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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Daddy's Little Girl: MUST SEE SHORT FILM "Everything Will Be Okay" Among Nine Films Shortlisted For the Oscars!

"EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 30:00
Company:  N/A

Lea (Julia Pointner) is an 8 year old girl leaving her mother (Marion Rottenhofer) to spend her weekend with her father, Michael Baumgartner (Simon Schwarz).  He takes her out to shop for toys -- any toys she wants -- and then it's on to an exciting afternoon at the fair.

But there's one stop Michael has to make before they can go, and it marks the beginning of a long evening for both father and daughter . . .

ACTING THE PART

"Everything Will Be Okay", or "Alles Wird Gut" by its original German title, is a successful short film by anyone's standards, winning awards all over the world.  Most impressively, it's Oscar Shortlisted along with nine other films.  The version I watched featured well translated English subtitles.

Short films are difficult beasts at times, particularly when you're dealing with what are often amateur actors.  While Schwarz is a seasoned German TV actor, Pointner makes her debut in this film -- a difficult thing for anyone, much less for an actress so young.  She is eight years old.  EIGHT.  And yet somehow she is perfectly credible in her role, even delivering a nuanced performance in which she always feels like she embodies her character, rather than simply a little girl attempting to act.  If her performance was not up to par, this film's emotional resonance would be completely hamstrung.

Pointner is obviously talented, but every single actor in this film delivers solid performances.  Schwarz shows incredible range throughout and his performance took me on a rollercoaster of emotions.  Rottenhofer hits all the right notes as Lea's mother.  All the small characters that pop up along the way -- the police officers (Georg Blume and Christina Scherrer) and the passport agent (Gisela Salcher) in particular -- are also well acted.  It is simply not possible for this film to be better acted.

FEEDING THE CAMERA

The film is written and directed by Patrick Vollrath, and he along with colorist Matthias Tomasi and the rest of his editing team have delivered cityscapes and ordinariness elevated through innovative camera work.

An example: we begin the film with what are, in other circumstances, happy go lucky father/daughter moments.  Everything seems normal, but Vollrath's camerawork floats around like a disembodied spirit, weaving languidly, cutting like the blink of an eye.  The result is an emotional disonnect that occurs in our brains as viewers, and we can just tell something's off, something's not right.

See, Vollrath knows the secret cinematic language of the great suspense filmmakers before him: he understands how to communicate unease visually, and he does it throughout the film, without using any words.

LOVE IS CONTROL

So the acting is pitch perfect and the directing is brilliant, but what really gets me about this film is the writing.

What we have here is a meditation on love -- and not silly, cheesy The Wedding Singer love.  We're talking about familial love, and the need to approve of and to have approval from your children.  Without spoiling anything, essentially both the mother and the father want to be good parents, and how can you tell you're a good parent?  You can tell yourself you are, but what happens when circumstances get in the way of being the person you wish you were?

What happens when the only way to be a good parent, in your opinion, is to be what is, to other people, a bad parent?  At that point, aren't the words good and bad outdated?

Haven't they always been?

CONCLUSION

It's huge, HUGE and quite frankly timeless questions like these that make me declare "Everything Will Be Okay" as not only a fantastic short film, but a genuine piece of filmic art.

"Everything Will Be Okay" is our fourth official Forest City Short Film Review's MUST SEE SHORT FILM of 2015. While it's playing film festivals (and potentially the Academy Awards!) at the moment, I'll post a link here when it's live on the Internet!

DO NOT miss it!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4.5 / 5.  Considering how long this film is, it's a tribute to Vollrath's writing skills that I never felt bored.  He manages to find the suspense in drama and prolongs it through the film until it's unbearable when it all comes to a head at the climax.  The actual ending was a bit sudden, but I understand why they chose to do it that way, but after a thirty minute watch, I felt like we could have had a bit more "epilogue", so to speak.
Directing: 5 / 5.  Vollrath's direction is spot on, and I'm sure that it's to his credit that his actors' performances are as spotless as they are.  Add to that his interesting visual choices and innovative camera-movement-as-dramatic-device and this is about as definitive a directorial statement as it could possibly be.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The film looks fantastic and has a decent rhythm to it, but it is awfully long at thirty minutes.  I can't help but feel like there could have been some trimming done to cut down on some of the down time our characters experience.  
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Nora Czamler handled the sound design on this film, and it does the job just fine.  All the dialogue is professionally mixed and perfectly audible and crisp.  The soundtrack worked, but nothing jumped out at me.
Acting: 5 / 5.  A drama lives and dies by the strength of its actors, and "Everything Will Be Okay" soars as one of the best acted short films I've ever seen.  There's not a bad thespian in the bunch here, but the standouts are unquestionable Pointner and Schwarz.

Final Grade: 4.5 / 5.

Visit the official website for "Everything Will Be Okay" to stay up to date on the film's progress and DO NOT MISS IT when it's finally released online or on DVD!

Check out our MUST SEE SHORT FILMS page to see the other films which have qualified!

"Everything Will Be Okay" is Oscar Shortlisted along with nine other films!  They include:

  • Ave Maria,” Basil Khalil, director, and Eric Dupont, producer (Incognito Films)
  • Bad Hunter,” Sahim Omar Kalifa, director, and Dries Phlypo, producer (A Private View)
  • Bis Gleich (Till Then),” Philippe Brenninkmeyer, producer, and Tara Lynn Orr, writer (avenueROAD Films)
  • Contrapelo (Against the Grain),” Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, director, and Pin-Chun Liu, producer (Ochenta y Cinco Films)
  • Day One,” Henry Hughes, director (American Film Institute)
  • Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut),” Patrick Vollrath, director (Filmakademie Wien)
  • The Free Man (Zi You Ren),” Quah Boon-Lip, director (Taipei National University of the Arts)
  • Shok,” Jamie Donoughue, director (Eagle Eye Films)
  • Stutterer,” Benjamin Cleary, director (Bare Golly Films)
  • Winter Light,” Julian Higgins, director, and Josh Pence, producer (Innerlight Films and Prelude Pictures)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

To Kill Or Not To Kill: Lofty "Memories Of A Hitman" Attempts To Find A New Mark

"MEMORIES OF A HITMAN" (2015)
Genre: Thriller
Length- 13:00
Company:  Western Spaghetti's

A hitman (Jonathan Lambrechts) reminisces on the day when everything went wrong . . . and it all started with the night when his daughter (Lena de Reydt) was killed.

A BIT OF A MIX UP

"Memories of a Hitman" is written, directed and edited by Sebastian Vuye.  It's beautifully shot, with nice visuals and an opening that brought me back to Ridley Scott's Gladiator.  And on that note, the film quality is high enough and the color correction is done so cinematically that you could play this next to most big budget films and you'd not notice much of a difference.

Where the film falters is in its writing.  First of all, it's unclear whether the hitman was always in this profession, or whether he chose to enter this line of work because of his family's death.  Either way, it takes away from our sympathy for his character.  Yes, he lost his family, and that's sad -- but he's also taken away many lives, no questions asked, and those people also had families.

This leads me to the big problem with the story: it is because of all of the above that the "reveal" late in the story comes off as a "DUH!" instead of a "Eureka!" like it's supposed to, and as a result there's no emotional impact to it.  Without that 180 degree turn in the hitman's psyche also taking place in our minds as well, the finale completely loses any resonance.  It becomes just a convenient ending to the story, and I can tell that Vuye intended much more than that.

FINAL THOUGHTS

And let's face it: the whole "hitman redemption" story has been done to death.  This is a cliched concept from the get go, but Vuye is attempting to spin it in a new direction.  There's something to be said for a filmmaker taking risks to try and tell a story from a new perspective.  I respect that, and can tolerate a few missteps in that direction far more easily than someone making the same tired garbage we've already seen a million times.

