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Friday, January 29, 2016

What Lies in Wait on the Other Side of Sleep: French Fear Fest "Noct" Tries To Get Under Your Skin!

"NOCT" (2014)
Genre: Horror
Length- 15:00
Company:  Title Media

Jay (Thomas Barraud) suffers from severe sleep deprivation.  He works at a media store and attempts to live an otherwise normal life, but as sleepless nights and torturous days go by, the line between waking and dreaming blurs more and more until it's one hallucinatory stream of madness overseen by a terrifying demon (Julien Marot).

Can Jay overcome the fear that blocks his sleep, or will his mind continue twisting and turning until the demon overcomes him?

FROM ACROSS THE SEA

"Noct" is a short film coming to us from France, subtitled in English, and it won Best Short Film and Best Actor at the Festival de Cine de Terror de Molins de Rei 2015.   The film is written by Giles Daoust and directed by Vincent Toujas with help from Director of Photography Thomas Pantalacci, and this trio make one heck of an intriguing little film.

First of all, from a writing standpoint, it raises a lot of questions.  Who is Jay, exactly?  Where does his sleep block come from?  We have to figure out these answers for ourselves, somewhat ambiguously, and honestly I think the story's all the better for it.  There's a lot of isolation -- Jay is trapped in the real world, but he's not really a part of it anymore.  He's a vessel taking on water lost in a sea of dreams.

Now let's address the visuals here.  We have some really neat stuff going on here: we have some hidden cuts, particularly in the diner scene that make people appear and disappear at the drop of a hat.  We've got gore effects to die for (heh heh . . . see what I did there?) and a creature design that's just out of this world from special effects men David Scherer and Thomas Duphil.  I can't stress how much the high quality of the effects helped this picture, because a bad looking monster would have sunk the sense of unease that Toujas and Pantalacci worked so hard to build.

BRICK WALL

But then there's that ending . . . what did THAT mean?  I liked the visual aspect of it, and the shower scene was emotional and uplifting, but I don't quite follow what we're supposed to infer from this.  I can't say too much more without spoiling anything, but suffice it to say that the conclusion is beyond ambiguous, it doesn't wrap up any story threads and leaves us hanging.  Perhaps that's the intention?

I can't say for sure, but it was a bit of a disappointing cap to an otherwise really impressive short.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  None of the elements here, taken individually, were particularly original: isolated character, a monster lurking in your dreams, creepy nightmares that blur with reality.  The flavor, however, felt new and interesting.  The finale didn't pay off and held its cards too close to its chest for me, though.   Also, Jay turns out to be an awfully passive protagonist -- he doesn't really do anything throughout the film.  Things happen to him.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Toujas pulls off some neat tricks here with hidden cuts, slow camera movement and manipulating the audience's eye.  Also, the scene where Jay picks up some dropped laundry from the closet -- talk about suspense!
Editing: 3.5 / 5.  A little slow and repetitive at times during the first half of the film.  Otherwise, the coloring looks fantastic and very cinematic.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Sound is so important in any horror movie, and courtesy of Maxime Berland, what we have here is a virtual wonderland of audio as a backbone to the movie.  Love those wet slopping sounds when the going gets nasty, too!  Very spooky music from Ernst Meinrath adds to the tension of the nightmare scenes.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  There are very few lines of dialogue in the film, but Barraud delivers them like a pro.   Much enjoyed his performance during his attack -- is he horrified, or is he ENJOYING the whole thing?  You can't quite tell.  

Final Grade:   3.6 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Noct" at the official website and follow the creators on Facebook!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Straight Up Creepy Horror Short Film "Monsters in the Dark" Brings The Bears Out of the Woods

"MONSTERS IN THE DARK" (2015)
Genre: Horror
Length- 16:37
Company:  Mordue Pictures

Karen (Francesca-Louise White) is in a bind and is forced to call her ex, Jamie (Jamie Satterthwaite) for a ride home.  One their way back, they drive past a young woman wearing a bizarre bear mask (Cheryl Burniston), and they stop to get a sense of the situation.

So they all share their feelings and do a group hug and everybody goes home happy, right?

