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Friday, November 7, 2014

One Way or Another Productions' "Whisper" Unsettles With Tricks & Treats

"WHISPER" (2014)
Genre: Horror
Length- 9:29
Company: One Way or Another Productions
Website: Official

Matthew (Tim Eliot) has a friend (Nicholas Wilder) who only he can see and hear, who accompanies him everywhere he goes, all the time, always.  This might be the sign of an amazing relationship but for the fact that his friend is always trying to get Matthew to do bad things.

And this Halloween, he's got a doozy of a bad thing to do . . . 

GOING MENTAL

"Whisper" is something of a one man show -- a short film written, directed and produced by David Yosefovich Abramov.  It's a horror story of sorts, playing with cinema's portrayal of mental illness, and questioning the nature of reality. 

If we believe something is there, and that belief affects our actions, then isn't it real?

The results are up on the screen.  While clearly a shoestring production, Abramov ups the apparent
production value of his film by including what appears to be a real Halloween parade, which adds some genuinely unsettling imagery to what is otherwise a film situated in very mundane settings indeed.

CONCLUSION

It's effectively creepy with a hint of demented humor (love the chicken suit), and I watched it twice to make sure I got everything but unfortunately I couldn't quite follow how we got to the conclusion.  I don't want to give anything away, and what happens onscreen feels right, but the script didn't quite get me from one state of affairs to the other.

Even so, I much enjoyed "Whisper" and I look forward to seeing much more from Abramov and One Way or Another Productions.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The script put us in a quite odd situation with no explanations, and for the most part it worked, but I couldn't quite make the leap to the finale.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Abramov kept the visuals coming, and I particularly grooved to the montage with the Halloween parade -- really inspiring stuff.  I will say that some of the bits with Wilder yelling were shot in a disorienting fashion, which might have been the point, but it took me out of the film.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The pacing is perfect and the coloring is beautiful.  The film as a whole looks really, really good. 
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The soundtrack was all classical, all the time, and it worked well enough.  It never added to the creep factor, though.
Acting: 4  / 5.  While Eliot was a bit hit or miss for the first half of the film, once the you-know-what hit the fan, he was dead on -- particularly in the alleyway.  And Wilder didn't quite feel authentic in that first scene, but from the apartment onward, he channeled some kind of scary and I much enjoyed his manic performance.  Great job, guys!   Andrea Powel popped up for a couple scenes and did what she could with what she had.

Final Grade: 3.3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out the official website of One Way or Another Productions, follow the creators on Facebook and watch the teaser trailer for "Whisper" right here!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Darren Darnborough ("True Blood") on Directing, Passion & Cheese: "Stefano Formaggio" EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW!

You might recognize Darren Darnborough as Callum on HBO's "True Blood", or Ajax from Darkness Descending, but most recently he's tried his hand at directing for the screen.  "Stefano Formaggio", which we reviewed right here, was a feast for the eyes and even had a little something for the thinkers out there, too.

Darren Darnborough was nice enough to answer my questions via e-mail, and the resulting conversation is printed below.  Our topics included getting into the business, being on TV and, of course, "Stefano Formaggio" (which is ONLINE and available to watch right now!)

* * * * * *

FCFR: You've worked as an actor exclusively before stepping into the directing chair for “Stefano Formaggio”, but you're also a writer.  Could you talk about how you started in the business of acting and what made you decide to jump ship and get behind the camera?

DD: I began performing when I was very young, first with weekend dance classes and school plays like most.  Then after seeing a local pantomime, I joined their associated Saturday drama class.  That led to doing panto each year, a few shows (both amateur dramatics and school plays) including some new musicals in the West End.  I got into TV as my school headteacher offered me and a friend the afternoon off to be extras on a government film that was shooting at the Natural History Museum.  I jumped at it, and we ended up making friends with the lead teenage actor, who had his own TV show, Billy Webb.  The first instance of nepotism struck when he introduced us to his acting class and agent Anna Scher Theater, and from there I moved to Sharon Harris Drama School, who was my first real agent at 16 years old.  I booked my second audition, a Dr Pepper commercial, and off we went.

I haven’t really jumped ship.  Whilst I’m getting very involved in filmmaking, I still go on auditions and work as an actor and voiceover artist.  But when I first got behind the camera significantly was at university.  I enrolled in Royal Holloway University of London’s drama degree, but after a couple of weeks, I realized I may get bored as much of the curriculum were things I’d covered for years as both a part-time acting student and now professional actor.  I jumped ship on that course over to the Media Arts program at the same University, where I gained my degree.

Filmmaking has always been something that I wanted to be more involved in, but it’s hard to penetrate in the UK, especially if you are reasonably successful in another capacity.  Working your way up in film requires a lot of interning, low paid work and minimal opportunities.  When I moved to LA, there’s filmmaking talent and ambition everywhere you look, and people are motivated to just make films. It made it much easier to get a team together and shoot.

FCFR: How long of a shoot was it and what was the budget you were working with?  You had an amazing creative team behind you, and the results are, as they say, up there on the screen.  Literally, this could be a feature you'd see at your local multiplex.

DD: Thank you for the compliment!  That was the look we were going for, so nice to hear it.

The shoot was over 9 days – 3 days in Carmel, 3 days interiors and studio in LA with some travel / set-build days.  Our budget was around $50,000 which may sound like a lot, but even with this money we were cutting all available corners, rushing and paying people minimums, whilst relying on a lot of favors.

It’s incredibly expensive to make a film properly, legitimately, and creating an environment where everyone feels valued and has the necessary equipment and resources to do their job to the highest level.  We had an absolutely amazing professional team involved, which I think shows, but you have to respect their skill and give them what they need.

I think these days, with available technology, it is easier to make a cheap film, but the project has to lend itself to those techniques and conventions. You can shoot a "found footage" movie on your iPhone, but not a romantic epic.  Many low budget filmmakers also concentrate too much on the action / story, to my mind -- which is paramount -- but they forget to create the world of film, the set decoration, the camera techniques.  It’s the beauty that I find in the whole process, and literally designing every minute element of that story that appeals to me, and I hope shows in this film.

FCFR: What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?  Are you more of a writer type, comfortable with the story in your imagination, or someone who likes the shoot?  Or maybe you're more interested in the editing room, where it all starts to really become a movie?

DD: That’s a tough question.  I guess I like all of it.  I probably would say the heavy development is the best stage – when you know you are making the film, and you start working on all the small details, such as when we were studying the characters and deciding what Jasmine’s florist would look like, or that she has a harpist in the courtyard.  Color choices, costume, set pieces – all those details that create the world.  The bad part of that is that it all seems to happen very quickly when you get greenlit.

The actual shoot was incredibly fun and a proud moment – seeing it come together and being able to work with friends and loved ones is awesome.  Editing is actually not so pleasant… the first edit you see back worries you, as it neither looks like what you thought you shot, or how you want it to end up. Plus you have to make difficult cutting decisions, which lose people moments, lines, sometimes whole characters, which is hard as a first-time director.  But once you tighten the edit, do the sound and VFX, the color, the music, all that good stuff, it really comes alive.  My editor Katie Hetland was excellent, and then the team at Go!Electra in Norway took it too a new level with color, VFX, sound and music.

