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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Crime of Passion Turns Into Obsession In Short Film "Hand Job"

"HAND JOB" (2015)
Genre: Erotic Crime Thriller
Length- 11:18
Company:  Red Maple Media

* This film contains scenes of frank sexual content that should not be viewed by children.  Viewer discretion is advised.

A young wife (Astrid Ovelles) is interviewed by a man (Christian Thom) about the murders of her husband and his two lovers.  As the conversation continues, a number of questions can't help but be raised: why does she show no remorse over the killings?  Why is the interviewer obsessed with this young woman?

And why . . . why these hands?

A DIFFERENT TACK

We've all seen about a million crime films over the course of our moviegoing lives.  There have been so many different adultery-murder films, with every single possible twist turned on this particular plot, that it is almost impossible to find something that we haven't seen before.

Writer/director Ziyad Saadi (we reviewed his "Hello, My Name is Death" not long ago) took a different path on the adultery-murder crime film with his latest short film, and he went all out with it.  I can't say too much without spoiling the short, because literally it's a one note punch line, but I can say that there's characters obsessed with the hands of a killer, thus the camera focuses on hands the entire time.  Visually, that's it.  As entertaining as some of the dialogue is -- and the actors do a pretty good job -- it can't save the static images onscreen.

Film is a visual medium.  If my eyes aren't doing anything, inevitably the movie fails.

The conclusion was also a bit of a headscratcher.  It might have been satisfying for the characters, but it didn't do anything for me, and it seriously cheapened the movie for me.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing:  1.5 / 5.  How is this interview taking place?  At first I thought the interviewer was a police investigator, but obviously not.  Is he from the media?  I also find it extremely hard to believe one woman could strangle two other women simultaneously without being physically overpowered.  All this thrown aside, the story didn't go anywhere, no questions were answered.
Directing: 1 / 5.  The entire film is literally just looking at Ovelles' hands, and then we conclude with a split screen.  There's no directorial composition whatsoever.
Editing: 1 / 5.  The movie feels SO long, especially what with there being no visual movement.
Sound/Music: 1.5 / 5.  The dialogue is fuzzy but easy to hear.  The music at the finale comes in very loud and it's extremely distracting and, to my ears, inappropriate in terms of tone.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Not bad at all.  Ovelles and Thom did the best they could with the material they were given and gave pretty fearless performances.  I give a tip of the hat to both of them for a job well done.

Final Grade: 1.6 / 5.

I will post a link to "Hand Job" when it sees its official release online!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Fantasy Short "Orphyr" Casts a Spell On The Small Screen

"ORPHYR" (2013)
Genre: Fantasy
Length- 16:22
Company: La Fabrique

Village drunk Orphyr (Stephen Ropa) stumbles out of the tavern one night and discovers a lost child (Elodie Meresse).  Though he doesn't have much, he gives what he does have to her so she can get home -- and discovers that this "child" is actually the Green Lady (Elisa Briche) in disguise, a forest fairy fascinated by the simple, trusting Orphyr.  She rewards him beyond his wildest dreams, but Fredine (Corinne Masiero), the dishonest tavernkeeper, is determined to take advantage of him.

THE BARTER SYSTEM

"Orphyr" is a fun, family fantasy short film coming to us from La Fabrique, a film production company in France.  It's a fairy tale in the traditional sense -- it uses repetition, in this case, the number three, which has a fine history.  Think A Christmas Carol -- the three ghosts, for instance.  It's called the Rule of Three.

The production values are all top notch.  This film looks and sounds like it could be a theatrical release.  The actors do a fine job, even though it's all in French and I can't speak the language, the subtitles let me know what was going on.  Everyone sounded credible though and intonation goes a long way toward authentic performances.

But . . . those subtitles.  The translation was bad, at times accidentally amusing with their misuse of words.  You can overlook it, but it is distracting.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE

The screenplay didn't sell me on the story.  Orphyr wanders from location to location, we never address his drinking or his obvious alcoholism -- it's perfectly OK, in the world of the story, that he is a middle aged man who is incapable of engaging with the world due to his drinking habits.  In addition, a character close to him makes a decision three quarters of the way through that would seem pretty major that is never brought up again.

