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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!





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!