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Monday, April 18, 2016

A Thin Line Between Thrills & Laughs in Short Film "Fatal Premonition"

"FATAL PREMONITION" (2016)
Genre: Comedy / Thriller
Length- 13:22
Company:  Mind Palace Pictures

Landon (David Esposito) is a young businessman on the rise, and his best friend Ed (Ryan Crepack) is a little bit jealous.  It doesn't help that Landon's a bit of an arrogant four-letter-word about his new promotion.

The thing is, Fate's about to serve Landon a cold slice of Reality Pie in the form of a nasty little nightmare of his own murder.

Will he recognize the dream for what it is, and most importantly can he stop this "Fatal Premonition" from coming to pass?

THREE MAN CREW

David Esposito co-wrote, co-directed, scored, edited, and of course starred in the lead role of this short. Crepack also wore multiple hats, sharing writing and directing duties.  Stephen Lo Biondo puts on the Director of Photography hat and also takes a turn in front of the camera as the woefully underappreciated character of Anthony.  Dominik Zdzioch is credited with the role of Oz.

That's three guys in the crew, plus an additional actor.  No one else is included as running sound, so I'm assuming Esposito, Crepack and Lo Biondo were doing their own sound, too.  That's a lot to try and manage on set all by themselves . . . and the audio is all professionally captured, by the way.  Not distracting, tinny or masked with the annoying echo of many amateur productions.

Many jobs.  Three guys.

That's how it is with low budget films, though -- if a film's completed, more than likely someone, and probably multiple someones are taking on numerous duties.  In this case, I have to say that despite having to no doubt run back and forth between in front of the camera and behind, the picture is remarkably clear and the shots are well composed.  I'm not entirely sold on a few of the directorial choices and some of the transitions seem rushed, but considering how messy it could have been, the film rolls pretty seamlessly.

A LITTLE GENRE MAGIC

So how's it play?

As a comedy, most of the laughs sputter in the beginning, and the tone of the film is too muddy -- we're never sure if we're supposed to be laughing or taking it seriously.  Probably from the midpoint onward, though, the jokes start to noticeably improve.  Crepack has a real John Krasinski vibe to him, and he makes for a good straight man to Esposito's banter.  I particularly enjoyed their final conversation -- that got a real laugh-out-loud from me.

Now, for the thriller side . . . the film never really got to me.  The supernatural angle, the premonition -- it didn't feel real, it felt forced and the shots of the dream came off as silly.  BUT, as the film progressed, there was a real world matter of factness to the events unfolding that was surprisingly effective.

The choreography at the finale wasn't bad, either.  It was slow and forced, but as a fellow filmmaker, I understand how hard it is to deliver a fight scene that feels like a real fight scene.  It wasn't bad, and it did what it had to do.  Good job, guys.

QUIBBLES AND BITS

OK, here's some thoughts for improvement down the road: Landon comes off as WAY too big of a jerk to be remotely sympathetic.  He never shows a single redeeming quality the entire film.  Ed seems like a decent enough guy, if a bit of a pushover . . . so why on Earth is he hanging out with this guy?  I mean, now Landon's his boss, so I guess you could say he's intimidated, but Landon wasn't always his boss.  At one time, there must have been something to this friendship.  Ed must be getting something out of their relationship, but I cannot figure out what that would be.

Without knowing why they're friends, or at least understanding the dynamics of their relationship, we really don't care about what's going on in the movie beyond the surface level of, "Human beings normally should not murder each other."  But we should care about Landon and Ed's relationship, and how it's being changed by the new promotion, and most importantly, we should care about what Landon's death would do to Ed.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  Not bad jokes, a few that were legitimately laugh-out-loud funny, and some moments of tension.  The character of Landon is too obnoxious to be taken seriously, and the plot as a whole has a definite "been there, done that" feel to it, but it's not bad for a watch on the Internet.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Crepack and Esposito manage a stable visual showing that's entertaining despite both being onscreen almost the entire time, no doubt with the help of Director of Photography Lo Biondo.  A crew of three, they've accomplished a pretty polished piece of work that's an enjoyable to watch to boot.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Some transitions are a bit rushed, and the pacing lurches at times but by and large the film's cut together well.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Esposito scored "Fatal Premonition" as well, and helps to wring out some extra tension from the darker scenes.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  Crepack and Lo Biondo do a respectable job with what they're given.  Zdzioch doesn't have much to do but stand around and look vacant, which he does admirably.  Esposito is very hit or miss, unsurprising given the histrionics of his character -- half of his dialogue is completely unbelievable.

Final Grade: 2.7 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Fatal Premonition" on Facebook!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Take Your Shot"! -- Prolific Character Actor Timothy J. Cox EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW!

Since moving to New York City fifteen years ago, Timothy Cox has racked up an astonishing 117 appearances in short films and major TV series such as "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and recurring character Detective Ken Clancy on "Watching the Detectives".

A successful character actor by anyone's standards, it all began for him on a fateful day in 8th grade when he took an acting role simply as an excuse to get out of class . . . and realized he loved it.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Check out my interview with Tim below as we chat about what it means to be an actor in today's digital workplace, how to market yourself, the secret to his success and much, much more!


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FCSFR: You've cited acting giants like Jack Lemmon, Spencer Tracy, and contemporary character actors like William H. Macy and Paul Giamatti as influences.  You've picked actors who, by and large, have enormous ranges -- they can play anything.  When do you think their talent became apparent to you as a young person?

TIMOTHY J. COX: What struck me about all of those actors early on and what I think they all have in common is the one thing that I think is important for all truly great acting, and that is truth.  For these particular actors, in every one of their performances, they always convey blunt, honest truth, whether they're likable characters or not.  Even if you don’t like them or their motives, you care about them because they are so, at times, heartbreakingly honest and truthful.  You feel for these guys, because they look and feel so familiar up there on screen.

From the moment I saw Jack Lemmon in Days Of Wine and Roses, I became hooked on acting.  It was such an honest, revelatory performance and yet he, as Joe Clay, did a lot of things in the film that I detested.  I had the same feelings for Harry Stoner in Save The Tiger and especially for Shelley Levine in Glengary, Glen Ross.  They were incredibly flawed men, but I cared about them, because they were so truthful.

These were men who were lost and desperately clinging to an ideal or a dream that was just never going to materialize.  To play that on a stage or on film would be heaven.

Tim with the 13th Street Repertory Theatre in
Promo Pic For 2002's "A Soldier's Death"
FCSFR: You graduated college in 1999 and moved to New York City in 2001 with the hopes of becoming an actor, and worked pretty consistently in theater for the better part of a decade.  What about those years of doing theater as an unappreciated young actor, just starting to get a couple of critical nods, sticks with you today?

TJC: Those really were the best years because, in the beginning, you're hungry.  You're just hungry for any opportunity, for anyone to pick you for anything and I did anything that was thrown at me.  I worked at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre in the West Village of New York for two and a half years and in that time I did everything I could to get on stage as much as possible.  I did children shows.  I did Line by Israel Horowitz, which has been running at the theatre for over 40 years.  I did original works and staged readings.  I had a ball.  It was a great opportunity to learn from so many different actors, writers and directors, playing a wide range of parts.  I miss those years.

FCSFR: What about working in theater led you to pursue film?  I understand it wasn't treating you all that well.

TJC: I wouldn't say that the theater was treating me bad, not at all.  You know, for me, I always go where the wind takes me.  When I came to New York, I never thought I'd be a film actor.  When I graduated from college, I thought to myself that if I am a good supporting actor in the theater -- doing the classics, the Chekhov’s, the Shakespeare’s, the Ibsen’s -- I'd be a happy guy, but as time went on, I started to really get into film and get comfortable and confident in front of the camera and from around 2010 on, I've done more film.  I still love the theater because nothing beats that live reaction, but for me, right now, the wind is pushing me in the direction of film.  But that may change tomorrow.