"Orphyr", the film, is meant to be light children's fare, and alcoholism and its effect on society is not, so I can see why they wouldn't touch it, but it seems like a strange thing to have in the film to begin with.  Is his drinking supposed to coincide with his childish traits?

I'm not sold on that, either.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  The script wanders a bit and could've been a bit tighter, especially regarding the aforementioned alcoholism and the character move.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Nice, light and airy camera work from writer/director Jonathan Degrelle.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The pacing is a little slow and the film feels long, but it's cut together well.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  I much enjoyed the score by Sebastien Renault.  The sound design is also top notch and recorded loud and clear.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Very well acted from front to back.

Final Grade: 3.5 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Orphyr" and visit the official website.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Experimental Short Film "Lucid" Paints a Uniquely Female Struggle In New York's 48 Hour Film Project

"LUCID" (2015)
Genre: Experimental / Drama
Length- 8:16
Company:  Butterfingers

Caryl (Marissa Carpio) is just one pretty woman at a club, but musician Hugh Lawson (Brian Walters) chooses to approach her.  And he's so charming and handsome!

Lucky her, right?

At first glance, this chance encounter looks like nothing more than a few compliments and a drink, but it soon becomes more than that.  So much more, in fact, that Caryl's consciousness flickers like a flame caught in a sudden wind.

Submerged in her own psyche, she finds herself face to face with her own past -- and the only way she's ever going to wake up is if she can figure out how to reunite all these disparate pieces of herself which meeting Hugh shattered.

AN EIGHT MINUTE MYSTERY

"Lucid" is an experimental film created for the New York 2015 48 Hour Film Project.  These competitions always boggle my mind because, frankly, creating anything artistic on your own in that short of a timespan is an impressive feat.  Attempting to make a good film that quickly is almost impossible.

Chase Kuertz (who also played the role of Teacher's Assistant) directed and edited "Lucid" from Carpio's script.  They weave a surreal story about a troubled woman whose sense of identity is compromised by the overpowering figures of masculinity in her life -- whether they be her neglectful father (played by Cameron Sun), the aforementioned snobby Teacher's Assistant, the abuse of potential suitors, or the expectations of beauty standards.

DIMINISHED RETURNS

The film's production was clearly limited by time and by budget -- some of the acting feels off, particularly with some of the opening's flirting.  I didn't entirely understand the meaning behind the math segment, and the Teacher's Assistant -- what was he trying to get across?  It was all a bit too cryptic for me.  Going for "the feel" of a scene over content is all well and good, but I couldn't make a connection there, and as a result it felt random and out of place.

We flash again and again from bit to bit, and without enough connective tissue to thread it all together, the effectiveness begins to dim a little.

It all still works, but . . . I felt like it could have hit harder.  I think with another polish on the script and some more time to work on how they were going to present some of this material visually, the film would have been stronger.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The film is a nonstop attack on Caryl, finally personified as a faceless stalker in the dark recesses of an apartment.  We flash from location to location and dream to dream, memory to memory -- or perhaps they aren't memories at all, perhaps it's all a dream journey within Caryl's mind.

But if that's true, then to which reality will she ultimately wake up?  And which one is the real nightmare?

