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Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Health & Disorder" Goes All "Law & Order" On Healthcare -- With Laughs!

"HEALTH & DISORDER" (2014)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 9:10
Company: Absolute Theatre / Lurking Cat Films
Website: David Harper's Official

Imagine, if you will, a near future scenario where healthcare and the justice system have overlapped.  Joey (David Harper) may or may not have a heart condition, which may or may not be covered by his health insurance.  Dr. Lenny (Jerry Kernion) and Dr. Ray (June Carryl) believe they can twist his condition for their own personal gain.  On top of that, Agent Macrone (Rana Rines) is from the government and she's here to help.

In a humorous parody of hit TV show “Law & Order”, “Health & Disorder” asks you to look at the political battle for good healthcare in a new way.  Check it out!

PICK YOUR POISON

“Health & Disorder” is a short film with some serious thought put into the production.  The direction, coloring and story are all tailor-made to imitate “Law & Order”, right down to the  tinkling end theme.  What makes it unique is that we take the cop procedural genre and plant it in medical territory: criminal and legal terms are exchanged with healthcare related ones, and the Good Cop / Bad Cop thing works like a dream, this time as Good Doctor / Bad Doctor.  

It's shot in a single room, and deals with a single long conversation.  Director Richard Tatum pulls out all the stops and composes the shots in true “Law & Order” fashion.  It's all quite humorous, and I laughed out loud a few times over the course of the short film.  

THE TROUBLE WITH RIGHT AND WRONG

Like any other gimmick-based film, it loses steam about halfway through and I started wondering, ultimately, where we were headed -- are we going to go right wing or left wing, politically speaking?  There's some anti-socialized healthcare comments, but then the other side is also depicted in a negative way, so the film doesn't really register as overtly political.  It's a smart move that stops the film from alienating anyone.

“Health & Disorder” is, at its heart, a question mark to the audience.  What do you think?  Which route for Joey to take is the best one?  Failing that, which is the lesser of evils?

The audience must supply its own answers, but “Health & Disorder” is an indictment of a system that is, by anyone's standards, flawed and unmanageable.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  Harper also wrote the script to the film and it's intimate and witty when it needs to be, but I didn't buy Joey's character.  We needed him to anchor the audience to make the film mean something, but he doesn't really have an arc – he's an innocent bystander in his own life, whiny and ignorant in equal measure.  As a result, the happenings on screen feel distant.  This means that pretty much the entire weight of the film has to ride on the gimmick. It works for a while.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Tatum nailed the gimmick without question: it feels like a lost “Law & Order” episode from start to finish.  Loved the angles and the moving handheld shots.  Unfortunately, there's not too much to do except watch people talk.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Again, really solid production values.  The film has a great look and that title card was amazing.  I did not give the editing a 5 because the film has some fat in it – how many times does Dr. Lenny have to get physical with Joey?
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  The end theme sounds identical to the original “Law & Order” theme, but I think it's a little different to avoid copyright issues.  I'm not entirely sure as I'm not an avid viewer of the series, but I have seen several episodes.  There are a few shots toward the end where Dr. Ray sounds too far from the boom, but apart from that, it's serviceable.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  Carryl and Rines put in the best and most authentic performances of the film.    Kernion's performance felt forced.  Harper does the best he can, but his character isn't very inspiring.  Tracy Eliott plays Dr. Standish, and sounds flat the entire time she's onscreen.  

Final Grade: 3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Health & Disorder" and follow director Richard Tatum and writer/actor David Harper on Facebook!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mature Azerbaijani Short "Aftermath" Talks Grief, Life, and Beyond

"AFTERMATH" (2014)
Genre: Drama
Length- 8:08
Company: Angry Student Productions
Website: Official YouTube

Two siblings attempt to cope with the deaths of their parents.  While the sister (Gizem Aybike Sahin) appears to be in control and, while grieving, she is trying to move on, the brother (Berkan Uygun) has lost his faith in religion and refuses to accept a life without his mother and father.

It's up to them to either create a new life out of the ashes or collapse under the weight of their emotions.

A TIME FOR MOURNING

This little film comes with English subtitles from Azerbaijan, where its title is “Akibet”.  Written and directed by Angry Student Productions founder Tofic Rzayev, this short film is a meditation on death and, peripherally, what it means to be alive -- do we live for other people and, when those people are gone, do we then live for a higher power?

