Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ben Dawkins' "Dealer" a Flawed Slice of Gritty, Gritty Drug Life

"DEALER" (2014)
Genre: Crime Drama
Length- 11:48
Company: The Sweetshop
Website: Official

Curtis (Osi Okerafor) is a drug dealer.  He has a family too -- beautiful wife Jennifer (Jacqueline Alcarva) and toddler daughter Holly (Princess Dadson).  But Curtis is drawn to the streets despite its inherent dangers.

"Just come home," Jennifer begs him.

But how does a man raised on the street walk away from it? 

When is it too late?


"Dealer" is written and directed by Ben Dawkins courtesy of The Sweet Shop.  The production values are gorgeous -- we have what I suspect to be a helicopter shot at the end, beautiful footage of a storm breaking out and lightning arcing through clouds, and really stunning late night grungy city shots aplenty.

So why do I walk away feeling empty?

The film feels incredibly padded, for one -- far too much of the film is spent looking at Curtis as he drives around town with and without clients.  The music is played at maximum volume -- "Rival Dealer" by Burial, the song that inspired the film in the first place -- and it becomes irritating after the first few minutes as you try to pick out what individual people are saying.  With so many characters, most of whom remain nameless and pointless, it's easy to become confused.

Rather than "Dealer" being the "slice of life" style film that I believe it was trying to be, it just comes off as a series of random events, particularly the fight scene that breaks out briefly toward the end of the film. 

But if that wasn't bad enough, the last few seconds of the film were enough to make me yell at the screen.

So all in all, the trouble with "Dealer" is that nothing comes together, nothing makes sense -- yes, these sorts of things happen to drug dealers in real life, but the events on display have zero resonance because there's nothing going on in the writing.


Writing: 1 / 5.  One sequence did not lead into the next -- it all came off as random, and the conclusion felt tacked on as an excuse to stop shooting.
Directing: 3 / 5.  There were some genuinely nice moments in the film -- in particular that storm sequence was awe inspiring.  Dawkins also tried to make the shots of Curtis driving look interesting, but there's only so many angles to shoot the interior of a car.
Editing: 2 / 5.  Curtis' driving felt like it dragged on forever, with literally eight or nine cuts with different angles thrown in there.  Considering the fact that the film is only eleven minutes in length and STILL feels long, it really could've used some more trimming.  Without more story to give the images meaning, editor Paul Hardcastle was in between a rock and a hard place on this one.
Sound/Music:  2 / 5.  I didn't like the song -- it was painfully repetitive and, since it was so loud in the mix, it drowned out the action.  Maybe this was intentional, but in any case the entire sound design suffered because of it.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Alcarva does a good job with the three or four lines she's given, and Dadson is a toddler, so she stood around and looked adorable.  Okerafor did as best as he could with the role he was given -- he basically alternately looks stoic or about to explode.   He does both expressions well.

Final Grade:  2.2 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Dealer" and follow the creators on Facebook!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Sticky Hold Up Brings the Laughs in Short Film "Glazed & Confused"

Genre: Comedy
Length- 5:24
Company: N/A
Website: Facebook

It's another late night at the closed donut shop for Clark (Heston Horwin) when Neil (Jordan Mosley) bursts in with a gun and demands all the money in the cash register.

But things start to go south when Clark recognizes Neil from school, and has quite the unusual reaction . . .


"Glazed & Confused" is a student film out of Chapman University, but it doesn't feel like one.  From the smart direction and funny script to the hectic pacing of the editing -- all of which are handled by one man, Trevor Stevens -- it feels and is as entertaining as any comedy flick coming from a budget twenty times bigger.

The production values are top notch, and Stevens even manages to pull out a few different cool shots, all coming from the limited options available when filming at a donut shop.  I particularly liked the shot of Clark between lines of donuts.  Even though he's being held up, he still can't stop himself from looking at those delicious baked goods. 

