Palmdale (2014)

US / 79 minutes / color / Quality Control Dir & Pr & Scr: Erich Kemp Cine: Steven Burritt Cast: Lackos, Olivia Preciado, Kristopher Knight-Doyle, Matthew Callahan, Eliot, Timothy Fox, Fernando Rodriguez, Narinder “Tony” Soni.

Palmdale - 0 opener

An interesting and praiseworthy independent attempt to evoke the ambience and themes of classic film noir, Palmdale suffers from the fact that what could have made an excellent half-hour featurette lasts for nearly eighty minutes.

Army vet Kurt (Lackos), now engaged in legally dubious freelance work through his minder, Ron (Eliot), is sent by Ron from Palmdale, California, to Los Angeles to meet with a couple of hackers and carry out a hit for them. Kurt is a reluctant murderer, but he needs the money and Ron is evidently an old buddy.

Palmdale - 5 Kurt

Kurt (Lackos).

He’s met off the train by one of the two hackers, Adam (Knight-Doyle), who drives him back to the pad he shares with the other, Michael (Callahan). They make their living by hacking into people’s online financial details and using those details to buy expensive tech, which they can then sell through outlets like eBay. A few months ago they invited a third hacker, Marty (Fox), to join their enterprise. He stayed just long enough to clean out their bank accounts, and is now bragging all over town about how he outwitted the simpletons. Unsurprisingly, it’s Marty whom they want Kurt to knock off.

Palmdale - 2 Michael (l) and Adam explain the terms of the deal

Michael (Matthew Callahan, left) and Adam (Kristopher Knight-Doyle) explain the terms of the deal.

They irritate Kurt by specifying exactly how he must travel to the bar that Marty’s going to be leaving at maybe one o’clock this morning—take this bus, then walk the rest of the way—but he grudgingly acquiesces. As he walks through the near-deserted streets toward the bar, he comes across a hooker, Marie (Preciado), being brutally beaten by her abusive pimp, Eddie (Rodriguez). Kurt intervenes and gives Eddie a dose of his own medicine, but is stopped by Marie from cutting the hoodlum’s throat. Marie is certain Eddie will soon kill her in revenge, but there doesn’t seem much Kurt can do about that.

Palmdale - 3 Marie in despair

Marie (Olivia Preciado) in despair . . .

Palmdale - 4 Eddie's within a hair of meeting his doom

. . . as Eddie (Fernando Rodriguez) is within a hair of meeting his doom.

Kurt finds Marty and is just about to kill him when he hears Marie’s voice yelling at him to spare the man’s life, just as she did when he was about to kill Eddie the pimp. It’s at this point Kurt realizes there’s a way out of this that will leave him far further ahead than he would have been, while at the same time allowing him to save Marie from the wrath of Eddie . . .

Marie: “How many times can you save my life?”
Kurt: “As many as I need to. You saved mine.”

The opening few minutes of the movie, as Kurt waits to catch a train and then journeys through the night for his rendezvous with Adam, are quite beautifully staged and filmed. Cinematographer Burritt really revels in the nighttime railroad landscapes, the train itself, the near-deserted stations; he displays a sort of Tarkovskian relish for observation for its own sake, as when Kurt puts a dying insect out of its misery by crushing it underfoot. All too soon, however, Burritt begins to show his limitations; while there’s still some superb photographic work ahead, there’s also far too much use of colored filters to no apparent purpose, plus a sort of addiction to darkness. This is fine when we’re following Kurt through the late-night streets of LA, but there’s no need for, say, the interior of Adam’s and Michael’s pad to be lit like a hospital ward after lights-out.

Palmdale - 7 Now it's the term of Marty to be within a hair of meeting his doom

Now it’s the turn of Marty (Timothy Fox) to be within a hair of meeting his doom.

The soundtrack (by Jonathon Fessenden) follows roughly the same path as the cinematography. The two work exceptionally well together in the opening stages. Fessenden deploys crashing electric guitars (and some near-subsonics) while taking a sort of minimalist approach to melody, instead focusing on the appropriate timing of the music’s intervention—the kind of soundtrack, in other words, that sounds great during the movie but whose CD you’d never be tempted to buy. This tactic works well for a while, but I found it eventually tiresome.

Palmdale - 8 Will Marie accept Kurt's offer of freedom Q

Will Marie (Olivia Preciado) accept Kurt’s offer of freedom?

There’s nothing much wrong with Kemp’s screenplay except that there’s not nearly enough of it, with the result that he has to pace events with, often, near-glacial slowness. More than once I found myself grumbling at the screen: “Come on!”

I’ve focused perhaps too much on Palmdale’s demerits. The story that Kemp has to tell is a good one, and as noted there are plenty of tremendous visuals. Lackos’s central performance, although a little ponderous and self-important, is more than capable of the job of gluing everything together. The rest of the cast hold their own, while Preciado and especially Fox positively shine. The movie has a great feel to it, and I’ll be looking out for more of Kemp’s work.

Palmdale - closer

5 thoughts on “Palmdale (2014)

  1. Hi, this is Erich Kemp, wr/pr/dir of “Palmdale.” I found your review of my film by accident; I stumbled upon it while Googling around, and it’s spot-on as far as the criticisms go. Whoever is interested in watching my film – it’s now available on Amazon and free to watch if you’re a Prime member:

    I’d really appreciate it if those who watch it left a review afterwards with their own thoughts on the film – I’m always interested in hearing the different interpretations/ideas of others!

    Thanks again, realthog, for taking the time to watch my film and review it for your blog. I hope your readers will enjoy it.


    • Good to see you here, Erich. I gather the version on Amazon is a revised one — I saw an earlier cut. I’m sure people here would be interested if you could talk us through what you did, and indeed for any other background info you’d care to give about the movie.

      • Hi Realthog, sorry for the month-late response. Yes, on Amazon you can watch the revised version, with over 5 minutes trimmed off, as well as music placed into more scenes which I realized later had too much “dead air.” The film gets its slow pace from a couple of influences on me at the time, the biggest being Jean-Pierre Melville films, which I discovered sometime in 2012, and got hooked on them. Quiet, slow, but very hard-hitting films. I wanted to do something like that. I also discovered Cormac McCarthy novels and the “heroes” of his stories, the wayward, violent, drifters resonated with me. I also was really struck by how eerie, vacant, and quiet downtown LA gets after 3am – very strange, apocalyptic. And I’ve always loved the desert, ever since I was a kid, so I tried to imagine the personality of this old drifter who lives a very slow life these days.

        “Palmdale” seems to me to be kind of the anti-hitman movie, anti-action, anti-violence even… I hope your readers will check it out and leave their thoughts. If I can answer anyone’s questions, I’ll be sure to do so, and this time in less than a month!


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