With a better script, the next time Vuye and company will really hit it out of the park.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1.5 / 5.  The entire story hinges on the resonance of that reveal, and it just can't follow through with the logic error I mentioned earlier.
Directing: 3 / 5.  By and large a well directed movie.  The shootout was a bit of a headscratcher though -- while interesting and stylized, it stuck out in an otherwise slow and thoughtful film and felt entirely unclimactic.  
Editing: 3 / 5.  Nicely cut together and the film felt about as long as it needed to be.  Some odd errors appeared in the subtitled dialogue: lines appeared toward the beginning that were not voice acted.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  Moody and ambient, but altogether too constant.  The soundtrack was so one note that it became boring after a while.  The sound design as a whole was effective.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Seth Hunter Perkins provided the voice-over acting, and he sounds perfect for this role.    His delivery was monotone and deliberate, but I suspect this was as much a directorial as an actor's choice.  Lambrechts looked suitably morose in his role.

Final Grade: 2.6 / 5.

Don't forget to check out the teaser to "Memories of a Hitman" and follow the creators on Facebook to learn more about its release date!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Anxiety and Bulimia Plus College = "Never Been Sicker", A Thinker's Short Dramedy

"NEVER BEEN SICKER" (2015)
Genre: Dramedy
Length- 14:59
Company:  Collusive Dreamer Films

Zoey (Morgan Vasquez) suffers from a phobia of vomiting -- an unfortunate condition considering she's a college student tolerating the indignities of dorm room life.  To make matters worse, her new roommate, Ellie (Paige Sciarrillo), is bulimic.

Talk about a nightmare scenario, right?  Well, Zoey's a smart girl, and she figures out there's one way to solve the problem once and for all: get Ellie kicked out of the dorm as fast as humanly possible.

SLIGHTLY ASKEW

"Never Been Sicker" is unique in a few different ways.  First of all, writer/director Claire Fishman's script is direct and suitably off kilter.  It's about bulimia and severe anxiety -- both topics which we don't see dealt with on the screen very often.  In addition, it attempts to treat gross out scenes with a light comedy touch.

Visually, Fishman has a good sense of camera movement and thanks no doubt in no small part to colorist Monika Kolodziej, the film has a vibrant, cinematic look.  There's a definite rhythm the film attempts to establish, but with the exception of the beginning and the ending, the film's never funny or emotionally affecting enough to quite hit the beats.

FEELING BETTER

All very unique, but does it pay off?  Well, that's going to depend on the individual viewer, I suspect.  For my own part, there's an awful lot of vomiting going on in this short film.  While we don't see it directly, we hear it.  It's not particularly riveting to see heads bobbing over toilets, but hearing the resulting product is stomach churning.

There's intelligence to this film that keeps it afloat, though.  I particularly liked the irony of the finale (to say more would be a spoiler, but you'll understand when you see it).  That's just good writing, right there.  

"Never Been Sicker" has a lot of potential, and it measures up in some ways and falls short in others.  One thing is for sure, though: Fishman and her company are all talented filmmakers and I eagerly look forward to what they have in store for us next.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  Original, with an ironic conclusion that brings everything full circle.  My only complaints are that the film did drag a little in the middle and that the jokes felt like they should have been more funny.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Fishman clearly knows what she's doing behind the camera.  I particularly enjoyed the shots employed during the party scene.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Fishman also edited the film, which afforded her extra room to convey emotional content.  This was notable in the aforementioned party scene, during Zoey's calm-to-panic rollercoaster ride, which was shot perfectly.  Apart from that, it's a serviceable job.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  I much enjoyed the alt-tinged pop soundtrack.  It felt quirky and fun -- perfect for the tone "Never Been Sicker" was going for.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Good acting from both leads.  Jimmy Hooper, who played Zoey's ex-boyfriend Dylan, felt on and off though.

Final Grade:  3.3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out the trailer for "Never Been Sicker" below and follow the creators on Facebook!




Friday, November 13, 2015

On a Date With Asperger's in Jonathan Carlander's "The Pleasing List" Short Drama Film

"THE PLEASING LIST" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 9:04
Company:  Carlander Films

Chris (Ken Ashton) has a first date with Sarita (Jessie Owen) -- a nervewracking experience for anyone -- but for him, it's even more anxiety inducing because he lives with Asperger's Syndrome.

It might be a bit cart before the horse to ask if he'll get the girl because between social and emotional factors, he's got a lot of challenges to overcome.  Perhaps it's more apt to ask if he'll make it to the date to begin with . . .

ONE MAGICAL NIGHT

Writer/director Jonathan Carlander brings us "The Pleasing List", a short drama film that deals with loneliness, understanding and Asperger's.  It's an interesting idea, and the script addresses it with some thought, but it never quite comes together.

There's not a lot going on beyond the date, story-wise, so I have to keep quiet for the most part here, so I'll go straight to the technical side of things.

His visual style keeps the story moving and the film is easy on the eyes.  The actors do well.  it's all edited down to a very manageable seven minutes of actual film and a couple minutes of credits, and nothing feels excessive.

It's competently made, in other words.  It's a good film at heart, the finale just feels a little too . . . easy.  I can't say more than that without spoiling anything.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  I like the idea of the film, I enjoyed where it was going, but the finale just didn't pay off for me.
Directing: 3  / 5.  Carlander has a simple, sober directing style and it works here.  There's no need to rush the visuals in a drama.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Carlander also edited the film, and the picture's pacing is ideal.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Steven Vernon handled the music.  The sound was audible and recorded well enough.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Ashton and Owen did the best here, but Marcus Bradford and Jeremy Lasman were also credible in their roles.  Good work.

Final Grade: 3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "The Pleasing List" and follow writer/director Jonathan Carlander on Facebook!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Is There Life After Dreams? Matthew P. Rojas Examines In "The Amputation"

"THE AMPUTATION" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 8:46
Company:  Silent Stone Films

Jack "The Dodger" Duddy (Nathan Marlow) was an up and coming boxer with the championship in his sights, and nobody could stop him from reaching his goal.  He was a man possessed, in other words -- a powerhouse.  Boxing wasn't just a sport to him.  It was life.  More than life, even.

But just before he can see those dreams realized, something happens -- something that forces him to re-evaluate not only what his physical body means, but what he means, and who he is as a man.

Is anything left after dreams?

THE DARK SIDE

Writer/director Matthew P. Rojas wowed me last year with his short thriller "In This Myth of Vengeance" (which also featured Marlow).  He's a young filmmaker, to be sure, but he's wrapping thrills and thought together with a certain understated spiritual undertone that I haven't seen before in short film -- and that's exciting.

So when I heard he had a new project under way, I was excited to see what he'd come up with, to say the least.  Well, I was not expecting this -- "The Amputation" is part one of a longer work aptly titled "Steams in the Wasteland", a stream of consciousness style meditation on man, happiness, and the swampy land where most of us get stuck in the pursuit of our dreams.   But to say I wasn't expecting it is a positive thing.  Once again, Rojas has surprised me, and done so with reckless abandon, and I love him for it.

A TEAM EFFORT

This film also has another interesting point for it: there are a pair of guest directors on hand: Rob Martinez worked on the news segment of the film, and part two of "Streams in the Wasteland" will be handled in part by Jonathan Mendoza, so it's a collaborative effort.  Even so, the segments flow extremely well and I would not have guessed there were multiple hands in the pie had the credits not told me so.

