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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Man on the Edge Horror Short Film "Impulse" Lacks Punch

"IMPULSE" (2015)
Genre: Horror
Length- 11:30
Company: Lurid Artist Productions
Website: Official Facebook

Edward (Brandon Nichols) is a loner who cannot speak to other people because he's too busy being tormented by the horrible things he wants to do to pretty young women.  To try and relieve some of those dark thoughts, he rests for a moment at a restaurant.

Sarah (Jamie Page) shows up as well . . . and Sarah's precisely the sort of woman Edward fantasizes about . . .

SELF CONTROL

Writer/director/editor/star Brandon Nichols (whew!) creates a few stirring images without the benefit of much of a budget, simply by gathering shots from his natural environment.  Take the spider in the beginning, for instance.  That was a brilliant shot and set the mood perfectly.  Then there's later in the film, when Edward's demons start to show themselves -- the masks are legitimately disturbing.

Unfortunately, once you start to see the movie beyond its periodically clever visuals, you start to see several issues begin to appear.  First of all, the characters are one dimensional and neither one ever gets to be much of anything.  Edward is psychotic, Sarah is an unsuspecting victim.  Sometimes, really good actors can convey a level of character development that the script never intended, and Nichols and Page do their best, but it doesn't happen.

On top of that, there is virtually no plot.  Considering that this is a horror story, anyone who's seen any horror film of the past thirty years will know exactly how all this is going to play out.

I don't think I'm spoiling anything if I offer you this analogy, but out of respect to all the viewers who will read this review, I'm going to "white out" this next paragraph just in case . . .

POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT: Click and drag over the white space that follows to read what some might consider a spoiler.  You might want to watch "Impulse" first before reading it!

If I wrote a story about a mailman who wasn't sure if he wanted to be a mailman, and then just had him go deliver the mail, would that be an entertaining story?  No, it's just a sequence of events that doesn't mean anything.  Thematically, that story is dead.  

There has to be conflict, and I'm not seeing any.  Edward's monologues suggest he's unsure of whether he truly wants to be a sadistic murderer, but when push comes to shove, he sure dives right in -- or does he?  Using a desaturated color palette, we see examples of what Edward would love to be doing to Sarah.  The remainder of the film is "did he do it or did he not do it?"  Without developed characters, I don't have much of a reason to care one way or the other.

The events on screen can't deliver if they're not backed up by characters that ground the film in reality and to which, in the best of situations, viewers can relate.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1.5 / 5.  I liked some of Nichols' monologue, particularly in the beginning, but the characters may as well be cardboard cut-outs and the plot has zero momentum.
Directing: 2.5 / 5.  Nichols' direction is the only involving part of the film.  I enjoyed the close-ups on the china, and his quick cuts to Edward's frightening demon.  He chose to move the camera slowly, opting for a slow build of tension throughout the film.  If the writing were a bit better, that choice would have worked a lot better.
Editing: 2 / 5.  Cutting from shot to shot seemed smooth.  Film grain was liberally applied from time to time, but beyond that nothing stood out, but then nothing detracted, either.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  Stock music from Kevin MacLeod and some noisy dialogue.
Acting: 1.5 / 5.  Nichols and Page do the best they can, but neither of their performances felt authentic, with the most troublesome sequences being the violent ones.

Final Grade: 2 / 5.

You can check out "Impulse" right here and don't forget to say hello to Lurid Artist Productions on Facebook!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dan Rosen's Sci-Fi Short "Joe & Mary's Kid" Turns a Robotic Eye On Parenthood

"JOE & MARY'S KID" (2014)
Genre: Sci-Fi
Length- 14:37
Company:  N/A
Website:  Official Facebook

In a future not so distant from our own, Joe (Geraint Hill) and Mary (Marley Hamilton) attempt to get approved for adopting a child after their own attempts at making a baby have failed.  But when a form rejection letter comes to the house, Joe refuses to take it lying down.

He's got some spare parts and a whole lot of metal in his basement, and quite literally begins to build new life with his bare hands.

NUTS AND BOLTS

In a sci-fi film, there's always some question as to whether or not what you see on screen is technically possible.  If it's not, then what you're watching is really fantasy, because it requires some kind of supernatural intervention to work.  For instance, Star Wars is a fantasy because it has at its core the concept of The Force, which is basically magic, when you get right down to it.

Now take "Joe & Mary's Kid".  It's unlikely that a man could today, on his own, build a robot that could not only approximate human movement but also communicate with a pretty wide ranging vocabulary.  But who knows what will be possible over the next twenty or thirty years?

The robot itself looks great and, while obviously low budget it works because whatever Joe could put together would not look shiny and pristine.  Writer/director Dan Rosen and crew did a great job at making it look real, but low tech.

A FAMILY FEUD

The story unfolds at just the right pace.  We see the frustration of the young family's inability to have children immediately, and then it's on to Joe's single minded and borderline lunatic dedication to building himself a son.

Mary humors his efforts, and she clearly sees how crazy he is to be doing this, but she supports him anyway.  Now that's love, right there.

But even her patience wears thin as the robot becomes harder and harder to maintain.

The conclusion doesn't pay off or resolve that conflict.  I would have thought there would have been a huge collision between Joe and Mary -- we see what he wants, he wants a son, but what does she want?  Deep down, what is having a child going to fulfill within her?  We never get her side of the story which is interesting because she has the bulk of screen time, and she's hardly passive.  She does something which I would have thought would warrant at least a brief blow up, but nothing ever comes of it.

CONCLUSION

It's clear Rosen likes these characters because he treats them with so much respect.  It feels however that he is maybe too concerned with their feelings -- he never brings the central conflict into the light of day so that both parents can say what needs to be said.

Because of that, the finale is a bit of a letdown.  Even so, as a whole, "Joe & Mary's Kid" is a thoughtful and amusing sci-fi flick with heart and I very much recommend checking it out!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing:  3.5 / 5.  Dan Rosen's characters feel like real people, full of eccentricities and differences.  The plot is also intriguing, but that ending bothered me.
Directing: 4 / 5.   Rosen delivers plenty of visual movement, but he also knows when a still shot will pay off more than any amount of handheld nonsense.   Loved the tight close-ups during Joe's breakdown and the awkward moment when the robot trudges past Mary in the hallway.
Editing: 5 / 5.  The film goes off without a hitch thanks to top notch editing from Vera Simmonds.  All the transitions sync properly and Fabio-Miguel Campos' image coloring is gorgeous and lends the film a theatrical feel.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Neo Peterson's sound design is good and the volumes are level.  The music, by composer David Pearce, is playful courtesy of its teetering cadence and Casio-keyboard-meets-auto-shop sound.
Acting: 4 / 5.  The film is very well acted from start to finish, with particular nods going to our leads.  Hill and Hamilton have a great chemistry together, and even at his nuttiest you get the impression that Joe is a good person caught at a bad moment.   The robot is played by Jem Demirel, whose monotone delivery is just what the director ordered.  Mark Drake and Emmy Sainsbury do what they need to do.

