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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Of Dickens & Dementia: Composer's Directorial Debut "Inheritance" A Chilling Drama

"INHERITANCE" (2015)
Genre: Dark Drama
Length- 14:47
Company:  N/A
Website: Official

Jim Novak (Bingo O'Malley) is no stranger to hard times.  He's had a rough life, and he's treated others even rougher.  Now an elderly man suffering from the beginnings of dementia, unable to live alone, he relies on his daughter Laura (Adrienne Wehr) and her husband David (Bob Bell).  
It's a day by day losing battle for Jim to keep his legal competency.  As his final days start ticking down, his unanswered past comes flooding back so vividly that visions of ghosts and days gone by begin to supercede reality.

Now, face to face with his unsavory past, Jim finds himself at a standstill: give up his legal rights and succumb to depression or finally get the courage to face his demons.

BLEAK IS NOT THE WORD 

The topic of this film hits close to home, as I have had a few experiences  of my own with family members grappling with the monster called Alzheimer's.  Knowing that your final minutes of mental clarity are ticking down, and when that time is up you'll be losing not only control of your physical body but also your ability to love and to feel love – that's a hard, hard reality.
  
There is no better way to make a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist sympathetic to modern audiences.
   
ACTION!

“Inheritance” is the writing and directorial debut of prolific TV composer Barak Shpiez, but you'd never know it from his mature and economical style.  While at its heart an intimate film, Shpiez finds a surprising number of visually rich shots to keep the dialogue entertaining.  In that regard, it's something of a one man show, but Shpiez pulls it off like a seasoned pro.

One of Shpiez's influences while writing “Inheritance” was Charles Dickens, and it's not particularly subtle.  Jim Novak will entertain three visits from the ghosts of his past, and each is terrifying in its own right.  My favorite is the first, with a brilliantly milked moment in which a long dead army buddy of Jim's is digging a grave in his backyard.  We know whose grave this is – it's obvious – but the sequence is shot so well and the timing so perfect that it's incredibly effective.

The film builds with an insistent pacing until about halfway through.  The first visitation is brilliant, and the second is effective and still disturbing, but the third is essentially telling us the same thing the second one did, while slipping in a hint about his alcoholic past (which was also hinted at earlier in the film when it's noted that Jim is sober).  For the conclusion to work, there has to be a third ghost sequence, but what's used here just doesn't live up to the first two.  

That being said, the finale is a sucker punch that will leave you at the very least moved, if not outright shocked.  Without going into spoilers, I'm at least able to tell you that the last shot is a pitch perfect cap on an effective and chilling drama.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  The story is effective and moving, and the finale hits and hits hard, but that third ghostly vision feels repetitive and dulls the creep factor of the preceding sequences.  
Directing: 4 / 5.  Shpiez puts in a varied show, with a great command of the full width of each scene.  His shot composition and usage of depth kept the story visually exciting, even in the quiet moments.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The pacing is by and large good, but since that third ghost sequence didn't have the “oomph” it needed, the scenes immediately surrounding it felt like padding -- “OK, we need a shot of X in order to get to Y.”
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  The soundtrack, also by Shpiez (which only makes sense, as he is an accomplished composer), is for the most part quiet and understated.  I wasn't too much a fan of the hard stings when Jim is discovered in his granddaughter's room – felt too on the nose, considering the expert subtlety of the rest of the picture.
Acting: 3 / 5.  The acting is serviceable all around.  The main standouts are O'Malley and Wehr, with the latter in particular getting a pretty good emotional range to portray onscreen.  Bob Bell's performance was just a pinch too much.  Nina DeBiaso, who plays Molly, Laura's daughter, does well with what she has to do, which is basically to stand around and look concerned.  Randy Kovitz was believable as Dr. Burton.  

Final Grade:  3.5 / 5.  





Sunday, March 22, 2015

Universal Concerns And Great Performances Make "This Time Tomorrow" An Affecting Drama With Heart

"THIS TIME TOMORROW" (2014)
Genre: Drama
Length- 22:15
Company: Trainchaser Films
Website: Official Facebook

Rebecca (Rebecca-Jayne Gage) moved to Nuneaton after a disillusioning experience in London's acting circuit and attempted to live a more domestic life.  She married restaurant owner and chef Tony (Tony Jackson), loves spending time with her new stepdaughter Georgia (Georgia Martin Jackson), and enjoys teaching music and acting to young students in her studio.

But is she truly happy?

That question comes front and center when a West End production calls to offer her an audition for the lead role in an up and coming musical.

What to do?

SONG & DANCE

“This Time Tomorrow” is a short film that poses the classic question of personal achievement versus family commitment, coming to us from Trainchaser Films and writer/producer/director Dan Gage.  While this story might be about one woman, it's a story that applies to every human being on the planet.

The story is told through as a pseudo-documentary, with handheld cameras and solid acting by every performer.  As young as Georgia might be, her role opposite Rebecca is completely credible.  Rebecca is beautiful, a wonderful singer, and she plays a perfect mix of vulnerability while emoting so much physically.

Now then.

We now interrupt our review for . . .

A SHORT, SUSTAINED RANT

Tony comes off as a bit of a controlling husband – he's not even paying attention to Rebecca when she's been offered an acting job, and when she tells him that she told them no, he just shrugs and says, “Well, you probably wouldn't have gotten the role anyway.”  And then, when she's late for a New Year's Eve party at the restaurant, he blasts her for it.

Does he try to get to the bottom of why she's late?  If she's OK?  Is he ever once in the short film concerned AT ALL with his wife's hopes and dreams?  No, no, and no.

One positive thing is that once he's got his kitchen running smoothly, he does take time to compliment the good things that his workers did, so he's not all bad.

OK, rant over.

CONCLUSION

All in all, “This Time Tomorrow” rides high on charismatic performances from the leads and characters that feel real and whose plight appeals to every last one of us -- which is made possible by solid writing with a great premise.  Dan Gage gives you something to think about, and something beautiful to watch.

That's a rare combination.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  I didn't entirely buy the conclusion, which was a bit too ambiguous for my taste, but apart from that the film was extremely well written.  The happenings on screen seemed legitimate, and at times I was not sure if this was real or a faux documentary.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Dan Gage uses a lot of handheld – true to the documentary style of film he's going for – but that means things must occur much more naturally, which means less opportunity for great cinematography.  That being said, the film is still visually appealing and it moves from shot to shot in a fluid, easy to understand manner.
Editing: 4 / 5.  When people called Rebecca's cell phone, a digitized version of a cell phone popped up on the screen.  I've seen this same technique appear in other films, but it really takes me out of the story.  Aside from that, the editing was top notch, and the film's pacing was close to perfect, dragging only a little bit at the beginning.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  The sound was a little spotty at times, with people moving out of the reach of the microphones.  Again, I think this was intentional, to make it a more convincing, “real” documentary.  The music and singing was done well and perfectly audible.
Acting: 4.5 / 5.  Aside from a minor flat note by Jackson while talking to Rebecca-Jayne Gage on the couch, the cast performed with flying colors.  Mrs. Gage was unquestionably the stand out here – she is true lead star material, and I loved every moment she was onscreen.

Final Grade: 3.9 / 5

Don't forget to check out "This Time Tomorrow" when it's released online!  Follow the creators on Facebook so you don't miss it!



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!