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Friday, February 28, 2014

Call to a Call Girl: "El Sombrero" a Somber Meditation on Love

"EL SOMBRERO" (2013)
Length - 18:06
Company: HAIKU.films
Website:  Official

I'd like to state here that I unfortunately am not certain of the names of the actor and actress performing in this short film.  As soon as I find out who they are, I will give them the appropriate credit here -- they most certainly deserve it.

Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires . . .

A heartbroken middle aged man in the depths of a prolonged midlife crisis hires a beautiful call girl in an attempt to feel something, anything, even if it's just for a little while.

To his surprise, his younger companion relates to his dilemma more than he would have thought.

A lot more, as it turns out.

THE TROUBLE WITH LOVE

Showing physical affection onscreen isn't easy in the best of times, but when you're trying to do that in the arena of the short film, on a limited budget, with semi-professional or completely amateur talent, it becomes nearly impossible to capture something that feels real.

This is made doubly so when your film has sexual content.  It's tough to present sex in a mature way, without accidentally tumbling into the realm of the pornographic -- showing nudity for nudity's sake, rather than because the story dictates it should be there.

Somehow, writer/director Santiago Mourino has accomplished that very thing.  He presents a mature story for adults in a real way.  The plot unfolds at a pleasant click, even though the location is limited to a hotel room. 

Visually, "El Sombrero" is gorgeous.  There's no sense of claustrophobia despite being shot for the most part in a bedroom.  There is nudity and a sex scene, but it is done in a mostly tasteful way -- if this were rated, it'd be an "R", no question about it, but nothing overtly explicit is shown. 

A HOUSE OF CARDS

Our two characters play off each other well, discussing childhood, love and the difference between real, eternal love, and the temporary love of immaturity.  Thematically, it's these scenes that elevate the film over most other so called "erotic" fare.  The middle aged man is numb, and as it turns out, the call girl is, too. When asked about whether she likes her job, she replies simply that, well, she doesn't hate it.

She, in other words, is trying to feel something too, but what that something is, neither can quite put their finger on.  They've both been in love, both felt it, but still, something's missing.

"El Sombrero" is about isolation, and the little things we do to try to feel alive.  While it might appear to be about sex on the surface, it literally IS about how we skim the surface of living to feel alive. 

The acting is excellent -- subtitles are used, but the delivery of their lines sound natural and not stilted.  The dialogue is written well and nothing comes off as improbable. 

Normally, I don't like films with conclusions like the one presented here, but that's usually because in most short films it's random and feels tacked on because the writers didn't know what to do next.

Thankfully, in "El Sombrero", nothing feels forced and every line of dialogue fits together like a puzzle.

OVERALL SCORES:


Writing: 3 / 5.  Maurino finds a way to present his theme in a natural and unforced way.  Beyond the dialogue, there's not a whole lot going on, which does take away from the film as a whole -- it's small and intimate, I get that, but this is REALLY bare bones. 
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Somehow, even in such a small space to film, Maurino makes the story visually appealing.  Again, without much going on, he's stuck trying to find different ways to film the same two people talking.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The transitions are slick and the story moves at a good click, but showing our female lead dancing and massaging her customer took more time than was necessary.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The soundtrack was decent, but didn't really bring any unique moods to the surface.  It did what it had to do.
Acting: 4 / 5.  The two leads were credible, and more than that, they waxed poetic on some pretty deep themes while still sounding like real human beings.  Part of that is the writing, but huge congratulations to the leads for delivering lifelike characters.

Final Grade: 3.3 / 5.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Forgiveness or Murder: "In This Myth of Vengeance" Short Film Exclusive Review!

"IN THIS MYTH OF VENGEANCE" (2014)
Length - 14:04
Company: MR Presents
Website:  Official

"In This Myth of Vengeance" carries with it themes about as weighty as you're going to find crammed into barely fourteen minutes of screen time.  This film, the latest by writer/director/producer Matthew P. Rojas, follows a pair of hitmen and the thread of grief that will seal each other's fate.

The film has finished its festival run and is now available to be viewed on Vimeo.  

Now then, let's dig in, shall we?

THE HYPOCRISY OF BEING HUMAN

C.S. Lewis addressed the argument of how pain can exist in a world made by a perfect god in The Problem of Pain, and it is this essay that inspired "In This Myth of Vengeance".  The theme is heard loud and clear, with three different lines repeated again and again over the course of the film.  It gets to be a bit heavy handed by the end, but the importance of the message is enough to make me ignore that. 

This is a story that needs to be told, a question that needs to be raised: why is it OK to hit back?  Why is it OK to answer violence with violence, when the initial violent act was only perpetrated in response to some precursor,some other unknown but awful happening?