Both Horwin and Mosley are credible in their roles, and neither one ever feels like they're reciting lines.  That being said, their roles were not written with depth, considering how short the film is, and as a result the range of emotions on display really were for the most part one note.

All in all, it's an enjoyable short, even though the payoff at the end doesn't live up to what preceded it in the film's short run time.


Writing: 3 / 5.  Stevens presents a situation that honestly COULD happen and twists it completely to the opposite of what we expect.  There wasn't a real ending, but even so, I appreciate the effort Stevens took to make this film what it is.
Directing: 3 / 5.  I actually enjoyed the frantic handheld directing, which is unusual for me.  I think it avoided some of the "seasickness" style of filmmaking that pervades many student films today by balancing the handheld with frequent steady wide shots.
Editing: 4 / 5.  This film moves so fast and the humor flies so furiously that you won't even feel the time pass by.  Nothing seemed over long, and each shot's transition ran seamlessly into the next.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  The sound was pretty standard -- it was all audible, but there wasn't anything particularly entertaining.  The only music was a tinny sounding old radio song.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Excellent performances by both actors.

Final Grade: 3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Glazed & Confused" on Vimeo and follow the film on Facebook!  You can also connect with writer/director/editor Trevor Stevens here! 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Taking a Hacksaw to Grandma: Dark Comedy & Plenty of Laughs in Award Winning "Grandma's Not a Toaster"

Genre: Dark Comedy
Length- 9:54
Company: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Production Company
Website: Facebook

Grandma (Eileen Lacy) is practically catatonic in her rocking chair, hooked up to a respiratorThat's bad enough.  But worse yet for Arnie, Susannah and Eddie (Academy Award winner Shawn Christensen, Mara Kassin, and Michael Drayer) -- she wrote them out of her will!

In most cases, writing family out of one's will would be a horrible, horrible thing to do. 

But when you meet these people, you just might reconsider.


This dark comedy has shown at numerous film festivals, including the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, and won Best Comedy Film at West Chester Film Festival 2014.  It comes from director Andrew Napier (Mad as Hell) and Christensen, the same team that brought Oscar Award winning short "Curfew" to audiences worldwide.

Understandably, there are some pretty big expectations on this short, but "Grandma's Not a Toaster" clearly has its own agenda and stands tall on its own two feet as a story of one bad grandma and the thieving grandchildren out to profit from her death.


As a dark comedy, "Grandma's Not a Toaster" features largely unlikeable characters doing despicable things with hilarious results.  Where this short film differs is its incredibly light and playful touch.

Napier utilizes a first person point of view style, telling short overlapping sections of the story.  The result gives the written material immediacy it wouldn't have had otherwise, but the problem is that we revisit, revisit, revisit -- experiencing dialogue we just saw literally seconds ago, but now from a different perspective.  This happens three times, and the repetition drags the pacing down a little and eats up an awfully large chunk of the film's brief running time.


But that's all visual -- where the film shines is in its acting and writing.  Christensen's script has witty dialogue aplenty and I found myself laughing throughout.  The production itself is also squeaky clean with solid sound design and appropriately amusing soundtrack reminiscent of goofball comedies and film noir pictures. 

The acting is also solid across the board.  Christensen, Kassin and Drayer all have great senses of comedic delivery and they milk their lines for all they're worth.  Lacey has no lines, but she performs well with what she's given.

All in all, "Grandma's Not a Toaster" is a laugh out loud dark comedy influenced by old time Hollywood.  I enjoyed watching, and Napier and Christensen obviously know how to cook up a good story and present it on the screen.  I might not have liked the POV, but it didn't ruin the film for me by any means.