Final Grade: 3.9 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Joe & Mary's Kid" on Vimeo and follow the film's release on Facebook!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Lack of Conflict and Drama Sink Music Documentary "Can You Hear Me?"

"CAN YOU HEAR ME?" (2015)
Genre:  Documentary
Length- 10:31
Company: N/A
Website: Official

Mary Artiles, also known as the singer Eileithyia, is an aspiring musician recording her new EP.  Daniel Schlett, her sound engineer, does his best to help guide her through a complicated and extremely subjective process.

But what Mary is really searching for is herself.  More specifically, a sense of herself created through her very personal art.

NARRATIVE TRUTH

If you have a horror movie with scares and some tension, sometimes you can coast by on a light story and still have a decent audience reception.  Other genres work the same way: for instance, an action film with a fast pace and plenty of fight scenes can overcome a lack of plot.  A tearjerker drama can get by with melodrama.

Documentaries however do not have that luxury.  A documentary, more than any other genre, needs a mission statement.  Why was this event committed to celluloid?  Why should the audience care about what they're seeing?

With "Can You Hear Me?", a short documentary film directed in a handheld style by Michael Artiles, there is no clear cut answer.  Without a character arc or storyline or any conflict, it comes off as less of a film and more of a capably made promotional piece for an established artist.  As it is, she's a beginner, and while she is a very talented young woman who could very well go somewhere in the music business, "Can You Hear Me?" the film has no hook to make me want to check it out in the first place.

THE GENTLE ART OF CONFLICT

The best documentaries create an engaging narrative around something real and historical.  Some notable examples of musical documentaries done right include Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's Metallica documentary, Some Kind of Monster and even, to a lesser extent, the Katy Perry film Part of Me.  Drama and conflict sell films -- even documentaries.

That's what we're missing here.  Something needs to sell this film to me as an audience member, because I have a million other pieces of entertainment vying for my attention.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1 / 5.  Documentaries don't have a traditional "screenplay" as such, but they do string events together in a way that tells a story.  There is nothing resembling that in this film.
Directing: 2 / 5.  Michael Artiles' handheld style works, but there's nothing that stands out -- and part of that is because nothing's going on conceptually, so there's no room for Artiles to evoke anything visually.
Editing: 2 / 5.  Jean-Claude Quintyne and Michael Artiles handle editing duties, and do a decent job with the transitions.  The pacing of the film is completely dead, though.  The last three minutes of the film are dedicated to Schlett relating an amusing music anecdote that has nothing to do with anything in this film.  It feels unnecessary and, while humorous, it just pads out the movie even more.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  It's a professional show from start to finish in the sound and music department.  Mary Artiles is a talented singer and her songs are bright and poppy and easy on the ears.
Acting: N/A.

Final Grade: 2.1 / 5.  

If you like pop music, check out Mary Artiles' Eileithyia project and, if you want a look into her songwriting process, you'll enjoy watching "Can You Hear Me?".

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Award Winning "Mallas, MA" Puts Up The Score: Ghosts 1, Con Artists -1

"MALLAS, MA" (2013)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 7:37
Company: Team Fix it In Post
Website: Official Vimeo

Ghosts -- and the supernatural in general -- are big business, but you can't count on them to perform for the camera.  If you need something fabricated on location, you bring in people like con artists Brian (Tim Cox) and Maria (Maria Natapov).

And then there's Sydney (played by twins Uatchet Jin Juch and Nekhebet Kum Juch), a lonely girl who squats in the basement of the building where Brian and Maria are assigned . . .

A SHORT'S SHORT

"Mallas, MA" is a short film created for the 2013 Boston 48 Hour Film Project by co-writer and director Sean Meehan and the incredibly talented Team Fix It In Post.  It won Audience Choice Award at the time, and it's been circulating the Internet ever since.

Though billed as a "buddy film", I would classify it as a simple comedy.  The audience is treated to a strong pair of leads in Cox and Natapov, but their interplay is not particularly important.  The characters Brian and Maria bungle their way through attempting to stage ghostly antics, only to find themselves face to face with the genuinely supernatural.

While not a particularly original idea, it works here.  It's not hysterically funny either, but the short running time, peerless production quality and the acting is so top notch that it's a very easy watch.

Stay around through the end credits, too -- the best laugh out loud moment's buried in there and you don't want to miss it.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The script, written by Meehan, Daniel Berube and Todd Mahone is derivative but it does succeed in moving the plot forward.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Meehan's got a great visual eye and the film unfolds through a series of attractive locations and photogenic actors and actresses.  I particularly loved the crane shot at the beginning -- that was one heck of a shot.  Director of Photography Rick Macomber deserves a shout out here as well.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Berube and Meehan handle editing duties here, and their film unfolds so quickly that you could conceivably blink and miss something.  The transitions are solid, and the colors are big and bright courtesy of Rob Bessette's work.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  Cesar Suarez offers up a score that sounds like a cross between the themes of The Walking Dead and The X-Files.  The sound design as a whole is solid, but there is a second or two during the conversation with Sydney in the basement that cut out unexpectedly.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Cox and Natapov were completely in control of their characters and came across as sleazy but not gratingly so.  The cast as a whole were more than good enough for the material in the script.  The Juch twins also did a fine job, emoting through facial expressions.

Final Grade: 3.2 / 5.  

Don't forget to check out "Mallas, MA" on Vimeo and visit the official IMDb page here!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Dustin Cook's "Mother & Brother" A Bleak Slice of Real Life and a Must See Drama Short

"MOTHER & BROTHER" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 16:48
Company: Malt Shop
Website: Dustin Cook

Mother (Lisa Goodman) is dying, and it's left to her eldest son (Laurence Fuller) to care for her until the inevitable happens.  It's a seemingly unending string of long nights and even longer days, of bathing and feeding and sleeping.

Meanwhile, the son's younger brother (Clint Napier) is getting married to Annabelle (Ashley Hayes), who neither Mother or son likes.  Then, the younger brother is going on a honeymoon in Mexico.

It's unfortunate timing, particularly considering the venemous way Mother has learned to control her household.

BLEAK SILENCE

"Mother & Brother" is the brainchild of first time writer/director Dustin Cook, and his mature visual style is lent impressive wings by the work of Director of Photography Todd Bell.  The outdoor scenes are gorgeous, particularly when Fuller is on his own two thirds of the way through the film.  In that sequence, Cook and Bell paint the onscreen activity in broad strokes, lending an almost impressionistic air to the proceedings for a truly inspired -- and dark -- montage.

It's no wonder that it won Best Dramatic Short at the Arizona International Film Festival -- what we have here is a film that looks great, sounds great, and actually has something to say.

ILLUMINATION

This short film is also longer than many others.  Despite being sixteen minutes and having little overt action, it's never dull, never repetitive.  For the first few minutes, you wonder what's going on -- why are Mother and the son so unsupportive of the younger brother's impending wedding?