Hmm . . .

GENRE EXPECTATIONS

Mordue Pictures is responsible for "The Reaper", a pretty thoughtful thriller film we reviewed last year, so I was interested to see what they did with the horror genre -- and sure enough, we have a flick that's a bit different from your basic slasher picture.  Written, directed and edited by Luke Mordue, who obviously has done his horror movie homework, we have a nightmare caught on film, and by and large, it works surprisingly well.

While it's a little slow at the beginning, it starts to build up steam around a quarter of the way through and really doesn't let up from then on.  Thanks to a good use of screen space to manipulate the viewer's eye, a variety of shots and camera movement, his visual style succeeds in knocking our perspective off balance and creating tension where, otherwise, there might be none.  The masks are pretty creepy too, and that doesn't hurt, either.

Add to that the fact that we have some pretty good fight choreography from Burniston, and we wind up with an effective little horror movie with a chilling finale.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  Mordue uses the audience's grasp of horror movie mechanics to the fullest, but he also plays it a little too safe at times -- why would Jamie get out of the car, for instance?  That character move was a little unbelievable.
Directing: 3 / 5.  A good show from Mordue gives us plenty of reasons to feel off-kilter before the real horror even shows up, and once it does, we're suitably weirded out to go along for the ride.
Editing: 3.5 / 5.  Once the pacing hits its stride, we're good for the rest of the film.  The beginning, as I said, is a little slow.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Creepy, low-tech ambient tracks and an interesting crooner-type post-punk song at the beginning.  The dialogue is recorded at the pro level as well, and that never hurts.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Good enough performances, with Francesca-Louise White being the non-bear stand out.

Final Grade: 3.1 / 5. 

Don't forget to check out "Monsters in the Dark" and follow the creators on Facebook!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Touching French Drama "Always" Captures A Stream of Consciousness

"ALWAYS" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 6:16
Company:  Danh Productions

A wife (Aurelie Meriel) and husband (Cameron McHarg) aren't doing so well in their relationship anymore.  They don't talk to one another, they barely even look at one another.  It's like they live in separate houses.

But it wasn't always this way.  It used to be so different.

Until one day, things changed . . .

AN EYE FOR THE CAMERA

"Always" is the latest short film from French writer/director Yann Danh, who you may remember as being the mastermind behind 2014's brilliant short thriller "At All Costs".  Whereas that film was a suspenseful and action packed, almost Quentin Tarantino-ish work, Danh has chosen to taken a completely different course for this film.

Featuring a naturalistic handheld approach, quick cuts and an editing style that segues seamlessly from present day to memories and back again, what Danh creates here is nothing short of a constant stream of consciousness caught on film.  He uses color correction to further elevate a sense of yearning and an atmosphere of despair that begins in the screenplay but rises from the words straight through the ethereal images and into your brain.

The soundtrack is equally beautiful, and despite the fact that there is no dialogue, the sounds of the sea and the insistent and unrelenting noises of nature make their point in place of words from characters' mouths.

"Always" will touch you, and while the ultimate destination doesn't pay off quite as well as it feels like it should, the journey and mystery that unfolds along the way is still an impressive accomplishment.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  Danh's "Always" is a very subtle and understated film, and its writing works well for what it does.
Directing: 4 / 5.  It is hard to see how this film could have possibly been directed any better -- Danh tells us the story one hundred percent visually, and does so extremely effectively, without the benefit of any dialogue whatsoever.
Editing: 4 / 5.  A gorgeously shot and color corrected picture -- the colorist is Jean-Christophe Savelli, while the editing credits also go to Danh, who deserves a special nod for the way the film's pacing rises and falls smoothly, not unlike the motions of the sea.  
Sound/Music: 5 / 5.  Anthony D'Amario gives us one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard for a short film -- it's melodic, it doesn't intrude but it hits all the right moments, too.  Add to that the sound effects, which provide a nice backdrop for the action.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Solid acting from everyone involved, particularly from our two leads, but also from Julien Randel, who is credited as The Bad Boy.  Everyone is completely believable, and though no lines are spoken, physically they emote and are perfect for their roles.

