When Steve Tatone's "Beautiful Noise" enjoyed six sold-out showings at the 2011 Sarasota Film Festival, it was largely a factor of its bearing a "made in Sarasota" stamp. The film, a musical featuring the songs of Neil Diamond, introduced a talented unknown — 2010 Booker High School grad Danielle White, then 19 — but was otherwise remarkable mostly for the fact that it had been made at all.
Saturday night at Burns Court Cinema, Tatone previewed his latest effort (co-produced with White, who moved back to Sarasota from Los Angeles last year to participate), "Blind Pass," a psychological thriller shot in and around Sarasota and in Ireland. This screening was for potential investors, media and the local crew, but the film has been entered into this year's Sarasota Film Festival and may well have its world premiere here in April.
Whether it will have a reception equal to "Beautiful Noise" is hard to say. While it has a more complex story line, stronger acting and is, overall, a better effort, it suffers from erratic pacing, confusing editing and a perplexing conclusion that I had to get my cineophile son to sort out for me afterward.
The story's premise is itself a bit of an eye-roller — Carrie (White), a promising young singer, begins to go blind following the death of her powerful but erratic millionaire father (Armand Assante) and begins working with Michael, a psychiatrist (the, of course, young and handsome Chris McKenna) to make the emotional adjustment to her life without sight.
Other than a few flash-forwards at the start, the film ambles along building what becomes a romantic relationship between Carrie and Michael, with Sarasota's beaches and (based on its questionable therapeutic value) Ireland's chilly but green coastal regions as equally gorgeous backdrops. Their conversations are marked by Carrie's alternating resistence and seduction and sprinkled with highfallutin' bits of poetry by Irish bards (James Joyce, William B. Yeats) and arguments about the meaning of life.
It isn't until the final 20 minutes when, with a series of flashes back and forward that made my head spin, the film reaches its dramatic (and confusing) climax. Once I'd sorted it out, I had to admit it was a clever denouement, but the delivery was a little problematic.
We see even more of White in this film — in every sense of the word; there are a lot of shower scenes — and she is not one of the stumbling blocks. The now 21-year-old confirmed what "Beautiful Noise" intimated; she has a believable ease in front of the camera, mesmirizing eyes and a voice that deserves a recording contract. (At 11, she won the only season of the "American Idol" spinoff, "American Juniors," and her rendition of "You Don't Know Me," in this film is alone worth the price of admission.)
The boyishly handsome McKenna, a former soap star ("One Life to Live") is equally charming, though the dialogue doesn't always aid his efforts. Assante, who I revered in "The Mambo Kings," is a disappointment in his brief time on screen, speaking in a stiff-mouthed and barely understandable accent that reminded me of Marlon Brando in "The Godfather" without the cheek pouch. Ed Lauter ("The Artist," "The Longest Yard"), the only other "name" actor in the film, is onscreen for only seconds as the pastor presiding over the father's funeral and makes little impression.
During a Q & A after the screening — attended by Tatone, White, Lauter and James Sexton (who plays a delightfully funny chauffeur in the Ireland scenes) — Tatone made a gentle pitch to investors for help with distribution of "Blind Pass" and to finance the follow-up to/remake of "Beautiful Noise" (titled "Serenade") which he and White have already begun.
"We get better with each film," he said.
That is certainly true. "Blind Pass" is a big step up from "Beautiful Noise" in every way. If it, and future projects of Lionheart Films — the division of Midnight Pass Productions Tatone has created for his collaborations with White — find distribution, it should bring some attention to a deserving White, who may never have to regret her decision to return home to seek her celluloid fortune.
BLIND PASS, written and directed by Steve Tatone, starring Danielle White, Armand Assante, Chris McKenna and Ed Lauter. Shot in Sarasota, Brandenton, Lakewood Ranch and Dublin and County Clare, Ireland. For more information, contact Midnight Pass Productions at firstname.lastname@example.org.