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Filmmaker Usher Morgan skillfully packs a lot into neo-noir 'Pickings'

Filmmaker Usher Morgan skillfully packs a lot into neo-noir 'Pickings'
Elyse Price in the movie "Pickings." (Dark Passage Films)

The visually arresting, wickedly entertaining crime drama "Pickings" marks an impressive narrative feature directing debut by Usher Morgan, who also wrote, edited and produced. He's a talent to watch.

This stylish — and stylized — neo-noir journey evokes the work of Quentin Tarantino, spaghetti westerns, "The Sopranos" and graphic novels, yet still manages to feel singular as it weaves its gripping tale of family loyalty, self-preservation and retribution.

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Southern transplant Jo Lee-Haywood (a terrific Elyse Price) runs a successful small-town Michigan bar called Pickings with her daughter, Scarlet (Katie Vincent, also the film's original music composer). But when mobsters (Emil Ferzola, Yaron Urbas and others), want in on Jo's business, a brutal war ensues between the two factions, with the haunted, hard-boiled Jo and her pistol-packing posse — brother Boone (Joel Bernard) and sisters Doris (Michelle Holland) and May (Lynne Jordan) — proving formidable foes.

Using evocative flashbacks and voiceover, kinetic musical choices and more, Morgan inventively metes out the details of his Chinese box of a story, filled with deep-seated tragedy, violence and bits of kicky melodrama.

The filmmaker is aided immeasurably by a superb tech and effects team and a vivid cast. Most especially, though, he's created a cool and crafty anti-heroine in the take-no-prisoners Jo, who would seem to have plenty of movie mileage left in her. Sequel, anyone?

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‘Pickings’

Rating: R, for violence and language throughout and for some drug use

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Playing: AMC Burbank Town Center 6; AMC Norwalk 20

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