Pages

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ballardia Productions' "The Plot" A Faltering Conspiracy Theory Thriller

"THE PLOT" (2013)
Genre: Thriller
Length- 3:36
Company: Ballardia Productions
Website: N/A

A series of armed robbery deaths have set Ray Copeland (James Ristas) on edge.  He hunts and pecks on his typewriter, certain there is a connection between the killings and his former unit, back in his military days.

Only two men -- Ray and Michael Danton (Kevin Geezil) remain.  And Danton is on his way . . .

MURDER BY MODEM

"The Plot" is a thriller, and the trouble with thrillers is that they need time to breathe and, well, be thrilling.  At three and a half minutes (including credits), "The Plot" feels more like a music video than a compelling piece of narrative.

I like the idea -- Danton is provoked to kill by a modem-like tone he hears on the other end of a telephone call.  It's reminiscent of progressive metal band Queensryche's groundbreaking opus, Operation: Mindcrime, which also happens to be one of my favorite albums of all time.  It was an interesting idea then and it still is.  What Queensryche's work has that "The Plot" is lacking is humanity and backstory.  First of all, blink-or-you-miss-it shots of typed pages are the only way any context is provided for what happens onscreen.  Otherwise, the story is not only bare bones, it's nonexistent.

IN ADDITION

The next problem: we have no reason to feel anything for either of our main characters -- good or bad.  There is no dialogue except for a pair of throwaway lines at the finale, and no one ever shows any emotion.

The final nail in the coffin is the fact that the ending provides no catharsis, explanation or resolution.
 
That is not to say that everything is all bad -- the direction by Melvin Cartagena features some interesting camera work.  The exterior shots are dark blue but completely visible and attractive to the eye.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1 / 5.  It's an intriguing concept, but there's no movement in the plot, nothing is ever resolved, and neither of our main characters are given any screen time for personality.
Directing: 2.5 / 5.  Cartagena's screen work creates enough visual interest for it to work.
Editing: 2 / 5.  The majority of "The Plot" runs smoothly.  The shot of the two men going for the gun felt a touch too long.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  The score was an interesting mix of digital noise and moody strings.  I liked it.  The sound recording was poor -- there was a LOT of background noise and varying volume levels from shot to shot.
Acting: 2 / 5.  The actors did OK- there wasn't much for them to do.

Final Grade: 1.9 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "The Plot" and follow Melvin Cartagena on Facebook!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ralph Suarez's Beautifully Shot "Halina" a Must See Sci-Fi Short

"HALINA" (2015)
Genre: Sci-Fi/Drama
Length- 31:16
Company: Warm Milk Productions
Website: Official

It's tough out there for the unemployed -- anyone will tell you.  So when Mischa (Lilly Wilton) finally scores an interview for a mysterious job, she's willing to look the other way when it turns out said job is to babysit an artificial intelligence experiment in synthetic human skin -- a real walking and talking cyborg completely indistinguishable from so-called "normal" human life forms.

As if that weren't weird enough, the robot, named Halina (Hannah Jane McMurray), was created to simulate the deceased wife of wealthy benefactor Thomas Crane (William Otterson).  She's identical to her namesake in every way, even retaining many of the human version's memories.

That's creepy enough, right?  Well, something in the way Mischa's boss, Ms. Avery (Patricia O'Neil) acts says something is not right.  And then there's the mystery of what really happened to Thomas Crane's wife . . .

OVER YOUR HEAD

There are times running this blog that I get really, really excited about a short film because it is just so well done, so professionally produced and so well written that I can't help but get gushy about it.  "Halina" is one of those times.

Writer/director Ralph Suarez weaves a complex story, and the thirty minute running time is completely warranted.  It's unfortunate that this film's length excludes it from many film festivals, and a half hour can scare potential viewers away, but in this one instance I insist you put aside any worry because if you give "Halina" a chance when it hits the Internet, you won't be disappointed.

"Halina" could easily be screened in front of any major Hollywood production, and there'd be no noticeable difference in production quality.  It's a beautiful film, featuring some really incredible locations, including the Oheka Castle Historic Hotel in Long Island, New York.  Just witnessing this sprawling estate takes us above and beyond what we see in most shorts.

TWISTING, TURNING . . . 

I don't want to say too much about the plot, but suffice it to say I was genuinely engaged in the story, and I wanted to know more, and more, and more.  It's a mystery that only deepens the longer you watch, and Wilton is irresistable as a leading lady.  Mischa is a very sympathetic character, and her eccentricities only make her more interesting.  It's her life, and its strange parallels to that of the robotic Halina, that give the unfolding events considerable weight.

"Halina" is Forest City Short Film Review's first MUST SEE SHORT of 2015, and frankly it's also one of the finest short films I have ever seen.  Don't miss it or let the long running time scare you.

You'll thank me later.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4.5 / 5.  Suarez's script is witty, funny, grave and emotional.  Mischa is a great character, and I loved Ms. Avery's arc.  The final confrontation was resolved too easily for my liking, but that's a minor complaint.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Suarez's direction is slow and confident.  A big chunk of the story is Mischa and Halina chatting, but he keeps the action onscreen appealing to the eye.  That being said, there's only so much you can do with static dialogue.  The Director of Photography, Michael LaVoie, also deserves a shout out here -- he creates some gorgeous shots of not only Oheka Castle but of the interior locations, as well.
Editing: 5 / 5.  Suarez also edited the film with help from LaVoie on color correction.  The film looks as good as any feature with a big budget and the pacing is perfect.
Sound/Music: 4.5 / 5.  The sound design was not particularly demanding, but the recording of the sound is solid and I didn't notice any moments when volumes fluctuated or lines were dubbed.  On the music side, Steve Goldstein created a nice sonic atmosphere with his score, which utilized classical guitar, a choice I applaud.  The end credit song is particularly beautiful, and I hope there's an MP3 download of it I can get because I loved it.  Additional music is provided by an indie alternative band named The Influencers -- "Overview Effect" and "Morning".  Their music matches the introspective mood of the film.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Wilton feels a little anxious at the beginning of the film, but after a few minutes her performance gets reeled back a little and she does a splendid job, very worthy of any leading actress.  O'Neil was monotone for pretty much the entire film until the ending, when her character breaks down and honestly, she could win an award for that moment.  Otterson is sympathetic and cold -- somehow, he manages to pull off both simultaneously.  There are a few side characters as well, including Mischa's wayward boyfriend, played by Tyler McElroy.  He does OK with what he's given.

Final Grade: 4.3 / 5.  

Don't forget to check out "Halina" when it comes out (I will post the link here as soon as it does), follow the film's progress on Facebook and watch the official trailer below!



Friday, April 17, 2015

White City Productions Brings Chills To Your Ears In Sci-Fi Short "Iscariot"

"ISCARIOT" (2015)
Genre: Sci-Fi
Length- 6:12
Company: White City Productions
Website: Official

Starship Captain James Bennett (Dino Fetscher) wakes up shackled in a black chair in a blindingly white room.  Two entities begin questioning him -- they identify themselves as Agents Strange (Luke Hope) and Ashcroft (Jade Corrick), and while they appear to have human bodies, he can't see their faces.  And then there's the mysterious voice in the back of his head begging for a code that only he knows, and his exterminated crew --

It's a demanding short film for a no budget production, but financial limitations never stood in the way of a good story, and good sci-fi is hard to find . . .

PLAYING HOST

"Iscariot" is a new short film from director Aleksandra Petrova, hatched from the brain of writer Andy Mihov, and it plays out like one of the better episodes of any version of Star Trek.  We have a strong male personality under siege from external forces beyond his control, and the hint of extraterrestrial menace.  Add to that an insidious, apparently parasitic force trying to take control of Bennett's mind, and you've got pretty much ever sci-fi plot boiled together.

What it may lack in originality, "Iscariot" more than makes up for in its delivery.  There's so much white going on with this film that it lends the events onscreen an almost ethereal, otherworldly air.  From its stellar color design to the intense sound design and sparing but effective score, "Iscariot" rides high on quality production values.  It may not look quite as good as something you'd see in the theater, but it's more than striking enough to suck you in and tell you a good story.

MISSING CODE

The only real complaints I have with the film are fairly small.  First, I felt like something's missing from the storyline because the ending felt a bit too ambiguous for me.  I didn't really understand if the two agents are really who they're saying they are, or if Bennett was telling the truth about his amnesia or even if the room he was in really existed or if it was just a product of his weakening mind.

My second problem was with some of the performers.  Corrick acts well, but her appearance took me out of the film.  Her makeup, hair and youthful look was too goth for me to believe in her role.  Fetscher is awfully young and clean to be Bennett, also.   If he'd been dirtied up more and given a few more bruises here and there it would have helped his believability as well.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Mihov's script is pretty standard fare for a sci-fi TV show, but it does the job here.  The ending was a bit too ambiguous, but it's more than good enough for Petrova to create a solid film.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Petrova and the director of photography, Kirill Proskura, utilize just about every trick in the book to try and make this film FEEL like it is out of this world.  I loved her choice to wrap everything in white, and those shots of headless suited agents were chilling.  I also liked how she conveyed Bennett's confusion through quick cutting throughout the interrogation.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Petrova and Proskura also handled editing duties, and the film cuts together like a charm.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Jon Henry's "Wickedness" is the only music here -- but a huge part of the success of "Iscariot" is Gethin Rhys Jones' sound design, which is an immaculately crafted panorama of sound.  It could have been a badly mixed mess, but instead every layer of noise is clear and accounted for -- every creepy alien voice and all the interrogators' lines of dialogue and even the white noise in Bennett's brain.
Acting: 3 / 5.  As a whole, the acting was serviceable, with particular praise owed to Fetscher and Corrick, who both wore their characters well in spite of some missteps with makeup and hair.

Final Grade: 3.6 / 5.  

"Iscariot" isn't released online yet, but when it is you can bet I'll put the link up right here so don't forget to check back with me.  Also, don't forget to follow the creators on Facebook!

Hungarian Short Film "Blue Dream" Tells Cancer Survivor's Story

"BLUE DREAM" (2014)
Genre: Documentary
Length- 4:19
Company: Ellekes Pictures
Website: Official YouTube

"Blue Dream" comes to my laptop all the way from Hungary and is directed by Gergo Elekes, who wrote the score on another short film I've reviewed here called "Aftermath".  It tells the story of Kinga Galambos, a young Hungarian swimmer fighting her way through cancer.

It's a difficult film to review because there isn't much content to work with, but let's get right to it, shall we?

THE JOYS OF BREVITY

 It's only a little over four minutes long, and that includes credits, so really what we're looking at is maybe three minutes of screen time.  The only vocalizations throughout the film are from frequent voiceovers from Galambos.  Her accent is thick but she has a good voice and manages to convey all that she says dramatically.

Most of the film is her swimming from one end of a pool to the other, interspersed with blink or you'll miss it shots of her dealing with being sick.  Elekes obviously composed each of these shots and each is conveyed in a very emotional way without force feeding the audience what he's trying to say.

ABOVE THE SURFACE

I loved the gritty texture of the film itself, and having seen people live and die after bouts with cancer, the meaning of "Blue Dream" is admirable, but when I reached the end of the film I didn't know how I felt about it.  There's not really any story here -- the credits say there was a screenplay, and it was written by Jozsef Gallai, but I didn't feel any particular conflict here, I didn't have a sense of a character growing before my eyes, or really a character at all.

"Blue Dream" is something like a moving motivational poster, and it works on that level.  If you're looking for something with narrative, however, you're not going to find it here.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The writing works for what it's trying to do, but there's no story, no structure, and there's not much we get to know about our main character aside from the fact that she swims regularly and has fought cancer.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Elekes has created a gorgeous series of visuals that stand strong on their own two feet, and if "Blue Dream" succeeds, it is a credit to his directorial vision.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Competently done, no obvious mistakes from shot to shot.  It works.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  Gorgeous piano work from Elekes.  The music tugs at the heartstrings and is as melodic as a pop song.  The sound was also perfect -- Kinga's voice overs were perfect volume and clear as day.
Acting: N/A.

Final Grade:  2.8 / 5. 

Watch "Blue Dream" right now over at YouTube and check out Gergo Eleke's official YouTube channel here!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Moving Fantasy Romance "Stop/Eject" Asks What Would You Do If You Could Turn Back Time

"STOP/EJECT" (2014)
Genre: Fantasy
Length- 16:57
Company: Jigawatt Pictures / Triskelle Pictures
Website: Official

Kate (Georgina Sherrington) watches from the windows of a thrift store as her husband Dan (Oliver Park) is struck and killed by a negligent driver.  Devastated, she finds herself afloat in a world that has lost all of its meaning.  When she returns to the thrift store to retrieve her purse, which she understandably forgot in the trauma of the moment, she by chance uncovers an old cassette player.

An old cassette player that can rewind time.

Kate rewinds reality to moments before the accident, but can she stop Dan from his death or is the past inevitable?

THE MEANING OF FANTASY

"Stop/Eject" is the latest film from director Neil Oseman and a completely realized, full blown and effectively produced short fantasy film.  He co-wrote the film with screenwriter Tommy Draper, and together they've managed to lend new wings to a cliched idea.

There is so much to like about "Stop/Eject".  First of all, its heart is in the right place and it knows what it's about and what it's here to do.  I came very close to crying over the course of its sixteen minute run time, and that's no small accomplishment.  It never feels soapish or over the top.

Even Dan's death is done tastefully -- and, in a brilliant directorial move, the actual accident is viewed through the reflection of the thrift shop front door.  When the car's about to hit Dan, the door swings open and we never actually see the point of impact.  Sometimes, implying is far more powerful in the eyes of the viewer than showing blood and broken bones.

I don't want to expose too much, because this is a short film you really do owe it to yourself to watch, but let's just say that there is more to it than a 'race against time'.  It's a beautiful short film that deals with very real and raw emotions, and does so in a classy and inventive way.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  Oseman and Draper's script conveys everything you need to know in a very rapid fashion.  This storyline could easily be a feature, but these guys break it down for you in sixteen minutes -- that's no easy feat.  I felt the beginning was a little rushed, and Kate's final decision seems very sudden.  Apart from that, it's a well written story that provides a great skeleton for a visually rich short film.
Directing: 5 / 5.  Oseman's direction makes this story as emotionally striking as any feature film in theaters in recent memory.  The car accident sequence was a great move, but I liked the scene where Kate discovers where all the cassette tapes are hidden as well.  You could isolate any sequence in this film and feel emotion, solely from the way the camera's set up and the choreography of the actors.  It doesn't hurt that he also gets solid performances from all of the actors, either.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The film is cut incredibly fast for the first few minutes, and perhaps this was intended from the writing onward.  I didn't feel like I knew the characters well enough to really feel anything for Kate or Dan one way or the other.  After the accident, though, the pacing settles into a groove.  The coloring is spot on and the end credits are perfect.  All in all, a very professional presentation.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  I much enjoyed Scott Benzie's score -- a soundtrack which was RECORDED by real instruments, no less!  Organic and memorable.   There's also a nifty little pop song at the end performed by Andrea Kristina called "Stop/Eject" that will leave you charmed.  The sound design by Henning Knoepfel makes sure that you hear everything you're supposed to hear.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Sherrington is completely believable as the bereaved Kate.  Park is charming and silly in equal measures, doing a good job of making the character of Dan endearing.  Therese Collins is a little monotone as Alice (the shopkeeper), but her performance doesn't detract from the short at all.

Final Grade: 4 / 5.

Visit the official website of "Stop/Eject" right now so you don't miss out!  When it's released online officially, I will post the link here so come on back now, ya hear?

Check out the trailer below!



Monday, April 13, 2015

Avant-Garde "James of the Tree" Aims High With Sword & Skeleton

"JAMES OF THE TREE" (2015)
Genre: Experimental
Length-12:11
Company: Metro Film Produktion
Website: Official

There are films that can be understood simply by watching them, and there are films that viewers have to work at to comprehend -- and even then, they may withhold their secrets from the audience.

"James of the Tree" falls solidly into the latter category.  Taking influences from the poetry of Alfred Tennyson, the music of Haydn and the avant-garde cinema of Europe, it serves as a major question that only you, as the audience member, can answer.

