Pages

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"The Meltdown" Mockumentary Brings Brains, Where's the Movie?

"THE MELTDOWN: AN ORGASMIC VIEW TOWARDS THE END"
Length - 20:03
Company: Unknown
Website: Mini Box Office Cinema

I don't know what I expected when I pressed play on this film, but it certainly wasn't what I got: an existential and quite serious examination of two ideologies, the damning human drive between the two, and how India's commercial growth fits into the scheme of things.

Pretty heavy material for a short film, no doubt -- even one that is twenty minutes in length.  Add to that the fact that this is a foreign film (for me, anyway) and subtitled.  It was an official selection for the third Mini Box Office Cinema International Film Festival in 2012.

Let's take a deeper look, shall we?

CONCEPT VS. EXECUTION


The film opens with two "experts" -- or more likely actors pretending to be experts (Nilnanjan Nag and Abhirup Banik) -- discussing philosophy as it applies to India, and more than that, humanity as a whole.  This section is not portrayed as fiction, it's a mockumentary, and it's a framing device that continues throughout the film and provides commentary on the "story" at hand.

Avi and Pinaki (Aniket Bose and Dipayan Nandy) are two bored young men who are displeased with their lives in general.  They hang out in a bedroom and argue, laugh about old times, and argue some more.  When it comes to light that a neighbor (played by Sarbari Bose) had a husband who was killed by terrorists, the two concoct a ridiculous plan to take advantage of her post traumatic stress disorder.

What are they going to get out of it?  We are never told.  While the development of their plan is played out in a comic manner, it's far from funny.  Are they serious?  Were they going to rob her?  Were they going to at some point tell her that it was all staged?

All the while, the two experts continue talking about humanity, the history of alcohol and its ties to ancient religion, and finally whether or not the destructive impulse is a natural extension of being a man.

It's all very delirious and thoughtful, but does it come across in an entertaining way?

SAY WHAT?


I have to say that twenty minutes felt far too long for this film.  The experts talk far too long and the characters do far too little.  They literally sit and talk, sometimes drinking and sometimes not, for the bulk of the film.  There's some foreshadowing toward the beginning of the tragic final shots, featuring a bloody knife and Avi's horrified expression, but that's about it.

The concepts discussed by the experts are too big to be captured properly, and certainly beyond the scope of presenting in a visual sense. 

It felt, in a way, like watching those specially made educational short films in school.  The dramatized scenes felt overly fictional, and the experts drowned out any emotions we might have through their constant commentary.

CONCLUSION


Though extremely ambitious and weighted with serious purpose, this mockumentary gives a lot to think about.  Too much, in fact.  The actors do what they can, but the lack of a coherent story or effective illustrations of the points presented by the experts leaves the intellectual side a little cold.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The screenplay, by Aritra Goswami, presented very little story, and what plot we were given felt forced and didn't hold my interest. 
Directing: 2 / 5.  Aritra Goswami and Dipayan Nandy handled the direction.  They did what they could with the material, providing multiple angles and shots of Avi and Pinaki, but for the most part, they're sitting on a bed talking.  There's only so many ways to make that visually appealing.
Editing: 2 / 5.  This film dragged on far too long, in particular the segments with the experts.  Their comments needed to be clear and concise to be effective, but they weren't.
Sound / Music: 2 / 5.  The music did not match the gravity of the material we're working with.  It's dead serious, yet it's playful sounding rock music all the way through. 
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  The actors did all they could and sounded OK delivering their lines.  Sarbari Bose, as the grieving neighbor, is the only one who came off badly -- she basically stared at people the entire film, and that was that.  Aniket Bose and Dipayan Nandy were credible.  Nag and Banik looked and sounded like experts.

Final Grade: 2.2 / 5.  Goswami's subject matter was big, bold and gutsy to put on film, particularly in a short form, but the film forgets to be entertaining in the process.  I'd like to see something else he's cooked up, something a little smaller and more intimate.

Watch "The Meltdown: An Orgasmic View Towards the End" here, and check out Aritra Goswami's official Facebook page here, as well as the Mini Box Office Cinema website here!

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Dinner" Low on Story But a Feast For the Eyes

"DINNER"
Length - 7:08
Company: Lightning Bolt Films
Website: Official

Jeff (Dennis Marsico) is a horny middle aged businessman looking for a hot young woman to bang before he returns home to his wife and kids.  After being ignored by more sensible girls, one in particular catches his eye: beautiful blonde Christina (Meredith Branham).  After tucking his wedding ring into his pocket, he approaches her and asks her to a sensible dinner, paid for by his work credit card.

Clearly, this guy's a catch.  But here's the thing: five people have already washed up here at beautiful Coco Beach in central Florida. 

What chance does Christina have to survive to tell the tale?

Let's get it on, shall we?

BEAUTY AND THE BEACH

Titled simply "Dinner", writer and director John Buchanan's latest short film is shot beautifully.  He's actually filming this on location in Florida, and the results are nothing short of staggering: we've got waves, sand, inland buildings -- let's just say that the apparent production values are boosted WAY UP thanks to Mother Nature's cameo appearance in this film.

We also get plenty of ordinary people doing ordinary things -- nothing suspicious here.

That is, until we see Jeff.  This guy is the definition of a high octane, slimey suit and tie in a button up t-shirt.  Marsico's performance is effective in the extreme, and the look on his face when he gets rejected by women is priceless -- you could see this guy losing it and murdering people, kind of in an Udo Kier way.

And speaking of acting, that's what shines the brightest here.  Branham does well, not only standing around looking good, but also delivering lines in an assured manner.  The only exception is the last shot of her, which feels forced, but mostly that's because we linger too long on her face.  It felt too much like a shot we'd see in an Axe commercial. 

Visually, the film is appealing in a way that many shorts just aren't.  Buchanan was lucky enough to have a great location to take advantage of, but he also clearly knows his way around the camera and had a good team to back up his vision.

LOW STAKES

While the situation is without a doubt terrifying -- the idea of coming face to face with a serial killer -- the delivery ultimately is unsatisfying.  The film moves at a very slow pace, consisting mostly of beautiful shots and some back and forth dialogue between the killer and the prey, and the film ends before we get to see the action.  Or any action whatsoever, for that matter.

"Dinner" is inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock school of suspense, and to drive that point home, there's an old timey soundtrack in the vein of Bernard Hermann.  While I usually appreciate such nods, here it just felt odd.  On top of that, we never really got to feel much suspense. 

I didn't like Jeff, and I didn't know enough about Christina to feel one way or another about her.  Though their dialogue sounds authentic enough, their characters are too one note to make me care much about either of their fates. 

Considering the long introduction, with Jeff watching girls and looking pervy, and then the extended end credits, there should have been more meat in between to get us to care about the characters first and foremost and provide action and some kind of catharsis for the viewer.

CONCLUSION

"Dinner" is a great example of beautiful visuals, nice directing and good acting -- but no movement.  It was still enjoyable, but it could have been so much more.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The form of the piece could most easily be compared to that of a joke: point A meets point B, and then comes the punchline.  We needed more from the scant few minutes of running time to feel suspense.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  The opening shots of the beach carry a certain innocence thanks to the lingering camera work, and Jeff's conversation with Christina is filmed well.  It's all effective, but the shots were framed in a basic manner, not particularly composed.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The team tried the best they could with the material, and the only shot that feels overlong is the final, lingering glance at Christina, but even so the pacing of this short is off. 
Sound / Music: 3 / 5. The sound is recorded professionally, but it's the music that brings the film down.  The old school sound is going to be polarizing.  To me, it took me right out of the picture. 
Acting: 3 / 5.  I never once winced at the delivery of a line.  Everybody put on a credible show -- but I will add that nothing challenging happened over the course of the film, so we can't see just how good the actors were.  For what was required of them, they did it.

