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The Independent Critic

John Savage, Michael Gross, Paula Jai Parker, Rachel Alig, Jerry Kernion, Elina Madison, Rachel Gage, Lars Slind, Eileen Grubba, Shanna Malcolm, Andres Perez-Molina, Joe Hart, Eric Paul Erickson, and Chris Pentzell
Linda Palmer
Brian Beatty, Betsy Morris
105 Mins.

 "Last Call at Murray's" a Terrific Ensemble Flick  
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Murray (Michael Gross, television's Family Ties and the Tremors films) has run his remote mountain-town watering hole and karaoke bar for quite a few years. However, his age and those damned anti-smoking laws have taken all the fun out of the place. Combined with dwindling business, it's come down to this - one last night. When a freak blizzard blows through, Murray's hopes for a quiet closing night are dashed and Murray's hoped for quiet night is replaced by a collection of dysfunctional misfits and total strangers stranded for the night in Murray's weird but pretty wonderful world. By the time the snow clears, bonds will be formed and bonds will be broken while a new life will enter the world and another one leave it.

Directed by Linda Palmer based upon a script by Brian Beatty and Betsy Morris, Last Call at Murray's is a gentle, heartfelt comedy of a film that, despite the rather large ensemble cast, feels perfectly complete by the time the closing credits roll by. Gross, who worked with Palmer recently on the short film Our Father, reminds us once again why we've always loved him whether he's playing one of America's most beloved fathers on the television series Family Ties or Burt Gummer in the Tremors films or any of his other television/film appearances over the years. Gross's Murray is resigned yet familiar and it's easy to believe that those regulars who've gathered on what is to be Murray's last night are, on some level, grieving the loss of this gathering space and their old friend.

Gross isn't alone in serving up a top notch performance amongst this stellar ensemble cast. John Savage (The Godfather: Part III, The Deer Hunter) is genuine and funny, while also the always wonderful Paula Jai Parker hits a home run as Danice and picked up a nomination for Best Actress at the Smoky Mountain Film Festival to prove it.  Other memorable performances are turned in by Rachel Alig as Dawn, Chris Pentzell as Neil, and Eileen Grubba as Roxanne. It should be noted, however, that there's truly not a weak link amongst the ensemble cast and Palmer finds a way to balance the complex, layered yet relaxed script in such a way that it feels authentic and natural.

P.J. Gaynard's lensing hit all the right notes in capturing both the film's intimacy and its lighter, more comical moments. It was especially welcome that Gaynard wasn't hesitant to allow a shot to linger on facial expressions and body language even as it changed, with some characters dramatically, over the course of the film. The film's music is solid throughout, with the original music by Greg Cortez and Marvin Glover working quite nicely in the film and one tune, done by Parker, being particularly stand-out.

Palmer's last film, the short Our Father, was filmed entirely in a bathroom. Assuming she's not, in fact, agoraphobic, Palmer has a terrific gift for framing tight shots and blocking multiple characters in a tight space. While the bar is certainly a roomier area, she was working with quite a few additional characters yet it worked beautifully.

Last Call at Murray's had its premiere at the Pasadena International Film Festival and has also screened so far at the Smoky Mountain Film Festival and Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii. It should have no problem continuing on the film festival circuit throughout the rest of 2016 if the team so chooses and one would expect its emotionally honest yet light enough to be entertaining story would attract attention from indie distributors. For more information on the film, visit the Last Call at Murray's website linked to in the credits on the left.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic