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on January 15, 2013
In the press notes for California Solo, writer-director Marshall Lewy defines "FEAR" as an acronym that can mean either: "f*** everything and run" or "face everything and recover." Perhaps, more than anything, that is the underlying theme of his new movie California Solo. Starring Robert Carlyle in a mesmerizing performance, California Solo traces the first steps of one faded former Britpop rocker from once sense of fear to the other.

When we meet the movie's central character Lachlan MacAldonich, whom Carlyle infuses with equal portions of self-loathing and charm, he is living a comfortably numb existence. Carlyle is perfectly cast as Lachlan, the Scottish former lead guitarist in a "big deal" `90s British rock band, the Cranks. The band's real "big deal" was Lachlan's older brother, the Cranks lead singer Jed, who died tragically of a drug overdose years earlier in L.A.

By night, Lachlan hosts a rather morbid podcast called Flameouts, honoring the world's great musicians, tragically dead before their time: from T-Rex's Marc Bolan, to that most tragic of composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But, the one flameout Lachlan's not yet profiled is Jed; the memory of his brother's death is still too keen and raw, even more than a decade later, as Lachlan feels responsible (with good reason) for the overdose that killed him.

Since Jed's death, Lachlan hasn't been home to the U.K.--never faced family, friends, and fans. Nor really himself. Now an expat with a green card, in this self-imposed exile, hiding from his past and himself in Antelope Valley, California, Lachlan works on an organic farm owned by Warren (A Martinez in a gentle, sympathetic performance as Lachlan's patient boss).

That "comfortably numb" existence, and a steady diet of beer and Scotch, seems to be the only way Lachlan can live with himself, getting drunk nightly alone in his tiny hovel of a home or at the local bar. On one such night, Lachlan is pulled over and charged with a DUI; his problems are only just beginning.

A barely-remembered marijuana possession charge from years earlier threatens him with deportation unless he can prove himself valuable to someone--anyone--who is a U.S. citizen. As Lachlan confesses, "I can't think of anyone who would give a toss whether I'm here or not.", Lachlan reluctantly turns to his estranged ex-wife Catherine (Kathleen Wilhoite) and daughter Arianwen (Savannah Lathem)--whom he hasn't seen since she was three years old--as his last desperate hope against facing the music back home. It's a tricky path for him to take, full of emotional landmines, and, ultimately, there are no easy answers for him.

There is also an ongoing flirtation between Lachlan and Beau, a farmer's market customer. It would have been easy to take the relationship to its logical end and land them in bed. But it really rings true that it doesn't wind up that way. Lachlan is clearly so screwed up at this point and so self-destructive at this point, it's hard to imagine him pursuing it, even though he might desire it. It's an interesting narrative choice, but it makes a lot of sense, even though it might contradict conventional wisdom (and frustrate those of us more romantic souls).

And in the end, as well, the film's resolution doesn't necessarily go where the audience might expect either. There are no neat bows to tie up the shattered remains of Lachlan's life, yet it's not completely bleak. There are no pat answers; it's a hopeful, yet truthful. Lewy leaves filmgoers with a sense that he's evolving and that he is going to go face his past.

California Solo, more than anything, is a carefully drawn character study of a middle-aged man stuck in a 15-year old nightmare much of his own making. To say that Robert Carlyle's performance is stunning is not hyperbole; it's simple fact. He's in nearly every frame of the 97-minute film; we can't avoid getting pulled into the chaos of his life. One moment, we feel terrible for him; at another, we want to shake him and tell him to grow up, for heaven's sake!

We want him to find some peace, even as he refuses it in a self-destructive downward spiral intensified by his current problems with immigration. And whether he is wallowing in a drunken stupor of self-pity, raging about his immigration situation, shyly and ineffectively courting a beautiful young woman, or trying to reconnect with a daughter he barely knows, it's all there played out behind Carlyle's soulful eyes. He hits every emotional beat true and natural in a brilliant performance.

The actor always manages to find the humanity and vulnerability in every character he plays, but California Solo gives Carlyle the opportunity to exhibit the full range of his mastery. He doesn't miss a beat; none of it feels forced. It is gorgeous, naturalistic acting at its finest.