Final Grade: 3 / 5.  It was a professional show from start to finish, but the lack of a rewarding story left me cold. 

Watch "Dinner" here, check out the film's official website here, and don't forget to stop by writer/director John Buchanan's Facebook page here!

Monday, November 11, 2013

48 Hour Film Fest Award Winner "Ostinato" Plays With Your Psyche

"OSTINATO"
Length - 6:54
Company: The Allen Smithee Crew
Website: Ryan Robins' Official Site

Olivia Nickleby (Sarah Adams) is just a young woman working at an ordinary bank.  Every day's the same -- until the day her branch is awarded a trophy for Best Customer Service of the quarter. 

This is the day when everything changes, and when Olivia's blissful, workaday life is turned into a nightmare. 

That's the basic setup of "Ostinato", a short film that won the "Audience Award" at the San Antonio 48 Hour Film Project of 2013  -- that's right, it was completely conceived, drafted, shot and edited within two days by the Allen Smithee Crew.

TWO DAYS.

Considering that the other films at the festival would have also been 2 day efforts, I kept my expectations in check. 

Well, let's dig in, shall we?

BY DEFINITION


An ostinato is a melodic pattern repeated over and over, in case you didn't know (don't feel bad if you didn't, I didn't either 'til I massaged Google for a second).  It makes perfect sense now after seeing this film.  Quentin Tarantino would be proud of co-writer and director Ryan Robins' slick manipulation of time. 

Olivia experiences the horrific events that unfold at her bank twice, but that second time it manages to be unique and not at all repetitive thanks to this thoughtful take on foreshadowing: has the horror happened yet, or is she receiving forewarnings of something yet to come?  We honestly don't know, and it adds quite a bit to the disturbingly real premise.

A PERFECT WORLD

The presentation of Olivia's workplace in the beginning, with the soft piano score and floating camerawork, the many smiles between co-workers, and the pleased face of Bill the Bank Manager (Andrew Worley -- he just looks so damn friendly in this movie, I'd work for him too) are just too good to be true.  It's an idyllic workplace -- everybody's civil, everyone likes each other, even the guy arguing with someone on his cell phone in the lobby -- it's all very hazy with its positivity, kind of like how the best of memories do when viewed through the lens of nostalgia.

So when the awfulness starts to unfold, it hits twice as hard as it would normally.  This is an intrusion, a violation of a Perfect Space.  Better yet, there are no funny camera tricks, no whacky angles, NOTHING -- it just happens, which makes it seem all the more inevitable.  Even when the killing comes, it's anticlimactic, it's disgusting, human life is just smeared out as though it didn't matter at all.

This was probably the best directing decision Robins could have made.  I have seen a lot of films, and this one got to me on a deeper level than most.



IT'S CURTAINS FOR YOU

The first three quarters of the film is rock solid.  I was rooted to my seat, in the moment, being thrilled and disturbed in equal quantities, and I appreciated every single second of it.

But then we cut away to a padded room to a scene where we are supposed to think that maybe Olivia is just crazy and she made it all up, or maybe it's not a hospital at all, maybe she's been taken captive by the bank invaders.

But that wouldn't make much sense -- we were never given a reason why Olivia was special, why some had to die while others were captured.

Or maybe everyone except the banker who was killed was taken prisoner?  But again, it wouldn't make much sense to kill some and keep others.

The whole "insane person scribbling gory drawings in a sketchbook" thing has been done and done again, it's not original enough of an image to make a fitting conclusion to such a visionary and, frankly, psychologically tantalizing picture.

"Why am I here?" Olivia asks her captor when he comes to give her some kind of medication.  He has a scar that marks him as one of the bank invaders. 

Why, indeed?  We don't know.

CONCLUSION

"Ostinato" is a marvel of short filmmaking -- not only a short film itself, but also created in a jaw droppingly short amount of time, it accomplishes much, and leaves this viewer wanting more explanation, something to make its images coherent.  I couldn't quite make the jump from the first three quarters of the film to its finale, but even so, it's amazingly effective, visually appealing and a professionally shot film from front to back.

You are doing yourself a disservice by not watching "Ostinato".  Click here and go watch it right now!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5 / 5. "Ostinato" was written by director Ryan Robins, Evan Burns and Matt Cooper, and these guys did an admirable job of turning what could have been a pedestrian story into something vital and unique.  The specifications for the 48 Hour Film Project that the short film was made for simply wanted Olivia Nickleby to be the character, to use a trophy as a prop, and "Why am I here?" as a line of dialogue.  I'd say these guys rocked the house.
Directing: 5 / 5. Everybody puts on a professional show, but of special note is Ryan Robins' directing.  The decision to handle the bank invasion scene in this style was a very mature choice, and it pretty much made the film for me.  The beginning shots of the bank, with the fluid, moving camerawork, with characters walking into frame and out -- some directors storyboard for months and their films don't come off half as assured as Robins does in "Ostinato".
Editing: 4 / 5. The transition from bank to padded cell is jarring, but apart from that the film plays great.  The film feels like it's just as long as it ought to be -- not too long, not too short.
Sound/Music:  3 / 5.  The soundtrack was taken care of by Omega9 and Roger Subirana Mata. Nothing particularly stood out, though I enjoyed the creepy music over the credits.  
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Some of the acting was a little flat -- mainly the scarred man when he speaks to Olivia in the padded room.  Most of the bankers felt authentic though, and Sarah Adams and Andrew Worley looked and acted their parts very well.

Final Grade: 3.8 / 5.  "Ostinato" delivers a thoughtful, beautifully shot horror film in 48 hours -- considering how fast it was delivered, it's extremely good.  While the conclusion didn't quite sit right with me, Olivia's struggle with premonitions (or are they memories of something already happened, something she is powerless to stop) resonated with me, and this film has stuck with me ever since I watched it.

You can't ask for more than that.

Watch "Ostinato" here, visit Ryan Robins' official site here and stop by his official Facebook page, too!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Spine Chillers' Momentum Falters With "Are You On Your Way?"

"ARE YOU ON YOUR WAY?"
Length - 8:44
Company:  Tres Hombres
Website:  Official

Small time drug dealer Max is getting a big shipment of high quality illegal substances on his birthday.  Unfortunately, the resulting turmoil just might put a damper on the festivities . . .

CATCH UP

For those who don't know, Spine Chillers is a short horror series headed by the Tres Hombres -- namely, indie filmmakers Christopher Dinnan, Paul Harris and Evil Dead alumni Josh Becker.  Each episode is written and directed by one of the Hombres, but the others are almost always involved in some faculty.

Becker's last Spine Chillers episode, "Sorry I Couldn't Make It . . . " (which I reviewed here) was a disappointment to this long time Becker fan (his one-take Hitchcock inspired Running Time was a very good film indeed).  So it was with a positive mindset that I sat down to watch "Are You On Your Way?", his second written/directed episode, thinking that this would be a return to form.

It isn't.

CONS

Instead of a traditional review, I will simply state my issues with the film in a point by point manner.

First, the drug angle is not believable, which is a problem because the entire film hinges on the audience buying into the situation at hand.  Besides being a dealer who clearly samples his own wares, the main character Max (played by Dinnan) does not seem a credible person on whom a supplier would risk high quality product.

Even his long haired friend Jake (Paul Harris) and said friend's wife Amy (Carol Ilku) think he's kind of a tool.

Actually, I can't remember if they're married or not.  It doesn't matter.