It's uncertainties like these, and the ugly ambiguities that they present, that make "Lucid" a thinking person's film.  It's a fascinating dream-within-a-dream, and while the production was clearly rushed and yes, some elements of the production show their budget, the filmmakers' ambition and their desire to communicate something real more than makes up for any such shortcomings.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  Carpio's script had surprising depth considering it was for a 48 Hour Film competition.
Directing: 3 / 5. Kuertz and Director of Photography Jon Reino put together a mature visual performance that framed the action.  I wasn't distracted from the events onscreen in a positive or negative way.
Editing: 3 / 5. Kuertz edited the film together with Carpio and it flows pretty well.  The opening feels a bit long, though.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Gabe de Verona recorded the audio, and Kuertz was responsible for the design.  The dialogue sounds great and the film has moody sound effects that help press the surreal elements nicely.  "Matter of Time" was actually written and performed by Walters -- I liked it!
Acting: 3.5  / 5.  Carpio is the most competent thespian on hand here and comes off authentically in character.  Walters is good for the most part, but there's a few lines that sounded flat.  Kuertz isn't particularly believable.  The rest of the cast is for the most part acceptable.

Final Grade: 3.4 / 5

Don't forget to check out the trailer for "Lucid" below and follow the creators on Facebook!



Friday, August 7, 2015

Love, Milk, Drugs, Hate: Affecting Religious Drama "Profano Nomen" Taps Big Questions

"PROFANO NOMEN" (2015)
Genre: Drama / Religious
Length- 18:10
Company:  Nomen Films & Harrington Talents

Recovering drug addict Jake (Martino Caputo) and his brother, Ezio (Joe Perrino), struggle to keep their plumbing business alive in the middle of a dilapidated section of New York City.

That's a tough act for anyone, but add to that the fact that Ezio's still sore that their father left the business to Jake, and not him, and you've got a recipe for disaster.  The two brothers might be quarreling now, but as time goes on and resentment grows, it's only a matter of time until the collision course really begins.

Is it too late to turn it all around?  Is there still room in their lives for faith in something better?

AMBITIONS GAINED

"Profano Nomen" is a short film written and directed by Caputo, which is a challenging task by any measure, but then to add on the sheer number of actors and shots that we see here?  There are shots of the plumbing business at work, close-ups, moving shots, ensemble bits and fast and witty back and forths.  It's all a bit mindboggling, but Caputo handles it with such aplomb that I must admit, I'm a bit in awe of what he's accomplished here.

This film could have been a complete mess, but it's due to some serious hard work from true professionals -- or at least professionally minded people -- that "Profano Nomen" is not only a joy to watch, but also affecting to watch.

And to sweeten what is already clearly a well produced and executed short film, all Caputo's actors can actually act: there's not a single bad performance on display here.  Sure, a couple lines in his voiceover come off slightly flat, but those are easy enough to ignore.  Caputo himself is easy to like in his role, and Perrino is perfect as the asshole that you despise but can't help but relate to at the same time.

THE TROUBLE WITH AMBIGUITY

"Profano Nomen" is a drama, first and foremost, but it's made clear early on that there will be some religious overtones.

Overtones.  I said overtones.  By and large, the film is played straight -- there are no fantastical elements played with here for 95% of the film.  This is why, when some of the more "out there" moments occur late in the picture, I wasn't completely sold on what happens.

First of all, the reveal with the husband and wife (to say any more would be a spoiler) had very little setup.  The opening shots of the film were meant to be a little bit of foreshadowing, but it was so subtle that there was no way I could have made the connection.  As a result, it just came out of nowhere.

Finally, the concluding scene was jarring, considering the "happy happy" vibe we just experienced with the penultimate sequence.  It left this viewer wondering what we're supposed to conclude from the film, from a thematic standpoint?

I will say I was still thinking about the movie several hours later, so the ambiguity could potentially be considered as much a good thing as a bad thing.

CONCLUSION

"Profano Nomen" is a damn fine short film, especially considering the sheer scope of what he's attempting onscreen.   Even if some of the religious elements feel somewhat heavy handed toward the end of the film, Caputo has captured something special with his camera.