Final Grade: 4 / 5.

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

When you get done there, check out our review of "At All Costs" right here.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Audacious & Well Written Fable Inspired Short Film "Crocodile" Will Make You Double Take!

"CROCODILE" (2015)
Genre: Fable
Length- 3:37
Company:  X-Film

Harry (Callum John Geddes) is a child with an anger problem and a troubled home life.  After punching his mother (Keely Beresford) in the butt and storming away from her, he encounters a talking crocodile (Adam Fuller) behind some abandoned trash and learns there may be another way to live his life, away from the domineering hands of his parents.

So what happens next?

You'll have to watch this one and find out . . .

OH SWEET MOTHER OF GOD

There comes a time in every reviewer's life when they review a movie so shocking that it literally freezes their brain.  "Crocodile" is that movie for me.

I was so sure it was going one direction, and it took a COMPLETELY different path, and it turned SO hard and so fast that it left me in the dust and literally gaping at the screen.  HUGE props are owed to writer/director Matt Harris-Freeth for surpassing my expectations in every way with this film, and for lending an otherwise completely ridiculous premise with an extraordinary depth that will literally leave you thinking about what you just saw for a long time after you see it.

Not bad for three and a half minutes of your time.  Not bad at all.

NOW FOR OUR FEATURE PRESENTATION

"Crocodile" itself looks great.  It's got a cinematic look, with a slightly desaturated coloring that makes the crocodile's gaudy green pop SO much on the screen.  It looks so attractive, particularly to a child's eye that you can see how you'd have to stop and look at it and talk to it.  I wanted to talk to the crocodile too.

As a matter of fact, my wife was playing Myths of the World: Spirit Wolf, and she mentioned how she loved how cute a hedgehog looked on her screen, and I mentioned how awesome this crocodile looked and how I wanted one too.  That's how awesome he looks.

CONCLUSION

"Crocodile" is an HONORABLE MENTION of Forest City Short Film Review's MUST SEE SHORT FILMS of 2015!  (Since it was released in 2015, it is not eligible for 2016's list.)

Literally, everything about this film not only works, but excels.  In other words, you can't let yourself miss out on "Crocodile" -- there is NOTHING you could do with three and a half minutes of your time that you wouldn't be better served watching this short film.

So get to it!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  The story's tight as can be, and somehow manages to pull off a beginning, middle and ending in three and a half minutes while providing a sketch of our characters.  That ending nailed me to my seat.  WOW!
Directing: 4 / 5.  Harris-Freeth delivers a visually varied show that combines what is otherwise a "normal" drama with an eccentric children's show, and then starts throwing in a couple off-kilter shots here and there to start building tension.  Loved it!
Editing: 5 / 5.  Couldn't have been done any better than it was -- the pacing is dead on, with a heavy punchline.  The coloring is amazing, the cuts work great and the happy color of the credits contrast with the gravity of what we just saw brilliantly.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  Pretty standard issue here -- well recorded dialogue, and an inspired usage of "Never Smile at a Crocodile" performed by St. Winifred's School Choir courtesy of Disney/Parlophone.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Very well acted across the board.  Particularly of note are Beresford and Fuller, the former for her VERY authentic performance at the end, and the latter because he's just so darn likeable as the crocodile friend every little boy just wishes he had.

Final Grade:  4.1 / 5.

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

Friday, January 22, 2016

One Woman, Her Business & "A Warming Trend": A Thinking Comedy

"A WARMING TREND" (2015)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 3:42
Company:  N/A

Scarlett (Audrey Noone) is a powerful business owner who has a big problem: everything she touches gets red hot.  That's not hyperbole -- I'm speaking literally.  She touches a key, and it heats up until it literally will melt in your hand.  

This is clearly a problem, and it affects all of her business assets as well, and it's only getting worse.  She calls a board meeting with her trusted Financial Analyst (Steve Day) to get to the bottom of this before she ends up tanking her entire business.

But will she get this sorted out in time?  Is there any chance for a happy ending?