THE CHALLENGE

"James of the Tree" is writer/director James Ristas's fourth short and, while his previous films such as "A Film in Tongues" and "Jehovah's Cobras" were challenging in their own ways, this latest is arguably the most demanding and difficult film yet.

The story very loosely echoes the poem, "St. Simeon Stylites" as written in 1833 by the famed poet Alfred Tennyson.  In case you're unaware, this classic poem is essentially Tennyson trying to weigh in on what makes a man worthy of ascending to Heaven -- all peppered with numerous satirical stabs.
 
If you know that going in, the madcap events in the film aren't quite as over the top and strange.  Everything is a metaphor, or at least everything pretends to be a metaphor.  You start thinking about what's going on, and James' attempts to escape persecution, only to murder his attacker and wander from place to place, utterly devoid of emotion, and eventually, it kind of clicks.

AND DOWN WE GO

That being said, not everything plays along with the themes of the poem particularly well.  I don't get the significance of the tree in regards to the story.  I don't get the sword, or what that strange rake is that appears periodically and pokes at James.  Who are those people at the beginning, the mourners, and why does one of them "ascend", and more than that, why does her ascending inspire the others to hate James?

It's one thing to be metaphorical, or to demand total audience attention, but it's another thing entirely to just simply not have any answers for the numerous questions.

PUTTIN' ON A SHOW

I enjoyed the black and white presentation, complete with fake dirt and damage to the "film stock".  The action was either fast and furious -- almost like a Looney Tunes cartoon -- or so slow that I found myself wondering if anything else of note would happen.  It's an experimental film, and I get that, but a steady buildup to a climax would have been much appreciated.

The makeup effects, by Jessica-Lee Van Winkle and Angela Gendron, were quite effective -- the skeleton, in particular, looked realistic.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The only spoken words in the film are quotes from Tennyson, but they serve their purpose: trying to adopt a deeper meaning to the seemingly unconnected images onscreen.  The metaphors are not readily apparent, and perhaps some more of it would become clear with repeat viewings, but the slow pace of the story does nothing to make me want to watch it again.  As it is, there are hints of intelligent discourse here, but they're few and far between.
Directing: 3 / 5.  I enjoyed Rista's take on silent films -- he cuts the sequences together and frames his shots almost like an old Groucho Marx silent film.
Editing: 3 / 5.  This is a difficult score to give, as I have no way of knowing how some of the more rough edges of the film were on purpose, to lend the film its "old" look.  Ristas contacted me and informed me that this short was filmed on Super 8 film and the dirt and scratches were real.  As a whole, the film suffers from serious pacing issues -- but that's more of a writing problem than anything in the editing room.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Haydn's music is intriguing, especially with the weirdness going on in the film.   Dr. Michael Hurley, who is the voice reading Tennyson's poem, is up front and center.
Acting: 2 / 5.  James of the Tree (Kevin Geezil) does what he can, but if a film doesn't make sense, it's hard to then, in turn, make sense of a character's emotions.  The remainder of the cast are largely forgettable.  Dr. Hurley's voice is monotone and droning, and after a while I wanted his voiceovers to stop.

Final Grade: 2.6 / 5.

Check out "James of the Tree" on Vimeo right here -- and then say hello to writer/director James Rista on Facebook!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Short Film "Leaving" and the Ones Left Behind Offer Uneasy Answers to Tough Questions

"LEAVING" (2014)
Genre:  Drama/Fantasy
Length- 9:52
Company: The Majors Productions
Website: Official

Emily Hemming (Molly Ryman) left her family.  Only her husband Paul (Joseph A. Halsey) will see her -- her son, Cristian (Cristian Neenan) won't so much as look at her, and her daughter Sarah (Noelle Yatauro) won't talk to her.

And then there's Bertrand (Sal Rendino), the therapist she's seeing.  He tries to talk her through this tough period, but there's more to it than how it looks, and if her family is ever going to move on past the moment she ceased to be present in their lives, she's going to have to let go just as much as they do.