One of my favorite moments of this film is when we shift perspectives.  At first, we think the younger brother and Annabelle are the leads in the film, but that responsibility is passed off to the older brother -- kind of like the day to day caring for Mother in general.  Once we walk a while in his shoes, we can appreciate why he is less than excited for his brother: he sees it as his brother's escape from Mother and her illness.

They both realize, though it remains unspoken, that they must break away from Mother's control.

CONCLUSION

It's not a pleasant picture they ultimately leave us with, but it doesn't have to be because what we wind up with at the end of the film is truth.  It's part of being human -- everybody goes through this eventually.  Everybody makes their own road through life.

It's worth saying too that the conclusion that's drawn here took some guts to put on film.  I can already see the kinds of reactions that people are going to have when they see what happens, but for this reviewer, it nailed the point home with surprising force considering how "Mother & Brother" is otherwise so peaceful and quiet.

I am proud to announce as well that "Mother & Brother" is our second official Forest City Short Film Review MUST SEE SHORT FILM OF 2015!  While this film is touring festivals right now, as soon as it is available to watch online or purchase, we will post links to do so.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  The dialogue in this film is center stage, and rightfully so.  Mother's horrible, partially veiled insults cut to the bone.  The relationship between the brothers feels authentic, and their yearning for freedom is portrayed in an intense and intimate way.  The younger brother's decision toward the finale seems a bit out of left field, but once I saw where Cook was going with it, it made sense and did not detract from my viewing experience.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Beautifully shot, even in the most mundane of locations.  Cook and Bell create an intoxicating web of yearning, depression and missed opportunities -- all visually.
Editing: 5 / 5.  Colorist Jeremy Ian Thomas favored vivid blues, pinks and browns for the look of the film and it makes the film that much more bleak and introspective.  Cook and Taylor Harrington took on editorial duties.  Shot to shot transitions were near perfect, without ever taking me out of the film.  All in all, this film could and should go theatrical, and a healthy amount of credit has got to be paid to all those involved in piecing this film together in the editing room.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Loved the subtlety of the acoustic guitar.  I didn't see who was responsible for the music, but I much enjoyed it and hope I can get some MP3's at some point because it was that good.  The sound design by Gypsy Sound as a whole was effective, with the entire film's volume balanced nicely.
Acting: 4.5 / 5.  "Mother & Brother" is one of the best acted short films I've seen all year.  Fuller, Napier and Goodman in particular were an incredible trio, playing off one another with realistic family dynamics.  The performances in this short film are uncomfortable, touching, and somehow inspiring -- which is also a great way to sum up the film as a whole.

Final Grade: 4.3 / 5.  

Follow Dustin Cook on Twitter and star Laurence Fuller on Facebook because you DO NOT want to miss this one!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Horror Hotel Series Debuts Second Season With '60s B-Movie Sendup "Aliens Stole My Boyfriend"

"ALIENS STOLE MY BOYFRIEND" (2015)
Genre: Sci-Fi
Length- 18:44
Company: Horror Hotel
Website: Official

Cindy (Kalyn Wood) throws out her underachieving boyfriend Rodger (Austin Freeman) just in time for a pair of sexy aliens (Stephanie Stevens and Anastasia Pekhtereva) to show up looking for love.

It happens to the best of us.

While Rodger enjoys the sudden attention these two aliens pay him, Cindy gets jealous and, being a narcissistic sadist, figures out a way to get rid of the aliens forever and retain the boyfriend she just unceremoniously booted out her front door.

CHECK IN

Horror Hotel is an online anthology series aiming to provide stories with equal parts silly and spook.  After a successful first season and wide online distribution (via Hulu, Direct TV, and Xfinity, among others), the family Hess (producer/composer Debra, director/editor Ricky and writer Al) return with this, "Aliens Stole My Boyfriend", as the second season's premiere.

The result is an amusing if tonally uneven story which doesn't really scare but got a few laughs out of me over its eighteen minute running time.

ALIEN TAKEOVER

You can tell from the get go, thanks to the catchy surf rock tune at the start that what we're dealing with is a homage -- the Hesses are deliberately channeling the goofy sci-fi and horror of the 1950's and '60s.  The over the top acting, wild costumes and tame double entendres are all here.  The only thing missing, honestly, is the sand and surf.

Where "Aliens Stole My Boyfriend" takes a sharp left turn is in the sudden tone shift as Cindy attempts to murder the aliens in cold blood, at one point trying to enlist her boyfriend of all people to do the deed.  Not only that, but she shows zero remorse or any interest in anything at all but getting her life the way she wants to live it.  Her character is shockingly one note, showing absolutely zero range, which isn't fair to Wood who, as an actress, clearly has the chops to do so much more.

Come to that, every character here is one dimensional and their performances are largely one note. Rodger is a dunce.  The two sexy aliens are . . . well, they're sexy aliens looking for boyfriends.  They're not allowed a whole lot of room to explain much about themselves or what they want out of life besides men.

Despite the writing, a big "hats off" has to be given to Stephens and Pekhtereva who give their roles so much oomph that their ridiculous lines and actions somehow feel natural.  Despite the '60s kitsch, their performances provided the film its center.  If they'd have failed their performances, the whole film would have fallen apart.

GROOVY, DADDY-O

I completely missed the point of the conclusion -- what's with Rodger's expression?  Are there more aliens on the way?  Did he just have a lightbulb moment?  If so, what is it that he's thinking?

Production wise, it's a really well done film.  Ricky Hess' direction is spot on, and aside from a couple transitions that felt jarring (particularly when the sexy aliens first appear) the editing is effective.  There's a couple issues with the sound design, where you can hear the actors' dialogue pop in and out of the mix, but that's a small complaint.  I loved the surf rock tunes on hand, and Debra Hess also wrote the soundtrack, which on the whole complimented the action.  There's also some quality CGI which is done remarkably well considering the budget.

My main issues with the film however are to do with logic and the writing.  To some degree, these can be forgiven because they're channeling the B-movies of the '50s and '60s.  Those films also had lapses in logic and continuity.  But here, there's an injection of mean spirited gravity that marks this film as a bit more serious than those genre pictures, and as a result, the writing was more distracting than it might have been otherwise.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1.5 / 5.  Al Hess' script moves the story along slowly, doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense and has some seriously one note characterizations.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  I liked the camera movement in this film, particularly the zoom in on Wood as she berates the aliens.  The scenes didn't quite know how to move from one to the next, though, and the transitions were distracting.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Ricky Hess also edited the film, and honestly it seems like in certain instances there wasn't enough footage to cover the transitions properly.  So while it's partially a directing problem, some of the blame rests on post-production, as well.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  The music by Debra Hess was decent.  I much enjoyed the Horror Hotel theme song by Royal Teague.  The surf rock was good to hear as well.  Then there's the sound design issues I mentioned earlier.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Wood is a far better thespian than her role allows her to show.  Stevens and Pekhtereva are the real stand outs here.  Freeman is passable in his role as Rodger.  James Edward Thomas delivered as the sleazy Al Sharko.