FCFR: In terms of imagery, “Stefano Formaggio” is breathtaking.  The depth of colors onscreen is brilliant, your coverage is fantastic.  Did you have an idea of the locations while writing?  How much pre-production work did you have to do to ensure that this short would be visually stunning?

DD: Thank you!  There’s various elements involved in this look.  When I originally conceived the idea, I was living in Greenwich, London, which is a very quaint district with an artisan village feel.  I loved the sense of intricate design and detail, structure and fairytale whimsy about the place.  By the time I moved to LA and realised the talent was here to build my team, I started looking at more local locations.

Part of the fake and replaceable facade of L.A. means that there are quite a few "storybook" looking houses peppered around the streets.  These buildings got me thinking about my main characters, the story, and how this really could work well as a twisted fairy tale, so I started to develop that strain.

We were ankle-deep in pre-production when serendipity struck – I am also a travel journalist and the city of Carmel-By-The-Sea invited us to visit to write some travel articles. My girlfriend and I traveled up, and when we woke up in this perfect fairy tale village, with its quaint houses and cute customs, I just thought, "This is where Stefano and Jasmine live!"

That weekend turned into a part location scout, and the people in Carmel were so hospitable and it just fit the scene. There’s even a Cheese Shop there who ended up building Stefano’s cheese display for us.  My producer, Marius, had some logistical concerns for us to shoot there, so we checked out some other locations including Universal Studios, but it just didn’t feel right.  Carmel had a magic quality that I knew would not only permeate the screen, but also the team, their performance.  I told Marius that he had to come to Carmel for one night – if he didn’t share my sentiment, we’d stay in L.A.. We drove up overnight, and by breakfast, he’d agreed.

I had very specific ideas of what each location should look like, and we found them in Carmel, with a smattering of movie magic by shooting the interiors in L.A.

But the other major factors in the film's imagery has to go to our creative team – Alex Fymat excelled with his set design (the whole of Stefano’s cheese factory is hand built from scratch); Hallgrim Haug’s cinematography, who mentored me perfectly; and Havard Smavik, our colorist based in Oslo, Norway, who spent the best part of a week with me making sure every shot was the right tone and shade for what we needed.

FCFR: It's interesting that every shot of “Stefano Formaggio” is gorgeous – and similarly, our two leads, Alice Greczyn and Pasquale Cassalia are jaw dropping – but beauty becomes a veneer that covers up the psychosis at the finale.  Was this what you were going for thematically, or was it a more unconscious thing?

DD: Haha, I’m surprised you noticed!  Yep, we definitely had an ugly-deficiency on that set.  It was ridiculous, even my crew were super attractive so we used many as extras!

Yes, it is a definite theme – the film’s tagline is “Perfection is Deceptive” – there’s an underlying statement that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and also a theme of duality in the movie – every scene happens twice but with different outcomes, exploring the light and shade of each.  Also, in our story, it’s actually the cheese that is making these townsfolk more attractive, but that’s subtle as we didn’t have time to explore that notion too much in a short time.

FCFR: How did you come to enlist the help of Greczyn and Cassalia? 

DD: Very different ways – I met Alice at a dinner party I threw at Sundance Film Festival a few years back around 2008.  She just had a very striking quality about her, and as I’d already been thinking about the role of Jasmine, I just thought, “That’s my actress.” Lucky for me, it turned out she was an actress, and we remained friends and so when the time came to shoot, I made sure we planned around her schedule.  She also has the same look as the girl who inspired this story.  I am so glad that worked out, Alice is fantastic in this, and I wouldn’t have seen it any other way.

Pasquale was much tougher.  We were in heavy pre-production and I still hadn’t found a Stefano, my title character.  He had to be Italian, attractive, and charming enough, with the ability to play sinister.  I watched a ton of demo tapes, but nothing was of interest.

In a desperate attempt, I called a casting director friend of mine, Pamela Shae, who casts the likes of "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Charmed".  I explained that I knew she was way out of my league for this project, but if she has any ideas off the top of her head . . . and she replied, “Yes – your guy is in my office right now.” I was unconvinced of this coincidence, so Pamela pulled out all the stops, arranging a casting day with over 20 actors for me to look at, and . . . she was right. Pasquale was indeed the man, and I very much enjoyed working with him.  He’s a very understanding and responsive actor.

FCFR: Now maybe I can shift gears a little and talk a little more light.  And with that in mind, I need to ask you . . . why cheese?  What inspired your writing of this film?

DD: A bizarre night of cheap happy hour wine and conversation is the honest answer.  In London, I had a pretty friend that worked at the market, and was seeing The Cheese Guy, very casually.  One night he took her out on the first proper date, but it ended abruptly with no real explanation. She met me for wine to drown her sorrows, and we started bouncing around reasons that it may not have worked out.  They started sensible, went bizarre, and when I woke with a very sore head in the morning, one of the ideas felt like a film plot . . .

FCFR: What can we look forward to from you in the future?  Do you see more directing on the horizon and will you continue acting?

DD: Definitely am and will continue acting.  I’d like to direct some more, so hopefully this film will bring those opportunities in commercials, music videos and feature films.  I’m working right now developing a feature called “Andy & Chaz Destroy America” which is based off the Andy & Chaz web series we did a few years back on YouTube.  We’re raising finance and looking for a co-production deal on that now.  I’ve also just finished writing a thriller with Timothy Linh Bui called Flash, that we’ll be going out with soon.  Aside from that, I’m also launching an exciting new web service to help actors learn lines with Jessica Rose (of "Lonelygirl15" fame) called WeRehearse.com.

FCFR: If you could offer yourself one piece of advice that you wish someone would have given to you when you first started out in filmmaking, what would it be?

DD: Go to a better film school.

And . . . respect momentum and work hard.  If you have a good idea, work on it, build your team, but then have confidence in the momentum as that will build around you in tandem with your effort.

FCFR: Thank you so much for your time and for “Stefano Formaggio”, Darren!  Now frankly I'm going to go find some cheese to nibble on . . .

DD: Good stuff – Stefano has an appointment for you!  :-)

* * * * * *

Thanks again to Darren for taking the time to answer my questions and for being a class act to boot!  Do NOT forget to follow him on Facebook and Twitter and visit the official "Stefano Formaggio" website!

If you haven't had the chance to watch "Stefano Formaggio" yet, click this link right here!


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Skeet Ulrich's Directing Debut "The Girl on the Roof" A Slice of Real Life Fantasy

"THE GIRL ON THE ROOF" (2014)
Genre: Drama
Length- 25:39
Company: N/A
Website: Official

Lila (Naiia Ulrich) is relentlessly bullied by the other students at her elementary school.  Home is no safe haven either -- her mother (Susan May Pratt) is a famous actress and a raging narcissist while her dad (Todd Lowe) is unemployed and a neglectful alcoholic.

The bullies snatch her during gym class and haul her off behind a wall.  In the process of beating her up, she hits her head on the ground.

And that's when her reality starts getting . . . well . . . a little weird.

AN ISSUE OF LENGTH
 
"The Girl on the Roof" is actor Skeet Ulrich's directorial debut, shot from a screenplay by actress Amelia Jackson-Gray (who also plays Lucy in this short film).  Its pacing is surprisingly leisurely, with long handheld tracking shots following Lila from location to location.  The final film clocks in at a little over twenty five minutes, which is a tad on the long side, in my opinion.  In my experience, short films are at their best when they are between five and fifteen minutes in length, unless their stories are particularly intriguing.