FCSFR: You've done a lot of classic theater as you've mentioned, and a lot of films with very modern sensibilities.  Some other actors with similar backgrounds sometimes carry that around as baggage.  I'm thinking of the Shakespearean actors, like Patrick Stewart for instance, whose acting style is loud and boisterous like he's still trying to be heard from the back of the theater.  Your performances, on the other hand, are much more reserved, more particular to the individual character you're playing.  Where do you think that sensibility comes from?

TJC: I wish I knew.  Seriously.  I really can't put into words how I come around to that way of doing things.

I will say that it was a difficult transition from being primarily a stage actor to then go to film almost exclusively.  When most actors come out of the theatre, it's all about making things as small as possible on film, to almost do nothing and as stage actors, we're trained to project, to use our face, body and voice fully.  On film, everything has to be small.

I think as time has gone on, for me, I've tried to focus on doing as little as possible.  Not acting, but being.  I like to think that I've become more of a re-actor than an actor and to focus as much as possible on listening.  Listening, listening, listening.  That's everything.  That's what made actors like Lemmon and Tracy so extraordinary to watch.  They were great re-actors [and] listeners.

FCSFR: So take me from that period to when you met writer/director Sean Meehan.  

TJC: Sean put out a posting for "Over Coffee", which was the first film we did together in 2010.  We met in a bar in Chelsea and he told me what the project was about and told me about this obnoxious boss character in the film, Hamilton Rice.  The part clicked for me because he was in real estate and a few years before, I had worked in real estate, so characters like Rice -- bombastic and entitled -- were the kinds of characters that I had encountered, so finding Rice and finding those beats within the character was not difficult at all.  It was quite fun to play.

Sean also happened to write a really funny, charming script and when we got on set, I liked his energy and his enthusiasm, the way he interacted with the actors and his crew. After watching him, I had a feeling in my gut that said ‘’This guy’s good, stick with him.’’  So, that’s what I’ve done ever since.

FCSFR: You've worked with Sean on five different film projects, you've appeared in 13 shorts in 2013, 12 more through 2015, and you've got 9 more projects coming this year -- and it's only MARCH.  Tim, by anyone's standards, that's incredibly prolific.  Talk to me about going from a couple shorts here and there to being in demand, and even appearing on TV.

TJC: That’s the magic word right there, prolific. An actor needs to be prolific to enjoy any longevity in this work. I also like to work and try to do so as much as possible, whether it’s a film, play or something on television. I’m an actor. That’s my job.

FCSFR: A lot of actors who are just starting on this career path could learn from your example.  How can an actor grow his brand in an increasingly digital market?  How did you do it?

TJC: Years prior, I resisted having a website and putting things on Facebook because I was always of the feeling, "let the work do the talking," but it is a business and getting your face and name out there, within reason, is important and for me, it’s been very helpful.  It’s tricky though and I try to be extra careful to not make it sound like I’m bragging on my website or my Facebook page.  Believe me, I’m not.  The way I look at it, it’s a journal of my adventures.

Plus, the website has helped me get jobs, so I’m going to stick with it.

FCSFR:  After appearing in so many different projects over such a short time, what's it like to attend an audition with Tim Cox in 2016?  Is it easier than when you started, or is it still the same anxious game?  What gets you through?

TJC: The process has always been the same.  I usually go into an audition with few expectations.  It takes the pressure off.  All I can do is go in and audition as best I can.  If it’s not to be, that’s fine.  Life goes on and the next job is always around the corner.

FCSFR: Now, to draw back from an earlier question -- a lot of your heroes show tremendous range as an actor, but so do you.  Over the years, you've transformed into quite a few characters, from the lunatic in "Simple Mind" to the con man in "Mallas, MA" to Teddy Roosevelt in this year's "Mysteries at the Castle" for TV.  Is it a conscious decision to try to walk a little bit in the shoes of Macy, Giamatti, and even Lemmon?

TJC: I like to push myself, do things that are unique and different, roles that scare me a little.  The talent has to be in the choices an actor makes, the kinds of parts they play.

FCSFR: You've stated in the past -- specifically in an interview over at Movie-Blogger -- that one thing that attracts you to a role is a little bit of danger.  What makes a role exciting and dangerous?  Is there a particular role you've played thus far that would embody that statement?

TJC: When I first read the script for "Simple Mind", the danger and the excitement came from the fact that he was so incredibly quiet and vulnerable, which I think is one of the most difficult things for an actor to convey.  The more I read that script and the more I thought about the character of Bob, not really thinking of him in terms of the serial killer angle, but as this quiet, still, incredibly vulnerable and simple man, the more exciting and clear to me the character became.

FCSFR: And on that note, when you sit down with a role, how do you determine how you're going to play a character?  "Simple Mind", for instance, could have been played very on the nose, but you chose to go for subtlety, which definitely made the movie.

TJC: When I get the script, the first thing I do is map out intentions, objectives and actions for the character.  What is the character fighting for?  What do they want?  It sounds like a simple question, but it's very difficult and it should be difficult to answer.  I write key words and phrases in the margins of my script, little buzz words to help me.  For "Simple Mind", once the character of Bob was clear to me, I knew that I did not want to play him as an over the top, grinning maniac, but as just a normal everyday guy, so I focused on stillness and quiet as much as possible, as to me, there is more menace in the silence, the stillness and the slowness in how he moves, how he carries himself.

FCSFR: One short film with Sean that we haven't mentioned yet is "Socks & Cakes", which I wanted to bring up because of one particular conversation in the film between yourself and Kirsty Meares in the kitchen, which turns out to be the emotional crux of the film. The two of you had terrific chemistry.  How did you prepare for this role?

TJC: Actually, that project was written and directed by a very gifted filmmaker named Antonio Padovan.  I credit "Socks & Cakes" as the film that changed everything.  It was the first film that I did where I knew it was going to be solid.  I just had a hunch, even when we were making the film that this was going to be something special, and to get the strong reactions that the film has received over the years has been wonderful.

I was attracted to the writing, which was so fresh, honest and revealing.  It weaves beautifully between funny, dramatic and sad . . . a lot like life.

Harry was a character, someone that, at that time, I knew I could play. It was the right part at the right time in my life.  I knew this guy.  I was this guy.  Sometimes, a character clicks just right with you and all you have to do is trust the material, trust yourself and trust the people around you and then just do it.  The scene in the kitchen with Kirsty, who's just wonderful in the film, was very difficult for her, as she goes to great emotional heights in the scene.  For me, I had the best seat in the house.  I got to watch, react and listen to this amazing performance.  When you have a scene partner who is that good, you just get swept into the scene.  You're not acting.  You're not Tim and Kirsty.  You're Harry and Amanda.

FCSFR: And on that note, what has been your most challenging role so far and why?

TJC: I think they've all been challenging and they all should be challenging.  Sure, there are some roles that sometimes fit like an old jacket, but once you get into it, there should be challenges.  There must be.  The actor must constantly push [him or herself] and try to bring something different to the table as much as possible. It keeps things interesting, fun and yes, dangerous.

FCSFR: How often do directors contribute to your performances or how you see a character, or have they pretty much let you run with your imagination?

TJC: Having a solid collaboration with your director is everything.  For "Here Lies Joe", director Mark Battle would send messages to me with little tidbits about the character of Bill and these little tidbits would trigger something in me.  Bill is in one scene in that film, but Mark wanted to make him a real, living, breathing character, so I really appreciated the attention he paid to the details.  Details are everything.  They help add color to the character.  Sean does the same thing.  Zachary Lapierre, who directed "Dirty Books", did the same thing.  They'll say a word or a phrase and a switch goes on and I'm off to the races.  Everything is clear.

FCSFR: Is there a particular genre you haven't tried yet or a kind of project you'd love to work on but haven't yet had the opportunity?

TJC: I was never really a fan of westerns as a kid, but over the last couple of years, I've come to really enjoy them, especially the Sergio Leone westerns.  Those are epics.  One western that I really enjoyed was Will Penny, which I think was the best performance Charlton Heston ever gave.