GOOD QUESTION

"A Warming Trend" is a short film also directed by Noone.  It rides on a whimsical premise, and visually we have a highly desaturated image -- with the exception of Scarlett, who is gussied up in fully visible red.  

There are odd plot holes, too.  How can she hold glass perfectly fine, or operate a cell phone, while melting a metal key?  

That being said, it all rides on a metaphorical conclusion that, once you grasp, makes for a pretty tidy and interesting joke.  I can't say more than that, because I don't want to spoil it for you -- it took some consulting with my wife to understand it, but once I got it, then I could appreciate the film for what it is.

The special effects were well done, and you can credit Dave Andrade for that.  Andrade was also the Director of Photography.  In addition, the coloring looks good and the video quality as a whole is done well.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  The metaphor, once you get it, makes everything lock into place.  This is a skit, first and foremost, so there's no "story", no character arc or plot line as such, but it still makes for a fun watch.  
Directing: 2.5 / 5.  Visually, it's a pretty basic affair -- but it's also told in a single room, and there's a limit to what you can do when you've got those kinds of constraints.
Editing: 3.5 / 5.  A few of the shots could have been trimmed a little, but the coloring looks good and the post-production special effects are good. 
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The music comes to us from Incompetech.com and Miles Thatch.  Mark Phillips handles the sound design in a competent way.  
Acting: 3 / 5.  Audrey Noone and Steve Day are effective in their roles.  

Final Grade: 2.9 / 5.

Aspiring Actresses, Unite! "Supporting Roles" Brings The Funny Fast & Furious!

"SUPPORTING ROLES: HORRORS" (2015)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 3:44
Company:  Luolluie Productions

Supporting Roles is a comedy web series created by actresses Sarah Adams and Brandi Hollsten.   With a tone somewhere in between TV's The Office and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, this first episode sees Sarah and Brandy preparing for a particularly challenging horror movie audition and waxing poetic about the difficulties of hormonal problems.

We're no strangers to Sarah Adams' work -- she's performed in a number of short films (you'll find the links at the bottom of this review) -- but this is the first time I've had the pleasure of seeing Hollsten.

So how does this comedic team turn out?  Does Supporting Roles bring the funny?

SO MUCH FOR THE GLORY

Hell yes, it does.

"Horrors", the first episode, is a witty take on the indignities of being an amateur actress.  There's not much I can say here without spoiling the jokes -- literally there's almost NOTHING I can say, because almost every line has a good joke or leads to one, the writing is that fast and furious and streamlined.  There's a pretty inspired gag with a plunger and physical comedy in addition to genuinely amusing dialogue.

Add to that the fact that director Travis Aitken and Director of Photography Jake Wilganowski create a visually attractive picture that's easy to watch.  There's a good use of space here, and a nice simple pull away during the makeup scene that turns what might otherwise be a dull moment into a laugh out loud gag.  Comedy is what this short is about, and it delivers on every level.

ONE LITTLE GRUMP

That being said, it's so short that there's no room for literally ANYTHING else.  There's no character development, we don't get to know anything about either Sarah or Brandi, and since we don't get any information about the characters, we don't get much in the way of personalized motivation.  Without motivation, we can't have concrete conflict.  Without conflict -- say it with me, people: we have no story.  Without a story, we don't have a real, stand alone film that can survive offline.

Even so, it's still a successful genre piece because, first of all, it's here to make you laugh and it does that big time, and second because of the great performances from its leads and finally the extremely high production quality of the film itself.

This is also just the first episode, which means there's more yet to come.  Some character depth in future episodes would be nice.  That being said, the speed and the wit of the comedy is much appreciated!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The jokes are very funny, but there's no story here.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Aitken's visual style kept the show going with his efficient use of on-screen area, and some nice manipulation of space to lead into the gags.  
Editing: 4 / 5.  "Horrors" is so short, it definitely doesn't overstay its welcome.  The coloring looks great.  All the cuts create a smoothly transitioning piece that keeps the action moving at a breakneck pace that keeps those jokes hitting hard!  
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  I really liked the original title song by Calley Bliss -- it fits the mood of the show perfectly.  The dialogue and sound effects are recorded professionally.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Another great showing by Adams, and Hollsten shows herself to be just as capable of an actress.  The two of them work great together and I hope they make many more episodes -- and movies -- together!