Ulrich's direction is confident and he's not afraid of long takes, which honestly is commendable in
today's post-MTV "now, now, NOW" culture.  That being said, in the case of this particular short film, I'm not sure if this was the best artistic choice for the film.  Add to that the fact that Lila herself is extremely quiet and shy, so she doesn't get to put a voice to what she's feeling.  Naiia Ulrich is forced to do most of her acting with her eyes, and she does an admirable job particularly considering her young age. 

After she hits her head one and a half minutes in to the film, we spend the next six minutes setting up the very ugly situation at home: the narcissistic actress mother, the drunk, barely present dad and the maybe/kinda affair between dad and Lucy.  Then, eight minutes in, Lennie James (Morgan from TV's "The Walking Dead") pops in for his dual roles, and we're off to the races.  James is always a pleasure to watch onscreen and I loved seeing him bring his considerable acting skills to the table. 

AN ALTERNATE TAKE

Part of the enjoyment of "Girl on the Roof" is how it shows the fracturing of reality onscreen, and does so creatively and in an emotionally affecting way.  The problem with it however is that we are not aware of these alternate realities until the film's three quarters of the way done.  Everything seems legitimate and as though it's really happening, and we never get the assurance of which reality is the actual, true reality.  That might have been Jackson-Gray's intention when she wrote the screenplay, but it felt rushed and therefore inauthentic here -- it felt more like an excuse to get Lila out of one predicament and into another.

So . . . did I enjoy "Girl on the Roof"?  I was interested in seeing where it was going, yes.   In terms of production value, it was top notch, and the acting was for the most part good. 

But I can't help but feel there was a message in there somewhere that I was meant to receive, some kind of a statement about life and harsh reality, and how sometimes fantasizing about being somewhere else is the only way to survive.

OVERALL SCORES: 
 
Writing: 3 / 5.  Jackson-Gray's script kept my attention and prompted some introspective thoughts about reality, but that part of the plot came in too late and left too suddenly.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  I appreciated Ulrich's slow and steady approach to directing, taking the time to get to know the characters and set up interesting shots.  Unfortunately, I felt like the film was going nowhere until almost ten minutes in, and some viewers will probably be turned off by that.
Editing: 3 / 5.  I really enjoyed some of the stylish transitions (all about the close-up on one man's mouth as it became two squad cars, that was very cool) and the color looked natural and professional.  The only problem was, again, the fact that the film moved way too slowly and went on far too long.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  I really enjoyed The Angel's music in this short, and I encourage all of you to check out her website and listen.  Really impressive and emotive.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Jackson-Gray turned out the best performance of the film.  Her portrayal of Lucy was extremely sympathetic and realistic, and you couldn't help but like her even when she's turning on the charm for a married man.  She even won a Best Supporting Actress award from Action on Film International Film Festival.  Naiia Ulrich is a standout as well considering how young she is, but the other kids are extremely uneven (as can be expected), and Susan May Pratt just feels off for most of the film.  Lennie James is, as always, awesome, and Todd Lowe has a couple really nice lines while he's arguing with Pratt.

Final Grade3.3 / 5.

Follow Skeet Ulrich and Amelia Jackson-Gray on Twitter and keep up to date on "Girl on the Roof" right here!



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Truth of Love and Cheese: "Stefano Formaggio", Directorial Debut of Darren Darnborough ("True Blood")

"STEFANO FORMAGGIO" (2013)
Genre: Romantic Drama
Length- 20:00
Company: Filmed Imagination
Website: Official

Wealthy Italian cheese merchant Stefano (Pasquale Cassalia) produces only the finest of culinary delights.  He is so good at what he does, and so good looking that women flock from miles around to be in his presence.  Jasmine (Alice Greczyn), a local florist, and her very pregnant sister, Olivia (Mandy Amano) are the latest females to fall under Stefano's spell.

Stefano wants a woman with children . . . or more specifically, a pregnant woman -- and not to marry, either.

He wants them for an altogether more sinister reason.

WHAT'S YOUR SECRET?
 
"Stefano Formaggio" is the directorial debut of actor Darren Darnborough ("True Blood", Darkness Descends), who also handled writing duties for the short.  Visually, what he accomplishes is nothing short of gorgeous: each scene unfolds carefully in lavish, flowery surroundings.  Hallgrim Haug is the cinematographer, and he deserves a high five from everyone involved in this film because it really is a treat for one's eyes.

Since I'm bringing up Haug, we might as well go into the crew for a moment.  Darnborough was surrounded by an incredible group of people, ranging from Emmy winners (production designer Alex Fymat and editor Katie Hetland) to Tony winners (executive producer Charles Salameno) and everything in between.  As a result, the apparent production values on "Stefano Formaggio" are off the charts -- this film could roll in your local cineplex and you'd never know the difference.

The cast also performs well.  Greczyn as Jasmine pulls off the most real and heartfelt performance of the lot.  Cassalia's turn as Stefano was overall well done, but at times -- in particular during the date scene with Greczyn -- he felt like he was overdoing the whole "Look at me, I'm a charming guy" thing.  I'd also like to point out that fault lies also with the writing -- Cassalia doesn't have a lot to work with for this role.

Now, digging even deeper, I felt that the twenty minute running time was far too long.  Beautiful the film might be, but it took far too long to get going, and the conclusion was extremely fast and a vast tonal shift from the almost fantastical romance of the other three quarters of the film. 
 
OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Darnborough's script touches on a lot of elements -- in particular, our anxiety of dating people you don't know and the inherent dangers of intimacy.  I don't want to spoil anything, but I much enjoyed the finale, even though the darkness of it felt like a different movie entirely.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Darnborough hits a home run with this film.  Every frame is filled with beautiful scenery and exquisitely staged action. 
Editing: 3 / 5.  The film feels way too long considering the story being told, and the pacing suffers because of it.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  "Sway", by Mooi, was a nice thematic companion to the film and also a good song on its own merits.  The sound design was professional and effective.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Greczyn and Cassalia do well and they had a certain chemistry onscreen.  Amano felt forced, particularly in the scenes where she attempts to seduce Stefano.  Amelia Jackson-Gray pops up for a little in the beginning of the film and puts on a good show.

Final Grade: 3.5 / 5.

Visit the official website and check out the full short by clicking right here!  After a successful festival run, I'm thrilled to see it on the Internet.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Chris Dias' One Take "Monster in a House" a Fairy Tale Onscreen

"MONSTER IN A HOUSE" (2014)
Genre: Fantasy
Length- 13:54
Company: N/A
Website: Chris Dias' Official

Nine year old Miah (Kitana Turnbull) has only her imagination to serve as a buffer between her and her parents' troubled marriage.  Joe (Joseph Bottoms), her father, and Emma (Lisa Roumain), her mother, can't say two words to each other without arguing, and their discord is what awakens a faceless monster in their home . . . a monster that only comes out to play at bedtime.

 AMBITIOUS MONSTROSITY

"Monster in a House" is a clever, contemporary take on a classic fairy tale captured in one take.  Written, produced and directed by new filmmaker Christiano Dias, and delivered with impressive production values and consistent acting.   It's an ambitious shoot for anyone, but it's almost unheard of in student films. 

The story itself telegraphs its intentions from the first minute, thematically similar in some ways to Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth.  However, unlike that well known film, the adults too come to grips with the fantastical elements on display in a particularly impressively realized finale.