A MOMENT PASSING

Writer/director Debra Markowitz ("The Last Taxi Driver") has been making a name for herself by finding new life in genre conventions.  "Leaving" is a prime example of that -- it's a meditation on the nature of grief and what it means to die, from both the perspective of those that are gone and their family members.

While an intriguing concept, the tone of the film is one note and there's not much for our characters to do, which means the running time inevitably outlasts the strength of the film's message.  

A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN

Fortunately, then, that Markowitz has, for the most part, retained her crew from "The Last Taxi Driver".  As a result, the film is professionally shot from beginning to the end, but this time the images on display are for more striking.  A good chunk of the praise has to go toward the Director of Photography, Marc Riou -- he was present on "The Last Taxi Driver", but here he is really given free reign to help realize Markowitz's visions of Heaven and the beauty of nature.  I really loved the shots of the sea, and of Halsey on the dock.

It doesn't hurt that the film's acting is spot on, and none of the characters descend into nervous breakdowns or tearful exchanges -- a smart move on Markowitz's part because it grounds the story in a more realistic place.

If you're in the mood for a thoughtful short film about life, death, love and memory, then you'll love "Leaving".

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  Markowitz's script is smart and tugs at the heart strings in a realistic and intimate way.  The characters don't have enough to do though -- too much of the story is "I know what to do, but I'm not going to."  
Directing: 4 / 5.  I loved the fact that every shot was well composed and that the power of nature was smartly harnessed -- conveying Heaven without any cheesy shots of angels perching on fluffy clouds.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The momentum of the story noticeably drags a little in the middle, and I can't help but wonder if the story would have flowed better had a little more been cut.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Stephanie Zuccaro provides a touching score.  A sweet acoustic pop song by Sofia Nicole, "Look Around" is utilized in the end credits.  It fits "Leaving" so perfectly that I can't think of the movie without that song.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Ryman capably leads the cast with a performance that feels almost uncomfortably real.  Halsey is authentic and infinitely likeable as Paul.  Neenan and Yatauro are young but they do what is required of them.  Rendino does what he can with what he's given, but, similar to his role in "Junkie Heaven", (where he acted opposite Halsey) he doesn't have as much a character to work with as a stereotype, in this case that of the professional therapist.

Final Grade: 3.7 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Leaving", which is currently playing in festivals, and follow writer/director Debra Markowitz on Facebook!

As soon as "Leaving" is released online, you can bet you'll find the link here!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Man & His Taxi: Debra Markowitz's Directing Debut "The Last Taxi Driver" Trades Flesh Eating For Funny

"THE LAST TAXI DRIVER" (2014)
Genre:  Horror/Comedy
Length- 14:19
Company: The Majors Productions
Website: Official

Dorman O'Mearain (Robert Clohessy) refuses to let a little thing like the zombie apocalypse stop him from pursuing the American Dream of operating his own taxi business.  He spends his days dodging zombies and getting people from point A to point B without being eaten.  The thing is, the zombies are getting smarter, and they've set up centers for survivors.

Sounds benevolent enough, right?  Well, our protagonist isn't quite so sure, but his latest customer, Violet(Emily Jackson) has her own opinion . . .

ZOMBIES 1, HUMANS 0

The zombie genre has been done to death (pun intended) several times over, and innovative directions for such a story are getting harder and harder to find.  That being said, "The Last Taxi Driver", writer Debra Markowitz's directorial debut, manages to find a humorous niche in the ever expanding canon of undead mischief tales.

The film's production values are stellar throughout, and the acting is solid, particularly from Clohessy.  The taxi driver is horribly sex deprived (a state which I doubt has much to do with the zombie apocalypse, actually) and continuously disrespected by the public at large, zombies and living humans alike.  He's an "over the hill" character whose best days are unquestionably behind him, but who soldiers on anyway in a pursuit of some kind of meaning, even if it's just the meaning of being good at what he does.

FOLLOW YOUR BLISS

The story unfolds with a very funny client named Sybil (played by Kick Ass's Deborah Twiss) who freaks out on the taxi driver's lame attempts at being the sort of man who can take charge and help, what he perceives, as a beautiful damsel in distress.  It's a role that could have easily gone off the deep end and been utterly unbelievable, but Twiss handles it capably.