Stories like that, of everyday people, living and fighting in a lawless time . . . that would be exciting to experience.  I don't think I'd be a gunslinger, though.  I think I'd be the Thomas Mitchell or Edmond O’Brien part, the town doctor or newspaper editor.

FCSFR: Last but not least, if you could go back in time to when your younger self first moved to New York City and offer one piece of advice, what would it be?

TJC: Take more chances. Risk more. If you don’t take your shot, how will you know?


* * * * * *


Thanks go out to Tim for taking the time to sit down and partake in this interview -- we'll have to do it again sometime soon!  

My apologies to Sean Meehan and Antonio Padovan for the mixup regarding the writing/directing of "Socks & Cakes".  Both men are incredibly talented filmmakers and you owe it to yourself to check out their work! 

If you haven't had the chance, check out Tim's performances in "Mallas, MA", "Simple Mind", "Socks & Cakes", "Over Coffee", "Total Performance" and "What Jack Built" by clicking on their respective links!

Monday, March 21, 2016

"What Jack Built" A DIY Short Film Take On The Monster Movie Genre

"WHAT JACK BUILT" (2015)
Genre: Horror
Length- 11:16
Company:  N/A

There's something out there in the woods.  Is it an animal?  A force of evil?  We don't know, and perhaps not even Jack (Timothy J. Cox) knows, but he's determined to catch it anyway.  To do this, he's got to use every last bit of ingenuity he can scrape up because it's not going to be easy.

NEW BLOOD

"What Jack Built" is a bare bones project directed, edited and scored by 17 year old filmmaker Matthew Mahler.  He even co-wrote the script with Ross Mahler.  He clearly took the bull by the horns here and created his own vision, and you have to admire something like that out of a new filmmaker, particularly someone so young.

And what we have here is an interesting amalgamation of horror influences.  I detect elements of Sam Raimi's early, wild eyed directorial style and John Carpenter's intensely streamlined storytelling and thumping score.  There's probably more that we could peel out of "What Jack Built", but the point is that Mahler's wearing influences on his sleeve, which is perfectly healthy for a new talent.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE

Where we falter in this short film is in the writing.  There's not much of a story going on -- if you were to describe the story to someone, you could sum it up in two words.  "Jack builds."  That's what you're going to see for 85% of the running time -- actor Cox running around retrieving parts and putting them together.  It's mildly interesting for the first few minutes, but it gets kind of tiring after a while.

One way this period of the film could have been enhanced would have been with the occasional flashback, or a voiceover -- something describing the origins of the monster, or why Jack's obsessed with it in the first place.  As it is, we know nothing about anything, and that stops any kind of emotional involvement we have with what's going on before our eyes.

Bottom line: audiences these days have too many reasons to not watch your movie to begin with, so if you're going to tell a story, we need to know more.  We need a reason to care about the characters.  We need mystery, yes, but we need something to go on WITH the mystery.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1 / 5.  There's not enough story here to pad out the running time, which feels excessively long because it's almost entirely just Jack building a trap.  
Directing: 2 / 5.  I liked the camera movement, but there wasn't a sense of dynamics -- we were pretty much running around the entire time, and it never let up.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  Fast cutting throughout, but the transitions were good and the fade ins and outs worked nicely within the context of the movie.  Alternating longer held shots with some of those fast cutting periods would work wonders to give some dynamics to Mahler's filmmaking.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  I liked the nifty synth score Mahler's come up with -- reminded me of the sort of thing John Carpenter wrote in his prime.  But I have to say that it suffers a little from, again, not enough variety.  It's very upbeat throughout.  If we're going to have tension, sometimes you have to ease up a little.  Let the music breathe.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Cox plays his part well -- a little bit mad scientist, a little bit determined backwoods MacGuyver.  It works.

Final Grade: 2.3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "What Jack Built" on Vimeo and check out the cast and crew on IMDb!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Satirical "Screwdriver" Lampoons Indian Ban Culture In Universally Funny Short Film

"SCREWDRIVER" (2016)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 13:10
Company:  Quest Mercury

Bhag Sing (Rajesh Nahar) and his wife Neha (Preety Arora) visit his old college buddy Goldie (Afsar Adil) back in India only to find the political landscape changed: a new, overactive socially conscious generation has begun enacting policies which, while done with good intentions, are far too kneejerk to address any real societal ills.

Take for instance the whole reason Bhag came back to begin with -- to share a drink with his friend.   Even drinking alcohol is prohibited on certain days of the week, during elections, on birthdays -- the list goes on.

With nothing much else to do, Bhag decides to go for a ride on his motorcycle.  His kickstart lever falls off, and he goes in search of a screwdriver to fix it.

But wouldn't you know, a series of screwdriver murders has started a new movement to ban the use of this basic tool entirely, and all Bhag can do is watch helplessly as his rights ping pong off the TV screen . . .

THE BEAUTY OF SATIRE

"Screwdriver" is a pure satire written, edited and directed by Vikkramm Chandirramani.  It's a subtitled visual experience delivered with a very light touch, almost child-like with its simple wipe transitions and extended scenes heavy on dialogue and static shots.  We have some really nicely done visual effects during the news broadcasts which amp up the apparent production values and give us something to look at which turns out to be a very good idea because the rest of the film is fairly mundane on an aesthetic level.

But where this film succeeds is ideas.  First of all, I'm American, so to have a sneak peak into India's political climate was fascinating.  But more than that, as soon as the screwdriver conversation pops up, it starts getting more and more funny until I found myself clapping as poor Bhag finds himself the victim of just the sort of ludicrous nonsense that bureaucratic peons would do in such a situation.

Anyway, I don't want to spoil any of the ridiculousness, because it's very funny and you should check it out.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  I was a bit on the edge with this one because yes, the comedic writing is top notch, but the characters themselves have little to do. Goldie disappears after the first few minutes, the beginning is slow, and the finale doesn't resolve anything.
Directing: 2 / 5.  It works out OK, but none of the scenes are visually striking.  We have no real camera movement through the whole film.  The visual effects save the day, essentially.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Some scenes seem overly long.  The transitions are all wipes, which seems an odd choice to me, but it does contribute to the zaniness of the picture.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  Nothing jumped out at me, but nothing made me wince either, so that's good.
Acting: 2 / 5.  Nahar and Adil were off and on in the first scene, but the former improved over the course of the film and put in a decent performance by the end.  Arora did what she could with what she was given.

Final Grade: 2.4 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Screwdriver" at its official website and follow the film on Facebook!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

An All Too Plausible App Obsessed Future In Wen Ren's Sci-Fi Comedy "Cafe Glass"

"CAFE GLASS" (2015)
Genre: Sci-Fi / Comedy
Length- 9:15
Company:  Ocean Sky Media / Black Drone Media

In a near future where the virtual world and reality have begun to overlap, Steve (Devin Goodsell) attempts to meet Capica (Bridgett Luevanos) in real life even though his cell phone app warns him they are utterly incompatible for one another.  So incompatible, in fact, that they are "enemies".  

To make matters worse, there's an Internet failure at the local Wi-Fi cafe, so it seems the would be couple are truly on their own in strange new territory . . .

SAY HELLO TO THE FUTURE

Writer/director/editor Wen Ren is truly the driving force behind the humorous short film "Cafe Glass", which is basically a natural extension of the immersive "app culture" we are becoming.  It's almost a cautionary tale masquerading as a comedy.  The more we become obsessed with filling every empty second with something to look at, something to do, the more we lose in the long run.

This seems to be a philosophy with which Ren agrees, and he takes this in the direction of relationships.  Steve has friends, but they're not friends as we know friends.  Steve sits with a group of guys, but they don't talk to each other.  They are physically present, but not emotionally present.  They are busy doing their own thing, caught up in their own mess of apps and games.

