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click here to read about the Audience Award at the Austin Heart of Film Festival

click here to read about our premiere at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival

 

'Went to Coney Island' Is a Touching Tale of Friends

by Kevin Thomas

"Went to Coney Island on a Mission From God . . . Be Back by Five" re-teams director/co-writer Richard Schenkman and actor/co-writer Jon Cryer, who first joined forces on the romantic comedy "The Pompatus of Love." This time they're in a more serious mood, which is not to say this deeply felt, engaging little film is without humor, although it confronts a great deal of pain and loss.

Cryer's Daniel and Rick Stear's Stan are lifelong friends in a working-class New York neighborhood. Steadfast Daniel has a modest job as a jeweler, whereas Stan is experiencing the unraveling of his life from gambling and drink. Yet they remain friends, although Dan is not yet aware of how dire Stan's predicament has become.

They take off to explore Coney Island in search of their long-missing childhood friend Richie, who is rumored to have been spotted at the once-venerable, now increasingly derelict, seaside amusement area.

Stan and Dan locate Richie (Rafael Baez) living under the boardwalk. But the story is really just beginning, and as the film moves back and forth between past and present, Schenkman and Cryer show how the high spirits of childhood, so seemingly full of promise, can so swiftly give way to mediocre adult lives.

The film has a strong, limiting sentimental streak and some loose ends, but clearly Schenkman and Cryer have come up with a film that is finally quite affecting and glows with the performances of Stear and Baez as well as Cryer. (Ione Skye is seen all too briefly as Stan's longtime girlfriend.)

Evocative and poignant, Coney Island is a powerful key setting, and the filmmakers make the most of it without letting it overwhelm the story--Adam Beckman is the film's skilled cinematographer. You find "Went to Coney Island" sticking with you long after it's over.

 

by Leonard Maltin

"Went to Coney Island..." is a breath of fresh air amid all the self indulgent independent films we're seeing these days.  Its director and co writer, Richard Schenkman, has a sharp ear for dialogue and a good eye for the melancholy landscape of Coney Island,   which resounds strongly with New Yorkers, like me, who remember it in its heyday.

Jon Cryer (who co wrote and co produced the picture) and Ione Skye are the only recognizable names in the cast, but all of the actors deliver solid and believable performances in this story of boyhood friends whose lives haven't turned out as they had hoped.  Two of them wind up spending a day wandering the boardwalk at Coney in search of a fellow musketeer who dropped out of sight years ago..and who, they've heard, was spotted among the homeless people in the neighborhood.  The film doesn't present a story so much as a series  of vignettes, in which even incidental characters have color, life and the unmistakable mark of truth.

At turns moving and funny, Went to Coney Island is a satisfying slice of life.

 



WENT TO CONEY ISLAND ON A MISSION FROM GOD... BE BACK BY FIVE

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by Merle Bertrand

Not only does this film, FT's pick as Best Competition Feature, have the coolest title ever, but this bittersweet, multi-layered comparison of life's realities versus life's potential is as compelling as it is deeply resonant.

When lifelong buddies Daniel (Jon Cryer) and Stanley (Rick Stear) hear that Richie, their one-time third musketeer, had been seen wandering around Coney Island homeless and deranged, they set out on their mission to find him. As they traipse around the nearly deserted amusement park on a blustery winter day, they encounter a collection of motley park groupies. As they interact with these odd folks, they gradually become aware of the drifting stagnation in their own lives while we observe, through intermittent flashbacks, the moments that brought them to their current state of entrenched ruttedness.

Though it sounds ponderous and preachy, it's actually quite funny and thought provoking. Co-writer (with Cryer)/director Richard Schenkman tugs a heartstring or two, particularly when the guys find Richie, a manic depressive scrounging around in the garbage, and we learn what drove him there. But he mostly just lets us enjoy hanging out with these two guys for the day. The film is a little slow, but that's more than balanced out by its resonance. Anyone who's the same age as these guys and who sees everyone around them but themselves getting a picket fence and a piece of American Dream pie will identify with their frustrations.

Cryer, to his credit, seems determined to do his own thing; this being his second notable off-Hollywood turn with Schenkman ("Pompatus of Love".) Not only that, the guy's just fun to watch; a sort of overlooked Bob Newhart of the 90's. Would somebody please put him and the oft-confused Matthew Broderick in the same film so that Cryer could get the recognition he deserves?

It may not necessarily be a mission from the Big Guy, but do yourself a favor and check out this film.

