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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Josh Goodman's "Fear Thy Neighbor" A Well Executed And Brilliantly Acted Thriller

"FEAR THY NEIGHBOR" (2015)
Genre: Thriller
Length- 14:59
Company:  Goody Bag Productions / Quixotica Films

A young female stalker (Kisanti Hathor) staying at a hotel becomes obsessed with her handsome neighbor (Evan Judson) when she discovers his dark side.

What could have been a chance encounter becomes a game of cat and mouse, and rather than revulsion, she feels attraction -- an attraction that only becomes more intense as the stakes climb higher.

WHAT LURKS NEXT DOOR

"Fear Thy Neighbor" is a short thriller shot in 2015 with writer/director Josh Goodman at the helm.  Christopher Morgan takes on the role of cinematographer, and between the two of them they make this film look brilliant.  Between the color scheme and the interesting shots of what could have been boring locations -- hotel rooms and a parking garage -- "Fear Thy Neighbor" turns into a visual treat on par with films whose budgets are far higher.

The story unfolds quickly, but not so fast that it prevents suspense.  I can't reveal much without
exposing spoilers, but I will say that this script tells you exactly what you need exactly when you need to know it, and no more.

What makes things even better is the fact that Goodman's script plays his cards so close to his chest that I was kept guessing as to the nature of our protagonist stalker and the object of her affection throughout, and it was only the last minute or so when it all clicked into place.

There's not a lot of films that I see where I can honestly say I don't know where one is going, and then ultimately find myself, at the end, in genuinely new territory.

THE TROUBLE WITH THRILLS

The main trouble with this kind of a film is that we've seen the basic storyline done a million times before.  Goodman and company combat this by putting a novel twist on the proceedings, but in order to appreciate that twist, you have to go with the story and trust in the filmmakers that they are not going to dump their audience off in cliched territory.

In the case of "Fear Thy Neighbor", I highly recommend you give it not only a chance, but your full attention.  You will find a lot to like!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  Goodman's script kept me guessing, conveyed an interesting story and allowed for some pretty intense sequences.  Its twists and turns took what could have been a boring by-the-numbers thriller and created something genuinely special with it.   On the downside, a couple things I didn't quite pick up on -- who was the girl the stalker saw over the neighbor's shoulder?  Was she the one who she later saw in the bathroom?  I didn't quite put two and two together there.
Directing: 4 / 5.  The visuals are attractive and contribute to the mood of each and every scene.  The bits with the body in the trunk of the car felt a little too obvious for my liking, but I particularly REALLY liked the final confrontation between the stalker and the neighbor -- talk about a chilling scene, made all the more so by PERFECT camera placement.
Editing: 4.5 / 5.  The color palette was beautiful and the film was cut together in a very professional manner.  The whole film's production looked great.  That being said, the credits at the end whiz by so fast I had to use my pause button to figure out who should get credit for what, and that's just not fair because everyone associated with this production deserves a nod.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Effective soundtrack from a variety of sources, but the main composer is Travis "Creole Kid" Pierre.  The sound design on the whole is on par with any professionally shot flick, and the credit for that goes to Forever Damor.
Acting: 4 .5 / 5.  Incredible acting from the main leads -- THIS IS HOW IT IS DONE, for those who are curious.  I have to give a serious shout out in particular to Hathor.  She's not only gorgeous, folks -- check on her in ten years and I guarantee she'll be starring in big productions because she's just THAT talented.  The closing shots of her with Judson are just breathtaking.  And speaking of Judson -- he's already seen some action in big time TV courtesy of "Burn Notice", and deservedly so.  I look forward to seeing more of both of these top notch thespians in future projects -- hopefully soon, soon, SOON!  The supporting cast do what they have to do, and none are distractingly bad, but thankfully they only have a handful of lines to distract us from the main attraction, which is unquestionably Hathor and Judson.

Final Grade: 4.2 / 5.  

Don't forget to check out the trailer for "Fear Thy Neighbor", follow the film on Facebook and Twitter and watch the full film on YouTube right here!

For more coverage of "Fear Thy Neighbor", check out our exclusive interviews with writer/director Josh Goodman here, and actress Valentina Isis (Kisanti Hathor) here!