It all makes for a fun film with a little tension sprinkled into the proceedings, and a clear sign that Christiano Dias is a filmmaker to watch in the future.

A couple fun little asides: first of all, check out the elaborate lighting in this short film.  It'd be complicated for even a big budget shoot, but more than that, it's all done IN REAL TIME -- it's a one shot take, remember.  Second, the main character's name is Miah.  (M)onster (I)n (A) (H)ouse.  

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The metaphor was extremely obvious and because of that it lacked a little emotional punch, but the story kept moving at a good pace and the conclusion was effective.
Directing: 4 / 5.  In a one shot take, the director has to be REALLY on his game, and thankfully Dias and DP Michael Helenek realizes this and keeps impressive visuals on the screen throughout, finding dreamy wonder in the most ordinary of locations. 
Editing: 3 / 5.  Effective.
Sound/Music:  3.5 / 5.  The sound design was, on the whole, very good but I had a problem understanding Miah's last line of dialogue and had to replay it several times to finally figure it out.  The soundtrack by Daniel James Chan was also a little overbearing and "on the nose" for me to fully appreciate.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Good performances all around the board, even from young Turnbull.  Bottoms is given the biggest emotional range to show off, and he does it like a champ.

Final Grade:  3.4 / 5.

Don't forget to visit Christiano Dias' official website, and more information will appear here when "Monster in a House" is available to watch online!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Vimeo Staff Pick "Regolith" a Breathtaking & Human Documentary

"REGOLITH" (2014)
Genre: Documentary
Length- 9:16
Company: ImageFiction Films
Website: Official Facebook

From ImageFiction Films, the new production company of award winning documentary director Sam Goldwater ("If A Tree Falls") comes "Regolith", a short film about a group of teenagers who've left home to work in a trash wasteland district of Accra, the capital of Ghana.  They tear apart aging computers and other devices and sell it by the pound for a meager wage in Agbogbloshie, the largest electronic waste site in the world.

It's a startling, and searing look at what it is to be a migrant worker in Ghana.

ANOTHER WORLD

The first thing you'll notice about "Regolith" is Goldwater's uncanny cinematography.  It's not so much what he shows -- which is beautiful enough -- but what he DOESN'T show that really hits hard.  Without any real narrative going on, he has to fall back on the beauty of his shots and the sorely miserable conditions of the young men whose lives he is documenting. 

The subjects of the film joke to one another in good humor and bad, gossip and talk about sex, pretty much like any other group of teens in any other country.  Yet rarely do we see who is speaking, or if we do, we can't often see their lips.  These young men are trapped in their lot in life, and nothing they can say or do will break that cycle.

The opening seconds of the film are telling: we see a dirty floor, a lone chicken running amok through the dust while offscreen a pair of teens go back and forth about whether it would be OK to accept money obtained from a witch's magic.  Finally, their feet emerge, dragging wires and chunks of electrical equipment, before escaping our sight entirely. 

"Regolith" is a peek into another life, and frankly another world.  Growing up in America, I've never seen the kind of desperation or stress that these young men face on a daily basis. 

I was expecting some kind of notice at the end about how to donate, or at least how to contribute in some way to help the plight of these young men and so many others overseas, but there was none.  Is Agbogbloshie really so unknown?

If so, then what Goldwater's done with "Regolith" is not only a beautiful testament to a generation's desperation, but a noble illumination of the struggles faced by Ghana's children.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  With documentaries, the "writing" consists of arranging one's footage in a manner that tells a narrative story.  With that in mind, as a vignette, it works.  There's no real story -- no real beginning or end, but it works because neither exists for our subjects, either.
Directing: 5 / 5.  Goldwater's visuals are out-of-this-world gorgeous.  He digs in the dirt and finds the beauty in the garbage, the broken electronics and the discarded debris of a million lives.
Editing: 4 / 5.  There was a moment about two minutes in where the film blinks and singing begins, and while it was clearly planned, it didn't feel like the smooth transition it was trying to be.  That aside, the editing is near perfect, keeping the pace moving so well that the nine minutes of run time were over in a flash.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Effective and professionally produced audio.  Aside from the aforementioned singing, there really isn't any music.
Acting: N/A

Final Grade: 3.8 / 5. 

"Regolith" was labeled "Staff Pick" over at Vimeo, and frankly you NEED to watch this.  And don't forget to check out ImageFiction Films on Facebook too -- you'll want to know what they're up to next, believe me!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ensemble Comedy "#RIP" Takes a Stab at Celebrity . . . REALITY Style!

"#RIP" (2013)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 14:18
Company: Who's That? Productions
Website: Kevin Machate

A group of self absorbed friends and co-workers meet to mourn the death of famed actress Lydia Walters (Marilyn Ghigliotti, Clerks). Though at first they sing her praises, it very quickly becomes all too apparent that maybe she's not quite as kind and delightful as they all make her out to be.

And maybe her death wasn't an accident after all.

Maybe it's better off that way, too. 

READING FOR THE PART

"#RIP" might only be fourteen minutes long, but the pace still drags as director/producer Kevin Machate and screenwriter Roanna Flowers milk the same jokes repeatedly.  That's not to say that those jokes weren't funny, because they WERE quite funny -- the first few times. 

That's the root of the problem for "#RIP": it's a very one note production.  We have a group of people who clearly don't like the not-so-dearly departed.  It's a message that rings loud and clear through the witty banter between the main characters.  The flashback scenes feel forced and unnecessary, once again just proving everything that we already know based on the behavior of the other characters.

Probably the standout thespian on display here would be Ammie Leonards, who plays CourtNay, a young actress trying desperately to get the attention of the camera at all costs.  She's adorable and I love how she telegraphs what she's thinking solely through her facial expressions.  There's not a lot going on in CourtNay's brain, but she sure thinks she's manipulating everyone else, and the result is an authentic and very funny performance.

That being said, the acting as a whole is pretty solid, with everyone pulling their own weight.  The characters weren't endearing enough to make this a solid ensemble piece, but "#RIP" is an entertaining comedy in its own right and without question worth your time.

Interesting factoid, this from Machate himself: Missi Pyle (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake) was on board to star as Lydia, but after taking a few stills which are included in the film she was unable to appear due to prior engagements.  As a result, Ghigliotti took over the role.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  There are laughs, but they are recycled one too many times.  There's also no real theme to take away from the film, and therefore no reason to think about it after the fact.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Machate gives the film an authentic "reality TV" style production. 
Editing: 3 / 5.  Professional and it has that sporadic television feel.  The film's pacing takes a hit, particularly as we're rolling from midpoint to the end. 
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Efficient, and the sound design is professional so as not to distract from what we're watching.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Ghigliotti acts like a bitch and she does it well.  Heath Allyn does a great job of looking smarmy, and his reaction at the postscript is a high point -- good stuff!  David Henne also puts on a good show and upon watching this, I wouldn't let him in a kitchen.  Ammie Leonards' performance won me over and kept me interested for the duration of the film more than anything else.

Final Grade: 3.3 / 5.

"#RIP" is making the festival circuit as we speak, so if it comes near you, check it out!  If it doesn't visit a town close by, fear not -- I will update this page when it's uploaded to the Internet for more widespread public consumption.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dan Marcus & Sci-Fi "Streamline" Ask Big Questions In Polished Short!