Final Grade: 2.7 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Aliens Stole My Boyfriend" on Facebook and the official Horror Hotel website right here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Janis Munz' "Take My Picture" Turns On the Charm In Fun Romantic Comedy

"TAKE MY PICTURE" (2015)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Length- 9:16
Company: N/A
Website: Official

Paul (Ricky Faust) may suffer from social phobia so badly that he can barely strike up a conversation with anyone but his counselor (Jeremy Brooke), but that doesn't mean he doesn't get out and about.  He indulges his love for people with his camera, and creates stories with what he captures on film.

One particular location calls him back time and again -- it's a small circle in the local park where a lone musician (Ryan Egan) plays upbeat tunes with his guitar, and attracts the beautiful Mathilde (Ariana) day after day.

It's Mathilde that Paul desperately wants to meet, but he can't even bear to take her picture . . .

BUELLER . . . BUELLER

"Take My Picture" is a charming short film coming from producer/writer/director Janis Munz and the assistance of talented Director of Photography Jonathan Castro.  There's an inherent beauty to the location on display here, and every shot is captured from just the right angle.  Munz does a great job of supplying the editor (listed here as Lmlp, unless I'm reading the credits wrong) with just enough extra footage to cut back and forth in an almost pseudo-music video style.

There's also a hint of John Hughes on hand in this short -- though it's more of a romantic comedy than teen coming-of-age picture, characters frequently break the fourth wall and address the audience directly while commenting on what we're watching.  There's a narrator throughout that helps frame the story with some context, which adds a little more weight to the humor.

CONCLUSION

"Take My Picture" is not laugh out loud funny, but it's a more calm and centered nonsequitur sort of humor.  The writing is strong enough and the visuals are pretty enough to call out for attention, and it all works.

The finale seemed a little too random -- it comes through no effort from Paul, which means he begins and remains throughout a passive protagonist.  This never makes for the best storytelling.  It's always best if the protagonist plays some role, no matter how small, in the fate he or she receives at the end of the film.

But ultimately, that's a small complaint for what is a fun romance with strong visuals.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Munz's script sets all the pieces in motion, but ultimately the conclusion does not follow logically and is not the result of any effort from Paul.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Munz and Castro create an attractive filmic world and keep the camera smoothly moving.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The film is cut together well and looks great from a color correction perspective.  It feels a little like a music video, which can either be a positive thing or a negative one, depending on what you're expecting from a short film.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Egan and Taylor Mandel provide the music and it lends a special charisma to the onscreen action.  There's a lot of background noise, mostly ambient street sounds.  It gets a little distracting at times, particularly in the scene where Paul is putting sticky notes on the various pictures he's taken.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Faust, Ariana, Brooke and Egan all put in believable performances, but they are mostly one note performances due to the limited action provided by the screenplay.

Final Grade: 3.2 / 5.  

The trailer for "Take My Picture" is available on the official website.  For more updates, follow the film on Facebook, too!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Pulpy Retro "Dime Crimes #34" a Smart and Slick Genre Defying Flick

"DIME CRIMES #34" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 18:11
Company: Rebel, Rebel Productions
Website: Official

Doll (Ashlee Mundy) is a timid bookworm living a mundane life in the 1950's with her fiancee, Jack (John Michael Wagner).  When a greaser going by the name of Bug (Jimmy Dalton) rents a room under their roof, he brings with him a gun, a bag full of cash and an allure straight out of the colorful crime fiction Doll voraciously reads.

Young and naive, Doll's an easy target for Bug and his charming yet bad boy down-to-Earth attitude . . .

PULPY GOODNESS

"Dime Crimes #34" is a short film produced by the Tony Award winning and Emmy nominated John Benjamin Hickey.  Inspired by the smart script written by co-star Wagner, director Ed Hellman crafts a bleak vision of a sad and bored woman who only finds solace in the fantasy of what she reads.  Once Bug enters the picture, her fantasies seem set to explode into the real world -- and explode they do.

The most fascinating decision made here is the way that the character Doll is treated.  After a lifetime of being pushed around and compartmentalized as a female in the 1950's, she makes the decision to assert herself and she does it in a believable way worthy of applause.

With the exception of the opening scene which unfolded a bit too slowly for my liking, Hellman's directing is energetic and keeps the camera moving.  Cinematographer Jaime Medrano Jr.  creates a visual world that looks great on camera, even in the most banal of locations.  The acting is impressive, the authentic sounding music courtesy of Bosley grounds the film in its historical reality, the editing is solid.  The production values as a whole are stellar.  This film could play theatrically and, apart from the length, you'd never know the difference between a big budget production and this one.

The finale was funny and poignant, bringing the events onscreen full circle to the very fiction Doll reads -- the way fantasy takes over the real world is brilliant.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  Wagner's script knows exactly what it wants to be and it not only works, it entertains.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Hellman's work is effective without being intrusive.  There are no major trick shots or "auteur moments", and I liked that.  He tells the story and becomes a part of the film, rather than becoming a flowery show-off.  It's a mature style, one that would be nice to see more often in the film industry.
Editing: 3.5 / 5.  The pacing is, by and large, extremely well done and the coloring looks fantastic.  The beginning is a little slow -- more than likely intentional so that we get a nice big dose of the boredom that Doll goes through every day.  At one point, Bug asks Doll if she wants to go, and then we cut to a small room, and Bug jumps up and down on the bed.  I assumed they ran away together, but in actuality it was just another room in Doll's house.  It was a confusing transition.
Sound/Music: 5 / 5.  I much enjoyed Bosley's '50s-style rock and roll music.  I honestly thought it was genuine music from the period until I watched the end credits.  His style meshed SO well with this film.  Also, the sound design was top notch and the volumes felt level, and background noise was brought down to a minimum.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Really, really solid acting from everyone involved.  Dalton steals the show as Bug, and he comes off as one cool cat, emulating James Dean at every turn and doing it well.  Mundy slips into Doll's skin so well that, toward the end, it became almost uncomfortable to watch her -- her performance is top notch.  Wagner is stuck being the straight -- Jack went to college, works at a job, and pretty much ignores his wife at every opportunity.  Still, he does admirably with what he's written.

Final Grade: 4.1 / 5.  

"Dime Crimes #34" is currently making its way through the festival circuit.  Check out the official website to see when it's coming near your town and DON'T miss it!  Also follow the film's progress on Facebook. 

I'll post more information when "Dime Crimes #34" makes its official online debut!  Until then, check out the trailer by clicking here!

"Dime Crimes #34" is officially an HONORABLE MENTION for FOREST CITY SHORT FILM REVIEW'S MUST SEE SHORT FILMS of 2015!  Check it out right here!