"Fear Thy Neighbor" is officially an HONORABLE MENTION of FOREST CITY SHORT FILM REVIEW'S MUST SEE SHORT FILMS of 2015!  Check it out right here!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Man & His Murder: Mystery and Darkness in "Hello, My Name Is Death"

"HELLO, MY NAME IS DEATH" (2015)
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Length- 8:12
Company: Red Maple Media

A man (Andre Herzegovitch) wakes up alone in a dark room, sitting in a chair, with no idea how he got there or what happened to him last night.  Or yesterday morning.  Or whenever IT happened, whatever it was.

Then, Death (Nileja James) appears, and she reveals that the man is dead, and that he has one chance to save his life: determine which important woman in his life shot him dead.

Is it his wife (Karah Serine)?  His daughter (Sarah O'Sullivan)?

He has six minutes and sixty six seconds (Filmmakers: I see what'cha did there) to decide.

Tick tock . . .


SURREAL TERROR

"Hello, My Name is Death" is written, directed and produced by Ziyad Saadi.  It's a short film that hints at a sort of Jacob's Ladder-style psychological assault on the senses.  The main difference here is that the emphasis is not on the terror, but on the mystery: who killed the man?

And the second mystery is just as interesting . . . why did the killer kill him?

The mystery could have been a strength, but unfortunately we're rattled at from all directions by sound bytes that literally are repeated so many times I lost count.  Without clues, these oddball quotes don't add up to anything, and the mystery's solution is never satisfactorily delivered to the audience.

WORDS . . . MORE WORDS . . .                                                            

The movie clocks in at eight minutes and some change with credits, but the film proper only takes about five and a half to conclude.  Even so, with all the repetition, my patience wore thin.

The film itself is shot well.  Director of photography Neal Todnem and Saadi make sure the video looks good and the sound department does a good job.  The performances are, by and large, effective.

But with the ambiguous conclusion, I couldn't help but feel like I watched five and a half minutes of filler -- and that's too bad, because there was an interesting story in there that I would have liked to have seen resolved.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1.5 / 5.  Man wakes up, people chatter the same five lines at him over and over and over again.  That's essentially the events shown onscreen, and it gets old extremely fast.  Even so, there's an interesting and disturbing undertone that's never addressed, and that's why I gave the added half point to this score.
Directing: 3 / 5.  There's only so much you can do with what Saadi has in this film, but he pulls out all the stops.  We have intriguing close-ups, interesting camera angles, and an exterior location that looks beautiful.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Dannell A. Matonen handled editing duties for this film, and cuts it together like a champ.  There are a lot of effects laid onto the audio too in post-production
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  Jorge Palomo was sound designer and the composer behind the sparse score, and it all sounds very good.
Acting: 3 / 5.   Herzegovitch is credible, and Serine comes off as probably the most believable of the four actors.  James makes for an interesting Death.  O'Sullivan sounds deadpan for the majority of her lines.  That might have been an intentional directorial decision, so I did not take away any points for that.

Final Grade: 2.8 / 5.  

Don't forget to check out "Hello, My Name is Death" when it sees release online!  As soon as I receive word, I'll post the link right here!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Kadrae Presents The Transformative Power of Music in Religiously Themed Short Film "Dancin' N2 the Sun"

"DANCIN' N2 THE SUN" (2015)
Genre: Drama (Religious)
Length- 20:38
Company: F Land Films

K (Kadrae)  and Uncle Slim (Jeremy Dickson) are entering a songwriting contest.  At stake is $50,000.

The problem is that K has been completely blocked, and whatever he comes up with is unceremoniously shot down by Slim, who believes they should cater to the whims of the pop masses if they're going to have a shot at winning the contest.  To make matters worse, K's girlfriend, Brenda (Allison Jones) has had enough of his poverty stricken pursuit of music and leaves him the day before the song is due.

It's up to K and Slim to work out some way that they can compromise and create a hit that will change their lives . . .

MAN VS. THE UNIVERSE

Kadrae wrote, produced and directed this short film -- "Dancin' N2 the Sun" -- and his goal was to create a fun musical with a positive message while promoting being a good person and faith in a higher power.  Does he succeed?  Well, that depends on who you are when you sit down to watch the film.

The Devil (played by a comically malicious Herman Farrell Carter, Jr.) makes an appearance, as does a character dubbed God's Angel (DC Da Great).  The Devil does his best to dishearten K and bring his lofty goals crashing down to Earth.  When the strain on K gets too great, God's Angel jumps the Devil and beats him down -- something which happens several times, is always played for laughs and becomes repetitive very fast.