Ultimately, California Solo should be appreciated for the beautiful character study it is at its core, and the exquisite, heartbreaking performance of its lead actor. Not a huge, raucous rock movie, but rather a melancholy and not-too-sweet ballad of a film.
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As a great showcase for underrated actor Robert Carlyle, Marshall Lewy's character study "California Solo" gives him one of his most fully realized roles in years. Truly, I am a fan of Carlyle. Sometimes, though, I forget just how good he can be. This low-key indie really lets Carlyle tap into the depths of the central character. There is no big plot or major drama in this modestly scaled picture, just one man shaken from routine and apathy to look at the life he's chosen and the one he's left behind. Carlyle is so natural, so believable, and so comfortable in the skin of a former British rocker living a quiet life in America! And it's this easy performance that carries "California Solo" to success. The screenplay develops a realistic situation and Carlyle sells it at every turn. There is no artifice in this understated presentation, just a compelling reflection of a life lived.

Set in the rural outskirts of Los Angeles, Carlyle (once a famed wild child) lives a subdued existence tending to an organic farm. He still has a certain charm and a way with the ladies, and he enjoys a comfortable numbness in emotional solitude. A drunk driving stop, however, will abruptly end this way of life. Threatened with deportation, Carlyle starts to scramble. His legal woes and precarious position threaten a burgeoning new romance and will have him reuniting with a family long abandoned. The occurrence shakes him from the post-fame ennui that has defined him for decades. But in discovering what he values, might it be a little too late to matter? Again, the film just flows over the viewer in an incredibly subtle way. It gives Carlyle the chance to really open up and it's a fantastic performance.

I appreciated that Carlyle was allowed to be a complex persona. Selfish and unlikable at times, he is never alienating. It would have been easy to make him a complete boor, but there is a real heart beating in "California Solo." You realize he's not a bad guy even if he commits bad acts. And in this new crisis, a form of redemption is possible. But this is not mushy and sentimental and the screenplay doesn't sell Carlyle out for cheap catharsis. I, for one, found this refreshingly honest. If you want a big plot driven movie, this isn't it. But as a quiet character contemplation, this movie has surprising edge and unexpected heart. I never knew quite where Carlyle was going to take me, and so I was fully invested in his journey. KGHarris, 3/13.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon February 24, 2013
This 95-minute film was an "Official" selection at Sundance and probably played many other film festivals. It's definitely an independent film on a small budget. Its 30 locations were shot in an amazingly short 21 days. (You learn this from the "Making of..." featurette in the DVD bonuses.

The one "name" actor is Scottish actor Robert Carlyle (who I must admit has an accent thick enough that I know I missed some of his dialogue. And, there are no "subtitle options", which might have helped). He's well-known but was new to me. His character, Lachlan MacAldonich, was in a UK rock band with his brother but - for reasons you will learn in the film - he left the band (well, it broke up) and has been living in California (outside LA ) for the last 10 years. One think you learn about Lachlan is that he drinks a lot. (If the liquid consumed in this film was real alcohol, a good portion of the budget would have been spent on it.) Writer/Director Marshall Lewy intends for Lachlan's character to be one that some of the audience take compassion for and other see him as a loser. He does make some really stupid moves. I won't go into details that will tell you how the story ends. That would give away too much.

There are other characters in Lachlan's life in the film but they are - in my opinion - thinly drawn. The main one is Beau - who is described on the package as being "a lovely struggling actress". I don't ever remember her "occupation" being mentioned in the film but the central part of the story is that both Lachlan and Beau each have "problems" and may save each other. Lachlan's problem is of course his alcoholism but all we know about Beau is that she has "some bad days". (At least I couldn't figure out what her problems were.). Near the end we meet Lachlan's ex-wife and teenage daughter and the story changes again. I like independent films and gave this one a chance and the time was well spent. But I kept getting the feeling that Director Lewy was so excited to get a "name" actor in his film, that he concentrated on Lachlan so much he left loose ends for the other characters. (He gloats about Carlye signing on to the film in that "Making of ... short".

As noted above there is the nine-minute "Making of.." short as well as A (just one) deleted scene lasting 2 ½ minutes. The theatrical t5railer is there too. That's it for bonuses.

I'll recommend this to those who like to take a chance on American independent films. But it's not perfect.

I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.