"The Amputation" is made up of dark, moody vignettes peppered with documentary style interview footage of Jack.  Rojas' directorial style is evident here, with a really awesome over-the-shoulder angle of Jack talking to the camera, but almost doing so off camera.

AS WRITTEN

The dialogue is realistic and well written, and Marlow's delivery is on the ball every single time.  His acting is nothing short of brilliant, and heartbreaking at just the right moments.  The script conveys a sense of weightlessness: one moment, we're seeing footage on a lonely television set in a black abyss.  In the next, we're watching Jack in his prime.  In the next, he's wheeling himself through memory after memory of days gone by, or are they actually the present after all?

A few complaints: first of all, nothing's resolved and no final conclusion is made.  Perhaps more will be made apparent of Jack's story in part two?  Considering how intriguing the rest of the film is, I felt like all these pieces of Jack's psyche were going to be brought together somehow into one cohesive, "Eureka!" moment, but that didn't happen.  Also, Afomia Hailemeskel's performance is scattershot.  Sometimes, she hits just the right notes for being a reporter, and at other times she feels forced.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The script is dark and interesting, but doesn't feel complete as it is.  I review short films on their own merits, so maybe this is me missing the point of a larger picture, but I had to knock it down a point for not concluding in a satisfying way.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Many of the shots of the film were memorable, but I much enjoyed the TV  shots and the interview footage.  
Editing: 4 / 5.  Rojas also edited the film, and the cutting style is sharp and off putting -- intentionally so.  It works extremely well to create great tension throughout.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  An emotional soundtrack and solid sound design, but I'd expect nothing less considering Rojas' previous effort, "In This Myth of Vengeance".  We've got music from Luke Atencio, Sugar + The Hi-Lows, and classical from Antonin Dvorak -- all properly licensed.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Marlow puts on a great show as Jack "The Dodger" Duddy.  Hailemeskel is a mixed bag when it comes to playing the news reporter.

Final Grade: 3.7 / 5.

Don't forget to check out Matthew P. Rojas on Facebook and visit his official website right here to keep up to date on when "The Amputation" will be coming to a screen near you!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sean Meehan's Comedy Short Invites You For a Workplace Romance . . . "Over Coffee"

"OVER COFFEE" (2011)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Length- 15:25
Company:  A Studio in Production & Two-Five Films

So good guy Andrew (Erik Potempa) has a crush on super hot secretary Carla (Jocelyn DeBoer), but her mean boss (Timothy J. Cox) makes outrageous demands on a minute to minute basis and has a way of sapping every human moment from their would-be relationship.

Add into the mix Andrew's well meaning but ultimately sex obsessed friend David (Michael Oberholtzer) and you've got a stew that . . . well, you probably shouldn't taste it, because it might be poison.  But, poison as it might be, it's his poison -- er, life, so he's got to make due with what he's got.

And when Carla needs to get her mean boss a coffee at the last minute, and Andrew has a moment to spare, he leaps to her rescue.

How does it turn out for the poor guy?  Well, I'll leave that to you to find out.

COMEDIC TIMING

Sean Meehan wrote and directed "Over Coffee", and you might recognize his name because we've reviewed his award winning ghost comedy "Mallas, MA" right here back in May.  That film also starred Cox in a lead role.  "Over Coffee" is an earlier effort -- this one's back from 2011, and it definitely shows.

While Meehan's got some good pacing and maintains a certain comedic rhythm to the shots and the cutting (for which he's also credited, along with Matt Schwarz), the results, to the extremely low key writing, just aren't funny.  A little bit of the coffee shenanigans toward the end made me chuckle, but too much of the rest of the film didn't do it for me.  I wouldn't go so far as to say it was boring, as the film is competently made and it makes you wonder what's going to happen, but it's not compelling enough for me to label the film as a dramedy, and not funny enough to say it's a successful comedy.

The acting is the strongest feature of this film.  Every actor on display in this film does well with what they are given.  Potempa, DeBoer, Oberholtzer and the always reliable Cox are all worthy of praise, and I much enjoyed the ending, which was cute and felt right on the money for the tone of the picture.

"Over Coffee" delivers a well acted but flawed short film that, due to its lack of laughs feels way too long.  But if you stick it out to the end, the finale makes up for the bumpy road getting there.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1.5 / 5.  The characters are all a bit too cliche, and the script as a whole just isn't funny enough to keep my attention like Meehan's other work.  
Directing: 2 / 5.  Effective camera movement.  A competent show from Meehan.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  The editing kept the story moving as best as it could, but it would have benefited from punchier jokes.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  The sound design wasn't perfect, with the levels not 100% even from cut to cut, but it's still done well.  The music felt too on the nose, with some original tunes from Erik Campo and others from Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Really impressive work from everyone on display, and I hope to see a whole lot more from all of them.  

Final Grade: 2.4  / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Over Coffee" and follow writer/director Sean Meehan on Facebook!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Let's Just Make It Happen: An Exclusive Interview With Filmmaker & Actress Valentina Isis ("Fear Thy Neighbor")

"For some, 2012 was the end of the world," Columbian born actress Valentina Isis says.  "For me, it was the beginning of my metamorphosis."

She's an award winning filmmaker and she's only 25.  Her films are forged in hard work and integrity, and while she's college educated, she's a permanent student of Do It Yourself Academy.

Working everything from music videos to commercials to highly personal films laced with mysticism, she's every bit as mysterious as her latest film, "Fear Thy Neighbor", which she released with writer/director Josh Goodman this year under her own Quixotica Films banner.

"I want to be genuine and authentic to my word," she says.  "Sometimes being picky is good."

Valentina was kind enough to sit down and discuss "Fear Thy Neighbor" and so much more a few months ago, and there's no better time than now that this film is hitting the festival circuit to share it with all of you.  Enjoy!

* * * * * *

FCSFR: Talk to me about Quixotica Films and how it began.

VALENTINA ISIS:  I met Christopher during college when I was working as a nude model for artists at his animation school.  Once I graduated, I tried the actor life for some time.  I got a restaurant job, once in a while got some castings where they type-cast you while under an agent that knows a quarter of your talents -- you know, the usual.  I bought equipment and left to Colombia to film, grow, and sink my roots deeper into the earth.

Columbia has a very big diversity in their ecosystem, so there's a lot more to see and it's so fruitful and full of life, but here (in Florida) it's a lot more organized and it's a lot more calmer.  You can actually progress . . . unfortunately my country has a lot of growing up to do, I guess.

FCSFR: I've done very little traveling, but I've been to a few different states.

VI: Oh you should totally go and travel internationally.  It really does expand your world.  I did it almost purposefully, to sort of wake myself up.  I'd been so sheltered here for so long, I wanted to feel a little bit of hardship.  I isolated myself and stayed in a farm, just in nature, creating, that's when I did my first short film.  It was a great experience.  But then after a year, I was like, "OK, I'm a citizen of the United States.  I don't have to be here."  (laughs)

FCSFR: The film you're talking about though, that's the twenty minute --

VI: The twenty seven minute short film, my first -- that was so -- I don't know what I was thinking.  (laughs) I went crazy.  I did this sci-fi, this girl, she's like a humanoid that comes from another planet to this new Earth, and there's no population and she has to be the one who brings the population into the world.  So she's been traveling through outer space for a very long time, and the male entity that was waiting there for her, he has tried to find ways to find technology to keep him alive to wait for her to get there, because it's light years away.  So when she finally gets there, he's just a floating head.  (laughs)

FCSFR: And this is "Kisanti No. 11", right?