Friday, May 15, 2015

Spine Chillers' Lynchian "Spoon Dog" Serves Up Piping Hot Surreal Horror

"SPOON DOG" (2015)
Genre: Surreal Horror
Length- 11:11
Company: Atreides Media, LLC
Website: Official

A man (Christopher Dinnan) -- some call him Spoon Dog -- drives alone, with no memory of the last few hours.  He doesn't know where the duffle bag came from, or how it ended up on the passenger seat beside him, overflowing with stacks of green bills.

And he certainly doesn't know whose blood covers his hands . . .

THE PROOF'S IN THE LEMONADE

"Spoon Dog" is the latest episode of Spine Chillers, a horror web series initiated by Tres Hombres Productions -- Josh Becker, Paul Harris, and Dinnan himself.  After an extremely lackluster opening ("Sorry I Couldn't Make It"), short films from Dinnan and Harris ("Frontier Style" and "Roadkill", respectively) showed real improvement and were both enjoyable entries.

I'm pleased to report that Dinnan's latest, "Spoon Dog", builds on everything positive in the previous episodes and introduces a strong David Lynch / Jacob's Ladder-era Adrian Lyne element.  Under Dinnan's watchful eye (he writes, directs, edits and stars), we have the first Spine Chillers episode that's actually unnerving.  Seemingly random snippets of wild eyed imagery merge with carefully produced audio and produce a dark and, at times, humorous undercurrent that overrides any  negative effects incurred by the extremely low budget and at times painfully clunky dialogue.

DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE

The events onscreen alternate between downright disturbing to perplexing to bleakly humorous (lemonade, anyone?) which fragments the audience's experience even further.  We're already once removed from Spoon Dog's adventure, seeing as how we are not him, but now there's an added removal as we attempt to discern what we're supposed to feel about what we're seeing. 

Where this film is at its best is when what we're supposed to feel isn't what we really feel.  It's moments like these that are so weirdly disjointed and phantasmic, something like the cinematic equivalent of watching a taped recording of an out-of-body experience.

One final note: "Spoon Dog" is the first Spine Chillers episode that is looking to play a few festivals.  When that is finished, it will see release on an eventual DVD.  I'll post more information as soon as I hear it!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  "Spoon Dog" plays with your mind.  The events that unfold are paced in such a way as to inspire suspense and dread, and it all works.  On the negative side of the coin, there is way too much dialogue for Spoon Dog, particularly in the first few minutes.  He doesn't know anything, so 95% of what he says is something to the effect of, "What's going on?  I don't know what's going on!" and it gets old fast.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Dinnan pulls out all the stops here, and puts on his most varied and entertaining turn behind the camera yet.  With the help of Director of Photography Bruce Schermer, "Spoon Dog" features surprisingly rewarding imagery.  I loved the cocked angles and the camera movement, which never felt like true handheld but stayed fluid, giving the action a woozy effect.
Editing: 4 / 5.  This sort of film might look OK on paper and the directing might be solid, but the editing room is where it either shines or fails.  In the case of "Spoon Dog", the editing is insane -- we see flashes of scenes yet to come, disturbing images overlaid over Dinnan's horrified expression, electric light flashes and more.  It not only keeps the visuals interesting, it adds to the audience's experience of Spoon Dog's descent into madness.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  Daryl Rosenblatt wrote the score here, and without question everything he has here is far better than the silly rock and roll Spine Chillers theme.  I liked the electronica and ambient noise of some of the darker moments.  The sound design as a whole was inspired, if a little low tech.  Volume levels and ambient noise varied from shot to shot.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  Dinnan's hysterics in the beginning feel inauthentic -- part of that is the fact that he's bogged down by an excessive amount of one-sided dialogue.  As the film goes on, his performance becomes more real.  Paul Harris does well as the Head in the Bag, and it's nice to see that Robert J. Gordinier (from "Roadkill") pops up again -- in an awesome rabbit costume, to boot!  Series regular Carol Ilku delivers her handful of lines with typical aplomb and is Spine Chillers' most consistent thespian.

Final Grade: 3.3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out Spine Chillers on the Internet and follow writer/director/editor/actor (whew!)  Christopher Dinnan on Facebook!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Colin Clarke ("Witchfinder") Goes Giallo With Short Erotic Horror "Slit"

"SLIT" (2015)
Genre: Horror
Length- 11:12
Company: Daredevil Films
Website: Official

* "Slit" contains extremely graphic violence, sex and nudity.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Last year, writer/director Colin Clarke blew my mind with his creepy period horror short "Witchfinder" (check out the review right here).  Now, he's back with a graphic new piece of work that's sure to offend -- an erotic horror short titled "Slit".

I really, really love the poster art.  It's simple, retro and brilliant.

I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S NOT GIALLO

Clarke took on writing, directing and editing duties for "Slit", and it's that kind of singularity of vision that makes this film feel like something of note.  The days of the auteur horror director may have gone bye bye, but Clarke's "Slit" is a warm homage to the sort of giallo horror produced in Italy during the 1970's.

It's clear that Clarke knows his horror.  In "Witchfinder", there were nods to Mario Bava's Black Sunday.  Italian horror is once again on the menu, but this time Clarke's focusing on Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento.

Fulci is evident by the gratuitousness of the sex and in particular the way the camera almost leers at pretty young bodies being reconfigured at knife's point.  More essential is the influence of surreal horror master Dario Argento.  Featuring a shot taken wholesale from his masterpiece (and one of my favorites) Deep Red, and the wild, Technicolor lighting of Suspiria, it's easy enough to see that Clarke's  goal is to marry the two Italian masters' styles in eleven minutes.

DIRTY DREAMS

Unfortunately, what we end up with feels more like a pastiche than an original work.  His directing features repeated close ups of eyes -- again, reminiscent of Fulci.  The sex scene is drawn out, uncomfortable and feels like a slightly stronger version of something we'd see on USA's TV series, Silk Stalkings, not nearly as explicit as something like Fulci's own New York Ripper. 

Normally, in reviews I give a short breakdown of the plot, but there's not much going on in that department so I've chosen to let you experience "Slit" on your own.  That being said, I would argue that the films of Fulci and Argento weren't story driven, either.

The difference is that those two made feature length movies, and that provides a lot more room for a writer to breathe than what Clarke's afforded here.

There are some really inspiring moments if you sit through the film.  There are strong visuals from Clarke and cinematographer Brent Jepsen, including the music box sequence, which managed to be chilling even though I knew exactly where they were going with it.  The doll bit was also well shot, just as it was in Deep Red.  I love the color palette -- it instantly makes this short film scream Argento.  The gore effects are extremely good, and that shot of the yawning wound was stomach churning.

CONCLUSION

So, when all is said and done, is "Slit" a good film?  Well, that depends on what you think of as good.  If you're a fan of Fulci or Argento, you'll find a lot to like.  If you're looking for much more than a stalk and slash, then you're going to walk away disappointed.