GOODBYE TO ROMANCE -- DYSTOPIAN EDITION

And as far as romance is concerned, forget about it -- there's an app that instantly searches a room and tells you if there's anyone who is compatible with you, or if they'd be an enemy.  Instant search, instant gratification maybe, but without being able to emotionally connect (which how can you do that when no one can pay attention to anything beyond their own nose for five seconds) there's no way you can have a lasting relationship.  Romantic relationships are just as disposable as anything else in this new app obsessed world.

So it is appropriate that Steve and Capica attempt to forge their own relationship without the Internet . . . and maybe by doing so, they'll remember what it means to connect with another human being in the first place.

Consider this: perhaps they are labeled incompatible on the app not because they are enemies to one another, but because their union would make them an enemy of the STATE, since becoming a real, long term loving couple would distract them from the sort of loneliness that would promote an interest in the obsession of the app world that such a "futuristic" dystopia would require to continue to exist.

Boom.

That was your mind exploding.

You're welcome.

NOW THEN, THEN NOW

Yes, I got all that out of a nine minute short film.  It's story behind the story, unmentioned but no less there, and it's that kind of depth that helps fill in the blanks of what could have otherwise been a very cardboard cut out comedy story.

Thanks to some very good filling out of a real cafe, Ren gives us a great illusion of a bustling internet cafe, complete with high tech visuals which are on point with the way apps today are becoming more and more intrusive on our daily lives.  In "Cafe Glass", they truly dig their digital fingers into every waking moment.  Every action has an app attached to it, and it's all rendered beautifully with visual effects designed and supervised by Art Miroshin.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The unspoken depth of the cautionary tale behind the app crazy world helps elevate the story, which is pretty sparse otherwise.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Nicely integrated visual effects, a lot of Go Pro style first person or tight close up "in motion" shots.  These choices made perfect sense for this picture, and helped add some kinetic energy to the film.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Tightly edited.  The effects are perfect.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  Nice post-pop/electronic soundtrack from Chris Marz.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Good comedic performances from everyone.  Nothing groundbreaking, but it works.

Final Grade:  3.4 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Cafe Glass" and follow the creators on Facebook!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Prego" Laughs At One Night Stands & The Awkwardness of Impending Parenthood

"PREGO" (2015)
Genre: Comedy
Length-13:34
Company:  Digital Magic Entertainment

After a recent break-up, Emily (Katie Vincent) drowns her sorrows in a one night stand with a nice guy she doesn't know.  The problem is that now she's pregnant, and that guy she didn't know turns out to be Mark (Taso Mikroulis), possibly the worst candidate for fatherhood in the entire world.

Regardless, she doesn't have a lot of emotional support, and she's got one person she can turn to, and like it or not, that person's got to be Mark . . .

AWKWARD SILENCE

"Prego" is a short comedy film directed and co-written by Usher Morgan with assistance from Andy Cowan.  It's an exercise in simplicity, both in terms of writing and visual style, but sometimes that's the best way to go for the film you want to make.  "Prego" doesn't need some kind of wacky virtuoso performance behind the camera.  The emphasis here is on the sort of quiet, mundane humor you'll see in TV comedies like "The Office".

The end result is an amusing short that will keep you entertained for the running time of the film.  I liked how Morgan addresses the sort of saccharine Hollywood ending we've come to expect from movies about parenthood, and then takes the story in another direction.

CONCLUSION

So where does love enter into a relationship?  Does it always have to be something that's a foregone conclusion -- you fall in love at first sight, for instance, or you fall in love before having sex?  Can you have a one night stand, and learn to love later?

Do you have to have love at all?  Can't you just work together for the betterment of the little being you've mutually created?

Or maybe life's just one big rollercoaster, and you just have to cling on for the ride, and see if there's a laugh or two that can be squeezed out of the experience.

Maybe so, but at least we can laugh and enjoy!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Though the storyline has a "been there, done that" feel (most notably in the big budget Knocked Up), the aforementioned fork in the plot toward the end made up for a lot.  The jokes are by and large funny and the characters play off each other in humorous ways.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Simple, but it just WORKS.  Morgan uses a lot of close-ups in his dialogue, and lets his actors do the heavy lifting.  The production values as a whole are high and the film is attractive.  A nod needs to go to Director of Photography Louis Obioha because, despite being limited to one location, we still get some nice images.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Morgan also handles editing duties, and he's cut the film together in about as perfect a fashion as possible.  The pacing is right on the money, and the color correction makes the actors all the more beautiful to watch.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The music comes from a variety of sources, mostly pop and alternative songs which capture a certain mood for the movie.  The sound is recorded professionally.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Both Vincent and Mikroulis put on good performances, with the former in particular being given a role which allows some range.  They play off each other well and it's their offbeat chemistry that makes the film what it is.

Final Grade:  3.4 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Prego" at the official Facebook page!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Problem With Dreams Exposed In Short Film Drama "One O'Clock"

"ONE O'CLOCK" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 15:57
Company:  Quichofilms

Teenaged Filipino aspiring actor Randy Ocampo (AJ Padilla) flies to America to try to "make it" in show business where his delusional mother (Amy Savin) failed.  He finds the going much harder than he expected it to be, but at least he's got an audition, so there's still a chance for him to achieve his dreams.

But if it doesn't pan out, he'll have to look more closely at returning home, poorer and with nothing to show for it.

TO CHASE A DREAM

"One O'Clock" is a short film written, directed and edited by 15 year old Miguel Quicho, but it doesn't feel like a student project in the slightest.  There's some rocky road, to be sure, but what Quicho and his cast and crew have accomplished is an impressive feat: a dramatic, subtitled short film that feels like the work of someone much older.

The story is simple, and it unfolds via a series of flashbacks which inform Randy's decision over the course of the film.  He's kicked out of his mother's house for refusing to fund her own dreams of being a famous actress -- as an older woman fixated on physical appearance, Randy decides she has no chance of accomplishing anything with her life so she may as well give up.  It's a pretty bold statement for your protagonist to make, one which could render him unlikeable.  For this viewer, anyway, it didn't do that and in fact added another dimension to the story at hand: when is it right to allow dreams to die?

Should dreams ever die?

It's an unspoken theme, but it gives the audience something to think about.

THE FILM IS THE THING

From a production value standpoint, we have a pretty good visual experience, starting with the handheld shots of the airport.  Using public places lends a film the illusion of a higher budget, and opening the film here was a smart move, especially considering how claustrophobic the rest of the film feels.

So is it a good film?  It's simple, with a predictable conclusion to the single story thread that is present.  The finale doesn't conclude anything, it pretty much just stops.  Without going into spoiler territory, what happens is just one step in a much longer process.  What happens with his mother?  Are they just done?  Will he be more understanding of her now that he knows how brutally hard it is out there for an inexperienced actor?

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The film is one note struck over and over again -- nothing is resolved, we never see what happens between Randy and his mother, or even his friend, Jess (Rochel Mae Malaca).  I didn't entirely buy the whole countdown timer -- I understood it from a narrative perspective, but why would the casting director (Kristina Burmayan) sit there for three minutes straight like that?  
Directing: 3 / 5.  Quicho is a young director, but he has the basics of filmmaking down and he's perfectly capable of carrying the film and does so with modest energy conveyed through that handheld technique.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Quicho does a great job of editing the film down and keeping the story moving.  
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The score is written by Ruthie Quicho and AJ Padilla.  It does the job.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  The performances here range from bad to amateur.  Padilla and Malaca are probably the strongest thespians on display.

Final Grade: 2.9 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "One O'Clock" and follow the creators on Facebook!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fresh Short Film "Valor's Dawn" An Action Packed Clash of Two Cultures

"VALOR'S DAWN" (2016)
Genre: Action
Length- 13:41
Company:  Paleo North Media

Rewind the clock back to 50 B.C.  An invading Roman force surprises Celtic chief Ambiorix (Reed Clare) while he's out one afternoon, and during the ensuing battle, his young son Conall (Jake Rideout) is killed.  In the aftermath, Ambiorix must decide what he wants -- does he want revenge?  Is revenge worth it when it will not give him back Conall?  Is death more palatable?