The twist in the finale isn't exactly surprising, but without K witnessing any other supernatural events, it seems unbelievable he would just accept the explanation for what happened.  I don't want to say more -- it'd spoil it.

But at its heart, "Dancin' N2 the Sun" is about music and its capacity for healing and transformation, and the almost spiritual way in which we experience it.
 
THINKING HARD

So . . . does "Dancin' N2 the Sun" live up to Kadrae's vision?

If you believe in God and the Devil and angels, then you might find an amusing and warm drama that manages to address some big issues.  While it doesn't say much about those issues, the fact that they're presented at all is a major accomplishment in the movie market of today.

If on the other hand you're not a believer, some of the film is going to come off as too "on the nose" -- some spiritual elements would have been best addressed in a metaphorical sense.  The conclusion will also leave you a bit cold.

That is not to say there's nothing to enjoy here if you are not a devout Christian.  K's struggle is easy to relate to, and anyone who has attempted to make their life their living will know how important it is to have a strong support system.  K and Slim have a good dynamic and play off one another well.

So, like I said before -- what do you believe?  That will dictate whether you will enjoy "Dancin' N2 the Sun" or just appreciate it for what it is.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  While the metaphysical elements feel forced and are played largely for laughs, I still felt for the main character and his predicament.   The "epilogue" at the end is over the top positive, giving each character a Happily Ever After.  We are never allowed to know Brenda's full story -- she comes off as extremely mean during her short time on screen, but surely there's something K did besides not make enough money for her liking.  If not, then perhaps he needs to pick his girlfriends a little more carefully.
Directing: 3 / 5 .  A more than serviceable job done by Kadrae and cinematographer Alonzo Williams.  The film itself is extremely low tech, with the camera's auto-focus wreaking havoc on the carefully composed shots that would otherwise be very enjoyable.  Even if the production values couldn't always back them up, I appreciated what he was going for.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The film cuts together well, but the film feels a little slow, due in part to some repetitive dialogue -- particularly in the first scene between K and Brenda.  Also, the aforementioned "epilogue" speeds by without providing enough time for me to finish reading what was there before another page took its place.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  The title song is catchy and upbeat and I enjoyed it.  As a whole, the film's sound design is problematic at best, with some scenes noticeably recorded at different times and different rooms.
Acting: 3 / 5.  The actors do the best they can do with some at times questionable dialogue, but they get the point across and allow this movie to have its say.

Final Grade: 2.7 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Dancin' N2 the Sun" and follow producer/writer/director/composer Kadrae on Facebook!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Simple Mind" Thriller Plays The Audience With Disturbing Results

"SIMPLE MIND" (2012)
Genre: Thriller
Length- 7:22
Company: N/A

Bob (Timothy J. Cox) is in love with a woman named Samantha (Kristi McCarson) . . . the only problem is that she doesn't return the feeling.  Mainly, that's because she doesn't appear to know he exists.  But that's just one of his problems.

And a far worse problem for Samantha . . .

I'M WATCHING YOU

"Simple Mind" is a short thriller from writer/director Phil Newsome and editor Paul Nameck, who filmed it for next to nothing.  Minimalism is, smartly, the name of the game here: we have two characters, a handful of locations, and a very contained storyline.

The beginning of the film unfolds in a very familiar way -- there's no shortage of films puporting to be "thrillers" which portray stalking characters and what they do to their hapless victims.  This, in fact, is the only real flaw in "Simple Mind" in terms of storyline: we've been there, done that, over and over and over.

The appeal to "Simple Mind" is the way in which its visuals lead you by the hand and make you think you know what's going on, when the reality is so much deeper and honestly, more sad and disturbing than the simple pay off we're expecting.