Second, there is no energy to the film whatsoever.  Even when a certain character charges into a room with a gun, it seems almost anticlimactic.  In the previous two installments of Spine Chillers, there has been a whacky but undeniable energy and a certain presence behind the camera.

It feels like Becker phoned this one in, just like the first episode.

Third -- who stands around in front of their couch and plays air guitar for fun?  Do people really do this?  Maybe for like ten seconds, but for the duration of an entire song, and maybe multiple songs?  I couldn't buy into the characters seriously, because between their mean spirited comments about Max and the air guitar, they came off as extremely juvenile.

CONCLUSION

That being said, I did enjoy the finale.  Dinnan's acting saves the moment -- he feels genuine, and that added some much needed gravity to an otherwise . . . I'm going to use the word juvenile again.  This story feels like a student film, not the work of a seasoned veteran of independent filmmaking.

Check out "Are You On Your Way?" on YouTube and visit the Tres Hombres' official Spine Chillers website here, as well as my reviews for "Sorry I Couldn't Make It", "Roadkill" and "Frontier Style"!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1 / 5.  Nothing about the story felt genuine, and the only reason why the ending was anything better than laughable was a nice nervous breakdown moment courtesy of Dinnan.
Directing: 1 / 5.  Becker's camera work is slow and disinterested for the most part, and flickers for a moment when the action kicks in, but it's not enough to keep the storyline from drowning.
Editing: 2 / 5. The film is cut as well as it can be considering that the material on screen just isn't exciting.  The air guitar is embarrassing and takes me out of the story completely, but what's he going to do, just cut it out entirely?  There isn't enough story to pad out even the scant eight and a half minutes or so of running time.
Sound/Music: 1 / 5. Aside from the intro music, which is the same for all episodes, I don't remember any music aside from the air guitar music, and the finale's music, neither of which added anything ot the experience.
Acting: 3 / 5.  The acting is literally the saving grace of the film.  Paul Harris, who plays Jake, does a good job of acting equal parts sleaze ball and cool guy.  Carol Ilku is reasonable as Amy.  And Dinnan of course does a good job with what he's given, but even he is a little uneven at the start, while talking on the phone.

Final Grade: 1.6 / 5. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Award Winning "Witchfinder" a Stylish Spookshow

"THE WITCHFINDER"
Length: 18:11
Company: Daredevil Films
Website: Official



A GOOD WITCH IS HARD TO FIND

Tell me if you've heard this one before.  So this Puritan guy walks to a cottage, knocks on the door, and asks the witch inside if she can help him make his unrequited love not so unrequited.  Said witch tells him she can help him at least get one night of pleasure with the object of his affection -- for a price.

Their illicit meeting in the woods is broken up by William Thatcher Blake (Dave Juehring), a witch finder with the authority to execute those suspected of witch craft on the spot.

But it's hard to keep a good Satan worshipper down, and in true horror movie fashion, the you know what hits the fan, and the results are . . .

Put it this way: it won the Best Narrative Film Award at the Mosaic Film Festival this year.

Well, let's sit down and talk about it, you and I.


BRING OUT YOUR DREAD

"Witchfinder" is a short horror film shot in the village of Cherry Valley, Illinois, which is so nearby that it gives me a buzz of good vibes just thinking about it.  I really, really wanted to like "Witchfinder", but I wanted to be as impartial as I could -- it's kind of my job to be impartial.

But here's the thing: "Witchfinder", written and directed by Colin Clarke, is that rarity of independent filmmaking: a movie that looks and sounds so good that its budget isn't readily apparent.  Nothing in this flick makes you think, "Ah, they had to make due with that latex appliance" or "Wow, this is supposed to be a period piece, but there's headlights in the background."

There are literally direct to video films with many times the budget that look far inferior to this film.  It's a professional show from start to finish, with the actors and actress doing their damn best to give us something worthy of our time.

Something else that is often overlooked in short film is the SOUNDTRACK, and here, my God, we get an honest to goodness score from Brandon Lutmer, Mark Gustafson, and royalty free sound master Kevin MacLeod at Incompetech that is a perfect reflection of the freaky goings on.  Good music adds another dimension to a film, and the folks at Daredevil Films know that.

By and large, "Witchfinder" succeeds.  There's creepy imagery by the truckload, and some honest to goodness scares.  As the film winds up to its inevitable and uncompromising conclusion, a good amount of tension is created.  There's a really powerful shot of Blake trying to find his way through an almost supernatural darkness followed by a jump scare that got me.

Jump scares do NOT as a rule get me.  For being only 18 minutes long, "Witchfinder" is quite a trip.



WHAT IS . . . WHAT THE . . . HEY, WAIT A MINUTE

The plot didn't do much for me, but that's sort of the nature of the beast in this case: it's basically a revenge picture, and that's about all you're going to see.  The character of Blake isn't overly sympathetic, either -- the man orders executions, he's clearly Holier Than Thou, and the only point that is supposed to make us connect with him as a character is the fact that he has a wife and daughter.

More on that point: for being the lead actor, Dave Juehring didn't sell the character enough for me.  This might have something to do with having a very thin character without much to do, but when people start dying later on in the picture, his reactions don't feel authentic. 


We don't get any background information, no explanation of the witch's magic abilities, no social context for anything happening (i.e. the town in which Blake lives, and that they must be the ones who hired him as a witch finder, as it says in the film's official website).  In the beginning, the witch accuses Blake of having hired her as a prostitute when his wife refused to put out, and he just tells her to shut up.

Did he actually do it, or was it just the Devil lying?

We don't know.  It's unfortunate, because the lack of some of these answers does affect our final opinion of the film.



CONCLUSION

"Witchfinder" is a professional and well directed short horror film that leaves this reviewer wanting MORE.  I want more story, more explanation, more action.  I want to know Blake.  I want to know who he really is when he takes off the (figurative) mask of Witch Finder. 

And most importantly, I want to see more of the witch.  Her appearance at the end of the film is a really nice touch, and something that'll keep you up at night. 

I, for one, would like to see all these concepts expanded into a full length film.  It's an effective, spooky and professional film as is, but with more of a payoff in the end, and a real appreciation for what Blake is losing at the hands of the witch, it could be a pretty mind blowing debut film.

"Witchfinder" is touring the short film circuit.  Check out the official website  for screening details and their Facebook and Twitter pages to get in touch with the talent!

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE! 

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  There are huge gaps in the viewer's knowledge about what's going on, and without knowing more about the witch and what she's capable of, the end of the flick, while tense, seems a bit random.  
Directing: 5 / 5.  There is no doubt that Clarke knows his way around a camera, and he knows how to construct scenes from individual shots for maximum effect.  Nothing about this film feels like an independent feature.
Editing: 4 / 5. Each scene plays out the way it ought to.  The only part that loses some momentum is when Blake is creeping about his house in the dark.  Feels overly long to me.
Sound/Music: 5 / 5.  I loved the score, and all the sound effects are perfect and on cue.  No unnecessary echoes when characters speak.  Everything is professional in this show.
Acting: 3 / 5.  The acting is, for the most part, solid.  Like I said, Juehring was a little off, but it didn't distract.  Valerie Meachum is of particular note -- she plays the witch role to the hilt and came off mature, in control, and . . . EVIL.

Final Grade: 4 / 5.  I am thrilled to have seen a short film shot so close to my hometown, and to see it done so WELL!  I look forward to Daredevil Films' future productions.

DO NOT MISS "Witchfinder" when it comes to a short film festival near you!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"The Apocalypse": Gutsy Humorous Take on the End of the World

"THE APOCALYPSE"
Length: 5:46
CompanyGreencard Pictures
Website: Official

We've all been there: it's a long weekend, and you've either already accomplished everything you wanted to, or you're procrastinating and trying to think of something to do.