"STREAMLINE" (2014)
Genre: Sci-Fi
Length- 12:57
Company: Falling Awake Productions / 10 Brook Entertainment
Website: Official

Max Sylow (Joel Rietsma)  is running for his life from sinister looking men in gray suits.  What do they want with Max?  Where does Max think he's going?

And most importantly, why is it that at every turn, Max literally sees his life flash before his eyes?

TURNING INWARD

"Streamline" is the latest short film from Dan Marcus and his Falling Awake Productions.  The film premiered in Chicago this past July along with Tom Doherty's "The White Room" (reviewed here).  I bring up the connection because the two shorts are notable for their conflict being largely internal and covering frank emotional ground -- Doherty's vision is fantasy, whereas Marcus is clearly mining sci-fi territory.

The plot is very sparse and the action nonlinear.  The majority of the film is spent jumping back and forth in time, as poor Max revisits the moment when his life went horribly askew: his mother's death in a car accident, and his emotionally troubled father (Bruce Edwin Moore)'s breakdown after the fact. 

We watch flashbacks with young Max (played by Jaiden Hidalgo) and his father, and the terrifying events that unfolded as a result.  "Steamline" goes on to ask why we have to remember the negative events in life -- why can't we just choose to forget things we'd rather not know?  These are big questions for any film, much less a twelve minute short.


MEMORIES . . .

On the technical side of things, the film is shot professionally and its outdoor scenery becomes truly breathtaking.  John S. Terendy, the director of photography, outdid himself on this picture, with even the more hard sci-fi moments aesthetically pleasing.  Dan Marcus' direction is steady and mature.  His scenes are tight and clearly composed. 

That being said, no film is perfect, and "Streamline" is no exception to that rule.  Rietsma and Moore have no chemistry together and I didn't buy them being a father and son -- I didn't feel that kind of dynamic from their performances.  Their dialogue was not realistic and felt a little too on-the-nose and melodramatic.  Hidalgo's cries for help are quiet and reserved, not at all appropriate to what is happening to him.  Finally, the film itself just sort of ends, with the finale not at all approaching the excitement and energy of the preceding ten minutes.

That being said, there's a lot to like about "Streamline" and Marcus and company are talented filmmakers with a unique vision.  In twelve minutes, they manage to give you more to chew on than most films can with two whole hours.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  "Streamline" was written by Dan Marcus, David Hammond and William Coffey, and it's an effective and emotional screenplay about surprisingly weighty issues.  That being said, the dialogue scenes between Max and his father were slight missteps, but it's a fairly small complaint.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Marcus does a great job of telling the story visually, and even the down moments feature memorable images -- loved the kinetic energy of the forest scenes and the bleak "in the car" shots later on.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Editing duties were capably handled by Danielle Montana.  The film moves at a quick pace and never really lets up.  Also, I loved the color grading and the slightly gritty look.  "Streamline" is quite cinematic in its appearance.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Teddy Blass put together a really nice score for this short film and it does what any good score does: it emphasizes the action onscreen without making its presence known.  But go back and watch "Streamline" again, and just listen to the music.  Really well done.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Overall, I liked Rietmsa in his role and Moore does a good job too, but when they're together, there is no father/son chemistry and the scenes fall apart.  Cheryl Graeff does OK as the doctor.

Final Grade: 3.7 / 5.

Don't miss "Streamline" and keep up with writer/director Dan Marcus on Facebook!  Keep an eye on his next project, a UFO thriller set to be shot in New Mexico: "Beyond the Window"!

Friday, September 19, 2014

ScareScapes' "The Killer Inside": What Lies Behind the Wall of Coma?

"THE KILLER INSIDE" (2014)
Genre: Horror
Length- 10:50
Company: ScareScapes
Website: Official

Mr. Curtis (Stephen Riddle) is a comatose patient with a new nurse, sleazeball Kent (Roy L. Garton).  From the moment Kent walks in the door, he begins stealing Mr. Curtis' valuables, helping himself to the fridge, and doing just about everything one shouldn't do on the job. 

But the coma might not quite be as complete as Kent thinks . . . and besides, what's lurking behind the eyes of Mr. Curtis?  What kind of a man is he to begin with?

We're about to find out . . .

EVIL, EVIL THINGS

As long as we're on the topic, let's talk about what kind of people we see in "The Killer Inside".

Kent pretty much walks through the door and IMMEDIATELY his demeanor and voice just scream devious.  We're not allowed a moment to conceive of his character as anything more than a Snidely Whiplash caricature: there is no humanity inside of him, he is simply a parasite that feeds on coma victims.  He is dangerously neglectful, and it makes me wonder how on earth this guy is even employed.

Mr. Curtis, the coma victim, is necessarily vacant.  No one in the film ever comments on the kind of person he once was, but this works for his character as much of the suspense of the picture is tied up in one question: what lurks behind those unmoving eyes?  Is he thinking?  Is he angry at Kent's disrespect and outright thievery?

Even worse is Penny (Jackie Pitts), Kent's extremely young looking girlfriend.  Once again, there is no humanity on display -- she just shows up and does a sexy dance for the comatose man, just to see if she can get a rise out of him.  To her credit, she is probably the most competent thespian in "The Killer Inside" -- Garton is over acting to the extreme, Riddle basically alternates between being a blank slate and an effective but overused angry face and Shonna Small, who plays Kent's boss, is extremely uneven and sounds like she's reading the lines instead of embodying a character.

All the main characters, in other words, are extremely unlikeable and one note, and as a result, when the killing does start happening, I didn't feel anything.

Without any likeable characters or even a person who I might not like but to whom I could relate, I found myself caring less and less for what was happening.  There's a slight twist that pops up and gives the whole film a somber, sad tone, but even that is short changed by the lack of credible characters or good performances.

That being said, I enjoyed the visual style that writer/director David Karner brings to the table and there are several shots that are very effective -- the dumping of Penny's body into the closet, with her black hair sticking out, and then slamming the door shut, for instance, or the over the shoulder shot of comatose Mr. Curtis at the beginning. 

The sound and video quality were both top notch, with the lighting appropriate without being distracting.  Karner and crew know what they're doing, but the only problem is that the story and characters are not up to par with their professional production values.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1.5 / 5.  I was never scared or disturbed by what was onscreen, nor did I feel even a little empathy toward any character, even the comatose Mr. Curtis.  We need a strong character to anchor the story, and a villain who is not a two dimensional Bad Guy.
Directing: 3 / 5.  I enjoyed Karner's visual style and found much of the film to be presented well, moving fluidly from shot to shot.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  Overall a competent job, but one thing that was jarring was the sudden cut from Kent looking through the drawer to thinking he saw something behind him.  It cuts rapidly from drawer to screaming and then back again.  It took me right out of the story.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  I enjoyed the soundtrack of this short film, courtesy of Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech.  There's an obnoxious dance song from DJ-Nen, made all the more so by Penny's behavior in the film.
Acting: 2 / 5.  While it was better than it could have been, overall the actors weren't credible in their roles.  Pitts does the best of the lot of them.

Final Grade: 2.4 / 5.