It's certainly a weighty topic that transcends culture and time – which makes it all the more impressive that it's conveyed effectively over the course of an eight minute movie.

In today's world, rapid cutting is the name of the game, but Rzayev smartly takes a different approach entirely.  It takes tremendous confidence as a filmmaker to trust in your imagery enough to not have to cut rapidly to hold an audience's attention span, but add on the smart handheld camera and “You are there” documentarian editing and you have a truly mature cinematic outing that packs a surprising emotional punch.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  Rzayev's script is minimalist, and a good deal of it is simply watching our main characters as they either lay around, stand around, or bicker.  The dialogue is effective as subtitled.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Considering how intimate the film is, Rzayev does a good job at keeping the film visually interesting.  I particularly enjoyed the finale, where Uygun walks into the blurry darkness, a black silhouette among blobs of unfocused street lights.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The look of the film is fantastic.  The lighting is soft and the coloring is muted, bringing the desolate feeling of loss to a visual form.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Gergo Elekes' score matches the imagery: soft, muted, sparse, beautiful, and sad.  I have to limit the score here to a 3 however because the sound quality of the film, excluding the music, was very low.  It sounded like it was being recorded off the camera's internal microphone, and as a result everything had an echo.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Sahin was credible and even touching in her performance.  Uygun was competent when it came to nonverbal acting, but all of his lines are delivered in a nearly monotone voice, spoken too fast, with each sentence separated by dead air.

Final Grade: 3.2 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Aftermath" and follow writer/director Tofic Rzayev on Facebook!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Blaming the Victim: "Perspective" Tackles Sexual Assault

"PERSPECTIVE" (2014)
Genre: Drama
Length- 7:02
Company: Dragonstone Pictures
Website: Official Facebook

A young woman (Sarah-Louise Cairney) attends a party dressed to kill.  She flirts with every guy she sets her eyes on and dances and drinks the night away.

It is SO hard to say any more without spoiling it, but suffice it to say it's a film with a lot of weighty issues . . . mainly, the question of blame when it comes to a victim of sexual assault.

ASKING FOR IT

The fact that people exist who would EVER suggest that a victim of a crime is in some way a guilty party is disgusting to me, and obviously to the makers of this short film as well, but unfortunately such people exist.  As a result, writer/director Simon Fox created "Perspective".

The concept is an interesting one: we have a crime committed, and then we look at how different people interpret what they see happening in different ways -- kind of like a miniaturized version of TV's "Boom Town".  It's a good idea, but there's just no way that Fox and company could deliver a film that capitalized on the promise of that concept in barely seven minutes, including credits.

Literally, we have Cairney's character dancing and drinking and flirting, and flirting and drinking and dancing.  Then we have a couple sentences of interpretation from a few peripheral characters -- and that's it.  We don't feel any connection to any of the characters and we are aloof from the action.

I appreciate the theme of "Perspective", but as a film, it fell short for me.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1 / 5.  Fox's story is nonexistent and doesn't build up to any kind of payoff.  At best, it's the sort of cautionary film shown in a high school Health class.
Directing: 3 / 5.  The visuals aren't bad here, and I enjoyed the tight close ups peppered throughout the film.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Effective.  The film moves extremely quickly, but that's due more to the lack of anything for the characters to do.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  I liked Philip Graham's moody score.
Acting: 4 / 5.  All the actors did well -- that being said, their performances didn't call for much that was demanding.

Final Grade: 2.8 / 5.

Check out "Perspective" on Vimeo and follow the creators on Facebook!

Secret "Rosa Y Rojo" Cuban Short Film A Slice of Oppressed Life

"ROSA Y ROJO" (2004)
Genre: Drama
Length- 29:13
Company: Clear Sky Pictures
Website: Official

VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED:  This film contains full frontal nudity which would probably qualify as an "R" rating by MPAA standards.  

Filmed guerilla style in 2004 in Cuba, "Rosa Y Rojo" is a film about free speech, and the struggles of enacting change under the regime of Fidel Castro (played by Jean-Pierre Oha).  At the time, the film was shelved due to concerns that the filmmakers and actors would be arrested for their views.

Recently, the film finally found release on the Internet.

Now then, let's talk Cuba . . .

