MOVIE REVIEW
We Pedal Uphill: Stories From The States 2001-2008

Uphill, Downhill: All Across America In The Age Of Bush, 2001-2008

By Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com  
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Friday, March 20, 2009

Although the now-former president's name is never mentioned nor his face ever shown, "We Pedal Uphill: Stories From The States 2001-2008" operates under the idea that the Americans in each of its thirteen short stories set in different states have been blighted by the weight of all things George W. Bush.  The story subjects are shown coping under an era of extralegal burdens and effects.  Roland Tec writes, directs and does the music for this documentary-feeling feature film, a series of vignettes.  "We Pedal Uphill" opened today exclusively at the Cinema Village in New York City.  The music over the film's opening credits feels like a counteraction to the eight years of the Bush Administration -- as if Lady Liberty or the country itself is singing, imploring its citizens to resurrect themselves, even though the song is about welcoming back a lover to a relationship.  The song is re-introduced in the film's third short story.

In "Paranoia" (set in Colorado), Mr. Tec stars as a liberal talk show host in a state that is rather conservative (despite casting its vote for now-president Barack Obama last November).  We see the conceits and subterfuge he exercises prior to arriving for work at a local radio station, and he doesn't speak a single word.  In "My Tie" (Mississippi), a widowed mother and fatherless son talk about the civil rights marches which are being commemorated in the city, which the son has some strong opinions about.  "A Black Thing" (Tennessee) features a black singer who is asked by her white music producers and engineers to "put some more soul" into her singing.  They dance nervously around the obvious issues of race, especially in the South.  In "Subtraction And Addition" (Ohio) a white secretary challenges her black boss over numbers and figures in an affidavit document that she has been asked to type. 

"Earth Day" (California) features two journeyers trying to navigate their way out of Muir Woods with their hysterical boss, while "One Wrong Turn" (Louisiana) examines the progressively tense interaction beneath the cordial exchange between black man and a white man who are supposedly friends or at best acquaintances.  If A Cow Was A Pie" (Oklahoma), several men are in a corporate meeting deliberating about cows, profits, percentages and pies, while "Caution: Train Crossing" (Nebraska) find two workers talking about an ethically wrong proposition.  In "The Mouse" (Florida), two gay men go back to a hotel room post-party, with drugs being offered.  One of them has a strong sense of safety and anti-drug use, the other doesn't. 

In "What've We Got To Lose?" (Connecticut), a reversal of the opening vignette, we track backwards and away down a long corridor, hearing voices at work, without seeing faces to match.  In "Treason" (New Mexico), the shortest story, a group of tourists listen to a reactionary tour guide who dispenses a history lesson about the Rosenbergs of the 1950s that none seem interested in -- perhaps because the guide goes overboard in her anecdotes or because they are numbed to history.  The longest story is "What Happened To Rita?" (Massachusetts), which looks forward and back at the life of a librarian confronted by two officers who say they are from the Department of Homeland Security.  Finally, in "We Dig A Big Hole" (Alabama), a gay man dolefully narrates his pain of hiding his sexual orientation from his very conservative father.

Shot largely on digital video, most of these stories are resonant, although some are not as effective as others.  Many of the actors are award-winning thespians from the theater, having appeared on Broadway and Off-Broadway in numerous plays and they do well here.  Mr. Tec, who has directed such films as the critically hailed "All The Rage", a satire on gay life, is a virtuoso of sorts, having a career in opera, film, theater and music.  He also co-produced "Defiance", Edward Zwick's most recent film.  Mr. Tec's film of anthologies, shot largely in digital video, are ambitious, insightful and always interesting.  He works hard to make them impactful, and most of the time he succeeds.

With: Judith Bancroft, J. Tucker Smith, Merle Perkins, Kate Weiman, Kate Blumberg, Tom Bozell, Paul Outlaw, Polly Adams, Jenny Bacon, Stephen Barker Turner, Nicholas Pelczar, Charles Parnell, Carl Palmer, Nat Dewolf, Matt Walton, Ian Blackman, Molly Powell, Alvin Epstein, David Drake, Stephen Bienskie, Marylouise Burke, Maureen Keiller, Molly Purves, Ellen Colton, Rick Park, John Magaro and Judy Hiller.

"We Pedal Uphill: Stories From The States 2001-2008" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America.  The film's duration is one hour and 51 minutes.  In color and black and white.

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  PopcornReel.com.  2009.  All Rights Reserved.

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