Not For The Very Young, But Good For Tweens
B. Merritt | WWW.FILMREVIEWSTEW.COM, Pacific Grove, California | 09/01/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"THE DUST FACTORY is more of a tween film than one for younger kids. Dealing with sensitive subjects on life, death, love, and sex, parents should be forewarned that this isn't some feel-good Disney flick (although it has some of its elements).
The story is that of Ryan Flynn (Ryan Kelley), a boy coming into his teens who is a self-imposed mute. He doesn't speak just because he doesn't want to; he witnessed a horrible accident that claimed his father's life several years ago and hasn't uttered a word since, much to the dismay of his mother (Kim Myers) and stepfather (Peter Horton). His grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl) lives with them but suffers from the end stages of Alzheimer's, not even realizing that his wife has passed on. Ryan's best friend Rocky (Michael Angarano, 24 TV Series) understands his muteness and doesn't pressure him, just lets him be. Until one day they're crossing an old train bridge and Ryan falls through into the murky water below.
When he resurfaces, everything has changed. Rocky is nowhere to be seen. His home is empty with the exception of his grandfather ...who can now talk! And so can Ryan! Learning that he's in some sort of limbo, Ryan soon befriends a pretty young girl his own age named Melanie (Hayden Panettiere) who shows him the ropes of this unique place. Taking him to the big-top where some freakish mimes play out the fate of people's afterlife, Ryan learns that once you take the plunge on the trapeze, things will never be the same. You either "move on"or you return to the Dust Factory (i.e., life as you knew it before limbo).
Battling his uncomfortable past, Ryan often sees railroad tracks blocking his way (his father was killed at a railroad crossing) and must force himself to move onward instead of looking back. He is helped tremendously by his tricky grandfather and, initially, by Melanie. But grandpa can't stay in this place forever, a sad but necessary thing, while Melanie refuses to leave (will she become a mime herself if she never leaves?) Ryan battles for Melanie's soul as much as his own and soon comes to terms with what it means to live life to its fullest.
Although exceptionally predictable and not very well acted, the bizarre afterlife world created here makes for some interesting post-film discussion with your tweens. Parents will be able to ask their kids what they think the mimes represented. And why was it necessary for the grandfather to move on.
It's a mixed bag as far as films go, but the creepiness of the big-top and its dark tones make up for many of its faults."
Love and Renewal Between Realms of Being
Thomas D. Osborne II | Los Angeles, CA USA | 02/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"***WARNING: THIS REVIEW DEFINITELY INCLUDES SPOILERS***
This film was in so many ways a truly wonderful and unusual film, very beautifully crafted, but probably beyond the reach of many in the movie-going public (which might explain why word of mouth did not sustain a wide release of this film; I came to this movie by way of buying the DVD due to the significant emotional appeal of lead actor Ryan Kelley, whom I had discovered in "Mean Creek"). For one thing, philosophically so many people of our culture can think of only two states of being that have been constantly preached to them, the state of "life", and the state of "death", which translates mostly into some kind of "heaven". So the metaphorical concept of "The Dust Factory," another realm that is neither life nor death, but some neutral state that is somewhere between worlds, confuses them. What is this place, why are all these people, there, and what does it mean? The answer is not immediately forthcoming in the film.
At first one might think that the main character, Ryan, who had an accident and took a serious fall off a bridge into the river, might have died, and so this place is a version of heaven. But then quickly enough Ryan discovers the presence of his grandfather, whom we know is not dead but lost in the mental fog of alzheimers. Okay, so obviously this place is a realm where ones consciousness operates while their body is still functioning back on earth, which in the case of the grandfather is sitting incommunicado back home on a rocking chair, and in the case of Ryan, is somewhere down under water in the river. Also, it becomes clear that people in Ryan's life who had died and whom he might want to meet, his father and his grandmother, are NOT there, so obviously this is not an after-life realm, but a state of altered consciousness where lessons are learned and important decisions are made about how one is going to proceed further on in their life.
Devotees of eastern religions are well familiar with this kind of multi-dimensional concept (here the dimension elucidated is probably meant to be the astral), but I more found it resonating with the dreamy "gateway to all the other worlds" realm envisioned by C.S. Lewis in "The Magician's Nephew", the sixth book of his symbolically meaningful Chronicles of Narnia series. To me, this kind of dimension is very real and I have been there myself on at least two different occasions (not counting all my nightly dream states), so while the particulars of writer, director, producer Eric Small's vision are different from one's individual experience of the actuality, his enunciation of this concept is valid and he deserves infinite kudos for having the courage and energy to successfully bring such vision to the screen for the thoughtful enjoyment of those who are able to experience and understand it.