You're bored, in other words.

And then, an idea pops in your head.

Ahem.
 
 
HEAD GAMES

This is going to be one of the toughest reviews I've ever written, mostly because the power of this film lies in its completely unexpected twist.  Suffice it to say that the apocalypse has come alright, and it's up to humanity to try not to think about what it's going to do about it.

Did you read that last part right?  Did it sound weird?

Yeah, it's supposed to.

Selected for Sundance 2013 and written and directed by Andrew Zuchero, "The Apocalypse" is a bitingly funny and shocking piece of work that will make you think about not thinking.  It pulls no punches, the production values are perfect, the special effects are suitably special.

Word of warning, though: this film is not for the squeamish.  There are some blood and guts.

Again, if I went any deeper than that, I'd spoil the film.


MAKING A DELIVERY


The filmmakers at Green Card Pictures have made a serious effort with this flick, and it shows.  Once the action kicks in and the funny breaks out, the camera becomes a balll of kinetic energy and you're glued to the screen.  The performances are solid across the board -- as a matter of fact, though the film is funny, the actors portray terror so effectively that it was almost a little uncomfortable to watch when the you-know-what hits the wall.

For a split second, it veers into horror movie territory, and the concept really is frightening.

It's what the filmmakers choose to do with it that makes the film memorable, though.  I loved the bit with the long haired guy, trying to convince his hot neighbor that now is not the time for her naughty advances. 


CONCLUSION


But don't listen to me.  The beauty of filmmaking is in the viewing, not in talking about it, and that point is made more clear here.  "The Apocalypse" is funny, shocking and beautifully made.



OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The story knows what it wants to do and goes at it with gusto.  The only problem is that I'm confused by what they meant by the ending scene.  Are these people just THAT dumb or is Zuchero trying to drive home a point here?  I'm not sure.
Directing: 5 /5.  It's a great show here, with slow, lingering shots and crazy handheld action all wrapped up into five minutes of action, and nothing ever feels jarring or whacky.
Editing: 5 / 5.  The production values of this film are just unbelievable, and the energy onscreen is infectious.  A great deal of that can be attributed to the top notch editing, with each shot speeding by like bullets.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Nothing stuck with me, but it did the job.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Pretty much everyone put on a solid show.  The hot neighbor felt a little forced, but that might have been the nature of her character.  Even so, considering how powerful everyone else was, she was a bit of a letdown.

Final Grade: 4 / 5.  The final minute or so doesn't make much sense, or if it does, it doesn't pull together everything we've seen or provide much of a payoff, but the sheer insanity and weird humor of the preceding four minutes turns "The Apocalypse" into a big deal indeed.  I loved it!

How many more reasons do you need to check it out? 

To watch the film, check it out on YouTube and visit the official website here.  When you're done there, check out Greencard Pictures' official site, too!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"Finish Well" a Flawed But Striking War Short Film

"FINISH WELL"
Length: 19:14
Company: Berean Productions
Website: Official

Two young boys play in a field, chasing each other and shooting pretend bad guys. 

Fast forward several years.  Now they ARE soldiers, and instead of shooting pretend things, they're shooting real people.

Cue gun shots and blood.

Let's dig into this little flick, shall we?

I BELIEVE THE WORD IS "WOW"

"Finish Well" has peerless production values.  The quality of video and sound, the editing, the direction -- everything is rock solid and I for one appreciated the frantic pace and almost Saving Private Ryan shaky cam during the initial firefight. 

I am curious about how they accomplished such a grounded show with what is no doubt a non-existent budget.  The guys and/or girls who made this film are tremendous filmmakers in their own right, and if they're given the proper budget, I believe they are definitely going places.

ANONYMOUS INTERNET

Unfortunately, I have no idea who they are.  I know the name of the main movie maker, and it's Justus McCranie, and the soaring music is written by Kevin MacLeod.  There are no beginning or ending credits on this film, so everyone else who contributed will have to go namelessly through this review.

Stand up and take responsibility for making a solid picture.  I want to know who you all are so I can watch for more films from you, because "Finish Well" is that good.

Now, that being said, let's get into some of the things that detracted somewhat from my viewing experience.

RE-WRITE THIS

As far as the story is concerned -- and particularly considering the fact that "Finish Well" is nearly twenty minutes long -- not much is going on in this picture.  Two kids play together, years later they are in combat with a team, several people die, and then the finale plays out. 

The only bits of character development we see are short scenes with each main character hanging out with their girlfriend or wife and/or kid, and then they walk away to go into the military, and their significant other and/or kid watches them go, looking sad.

This would be an effective if not particularly original scene if it were done once, but it's literally done three times.

Then there's the Christian element of the film.   The title, and the only words of dialogue spoken in this film, are referring to a Biblical quote from 2nd Timothy, but I couldn't care less about that.  I'm here to review a movie.  In order to enjoy an action movie, for instance, I shouldn't have to already know about a book written thousands of years ago. 

As it is, I did read the quote on McCranie's website, but in my opinion, "Finish Well" does not particularly illustrate this quote visually, and I am still a little confused how someone who is apparently as religious as the soldier in the film would in fact enlist to become a soldier and kill people. 

And second, how does getting shot and then deciding not to shoot the enemy (a fortunate decision, as it turns out) finishing anything well?

I did like how the "bad guy" turns out to be just another kid stuck in the war.  This is the core message of the film, the fact that kids are kids are kids, and that the other side's kids are just as human and just as loved and capable of loving others as our own are.

All in all, "Finish Well" works because the individual scenes are shot impeccably, and the actors, even without dialogue, are more than capable of delivering their roles.

Overall Scores:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The writing is the only failing part of the movie.  It's very basic, there's not much character development and honestly, the intended Biblical message is lost in translation.
Directing: 4 / 5.  A truly solid show with clever shots and precise camerawork.  It's clear the director has every character in every frame exactly the way he or she wanted.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Some of the slow motion was a bit much, but overall the pacing of the film was spot on and no scenes felt too short.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Really impressive score from Kevin MacLeod.  Soaring at times, emotional at others, the music is the dialogue we are missing in the script.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Everyone did a pretty solid job acting.  The main character who is shot has one expression, and he looks mildly freaked out the entire time.  I can gloss over that though because for the most part people do their job.

Final Grade: 3 / 5.  An affecting film that stretches on a little long, but it's a nice anti-war picture with a positive message, all on a small budget.  The production values are incredible.

To watch the full length film and get in touch with Berean Productions, check out their official site and their YouTube page!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hilarious "Frontier Style" Horror A Fun Diversion!


"FRONTIER STYLE"
Length: 15:58
Company: Tres Hombres Productions
Website: Official

After opening with the disappointing Josh Becker written and directed "Sorry I Couldn't Make It" and the improved but still not scary Critters-esque Paul Harris manned "Roadkill", the first leg of the initial season of the fledgling Tres Hombres Productions' Spine Chillers web series concludes with this, the latest episode. 

This time, hombre numero tres, Christopher Dinnan takes on quadruple duty as writer, director, editor and lead actor -- that's a pretty hefty amount of responsibility for anyone.

Let's see how this last episode worked out, shall we?



A GOOD SPANKING


A group of friends meet every week for some good ol' fashioned card playing.   Some of them are married, and some of them are single.

The only constants among them is that they all love sci-fi.

And none of them are getting any.

Let's face it, we all know groups of guys like this.  And some of us are even members of such a community. 