As for me, I enjoyed "Witchfinder" a lot and "Slit" is a huge departure from the more "classic" feel of the former film.  I adore the Italian horror masters, but I couldn't help but miss Clarke's individual style, which kind of gets lost in the mix.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  There's not much going on here.  The finale attempts to tie some loose ends up, but it doesn't feel like much of a payoff.
Directing: 3 / 5.  I love Fulci and Argento's work, and Clarke attempts to fuse the two together here.  "Slit" feels like a visual patchwork quilt of the aforementioned classic directors.  Clarke is a very good director, but he doesn't have much room to make the material his own when he's this deep in homage territory.
Editing: 5 / 5.  The editing and color correction are absolutely dynamite.  I loved the way Clarke played with the color scheme and managed to create some really interesting and moody dynamics that way.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  Andrew Kalbfus' score sounded too much like a porn during the erotic parts and too overblown during the action.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Lillian Lamour and Miranda Cox have next to no lines and little to do but get undressed and fight for survival, but they do well with what they're given.  Aley Kreinz and Travis Worthey have small roles, and they do alright as well.

Final Grade: 3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Slit" on YouTube right now and follow the film on Facebook!




Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Great Actors Bring Their Own Magic": An EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW With Writer/Director Debra Markowitz

If you have any interest in independent filmmaking, then I guarantee Debra Markowitz is a name you are going to see quite a bit in the near future.  Though once a humble accountant, she's realized her dream of working in film by starting the Nassau County Film Office and becoming an instrumental force behind the Long Island International Film Expo.

Since then, she's worked as a casting director on a number of feature length and short films, and most recently she's written and directed the short films "The Last Taxi Driver" and "Leaving", both of which we reviewed here last month.

Debra and I sat down and exchanged e-mails for this interview, in which we cover her beginnings and the two aforementioned short films, in addition to the feature length Living With the Dead, which is now making its way to festivals around the world.

Without further ado, let's get down to business!


* * * * * *



FCSFR: First of all, thank you for sitting down to discuss your films with Forest City Short Film Review.  You have a background in film, but for those who aren't aware, break down your beginnings with film and lead us through your creating Intention Films and Media.

DEBRA MARKOWITZ: Thank you, Nicholas.  It's been a long process beginning when I was 8 and used to direct all my cousins and friends (and stuffed animals) in little mini films that I would make up on the spot. Of course there wasn't any camera, but, hey, I was directing!  Then I went to Nassau Community College to study acting, but gave it up for a business degree as I thought I'd never make a living in the arts.

While going to Hofstra University at night to study Business Management, I worked full-time in accounting until I was offered a job as a Special Assistant to the County Executive.  I wrote press releases, speeches and worked on special projects, but it really wasn't what I wanted to do long term.

I started researching the various County Departments and discovered Commerce and Industry. At the time, they did two or three film permits a year, and I knew that I could grow that.  I prepared a proposal to the County Executive who thought it was promising, and gave me free reign (though no money but my salary) to start the Nassau County Film Office.  The first year we had 35 production days, we now have way over 1,000 per year.  About ten years into my film office career, I was approached by the Long Island Film/TV Foundation about starting a film festival in Nassau County.

We were supposed to be given all the films and just find a venue.  Well, the person who was supposed to give us the films became non-friendly, and because I had promised the County Executive a film festival, I was determined to deliver.  We had four weeks to get 44 films and put on the first LIIFE (the Long Island International Film Expo) which was then called the Nassau Independent Cinema Expo.  And talk about beginner's luck; we got Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire, then The Sopranos), Kelly Rutherford (Melrose Place) and Karen Allen (Animal House) all to attend out closing night party.  LIIFE is going on 18 years [in action] from July 8 - 16 at the Bellmore Movies, and we now show hundreds of short and feature length independent films from around the world.

About two and a half years ago, I was approached by Director Peter Bongiorno who wanted me to get some name talent for his film, "My Cross to Bear".  Peter knew I was friendly with a few actors.

When I read his script, I told him he was casting all wrong.  I showed him some reels from actors I had met at LIIFE, and he was blown away.  He asked me to become casting director and come on as a producer.  "My Cross to Bear" was based on a true story, and we had Emmy award winners and nominees in our crew -- I knew I'd be crazy to turn it down!  I fell in love -- with casting and producing.

FCSFR: From here, you were the executive producer and casting director on Living With the Dead, a feature shot on a low budget and a strong script.  How did you meet Living With the Dead's writer/director Christine Vartoughian and what made you interested in the project?

DM: After "My Cross to Bear", I wanted to take a break and concentrate on writing my fourth novel, and I had a great agent interested in Damaged, But Not Broken. Don't forgot, all the while, I'm still working full-time running the Nassau County Film Office and LIIFE.

One of the directors of the Queens World Film Festival, Katha Cato, contacted me and said, "I have a friend who wrote a script [Living With the Dead] for a feature, and she needs help with casting and producing.  Oh, and she hardly has any money."  Because I love Katha, I agreed to at least read the script.  It was, hands down, the best script I'd ever read. I contacted Christine Vartoughian and said, "You had me at the first flashback."

What attracts me to any script is usually the roles for actors.  I love great actors and great acting. I could see the movie unfold before my eyes as I was reading it -- always a good sign. I helped raise a good amount of money for the film and put the cast together, with the director's approval, of course.  We discovered newcomer Emily Jackson, who is so amazingly talented, and Craig Kelly and Ben Frankenberg.  Just a stellar cast!  So now, a few months after "My Cross to Bear", I cast my first feature.  There's just nothing like the audition room.  Well, except for [being on] set, of course.

FCSFR: When do you think we will see a DVD release of Living With the Dead?  I know it's making the rounds in the festival circuit right now.  

DM: Living with the Dead is very early on its way through the festival circuit, so I can't really say anything about DVD and distribution yet, but there is some interest! 

FCSFR: But you've been equally prolific on your own -- the short films "The Last Taxi Driver" and "Leaving", both of which were written and directed by you, were shot in quick succession.  What were some of the unique challenges of putting together all these projects with very little time to rest in between?

DM: There was a one year period where I seemed to be making films every three weeks.  "The Last Taxi Driver", "Leaving", Living with the Dead, "Junkie Heaven", "Stuff", "2094", "Man from the City", and I'm sure there were others.  I had such a GREAT time, but I don't recommend it.

After "Leaving", which was such an emotional movie for me, I took off of work and cried for three days.  Because I work full time, I work at night, on weekends, and when most people take vacations, I'm working on writing, directing, producing and casting.  I love it so much I could never give it up, but it left me drained.  I also cast commercials and speak at acting schools and workshops, so it was just crazy. 

Besides the energy level you need, money is always an issue. I raised a good deal of money for "The Last Taxi Driver", "Leaving" and Living with the Dead.  That's not an area I really enjoy, but it was necessary for those.  I'll have to do that soon for "Couple of Guys" and "By Blood".  That's the part that keeps me up at night.  What if I don't raise it?  I always have, but as I said, next time I'd like someone else to take that on!

I used most of the same crew for both "Leaving" and "The Last Taxi Driver", so we knew we would work together well.  That eased a lot of tension.  They care about the projects, so everyone wants them to succeed.