I can't say much more than that without spoiling anything, but suffice it to say that if you stick with the film (and it's only seven minutes long, so there's no excuse for not giving it a chance) you will be pleasantly surprised and experience a short, no budget film that will affect you.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The first half of the film comes off as cliched and in far too familiar territory to be very entertaining.  The last half, and in particular the conclusion, turns around your opinion of the preceding three and a half minutes.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Nothing special on display for the most part -- there's some Go Pro style camera work going on here and there that gives a much needed immediacy to certain shots.  Also, the shot of the garbage bag on the ground was inspired.  You don't see what's in it, but you see the shape of it, and when you do, you recoil.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Transitions work well, and the pacing is solid despite the rather stock events going on in the first half.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  The sound recording's poor, but the score, by Keith Campbell and Jeremy "Tha Germ" Gonzalez gives the film some punch.  It's not groundbreaking by any means, but it gets the job done.
Acting: 4 / 5. Cox deserves special mention for his grounded performance.  His role could have easily skyrocketed over-the-top, but he reeled it in, and it was definitely the right decision.  McCarson, in the final scenes, is pitch perfect and it's her voice of reason that creates a sense of reality despite the madness we see on screen.

Final Grade: 3.2 / 5.

You can watch "Simple Mind" on YouTube right now, and you should -- it's a perfect example of a no budget short film that gets it right.

When you get done watching, then check out my review of "Mallas, MA" which also features Timothy J. Cox in a lead role!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Death With Dignity Touched On In Grounded "Promise Me" From Award Winning Screenplay Writer/Director Kevin Machate

"PROMISE ME" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 8:02
Company: Who's That? Productions

Stella (Gayland Williams) is suffering.  Despite efforts to save her life, a terminal disease is slowly choking the last of her strength from her exhausted body.  It's not a matter of if she will die, it's a matter of when.  

For Stella, her entire life has become a routine of systematic medicinal treatments and working around how her failing body feels at any given moment.  Her only opportunity to exercise even the smallest bit of control is in how she will die -- and rather than the prolonged, agonizing death predicted by her doctors, she has chosen to take medicine which will end her life in a calm and painless way with her son Owen (Craig Nigh) at her side.

But Owen can't accept her decision to just give up, and more than that he can't accept feeding his own mother the medication which will take her life.

LETTING GO

We here at Forest City Short Film Review last heard from Kevin Machate with his funny, satirical stab on celebrity known as "#RIP" (review right here).  He has accumulated a number of awards for his latest script, and the film of that script -- "Promise Me" -- is about as far from that film as one can possibly get -- both in terms of tone and style.

First of all, Machate has grown as both writer and director since then.  "Promise Me" takes incredibly touchy and difficult subject matter and handles it like a seasoned pro.  Several shots could have easily devolved into melodrama and sentimentality, but Machate smartly reels in not only his writing but also his actors, and it's because of that kind of visual and emotional maturity that this film hits home, and hits hard.

NECESSARY CONVERSATIONS 

For those of us who have actually been in these situations -- been with a loved one, for instance, when he or she decided to stop going to chemotherapy and accept death -- it's a painful film to watch, but one that brings up a lot of important questions for what will likely be the next big debate in healthcare: under what conditions would you face death?  Could you decide when it's "time to go"?

It's big questions like these that make "Promise Me" worthy of note, and it's Machate's growing skills behind the camera that makes the film resonate.  

I highly recommend "Promise Me", which is going out to festivals as of this writing.  When it's live on the Internet for any and all to see, I will definitely be adding the link for this one.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing:  3.5 / 5.  The film's running time is barely eight minutes, so we get right into it from the opening shots.  The conflict between Owen and Stella is resolved so easily that it hardly feels like anything really happens.  It is still incredibly affecting, but "Promise Me" comes off as a bit of a vignette more than a standalone movie.  
Directing: 4 / 5.  Cinematographer Andrew Baird helps Machate create a visual palette as good as anything on the big screen.  A great example is that opening shot of the drink in the foreground, with the action blurred out in the background.  What a great way to play with audience expectations!  From a solely directorial standpoint, Machate puts on a mature and confident show that is affecting without being distracting.  Anything flashy would have distracted from the point of the film.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Todd Rodgers' editing does the job and then some.  The pacing of this film is perfect and the coloring looks good.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  The sound is professionally recorded.  The end credits features Fisher's popular song, "True North", which fit the mood well.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Williams and Nigh provide a center for this film that brings the point home.  Step Rowe and Teagan Jai Boyd fit into their roles as Owen's wife Debbie and daughter Lizzie.   Boyd is particularly good considering her young age.  Judy McMillan is credible for the few lines she's given.