Christopher Dinnan does a great job assembling a realistic cast who, while some of the performances are a bit flat (including the usually reliable Carol Ilku as long suffering wife of one of the card players), the dialogue as written is spot on, and funny for the most part. 

Our main character is Timmy (Dinnan), who has found a nice and slutty girlfriend which he is constantly having sex with, even though he knows the relationship is shallow and bound for dismal failure. 

And what's even better is that his girlfriend is pushing for something called "Frontier Style" -- an evening where ANYTHING goes, sexually. 

But what is the story behind Frontier Style?  What do people actually DO behind closed doors when nothing is off limits?

This is one of the crowning moments of the Spine Chillers web series.  Real, honest to goodness suspense is generated in this episode, as we wonder where the story is taking us.

And where is it taking Timmy? 

As he's played by Dinnan, whose acting gets better and more assured with each episode, you can't help but like wayward Timmy. 

But who over the age of 12 goes by the name of Timmy to his friends?

A minor point.  Let's move on to the good stuff, shall we?


OH NO HE DIDN'T

 

Yes, actually, he did.

The dialogue and ridiculous nature of the sex games being played in this short film are nothing short of audacious and hilarious.  Take, for instance, the single guy in the group arguing that Timmy's relationship is bound to fail because:

"He hasn't even asked her if she likes sci-fi yet.  When I meet a girl, that's the FIRST thing I ask!"

Mm hmm.  Not the best pick up line in the world, but hey, it might work somewhere.

Or the incredibly over the top scene where a man barges into a room for a love scene reciting Klingon love poetry (I swear, I am not making this up).   Or the man inhaling drugs and screaming "I'll f*** anything that MOVES!" 

Also, I give "Frontier Style" points for the best usage of the world "broccoli" in a short film.  Ever.

I couldn't stop laughing for half this picture.  The insanity of the film really does carry it capably over the minor bumps in the story.


YEAH, SHE'S HOT, BUT STILL 

 

Jessika Johnson plays Candy, Timmy's girlfriend, and she is in various states of undress throughout the film.  She does OK with what she's given -- until she opens her mouth.  Her lines are stilted, and it's clear that she's not an actress, and perhaps never will be.  She took me right out of the world of the film during the scene in the street, where a nice guy (not saying who) stops to help her with her "car trouble". 

The other problems in the picture are with her character.  What on earth are her motivations?  Why would she choose someone like Timmy in the first place?  I can't say too much more without giving the twist away.

I must say that I expected the twist, and you probably will, too.  The plot's not what you're watching this for, though.  It's essentially a comedy, with some light suspense thrown in.


CONCLUSION
 

"Frontier Style" is another good offering from Tres Hombres Productions, the third in the first season of their Spine Chillers web series.  It's a hysterically funny sex comedy with blood, and while it didn't scare me, it did offer me some suspense and I actually cared about Timmy's fate.

Another gold star for Tres Hombres, and I can't wait to see what they cook up next.

Overall Scores:

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  The dialogue and ludicrous situations are hilarious, but the actual plot of the picture is stale and comes off as pointless without any motivation or backstory for the antagonist.
Directing: 4 / 5.  I appreciated the STEADY camerawork.  We've had too much shaky stuff in horror the past decade, and it's nice to see someone let a story play out smoothly.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Some of the scenes stretched on a little long, in particular the dream sequences, but overall it's a good show.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  It worked.  Once again, I'm a little confused about what's Joseph LoDuca's work and what isn't, but it supported the story without being forcefed to me.
Acting: 2 / 5.  Chris Dinnan delivers a nice performance, but it's a bright spot among troublesome line deliveries that just didn't sound authentic.  Johnson, as Candy, was terrible.

Final Grade: 3 / 5 .  I enjoyed "Frontier Style" and its crazy antics.  The acting might have been bad overall, but Dinnan himself rocked the show with a comedic script, solid direction and editing, and a lead performance that actually got me to care about his character.  Not bad, considering the man wore four hats trying to get this film to the real world!

To watch the full length film and get in touch with Tres Hombres, check out their official YouTube page!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Solid Direction and Arresting Imagery Make "Cycle" A Touching Ride

"CYCLE"  (2013)
Length: 7:06
Company: Psycho Projections
Website: Facebook Page


A BOY AND HIS BICYCLE

Nostalgia and attachment . . . these two things are the source of much anxiety and yearning for every human being on the planet.   Poor Kochu (Ambhu PY) is struggling with that tricky time in every boy's life, the transition from childhood to adulthood.  He's looking at going away to school, trading his bicycle for a car, his dreams for a job, and play for work. 

His most prized possession as a boy was his bike, but now it's time to let go of his childish things and embrace the next phase of his life, and that means getting rid of the bike.

But he doesn't want to sell it.  He wants his beloved bike to go to a good home.

From a rather . . . well . . . childish premise comes a surprisingly touching drama from Psycho Projections and Indian filmmaker team Amal V. Aleyas and Elvin Raj.  It's won awards around the world, including the Crossroads Short Film Festival, Manorama Yuva Campus Short Film Fest and Sanskriti Short Film Festival.

Let's take a closer look.

PRESENTATION IS EVERYTHING

One thing that differentiates "Cycle" from about 95% of all other short films out there is its stellar, professional production values.  The picture is crystal clear and the music provided by Ajith Mangatoor and Dileep Kumar adds subtlety to the images on screen.  The visuals presented by Aleyas and Raj are at times stunning in their simplicity. 

I live in the USA, so the film looks so beautiful and exotic.  It helps me get the feeling that I'm traveling somewhere when I watch, rather than just sitting my butt in a chair and disappearing in a story for a while.   This instantly adds the impression of production value to an otherwise low budget endeavor.

The dialogue in the film is subtitled in English, and while some of the translations aren't quite authentic, the actors seem to be delivering their lines with honesty.  None of the performances are spectacular, but it all works.

ACCEPTING WHAT IS . . .

We can't help but identify with Kochu -- we've all been there.  Don't you remember that toy or book or article of clothing you dearly wish you'd kept rather than getting rid of it? 

The smallest, most insignificant things can sometimes hold the strongest memories, and memories are what "Cycle" is all about. 

The filmmakers utilize a sort of hyper-vivid color scheme for Kochu's memories of childhood, which I enjoyed, and which thankfully saves the film. 

Besides, isn't that how it really is in real life?  We have our beautiful memories, and they are more real than real, and we spend the rest of our lives chasing that feeling.  They influence everything we are and everything we have the capacity to be.

There's not much in the way of plot.  It's a fairly standard story progression -- Kochu doesn't want to get rid of the bike, but due to pressure from society, he knows that he must if he's ever to gain respect as a grown man. 

This story could have veered off into revolutionary territory -- that is, Kochu could resist and try to create a new change in the world he perceives.  The fact that he doesn't, and chooses to find the right person to receive his beloved bike speaks volumes.  It's a little bit of nuance thrown in for a character who is otherwise one dimensional.

. . .AND WHAT ISN'T

The biggest issue I have with "Cycle" is that the story is just too simple.  There are no twists, and while some of the imagery put on screen is beautiful and exciting, the storyline comes across a little boring. 

The film is barely over seven minutes in length, yet the first forty four seconds of the film are silence, with a black screen and white credits.   The last thirty seconds of the film are more credits.  Over one minute of time spent on black screens and credits is damaging to a short film of any length.  We need to get into the story immediately or viewers will tune out.

CONCLUSION

If people did see all the credits and click out of the film, that'd be a shame.  "Cycle" is a touching coming-of-age drama that is enjoyable and professionally shot.  Psycho Projections did a good job with this film, and I'm sure they'll have even better films in the future.

