a beat, and then they would begin the scene. You want to cut into a scene in the middle of the action – not so that the viewer misses anything – but so to give the impression that life was moving forward before we, the viewer, arrived here (and will continue to move after we are whisked away). On the flip side of that same idea, there are scenes in which the characters stay still to have their dialogue scene and then begin an action once the conversation is completed. The more natural way to approach this is to have the actors doing something during the required conversation. (A common example of this in many films, including this one, is scenes in a parked car. Actors will have a conversation and not start the car until the scene is done. Who does this in real life? We have conversations while driving and so should the characters in films. Honestly, if you can't afford a car rig, stage the scene elsewhere). I could provide several examples from American Wake of each of these things, but will refrain for now in the interest of brevity (If you are interested in hearing more examples, let me know and I can discuss them at a later time).

(For the rest of this review, check out my blog on My Space at www.myspace.com/realthirteen)


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