The story is fun and the laughs are peppered throughout the movie, but that doesn't change the fact that as a whole the film feels slow.  That's part of Markowitz trying to convey how this taxi driver's life is now painted in two shades: utter boredom and the complete terror of being surrounded by zombies.  That's all there is to his life, and he soldiers on as a taxi driver, a role that is quickly becoming more and more irrelevant.  He's heroic, in a strange way, and that made me care about what happened to him.

My only real beef with the story is that the gravity of the final scene with the taxi driver and the second client did not feel as life threatening as it should have.  I don't want to spoil anything so I won't say more than that.  It doesn't ruin the film by any stretch of the imagination, and the coda of the film was a good mix of darkness and comedy.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  For what Markowitz was going for, the story delivers and it works.  I did feel the pacing was a little slow, and the finale didn't feel urgent enough.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Markowitz's camera work is confident.  I much appreciated the long shots -- they build a whole lot more mood than the sort of quick cutting that has become associated with zombie films as of late.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The film looks great and the color grade is top notch.  This film could easily play theatrically and come out on top.  I'm not reducing the score for the slow pacing, as I'm calling that a writing problem, rather than an oversight in the cutting room.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Taylor Bradshaw's score is understated -- so much so that I don't remember anything in particular that stuck out.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Great acting all around, with Clohessy and Twiss emerging as the finest thespians.  Vincent Ticali does a good job in the first scene as the serious looking President announcing how dangerous the zombie apocalypse has become.

Final Grade: 3.6 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "The Last Taxi Driver" and follow writer/director Debra Markowitz on Facebook! 

While the film is currently on the festival circuit, as soon as it's available online to watch, I'll post it here!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"Tilting At Skyscrapers": A Humorous Mix of Don Quixote and Video Game Addiction

"TILTING AT SKYSCRAPERS" (2013)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 8:09
Company: N/A
Website: Official Facebook

Don (Frank Stasio) may be having a wee bit of trouble telling fantasy from reality.  He's a hardcore gamer with barely enough free time between games to eat . . .  and he might not be sleeping at all.  When fellow tenant Billy (Jeff Elam) stops by and tells him to get out of his apartment and go do something constructive, he takes it upon himself to go out and experience a first person shooter game firsthand -- thankfully, he has no access to real automatic weapons or explosive devices.

And yes, dear readers, this is where the hijinx begin.

FIGHTING WINDMILLS

"Tilting at Skyscrapers" is a clever modern day take on the seventeenth century novel, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.  Both stories feature a protagonist who is utterly lost in their own fantasy world and so starving for meaning that they find it through utterly denying the outside world exists at all.  The only real difference here is that Don has no pretensions about honor or chivalry, as Quixote did.  Don fancies himself a soldier, pure and simple.

I don't want to spoil anything, as the film is quite funny.  I loved the scene where Don attempts to use the head of a plunger as a thermal explosive.  Also, Billy, his neighbor, has a nice character arc where he begins to see how Don is almost mentally deficient, and does his best to take care of him during his night out on the town.  This relationship added a dynamic element to an otherwise static plot.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  Stasio, who played Don, also wrote and produced "Tilting At Skyscrapers".  While I enjoyed its inventive usage of the Don Quixote source material, it didn't really have much to say and suffered from some beginner screenwriting issues, like a classic dialogue info dump from Billy at the beginning of the film about Don and how he lives his life.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Director Benjamin Pitts opens the film with that clever pan through Don's apartment -- that camera move set up the mood while conveying Don's character.  The shots out on the town looked great -- solid choreography from Natasha Norman.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The film moves at a good pace and all the transitions move seamlessly and with precision.  The color grading looks great.  I also enjoyed the credit sequence, whose font is reminiscent of old video games.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  The score, by Michael Teoli, was unremarkable -- except for the end credits, where he again takes inspiration from retro video games.  The result is a solid, fun song that I could totally see going in "Golden Axe" or "Streets of Rage" on the Sega Genesis game system.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Good acting from Stasio and Elam, though the latter's aforementioned info dump scene felt off to me.