This point is laid most bare when Mr. Sapphire (Nathan Marlow) hires Ananias (Nickolas A. Lopez) to kill Humane (Chase Austin), the hit man who murdered his wife.  Apparently, it is completely lost on Sapphire that Humane acted out of self interest, i.e. money, no different from the very man he is now hiring.

And on that note, all three men get considerable screen time to state their case, either through dialogue or simple visuals: they are ALL damaged, ALL victims despite the heinous crimes they commit.

So is it possible for any of our three tainted leads to find salvation instead of pursuing murder to its horrible and inevitable dead end?

Is there, in fact, always a choice between doing good or evil?

NOW, OUR FEATURE PRESENTATION

"In This Myth of Vengeance" is a beautifully shot piece of work, with each frame oozing style while galloping at a hundred miles an hour the entire way.  Rojas' directing work is reminiscent of early Sam Raimi -- always, always moving.  The result is not perfect -- at times I felt like I was watching a teaser trailer for another film -- but when it's on, it is ON, with the pulsating and squawking soundtrack and ticking clock sound effects creating a virtual panic attack on screen.

Austin and Lopez are excellent as our two hit men, delivering their lines honestly and professionally.  Marlow delivers a star turn as well, speaking wordy lines but still coming off as legitimate and real.

Also, the fight scene in this film between Ananias and Frank the Serpent (Paul Serna) is one of the best choreographed battles I've seen in a short film.  The violence feels REAL, and that is no small accomplishment.

Rojas has surrounded himself with a great team, and the result is a visually appealing short film from start to finish.  Director of Photography Andrei Matthias deserves a special mention, as some of the shots captured here are far better than most of those in your average low budget short.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  A lot of thought and a lot of ambition went into penning this story, taking inspiration from great source material.  The thematic content comes off a little heavy, but the message is a good one, and there is certainly more to think about from this short film than in most feature length Hollywood pictures.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Rojas puts on a good show and delivers a fairly complicated story.  Sometimes, the camera work is too clever and comes off as odd rather than compelling, but overall, it's solid.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  The fast cutting was a little much for me, and too frequent, and some of the transition choices -- for instance, the film projector thing -- didn't pay off for me, and made me wonder why they were there.  The film moves FAST, so follow along carefully.
Sound/Music: 5 / 5.  The sound and music in this film are just astounding.  Anyone who eventually views this online had better put on earphones, because there is just so much going on in the audio that you are NOT going to get the full experience out of desktop speakers.  The audio makes this movie what it is.
Acting: 4 / 5. Austin and Lopez work wonders with what little they're given, and Marlow manages to make his lines not only believable but meaningful.  Anne DeFilippo plays Marlow's wife, and she does what she can with only a few seconds of screen time.  Paul Serna fights Lopez, but he has no lines.

Final Grade: 3.7 / 5.

Do NOT miss "In This Myth of Vengeance" on Vimeo (the Director's Cut).  When you're done watching, check out MR Presents, and say hi to writer/director/producer Matthew P. Rojas on Facebook!

Friday, February 21, 2014

"Trust In Your Uniqueness" -- EXCLUSIVE Interview with Sarah Adams ("Ostinato", "Fish in the Sea", Dallas Comedy Festival)

Sarah Adams is many things: an improv artist, a comedian, an actress and a YouTube personality.  She's starred in two short films ("Ostinato" and "Fish in the Sea" -- click for their respective reviews) and an assortment of commercials, as well as improvised stand up and Shakespearean theater.

It's a lot to do by anyone's standards.  Sarah was kind enough to sit down and answer our questions about her career, her inspirations and much more.  Check it out!


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FCSFR:  You've done a lot of improv and comedy, your website is humorous and charming.  You've recently expanded into more dramatic material, like Ryan Robins' "Ostinato" and "Fish in the Sea".  How do you prepare for a serious role rather than a comedic one?

SARAH ADAMS:
I don't find there is much of a difference when preparing for a comedic role vs something more serious.  In both situations I'm seeking to find truth in a character no matter what situation they might be facing.  If you think about it, the most impactful scenes and characters - comedic or dramatic - are situations and people that are grounded in truth.

FCSFR:
You've also done theater, including bringing to life the role of Titania in "Midsummer Night's Dream", the Shakespeare classic.  Was there added pressure when you're dealing with such a well known and adored play?  


SA: Man, this was ages ago! If I'm being honest...(and it's all about honestly right) if there was added pressure I don't remember! What I do recall is how much fun that character and the production was, and it provided me with a whole new outlook on Shakespeare. 

FCSFR: Do you enjoy working for the stage?  I notice you're working with March's Dallas Comedy Festival.  Could you discuss what your role in the Festival is, and the appeal of working a live audience as opposed to filming a performance and putting it together shot by shot?  