VI: Right.  I did the script, I produced it, I directed, I acted, I did the art direction, all the costumes were hand made, practically, by me and the other partner I was doing it with.  He was the one who was doing the camera and music -- the sound of the movie.  I did the editing.  It took pretty much the entire year I was there, because I was tackling something I wasn't even trained for, to tell you the truth.  I'd studied acting, and touched and dabbled in film, but it was a big, ambitious project for me, for sure.

FCSFR: This was a great way for you to learn the ropes, too.  Sort of a trial by fire.

VI: Exactly, yeah.  And the person I was doing the film with, his name was Harry.  He'd worked with a huge TV network in Columbia for ten years.  He practically coached me, he pretty much said, 'Let's do this, just the two of us'.  And I just watched and learned.

FCSFR: And that was your first Quixotica film, right?

VI: Yes, that was the first thing that I did.  And then I started expanding.  After a year and five more productions under my belt I felt ready come back home and that's when I got in contact with Christopher again.  He told me about the Action Film Festival and that's when I met Josh [Goodman, director].  We finished with four nominations and an award for best actress at the Action Film Festival.

FCFSR: How much input did you have on the script to "Fear Thy Neighbor"?  Josh mentioned that you helped him with it.

VI: During the developing process of the script, I helped mainly with the characterization.  I wanted the characters to feel real even if they’re crazy.  I also helped in the order of the sequence of events of the story to create a good emotional arc in the story.

FCSFR: What attracted you to Josh's script?  What makes you interested in reading a script to begin with?

VI: Well, to tell you the truth, I never read the script before I decided to do it.  We had just finished doing the Action Film Festival and I didn’t want to lose the momentum and the creative flow in the group, so I asked who had a script.  Josh mentioned a script that he wrote in high school.  I felt it was the perfect moment to finish what he started -- with a little help from his friends.  Josh pitched the story and we polished it and made it happen.  I always love when everyone in the crew has its time to shine and this was Josh’s time.

FCSFR: Your character, who doesn't even get a name in the finished film, is a really complicated woman, and your performance matches her note for note.  Tell me about what you did to get ready to play this role.  Did you find it challenging to get into her headspace?

VI: I was very excited to play this role since my favorite roles are strong, taboo breaking, complex women with a little bit of sexiness and mysticism.  I worked with a psychologist to understand her behaviors, motives, dreams, fears and perception.

My process consists of highly analytical research.  I call it "creating the mind of the character": his perception, intelligence and sense of logic.  After I take all this information in, I throw it into the fires of creativity which can only be accessed by movement, improvisation,  imagination, visualization, speech and recreating the environment of the character.  This step is called “the will within.”  The heart of the character comes when the will and mind are united.  Last but not least, the spirit comes from constructing an astrological natal chart for the character.  The challenge that this role brought sparked my curiosity for her until I learned to sympathize and love her.

FCSFR: Do you see yourself as an actress primarily or do you see yourself equally as important behind the camera?  What interests you about both areas of filmmaking?

VI: I see myself primarily as an actor, but I do feel equally as important behind the camera.

FCSFR: "Fear Thy Neighbor" is a pretty challenging role, and a fairly dark film as a whole.  Is there anywhere you wouldn't want to go thematically?  Can a film be too bleak, or too dark, for your tastes?

VI: The only genres I wouldn’t do would be gore, snuff and pornography.  I feel that sometimes those films can spread more pain than love.  Now, don’t get me wrong -- I love risky, taboo breaking, fearless, limit pushing characters.  As long as the script brings a transformation from the suffering and a rebirth of a new self within the character, I will participate in the film no matter how far the character goes.  Films that use pain just for the sake of shocking their audience is not my cup of tea.

FCSFR: What excites you as a filmmaker?  Are you particular to a certain genre or do you want to pursue a wide range of cinematic endeavors?

VI: What excites me as a filmmaker is the power to become a catalyst in humanity’s evolution.  A movie exposes a wide range of emotions, thoughts, and experiences.  It transcends time, race, language, worlds and even galaxies.  Imagination has no limits.  I will pursue a wide range of cinematic endeavors throughout my career.  As an artist, your education never ends and every creative opportunity, no matter how foreign it might be to your present self, is a perfect time to expand your horizon to unknown territories where you can face all your demons.  I thrive in being comfortable with the uncomfortable.

FCSFR: What's next for Quixotica Films?  

VI: Right now, I have a lot of things this year I haven't actually released.  Like I have four things that are in post-production right now so I haven't released those yet.  But every year you get better, and you expand a little bit more, and I guess it's just a matter of getting a lot of experience and doing it constantly.

FCSFR: Speaking of which, one of the big things I've noticed is you've been so prolific in such a short time.  You've mentioned the four productions, and you have so many more coming.  So maybe you could talk a little bit about the bane of all filmmakers, money -- how you manage to make that work.  And I'd love to see the rest of your work -- I loved "Fear Thy Neighbor", I thought it was amazing, but I'm assuming that the rest of your work is of similar production value.  How are you managing to produce such high quality stuff on the cheap, and so many?

VI: I mean, you know, I feel like when I started doing filmmaking and dabbling in all the little aspects, I love doing it all.  I'm a very versatile girl, a Jack of All Trades.  If you have all these traits, the more work you get.  So I started doing all these things, and I realized what was my biggest talent was bringing people together.  And that's my biggest quality that I have so . . .

I saved money and bought some equipment for myself.  And I realized it's not about doing it by yourself, it's about exercising your muscles of leadership because in filmmaking, you're managing huge amounts of people sometimes, and it's a very social oriented job.

So I started focusing more on trying to bring people together who love what they do and who are good at what they do and are willing to go the extra mile who, even if we have nothing in our pockets, you know, it's like we have our equipment, we have our minds and our talents and the resources around us -- let's just make it happen.  I've always sort of been that way, and the people I work with, I motivate them to be like that.  We don't need anything.

I have a [Canon] 5D Mark III, and most of the work I've produced has been with that camera, and the high quality work, I guess that comes more with the post-production, you know, playing with the color correction.

I also work as an actor in high productions, commercials and things like that, and one thing I see is when you get into those high budget productions, there's a little thing that gets lost along the way which is you're not making it your own, sometimes.  You're just making a commercial about a beer.  It's irrelevant to the things you actually believe in, or the things that come creatively inside of you.

That's been the quality that makes my work special.  I bring in people who are totally willing to be inspired, and they're always there to do it.  "Fear Thy Neighbor" came from doing a action film festival, before that.  I already felt the energy going with them, and I didn't want it to dissipate.  I already wanted to jump into something else.  That's when Josh [Goodman] said he had a script from high school, and I said, "OK, let's do it."  And just keep going.

FCSFR: So let's say that I bring you a script.  You read the script, and there's some demanding stuff in there, production wise.  Does that intimidate you, or would you start looking for ways to make it work anyway?

VI: I'm a very warrior like person when it comes to anything creative.  I tackle that head on.  I tackle it, and I try really hard to make it work even if we don't have the money, or find someone who has the thing that we need.  A lot of resources are there for us to use.  If I'm touched by a story and I feel like the world needs to be touched by it as well, I will try my best to bring it out.

You feel like when you have more money you can make it more legit and more awesome, but I feel like if you're putting love into it, everything you're putting into it you're doing with love and intention, it shines through the film.

FCSFR: In "Fear Thy Neighbor", Josh had sent me some information on the synopsis of the story, I had no expectations on the film itself, but I sat and watched it and I assumed the story was going one direction and they just went a completely different way.  I don't want to spoil too much, but when you're playing a role like this one, it's got to be fun to just play with audience's preconceptions.