Final Grade: 3.1 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Tilting At Skyscrapers" by clicking on this link and entering the password "Frank1"!  When you get done watching it, follow the film on Facebook to stay up to date on any new developments.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Joseph Halsey Gives a Mindblowing Performance in Steve Sage's Latest Short, Crime Fantasy "Junkie Heaven"

"JUNKIE HEAVEN” (2014)
Genre: Crime Fantasy
Length- 18:00
Company: Steve Sage Productions
Website: Official

Doyle (Joseph Halsey) was a junkie on his last legs – an Iraq war veteran suffering from PTSD whose only escape from misery and grief was through the draining halo of heroin addiction.  With his live-in girlfriend and partner in crime Faz (Nicole Vogt-Lowell), he's been involved with all sorts of unsavory dealings, and there's been no end to his downward spiral in sight . . . until today.

You see, today, Doyle wakes up dead, and strikes a deal with Alex (Sal Rendino), an angel offering him a way out of eternal damnation for the crimes he's committed throughout his life.  All he needs to do is retrieve a mysterious knife from a heroin dealer (Chris Cardona).

Let the hunt begin . . .

UNEASY VIEW

“Junkie Heaven” is the latest short film coming from award winning director Steven Sage and his production company.  Written by Lee Kolinsky, this short walks a thin line between fantasy and a more traditional crime story.  It's an interesting mix, and it sets up some really ambitious storytelling.

The most effective part of the film is the first half, in which we become accustomed to the truly horrific and quite graphic life of heroin addicts.  Once Doyle discovers he's dead and Alex appears – in an impeccable suit and tie – Sage's directing and Kolinsky's writing had me squarely in their grasp.  The acting, the dialogue, and the imagery are all brilliant, some of the finest I've seen in short films since beginning this blog back in 2013.

It's when Doyle leaves the apartment and goes on his mission that the film starts to teeter.

GOING RAMBO

The keeper of the knife that Doyle's supposed to steal isn't just a heroin dealer, he's part of what appears to be a crime family.  Now, maybe it's due to budgetary constraints, but Doyle literally drives over, walks in, abuses one guard, and that's that – he's in.  It's way too easy, and it strained my belief in what was going on, especially for a short film like this that is, in all other respects, gritty and realistic despite its fantastical trappings.

Then, the film jumps to a boxing match, and Doyle's appearance changes to what he must have looked like back in his army days – right down to his army fatigues.  I didn't understand the jump, and considering what the knife ends up being capable of doing, it is utterly unbelievable that the heroin dealer would have it nearby.

The reveal at the end is also a bit strained, although I liked the concluding shot of Doyle.  I don't want to spoil it for you so I won't say too much, but let's just say there's more to the deal than Doyle expects, and I loved that what happens to him at the end is metaphorical of the afterlife he winds up experiencing.

Even with the story failings and the budgetary issues, “Junkie Heaven” is still a powerful short film with a fantastic first half and a solid conclusion.  The in-between stuff might be a little bit of a letdown, but that's only because of how incredibly good that first half truly is.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Absolutely loved the first half of the film, but the plot didn't take me from Point A to Point C in an entertaining way.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Steve Sage's directing is simply astonishing.  Loved the “tick tock” shots in the opening sequence.  The fight was also well choreographed and the hits looked painful.  He pulled great performances out of his cast.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The film's pacing was perfect, and the coloring worked extremely well.  The only thing that kept me from giving this a perfect score was that when Doyle left dark areas and went to bright areas, there was some compression or something that blinded out the action.  Otherwise, a very professional show.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  The sound was done well and the score, by Taylor Bradshaw, was effective without being intrusive.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Intense and dynamic performance by Joseph Halsey rooted me in the story and made me care about what happened to him – this guy's going to win awards one day, I promise you that.  Vogt-Lowell did a good job but at times she teetered into overacting territory.  Rendino felt authentic, comforting, and threatening when he needed to be.  The remainder of the cast did OK but for the most part sounded flat.

Final Grade:  3.8 / 5.

Don't forget to check out the trailer for “Junkie Heaven" and follow Steve Sage on Facebook – the film's now touring festivals, but when it hits the Internet, I highly recommend you take a look!



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!