SA:  I love performing - all of it.  There is a certain rush that comes from improvising on stage, you get instant gratification from the audience and doing something that will only happen once is pretty cool feeling.  However, there is a different but equally as awesome rush when performing for the camera.  It's an opportunity to fully develop a character plus the first time you see the film is like opening a present Christmas morning - I'm always filled with excitement and anticipation to see the final product.  As for the festival my official title is Co-Executive Producer (fancy huh) - basically I help the founder and Dallas Comedy House owner Amanda Austin in all the festival details, from sponsorships, scheduling, booking to volunteers. This year the festival is scheduled from March 18-22 and will feature headliners Rory Scovel, Susan Messing and Kate Duffy - it's going to be an awesome week of comedy.

FCSFR:
When did you realize you wanted to become an actress?  Do you have any actors or actresses, present or past, that have influenced your journey?  


SA:  When I was very young I loved putting on a show - either in the living room for my parents (man they were troupers), in a play at school, church, summer program - I loved entertaining. It wasn't until I was in high school that the thought of being an actress crossed my mind.  I attended the University of North Texas as a Theater major but sophomore year I decided that a 401k and health insurance was more important so I changed my major.  I graduated and spent over 7 years in the marketing and advertising industry...and I was miserable.  In January of 2011 I decided to take an acting class, which lead to another class, headshots, an agent, auditions and by the end of the year I was faced with the decision to quit my job or quit my dream - and I chose my dream.  These past 2 years have been the best, most challenging, growing, fulfilling and difficult years that I wouldn't change for anything.  My amazing husband (Jamie) has been such a huge part of my journey - he has provided me with such encouragement, inspiration, support, love (I could go on for a while).  One of the biggest challenges was essentially starting my acting career at 28, (now 30) and Jamie did (and continues to) do such a great job of finding stories of actress and actors who also began their career later in life.  So while I love watching certain actors and actress, the biggest influencers on my journey have been my family and friends. 
 

FCSFR: You seem so down to earth and genuine with your performances.  Has putting on a good role always been effortless for you, or does it take a lot more work than most people would realize?  

SA: Well thank you for that awesome compliment!  Each role I play requires work - from practicing weekly with my improv troupes, to taking the time to fully develop a character.  For me, I find that the more time I can invest in each role (improv and film) the more grounded the work will be.  But what's great about doing the work first, is that once you're in the moment you can just play - knowing that your choices will be truthful and honest because of the time you spent preparing.
 

FCSFR: Do you have a dream project, or someone you'd love to work with in the future?  Man, you are all about these great questions! 

SA: Dream project, I would love to do a smart comedy with female leads (think Bridesmaids) or something with a Twilight Zone feel (I'm a huge TZ fan).  I would pretty much die if I ever had the chance to meet Tina Fey, Amy Poehler or Kristen Wiig - yet alone work with them (my heart is pounding just thinking about it).  A girl can dream.
 

FCSFR: What advice would you give an actress just starting out with her craft? 

SA: Figure out who you are, as an individual, and do you.  No one else can be you,  so be confident in your uniqueness.  It's the best thing you have. 

* * * * * *

Thank you to Sarah for answering our questions.  We look forward to seeing much, much more from her in the future!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Madcap "Boob" a Comedic Gross Out Spectacle For Grown Ups

"BOOB" (2009)
Length - 2:50
Company: HONEST
Website: Official

"Boob" is a short film on Vimeo from the directing team of Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion.

They've worked with big brands, like Nike and Diesel, on commercials and marketing.  Their feature film debut, Cooties, is going to be distributed by Lions Gate -- quite an accomplishment after a decade of creating original and visionary content through their own production company, HONEST.

On that note, unfortunately there are no credits on the film and no information about who did what.

But back to the film itself -- it's just shy of three minutes long, but don't let its brevity fool you.

OH NO THEY DIDN'T

I don't want to give too much away, because the strength of "Boob" lies in its outrageous premise and the hysterical panic that ensues.  Suffice it to say that it's a breast implant gone wrong story.  That ought to prep you for what you're about to see, while not giving anything away.

The special effects are top notch here and they are at the center of the show.  Blood flies fast and furious and, true to the title, there is plenty of nudity (though not quite in the way you think).  While it is at times horrifying, I couldn't truthfully classify "Boob" as a horror film.  It's a gleeful exercise in insanity and it takes turns grossing out and splattering hysterically funny weirdness all over the camera.

To say much more would be spoiling the film, so go now and watch, and be amazed at the sheer guts it took to commit this oddity to film.