VI: Well, I guess to tell you the truth when I tackle a character I try to just really go into its world and not so much . . . I see how audiences would feel that way, but when I was doing my character, I was just going at it like what is her world?  How will she act, how will she be?  I don't feel like I was trying to deceive the audience, I never really felt like, "Oh, look, now the audience will be surprised".

FCSFR: When you were actually performing, how much faith did you have in your performance and the direction?  With that final shot, I loved what you did, in the final shot where you just whispered the final lines and the angle that Josh hit, it was just brilliant.  When you're actually in a shoot like that, how convinced are you that you nailed it?

VI: I guess the only time you feel like you nailed it is if you feel good.  You prepare, and you do your best, but at the end of the day you're just trying to have fun.  You're playing.  Actors used to be called players, they're the ones who play the situation, and it only feels right when you feel like you're channeling something, when it takes you over.  It feels like an entity possesses me, or a complex part of myself -- I get into that creative part of myself and if it feels nice and it feels good, then I know I'm doing it right.

Because every time you get on stage, there is something vulnerable about that situation, but the audience wants you to do good.  They don't want you to do a bad job.  But if I'm enjoying it, and loving what I'm doing, I'm uninhibited.  I'm soaking into it, I love being intimate, that's when you know you nailed it.  Josh, he has full trust on me when it comes to the acting.  I went to school for acting, Josh went to school for film and he's great on the technical side.  He sees it, he likes it and he knows it's going well.

FCSFR: And finally, our final question: if you could rewind to before you began Quixotica Films and give that younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

VI: Love yourself, value your work, enjoy every present moment of the journey to your dreams and when you live by your authentic soul signature only then you will make all your dreams come true.

* * * * * * 

Much thanks go out to Valentina for her time and extremely thoughtful answers to my questions.  It's amazing how fast an hour can fly by!

If you haven't had the chance, check out my review of "Fear Thy Neighbor" here and read the exclusive interview with writer/director Josh Goodman by clicking here!  And do NOT forget to "like" the film on Facebook, because it's one you don't want to miss -- I even declared it an HONORABLE MENTION of Forest City Short Film Review's Must See Short Films of 2015!  

Check out the trailer below!



Friday, October 2, 2015

"Angelo's Mom: The Movie" Puts A Microscope On YouTube Laughs

"ANGELO'S MOM: THE MOVIE" (2015)
Genre: Documentary (Comedic)
Length- 26:51
Company:  N/A

Angelo Mike (played by himself) lives with his mother and creates humorous YouTube videos about their everyday lives.  He works as a security guard, and she does silly things and says silly things and does her best to avoid working out like she's supposed to.  He tries to help her keep an eye on her health.

It doesn't sound particularly funny, and yet the chemistry between the two just works.  "Angelo's Mom: The Movie" is a documentary about Angelo and its namesake, but it's also a documentary about reality TV and why we watch what we watch.

HOW DOES THIS WORK?

"Angelo's Mom: The Movie" is strangely fascinating: on the surface, it's like a million other YouTube videos: a guy does silly stuff, gently mocking his sweetly perplexed mother all the while.  It's laugh out loud funny, and yet his compassion for his mother is obvious, even when our voyeurism borders on the mean spirited.

And on that note: "Angelo's Mom: The Movie" is a more than enjoyable documentary / comedy because it is padded with self aware commentary.  In one particularly memorable scene in which Angelo's mockery has gone a few steps too far for her tolerance, his mother asks, "Why are you doing this?"  Angelo keeps rolling with his camera, but he considers her question.  He finally shrugs, and says, "It's hypnotizing."

The thing is, he's right.  It really is.  Both Angelo and his mother are likeable and easy to watch and root for.  

And yet there are no credits -- none in the beginning, none at the end.  I know it was edited by Jackie Calzada -- I'm assuming that job was simply cutting the footage together, because the film looks raw by even short film standards.

If you can ignore that, you'll find an interesting and yes, very funny short film to enjoy.

OVERALL SCORES:

* Documentaries -- in particular "reality TV"-style docs such as this one -- are tricky as far as "writing" because they're largely made in the editing room.  Because of this, I'm attributing the creative choices of the editing room to the "Writing" score for this review, and elements such as pacing, cutting and color correction in the "Editing" score.

Writing: 4 / 5.  Smart decisions were made, however, and in particular including the aforementioned scene where Angelo's mother questions his reasons for filming her.  It's fortuitous accidents like this that elevate this from being a YouTube video to a legitimate short film.  It's incredibly funny, too.
Directing: 2 / 5.  Basic documentary and reality TV style, handheld shots.  It captures the moments and lends a certain immediacy, but nothing more.
Editing: 2 / 5.  This short film's simply way too long, way too repetitive.  The lack of any credits is also strange for a short film that wants to be taken seriously.  There's no particular "beginning" or "ending" to the film.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  Spotty sound quality that varies wildly depending on the location of the speaker in relation to the camera.
Acting: N/A

Final Grade: 2.5.

Don't forget to check out "Angelo's Mom: The Movie" and follow the creators on YouTube!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Five Friends Tangled Up In Witty "Socks & Cakes" Short Film!

"SOCK & CAKES" (2010)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 12:32
Company:  Kimistra Films

Richard (Jeff Moffitt) is an architect with a cooling marriage to Amanda (Kirsty Meares), whose ex-husband Harry (Timothy J. Cox) scrapes by emotionally in an unfulfilling French Lit teaching position.  David (Ben Prayz), a real estate broker, brings a new girlfriend named Sophie (Alex Vincent).

The common thread among the five friends is that none of them are truly happy, all of them are bored with their lives, and they're all gathering for dinner tonight in Richard and Amanda's apartment.

It's like watching two cars headed for a collision: you just know it's going to end badly as desires run rampant and inhibitions get left with the wine glasses at the dinner table . . .

FRIENDS ON SPEED

"Socks & Cakes" is a comedy -- more properly a dramedy -- written and directed by Antonio Padovan.  It's a witty, sarcastic and unflinching look at how a group of friends will prey on one another to try to capture a glimpse of happiness.  Then, having experienced that glimpse, they become bored with it as fast as they've found it.

There's a little bit of "breaking the fourth wall" as well, and Cox does a good job delivering those lines.  It comes as a bit of a surprise, happening at 4 1/2 minutes into the film, and then it never happens again, so it seems random.

That's my main complaint about "Socks & Cakes": the story elements don't feel as cohesive as they could be, and thematically apart from the conversation in the kitchen kitchen between Harry and Amanda is poignant, but apart from that, not a whole not in the film carries much resonance.  As a result, much of the film just feels like random snapshots of Friends inspired grumblings.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  What's the ultimate point the film's trying to make?  Why does Harry break the fourth wall?  There are a lot of questions which aren't properly answered.  
Directing: 3 / 5.  Padovan provides decent camera movement.  Director of Photography Alessandro Penazzi gets some nice visuals out of some fairly static looking locations (interior apartment shots).
Editing: 3 / 5. The film moves slowly and it feels like that's intentional, but still, where are we going?  "Socks & Cakes" probably could have been tightened up a bit.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The music sounds bored -- perfectly reflects the characters in the movie itself.  The dialogue is audible and the levels are good.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Well done across the board, with particular props due to Meares and Cox, whose dialogue in the kitchen really provided this film with heart.

Final Grade: 3.1 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Socks & Cakes" (scroll to the bottom)!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Philip Goldacre Shines In Realistic Drama Short Film "The Journey of Alfred Small"

"THE JOURNEY OF ALFRED SMALL" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 22:07
Company:  Old Lamp Films

Alfred Small (Philip Goldacre) is a senior citizen living in England.  His entire life revolves around hitching a ride on the city bus to visit his wife (Chrissie White) in the hospital and back home, and making due with what he has while he waits for her to recover.