Final Grade: 3.8 / 5.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: "Please Punish Me" Takes Aim At Injustice

"PLEASE PUNISH ME" (2015)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 15:29
Company: Macremi Productions

Scottie Lee (David Sackal) is one of those people who never has to work for anything.  The less hard he tries to impress his boss (Brad Rhodes), the higher on the company ladder he (accidentally) climbs.  His latest promotion is the last straw.

He learns from a co-worker (Talli Clemons) that a place called the Punish Me Palace routinely helps people like Scottie feel a little less guilty for their good fortune.

All it takes is a phone call . . .

THE PROBLEMS OF BEING AWESOME

"Please Punish Me" is a short film that tries its best to wrangle as many laughs out of its central conceit -- that things are inherently unfair, and the concept of justice stretches only as far as the heart of the individual claiming it.

It doesn't sound very funny, but director Chris Esper and writer Rich Camp's script (based on a story by Tom Paolino) manage to find a surprising amount of mirth.  It's an amusing movie, but the story doesn't flow particularly well from joke to joke -- in other words, the experience of watching the onscreen events feels more like checking out a funny bullet point list than anything else.

Even as the majority of the story wavers, the conclusion was pitch perfect -- it's slightly ambiguous, but enough of an emotional payoff that it's not necessary to have every loose end tidied.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The majority of the story exists to get from admittedly funny Joke A to equally amusing Joke B, but the finale pays off extremely well.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Esper's visuals are effective, if a bit predictable.  The locations are for the most part small rooms, which make most of the cutting between shots of dialogue feel claustrophobic.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Felipe Jorge cuts the film together like a pro.  Chad Kaplan is responsible for the fun, shuddery text of the opening sequence -- it captures the tone of the film perfectly.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.   The volume levels are high enough, but there is a distracting echo on the actors' speech at certain medium angles that isn't there during close shots filmed in the same location.  The music, by Steven Lanning-Cafaro, is playful throughout, even when he's going for over-the-top scary.  I enjoyed it.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Sackal's performance makes this film what it is.  Joanna Donofrio plays Michelle -- a first timer at her job (I can't say much more without spoiling the joke) and quite funny in her role.  Also, love the accent.  Brad Rhodes makes me think of a younger John Astin.  His character is unbelievable at best, but he puts on enough goofy to sell his lines.  The remainder of the cast does well also.

Final Grade:  3.2 / 5

Don't forget to check out "Please Punish Me" when it hits the Internet!  Until then, check out the official trailer on Vimeo and follow the creators on Facebook!

Friday, June 5, 2015

"At All Costs", Smart Thriller From Newcomer Yann Danh, Challenges Viewers With Content and Metaphor

"AT ALL COSTS" (2014)
Genre: Thriller
Length- 15:18
Company: Wallpaper Productions

Daniel (Franck Sarrabas), Alex (Simon Frenay) and Josh (Pascal Henault) kidnap Jacques Mercier (Bruno Henry), their former employer, in an attempt to ransom Thierry Cortal (Marc Duret), a politician.  When Cortal refuses to negotiate for the release of Mercier, they are forced to take more desperate measures to secure their money . . .

A finger there, a bludgeoning there -- you know, whatever it takes.

Also, one last note before we get into the meat of this review: those masks our leads wear . . . they're downright creepy, and they make for an intense looking poster!

A THRILLER DONE RIGHT

"At All Costs" is an award winning French short film from director Yann Danh, a newcomer to the filmmaking scene who has been turning heads with this short since its initial release a year ago.

Now then, one caveat: I had to watch the film with English subtitles, as I don't speak French.  I also had trouble with picking out people from the credits for the same reason.  So, my apologies to the extended crew here -- they did an amazing job with this film, and I wish I could credit who did what like I normally do with my reviews.  Regardless, a stellar job from an incredibly talented group of people.

UNDERPINNING TERROR

The production values here are top notch.  Every shot looks gorgeous and on par with a movie a million times its budget.  It doesn't hurt taht every thespian on display turns in a solid performance -- and that's particularly noteworthy because the characters, as written, are pretty bland.

Random thought: Sarrabas also resembles a young Frank Langella -- both are impressive actors.

Character issues taken in stride, the script as written by Danh and Mahi Bena, is a brilliant indictment of the modern world's broken economy and justice systems.  If you really think about what's going on in this film, "At All Costs" might be an entertaining thriller, but it's also an examination of several dualities: good and evil, terrorism and tyranny, and sadism and helplessness.