OVERALL SCORES

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  There's not much going on here, but what happens is enough to carry the story.  There's never an explanation for what's going on or any excuses -- there's time enough for the nameless characters to react and that's about it. 
Directing: 4 / 5.  Some really impressive camera work here, in particular the inspired usage of a point-of-view camera that has to be seen to be believed.  Literally.  If I told you any more, I think you'd call me crazy.
Editing: 5 / 5.  It's a frenetic freak show throughout.  Real madcap energy here.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Effective, but nothing more.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Everyone plays a little over the top, but it's clearly intentional, and it works.  Let's face it, no one watches a short film named "Boob" for the acting.  In this case, the film's whacked out genius conquers the middle of the road acting.

Final Grade3.5 / 5.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Exclusive: Interview with Ryan Robins, Director of "Ostinato" and "Fish in the Sea"!

Ryan Robins is a short film writer/director who you may remember as being responsible for the high quality production values of "Ostinato" and "Fish in the Sea", both films created under stressful time constraints and yet so polished looking that you would never know it.

Check out the reviews, watch the films, and then get back here because Ryan discusses everything from the short film form, the difficulties of producing a film of worth in such a short time frame and the importance of inspiration and surrounding yourself with a great team.

* * * * * *

FCSFR:  According to IMDb, before you attended the University of North Texas for filmmaking, you were a Dallas area poker player/dealer. What made you decide to switch to filmmaking?  

RYAN ROBINS: I was playing poker in Dallas for a couple of years after quitting my day job. I used to play in underground clubs and then moved onto internet poker just as it started to become very popular. I then moved out to Vegas where I played for a few more years, ultimately getting a bit burned out from the grind when I decided to just play part time and deal poker part time. I really enjoyed all of the wonderful people I got to meet and it definitely sharpened my own game getting to sit back and watch so many hands play out. But I knew that was nothing I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I started to think about the future and film just kind of popped into my head one day. I had never actually thought of it as a career before then. I found a school back here in Dallas and graduated this last Summer. Now I can't possibly imagine doing anything else. The funny thing is how similar filmmaking is to poker. My skills like creativity, analytical thinking, reading people and endurance which were critical in poker; actually translate perfectly into directing movies. The great thing about both is you never stop learning and you are always honing your craft. 

FCSFR: Your LinkedIn profile states that you worked for ten months as a producer for Silent Reel Studios. Could you talk a little bit about Silent Reel and what you were able to accomplish there? 

RR:  Silent Reel Studios was actually a collective production group of filmmakers from the University of North Texas. I networked with some other very talented, fervent students and we used the production company as a platform to really showcase what we were capable of. We definitely didn't have the budgets or equipment that we truly needed, but used that as a challenge to see what we could still create with limited resources. When you start from nothing, you really learn how to stretch a budget and get extremely creative which is the best part about it. 

FCSFR:  You are currently the Writer/Director for Tektite Studios. How has your filmmaking life changed since Silent Reel? 

RR:  Yes, I moved on from Silent Reel as I began to start looking to get on some bigger projects. Tektite has been a wonderful experience. It has allowed me to be a part of so many projects over the last year and really dial in my style and skill set. And the chance to grow my network of cast and crew is always at the top of my list. 

FCSFR:  What writers and directors have influenced your work and why? 

RR:  So many amazing filmmakers have influenced me over the years, its hard to narrow down the list. Definitely some of the film school brats like Scorsese, Coppola and Spielberg had a huge impact on me. There is just something about the fibrous, gritty films from the 70s that opened my eyes to the possibilities of filmmaking at it's finest. The free reign those filmmakers had during that time period; coupled with their raw talents and drive to prove themselves, created some of the most iconic films in our history. I have also learned an incredible amount from Hitchcock and Kubrick. Both men were master craftsman who set themselves apart in terms of preparation and dedication. Every single aspect of their films and I mean every piece of mise-en-scene that appears on the screen was thoroughly thought out and plays perfectly into the subtext of the film. Honorable mentions: Milos Forman, Michael Mann, John-Pierre Melville, SIdney Lumet and the Coen brothers. 

FCSFR:  You have several writing credits to your name in addition to being a fairly prolific director of short films. How does being involved in both crafts influence the films you've created thus far?

RR:   Well one of the best things I would say about writing is it really helps create the film in my head, long before it even gets into pre-production. I am able to work through things and eliminate problems that I come across that otherwise might not be noticed until production, or even worse, in post. Plus it allows to take my time thinking through the characters and their motivations; which gives me that much more insight when discussing those character arcs with my actors. 

FCSFR:  How on earth did you manage to get that airplane for "Fish in the Sea"? So many short films or low budget films in general are extremely claustrophobic, but that shot really opened up the picture. 

