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Film Journal International

By Frank Lovece


Powerful, haunting, oddly sweet yet utterly unsentimental film about 1980s teens, with five interlocking stories, showcases a prodigious talent in emerging filmmaker Erik Peter Carlson.

By all rights, The Toy Soldiers shouldn't work: A two-and-a-half-hour indie ensemble drama with a cast of unknowns, set 30 years ago, telling five interconnected stories all shot in what the filmmaker says was a "micro-budget" 28 days of production. And for all that, I am not going out on a limb to call The Toy Soldiers one of the most unsentimentally well-observed and sympathetically humane movies ever made about teens—and that writer-director-producer Erik Peter Carlson is a gifted and daring talent who bears watching.

Doing an M.C. Escher end-run around the movie archetype of a final-night rite-of-passage, Carlson's story, set in an unspecified 1980s Southern California town, interweaves a concurrent quintet of tales informed by flashbacks and flash-forwards. A fortyish woman exits a liquor store; a teen entering says, "Hello, Mrs. Harris" before being yelled at by the owner. In a later story, we see Mrs. Harris' own confrontation at the counter before her leaving. Some moments in some scenes overlap verbatim, but where we left that table of teens in one tale, we stay with them in another. As in classical music, complex resonance abounds: Angry words out of context here gain meaning and perspective there. That it all seems organic and necessary rather than a look-at-me technical trick shows you just how strong the characters and the big-picture story are.

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