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

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5  / 5.  I liked how Caputo draws a parallel between substance abuse to how the working life affects one's family life -- being addicted to the job, for instance.  The religious angle comes on a little strong and a little too suddenly toward the end particularly considering how realistic the rest of the film seems.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Caputo puts on such a good show here.  Every shot is composed and must have been storyboarded.  He's got a great mix of shots so the eye never gets tired of following these characters around.  Also, loved how, in the bar, we have that last shot of Ezio looking disgusted at his own behavior after making an ass of himself.  It's a redeeming moment and adds so much to the character.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Luke Nelson cuts this thing together really well, but honestly we probably could cut a minute or two out of the beginning of the film -- there's quite a bit of excess "shop" bits at the start.
Sound/Music: 5 / 5. Beautifully recorded.  Sound design is by Jake Bjork.  The soundtrack is nice, and almost sounds like Mogwai.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Really well acted across the board -- this could compete with the big boys.  Besides Caputo and Perrino, we have others to give shout-outs to: James Andrew O'Connor, Rosie Berrido, Ivan Goris, Chris Mullahey, Joe Devito, Tom DiNardo, and Lou Martini, Jr.

Final Grade:  4.1 / 5. 

Don't forget to check out "Profano Nomen" on YouTube and follow its progress on Twitter!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"Satan's Coming For You" An Indie Mockumentary Horror That Doesn't Quite Mix

"SATAN'S COMING FOR YOU" (2015)
Genre: Mockumentary / Horror
Length- 19:37
Company:  N/A

WARNING: This film contains material which may be offensive and is definitely graphic, both in terms of violent material and adult language.  Viewer discretion is advised.


Bubba (Matt Marshall) enlists the help of his demented friend Alister (Dakota Bailey) to check off the three items on his To Do List From Hell -- these fun activities include, but are not limited to, digging up his unfaithful wife from her grave and performing rituals to the Devil.

And I can't even find friends who will show up to the movies on time.  But I digress . . .

REAL TIME TERROR

"Satan's Coming For You" is the latest short film coming from writer/director Dakota Bailey and his team of Denver independents.  It's filmed in a mockumentary style, which brings its own unique set of challenges and benefits, particularly when dealing with the sort of intense and violent material with which Bailey and company are working.  To wit: who is the fictional filmmaker shooting the events unfolding before the camera?  What is his or her relation to Bubba and Allister?

More importantly, why is said filmmaker releasing all of this?

PRODUCTION CHOICES

Bailey's film draws obvious inspiration from  filmmakers like Oliver Stone and Rob Zombie, inserting  non sequitur shots that utilize negatives and bizarre color corrections or zooms to throw the audience off balance.  These are the shining moments of the film -- he's got an eye for the oddball and the disturbing, no doubt about it.

That being said, essentially the film is a series of three grotesque vignettes, in which we follow Bubba and Allister as they perform more and more unlikely and bizarre acts that are more unbelievable than they are shocking.

Through it all, in another nod to Stone and Zombie, our protagonists wax poetic about philosophy and religion and the nature of man.  These bits feel forced and over the top -- even more so, because they are separated from the rest of the film by title cards which must have been inserted into the film by the fictional filmmakers.  Why are the fictional filmmakers on their side?

CONCLUSION

There's a good story inside of "Satan's Coming For You", but it's never addressed: who are the fictional filmmakers who are making this documentary?  Why are they making it?  What's their story?

I'd be interested to see that film.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1 / 5.  Bailey is credited as the writer, but the film feels more ad libbed than taken from a permanent script.
Directing: 2 / 5.  Bailey's direction has promise, and there are definite moments of tension, but a lot of the visual choices don't make sense given the mockumentary approach and taboo subject matter.
Editing: 2 / 5.  Feels like it was cut together with Windows Movie Maker.  There are a lot of misspellings in the credits which also gives the film an amateur feel.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  The sound cuts in and out, which is partially due to the aesthetic of the film, but it distracts more than it builds tension.  Death metal music appears periodically as well.
Acting: 2 / 5. Matt Marshall deserves special mention for doing what he can with the many monologues he is given.  Otherwise, the acting may not be at a professional level, but it's not bad.

Final Grade: 1.8 / 5

Don't forget to check out "Satan's Coming For You" on YouTube and follow the creators on Facebook!



Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!