But today, there's a troubled young woman named Kendal (Tayo Elesin) and her son, Benji (Fabian Walcott) waiting at the bus stop.

Alfred's insular world will never be the same.

BITTER TASTE OF REALITY

Written by Amy Holleworth and director Mike Archer, "The Journey of Alfred Small" is a serious short film set in the real world with characters who behave like real people.  That's no small accomplishment from a writing standpoint, to create a universe that feels genuine and real.

And of special note is Goldacre's performance, which is simply put awesome.  He could, and should, win awards for his portrayal as the apparently taciturn but strong and emotional Alfred Small.  He shows such a range and does so effortlessly.  He is this film.  I can't say enough about his performance.

The only problem is that the film is far too long.  Realism may be largely spaces of down time punctuated by moments of importance, but the world of film does not have that luxury.  Audiences need something to look at and a story to follow.  While Goldacre delivers an incredible performance, there's just not enough going on to carry the film.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  A very realistic portrayal of the real world and Alfred Small is a fascinating character.  Unfortunately, there's a LOT of time spent without much going on throughout the film.  The theme of letting go is not sufficiently developed, so the dialogue lines toward the end of the film come out of nowhere.
Directing: 3 / 5. Natural camera work from Archer and Director of Photography Simon Shen.  Never intrudes.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  The film's way too long and could've used a lot of cutting.  Otherwise, it looks good from shot to shot.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5. Rob Harris' score is gorgeous, but the sound design is extremely uneven.  Volume levels are all over the place, and scenes transition from one to the next with audible clicks.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Goldacre delivers a performance most actors would die for.  Elesin, Walcott, White and Dinarte Gouvein do OK with what they're given.

Final Grade: 3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "The Journey of Alfred Small" and follow the creators on Facebook!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Peek Under the Covers of Entertainers In "A Mime Is A Terrible Thing To Waste" Short Film

"A MIME IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE" (2014)
Genre: Suspense / Fantasy
Length- 19:11
Company:  Blackmount Pictures

* While this short film does not contain nudity, there are scenes of a frank sexual nature that are inappropriate for younger viewers.  This film would probably be rated "R" if it were submitted to the MPAA for a film rating.

A mime (Michael Batten) and his puppet (Bhasker Patel) check into a motel for the evening and set about the long process of unwinding before getting some much needed shuteye.  Before they get too far, their room phone rings.

It's someone close to them, with a message regarding a matter of life or death . . .

SOMETHING YOU'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE

There aren't very many short films that appear in my inbox that feature mimes and puppets and the sorts of hijinx one can only imagine you'd get if you were to mix the two, let alone the sort of movie that treats all of this as a pretty serious endeavor.  While the title of the film's a pun, the film itself is deadly serious.

Essentially, the story revolves around the relationship of the mime and his puppet -- or is it the other way around? -- and a mysterious third character we neither hear or see, and his incredible influence over the two of them.

THE END RESULT

The big question mark that we, as viewers, are tempted with over the course of this film is whether what we are seeing is fantasy or reality.  I tend toward the former, mostly because it's too hard to try to make sense of what's going on if you attempt to explain away what's seen as an emotional disturbance.  It does add an interesting dimension to the film, and provides a little "food for thought" in what might otherwise have been a fairly routine plot.

Thematically, Pia Cook's screenplay attempts to deal with the heavy issue of true love, and it does tease us a little, but the strangeness of the film takes center stage.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you -- you really haven't seen a short film quite like this before, and there's something to be celebrated about that.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  Cook's screenplay has several great lines, an intriguing storyline, but ultimately none of it is put together in a manner that feels as climactic as it wants to be.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Hernan Diaz directed this short.  It looks good and works well.  I particularly enjoyed the slick manipulation of the viewer when switching from the actual puppet to Patel and back.  Also some nice usage of lighting and appealing visuals from director of photography Kirill Proskura.  
Editing: 3 / 5.  The opening feels excessively long for an introductory sequence.  Several scenes drag on a bit longer than they need to.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  There were some mishaps with the sound design -- for instance, was the receptionist (Bernie Barrett) pleasuring herself or was she watching porn or was I just completely misreading that?  Volume levels changed or cut out entirely from shot to shot.  The music, composed by Stefano Barzaghi, was suitably creepy.  
Acting: 4 / 5.  Good performances from everyone, particularly from Patel, who delivered his sometimes outlandish lines quite credibly.

Final Grade: 3.1.

While "A Mime is a Terrible Thing to Waste" isn't yet available to watch online, you can visit the creators online right here until it is!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gritty Drama "Fra Asken" Addresses The Ugly Reality of the Aftermath of Violence

"FRA ASKEN" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 10:30
Company:  True Norse Films

We open on the back of a van in the middle of the woods.  A teenaged girl under attack (Madeline Marsh) screams and cries from somewhere inside the vehicle, but no one hears.

To say any more would spoil the film, but it's a dark and gritty road metaphorical road we travel as the audience of writer/director Kjell Kvanbeck's latest short film.

OUT OF THE FRYING PAN . . . 

"Fra Asken" is a minimalist drama shot with a pseudo-documentary feel.  The story itself unfolds, for the most part, in a very grounded and realistic world in which a victim of violence discovers her world shrinking upon itself.

If I can say anything about the film, it is that mood rules the day.  The ambience of Kvanbeck's film world is overwhelming.  The isolation we feel is choking -- literally, there is one line of dialogue in the entire film (not counting the wordless, anguished screams we hear in the beginning).  The world is a lonely, miserable place to be, where everyone is so wrapped up in doing whatever they are busy doing at the moment that they can't be bothered to offer a helping hand, even to someone who is clearly hurting.

Some of the writing choices toward the end don't make sense -- I can't say too much without giving huge spoilers away, but basically my problem with it is that first of all, I don't understand how a particular crime goes unpunished, for instance, and second of all I don't follow the protagonist's ultimate decision.  Even if it can be explained away, it doesn't make for much of a satisfying conclusion.

Still, "Fra Asken" does make you question the world we're taught to accept as children -- the world that the poor protagonist in this film no doubt was taught about, before she was attacked: a world where people are basically good, and where those who are hurt can be helped, and where those who hurt others are always punished.

The real world, "Fra Asken" seems to be saying, is far more complicated and dark.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  Some writing choices don't make sense, particularly as the suspense builds.  For instance, why would she not go to the police?  I can't say much more than that without unleashing tons of spoilers.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Kvanbeck's directing style takes on a documentary feel, following handheld as our protagonist travels from location to location.  Per Kvanbeck's cinematography helps create some stirring outdoor shots.
Editing: 4 / 5.  There's a grungy looking aesthetic and grain and grit all over the place, which really brought the film down to Earth a bit.  Some of the cuts shuddered from shot to shot, which added some extra unease.  
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  The music is composed by Kvanbeck, Ed Willet and Ryan Rusch.  There's a lot of static in the dialogue recording, but the volumes levels are fairly stable though.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  While her performance is somewhat one note, Marsh does well with what she has.  Martin Curry has little onscreen time but does OK with what he has to work with.

Final Grade: 3.4 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Fra Asken" when it comes out, but until then follow its progress to your screen on Facebook!

Friday, September 18, 2015

MUST SEE SHORT FILM "Tea For Two" Brings Tea, Fun & Comedy To Your Table!

"TEA FOR TWO" (2015)
Genre: Comedy / Fantasy
Length- 15:26
Company:  Pork Chop Pictures

Two young people (William Postlethwaite and Abigail Parmenter) walk into a cafe run by the unlikely pair of Jim (John Challis) and Alice (Amanda Barrie), completely oblivious to the fact that there's a whole lot more on the menu today than just a slice of cake and a cup of home brewed tea.