RR:  "Fish in the Sea" was for the National Film Challenge and was a 72 hour film race. That being the case, I decided it would be best to procure a few location options; so when we received our genre and elements, we would have a few things to work with and not be totally scrambling at the last minute. I had actually been wanting to shoot an airplane scene on a project for awhile and thought this would be a great opportunity if it managed to fit within the story we would end up creating. I actually know several very talented pilots and approached a couple of them to see if they would even be available. Now you see, we needed two pilots and two planes in order to get all of the coverage we needed. Luckily two of my friends who work for American Airlines and own their own small planes were free, but on call for that weekend. I let our writer, Chris Olson, know right up front that it was at our disposal if he wanted to work it into the story. And luckily the main location we chose looked like an island…..so what better way to get there? Then came the day to actually shoot that scene and low and behold our pilots were called into work. I scrambled and made some phone calls and luckily two more talented pilots provided their services at the last minute. As always, we ran short on time but managed to get what we needed before the sun went down. I am always so grateful when other people go out of their way to help my vision come to life. It never ceases to amaze me what people offer up to help out a young group of filmmakers. I think they see how hard all of us work and how passionate we are in our crafts and do what they can to help pitch in. And I am forever thankful for all of the help we have received, as these films simply would not get made without it. 

FCSFR:  Both "Ostinato" and "Fish in the Sea" feature female protagonists who seem to be, at first, living some kind of idyllic existence which is then irrevocably shattered. Thematically they're similar, and also both feature some of the same talent in front of the camera. Was this an intentional connection, and would you consider reuniting with Sarah Adams and Chase Austin again for a third outing? 

RR:  I had actually gone through a string of films with male protagonists when "Ostinato" came around and I was anxious to bring in a wonderful leading lady. But as always with a 48 hour film race, I choose not to cast every part until we begin to hash out the story. Fortunately, we always get a pool of very talented actors who always seem to put their schedules on hold to see if we can fit them into the story. I know they are just as eager to compete and showcase their talents like the rest of us and that is exactly why I go after a group like that. The two genres we drew for those films were horror and thriller. And it just happened that through the process of pitching ideas and hashing scenarios out that they became similar thematically. They both share many of the same psychological thriller aspects and play on the psyche, as I was hoping to keep the audience on the edge of their seats for both films. I worked closely with my cinematographer Evan Burns to help bring those deep seeded feelings to life. We decided to use several steadicam shots in both films, as it provides a unique perspective to the audience. This technique allows the camera to really get up close and personal with the action and I love having Evan use the energy of the scene, mixed with cues from the actors to guide some of the movements. I feel it delivers a very realistic tone to the films which usually draws the audience further into the stories. As for the question of Sarah and Chase; yes, I definitely recognized a unique connection between these two actors on "Ostinato" and wanted to see how I could work with that aspect further in "Fish in the Sea". They have a great chemistry together and they both share that wonderful, natural screen presence. Of course, I would love to revisit working with those two again in the future. 

FCSFR:  Several of your films were produced for the 48 Hour Film Challenge, but you would never know it from the quality of the films themselves. What are some of the unique challenges of trying to rally a crew into producing something of merit in such a short time frame? 

RR:  Thanks, I appreciate that. That is the end goal of every race, to create a good film that doesn't have to rely on excuses from the hard challenges of doing everything in just 48 hours. There are so many tests in a 48 film race, which I think is what makes it so exciting. First of all, you have to be crazy. Second of all, you have to have a cast and crew just as crazy as you are. Luckily, we are all crazy. In our races, no one gets to sleep the first night, there is just too much to prep for. And once we wrap, if we managed to shoot it all that day, then everyone else gets to go get some rest other than the producers, AD, editors and myself. The rest of us have to pretty much go non stop the whole time. As for technical challenges, they are endless. You just have to learn how to roll with punches and just find solutions as you go. There is just something satisfying about laying it all on the line and seeing it come full circle in such a short amount of time. It is a drain on everyone and we are totally spent by the time it is over, but we create so many wonderful memories from those films. Like I said before, my cast and crew are troopers. They want it just as bad as I do and they sacrifice everything during those two days. But I will tell you this, not much brings a group together quite like a race. I am proud to say we go in as individuals but come out a family and that is the way I like it. 

FCSFR:  You've filmed a number of well made short films. Do you have any plans to tackle anything larger? What's your dream project? 

RR:  I love short films and have learned so much from the process. I will keep making them, but I do have plans to move onto something larger. My great friend and cinematographer Evan Burns and I are currently working on a feature length script that we hope to get into development in the near future. We are anxious to dive into a feature, as I believe it will really showcase what we are capable of. My dream project will probably keep changing to be honest. Right now the dream is to make my first feature film, but I am sure as soon as it is over I will be ready to hit the ground running to make another one. I feel that I will always try to better myself as a filmmaker, so I will always be looking ahead at ways to grow as an artist. 