REALITY VERSUS TRUTH

The film is billed as a black comedy, and granted there are some humorous moments in the film, but I find it to be much more real and dramatic than funny.  The plot basically follows around two police officers (Eduardo De La Torre and Gerardo Avila) as they arrest people who attempt to voice their displeasure of the government and, in particular, Castro himself.  As the story progresses, it branches out and starts to include peaceful revolutionaries who sign petitions against Castro's policies, and finally candy distributors who include a simple "Enough's enough, Castro" message wrapped with each individual candy.

The fact that these people can be arrested for a comment so small is sickening.  The film portrays the mundane and the terrifying side by side.  "Rosa Y Rojo" is an incendiary political drama that packs all the more punch thanks to Hollywood's recent struggles with imposed censorship.

DANGEROUS TIMES

The film's cast is enormous, and it is beyond me how they managed to complete such an ambitious film.  Even in the USA, where you can make a movie about whatever you want, it would be a pretty daunting task to bring all these story threads together and make it mean something.  

The end result is a thirty minute film which, despite the best efforts of filmmaker Xavier Nellens, runs out of steam around three quarters of the way through.  The comedic bits with the police officers fall flat, and the conclusion . . . I don't know what to make of it.

Where the film succeeds, however, is in its opening fifteen minutes.  The documentary style and the underplayed performances make this film seem so genuine that you can't help but think it's all real, that these are not actors at all -- and when you get right down to it, they're not.

They're trying to create a piece of art to reflect their own problems, their own insecurities, which mirror those of the world around them.  To do this means possible imprisonment -- 25 years or more at times.  It's an oppressive world, and the film is permeated with the frustrated stories of the Cuban people.

It's wild, it's off the wall and zany at times, but it's also deadly serious and dark.
 
You owe it to yourself to check it out.  It just might make you consider how lucky you are if you live in some place where freedom of speech is upheld.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  There's no overall plot -- things just happen, which lends itself to the reality of the piece.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Nellens provides us with a variety of camera angles and creative visuals.  I particularly enjoyed the candy wrappers floating through the sky toward the end.  It was very much "in the moment" camera work but it's effective.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The film is far too long.  There aren't any obvious effects to any of the shots, and sometimes the camera holds on a person's reflection for too long.  It takes the viewer out of the film.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The soundtrack is amusing, but doesn't have the sort of variety required to keep one's ears interested for thirty minutes of screen time.
Acting: 4 / 5.  The film is subtitled in English (and six other languages), but the actors all deliver their parts in an understated way, which helps add to the reality of it all.

Final Grade: 3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Rosa Y Rojo" by visiting the official website here!



80's Inspired "Angel of the City" Webseries Opens With a Bang!

"ANGEL OF THE CITY" (2014)
Genre: Action
Length- 19:38
Company: Hey Killer Films
Website: Official YouTube

Fremont is a city on the edge.  The police force has been disbanded in the face of an intense surge of criminal activity and a crazed minister known simply as The Father (Don Sweet) is organizing thugs to indulge himself in horrific rituals.  When a group of his men kidnap the infant daughter of Ellie (Jennifer Nasta Zefutie), it's clear she's going to need a hero . . . and fast.

Enter William Cartwright (Larry Mihlon), a vigilante who the press calls the Angel of the City.  His guns and wits are the only things keeping Ellie's daughter alive.

Bring on the gunfire, action and lots of 80's inspired synths!

THE GOLDEN AGE OF ACTION

Writer/director Russell Hasenauer is a clear fan of 80's film styles, drawing from that period's golden age of violent action films and '70s Westerns -- Clint Eastwood would be at home in his vision of crime riddled Fremont.  From a production standpoint, every frame of this film is peppered with stylistic nods, from the heavily saturated color palette to the digitized grain.  The amount of love and care put into "Angel of the City" is simply breathtaking.

The problem is with the writing.  "Angel of the City" is the first episode in an ongoing webseries, and as a result it has to set up the big bad guy (The Minister) and the good guy (William Cartwright).

Seven minutes are dedicated to setup, and it's still not enough.  It feels like the leisurely beginning of a full length film.  If we started the film en media res, maybe seven minutes in or so, the pacing wouldn't drag as much.

MIXING IT UP

On top of that, there's a revelation toward the end of the film regarding Ellie and a photograph that I didn't quite understand -- what exactly was going on?  Maybe this will be solved in later episodes, but I'm only able to review this one film as a beginning, middle and end.

