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Skills Like This

click to enlarge While Max (writer/actor Spencer Berger) studies a stolen bill, his buddy Tommy checks out the Denver backdrop.
  • While Max (writer/actor Spencer Berger) studies a stolen bill, his buddy Tommy checks out the Denver backdrop.

*Skills Like This (NR)

Kimball's Twin Peak

After a performance of his new play ends with the audience in disbelief and his grandfather in cardiac arrest, Max Solomon (played by screenwriter Spencer Berger) is struck with an epiphany: His plan to be a great playwright is more delusion than dream.

So he sits in a booth at Señor Burritos with his buddies Dave (Gabriel Tigerman) and Tommy (Brian D. Phelan), discussing his lack of direction. The similarly unemployed Tommy jokes, "I don't need a job, I'll just rob banks." Moments later, Max seizes the line as inspiration, tugs a hat over his giant "Jew-fro," and walks across the street to pull a heist.

So goes Skills Like This, a movie directed and filmed in Denver by Monty Miranda, who actually hails from Colorado Springs. Miranda says it's Colorado's first film to get a large theatrical release, with Miranda estimating that it will play in "at least 100 theaters."

But back to the "Jew-fro," since it's actually featured on the film's poster, and is probably big enough to deserve a spot in the credits.

"The funny thing about the hair," says Miranda, on the phone from his new home in California, "is when I met Spencer he said, 'Normally, I don't wear it this long, but I haven't had time for a haircut.'"

Only later, as the two brainstormed quick disguises for Max, did they realize the shaggy mane could be exactly what they needed.

And in the movie, it works. With a bag of cash, Max returns, telling the guys that he's just found his new calling. Better yet, he might even be in love with the cute teller he's robbed. Max's newfound success is so contagious, his buddies start wondering if they should polish their résumés, too.

It's a story that Miranda refers to as "a bit of an absurdist fantasy." That it unravels in Denver, though, will help to make it more real to local viewers.

"We've all seen a ton of films with the L.A. backdrop or the New York backdrop ..." says Miranda, "but Denver was the territory I knew when I was about Max's age."

In fact, Miranda, the son of an Air Force officer and a hairdresser, spent his early years in Colorado Springs. He attended the Air Force Academy Preparatory School for six months, before bailing to go to film school in Boulder.

"I realized pretty quickly that the Air Force Academy was not the best path for me," says the 42-year-old. "I was driven by movies and music and things ... but I didn't really think people made a living as filmmakers back then."

After graduating, he landed in Denver, where he made commercials before putting together Skills Like This. It's an impressive first feature, a somewhat askew and amusing adventure peopled by a cast of endearing characters with a soundtrack featuring Denver's brightest bands. (Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams even have a cameo.)

Max, a budding criminal, comes off as eminently likable, which is perhaps his finest accomplishment.

"We weren't sure how to do it," Miranda says. "That's when I got the idea that he should rob the bank with a gun pointed towards his own head — because first of all, I would do whatever anybody told me if they had a gun to their head, and second I thought he's not endangering anyone then. Plus, it's silly."

jill@csindy.com

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