Overall Scores:

Writing: 2 / 5.  There is not a lot going on here and the story pretty much tells itself as soon as you know what's going on.  No twists, no turns -- just a fairly realistic slice of life.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  If it wasn't for the solid direction and professional production values, "Cycle" would be forgettable.  As it is, the filmmakers put together enough quality imagery to marry to the screenplay to make it all worthwhile.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The pacing is a little slow, but the transitions between scenes are fluid and no one scene runs too long. 
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Great audio quality here, and a solid soundtrack that backs up the on screen activities.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Everybody involved seems to be playing their characters respectfully, and that works well enough to make the world of "Cycle" believable.

Final Grade: 3.4.  Thanks to a good show put on by everyone involved, "Cycle" rises above the sum of its parts to a pretty solid drama.  It's an old, old story, and you know where it's going, but it's based on something all human beings deal with in their lives, and it feels authentic enough to prod your emotions enough for a smile.

To watch the full length film, click here!  Don't forget to also get in touch with Psycho Projections, check out their official Facebook page here!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

M.V.B. Films' "A Compelled Force" an Intense Drama

"A COMPELLED FORCE" (2011)
Length: 7:51
Company:  M.V.B. Films Inc.
Website: Official

* The credits were not entirely clear in regards to who plays who, so I apologize in advance if I've assumed wrong.

COPING WITH THE PAST


David (Bernard Long) searches the Internet for some way to save his ailing father (Ethan Casseus), who lies on his deathbed.  Unfortunately, there is no quick fix scenario.  As we all discover when we reach the age where our parents are on their way out, there is really nothing left to do but sit with them and wait for the inevitable moment to come.

But there's a deeper issue at stake here: David's childhood is marred by horrible memories of his father's physical and mental abuse.  He struggles to cope with the horror of being a battered child and the fact that he still feels love for a man perhaps incapable of returning it. 

It's a complicated emotional web to depict in an entirely visual medium.   "A Compelled Force" -- written and directed by Award Winning Moesha Bean of M.V.B. Films -- has a lot to do in its incredibly brief running time.

So let's hit the ground running, shall we?



 
BIG BRAINS, LOW BUDGET

Bean's "A Compelled Force" rides on its strong, professional presentation.  Bean clearly knows her way around a camera, and she is able to take complicated emotions and present them visually, sometimes to incredible effect.  The opening credits and the shots of David Googling are handled masterfully. 

The brief scenes of poor young David (played by an incredibly effective Lee Strong) being terrorized by his father are heartbreaking.  I literally felt my stomach in my throat.  And the thing is, Bean knows enough not to show EXACTLY what is going on.  It's suggested, and Casseus' strong performance as the abusive father hits the horrific notes right on the head.  It's powerful stuff, and it lasts just as long as it should -- it's not too long, or so short that you don't get the point. 

HIGH POINTS

The soundtrack, provided by Roger Subirana, is absolutely fantastic.  Those cellos in the opening credits lay out the gravity of what we are about to see.  I would love to hear more of Subirana's work.  As a composer myself, I really respect what he's accomplished here.  His score definitely helps the film succeed.


In a lot of low budget films, the acting is the worst aspect of a production.  Here, most of the actors do respectably well.  I've already mentioned Casseus and Strong, but I'd also like to point out LaKesha Hobdy as the visiting nurse -- she is credible and seems comfortable in her role.  The expression on her face when she brings David's father a very important note is pitch perfect.  I'd like to see what she could do with a lead role.

And speaking of lead roles, that brings us to our next section.

TROUBLED POINTS

As powerful as "A Compelled Force" is, there are a few problems that detract from the overall experience.  First of all, Long's performance as David is far too understated.  As it is, it's hard for me to buy the twist at the finale.  Without seeing a strong emotional performance or some kind of foreshadowing to hint at what's to come, the final shot doesn't provide the catharsis I know Bean wanted. 

I must admit there was also some confusion regarding the religious text at the end of the film.  In a strange way, it seemed to back up David's final decision, that somehow what he does is warranted, and that bugged me a little.  I can't go into much more detail than that because if I did, I'd spoil the film, and trust me, you want to see this one for yourself.

 
CONCLUSION

"A Compelled Force" is a solid drama -- it's billed as a thriller on YouTube, but honestly there are no thrills.  It's a serious and thoughtful example of what an effective team of low budget filmmakers can make when they put their heart and soul into what they're doing.

I'm also sad to say that this film is based on a true story, and as someone who understands what this sort of thing entails, my heart goes out to Bean and the others. 

You'll know what I mean after you watch it.

Overall Scores:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The story unfolds quickly, but there's a surprising depth to the events that take place, and clearly a lot of heart went into the writing of this film.  I appreciated that.  The religious text at the end confused me, and without more foreshadowing, I couldn't quite buy David's decision, but overall, Bean did a good job writing this one.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Camera placement was impeccable here, and every scene unfolds before the camera exactly how Bean wants it to.  There's a definite sense of experiencing the director's vision, and that's always exciting whether it's big or low budget.
Editing: 5 / 5.  Brilliant editing, particularly during the abuse scene.  I would not be surprised if tears were shed as a result of the combination of soundtrack, editing, direction and the look of sheer terror on Strong's face.  It's a powerful combination.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  The music kept coming throughout the film, and it's a pretty exciting score.  It's never intrusive, but it does a nice commentary on what we see.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Long's performance as David is too understated, and ultimately unbelievable.  Everyone else put on a respectable show. 

Final Grade: 3.8.  Moesha Bean's "A Compelled Force" is a strong, visually appealing emotional drama that will get you thinking AND feeling.  I appreciated its frank and stylized approach, and look forward to seeing more on Bean's films soon!

To watch the full length film, click hereGet in touch with M.V.B. Films and check out their official youTube page, Facebook page, and Twitter!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Roadkill" -- Whacked Out Fun in Spine Chillers Episode 2

"ROADKILL"
Length:  16:07
Company:  Tres Hombres Productions
Website:  Official Website

A WHOLE LOT TO PROVE

Last week, I reviewed "Sorry I Couldn't Make It" -- the first episode of the new Spine Chillers web series -- and found it to be an extremely flawed piece of work, not at all suitable for a legitimate horror series.  Will episode number two, "Roadkill", be more of the same or will it actually chill some spines?

No time like the present, friends . . .

THEY DON'T MAKE 'EM LIKE THEY USED TO

"Roadkill" follows Steve (Robert J. Gordinier), long suffering employee of Critter Catchers -- a company that gets rid of those irritating pests that sneak into your house and kill your pets.  Steve's boss, John (played with just a pinch of well placed arrogance by Christopher Dinnan), tells him to head out to the country and check on a Critter Catchers trap that has been torn apart. 

This episode is written and directed by Paul Harris, hombre numero dos of Tres Hombres Productions.  He brings a much needed breath of fresh air to the series after hombre numero uno, indie film writer/director Josh Becker, left me cold in the first installment.  Harris brings some directing style to the table, bringing in some frankly audacious shots coming from a project so obviously low budget.  There are "aside" shots, not unlike the whacky black and white and negative shots in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses.  There are slow zooms on display that instantly bring a little bit of retro charm to the film.


It's little touches like these that help make a movie more interesting to watch, particularly when dealing with such familiar territory, story-wise.

"Roadkill" is based on a true story -- one I'd like I hear, frankly -- though you'd never know it by the presentation of the material.  Harris' direction, the dialogue and particulary Carol Ilku as Ms. Barton (also known as the Redneck Lady -- to me, anyway) are all gleefully irreverent, and somehow it all works its way into an oddball stew that is enjoyable for the sixteen minutes of running time.