Writing: 4 / 5.  Some of the dialogue was a little clunky, but overall Christensen's script was funny and witty.
Directing: 3 / 5.  I am not sure if the script was written with the POV approach, but I thought it was distracting switching perspectives four times over the course of the film.  Since it was all told from POV, there wasn't much opportunity for unique direction or shot composition from Napier. 
Editing: 3 / 5.  The editing worked, but having to watch the same events but from different perspectives made the pacing on this film lag.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  I enjoyed the unique soundtrack by Darren Morze.  The sound design was also top notch on this production.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Our three leads really pull this film together and make it what it is.  The script is funny, but their spot on delivery of the jokes makes everything ten times as funny. 

Final Grade: 3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Grandma's Not a Toaster" on Vimeo and follow the film's progress on Facebook!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Quadrophenia, Doctor Who & "Family Reunion" -- EXCLUSIVE Interview With Trevor Laird

Trevor Laird has been in films like the epic rock musical Quadrophenia, Babylon, and even had two different tenures on UK TV's Doctor Who.  Most recently, he appears in David Kitchen's short film, "Family Reunion" as the patriarch of a family about to implode due to ugly secrets. 

Laird was kind enough to respond to an e-mail interview recently and chatted about his early days and how he gets inside the headspace of each of the varied characters he has played in his career.

* * * * * *

FCSFR: You've appeared in so many films and TV shows over the past 35 years.  How did you get your start acting?  Who would you name as inspirations?

TREVOR LAIRD:  I went to the Anna Scher children's theatre as a teenager,a wonderful teacher who ran a workshop for kids.  Many actors, mostly working class, started there.

The one actor that inspired me as a kid was Marlon Brando.  I liked Bill Cosby in I Spy.

FCSFR:  You appeared as the drug dealer Ferdy in the 1979 The Who inspired film, Quadrophenia.  What was that like?  You must have been in your early twenties at the time -- was it intimidating walking on that set?

LAIRD: I was 20 years old, 21 towards the end of Quadrophenia.  My close friend Phil Daniels (also Anna Scher's) played the lead and there were other Anna Scher actors in the cast so it was like a big party with friends.  We were too young to be intimidated by anything.

FCSFR: Many would consider 1980's Babylon to be your first major role, and probably the first film to seriously address the radicalism and far reaching effects of reggae.  How did you come to be involved with Babylon?

LAIRD: During the making of Quadrophenia, I met Martin Stelman who had been hired to do additional dialogue.  He told me about another script he had.  After Quad had come out I was in the position to be part of starting a theatre company, "Black Theatre Co-Op".  We were doing a play when Martin came to see it [and] said they had the money for Babylon.  It's a film I really like.

FCSFR: Appearing in not one but two incarnations of science fantasy TV spectacular Doctor Who is no small feat, either.  How did you manage to get the more recent role of Clive Jones? 

LAIRD:  The casting director had cast me in something else and invited me in to meet for the new assistant's father in Doctor Who.  Clive Jones was supposed to be in just one episode but after [that] they decided to bring him back.

FCSFR:  How did you meet David Kitchen

LAIRD: I think Karen Bryson, who I've known since she was at school, suggested me for the role of her father.  Clint, who I also knew, thought it might be a good idea.  David, who knows my work, called my agent, sent me the script and I said I'd do it.

FCSFR:  You bring a lot of legitimacy to "Family Reunion" with your rock solid performance of the
father, who is blissfully ignorant of the trouble besetting his family.  How do you go about preparing for a performance?  Do you do character backgrounds or anything like that?

LAIRD:  I read the script twice, then the third time I read it very slowly, asking the question, "Why?"  At every point, I wonder why my character does or says something that makes me ask that question.  I then study or read anything that might help me answer the "Why"'s.  

A well written part has a kind of rhythm to it, I try to locate that.  This guy [the role of Dad in "Family Reunion"], I was lucky with also.  I've been wondering recently what it must be like: your kids are grown up, your partner gone, all your friends are going -- what have I got but my kids?  

We came a long way.  It must have been worth it.

* * * * * *

Thank you to Trevor Laird for taking the time to answer our questions!  

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!