It is worth noting though that the body of films that serves as the inspiration for "Angel of the City" were not concerned with story or plot.  They were vehicles to watch imaginative action sequences.

By that criteria, "Angel of the City" nails exactly what they were setting out to accomplish.  It wears its 80's influences on its sleeve, and it serves up just the right amount of fromage with their homage.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  Hasenauer delivers an action story.  It doesn't try to be anything more than that -- it moves chess pieces into positions where they can work some action magic.  The only real failings are the over long beginning and the lack of explanation of Ellie and the photograph at the end.
Directing: 4 / 5.  The film is visually brilliant.  I adored almost every camera move they made -- it's like watching an undiscovered 80's action film and it's a blast from front to back.  Hasenauer and Director of Photograph Kris Night turn in something gorgeous with this one.
Editing:  5 / 5.  Hasenauer also edited the picture, and its his triple threat talents that really bring this film together.  It's a fully realized package -- from Djigit Brand's coloring, the gawkish pink titles courtesy of Jason Carne and that incredible end credit sequence.  I loved it.
Sound/Music: 5 / 5.  Sam Kuzel delivers the absolute PERFECT soundtrack for this film.  It's a synth score straight of a John Carpenter film, drawing from Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape From New York in equal measure.
Acting: 3 / 5.  it's a blast to see Mihlon look badass -- he has amazing eyes -- and Ronald Giles (Class of Nuke 'Em High) is a hoot as the driver, chewing up scenery like a genre pro.  Zefutie, Sweet and the men who played the thugs are the worst thespians on display here, but to their defense they don't have much to do.

Final Grade: 3.9 / 5.

Don't miss "Angel of the City" and follow the webseries on Facebook!



Sunday, February 1, 2015

One Man's Murder Plot and His New Maid in Thrilling Short Film "Pro Kopf"

"PRO KOPF" (2014)
Genre: Thriller
Length- 13:50
Company: Top Five Films
Website: Official Facebook

Businessman Martin (Ray Strachan) is away on business.  He calls home, only to find his call picked up by a newly hired maid (Fiana De Guzman) that he did not hire who admits that his wife is bed with another man.  Caught up in a rage, Martin proposes a deal: kill his wife and he will pay handsomely.

What does the maid say?

What does she do?

BARE BONES

One thing, across the board, that you will notice in the best of short films is that they strip down their stories to the most manageable parts and wash away anything unnecessary.  "Pro Kopf" is a shining example of that mentality.  If you're going to make a short film, or an indie film of any kind, then you're best served by keeping it simple and straight forward.

Coming to us from Hamburg, Germany, multi-award winning "Pro Kopf" is a dark short about jealousy and the things people do to get even.  Martin admits to have dealt with his wife's infidelity before, and that helps to make his proposal to the maid more believable.  Otherwise, it might have been a stretch.

The final minutes of the film are downright chilling, as things . . . happen.  I'm not going to spoil it for you because "Pro Kopf" is a damn effective little thriller and I highly suggest you stop reading this review and go watch it now.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  "Pro Kopf" boils down the thriller genre to its strongest parts.  The dialogue by screenwriter Tommy Draper is realistic and well written.  The only thing I didn't buy was just how far the maid goes in describing the wife's affair.  It felt too much like professional wheeling and dealing.
Directing: 3 / 5.  There's not a lot for director Sascha Zimmermann to do, visually -- the film takes place in a single location, a hotel bedroom, and the entirety of the action takes place sitting on a bed, talking on a telephone.  That being said, Zimmermann mixes up his shots well and while visually the film starts to get boring three quarters of the way through, the story and the audience's investment in Martin remains strong until the end credits.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The film's pacing starts to slow during the aforementioned "wheeling and dealing" section, and I really wanted to get to the end to see what happened.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Effective score by Jan Dugge.  It never intruded, but then I don't really remember any particular melodies, either.
Acting: 5 / 5.  This film relied on its leads to succeed, and thank goodness they were more than capable of carrying their roles.  The real stand out here is Strachan, whose portrayal of Martin was right on the money.  He's got anger issues, but he's also vulnerable, frustrated and out of his mind concerned, all while trying to hire someone to kill his wife.  That's acting skills right there, friends.

Final Grade: 3.6 / 5.  

Don't forget to watch "Pro Kopf" on Vimeo right now and follow the creators 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!