Final Grade: 3.4 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Supporting Roles: Horrors" and follow the creators on Facebook!

When you get done with those links, check out Sarah Adams in "Ostinato", "Fish in the Sea", "Nobody Can Deny" and our exclusive interview with her right here!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Honor Among "Thieves"? Thriller Manages to Emulate Boyle's "28 Days Later" Amid Plenty of Tension!

"THIEVES" (2013)
Genre: Thriller
Length- 11:11
Company:  A Walk in the Park Productions

Thomas (Quentin McCuiston) is a desperate man who discovers a body in an otherwise abandoned cityscape.  The corpse wears a nice jacket -- and since it's a dead body, it's not much using it anymore, right?

So Thomas doesn't feel much guilt when he decides to take the coat, but he might have thought twice about it had he known he was putting himself on a collision course with the mysterious Raven (Sarah McKenney) and James Carter (Wynn Reichert) . . .

AFTER THE BOOM

"Thieves" comes to us from D. Erik Parks, who wrote, directed and edited this short post-apocalyptic thriller.  On a tiny budget, somehow he, along with Director of Photography Jordan Lynn, has managed to pull off the sort of epic empty civilization shots that Danny Boyle masterfully gave us in 28 Days Later and others have tried so hard to emulate ever since.

Good visual moves, like the camera following Thomas in hot pursuit down a hallway, help to amp up the tension at key points, and give this film the added intensity it needs to survive among an oversaturated post-apocalyptic market.

BEEN HERE BEFORE

The only problem is that we've seen this story too many times now.  It's just been done to death.  When Raven explains what's happened to the world in which our characters find themselves, it has no impact.  Zero.  Because of that, the extended talky sequence in the middle just brings the story to a complete halt.

The story wants to be a thriller, and that pacing issue grounds the story before it has a chance to really start moving.  The last third of the film tries to regain some of that momentum, and it's much to Parks' credit that it does as well as it does.  Visually, we dive back into the tension, but we can't quite make up for what was lost from all that down time.

CONCLUSION

It's important for filmmakers to recognize the genre in which they are working -- what's been seen and what hasn't been seen -- and to make a movie that responds to audience expectations.

That's not quite what we get here.  That doesn't mean it's a bad movie -- it's actually a pretty enjoyable post-apocalyptic thriller.  But with a little tweaking, and more emphasis on action, suspense and thrills and less time spent explaining the world (which everyone who watches these kinds of movies already knows anyway), this could have been a pretty special little flick.

Even so, it's definitely worth a viewing -- check it out!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  Follows all the major plot points of your basic zombie film, minus the zombies -- which makes it far too predictable.  Even so, it works until the less than satisfying conclusion, which is attempting to feel uplifting, but just didn't pay off the way it was supposed to for me.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Parks delivers a tense  visual experience.  In addition to what I said above, I also liked the shots immediately following the gunshot.  Really impressive handheld work.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Good desaturated look -- the coloring is beautiful and adds a desperate feel to the film.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Quiet score, but moving when it needs to be.  The dialogue's audible.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  The acting's decent, but some of the more emotional moments aren't delivered well and it distracts from the experience.

Final Grade: 2.8 / 5.

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

Cultists, Symbols & Sacrifice: "Black Sun" Short Film Starts a Franchise

"BLACK SUN" (2015)
Genre: Thriller
Length- 16:36
Company:  Caputo Productions

A mysterious cult kidnaps a young woman (Lauren Maturi), and it's up to FBI Agent John Langan (Michael Leigh Cook) to rescue her.  But when he enters the building where she's held captive, he discovers a strange symbol.

Only one man knows the background to that symbol: down on his luck symbologist Max Viggorido (Daniel Velez), but he and Langan don't cross paths much anymore ever since his wife died under mysterious circumstances made all the worse by Langan's own inability to help her.

But if Langan is going to crack this case, he's going to need Viggorido's help and fast before the cult chooses a new target!