This might be the story on the surface, but what "Valor's Dawn" really is, deep down, is  a case of a thoughtful premise attempting to merge action packed visuals with genuine thematic depth.

So how's it fare?

INVADERS

Written and directed by Clare and Mike Donis, "Valor's Dawn" is a meditation on ethics -- it's the story of Ambiorix and Conall, a father and son practicing swordfighting and fishing, in general all the tasks Conall will need to be a successful man in their culture.

Conall, frustrated that he can't score a hit during their sparring, attempts to sneak up on his father and strike from behind.  Never attack from behind, Ambiorix says.  "It's dishonorable."  The idea of honor, and what is right and wrong, and in what situations, comes up again and again in "Valor's Dawn", ultimately culminating with the Roman warrior, Eidys (Craig Blair) killing Conall to gain the upper hand in a battle he was more properly waging with Ambiorix.  The boy's death was unnecessary, but it did clinch the Roman victory.

Which brings up the immediate question -- how does one justify having "honor" and treating your enemy with respect when that enemy appears to deserve none, and in fact shows no mercy even to children?

I'm not entirely sure what happened at the end . . . was it all a fantasy in Ambiorix's regretful head?  Is honor, for Ambiorix, dead?  The title of the film, "Valor's Dawn", says no, but the events of the film seem to suggest otherwise.

THE FILM ITSELF

All interesting thoughts which are treated honestly and with subtlety throughout the script, but without a solid and entertaining movie to back them up, it's all just rambling.  Fortunately, Clare's film features a lot to like on the outside as well as on the inside.

First to talk about are the impressive visuals.  98% of the film takes place outdoors, and we have some seriously gorgeous photography.  Bruce William Harper is credited as the Director of Photography, and I'm giving him a tip of my hat here because WOW -- the lake shots, the forest, the sky, all of it look absolutely beautiful.  Ambiorix's home truly looks like an Eden-esque paradise.

Clare's directing is at its best in the fight scenes.  Thanks to a very strong choreography team in Christopher Mott, Dan Zisson, Clare himself and Ray Rodriguez, we have some really strong fight scenes that feel spontaneous and brutal.  During the emotional scenes, I wasn't entirely sold on some of his directorial choices -- the fade outs and slow motion bits in particular felt forced.  But overall, he's got a good eye for action and I enjoyed his work here.

CONCLUSION

The production values of "Valor's Dawn" are top notch -- Clare's making use of some really incredible locations and equipment to create a film that is unique in many ways.  It's not often you see a period piece -- especially a PERIOD period piece, if you know what I mean . . . a period piece set THIS far back in time.  The costumes, for instance, look incredible, and while the battles are understandably small, they are no less intense.

This was an incredible labor of love on the part of Reed Clare and his team, and what you are getting with "Valor's Dawn" is something you don't see every day.

That, in and of itself, is reason enough to check it out.  What's even better is that's quite good.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Clare's strong subtext pushes "Valor's Dawn" beyond simple action territory, but as far as story is concerned, we don't have much going on -- we've got a battle, and a framing shot in which Ambiorix is an old man, remembering, but that's it.  The conclusion doesn't wrap things up in a satisfactory way.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Really good visuals, particularly in the exterior shots, and excellent fight choreography.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Navin Ramaswaran handled editing duties and Luke Bellissimo is credited as the digital colourist, and both did great jobs.  The film has great pacing.  I did have issues with the fade outs and the slow motion bits during the emotional scenes, but I think that's directorial choices more than editorial ones.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  John Gzowski gives us a full fledged score that sounds big and epic.  Maryem Tollar lends vocals to the mix.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Clare looks the part and delivers his old world-y sounding lines with aplomb.  Blair doesn't have much to do other than grit his teeth and swing a sword.  Rideout debuts as a promising child actor.

Final Grade: 3.4 / 5.

Don't forget to check out the trailer for "Valor's Dawn" at its official site and follow the creators on Facebook!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

James Quinn's "The River" A Potent Fantasy Short Film About A Boy On A Ghost Ship

"THE RIVER" (2015)
Genre: Fantasy
Length- 11:14
Company:  N/A

Mom (Emmy Happisburgh) and Dad (Andrew Snowball) are wrapped up in the business of trying to get through each day after their musical older son dies, and little Andy (Jack Hutchinson) is left with little to do but explore the woods near his home.  He discovers a beautiful lake, and a derelict ship floating inside -- and swears he can hear someone playing trumpet onboard.

With a curious mind and a gnawing sense of loss growing inside of him, he makes it his personal mission to discover who's making the music coming from the ghost ship.

A TOUCH OF FANTASY

"The River" is a touching contemporary fantasy coming to us from writer/director James Quinn.  It's billed as something on par with Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, and I think that addressing that comparison is as good a place to begin my review as any.

At first glance, the two films might seem extremely different.  While Pan's Labyrinth brings a young girl to bear on the ugliness of a post-Civil War Spain in the 1940's, "The River" is a very insular film, never addressing the world beyond the scope of a young boy named Andy.  There are no fancy monsters and gorgeous CGI landscapes in "The River".

What the films share however is thematic common ground . . .

SAILING TO NOWHERE

In "The River", as stated, we never look beyond the family unit.  It's the strongest form of government on display, but from the first few minutes we learn that one member, the eldest son, has recently died, and ever since, the familial bond has begun to atrophy.

Mom and Dad are on different wavelengths, and none of them are communicating all that well to Andy, and nobody is stepping up to resolidify their "government", so to speak, so it falls to Andy to, essentially, rise up and attempt to make the changes necessary to heal the family unit before it dies completely.

The result is an admittedly brief but no less epic journey worthy of Joseph Campbell's monomyth, and it works so well because it's utilizing timeless concepts: Andy crosses a RIVER to retrieve a loved one from beyond the dead (River Styx, anyone?)

And on that note, the trumpeter could either be Andy's brother or the legendary Ferryman, Death himself.

Pretty deep stuff for a short film, and I for one appreciate thoughtful films that give you something to think about long after you've finished your first viewing.  Or second.

CONCLUSION

"The River" is a slow paced but emotionally affecting short film that deals with themes of mourning and the afterlife with a pinch of fantasy while remaining rooted in the real world.  Using timeless concepts and gorgeous exterior shots (almost the entire film takes place outside), Quinn sucks you in and makes you feel for Andy and his family, all of whom by the way are splendid actors.

My only real complaint is that so much time is spent up front on atmosphere and mood that when important plot points are introduced (like the boat and trumpet, for instance) they seem to be glossed over in a matter of seconds -- total blink or you miss it moments.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Very slow paced but suitably atmospheric and full of thematic depth, "The River" provides a solid emotional punch.  The ambiguous ending was a bit too ambiguous for my taste, and some of the plot points felt too hinted at, not to mention rushed, which forced me to watch it a second time before I fully understood what was going on.  
Directing: 4 / 5.  Beautiful imagery galore here, from the exteriors (which were just incredible) to even the interiors -- particularly the elder son's bedroom.  Quinn and Director of Photography Joe Douglas have an amazing knack for capturing just the right way to nail a shot.  And the shots of the ghost ship at night -- creepy!
Editing: 4 / 5.  Beautiful color correction from Oisin O'Driscoll and Dan Butler.  Top notch editing courtesy of Riccardo Servini, who serves up a slowburn cut that feels right.  I think certain areas of the film could definitely have been fleshed out more -- considering how much atmosphere we have, if we could have gotten to know the dead boy for instance, it would not have hurt this film to have been filled out to around 15 minutes.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Good soundtrack from Thom Robson and session trumpeter Sam Ewens.  It's not every day I hear a short film with a trumpet on the soundtrack.  The only problem with the sound design from Oliver Whillock was that I couldn't tell whether the trumpet I heard was part of the score, or the trumpet I was supposed to be identifying as coming from the boat.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Hutchinson is a fine young actor and I'm excited to see where he goes from here.  Happisburgh and Snowball are solid thespians as well and pull off emotional performances that are 100% credible.