Stop by David Karner's ScareScapes on Twitter and learn more about his latest creation . . . and don't forget to say hi on Facebook, too!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cold Fox Films & Ryan Robins' "Nobody Can Deny" -- A Subtle Slice of Romantic Comedy

"NOBODY CAN DENY" (2014)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Length- 8:00
Company: Cold Fox Films
Website:  Official

Jill (Sarah Adams) has a work crush on Cory (Brad Baker), who is moving out of town and therefore completely out of her life.  Trying her best not to despair, she searches for some way to hook up with him before he's gone forever.  At his work birthday party, he has to leave and doesn't get a chance to try the cake.

Bingo!  Armed with chocolate and a flair for baking, Jill goes in pursuit of Cory.

But, in love as in life, nothing EVER goes according to plan . . .

SUBTLETY

Texan writer/director Ryan Robins is no stranger to awards.  His previous two films, "Ostinato" and "Fish in the Sea" (which I reviewed right here on FCSFR) both won awards at the Dallas 48 Hour Film Project.  I loved them both, and was eagerly awaiting his next flick. 

While both of the aforementioned shorts were thrillers, and quite effective ones at that, "Nobody Can Deny" takes an entirely different route.  It's a quirky and quiet romantic comedy in the vein of the first season of "The Office" or Napoleon Dynamite.  With a smart script by Rebekah Maynard, it not only works, but excels.

As subtle as the film might be with its humor, it is never boring.  Part of that is the pacing -- Maynard also edited the film --  which keeps the story moving at a healthy clip, but more than that it's Robins' keen sense of composition.  The cooking sequence in particular was pitch perfect.  I loved the upside down shot of the eggs being broken, and Jill blowing her wayward hair out of her eyes.

WORKING LESS PERFECTLY

The performances were solid across the board.  I loved the awkward work banter at the beginning -- it sounded so authentic I couldn't help but smile.  Baker as Cory doesn't have many lines or much to do, but he conveys a lot about his character's introverted nature from behind the rims of his glasses.

I want to go back to mentioning the writing of this film again, because if you will notice throughout the film, every single thing is broken or breaking.  One example: the awkward, fake work relationships, which are crumbling as Cory is about to transfer to another store.  Even Jill's attempt to speak to Cory at the party is interrupted by her boss (Jose Quinones), who calls her away to complain about the overly strong coffee she made for him.  The elevator stalls.  Jill and Cory are both socially awkward and not good conversationalists, but they do the best with the parts that their maker gave them.

They TRY to do better, and it is in that trying that something beautiful might happen for our two leads.

It's thoughts like this that provide an added bit of depth for what could have played out as a by the numbers romantic comedy.

CONCLUSION

Of course, this IS a romance, and as all romances do we have the final confrontation between Jill and the object of her desire, Cory.  Adams is brilliant as Jill tries to convey what she's feeling for Cory, even though they are both socially awkward. 

Also, there's a fun cameo from Robins regular Chase Austin, who features the Film Festival's one required line of dialogue -- "I wish I had an answer for you." 

Robins and company have done it again -- in 48 hours, they've produced a short film that is professional, well written and beautifully acted and frankly more entertaining than most of the bigger budget counterparts.  I love Robins as a horror/thriller director, but his nuanced take on a quieter, more intimate film is a breath of fresh air.

I remain, as ever, excited to see what Robins can come up with next.  Good things are coming from Cold Fox Films in the future, and if you're a fan of film, you just have to applaud.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.   It's not easy to present a story with a beginning­, middle and end in eight minutes, and it's even harder to do it with good dialogue.  Rebekah Maynard weaves all the story elements together and lets them work themselves out, resulting in that natural conclusion that just felt right.
Directing: 4.5 / 5.  The only thing that kept this category from a perfect score is the elevator sequence.  There's a repeated "front shot" of Jill cutting to a shot of her from the side, and it kind of confused me having her face jump from the middle of the screen to far right, and then back again.  Truly though, that's a nitpicker's complaint in what is otherwise a gorgeously shot film.  Director Ryan Robins gives off just enough flash to shine without overshadowing the story.  Thanks to his impeccable eye for what his audience NEEDS to see and great cinematography by Evan Burns, visually, "Nobody Can Deny" is beautiful.
Editing: 5 / 5.  You couldn't cut this film better and the color grading is top notch and really gives "Nobody Can Deny" a Fox Searchlight-esque feel.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Again, the music is simple -- from light music cues by Alex Thomas to happy, guitar oriented music that sounds like it came from Jack Johnson's younger brother (Father Sleep's "A Dream I Didn't Have" and Inara George's "Q").  Brad Baker is responsible for the sound design, and he did a great job.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Adams is always a pleasure to watch and she does a great job of being vulnerable but just brave enough to go after what she wants.  Jose Quinones plays Jerry, the asshole boss, and his "Jill?  Jill?  Jill?" had me laughing, in a Ben Stein Ferris Bueller sort of way.

Final Grade: 4.2 / 5.

DON'T MISS "Nobody Can Deny" on Vimeo and follow Ryan Robins on Facebook to stay up to date on what he's working on next!

Craig MacLachlan's Kickboxing "Glory Hunter" Original But Hurt By Pacing Woes

"GLORY HUNTER" (2014)
Genre: Drama
Length- 17:48
Company: Insomnia Performance Group
Website: Official Facebook

Jerry Gallagher (real life kickboxer Duncan Airlie James) is a professional fighter who has pursued the dream of World Championship before, and every time he comes close, but he can't quite close the deal. 

Enter Lyndsay, a hot new girlfriend (Elanor Miller), whose beauty, youth and gold digging go unappreciated by Gallagher's long time manager, Joe (John Gaffney).

Gallagher's going to have to make a choice of who he wants in his corner, and it just might be the hardest decision he's ever had to make.

SNIP SNIP

"Glory Hunter" comes to your computer screen all the way from Glasgow courtesy of the new production company Insomnia Performance Group.  This is their first release, and I've got to admit that the movie interested me.  I've never seen a kickboxing love triangle drama before.

That being said, director Craig McLachlan (who also appears in the film as Tom) is stuck with several very talky scenes, and as a result even at under 18 minutes, the film still runs overly long.

Fortunately, Duncan Airlie James is a capable leading man and he keeps the boat afloat.  He has a wonderfully understated acting style that makes him immediately vulnerable, and despite thin writing his is a hero easily worth rooting for.  He explodes at the end, quite credibly, and we realize that maybe the titular "Glory Hunter" isn't who we thought it was after all.

THE TROUBLES I'VE SEEN

Despite good performances from James and Gaffney, "Glory Hunter" suffers from being visually boring.  There's just not much going on here -- we jump from fight to fight, never really getting to know any one character long enough to develop much of an attachment to them.  James comes off okay thanks to his natural, "gentle giant" charisma, but Miller's entire role is simply to look sexy, and Joe is The Best Friend / Manager stereotype throughout.

This lack of authenticity in the characters causes us to nod when the conclusion comes, but we're not moved, and being moved is why we watch a drama in the first place.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  Gaffney's character literally says "Jerry" about ten times in one lengthy conversation in the sparring room.  That's a good example of how the dialogue falters here.  The actors are able to elevate the material somewhat, but these characters don't feel like people, they feel like cutouts.
Directing: 3 / 5.  MacLachlan does his best with what he has, but his locations are beyond limited and since 99% of this film is arguing between different characters, he's stuck with back and forth headshots for the bulk of it.
Editing: 2 / 5.  The conversations stretch on and on and on, and as a result the film's pacing takes a direct hit and never really recovers, even when Gallagher finally gets in the ring.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  Nothing stuck out for me, but I could hear the dialogue and the sound effects were cued up properly. 
Acting: 3 / 5.  James comes out as the biggest success of this short, though Gaffney does an admirable job with what he's given.  Miller looks great, and to her credit what lines she has, she delivers effectively.