FCSFR: How did you attract the attention of TV talent like Robert Clohessy (Living With the Dead, "The Last Taxi Driver"), Selenis Leyva ("Orange Is The New Black"), and Chris Riggi ("Gossip Girl")? 

DM: I've know Bobby Clohessy for years, and I really adore him.  He is one of the best actors around, and he's finally getting noticed as more than just "that guy."  He loved "The Last Taxi Driver" because he doesn't often get offered comedies and leading roles.  We spoke every day for weeks about Dorman's character.  I'd already cast Bobby in several other films, so he jumped on this.  As far as Selenis Leyva and Chris Riggi, we had a personal contact from another one of our LWTD actors. I spoke with Selenis and Chris and then worked with their agents and, of course, SAG.

FCSFR: One thing that differentiates your films from those of other short filmmakers is the quality of the acting.  In both "The Last Taxi Driver" and "Leaving", the protagonists are played by capable actors.  How do you go about pulling in great performances from your leads as a director, especially in such a stressful environment -- making short films with very low budgets?

DM: One thing I have over many directors is that the fact that I find great talent when I screen films for the Long Island International Film Expo.

I found Joe Halsey in a film that screened at LIIFE in 2008, and auditioned him for another role along the way before "Leaving".  Sal Rendino was the same thing; saw him in a LIIFE feature and auditioned him as well for another film.  The incredible Molly Ryan was in a film that won for Best Film and Best Director at LIIFE, and I knew I had to work with her.  Before "The Last Taxi Driver", I'd already cast Robert Clohessy, Deb Twiss and Emily Jackson in Living with the Dead.  They all wanted to work together again, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to make that happen.

I guess with films, you either become a "film family" or you never talk to each other again. I've been lucky I've only had great experiences.  Because I'm so careful about the actors I choose, they are already seasoned pros.  I can guide them in what I want, but they know what they're doing.  I'm not interested in teaching anyone "how" to act.  I can offer advice, guidance, et cetera, but on my set, I want great actors.  Bobby and I were on the phone every day for weeks talking about Dorman, and who I thought he was.  Joe also would call me and ask, "I see him this way, am I right?" or "This seems more like what he would say, can I say that?"

I also know, without a doubt, that great actors will bring their own magic.  I'm very open to suggestions from my actors.  Like with Bobby Clohessy, I know to let the camera roll.  Bobby is truly one of the funniest people I ever met. After he's said what he was supposed to say, then the gems come out. 

People often ask why I use the same people. I want to work with actors I know can deliver. I'm not interested in making poor quality films, and that's really easy to do on low budgets. I've been lucky so far, but sure, it could happen. You hedge against that with captivating talent and a talented, stable crew.  I have great people I work with who make sure I'm insulated from almost everything except watching my actors and making sure they're giving me exactly what I want.  I can't say enough about that!

FCSFR: Fantasy is a common thread that runs through each of the films made by Intention Films -- we have the dead in various states of being and capability to remember what it was like to be alive. In "Leaving", we have the desires of the mortal characters undermined by the upholding of a cosmic status quo.  What attracts you to themes of the afterlife?

DM: Oh man, how do I answer this without sounding nuts?  This is not something I generally make known publicly, but here I go. 

First, I'm a huge believer in karma and its debt. I also know that there is so much more out there than we can see or that most of us believe.  I "know" there are spirits that surround us, some who won't leave for whatever reason.  I "know" we've lived past lives.  Some of us many more than others.

When I write things that turn out to be true, though I knew nothing about it previously, it came from somewhere.  I've written entire scripts, and when I've read them back to myself, I don't remember writing any of it.  I know I've been guided in almost every area of my life, and when I've been most successful is when I just listen to my inner voice. 

I'm completely fascinated by what happens between our lives, or the people we come back with time and time again. I know several of them in my life today; some realize it, others don't. 

Damaged, But Not Broken, Back to You and several other project ideas I have in my "ideas" document, all deal with these things.

FCSFR: In "The Last Taxi Driver", Robert Clohessy's character is an interesting foil for the zombies -- he's staggering around, albeit quite alive, but he's wandering from place to place doing what he used to do simply because it's all he knows how to do.  That's not far from being a zombie.  Yet, his struggle to not let go of his "previous" life -- that is the life of a taxi driver and small business entrepreneur -- makes him an interesting, almost heroic character.  What were your intentions when writing his character?  

DM: Most of my ideas come either from my dreams or from my life partner when we walk the dog.  One of us will come up with a silly idea, and we both just build on it.  I never intended to make "The Last Taxi Driver", it was just a silly story we made up.  I loved the idea that there was someone who wouldn't give up, no matter what.  So in that way, Dorman is heroic.

He's more badass than the zombies.  I'd like to believe that even in the worst of situations, there's always someone out there who can survive, who can beat the odds, who can get on with life and not get deterred that there are creatures out there that want to eat their brains.  The fact that the people left are crazier than the bloodsuckers was just a funny, added touch to me. I wrote those two characters specifically with Deb Twiss and Emily Jackson in mind.

FCSFR: What did he bring to the character that wasn't necessarily in your script?

John and I discussed lots of great possibilities for "The Last Taxi Driver", but really, Bobby was Dorman.  The character was very well developed, Bobby just delivered it exactly as I needed it to be, and then some. His humor can be way over the top, so he took a funny character and made him funnier than I could have imagined.

FCSFR: Tell us a little bit about working with Director of Photography Marc Riou first on the visually glum "The Last Taxi Driver", and then how your working relationship has evolved into the beautiful imagery on display in "Leaving".

DM: When I decided to make my first short film, I wanted to work with people who knew how to make a film look great.  Marc Riou had won a Best Cinematograper award at LIIFE a few years ago.  He submitted for Best Cinematographer for three different films. When the judges were watching the selections, we couldn't believe these three films were shot by the same person.  They were all visually different.  He was right out of film school -- in fact, a couple of the films had been shot while he was in school.

I trusted Marc to do what I needed.  Marc got exactly what I wanted in "The Last Taxi Driver".  When we got to "Leaving", I wasn't sure if what I had written would be appreciated by a much younger filmmaker, but Marc read it, and loved it.  We met with the production designer, Kory Diskin, and we all knew the look I had in mind. 

There is something so incredibly intoxicating about knowing what you're seeing when you write, and seeing it come to life.  It's crazy wild, and Marc helps me achieve that.  We're very much in sync creatively.

FCSFR: So you've got a new short film, "By Blood", that you're working on right now.  What's the story on this production?

DM: I'm very excited about "By Blood".  I originally wrote this so that Joe Halsey and Russ Camarda could work together, and so that my partner, John Marean, could experiment with a new camera we bought.  It was a simple piece originally called "Brother Code".  It was supposed to be two characters, one location, mostly dialogue, no action.  It may have started out that way, but it got much bigger quickly.  First, Russ said, "The other character needs to have more fun," so I built Joe's role, then it started escalating from there.  John told me it had gotten so big, he wasn't going to "play" with it, to give Marc Riou a call.