TO WIT

"Tea For Two" is an impressive short comedy film from writer/director Mark Brennan and Pork Chop Pictures, and it's one of those rarities in this business: a short film that is funny, clever and has all its genre elements delivered just as well as any big budget production.

The script takes on some pretty weighty themes in its short running time: we're talking about missed opportunities, wasted years and the ticking down of hearts -- but then, deep thoughts aren't all that surprising in a good comedy.  Often, laughter helps us cope with the things that really bother us, deep down, and "Tea For Two" addresses those thoughts on a mature level.  It's never clever just to be clever, or cute for cuteness' sake.

The production values are also top notch, and the movie looks great.  The only thing that detracts from the visual experience is the natural light from outside the cafe, which created levels of brightness too high for the film and overexposed certain shots.  These moments are few and far between though and hardly affected my enjoyment of the picture.

The conclusion took me a second to grasp entirely, but once I realized what had just happened, it made perfect sense and I loved it.  Quite simply, "Tea For Two" is a huge success: it's funny, it's charming, it's well made and well acted and on top of all of that, it's well written.

"Tea For Two" is our third official Forest City Short Film Review MUST SEE SHORT FILM OF 2015!  While it's currently playing festivals, rest assured that as soon as I receive word that it's live on the Internet, I'll post a link here!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  The script is really smart, has a cute story and I loved how the fantastical elements played into it.  On the negative side, the suddenly menacing move our two leads took midway through the film didn't feel authentic.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Brennan puts on a competent show.  Nothing's showy -- it's all in service to the story, which I think was the right thing to do for this short film.
Editing: 5 / 5.  Carl Austin did a great job cutting this film together.  The pacing is perfect and the movie feels exactly how long it needs to be.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Roly Witherow's score is fun and reserved.  The sound is professionally recorded.
Acting: 5 / 5.  Challis and Barrie are just quirky enough but not so much as to take away from the gravity of their situation.  Postlethwaite and Parmenter are both likeable in their roles.  James Hamer-Morton plays up the comic nature of his small role.

Final Grade: 4.3 / 5.

Check out the official website for "Tea For Two" and keep up to date on the film's progress through the festival circuit because you DON'T want to miss it!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Disjointed But Nightmarish Imagery in Short Film "A New Born" A Bit Too Cryptic

"A NEW BORN" (2015)
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Length- 10:17
Company:  Rods Pictures & Big Bug Visions Productions

* This film contains female full frontal nudity and would probably be rated "R" if it were submitted to the MPAA for a film rating.

Donna (Gea Martina Landini) is on the run.  She locks herself away in a hotel room, but her attacker pounds on the door and twists the knob to get inside, doing anything he can do to reach her.

The moon rises, and his assault on the door subsides.  Strange lights take his place, piercing the tiny slit between the door and its hinges.

This is just the beginning of what is turning out to be a very, very strange night indeed.

METAMORPHOSIS

"A New Born", an Italian short film directed by Simone A. Tognarelli, has lofty aspirations.  It aims to be a surreal viewing experience  that taps into a sort of nightmarish dreamscape that obeys its own internal logic.  Unfortunately, the experimental angle is taken a bit too far and there is no discernible narrative that makes sense.  A coda is thrown on at the end, but there's no buildup to it so it just feels like a random reveal.

That being said, some of the individual scenes are quite effective.  Take for instance the tense chase sequence at the beginning, or the inspired stop motion sequence under the light of the full moon, which recalled Universal classics like The Wolf Man.

So there are cool shots and neat sequences here, but there's nothing in the story to connect any of it together.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The script, written by Tognarelli and Jacopo Aliboni, was too experimental for its own good.  What's with the water hitting the ground below Donna's naked legs?  Is she urinating?  Is she pregnant, and her water breaking?  This shot is a good example of the bigger problems of "A New Born": it's just too cryptic, to the point where no amount of analysis could spell out what's going on.  Then, the finale spells out exactly what it all was supposed to mean, and it all comes off as a tacked on way to explain a bunch of random events.  It's not satisfying.
Directing: 3 / 5.  There were some cool directorial choices here, with a particular favorite being the aforementioned stop motion sequence.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  The pacing is off-kilter, and perhaps that's intended, but without giving us any story to sink our teeth into, it felt like we were floating in a sea of weirdness.  After four or five minutes of it, the film's momentum started to drag.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The score was extremely intrusive but interesting.  The sound design was layered, but again not much subtlety here.  I felt like the filmmakers were attempting to compensate for the lack of onscreen activity with noise.  
Acting: 3 / 5.  Huge props have got to be given to Landini, whose performance as Donna is pretty fearless.   Michael Segal, as Christo, isn't given a character to play, but a handful of lines to recite.

Final Grade: 2.7 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "A New Born" when it's finished its tour of the festival circuit, and until then follow the creators on Facebook!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Innovative Take on Zombies in Metafictional "Period Piece"

"PERIOD PIECE" (2014)
Genre: Horror / Comedy
Length- 11:50
Company:  I Shot This With My Friends Pictures

* This film contains scenes of graphic horror violence that may be too strong for young viewers.

Renee (Onalee James) and Kurt (Ernesto Griffith) bicker over how their latest film, a romance, should end.  Renee wants an old fashioned finish, where the two leads make up and kiss out their problems to soaring melodramatic music, while Kurt wants something that pursues something a bit more realistic.

But then their filming is interrupted by shooting  of a different kind: it sounds like a warzone just a mile distant, and the film crew is reminded of the terrible truth they live every day and that they are attempting to distract audiences of with their films.

Zombies.

TWISTING THE GENRE

"Period Piece" is an elaborate short film written and directed by James McLellan, and one of the few zombie films that actually stands on its own merits as a unique movie.  Rather than taking direct inspiration from George A. Romero's original Living Dead universe, these zombies are of the sprinting 2004 Dawn of the Dead variety.  But unlike that remake, which was thematically as dead as the zombies in the film, "Period Piece" has something interesting to say as well as being an entertaining bit of action filmmaking.

McLellan shoots "Period Piece" as a film within a film, a metafiction of a sort: his script considers what would happen to the filmmaking industry in the event of a world shattering event such as a zombie apocalypse.  What kind of stories would people in those situations tell?  What would those stories do for them?

Considering how saturated the movie business has become with zombies, it's nice to see that there's life yet for the undead.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  A clever idea, and it's a story that resonates, particularly with storytellers.  That being said, there was never a real sense of danger for the main characters, and never enough zombies to feel like they were much of a threat.  
Directing: 4 / 5.  Good movement for the camera, and an appropriate change of tone from "romance film" to horror action.    
Editing: 4  / 5.  The film was edited by McLellan, Brian Roach, Brad Crawford and Ryan Hanson.  I liked the way that the color correction applied the "cinematic" look for the film within the film, while the real world had a desaturated and gritty appearance.  The pacing was excellent as well.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  The original music, composed by Steven Webb, is effective and the dialogue and sound is recorded professionally.  I was not as big a fan however of the rock music over the action scene at the end.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Onalee James and Ernesto Griffith are the best thespians on display, and their performances are rock solid.  Jenny Pudavick is completely credible as the lawyer in the romance film, and Jason Wishnowski comes across OK as the cowboy.

Final Grade: 3.8 / 5.

