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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. 



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!