Now it's become a sexy suspense about two brothers who were in love with the same woman at different times in their lives, and what they reveal to each other on the day of her burial.  Bring in actress Diana Durango, and you have one hell of a sexy and suspenseful film. 

We start filming this week, and then come back in June to finish it off. And of course, I'll shortly have to begin raising money to make it happen, so people should be on the the look-out for our fundraiser page through www.intentionfilmsandmedia.com (shameless plug). Oh, and about the look of it, I've already met with Marc Riou, and again, he knew what I wanted before I even said it.  The quality needs to be much darker, but with less saturation in the flashback scenes.  I know he sees what I see.

FCSFR: And finally, you're working on a trilogy of short films with "Leaving" and "By Blood" actor Joseph Halsey.  What can we expect from this and any future productions from you? 

DM: First up is a project we're already working on which is the short film trilogy called, Choice. Choice deals with several individuals on the last days of their lives.  Joe Halsey is executive producing and directing this project. He first began with the short promo film, "Mother".  I was casting director and producer on that. Then I've written the one for "Brother", which I will be casting, producing and directing.  Joe is rewriting "Father" and will be directing that as well.   It's currently in development.

We are also producing an original content series called Couple of Guys.  Joe is one of the leads, and we bring back Sal Rendino from "Leaving" as Joe's partner.  Basically, it's a comedy dealing with Richard (Sal) a straight-laced divorce attorney who has met the love of his life in Jon (Joe), a musician/music publisher who is crazy in all the right ways.

The problem is Richard's ex-wife, played by Deb Twiss from "The Last Taxi Driver", keeps interfering in their lives as she's still in love with her husband and thinks that she can win him back despite the fact that he's gay.  Throw in the factor that Jon has decided he wants a baby, and Richard is having none of that.  It's a comedy, but it will deal with some intense situations as well.

We're going to bring in some celebrities as we raise the money, and I know just who I want.  Excited that, just today, I signed Joslyn DeFreece to play Jon's childhood friend who is also his business/band manager.  I love that we're bringing a lot of original music into this series.  This is going to be so much fun.  We have three episodes written with story lines to take us through three seasons. 

My future projects include: Damaged, But Not Broken (novel, feature), Back to You (feature), One Night at Christmas (feature, novella written by Michael Fedele), Behind the Scenes (feature, written with Donna Sirianni), and my very favorite -- Hurting Places.

Joe is involved with Hurting Places as well.  It's about a psychiatrist who is so shut off from everyone around him, that he has become a cutter. The only one who can reach him is a young ex-patient who is more damaged than he is.  Fifty Shades got nothing on this!

Also waiting in the queue is Porter's Way, and I'd like to one day produce/direct my Karmic Wind Trilogy (Naked in the Rain, Sarah and Caleb and Karmic Wind).  So if I live to be 115, I could actually get to all of them.

FCSFR: If you could offer a single piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

DM: Wow.  I don't know that I'd have listened to any of it.

I guess it would be that magic really is all around you.  See it, believe it, be it.

FCSFR: Thank you again Debra for taking the time to answer my questions.

DM: Thank you, Nicholas!  Now I have to get back to writing.


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A huge thanks goes out to Debra Markowitz for being so generous with her time and answers.  If you enjoyed this interview, please do share it and spread the word!

Also, do NOT forget to check out our reviews of "The Last Taxi Driver" and "Leaving", her two most recent short films.  She's a filmmaker to watch, so keep an eye out for her!


Joan Westmoreland's Performance & Solid Editing Elevate "Ghosts of the Long Ago Drawer" Drama

"GHOSTS OF THE LONG AGO DRAWER" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 7:19
Company: LynxFilmWorks
Website: Official

Angie (Joan Westmoreland) discovers a final letter from her recently deceased husband (Haig Koshkarian).  In it, he talks about a mysterious accident, of which Angie was a part, and tells her she must find redemption from it not only for her sake, but for his, as well.

To do that, she must return to where it all took place -- her own living room couch -- where, forty years ago, she played a part in the death of her own infant daughter.

MOOD PIECES

Short drama films mostly fall into one of two camps: the vignette, and the mood piece.  "Ghosts of the Long Ago Drawer", a short film written, directed and edited by Al Germani, sits in the latter camp, eschewing traditional narrative structure in favor of short snippets of memory or flashbacks set to an emotional soundtrack.  It's one way of coping with the fact that you simply can't create all that much viewer attachment to the characters of a seven minute film.

What we see onscreen, therefore, is a perpetual montage of images, footage of the past and a tortured protagonist.  Angie has a lot to be sorry for, and Westmoreland effectively communicates this with a dialed back, minimalist performance.  This film rested completely upon her shoulders -- if she went into hysterics and it didn't feel authentic, the whole thing would have collapsed.

A DRAWER FILLED WITH SUFFERING

There were some logic issues -- for instance, a former addict (I'm assuming she's now clean, as most junkies and alcoholics tend to have serious health problems over a lifetime of abuse, and she looks healthy) would not keep a bottle of liquor and needles in a drawer for forty years -- or at least, not without falling back into their old habits.

It's possible that the "long ago drawer" was a visual metaphor, and not necessarily something that really existed, but if that was the case, her husband's letter either shouldn't have mentioned it or he should have been more clear about that for the purposes of the audience.  As it was, it strained my believability to the breaking point.

The visuals were stirring and, at some moments, pretty breathtaking.  The shots of the car fire were pretty intense and lended some much needed production value to a short film that, otherwise, focuses on Westmoreland as she sits on a couch.  Film is a visual medium, as I say time and time again here on Forest City Short Film Review, and Germani addresses that with a number of efficient but attractive shots that complimented what was happening in the storyline.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  Germani created an intimate story that married visual elements to a melancholic storyline.  It worked for what it was, but having a former addict stash liquor and drug paraphenalia in her drawer for forty years made no sense.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Germani creates definite production value in what he puts onscreen, and his film stays visually engaging from start to finish.
Editing: 4 / 5.  There is a surreal quality to the film, and all that goodness can only be conjured up in the editing room.  Germani stitches together a coherent story from bits and pieces here and there and makes it all flow seamlessly.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The score reminded me of an Enya CD, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Some of the vocals were a little intrusive on the story.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Westmoreland keeps the film grounded and plays a more reserved kind of mental breakdown.  Her performance felt credible.  Koshkarian doesn't get a whole lot of screen time, but we get to hear him bark orders at his infant daughter periodically, and he sounds sufficiently pissed off to be an abusive drunk.  Kristen Fogle plays the younger version of Angie, but all she has to do is stand around, do a little dance and look pretty.  She does all three suitably.

Final Grade: 3.1 / 5.

"Ghosts of the Long Ago Drawer" isn't available to watch online yet, but you better believe I'll post a link when it does debut!  Don't forget to 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!