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

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Window To The Soul: "The Reaper" Short A Chilling Home Invasion & Introspective All In One

"THE REAPER" (2015)
Genre: Home Invasion/ Fantasy
Length- 12:06
Company:  Mordue Pictures

Josh (Jamie Hawes) and his wife Kelly (Julia Leyland) wake up to the awful noises of two men (Nathaniel Francis and Tom Westgate) breaking into their home late one night.  Rather than staying put while his wife calls 9-1-1, Josh chases out the masked men, but in the process takes a knife to the stomach.

He pursues the criminals on foot outside but loses them.  On the way back to the house, as he realizes how badly he's hurt, he encounters a tall woman (Dana Smit) who is not a woman at all -- or more accurately, not just a woman.

This woman is Death, and she's come calling for him.

AN INTERESTING POSITION

"The Reaper" -- now this is an interesting short film coming from writer/director Luke Mordue.  It's basically two movies in one: a slick home invasion thriller for the first half, and then a philosophical human fantasy/drama in the latter half.  The first portion is tense, brutally quiet, dark and moody, with tight camera angles and self centered dialogue.  As the movie goes on, and the thematic concerns begin projecting outward, the shots become wider and wider, and we start to see how insignificant Josh and, by extension, we all really are.

It's not a particularly warm or happy realization, but it's a welcome one.  From a directorial standpoint, this film is incredibly smart.  The visuals from Mordue and Director of Photography Bryan Cook are dead on and conjure some really powerful images.

BALANCING ACT

I have to be careful here because I don't want to spoil anything, but essentially the second half of the film puts forth some really interesting slices of what I'm betting is personal philosophy from Mordue himself, and it's all pretty touching stuff.  But that being said, it's two people talking, and after the intensity of the first half, it was an unexpected way to wrap up the picture.

Even so, the dialogue, and the weight behind the words is so affecting that it's still a satisfying conclusion and I liked the fact that they didn't just do the obvious.  I can't say more than that, but you'll understand after you watch it.

Overall, a really good picture that does its best to marry two disparate parts and comes out pretty darn effective and thoughtful.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5  / 5.  Mordue's script has some really smart dialogue about the illogical, rash, violent nature of humanity, and it's pretty novel to try to marry the talky drama with the home invasion thriller.  But one thing I didn't get was why on Earth would Josh rush the burglars while they were in the kitchen anyway?  They were already leaving the house.  I guess you could chalk that up to the aforementioned "illogical" nature of man . . . I'm undecided on that one.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Just a gorgeous picture.  This could play in any theater around the world and you'd think it was a feature.  Mordue and Cook did a brilliant job.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Very good work, in particular with the home invasion sequence.  It was pretty intense.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Mournful music by Billy Jupp for the most part of the film.  I loved the fact that the music was either nonexistent, or at the very least extremely subdued during the home invasion.  Felt so much more realistic that way.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Extremely good acting across the board, but particularly Hawes and Smit deserve equal credit for making the last half work.  Their conversation, all that dialogue, could've been so unreal but it felt authentic because of the class act work on both sides.  Bravo!

Final Grade: 3.9 / 5.

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



Wednesday, September 9, 2015

An Epic Quest For Ginger Unfolds As I Review "The Reason I Shop Online"

"THE REASON I SHOP ONLINE" (2015)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 3:53
Company:  LAITO Media

Honey (Zenna Turner) goes shopping one day at her local grocery store without a care in the world.  She picks up a few items, checks them off her list, and heads up to the front counter, where the distant clerk (Katy Jane) rings her up and gives her a total.

But Honey's missing something.  Doesn't this store carry ginger?

The clerk shakes her head no.

So it's up to Honey -- with the help of her dear cellular friend Siri -- to find ginger to complete her shopping for the day.

Thus begins an epic adventure which Honey shall never forget . . .

WHERE ARE WE GOING?

"The Reason I Shop Online" is a short film written by Alexandra Taylor for the Shortfilm48 film competition.  What that means is that LAITO Media had 48 hours to write, cast, produce and edit together the film to be included in the contest.  The results are what you see in this short.

It never fails to amaze me the kind of quality content people can make in such an insanely short amount of time.  "The Reason I Shop Online" is another example of a film made under such constraints that still manages to be entertaining.

Directed by Rob Lainchbury and Director of Photography Lauren Hatchard, the film looks good.  There's no credit for the editing, but the color grading looks spectacular, especially for the outdoor scenes.  The greens are so vivid and beautiful.

As this is a comedy film, I don't want to say too much because anything I say will spoil the jokes.  I will say that the soundtrack was quite amusing considering Honey's rather mundane goal.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Taylor's script, while amusing, didn't feel like it went anywhere and never made me laugh out loud.
Directing: 3 / 5.  The camera moves were handheld and somewhat uninspired -- you can chalk some of that up to the fact that there wasn't exactly a lot of time for them to storyboard or analyze locations for cool shots.  Lainchbury and company were doing this by the seats of their pants.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The movie looks great and is cut together well.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  It's a nice epic soundtrack we're treated to, and the dialogue and sound is professionally recorded with level volumes.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  Turner's acting felt flat for the most part.  Jane's performance was far more natural -- granted, her (second) role also allowed her a lot more room to grow.

Final Grade:  3.2 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "The Reason I Shop Online" and follow the creators on Facebook!

Monday, September 7, 2015

"Parallel" Examines Life, Sci-Fi & What It Means To Love In Smart New Short Film

"PARALLEL" (2015)
Genre: Sci-Fi / Romance
Length- 11:28
Company: Stories By The River

Henry (Paul Kandarian), sick, summons his daughter, Veronica (Erica Derrickson), to his bedside.  She doesn't know what to expect.  But Henry's brought Veronica here for a reason: he has a story to tell.  A story about when he was a young man, fresh out of college, and the Higgs Boson particle was discovered, and theories were put forth about alternate universes -- with new evidence that made all the science fiction sound so much more possible.

And most importantly, about the day that he and his scientist co-workers managed to contact one of these alternate universes, and the beautiful woman he met there -- Anne (Kate Paulsen).

Anne.

And how they fell madly in love.

A SMART TWIST

"Parallel" is a short film written and directed by Mikel J. Wisler, and it is his smart script and the beautiful visuals he conjures up with cinematographer Rajah Samaroo that makes this film sing.  Clocking in a little shy of eleven and a half minutes, it doesn't have a lot of time to develop characters and relationships, which means it does a lot of its painting in extremely broad strokes.  The setting, the color scheme, the somber score all do their part to fill in the blanks.  The results toe the line between truly affecting and melodrama, but it is always enjoyable.

The metaphor of the film's title and theme carries a surprising punch, and there's a real moral to the events that take place on screen.  Wisler and company deliver a thinking person's short film that taps into some pretty primitive areas, including what it means to exist in the field of time, what it means to live, to love and lose and finally to die.

It's serious, it's smart, it's even a bit of a tear jerker.

I highly recommend "Parallel"!  Check it out!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  There is a depth and intelligence to the story that you don't often see in most short (or longer, for that matter) films.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  The visuals look great (all about those gorgeous exteriors!), and the camera movement kept me in it.  It's a professional and emotional show.
Editing: 5 / 5.  From the cuts to color grading, there was no way this short could've been edited better.  Trevor C. Duke did an awesome job as editor, with Stephen Webb and Wisler handling coloring duties.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  Good sound recording throughout.  I liked the score, also composed by Wisler, overall, but it felt maybe a little heavy handed at times.  Still, quite effective.
Acting: 4 / 5. Very good performances by everyone.  Not a lot of dialogue by anyone but Kandarian, granted.  Special notice has to be given to Juan C. Rodriguez, who plays the young version of Henry, for delivering a "Noooo!" moment that didn't seem over the top or cheesy at all.  Well done!

Final Grade: 4 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Parallel" right now and visit the official Stories By The River website!



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!