Final Grade: 3.6 / 5. 

Check out the trailer for "The River" at James Quinn's Vimeo page and follow the creators on Facebook!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Boy Hurts Girl: Love Goes Wrong In Powerful "Know the Signs"

"KNOW THE SIGNS" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 41:12
Company:  The Make A Movie Society, LLC

Felicia (Eden Shultz) and Kevin (Harrison Flanders) have a tumultuous relationship -- but not the super passionate, on-again off-again teenie bopper romance popularized by the Hollywood screens.  No, this is more like Boy Meets Girl, Boy Beats Girl Into a Bloody Pulp sort of a relationship . . . and rather than take her parents' advice, she agrees to meet with him one last time, to provide "closure" for both of them, because she's going to leave him.  Or maybe she won't.  She's not entirely sold on that last part yet.

See, the thing is, Felicia's dad, Jack (Scot Smith) used to beat up her mother, Diane (Elizabeth Corbett) right in front of her.  So how can she take anything Diane says seriously?

All in all, she's a confused young woman, and Kevin doesn't much care what she wants . . .

FIRST FEW THOUGHTS

"Know the Signs" is a short film written, produced and directed by Antonio R. Cannady, and it's a labor of love through and through clocking in at a little over forty minutes in length.  What we have here is a film that's approaching feature length, which normally I would argue against, because its excessive length doesn't usually work for the sort of online format that short films tend to be intended for.

And there are some areas where we could definitely trim this film down, but by and large the story is exposing the effects of domestic violence on several generations of two separate families, so a lot of the length is actually warranted.  I'd say we could get away with cutting maybe ten minutes, mostly teen angst sort of stuff, abbreviating some of the arguments so it's tighter in some spots.

But overall, I have to hand it to Cannady and editor Matthew Kaiser -- this film unfolds pretty well despite its epic length.

THE BRUTALITY OF THE REAL

Domestic violence is not a funny topic.  It's not cute, it's not entertaining.  In real life, it's stomach churning.  It's miserable.  It's heartbreaking.

"Know the Signs" knows this and delivers the brutality of the real world hard.  The finale felt a little cliche and minimized the apparently sorrowful closing moments, but I get why they did it, and you will, too.

While it can feel a little soapboxy and the abusers become caricatures at times, Cannady's film is an affecting and overall relentlessly dark depiction of the spiderweb of violence, obsessive love and hate.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  Cannady also wrote the script, and he constructs a fairly complicated setup of characters, social status, and hope all dimmed by domestic abuse.  Ultimately it all ends up happening pretty much as you expect it to, but that doesn't mean it's not effective.  One final thought: we never get to see the good side of Kevin: what about him made Felicia fall in love with him to begin with?  As it is, he comes off as a psychotic druggie caricature -- why on earth did this "good girl" get involved with him in the first place?
Directing: 3 / 5.  A well made film from start to finish, but nothing sticks out in my mind except for the inspired tracking shot through Kevin's house at the end.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Overly long, but still well put together and interestingly enough, not boring in spite of the fact that you could definitely take out bits here and there to tighten it up.  The color correction is beautiful.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Solid score by Leo Daniel Kirkpatrick and songs provided by Mulligans Project, Stunna & Fusion and Karma.
Acting: 3 / 5.  A pretty mixed bag here, but good performances overall.  Flanders does the best he can, but he's given an off-the-wall character to play who doesn't make much sense, even to himself, so you can't blame him.  Scot Smith is probably the most off, especially in his violent scenes.  He just doesn't come off as threatening.  Shultz and Corbett are the most credible in their roles, always feeling like their characters and not like actors.

Final Grade:  3.5 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Know the Signs" at the official websitefollow the creators on Facebook!

I know this blog is about movies and having fun and all that, but domestic violence is a very serious situation.  Please take a moment to read the following below:

* * * * * *

If you or someone you know is being abused, please visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline's website or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

It's important to get help NOW -- everyone on this planet deserves a life in which they can live each and every single day without someone hurting them verbally or physically.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Pixel Bros' Crime Thriller "Loose Ends" Drives Home A Murderously Moral Dilemma

"LOOSE ENDS" (2015)
Genre: Crime Thriller
Length- 19:18
Company:  Pixel Bros.

Logan (Logan Martin) and Adam (Liam Boehning) run cocaine for Ackard (David Winn), the local crime lord.  Everything goes well enough at first, although they're still not making much money considering all that they're risking.

When Adam decides to duck out on the drug life and walk the straight line, he becomes a marked man -- and Ackard expects Logan to be the one to wipe him out.

BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE

Jacob Dalton and co-writer Christopher Lawruk direct "Loose Ends", a crime thriller short under the Pixel Bros. banner.  It's a collaborative effort in every sense of the word -- we have three individuals taking credit for the writing of the script, including Boehning, Dalton and Lawruk, the latter two of which also edited the film.

There are some pretty impressive visuals here, including some nice work with exteriors.  The film looks good -- that's the greatest compliment you can pay it, really.  The natural lighting and high definition provide a solid cinematic look that draws you in far more than anything in the writing, which honestly comes off as derivative of any number of crime films.  We've seen this story before: two friends pitted against one another, where one wants to quit crime and the other doesn't.

The major question, then, is what does Logan do?  Does he kill Adam?  Does he follow in Adam's footsteps and flee his hometown and live on the run?  Whatever he decides, Adam did betray him -- he screwed Ackard over and left Logan to catch the heat for it.

So, if Logan doesn't kill Adam, where does that leave their relationship?

This winds up being the most interesting part of the story -- the moral dilemma faced by friends when one side of a relationship fails to hold up their end of a bargain.

What happens then?  A brutal, no holds barred battle.  And speaking of that battle -- the fight choreography is seriously impressive.  The violence feels authentic, real and painful.  There's a variety of weapons used.  The special make up effects are effective.

So in the end, "Loose Ends" does its job well.  The production values elevate the story into an entertaining watch.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  Derivative, but the story knows what it's about and moves along at a decent pace.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Dalton and Lawruk tell the story visually and do so with style, particularly with those big exterior shots.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The film does feel a little long.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  Nice score from Joseph Vickrey -- it's almost alt-Western.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Not bad.  Winn in particular has a chilling voice.  Martin reminded me of a young Leigh Whannell.

Final Grade: 3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Loose Ends" and follow the creators on Facebook!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mature Look At The Thin Line of Teenage/Adult Relationships In Triskelle Pictures' Short Film "Night Owls"

"NIGHT OWLS" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 13:28
Company: Triskelle Pictures

Kent (Jonny McPherson) lives alone in his childhood home, but it's not much of a life -- not in terms of his past, or a future.  When down on her luck teen runaway Mari (Holly Rushbrooke) shows up on his doorstep in the middle of a rainstorm, he makes the decision to let her in, and the two find that though their ages may be different, they have a lot in common when it comes to broken families . . .

DIFFICULT FAMILY TREES

"Night Owls" is the latest short film from Triskelle Pictures, the company that brought us the moving fantasy/romance "Stop/Eject" in 2014.  This time, Sophie Black takes on directing duty and teams up with Tommy Draper to write a screenplay that deals entirely with reality -- namely, the tricky world of relationships.

What we have here is a film with only two characters, so their onscreen chemistry has to be enough to carry the movie.  While Rushbrooke and McPherson give it a fine try and perform their roles with as much charisma as they can manage, I can't say I ever quite felt like the bond being developed was genuine.

But the questions posed by the film are perhaps more interesting than the onscreen activity.  Is it possible for a teen and an adult to be genuine friends?  Can a real friendship be forged quickly, and if so, how long can such a relationship continue?  Is there ever a situation in which it is OK for a teenager to kiss an adult if the teenager meets an adult mentally on the same level?

And is a kiss ever just a kiss?