 

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WENT TO CONEY ISLAND ON A MISSION FROM GOD... BE BACK BY FIVE

ArtsLink Rating:

4 (of 5)  Excellent. Even worth it at one of those $9/ticket theaters.

by ArtsLink Contributor Adam Mikael Sharp

Director: Richard Schenkman
Writers: Jon Cryer & Richard Schenkman
1 Hour, 34 Minutes
A very well-written and directed tale of two twenty-somethings who go to Coney Island in search of a childhood friend they’ve heard is now homeless at the famed park.
As they pursue their “mission from God” to find lost friend Richie (Rafael BŠez - Gold Coast), Daniel (Jon Cryer - Pretty in Pink) and Stan (Rick Stear) come across several brilliantly created characters whose individual vignettes are truly the best parts of the film. We meet a Skee-Ball prize vendor who explains the relation of prize tickets to the global economy, a souvenir photographer who recounts the park’s glory days, and a freak show performer who...

Well, let’s just say it would hurt - a lot.

Of these guest characters, viewers will be most impressed by the middle-aged  Maurice (Peter Gerety - Homicide: Life on the Street), whose emotional break-up plays out in front of the two friends. Very quickly, we are drawn into the drama of Maurice’s life and his fears of losing his true love, Julie (Akili Prince - Die Hard: With a Vengeance). Meanwhile, Daniel narrates some very well-crafted looks back to the trio’s childhood. Starting with the High Noon-like mutual sizing-up that begins whenever two young boys meet, and continuing though their continued search for the answers men have desired for centuries, we begin to glean deep insights into their histories - without wasting precious celluloid on trying to build a cliche coming-of-age saga.

We also witness the events that led to Richie’s estrangement from the group, and gain insight into the path of self-destruction that has led Stan into a deep pit of gambling debt and alcoholism. But with all the film’s tremendous character development, we are left wondering about Daniel, whose life between high school and present day is only lightly summarized. With crisp, Mamet-esque writing that captures the cadence of New York better than most, cinematography that effectively contrasts the colorful idealism of childhood to the gritty realities of maturity, and a carefully integrated soundtrack and score, Went to... adds tremendous production quality to the already delightful economy of its storytelling.  Cryer and Schenkman effectively avoid the cliches that would trap most writers when telling the story. Half-expecting the “happily ever-after” type of ending that is so common in film, the viewer will be impressed by the compromises Cryer and Schenkman choose, allowing redemption for some characters while realizing the difficult-to-repair grim realities of life for the others.

 

by Maitland McDonaugh

"A darkly humorous lament for squandered potential and lives gone wrong. Went to Coney Island is better than a gimmicky title... genuinely affecting."

 

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by Rogue

"...solid performances ...very good writing ...an AMAZING fifteen or so minutes of acting by the incomparable Peter Gerety (currently playing Detective Gahrty on "Homicide") ...It obviously came from the heart ...this movie deserves to be seen!"

 

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by Gary Morris

"Richard Schenkman’s amusing and affecting Went to Coney Island recasts the road movie as an excursion through a deserted amusement park... striking, natural performances... ripe for the rep houses!"

 

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by Rob McLaughlin

"...It's powerful, unexpected stuff, [packing] humourous, eye-opening twists and turns and poignant philosophical musings about the fleeting nature of time and love... In the end, the images of our two downtrodden protagonists stalking the boardwalk, shadowed by the faded architectural remnants of adolescent summers past, prove to have a haunting affect on the viewer."

 

The Edmonton Sun

by Steve Tilley


"... a gem of a film - funny, intelligent and even a little bit heart-breaking... poignant, revealing and at times, downright funny!"

 

VUEweekly - Edmonton

by Olav Rokne


"Shenkman's dialog lies somewhere between the sculpted, artful wordplay of David Mamet and the punchy, pop-cultural speech of Woody Allen. It's the perfect blend to convey the feelings of characters who have the gnawing suspicion that they haven't lived up to their parents' legacy. I'd go so far as to say that Went to Coney Island... is one of the best films of the year."

 

The Edmonton Journal
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by Marc Horton

"... near perfect... It's small, fiercely independent and has the feel of honesty about it...the kind of uncompromised quality not seen in budget-driven productions."

 

See Magazine

by Mari Sasano

"...has a ring of truth to it rarely found in "buddy movies." It's talky, smart and has some truly hilarious moments with strong performances all around."

 

Der Schnitt
"...An enchantingly light-footed tragicomedy became the audience's favorite and was thus chosen the winner of the first Levi's Independence Award. An outstanding ensemble, sympathetic dialogue, and a clever story that takes us along the various stages of the lives of the three friends, make 'Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God... Be Back by Five' more than an enjoyable experience."

 

Nordwest-Zeitung
"...The farewell is the central motif in Richard Schenkman's 'Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God... Be Back by Five', and Schenkman's farewells are among the most touching we have seen in cinema in recent years. A wonderful ballad about friendship."

 

Diabolo
"...In Richard Schenkman's curiously titled 'Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God... Be Back by Five' the excellent performances come to the fore. When the two take off for the search for a lost friend, the journey not only turns into a trip into the past that is narrated in well-suited flashbacks, but also into a painful examination of the term "true friendship". 'Went to Coney Island...' is an empathetic film that inspires meditation with its universal message."

 


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