FCSFR:  You made the decision to go for film, and you did it, and now you're making award winning short films and tons of appreciation. If you could go back, and tell that younger self one thing about the journey you've been on, what would it be? 

RR:  I have only been making films for a couple of years now, but I am not sure I would even tell my younger self anything. I believe I came into this industry at this point in my life for a reason and I love every second of it. I have an energy, a drive and a passion for film that I wouldn't trade for anything.

* * * * * *

Thank you so much to Ryan Robins for his amazing answers, and we hope we see many more great films from him and his crew soon!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hysterical Short Film "Chinese Hi-Five" a Great DVD Bonus!

"CHINESE HI-FIVE" (2014)
Length- 7:32
Company: Yellow Sun Films
Website: Starting from Scratch


"Chinese Hi-Five" is a simple boy meets girl story, but incorporates a clever, anti-"love at first sight" perspective.  James Huang wrote, directed and starred in this picture, taking on the role of Jake Lew, a young man living his life when suddenly a girl named Heidi (Jae W. Suh) quite forcibly inserts herself into his life.  At first, he's OK with this -- she's gorgeous, she's his age, and she's obviously looking for a boyfriend.  Things seem to be going along well, but then . . .

Well, I'll leave it to you to watch and see the hilarious results.

I'M NOT DESPERATE

Different forms work better for different mediums, and comedy naturally lends itself to the short film.  Good comedy does not outstay its welcome -- that's why a lot of times, you'll notice that the trailer of a feature length film is more funny than the film itself.

"Chinese Hi-Five" is a bonus short on the DVD of the feature length romantic comedy, Starting from Scratch.  A lot of times, the bonuses on DVD's (especially these days, after the overindulgent turn of the Millennium DVD releases) seem extra, unnecessary and barely good enough for a single viewing.

"Chinese Hi-Five", I am happy to report, is NOT one of those bonuses.



 
A BIG BANG

The strength of this picture is in the cast.  Huang and Suh play wonderfully off each other and really act like PEOPLE, not like actors woodenly reciting lines like so many other short films.  Suh in particular steals the show, playing her role to the hilt, delivering so many laugh out loud lines fast and furious. 

The production values are boosted thanks to primarily exterior locations.  It helps to open up the picture, make it seem more like lives on display and less like "We're trying to make a movie at Grandma's house". 

That being said, there's not a whole lot going on beneath the surface.  There's nothing to make you think about the picture beyond the comedy, which IS funny, very funny in fact, but once the running time finishes, that's IT.  Thematically the film is empty.

Some films, however, are not meant to be intellectual, or need to ask probing questions.  Huang knew exactly what he wanted out of his actors and out of the story, and he delivers on all fronts, creating a more than effective comedy that is worth watching and sharing on Facebook.

OVERALL SCORES

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  Huang's dialogue is spot on and felt realistic and not forced.  It is extremely one note though, with really one joke being extended for the entire run time.  Considering it's seven and a half minutes long, it works. 
Directing: 3 / 5.  Effective, and nothing on camera detracts from the viewing experience.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The transitions between scenes were done extremely well and each scene went as long as it was supposed to.  The movie never dragged.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  I don't remember anything special about the music, but I also don't remember thinking negatively about it.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Huang and Suh's performances MADE this film what it is.  Both deliver their lines well and have obvious chemistry.  I didn't give this a perfect score however, because some of Huang's facial expressions seemed too on the nose for me.  I'm picky, though.

Final Grade: 3.9 / 5.

Monday, February 3, 2014

State of the Blog 2014: New Content and New Look, Coming Soon!

It's hard to say what will catch on and what won't, particularly in the entertainment world.  We are all so smothered with content that it's easy to miss out on a lot of real quality stuff, yet somehow all of you have found this blog and checked out the reviews and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.  I thank all of you for making 2013, Forest City Short Film Review's birth year, a great success.

But that being said, 2013's behind us and we're now into our second month of 2014 already.

It's February already?  Man, how time flies.

My point is that I have to look to the future.  I have to plan bigger, bolder. The content has got to air with far more regularity than it has been, and you viewers have got to have plenty of exclusive stuff that will make you excited to come back again and again.

To that end, I'm proud to announce a few changes that will take place here on Forest City Short Film Review over the coming weeks.

(1) A more attractive, film related design that will enable viewers to engage in our exclusive content more immersively.
(2) More reviews, more frequently.  I'd like to see reviews released at least twice per week, which would effectively double the review content as it stands now.
(3) A "Best Of" year end special article.  This annual article will revisit the finest achievements in the short films reviewed in that year.
(4) An index page with reviews listed, perhaps by genre.  I haven't made up my mind yet.
(5) More exclusive content, including interviews with filmmakers and stars, as well as articles about short films and film in general. 
(6) Shorter, more concise reviews.  I'm thinking an average of 500 words per article.  That's the equivalent of two typed, double spaced pages for each film.  It's still more than your basic article, but it's not 1,500 words like I've been known to write.