These are pretty big questions being asked, and you have to hand it to Black and crew for delivering a short film that will make you think.  "Stop/Eject" was a mournful examination of time, soulmates and love lost.  "Night Owls" is a meditation on relationships themselves.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Really substantial subtext going on throughout the film, but what's actually taking place feels like a tiny slice of a feature length film.  I'd love to see where these characters go from here.  It does feel a bit incomplete as written, and their relationship never feels completely genuine.  I think this is because we never see either character being themself in their own environment before they meet, so we can't really see how they become someone new by entering into a relationship.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Some great visuals from Black, as can be expected considering her previous work in "Stop/Eject".  Some of the interior shots suffer from "two people talking in a small room syndrome" -- there's only so many ways to make that look interesting.   Still, Black knows the language of cinema, and "Night Owls" looks great.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Theo Leeds and Richard Winter edited the film and the shots transition and sequence perfectly.  Drew Scott Davis has put a beautiful cinematic sheen to the film with his color correction -- you could play this in any multiplex and it'd fit right in.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Beautiful soundtrack from a variety of sources, with original music aplenty, including a beautiful track played over the end credits.  The dialogue suffers a little in the doorway though, you can really hear some echo.  But overall, Adam Fletcher's done a good job capturing the actors.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Very solid performances from both actors, who are without question professionals in every sense of the word.

Final Grade: 3.7 / 5.

Don't forget to check out the trailer for "Night Owls" at Triskelle Pictures' official website until it finishes its festival circuit and follow the creators on Facebook!

Check out Triskelle Pictures' last film, "Stop/Eject", and our review, right here!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Ambitious Western "Targeted" Fires, But Does It Find Its Mark?

"TARGETED" (2015)
Genre: Western
Length- 39:18
Company:  N/A

Overly confident  Illinois Pinkerton agent Jimmy Makton (Zach Dufrene) takes a case in California to track down Billy the Butcher (Erik Jacob Haley) on a contract with the US Army, working with Samuel (Jak Locke), the sheriff's brother.

There's barroom brawls and gunfights and everything you'd expect from a Western, all in a very low budget package.

So how's this self-dubbed "Experiment in Ultra-Low Budget Filmmaking" fare?

A FISH OUT OF WATER

"Targeted" is a short film shot by a five person team and helmed by writer/director/producer/effects man/actor Jak Locke.  It aspires to be nothing less than a full blown Western on par with any Hollywood release (of which there have been next to none for the past decade).  You have to admire the ingenuity of the filmmakers to put something like this on film.  

There are some missteps along the way.  The script is all over the place -- we spend too much time with the initial gunfight, and while the "re-imagining" of what really happened is played for laughs, it comes across as silly rather than funny.  The dialogue feels like a long train of random old time slang and alpha male posturing.  We never get to know any of the characters beyond their stereotypes.

Literally everyone has a gun and shows it at one time or another.  In a world where violence is this casual, the killing loses any punch it might have had.  Maybe this is an intentional desensitization of the audience, but it doesn't come to any kind of thematic fruition.

The conclusion does throw in an interesting wrench to the storyline, but it's not built up through the rest of the movie so, again, it doesn't feel like it has any purpose.

BLOOD & GLORY

But it's not all bad.  The fight choreography is inspired, particularly for something so obviously low budget.  There's fight scenes aplenty, gun play, bullet holes and a particularly nasty (if a bit out of place) bit with a knife rummaging around in a wound to remove a bullet.

The costumes look fantastic, and the travel montage is pitch perfect.  We get a great sense of the distance traveled, even if the world doesn't look any different in California than it did in Illinois.

But ultimately, the thing that sinks "Targeted" is its length.  At just under forty minutes, it is about twenty five minutes too long.  We have extended scenes of dialogue that could be cut to a few sentences and still get the same effect.  The cast is enormous -- there's probably twenty to thirty characters who appear on camera, none of whom we ever get to know beyond either getting shot or shooting somebody.

There's a fun story to be had in this Western, and it's admirable to see a short film take on this particular genre, but its story needs to be reeled way in before we'll be able to see it.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1.5 / 5.  The script isn't complicated, but it takes so many detours for scenes that ultimately do nothing to advance the plot.  Short films need to be concise and say exactly what they want to say in as little time as possible -- your average viewer is not going to have the attention span that I do, and more than likely will not make it to the end credits.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Locke's directing makes for an entertaining show.  We have a variety of shots that are interwoven in an effective way, and the visuals are surprisingly strong.
Editing: 2 / 5.  The transitions work well, but the color correction doesn't attain that true "cinematic" feel.  The pacing is thrown off over and over by scenes that stretch on far longer than they need.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The score is also written and performed by Locke, and it provides some much needed production value to the film.  I enjoyed it.  Plus, the dialogue and sound effects are recorded effectively.
Acting: 2 / 5.  Dufrene and Locke do the best they can with the lines they're trying to chew, but none of it sounds believable through their accents.  The remainder of the cast ranges from amateur night to just bad.

Final Grade: 2.3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Targeted" and its eventual release by following the film on Facebook!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Where Do You Find Life's Value? Matthew P. Rojas Asks Just That In Short Film "Upon The Mountain (Behold the Ram)"

"UPON THE MOUNTAIN (BEHOLD THE RAM)" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 5:25
Company:  MrPresents

Chad Evans (played by himself) is a musician struggling to keep his ailing father, Abram (Kevin Clark), alive on the paltry and irregular pay provided him by his label.  But his friend, Barry (Jordan Greenwald) encourages him to stay the course -- he's making waves in the club circuit, and creating a fan base one show at a time.

But his father's only getting sicker, and Chad can't take care of him properly without a more stable source of income.

What are dreams worth?  What would his father say?

FOLLOWING THE ARTIST

"Upon the Mountain (Behold the Ram)" is the latest short film from writer/director Matthew P. Rojas, made for the "Films About Numbers" series.  Rojas previously wowed us here at Forest City Short Film Review with short films like "Upon This Myth of Vengeance" and "The Amputation".  The former was a really well done thriller, with an exquisite sound design and great use of camera movement to produce tension.  You might remember when I reviewed the latter that I was very surprised that Rojas took a completely different direction -- instead of another (well done) textbook thriller, "The Amputation" featured experimental elements, both structural and in coloring, and a stream of consciousness mode of delivery.

Through it all, the one commonality among his films has been the spiritual undercurrent that provides a powerful thematic addition to what inevitably is already an emotionally charged film.

So it is that with "Upon the Mountain (Behold the Ram)", Rojas defies categorization yet again.  This is another black and white picture, but much more straight forward.  Gone are many of the camera flourishes we saw in "The Amputation" in favor of a more grounded, realistic visual style.  The soundtrack is constant throughout the picture.  Relationships are at the forefront, most notably that of Chad and his father.  We touch on a failed romance between Chad and a woman named Debbie (Kelsie Anderson), but that receives a literal blink-and-you'll-miss-it touch.

TIMES  CHANGE

And that's exactly what Rojas seems to be saying -- the poetry of life is gone.  It's just there, and then it's not.  Chad's father is here, but he's on his way out.  Chad's label is ignoring him, his dreams are coming up short, and he's hesitating at the microphone at a club.  But none of this is given too much time on camera -- it's all here, and then it's not.

Rojas gives these images to you without embellishment, without anything to sway your opinion to positive or negative.  It is what it is, he seems to be saying -- and that's exactly how the movie plays out until Chad finally begins to play guitar and sing, and suddenly there is beauty, there is poetry, there is life again.

THAT'S why Chad is pushing to become a musician.  THAT'S why his father tells him, on what could very well be his deathbed, "Time's only temporary."

Life can either be a series of events that just happen, or they can become poetry in your ears.  It's up to us to make that decision.

Rojas and company manages to convey that message in a little over five minutes of screen time.  Imagine what he could do with a feature . . .