While I personally didn't particularly care for the circus and ringmaster image of the dimension (I think circuses are kind of seedy and creepy in many ways, not a place of childhood wonder which I think was the writer's intention), once I thought about it, I very much liked the "trapeze" idea as a metaphor for the very serious and frightening risks involved in making important moves in ones life, including the very concept of choosing to be born at all (which is fraught with suffering and trauma), or alternatively, moving into an unknown realm beyond. I have always thought that taking necessary risks in life is exactly like swinging on a trapeze in the dark, and having faith that when you let go from the familiar and secure, there will be something at the end of your swing to catch you. Meanwhile, one may safely remain in this altered state of consciousness until the pull of their life becomes more powerful than the desire and need to rest and contemplate.
Beyond the pleasures of the script, the movie would be less enjoyable if it hadn't been so well cast and performed. I don't know how much credit goes to the actors' own devices, or to compassionate and helpful guidance of the director; in my own film experience, most of it comes out of the actors, that's what they are getting paid for, while the director makes sure everything looks great, which it certainly did in this movie--I loved the pure clear green Oregon scenery.
Ryan Kelley, who played the lead role of Ryan Flynn, is truly amazing. For one thing, he is physically beautiful and has a skill of radiating out through his face and body the glow of inner beauty that pulls your heart right in--so he is way more than "just" a pretty face. He sold me right from the beginning when he was unable to toss the shovel of dirt onto his grandmother's casket, the subtle demonstration of his traumatic indecision and then the way he fell back--and it just got better from there. I read an interview of him in which he modestly talked about how surprisingly hard it was to express his character as a mute, yet one can see in actuality how perfectly he rose to the occasion and found that skill within him; the boy is truly a very thoughtful and talented actor. I didn't even understand that he hadn't actually said a word until his friend mentioned it, as all his non-verbal facial and bodily cues had been so clear that talking had actually been unnecessary.
Also, I loved the power and prowess of his skating, which may actually have been a stunt double instead of Ryan, himself, I don't know; but regardless, the scenes were performed seamlessly and were a great expression of that character.
The physical energy, beauty, and outflowing expression of the power within was also hugely evident in Hayden Panettiere who played Melanie, who was entrancing from her first frame and that never let up. She and Ryan inhabited that dimension like they were playing house in their own universe. Ryan's expressions of joy took it up an obvious notch when he met her, and the chemistry between the two of them wrapped me up like a warm cloak so that I found myself wishing they could figure out a way to NOT have to risk leaving their realm of the Dust Factory. I think one of the genuine traumas of deciding to move on into real life is the one of separation from loved ones and the worry that while we may meet them later in life, we will have no clue as to who they really are and may fail to connect with them completely through forgetting and non-recognition, the risks of which are quite evident in our own lives.
I also want to give praise to Michael Angarano, who played Ryan's understanding friend, Rocky. While Michael's part was small, he was significant in underscoring the atmosphere of caring that so permeates this film. Again, as with Ryan and Hayden, Michael drew up from within his heart a compassionate expression of loving humanity; this is the kind of boy who is a true friend (something we rarely see in teenage friendships in the movies) and also composes a component in one's lifelong, and indeed, eternal, family. I worried for a moment that with Ryan's meeting up with Melanie on the bridge (something "magic" that we hoped WOULD happen) that this would put a damper on his close friendship with Rocky, a typical "when the girl comes on the scene, the friend gets thoughtlessly dumped", but no, Rocky, ever the true friend, immediately knew that this was something that should happen and he supported it 100%. No conflict there, all is proceeding as things should.
Finally, there was poignance and questions as to whether Ryan and Melanie recognized each other in their real life. Let's just say that it was clear they could feel that there was a power there that they didn't consciously understand, but they nevertheless knew that this was something that was meant to be. One would only remember details of the Dust Factory as a vague and amorphous dream--"there's something about you that is familiar"--yet the intuition, if paid attention to, rings like infinite chimes.
I am very glad that I bought this DVD, because the beauty of this film and its performances is something I will want to enjoy again and again."
Rod Serling and Steven Spielberg warmly shake hands in this
JOHN P. HANSSEN | ventura, CA USA | 03/25/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Meet Ryan Flynn. A young man who has faced a number of personal tragedies in his life. First, the loss of his father, and now, the loss of his grandmother. Little does Ryan know that his own life is about to take an unexpected turn. A turn that will lead him directly into.... The Twilight Zone."
Perhaps this is how Rod Serling would have started out this film had he thought it up for one of his more light-hearted Zone episodes. At the same time, this film is very similar to an "Amazing Stories"-type episode created by the ever-wonderful Steven Spielberg.
Even if one cares little about Serling or Spielberg, the reviewer will definitely be swept away into a world beyond imagining and a plot that will be a least a little more than intriguing.
Well worth a viewing. This is one that the entire family will enjoy."