Steve Ramm
"Anything Phonographic"
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on March 12, 2013
The acting in this film was superb. Truly layered and nuanced. The plot was very well written, and there was enough humor throughout to offset the serious parts. This is a movie with heart and depth, that will make you laugh, cringe, smile, and hope. Robert Carlyle is tremendously raw and honest in his portrayal.
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on May 9, 2013
Very well acted. Unfortunately it was too well acted for me as the problems the main character faced rang so painfully true that I couldn't finish it! However, I couldn't fault the film, great acting, very well thought out story.
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on July 14, 2013
Very much an "artsy" character piece. Carlyle gives a masterfull performance as a very fallible, burned-out rocker whose life is anything but idyllic. The "feel good" in this movie requires a bit of work to find but it's worth the effort if you enjoy portayals of life as it might be.

A supporting performance by Kathleen Wilhoite also adds a bit of flair in my eyes. I admit that she was one of my favorite parts of "Road House", that '80s Patrick Swayze vehicle.

"California Solo" is definately not your standard Hollywood fare... more like something you'd hear buzz about at Sundance or Telluride. So if you enjoy indy art movies, "California Solo" should be your list of movies to watch.
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on March 9, 2013
I watched this film because of Robert Carlyle. The movie is quiet and unconventional, but I was completely absorbed in the story. This is a study of his character, for whom I occasionally cheered and more often cringed. Lachlan is hardly sympathetic, but the raw humanity and sensitivity brought by Carlyle did make me want to know Lachlan better and hope his situation would improve. As far as pure drama, this is definitely one of the better ones, and Robert Carlyle's performance a tour de force.
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This film, starring Robert Carlyle, premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win several awards at other film festivals. After watching the movie, I'm not surprised it received such acclaim. It's a terrific character study about an endearing former rock star I couldn't help but feel for. Carlyle's ability to convey MacAldonich's internal and external struggles was mesmerizing. Even when he didn't speak a word, his body language said everything. As expected, Michael Des Barres' role as the former manager of MacAldonich's dissolved band was delightfully charming. And at one hour and 35 minutes, this movie doesn't overstay its welcome. I highly recommend you check it out.
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on October 20, 2013
I knew nothing about this film and had never heard of Robert Carlyle. So I was amazed at his mesmerizing performance. This is a story about a former British rocker who has had a season of success, apparently, with his band, until his brother died. Now we see him, strangely, working as a laborer in an organic farm somewhere on the outskirts of LA. He's no longer young, his face is lined, his hair is thin and has a lot of gray in it. But he still has a certain charm, especially when he's been drinking and he seems to be a good hearted lad. The Scottish accent, as he says, makes Americans trust him. I don't about that but it goes a long way towards likability.

Carlyle's performance is the main reason to see the film but the story itself is nicely told, realistic and has a satisfying resolution. There are some lovely shots of the farm. Most of the supporting cast is good, with the possible exception of the love interest. I recommend it.
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on March 24, 2013
Robert Carlyle is a tremendously talented actor who too often gets relegated to character roles - usually some variant of a violent psychopath. And as much fun as he is to watch in those roles, he obviously has much more scope as an actor so I was really looking forward to seeing him anchor this movie in the lead role. Even more promising: the screenplay was apparently written with Carlyle in mind. The movie gets off to a very promising start with Carlyle giving an understated, utterly believable performance as Lachlan MacAldonich, burned-out former Britpop rocker now working on an organic farm in southern California. Lachlan is a charming, troubled, complicated, deeply flawed man forced to come to grips with his past after a decade of hiding from it. Alas, about halfway through, this nuanced character study turns into a heavy-handed cautionary tale about the perils of alcoholism. The character's drunkenness is employed as a kind of shorthand to illustrate how messed-up he is. Sadly, with Lachlan stumbling drunk through the second half the movie, we lose any further examination of the character's other (more interesting) demons. Despite that major flaw, the film is still worth checking out, if only to enjoy the beautiful acting by the always-captivating Robert Carlyle. The rest of the cast (if not the writing) is also very strong, especially A Martinez as Lachlan's long-suffering boss at the farm and Savannah Latham as Lachlan's estranged 14-year old daughter. The movie is beautifully filmed on location in parts of southern California rarely seen in the movies
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