And please, everyone who reads this blog, I would love to hear your thoughts on the reviews, the films themselves, or anything else you might want to share via comments.  The more feedback I get from all of you, the better and the more unique an experience I can provide for you here.

 My main goal is to provide short films a venue to be seen and to be considered seriously and critically.  These films are made today by the young filmmakers who will become the leaders of film tomorrow. 

Thank you all so much and I look forward to providing you with plenty of new content this year, and reviews of tons of great short films!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Gorgeous Production Values Buoy "Fish in the Sea" Among Thrillers

"FISH IN THE SEA"
Length - 8:16
Company: Ryan Robins
Website: Official

Created for the National Film Challenge 2013, "Fish in the Sea" is a deceptively simple story about a weekend getaway for cute couple Lawrence (played by a dashing Chase Austin) and Tiffany (Sarah Adams). 

And it would have been really, really nice, had it not been for the fact that "Fish in the Sea" is not a warm romantic drama.

Instead, they arrive at the isolated house that Lawrence is supposed to be examining for his real estate work and meet Duke (Dominic Cole), the caretaker of the property.  He's handicapped and spends his time painting model airplanes and collecting things that used to belong to other people.

Something is up, and Tiffany has a keen sense that this place is not as abandoned as Lawrence seems to think it is.

 

NOT WHAT THEY SEEM

Everything you see in this picture is not what it seems.  Literally everything.  Not the boyfriend, not Duke, not even the house.  "Fish in the Sea", the latest film from director Ryan Robins, who also made the stunning "Ostinato" (reviewed here by yours truly), is a film that will screw with your head.  I watched it a second time just to make sure of what I'd seen.

The acting in this film is amazing.  Both Austin and Adams are not only credible but charismatic and fun to watch.  They have good chemistry on screen, and it's not hard to believe that they are indeed a couple on a getaway.

Cole does a good job with what he's given, but essentially all he gets to do is limp around and look mournful.  Is there something he wants to say to Tiffany, something he holds back because Lawrence is nearby?

TENSION

OK, this is bugging me: what is Duke's relationship to Lawrence? 

As Duke's preoccupation with Tiffany grows and Lawrence treats him worse and worse, the film becomes more and more interesting.  There is an unvoiced racial aspect to this film, in which Duke, who is supposed to be subservient to Lawrence, proceeds to then defy him at every turn, albeit quietly. 

Intentional?  I have no idea, but it made for an intriguing underlying message as Lawrence and Tiffany's romance unravels, and also ramped up the tension as you legitimately wonder what's going to happen next.

The ending was abrupt and didn't quite pay off for me.  Why did the killer wait so long to have his or her move?  The victim was alone with him/her several times before hand, so why wait?  The nature of its surprise kind of cheapened the film in my opinion.  It felt more like a student film's ending, where the writer's not sure what to do so they just kill people off and call it a day. 

CONCLUSION

"Fish in the Sea" is a tense thriller with likeable and believable leads, great acting, and spectacular visuals and high production values -- we've got AIRPLANES in this picture, people.  Ryan Robins knows how to work his budget and come out on top.  I don't know how he managed this stuff, but it made his film seem all the more legitimate.

The ending sputtered for me, but overall the picture was quite impressive and a great example of low budget filmmaking done well.  It looks great, sounds great, it doesn't lag at all, and there are hints abound of deeper thematic meaning than what we typically see in the genre.

Check out "Fish in the Sea" on Ryan Robins' official website here!  When you're done, don't forget to check out my review of "Ostinato, his last film.

OVERALL SCORES

Writing: 3 / 5.  The film kept you interested, and the dialogue felt genuine throughout.  The ending slipped, and I wish we could have known more about Lawrence and Duke's relationship.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Ryan Robins puts on another great show, with gorgeous visuals and immaculate lighting.  On the not so great side, some of the scenes where Duke bumps into Tiffany felt a little forced, visually, and maybe even slightly cliche and reminiscent of slasher films. 
Editing: 5 / 5.  Every scene feels like it plays out exactly how long it should be, no one shot seems over long.  This film is trimmed down to the leanest and meanest it can possibly be.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5. Alex Thomas' score was solid and added to the suspense.  His melodies are almost playful.  I really enjoyed that.  All the sound is top notch and recorded at high quality.  It's a professional show from start to finish.  That being said, some of the outdoor scenes could've used more ambience. 
Acting: 4 / 5.  Austin and Adam put on great, charismatic performances, with Austin being slightly more of a stand out thanks to the aggression and intimidation he gets to throw in the mix toward the middle and end of the film.  Dominic Cole does his part as best as could be expected.  This is one of the best acted short films I have ever seen.