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5 / 5.  Thematically, this short film is dynamite.  The fact that Rojas managed to cram so much thought and real life examination into a short time is incredible.  That being said, the whole "family member is terminal and we need money for treatment" has been done so many times that it inevitably feels a little forced.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Very subdued show from Rojas this time around, which makes it feel more like a standard TV drama at times.  The directing is not intended to take center stage though, and the relaxed style is intentional so I bumped the score to a 3.5 from what I'd normally rank as a 3.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Jonathan Mendoza and Rojas share editing duties here and the proof is in the pudding -- the pacing is dead on, the scenes transition perfectly and the black and white presentation looks great.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Great original song, "Upon the Mountain" written and performed by Evans.  He's got a great voice and is a Christian musician in real life.  Levi Patel is responsible for the score otherwise, and his music is licensed from The Music Bed.  It's subtle piano work, it's constantly present which only makes sense considering the entire film is about, in its way, music.  The dialogue is clear and professionally recorded.
Acting: 3 / 5.  The actors aren't professional, but they get the job done.  Evans perhaps deserves the biggest props here for being a musician stepping into an actor's shoes and doing just fine.  

Final Grade: 3.6 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Upon the Mountain" and visit the official MrPresents website before following Matthew P. Rojas on Facebook!

You can see more of Rojas' work by checking out our reviews for "In This Myth of Vengeance" and "The Amputation" as well.  Still can't get enough of this writer/director's uniquely thrilling and spiritual vision?  Get an inside look at his directing style in this EXCLUSIVE interview we did with him back when "Vengeance" just came out!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Two Lost Hearts Found in Wintry Romantic Comedy "Perfect Strangers"

"PERFECT STRANGERS" (2015)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Length- 26:38
Company:  Magic Monkey Films

It's Christmas Eve in the Scottish Highlands, a perfectly romantic time and place for an engagement, don't you think?  Rob (Kenny Boyle) certainly thinks so, but his girlfriend  (Nicki MacDonald) -- not so much.  She leaves him on the spot.

Meanwhile, Jen (Clare Sheerin) has an awful fight with her boyfriend (Ryan Hendrick) and breaks up with him.

Fast forward a couple minutes and they both wind up at the same lonely train station where the last train's gone and the next won't be around for hours, so of course they get to talking.

And . . . steal a car?

THE WARMTH OF THE SEASON

"Perfect Strangers" is a short film written and directed by Ryan Hendrick.  It's got a good, cinematic style, and gives us some great wide shots of Winter landscapes and homely interiors.  Thanks to smart camera movement and carefully crafted shots, we have a short film that could easily double as a far larger budget picture on a big screen.

One of the most fun things about "Perfect Strangers" is the way it subverts the romantic comedy genre and gives you what you would expect, but not entirely in the way you're thinking it will.  For instance, rather than "boy meets girl, boy pursues girl", it's more the other way around.  Jen is the mover and shaker in this relationship -- she identifies the possibility for something more, and she takes steps to make it happen.  She's active in her participation.  In far too many movies, even these days, women are portrayed as objects that men have to "go out and get".  It's nice to see a film with a strong female lead who is a far more interesting character than her love interest.

And on that note, this is the one thing that bugs me about this film.  Considering the extended running time is almost thirty minutes, I should really know more about these characters than I do.  This takes away somewhat from the emotional impact of the conclusion of the picture.

TRY THIS ON FOR SIZE

The finale is another point in the film where Hendrick and crew defy generic expectations, and I applaud the filmmakers for taking a risk and making a movie that plays out a little differently.  I'm not going to spoil it for you, but I'm sure you're aware of the structure of these sorts of movies.  In the case of "Perfect Strangers", the characters are equals, and neither one is left desperately pining for the other in the rain while somebody sorts their issues out.  Their relationship is, on one level, more mature, and the conclusion reflects that.

So the film itself may be funny, but it's also serious at times and certainly meaningful and even sophisticated in the way that it addresses love and loss and loneliness.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Overall we have a good script, but the lack of character depth does affect the experience of watching the film.  If I identified with the characters more and knew about them as people, it might have been a whole new ball game.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Really nice job from Hendrick, who delivers a picture whose visuals are every bit as stirring and fun as a Hollywood romantic comedy.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Hendrick handles editing duties here.  The film drags on a bit after a while -- considering that little actually happens over the course of the story, it is AWFULLY long.  
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  Mostly solo piano work, but there are some other tracks performed by Jack Henderson.  The audio's recorded professionally.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Good performances for what they're given, but Boyle and Sheerin are clearly talented.  They could have taken on meatier roles with wider emotional ranges and done it like champs.

Final Grade: 3.4 / 5.

Don't forget to check out the official website for "Perfect Strangers" and follow the creators on Facebook!

Monday, February 8, 2016

When Tears May Come: Eduardo Michel Piza's "A Christmas Wish" Examines Family & Divorce Through the Eyes of a Child

"A CHRISTMAS WISH" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 15:31
Company:  N/A

Little Michael (Jentzen Ramirez) attempts to play matchmaker for his separated mom (Lisa Roumain) and dad (Matt Back), but instead of reuniting his family, he enrages his dad.  Confused and feeling hopeless, he runs away, and --

I don't want to spoil it, but suffice it to say that navigating the tricky labyrinth of an adult relationship isn't easy, particularly for a child who's pretty lost himself . . .

A DIRECTOR'S SHOW

"A Christmas Wish" is a short film written and directed by Eduardo Michel Piza with the assistance of cinematographer John Rosario, and I think the strength of the lighting and the visuals will be the first thing you will notice when you watch this picture.

Clearly, Piza knows the language of cinema is visual expression, and he harnesses it very well here because his style is mature and assured, with smooth camera movement.  He's got a good handle on timing without letting a scene run too long, but letting it hang in the air for effect before allowing a transition to move on to the next shot.

It's really an impressive achievement, particularly considering some of the exterior shots we have -- there's a considerably usage of shadows and blurring, and a depth of field you simply don't see in every short film being produced today.  It helps take the screenplay to a whole other level.
And speaking of the screenplay . . .

IT'S NOT YOUR PLACE

The script tells a story that is profoundly sad -- a realistic drama about a family rocked by divorce and a child struggling to make sense of it all and failing miserably.  Throughout, the mother and father make it clear that the child is a member of this family unit, and yet he has no say in whether it stays together or it shatters into pieces.

It's an image that many, many people can relate to and a very honest one.  Childhood is one of the most powerless periods of our lives, which I think is also why it is one of the most painful for many of us, as well.  We have to suffer, and we have no choice but to suffer.

And suffer we do.  To complain about it, or to suggest that it ought to be otherwise, is simply not our place.

FINALE

So there's a considerable depth to the screenplay, and the actors are all up to the task of bringing it into reality.  The only problem is that the film doesn't end so much as it stops -- the big climax of the picture should be the confrontation the mother mentions, but we never get to see it.

I think the intention is to embrace ambiguity, but for this reviewer anyway it went too far in that direction.  After the dramatic intensity of the rest of the short, I needed to see what happened.

But just by virtue of my saying that tells you that this short film is special, and that you really need to check it out.  It's got good performances, directed well, the pacing's on, and it leaves you wanting more.

That's a pretty darn good review right there.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3.5  / 5.  A really good script, but the ending just pulls the rug out and all of a sudden we're done.  I wanted more, I wanted a conclusion!
Directing: 4 / 5.  Very good show by Piza with solid lighting and imagery support from Rosario.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The film has vivid colors courtesy of editor/colorist Aashish Mayur Shah, and not only that but the pacing is perfect.
Sound/Music: 5 / 5.  The score here by Juan Carlos Enriquez is really something to behold.  It's beautiful, heartfelt and fully realized music performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra as conducted by Adam Klemens.  Now that's something we don't often see here at Forest City Short Film Review!  On top of that, the sound design, also by editor/colorist Shah, is top notch and all the dialogue is professionally recorded.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Solid performances for the most part, with particular praise going to Ramirez and Roumain.  Matt Back has a tendency to look surprised with every line.  Not a bad performance necessarily, but could've been better.

Final Grade: 4 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "A Christmas Wish" when it completes its festival circuit 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!