Emmy-nominated director Paul Starkman blends his passion for movies and 90s hip-hop radio shows in his debut feature ‘Wheels‘. Like a little slice of life in Brooklyn, he guides the viewer down the streets and into the home of a young wannabe-DJ, in an authentic and raw style that feels honest, mostly made possible because of Starkman’s eye for detail and craftsmanship.

In order to take care of his sick grandmother, 19-year-old Max (Arnstar) dropped out of high school to work at a supermarket and DJ’s local thug Oscar’s parties. When popular DJ Monty (Ioan Delice) notices Max’s potential he starts guiding him in the right direction. When Max’s brother Terry (Joshua Boone – ‘Seven Seconds‘) returns home after three years in prison, we notice a visible disconnect that needs to be dealt with. In the meantime Max meets up with Liza (Shyrley Rodriguez – ‘Knives Out‘), the manager of a dance studio who’s determined to make her dreams come true. It’s up to Max himself to juggle family obligations, pushing the limits of his dream and to stay out of trouble.

The production is slick in every way, showing off Starkman’s skilled direction. Shot in black and white, ‘Wheels‘ has a classic feel that doesn’t come across gimmicky, but instead elevates some of the more romantic and emotional scenes deep at the center of this real life story. Max’s desire to do more than care for his grandma, feels like an internal struggle until his brother Terry returns to help, even if the former just shifts his focus on a new loved one in his life. It’s those little familiar nods in Starkman’s script that give the film a moment to breathe when atmospheric New York-scenery gets presented as some sort of escapism to Max’s daily life. It also helps that the rather unknown cast is overflowing with talent and excitement.

From the score, to the choice of music and sound mixing, ‘Wheels‘ is a delight to witness and never overstays its welcome. If I had one note, it would be the chemistry between Arnstar and Rodriguez, which seems a bit of a mismatch. Everything does come together in the end, and even if there are some predictable plot points, it’s still a joy to watch. Starkman really kicks things off as a feature film director with an authentic vision, leaving his mark on the indie film scene.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

WINNER Best Narrative Feature Woodstock Film Festival 2018
WINNER Audience Award Woodstock Film Festival 2018
WINNER Best Film Harlem International Film Festival 2019
WINNER Best Narrative Feature San Francisco Black Film Festival 2019
WINNER Best Indie Film Arizona International Film Festival 2019
WINNER Best Film LakeFront Film Festival 2019
FINALIST Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival 2019

Review – ‘Wheels’

Reviewed online (screener provided by director), February 2, 2021. Rating: TBC. Running time: 80 min.

PRODUCTION: A 1091 Pictures release of a Brooklyn City Films, Badmouth Films production. Producers: Patrick D. Gibbons, Paul Starkman, Neal Usatin, Cheryl Wayne. Executive producer: Jamin O’Brien.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Paul Starkman. Cinematography: Ariel Boles. Editing: Neal Usatin. Score: Mario Grigorov Stanners.

CAST: Arnstar, Shyrley Rodriguez, Joshua Boone, Kareem Savinon, Ioan Delice, Dorothi Fox, Al Thompson, Victor Cruz.

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