Back then, he was a young, ambitious actor with a mega-watt smile and boundless enthusiasm for his craft. That energy has helped him build a career as one of the hardest working professionals out there. A sought after leading man who has starred alongside some of my favorite actors, DJ’s also stepped behind the camera as a screenwriter and an independent producer, forming Collective Development, Inc. where he’s helmed or assisted on over thirty feature films ranging from horror and historicals to Christian genres. I’ve been following his international achievements via FaceBook and his fabulous blog “Clawing My Way to the Middle” until we were able to get back together at the 15 year anniversary screening of IN THE WOODS. It was like getting the band back together!
I’m beyond proud of ASHES OF EDEN, DJ’s latest endeavor as both actor and producer. This crime vs Christianity family drama started out small with screenings around our native Michigan and, after a positive response and reviews for the powerhouse talent in my home state, is about to break out in a big way. Here’s a look at ASHES OF EDEN . . .
Review of Ashes of EdenAshes of Eden had me at the trailer! I loved the look, the music and the idea of blending gritty street life with faith struggles, so I pounced on the invitation to do a review.Shane Hagedorn’s film supplies fresh, uncompromising entertainment as it follows high school senior Red, played with an appealing vulnerability by Steven Sutherland, as his attempt to overcome one mistake spirals into a series of bad choices, including stealing from a drug dealer (BAD idea!) to save his single mom and younger brother from eviction. The themes of hope, regrets, failure and forgiveness threading through the film’s often harsh reality are brought home by the wonderfully nuanced performance of Melissa Anschutz as Red’s mother Dana, a small community police officer whose son’s clash with the law pulls her between guilt, protectiveness, belief and duty, and are further enhanced by a superb soundtrack that balances the flow from raw conflict and despair to the uplifting power of self-acceptance and emotional healing.For a small budget film made in my home state of Michigan, Ashes of Eden delivers big screen appeal. Minor issues of occasional sound quality (okay, I know how hard it is to make gunshots realistic) are easily overshadowed by the strength of the cast. Their tightly meshed acting ability carries the story quickly and compellingly without stereotypes. I especially enjoyed Bello Pizzimenti as Red’s likable yet clueless best-friend-you-don’t-ever-want-to-have Vargas, Mayra Leal as his toughly tender girlfriend Angela, DJ Perry as Donnie, the menacing, cold-eyed dealer, Josh Carrizales, whose affable Ponch provides comic relief, and Michael Joiner as Dana’s solid, supportive love interest.Encouraging without being preachy, a cautionary tale that’s not predictable, Ashes of Eden walks those fine lines comfortably to offer an honest message that’s thoughtfully and thoroughly satisfying. Marketed as a Christian film, it plays easily to all adult audiences who enjoy taut family drama.
Hats off and happy viewing!