Do NOT miss "At All Costs" -- or "A Tout Prix", as it's called in France!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  The parallels between those that are corrupt and those that are supposedly the "good guys" are smart and add serious moral complexity to what could have been a by-the-numbers thriller.  The finale had a touch of Quentin Tarantino in it.  The only things keeping me from giving this film a perfect score are, first of all, it felt like we could have used some more character development.  Take the sniper (Fatima Adoum), for instance -- we never get a feel for who she is.  Also, I couldn't understand what was wrong with Mercier -- he has to take medication periodically, what is it for, some kind of severe epilepsy?  The whole "get meds or die" concept comes off as cheesy and has been done before so many times, but I dealt with it because the film as a whole is so good.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Danh's smart direction pulls in some beautiful shots, both outdoor and indoors.   I wanted to see more of the building where they were hiding -- what a location!  He also knows when to show violence and when to imply it.  The butt of the gun sequence (I don't want to spoil anything by being more specific) was choreographed perfectly and it had me wincing.
Editing: 5 / 5.  Simply put, there's no way this film could have been edited any better.  I loved the introductory shots, with the simulated TV screen bleeps and bloops.  The whole film, from start to finish, looks like a big budget film.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Loved the mood, the ambient stuff, the music . . . it all compliments the film.   I want a copy of this soundtrack!
Acting: 4 / 5.  None of the roles had much depth, but each of our leads owns their role and plays it to the hilt.

Final Grade: 4.2 / 5.  

Don't forget to check out "At All Costs" on Vimeo and follow the creators on Facebook!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Paul B. Harris' Mockumentary "Exit Interview" Examines the Twisted Mind of a Killer

"EXIT INTERVIEW" (2014)
Genre: Mockumentary
Length- 25:40
Company: Tres Hombres Productions

Randy Lee Sommers (Paul B. Harris) is a serial killer -- no one's questioning that.  The thing is, he was horribly abused as a child which has brought on a certain medical condition -- multiple personality disorder.  At any given time, you might be talking to Randy, or maybe to hyper-aggressive Steve, or childlike Timmy.

But what bonds all these personalities together?  What's behind the mask, so to speak?

Or maybe Randy Lee Sommers doesn't have multiple personality disorder at all.  Maybe he's just a bloodthirsty sadist attempting to work the legal system into a lighter sentence.

Maybe the truth is worse than any of these . . .

FRESHLY CHILLED SPINES

Spine Chillers is an online web series brought to us for the past two years by Tres Hombres Productions.  They're dedicated to producing horror shorts with a touch (or sometimes more than a touch) of comedy to brighten things up a bit.

Tres Hombres Productions consists of Josh Becker, Christopher Dinnan and Paul B. Harris.  Each episode, one of these gentlemen writes and directs, and the others work in other capacities.  This time around, for "Exit Interview", it's Paul B. Harris' turn, and he succeeds in bringing to your computer screens a story that is dark, disturbing and yes, even scary.

THE CRIMINAL MIND

Harris has crafted a mockumentary "true crime" special and wrapped a story of mental illness and serial murder around it.  It's an interesting and effective mix -- featuring "crime scene photographs" and stills of those involved, if I didn't know the people involved from other projects I might not necessarily know it was fake until the end.

The production values are low budget, as to be expected, but the narrator (Rob Rose) sounds authentic enough to cover any problems there.

The only real issue I have with "Exit Interview" is that it is too long to not have an evolving plot.  Nothing really happens onscreen -- we see a few interviews with Randy Lee Sommers, but that's about it.  This wouldn't be as glaring of a problem if the film was shorter, but when it's clocking in at over twenty minutes in length, it becomes more and more important that the story move and twist and turn.

And that finale -- WOW, a nice piece of special effects there.  I did not expect that level of gore from this short and it was startling -- in a good way.  As far as the ultimate reveal, you could kind of see where they were going with it which made the final few shots unnecessary.  I suppose that some viewers would complain about ending it with the gore as being too ambiguous of an ending, but after that, seeing the obvious conclusion just felt like beating a dead horse.

While they were off to a rocky start when the series debuted in May 2013, Tres Hombres Productions have steadily upped the quality of their short films, culminating with "Exit Interview" and "Spoon Dog", which I reviewed last month and enjoyed greatly.