Final Grade: 2.5 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Glory Hunter" on VIMEO and see what the Insomnia Performance Group is up to next on Facebook!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Three Time Moving: The Kiss Through Time" An Epic Name, But The Story Falls Short

"THREE TIMES MOVING: THE KISS THROUGH TIME" (2014)
Genre: Romance
Length- 8:11
Company: Lee Neville Entertainment
Website:  Official

Adam (Lee Neville) is torn between two women.  On the one hand, there's Julie (Jane Hogan), the woman he really loves -- but he's trapped in a sorta, kinda friend zone with her.  On the other hand, there's Anna (assistant director Danielle Little), the latest in a string of women with whom he can happily satisfy his libido. 

What to do, friends?  What to do!

CLARITY OF VISION

"Three Times Moving: The Kiss Through Time" is the first in a trilogy of short films concerning Adam's troubled love triangle.  Written, produced, directed and starring Lee Neville, it's very much a no budget, one man show.  Presumably there is a larger story arc stretched out over the three short films, with maybe some kind of emotional payoff at the end, but this first episode is weighed down with enough problems that I was not compelled to watch the second or third entries.

The film on a physical level is put together competently enough, but the writing is bogged down with major issues.  What exactly is going on between Adam and Julie in the very beginning?  It feels like a "breakup" kind of scene, but the two aren't actually in a relationship together . . . or are they? 

They've been friends for a long time, and later on Julie remarks that when Adam can take a romantic relationship more seriously, he should get in touch with her. 

So . . . she's kind of cool with him having at it with other women while they've been friends, if he'll just stop as of now and declare himself monogamous?  This isn't entirely believable since they were a little more than just friends, I think?

There aren't any visuals that step up to the plate to help tell the story, so we're relying utterly on dialogue and the way these characters talk to each other.  Unfortunately, we don't have a reason to like anyone, or failing that, even be interested enough in one or more characters to want to see what happens.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1 / 5.  The message of the film is not clear and the characters' reactions do not seem plausible to me.  There is no cohesive plot, just a general suggestion of true love.  Also, the title is far too long and implies some kind of epic production, and this is a small, intimate short film.
Directing: 3 / 5.  The locations were extremely cramped for the most part which limited his visual options, but Neville's directing does OK.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Nothing stood out as good or bad, so that's decent.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  Not bad, courtesy of composer Matthew Tabor.
Acting:  2 / 5.  Hogan feels forced for three quarters of the film.  Neville does the best he can with the dialogue in the script.  Little has nothing to do for the movie except for make out with Neville, but they do a pretty convincing job.

Final Grade: 2.2 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Three Times Moving: The Kiss Through Time" and the subsequent episodes!  When you're done with those, follow Lee Neville on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Language of the Sick" Short Film Thematic But Not Visual

"LANGUAGE OF THE SICK" (2014)
Genre: Drama
Length- 19:56
Company: Get Coned Productions
Website:  Official Facebook

Charlie Fincher (Mitchell Herrin) is a disturbed young man who hides behind a camera and defines his very existence by his ability to capture the world around him on film.  His latest project is a mysterious documentary in which he interviews young women and harasses them until they give up their secrets.

He might have underestimated Rebecca Marie Stylings (Kelsey McCarter), his latest subject . . . and the results of his questioning just might surprise him.

A CAMERA COMMENTARY

"Language of the Sick" is a short film from Get Coned Productions out of Florida.  Herrin also wrote the screenplay, and his lines are excessively long and wordy and delivered as though he is the bad guy of a film: he tries to be sinister, but the reality is that no one talks like this guy, no one acts like this guy.  As a result, Fincher is a caricature at best, completely phony at worst.

It features one location, and a nondescript one at that, which makes for a claustrophobic film.  Unfortunately, the visuals are exceedingly dry and there's not much to keep the eye moving.

McCarter does the best she can with her role, and after a bumpy beginning she settles into her role and has a few credible, emotional moments. 

"Language of the Sick" is intended as a metafictional commentary on filmmakers and the seemingly odd desire to want to dedicate their lives to recording lies -- or is it truth?  Clearly, Fincher is a little fuzzy on the difference. 

But film is ultimately a visual medium, and there's not much on hand to entertain. 

OVERALL SCORES:


Writing: 2.5 / 5.  I respect the themes that Herrin incorporates into the script, but ultimately bad dialogue sinks the ship.
Directing: 2 / 5.  Christopher Durand handled directorial duties, and does a serviceable job of presenting what does happen, but that doesn't change the fact that not only is nothing happening onscreen for the bulk of the picture, but on top of that visually there is nothing  going on, either. 
Editing: 3 / 5.  It worked.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  The dialogue was mostly audible, but there was a definite difference in noise from shot to shot and when Herrin speaks from behind the camera he is very muffled.
Acting: 2 / 5.  McCarter closes the film well but even her performance is rocky to start with, and Herrin is too forced and whispery for his lines to have much of an impact.

Final Grade 2.4 / 5

Don't forget to check out "Language of the Sick" on YouTube or, if you can, get out and see it at a festival screening near you.  When you get done, follow Get Coned Productions on Facebook!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Maloney Pictures and Tom Doherty Excite and Provoke With Affecting Award Winner "The White Room"

"THE WHITE ROOM" (2013)
Genre: Drama / Fantasy
Length- 10:22
Company: Maloney Pictures
Website:  Official Facebook

A Man in White (Tyler Klunick) awakens in a small, white room.  He checks the door.  It's locked.

Why is he here, and for how long?

It might not sound like much, but in writer/director Tom Doherty's capable hands, it's all you need in Maloney Pictures' microbudget short, "The White Room".

Apparently I'm not alone, either.  The short film has won awards at the 2014 Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts, the Prairie State International Film Festival, and the Illinois International Film Festival, not to mention even MORE honors too numerous to list here.

Not bad, right?

A LOT WITH A LITTLE

"The White Room"' is taken from a script written by Tony Dal Pra and director/editor Tom Doherty, and the story these men tell is a pared down, intimate story with a surprisingly gorgeous do-it-yourself aesthetic. 

The story takes us from the stark "reality" of the titular White Room to an isolated corn field.  Thanks to some top notch work from Director of Photography Jaysom Phommavongsa and some exquisite color grading in the editing room, this change of scenery not only opens up the story but adds an almost fantastical tinge to a very bittersweet scene between the Man in White and his daughter.

The acting is efficient all around, with smartly understated performances by Klunick, Laura Chernicky and Dave Juehring (who starred in last year's "The Witchfinder" -- reviewed here).  Particularly impressive is that even the young children on hand (Jordyn Paige Bolber and Katie Mahl) are credible in their roles.  That's no small feat for any film.

TWISTING, TURNING . . .

I have to be careful because I don't want to give anything away, but there's a "twist" in this film.  Fortunately, Doherty and crew are smart enough to play with their audience's expectations, and as a result, "The White Room" puts a new and affecting spin on an old story.

Maybe it's just my own life experiences factoring in, but I had to wipe away a few tears by the conclusion of this film.  "The White Room" made me feel something genuine -- and isn't that the true measure of a piece of art?