A BLAST FROM THE PAST

There are little sprinkles of retro here and there in "Roadkill".  One of the most noticeable is the off the wall soundtrack.  I know that Joseph LoDuca provided some music, but the credits attribute the original score to Gino Minchelle.  Whoever actually wrote the music, they hit it out of the park.  It's a whacky, pseudo disco soundtrack somewhat reminiscent of a Lucio Fulci flick.  The presentation of the monster reminds me of Fulci as well, as Harris throws this beast IN YOUR FACE, regardless of how ridiculously fake it might look.  Take it or leave it, he seems to be saying. 

At face value, the monster (named "Sawtooth" in the credits, for rather obvious reasons) looks like something that a stoned Jim Henson would have come up with, and it is never, ever scary by any means, but . . . it took some guts to put this thing on camera, or to even suppose that it could be done right with such a limited budget. 

And speaking of Sawtooth, his look made me draw inevitable conclusions to Critters

In other words, you've seen it all before.  That fact could've killed this film, but fortunately . . .

SAWTOOTH TAKES ONE FOR THE TEAM

"Roadkill" doesn't take itself seriously, not for a moment, and its gleeful, gutsy approach to otherwise ludicrous material keeps its head above water.  The acting is all around head and shoulders better than the first Spine Chillers episode -- everyone is credible here.

The only unbelievable moment of the story is that, in my opinion, a point blank gunshot to the face should have done more damage.  In addition, some of the night shots toward the end of the picture were just too dark to see right in, and the red eyes on the side of the road was somewhat uninspired.

CONCLUSION

So what's the final word on "Roadkill"?  Well, it shows a production company starting to get its act together.  After the disappointing "Sorry I Couldn't Make It", "Roadkill" is a surprisingly enjoyable romp of a film that never takes itself seriously, and frankly, it doesn't give a damn.

There's something fun to be had in the madness of this film. 

Now then, does it belong on a web series named Spine Chillers?  Not really.  It's not scary, it's not really horror.  It is based on a true story, but doesn't go for a documentarian or "realistic" presentation of the material, so the whole "Oh God, this really HAPPENED?!" thing doesn't affect me much.

That being said, I will watch this one again with the family.  And be sure to watch through the credits.  There is a laugh out loud moment when Sawtooth finally strikes that has to be seen to be believed.
 
Overall Scores:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The story doesn't cover much ground, and the opening monologue that Steven's listening to on the radio strikes me as too on-the-nose.  The screenplay gets characters from point A to point B, and that's about it.
Directing: 3 / 5.  I liked how writer/director Paul Harris keeps the camera moving and makes shots that are interesting enough to hold our attention.  The dark scenes at the end are hard to see, which is a shame because I couldn't help but think I was missing out on what would otherwise have been a pretty cool shot.  Some of the stuff he attempts here -- particularly when Steve discovers the wrecked trap -- is pretty out there, but he delivers a solid and well played show.  He lets the camera linger over Sawtooth, even when perhaps it shouldn't, but I liked how he is basically saying, "Take it or leave it."  The viewer can do with these images what he or she will.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Christopher Dinnan's editing makes the movie flow well, and he helps Harris deliver on those audacious shots I spoke of earlier.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  The music was weird, but it worked because of its perhaps unintentional references to older horror movies.  Did LoDuca play a part in the soundtrack?  I don't know, but the music definitely helped lift "Roadkill" overall.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Christopher Dinnan is completely believable as John, the boss who only cares about business.  Steve's played by Robert J. Gardinier, who I've never seen before, but he puts on a pretty good show.  He could've been more freaked out in my opinion during the car battle, but that's just me being picky.  Carol Ilku steals the show with her ridiculous and funny bit part.  Sawtooth is fairly emotive, an impressive feat considering the limited budget.

Final Grade: 3.  "Roadkill" is not a bad second episode.  It's by far the most enjoyable of the series, and definitely the most ambitious.  The vibe of the film and the many risks that Paul Harris takes over the course of the film to deliver something of worth ultimately pay off in a funny, Critters-Lite film.  I look forward to seeing the next episode!

To watch the full length film and get in touch with Tres Hombres, check out their official website and YouTube channel!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Tick Tock" a Stylish Experimental Short Film

"TICK TOCK"
Length: 4:50
Company: N/A
Website: Ien Chi's Official Site

TIME IS RUNNING OUT

As the winner of Best Picture and Best Director awards at Campus MovieFest 2011, and one of the few short films to actually be distributed and televised nationally, "Tick Tock" has a lot to live up to. 

Let's not beat around the bush, friends.  Is "Tick Tock" worth the praise?

Check it out below!

PLOT BREAKDOWN

Emit (Morgan Ayres) has problems.  He's having trouble in class, he just broke up with his girlfriend -- oh, and there's one other thing.  He's just realized that the aspirin he thought he was taking at a friend's house was actually morphine, and that the fatal overdose will hit him in approximately five minutes.

Emerging indie writer/director Ien Chi sets up his story within seconds, and he challenges the audience to step into Emit's shoes for a minute:

You've got five minutes to live.

What do you do?

Tick tock.




BACK TO THE FUTURE

The first shot in "Tick Tock", after the black and white credits, is a clock ticking backward.  It's a nice setup, and it is the first in a series of unsettling shots that will get you a little off kilter.

The entire film is a single take, a challenging proposition for any filmmaker, but particularly when you consider that it is then delivered to the audience in reverse.  You literally see the end credits first, then the final scenes, and then on and on, backward, until you finally discover what is going on.

The reverse shot might seem like a gimmick, something that a lazy filmmaker did to hide the fact that his story is pedestrian, but nothing could be more from the truth.  It's clear by the fluidity of camera movement that Chi is deliberately using this technique as a stylistic device.  From the beginning, the camerawork is fluid , and bizarrely, it doesn't feel backward.  It's as though the camera is moving with forward motion, while everything taking place on screen runs backward.

The reverse technique also lends the film a surreal, dream-like atmosphere that increases the longer you watch.  At first, Emit's outbursts seem over the top -- and why is he calling his parents while he's running?

Of course, since we're in reverse, the dialogue is unintelligible, and Chi smartly muffles the voices of his actors -- we hear them as though from down a long hallway, which only helps to position the film as a dream sequence, half nightmare, half inspirational.  This is emphasized by the film's usage of black and white for Emit's depression -- his lingering on the physical, stupid stuff in life -- and vibrant color when he's trying to make things right.

ACTING A LITTLE BACKWARD

It's surprising to see how much emotion the actors are capable of displaying, even backward.  The running scene in particular gets to me.  I don't know if this was complicated or just a random thing that turned out well, but Emit looks out of control and even panicky at different points during his run, as though his body is out of control and he suddenly realizes that everything in his life is fleeing from him, just as he is running backwards to the source of the problem. 

Buddy (played by a smirky Maurice Winsell) is a little unbelievable -- he delivers his role too "in your face".  Subtlety would have worked.  I get that he's amused, but does he have to borderline cackle behind Emit's back? 

Rena, Emit's girlfriend, is played by Valee Gallant.  She has a very short role, and most of her facial expressions are believable.  Without hearing real dialogue, I can't say for sure, but put it this way: I believed her character for the purposes of "Tick Tock".


LOGIC, GET IN THE BACKSEAT

Since when does overdosing on morphine give you five minutes to live?  Why would Emit do what he does rather than call 9-1-1, for instance?   Why does Buddy cause trouble?

There are no answers for any of these questions, mainly more than likely because if anything happened differently, it would destroy the whole point of the story.  There's a theme at work here, and it's not particularly subtle.  The Steve Jobs quote tacked on at the end (the beginning?) drives the point home, in case you were sleepwalking through the rest of the picture.