Final Grade: 4 / 5.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

War Comes Home in "Semper Fidelis" -- Spine Chillers Series


 "SEMPER FIDELIS"
Length - 13:46
Company: Tres Hombres
Website: Official

A family is gathered to remember Marine Davy when fellow service man Lance Corporal Kevin Dunlop comes to pay his respects.  But that's not all that's on Dunlap's mind this day . . .

THE QUEST


Spine Chillers is a series of short horror films produced by Tres Hombres.  Their previous efforts have been largely uneven, but one of the Hombres, Christopher Dinnan, wrote and directed my favorite of the series so far ("Frontier Style" -- check out the review here), so I was interested to see what was on hand for this latest episode.


THE WAR COMES HOME

"Semper Fidelis" is a thoughtful picture.  You can tell that from the opening shots.  The camera has a much more fluid feel to it this time around, doubly appreciated by this reviewer after the quite frankly dull "Are You On Your Way?"

The cast includes several Spine Chillers regulars, such as Carol Ilku (Aunt Irene), Paul Harris (Lt. Colonel Justin Ebright) and even Robert J. Gordinier (Uncle Terry) , who played the put upon pest control employee at the center of "Roadkill", the Paul Harris helmed second episode, which I also enjoyed.

In case you couldn't tell, there's a lot of people in this film.  At best, it would function as an ensemble piece, but with the short run time there's frankly not a whole lot for most of them to do but stand around and look sad.  Liz Ilku, who plays Grandma, does her best to deliver some wordy lines, and she looks the part, even appearing "out of it" since her character is suffering from dementia, but when she opens her mouth the lines don't pay off and instead distract the audience.

Steven Hailo does admirably as Corporal Kevin Dunlop.  He does a good job of masking his emotions, but still conveying just enough with his eyes to deliver the story.  I enjoyed the barely concealed rage that he exhibits for much of the second half of the picture.

IT'S NOT DELIVERY, IT'S . . .

The plot is too similar to the Spine Chillers' "surprise" ending of its first episode, "Sorry I Couldn't Make It", and poor Carol Ilku is once again given the unfortunate job of having to try to pull off the same type of reveal, which once again isn't properly foreshadowed to be believable.  You could argue that Dunlop's approach to the house, with its quirky jump cuts, is sort of hinting at this, but I didn't pick that up when I watched the film. 

For instance, why did Dunlop have to use the bathroom?  Why would he bother?  It's an unnecessary scene considering the finale.

And my final beef with this film: what was up with Adam Lopez, who played bad boyfriend Nick?  Talk about a character seriously out of place.  We never got to know Anne Marie (played by Jordan Burgess) well enough to say if she was similar, but with his tattooed tear drop and street clothes, and then freaking out over lost drug paraphenalia, JESUS CHRIST he stuck out. 

His character was extremely one note and cardboard.  It pretty much telegraphed his role in the film, which was stereotypical.  It is to Lopez's credit that this role comes off as well as it does.

CONCLUSION

It took serious guts to put this many amateur actors in a room together and try to pull out halfway decent performances.  Hailo did well, Burgess and Lopez did what they could with what they were given, but it's not enough to elevate this film.

It held my interest, and I wondered how far Dinnan would go with it.  It's an admirable theme he's presenting here, but its delivery fell short due to subpar acting.

Check out "Semper Fidelis" 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", "Frontier Style" and "Are You On Your Way?".

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  The finale sinks the story, but the first half is actually fairly gripping.  The drama between Nick and Dunlop is edgy at times.  The other characters are far too undeveloped for me to make any emotional connection with them.  On top of that, the story is about a man upholding a friend's last wish, but aside from Dunlop's short but inspired dialogue outside with Nick, it's never given any screen time whatsoever.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Dinnan was on the ball here, with good camera movement.  Somehow, he manages to keep an extremely domestic picture (confined to a house and its front lawn) visually interesting. 
Editing: 3 / 5.  Grandma's ranting should have been cut to be a minor part of the film.  Far too much screen time is spent hovering in the living room while she speaks.  Other than that, the film moves at a good click.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  I much enjoyed the new Spine Chillers introduction.  The music accompanies this much, much better.  Apart from that, nothing else stuck with me over the course of the film.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  Some of the acting was distractingly bad, but Hailo, Lopez and Burgess save the film.  Gordinier, who I liked in "Roadkill", is flat even though he almost conjures up some tears in his opening monologue. 

Final Grade: 2.8 / 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!