"Exit Interview" is another win for the Spine Chillers web series and, in particular, for Tres Hombres Productions.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  The concept is solid: is a serial killer faking his multiple personality disorder to get an easier jail sentence, or is he legimitately mentally ill?  The story takes advantage of its mockumentary format to the fullest, but the plot doesn't move much -- an issue which becomes more obvious with this short film's long running time.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Harris knows how true crime TV shows look, what they sound like and how they feel, and he delivers all of that with gusto.  The shocking final attack loses some of its impact due to weak choreography, but overall this short film looks good and has one of the best visual styles of any of the Spine Chillers episodes thus far.
Editing: 3.5 / 5.  Everything cuts together smoothly.  The film itself is too long -- we hear Randy Lee Sommers spout the same lines again and again, for example.
Sound/Music: 2 .5 / 5.  I don't recall any music in the film except for the old Spine Chillers theme song, which I just can't make myself like.  The sound design is good here though -- you can clearly hear what everyone says.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  "Exit Interview" is one of the best acted Spine Chillers episodes to date.  Though Harris as Sommers seems at first a little over the top, once you see where he's going with his performance it all makes sense.  He shows an impressive range -- from aggressive and mean to fragile and despondent, he does it all.  The supporting cast also delivers good performances, including series regular Robert J. Gordinier as the attorney who might be a sucker and John Manfredi (Oz: The Great & Powerful), who puts on the best performance of the show with his extremely believable performance as Dr. David Opher.

Final Grade: 3.1 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Exit Interview" on YouTube and visit the official Spine Chillers website right here!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Big Hits In Dammie Akinmola's Violent Revenge Thriller "Board to Death"

"BOARD TO DEATH" (2015)
Genre: Thriller (Revenge)
Length- 16:31
Company: Broken Lens Productions
Website:  Official

A maniac (Joshua Esposito) is pushed over the edge by the adultery of his wife (Victoria Ashford).  She begins to give him clues about who she's slept with, and he sets about the dirty business of taking revenge . . .

. . . on all of them.

SET PIECES

"Board to Death" is a nasty little revenge picture directed by up and coming filmmaker Dammie Akinmola.  Make no mistake, this short film is aggressively violent and well produced.  The brutality on display is extremely well choreographed, effective, and bloody at times.

I liked the black and white presentation -- it resembled that of a classic film noir, with Ashford's makeup and dress made in that style as well.  Clever usage of the camera by Akinmola and writer/cinematographer Kazi Zaman kept the story visually appealing.

That being said, the core concept of the film doesn't make any sense.  If he's mad enough to kill seven men, then why wouldn't the first and only target of his violence be the woman who he hates enough to call "a demon . . . a succubus"?  Why would he allow himself to be drawn into this game to begin with?

It's harder still to accept the premise because every character in "Board to Death" is not only reprehensible but unlikeable.  There is little charisma, and fewer lines of dialogue.  The bulk of the film's sound is Esposito ranting and raving about infidelity, and that gets old very fast.

The film is so well made that you can forgive most of the shortcomings and just go with it, but I can't help but wonder what such a talented director and production crew could come up with if they had a more involving story to tell.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing:  3 / 5.  The script by Zaman wants to be an introspective take on infidelity and madness with a few religious overtones, but it comes off as a bit more of an exploitation story than anything else.  It's violent, it's nasty, that's what you're watching it for, and that's the point.  Fun side note: "Board to Death" was inspired by the story "Death by Scrabble" by Charlie Fish.
Directing:  4 / 5.  Akinmola melds the visual conventions of noir films with the violent revenge flicks of the '80s and '90s.  I much enjoyed his camera work which never got old and always hit with a punch.  Loved the panning kill shot in the confessional.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The editing, also taken care of by Zaman, was extremely well done.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The soundtrack compliments the nasty attitude of the film perfectly and was composed by Rika Muranaka and Akinmola.  Loved the violins in "In Her Cage".
Acting:  3 / 5.  Esposito is handsome and quite effective at being menacing, and one can believe that he'd fly into each violent rage as it comes.  As good as his physical performance was, his never ending monologue wore on me.  Ashford has little to do but stand or sit and look sexy, but she does what she can with the role.  Cristinel Hogas and in particular Carl Muircroft stood out well beyond their limited screen time.

Final Grade: 3.4 / 5.

Don't forget to check out the "Board to Death" creators' Facebook page and visit the official site here!



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!