CONCLUSION

"Tick Tock" is a trick film.  It's intention is to make you think about your life, and what's important, and it does it incredibly well, considering the relatively poor picture quality and audio.  At first, I was confused, and followed the story a little in disbelief, but there was some element about it, the direction, maybe, that made me sense there was something more about this picture, something I had to see.

I'm glad I stuck around, because "Tick Tock" is one of the better experimental short films I've seen.

Overall Scores:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The dialogue, delivered in subtitles, is a bit on the nose, and there's not a whole lot going on, plot wise.  The film's a one trick pony, but the one trick it delivers, it does very well.  It's held back somewhat by a very obvious theme that culminates in an equally on the nose quote from Steve Jobs.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  The direction seemed to play forward while the action on screen played backward, if that makes any sense -- the director's style remains intact, and it's a nice anchor in the midst of the strangeness of living in reverse.  Filming it all in one take gave the movie an immediacy it desperately needed. 
Editing: 2 / 5.  There wasn't much editing needed, aside from some Windows Movie Maker magic.  By and large, the film is one take, so we pretty much just follow Emit from location to location. 
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  "Anthem" by Emancipator was a nice, introspective tune that played in the background.  The sound itself was muddled and low in the mix -- once again, intentional, but it was boring to the ears.  Thankfully, the visuals onscreen were strong and imaginative enough to hold my interest.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  The acting in the film was limited due to the nature of filming in reverse, but a surprising amount of emotion worked from actor to actor.  Buddy (Maurice Winsell) was a little over the top and Rena (Valee Gallant) does what she has to.

Final Grade: 2.7 / 5.  

To watch the full length film and get in touch with Ien Chi, check out his official website.  If you'd like to hear more music from Emancipator (and who wouldn't?) then check them out here!

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Sorry I Couldn't Make It" a Bad Start For New Spine Chillers Web Series

"SORRY I COULDN'T MAKE IT"
Length: 15:05
Company:  Tres Hombres Productions
Website:  Official Website

AN EXQUISITE PEDIGREE


Writer/director Josh Becker got his start in the entertainment business with the original Evil Dead -- one of the most influential and respected horror films of its type.  Becker went on to direct episodes of TV series such as Xena: Warrior Princess and the TV movie Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur.  His original output was professional and well written in equal measure, including such experimental fare as the one-shot heist-gone-wrong picture, Running Time, the exploitation Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except . . . and the mainstream Lunatics: A Love Story.

I have followed Becker's career since I was little, so I was a fan going in to his new horror web series, Spine Chillers.  With Becker's name (along with Chris Dinnan, writer/director of Zeitgest and Paul Harris, the two other "hombres" that make up their production company) attached to the series, and his writing and directing the first episode, "Sorry I Couldn't Make It", I looked forward to seeing, finally, the episodes that would make up a new direction for the indie director.

With Joseph LoDuca composing original music and the promise of Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, Spider Man) in a future episode, I sat down and prepared myself to see something truly special.

Does this first episode live up to the title Spine Chillers?  Let's take a look and find out.

A BUM, HIS GIRL AND HIS CONQUESTS

When we first meet Chad (Chris Dinnan), he's a bearded slacker arguing with his girlfriend Beth (Carol Ilku), ranting about how he doesn't like her friend, and she yells back at him that she doesn't like his friends either.  Their ludicrous fight escalates and Beth decides she's leaving Chad. 

Sitting alone in his house, Beth having been gone for approximately 30 seconds, Chad digs out his "old girlfriends" phone book (people actually have those?) and looks for one to bang.  He finds one: Leigh Henderson.  He calls her and sets up a date at a bar.

That's the set up of "Sorry I Couldn't Make It". 

I have to admit that at this point, I was a little confused.  Wasn't this supposed to be a scary story?  Or at least have some supernatural elements, like Amazing Stories or Twilight Zone

If I tell you much more, then I'll spoil the twist at the end, but I'll be honest with you, the film itself spoils that twist as soon as Beth returns home, declares she's moving back in, and reveals that she knows something about Leigh that Chad doesn't -- something that will shake him to his very core.

The thing is, there is literally no foreshadowing of this big reveal.  As a matter of fact, there is not a single moment of tension in the entire film that would suggest that anything of significance is happening.  And the story is essentially a half twist on an old folk tale (once again, if I tell you which one, it will spoil it for you). 

NUTS AND BOLTS

Josh Becker is a solid writer and director.  You can check out his personal website and read any number of his screenplays, and they are thoughtful and exciting, every single last one.

That's why I cannot believe he wrote this short film.  It clocks in at a little over fifteen minutes, nothing really happens, there is no tension, and I actually caught myself checking to see how much longer it was. 

The entire film is handheld and shaky, which works to the advantage of some films, but here, in what is essentially a quiet drama, it's distracting. 

And the soundtrack is a headscratcher.  Joseph LoDuca is an established film composer, working with big, big names in the film industry, but here, his work is noisy and overly extravagant for the purposes of the flick.  There's nothing scary going on during this film, but the music attempts to inject some mood.  It doesn't work.

THE BRIGHT SIDE

Becker's film does show an emphasis on dialogue, which many short films tend to gloss over.  The story is told through the people, which is a refreshing angle.  The acting in the picture is not up to carrying the film, but like I said, it's an interesting flavor.

Another thing I liked was the fact that the characters GOT OUT AND ABOUT.   Chad hits the bar and searches the cemetery as well as hangs out in his house.  It opens up the picture quite a bit. 

CONCLUSION

Given the sort of quality films Becker has released in the past, including the musical If I Only Had a Hammer and the Sci-Fi original Alien Apocalypse, I expected far better in this first episode of new web series Spine Chillers.  It's fair to say that this IS the first episode, and that they should improve over time as this new format becomes more regular for the individual players.  Each of the members of Tres Hombres will be fronting the camera for one of the first three episodes.

I'm curious to see what the following episodes will be like, but I must admit that the wind has bled from my sails somewhat by this disappointing first entry.


Overall Scores:

Writing: 1 / 5.  Josh Becker is an excellent screenwriter, but the entire story of "Sorry I Couldn't Make It" is about as cliche and pointless as it gets.  I get that Chad is in a troubled relationship, but really?  And where is the set up for the "horror" angle?  Leigh was in and out of mental institutions, yeah, but there was no way to connect the dots.  The big reveal felt random, rather than a story point that was going somewhere.
Directing: 2 / 5.  The handheld camera was distracting.  And what was with the point of view shot watching Beth driving up and then coming into the house?  It made me think that there was someone or something watching her, but there wasn't.  It was a shot that, once again, felt random.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The editing kept the film moving just fast enough that I didn't hit the Stop button. 
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  Joseph LoDuca tried, but it felt like the Tres Hombres told him to write a scary sounding song, and neglected to mention that there weren't any real scares in the picture.  The audio in the bar scene is booming and a bit hard on the ears.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  It could've been worse, but it could've been a whole lot better, too.  Chad does a lot of talking in the beginning of the film, most of it to himself, but Chris Dinnan does the job.  Carol Ilku plays both Beth and the voice of Leigh Henderson on the phone.  She does her best with what she's given, but the big reveal at the end is dry, and there's not much she can do about it.

Final Grade: 2.1 / 5.  "Sorry I Couldn't Make It" is not what I expected from a debut episode for a web series named Spine Chillers.  I was disappointed, but I know for a fact that Becker is capable of so much more, so my eyes and ears are open for his next entry.

To watch the full length episode of Spine Chillers -- and additional episodes, too -- check out their official YouTube page!



Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!