Saturday, June 22, 2013

"Finish Well" a Flawed But Striking War Short Film

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?


"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.


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.


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!

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 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?



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.



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.


"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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

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!