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The twist was smartly executed and I liked the metaphorical use of the White Room.  The last sequence felt too cliche for me and the payoff wasn't quite enough considering how emotional the rest of the film felt.
Directing: 4 / 5.  With help from Assistant Director Eric Smigiel and Phommavongsa, Doherty made sure that every visual packed a whollop when and where it needed to. 
Editing: 4 / 5.  Doherty put this movie together like a puzzle and each shot interlocks neatly with the next.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Sound designer Ray McCall does his job well and the soundtrack, supplied by Phommavongsa and Daniel Schultz hits the spot with moody keys and strings.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Every actor and actress in this film played their roles well and never once did anyone take me out of the movie with a bad line or awkward delivery.  There are a lot of big budget films that I cannot say the same about.

Final Grade: 3.8 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "The White Room" as it plays festivals around the country and follow the creators on Facebook!



Saturday, August 2, 2014

Go For Broke Pictures Presents Creepy Pasta's "The Rake" in Frightening Short

"THE RAKE" (2014)
Genre:  Horror
Length-  3:56
Company:  Go For Broke Pictures
Website:  Official

Emily (Cynthia Vodovoz) raises her son Kaidan (Treyson Wallin) with her husband Andrew (Michael Evans).  Between parenthood and doing chores, she gets pretty tuckered out at night. 

On this night, she kisses Kaidan good night, cleans up the kitchen, and then retires to bed.  She finds she can't sleep tonight -- there's an insistent, strange noise in her room.

And then there's the dark figure at the foot of her bed to worry about . . .

ADAPTED FOR THE SCREEN


Go For Broke Pictures (check out our review of their last short film, "Bagged") returns with "The Rake", a short horror film adapted from the outrageously popular short story that originated on the now legendary website of dark and scary things, Creepy Pasta.

The first minute and a half of the film is pure setup, establishing the three characters and a hint of their dynamics together.  But when Emily settles into bed for the night, then it's ON, because director Shun Otsubo brings the scares and then some, because when The Rake appears, all bets are off.

It is beyond me how a low budget film such as this one could have such an unbelievably good looking monster.  Go For Broke can thank Al Heck of Renderready LLC for that -- he turns in some incredible visual effects, bringing to life a beast straight out of a nightmare.  (SPOILER ALERT: the link I just gave you will reveal things to you that you might only want to see AFTER you've watched the film.)

If the monster had looked bad, the film wouldn't work, pure and simple.  But the monster DOES work, it works like crazy.

Emily snatches up young Kaidan and is locked in a desperate bid for survival against an unstoppable creature hungry for blood -- or death. 

Once again, the Go For Broke boys have hit the ball out of the park.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Serviceable script from Sean C. Simon, but the brevity of the film eliminates any ability to deliver a real plot.  It's basically a survival horror film anyway so it really doesn't detract from the film.
Directing: 3.5/ 5.  The first half of the film is mundane and I think it's meant to be that way.  Once The Rake shows up though, Otsubo servces up some imaginative shots tailor made to give you nightmares, and I for one appreciated that.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Logan Stewart, Sam Zapiain and Otsubo took on editing duties, and the film runs along at a good click.  The end credits are really effective as well -- lots of creepy old photos set to the music.  Honestly, this short film feels like the first few minutes of a feature length horror film.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  The original score by Travis S. Lohmann is rock solid, particularly in the aforementioned end credits.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Everyone does their job well here, with Vodovoz as the big standout.  Evans doesn't have much to do except for walk up stairs and look tired and amorous, which he does well.  Wallin is extremely young and extremely quiet for the most part, which was unrealistic -- I'd have thought he'd be screaming.  His deadpan final line hit the jackpot though.  It set the finale up perfectly.

Final Grade: 3.6 / 5.

DO NOT miss "The Rake" -- it's available to watch on YouTube by clicking here.  When you're done pooping yourself, visit Go For Broke Pictures' official website and follow them on Facebook!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"The Greyness of Autumn" a Comedy For Adults . . . With Puppets

"THE GREYNESS OF AUTUMN" (2012)
Genre: Puppet Comedy
Length-13:46
Company: Quick Off The Mark Productions
Website: Official Facebook

Danny McGuire (former professional kickboxer Duncan Airlie James) is an ostrich living in Scotland, coping with what he cannot change (i.e. that he is in fact an ostrich) and trying as hard as he can to make something of himself in a world tailor made for humans.  He lives humbly with Nelson (Chris Quick), a porn addicted monkey with an insatiable thirst for corn flakes. 

One day, he gets the word that the call center where he works is moving to India, and that he is now unemployed.

What's an ostrich to do?

PUPPET COMMENTARY

"The Greyness of Autumn" is a Scottish comedy co-written, directed and edited by Chris Quick, filmed with live action puppets and a generous dollop of mature humor.  The puppets themselves are really well made and are capable of conveying a surprising number of emotions, and the dialogue is snappy enough to keep us drifting from one joke to another.

There are some very funny moments here -- in particular, Danny's romantic relationship with Katie (Amy E. Watson).  While Watson's acting is not up to the occasion, they still have a very amusing black and white montage later on in the film that cracked me up.  What would it be like to be intimate with an ostrich?  What kind of a person would want to be intimate with an ostrich?  All these questions and more are addressed in "The Greyness of Autumn".

The writing is a little shaky at times, with Danny going off on philosophical tangents about the nature of the seasons and how they relate to being alive.  James' delivery is so fast that I didn't quite follow it at first. 

Danny's journey through life has been one long story of clawing upward on the social ladder (well, if he had claws, it would've been) and trying his hardest to live a life that is in his opinion worth living.  When his job is taken away, and then his relationship with Katie becomes a question mark, he has to re-evaluate what he wants out of life, and indeed whether he wants life at all.

While it is legitimately funny at times, there's too much space between the laughs.  "The Greyness of Autumn" is a puppet movie that's actually ABOUT something, and that alone should be worth at least one watch.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  The writing team of Andy S. McEwan and Chris Quick created a screenplay that doesn't have much forward momentum, and the fact that Danny is narrating -- doing so obviously AFTER the events here have taken place -- is somewhat dishonest to the audience.  On the positive side, the characters they've created are funny, and there are several laugh out loud moments in the film.
Directing: 3 / 5.  The locations were limited here, and weren't much to look at.  Given the limits of what he was working with, Quick kept the imagery interesting.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  The film did not need to be thirteen minutes long.  Just about every scene for the first half of the film stretched on over long, in particular Katie's dismissal of Danny at the restaurant.  A lot of these dialogue exchanges could have been summarized in a line or two -- cut, move on.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  "One Good Reason" by Alan Tennie was a nice, slow and somber tune to accompany the subject matter, but it was one song.  Most of the film is James' voice, which is almost monotone for the entirety of his narration.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  James, when he's doing Danny's dialogue, does a good job of embodying his character.  During the narration, he sounds almost bored.  Watson is flat for 90% of the film and we never had an opportunity to like her character whatsoever.  Chris Quick, as Nelson, is a little hard to understand for the first few exchanges.  At times, the cast is passable, and at other times, it sounds very amateurish.

Final Grade: 2.5 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "The Greyness of Autumn" on YouTube, follow writer/director/editor/actor Chris Quick on Twitter and check out Quick Off The Mark Productions on Facebook!



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!