"Black Sun" recently won the Orson Welles Award for Best Short Narrative at the California Film Awards in December, and has experienced such a positive reaction that the creators have recently announced they are expanding it into a film franchise.  Sound exciting?

I'd say so!  Let's dig into "Black Sun"!

HIGH CONCEPT

Christian Caputo and Ian Ustick are the masterminds behind "Black Sun", a short film that looks good and sounds good amid high production values.  The storyline feels very Hollywood, if a bit convoluted, particularly for the relatively short running time.  Honestly, considering all the story threads that are up in the air, I'd say at least thirty minutes are needed to resolve them all in a satisfactory way.

The directing is good across the board, a particular accomplishment since, officially, there are two directors getting credit for this picture.   The camera moves fluidly and, in particularly in the opening shots, establishes a good sense of dread as we watch assorted cultists do their thing.

There are a couple off-paced moments where it feels like the actors flub their lines, so we quick cut for no apparent reason other than to cover up the dialogue, but these are easy to overlook.

WHAT WORKS, WHAT DOESN'T 

What works the most for "Black Sun" is the interplay between Cook and Velez as actors.  They both deliver their roles with gusto and it's to their credit that the sometimes clunky script comes off as well as it does.

There's simply too much going on: the plot is not focused enough, and as a result the story structure is wobbly at best.  The conflict is confusing (shouldn't we be focusing on solving the crime?) , the conclusion is confusing and not satisfying and finally the fact that we have a symbologist and another character whose name is awfully close to Langdon, PLUS murderous cultists brings us awfully close to Da Vinci Code territory.

This is not to say it's not enjoyable for what it is, but it's certainly not winning any points in the originality department.

Now then . . . the word is that this short film is kickstarting a whole franchise of "Black Sun" films.  Perhaps future films will begin to open up the story a bit, and maybe focus on the action and thriller elements that it does best.

If that's the case, and this short film is intended as an introduction and a hint of what's to come, then I'm most certainly interested in future installments.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1.5 / 5.  A problematic script from Caputo and Ustick.  Suffers from people who are alone talking to themselves to further the plot.
Directing: 3 / 5.  A good, involving show by and large from Caputo and Ustick.
Editing: 3.5 / 5.  Top notch production values, but the pacing is off, with far too much of the picture spent focused on Viggorido being Hamlet, and not enough being a thriller.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Moody music and professionally recorded dialogue and audio.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Our two leads are good, but it's Lauren Maturi who puts on the best show.  I 100% believed her terror in the opening minutes of the film.  The other supporting roles ranged from bad to worse.

Final Grade: 2.8 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Black Sun" and its coming sequel at the official website and follow the creators on Facebook!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Romantic Comedy "@Social #Connection" Pokes Fun At How We Love In Today's Tech-Obsessed Generation

"@SOCIAL #CONNECTION" (2014)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Length- 10:46
Company:  Bair Film

So there's this guy (Gregory Shelby) and this girl (Holly Maag), and they're both addicted to their cell phones and all the fun games, apps and texting and the virtual world in which they spend almost all their time.  But they also like each other.  As in, like like each other.

But the problem is that neither one of them really know how to inhabit the physical world, and are so awkward socially that they can't even speak to one another without their cell phones.

A potent commentary on this generation's withdrawal into the safety of our computer screens, "@Social #Connection" won the 2015 Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival Platinum Remi Award and has been making several festival appearances elsewhere.

So does it live up to its reputation?  Let's take a look!

THE PROBLEM WITH REAL LIFE

The first thing I noticed when watching "@Social #Connection" was the heightened production values due to the incredible attention to post-production.  We're talking an amazing animated production company logo, numerous cell phone overlays, text messages, and the usage of black and white versus color to represent the real versus virtual worlds.  The score, from composer Matthew A.C. Cohen, is deliberately emulating the tinkly sound of Nintendo video game music.

All of this is crafted to give the viewer a particular experience where reality and the virtual world don't collide, but overlap wildly and become one seamless experience.  It doesn't always work, and in truth I found the music to be a bit much, but I appreciated the concept and I became used to it after a while.

THE MOVIE AS A WHOLE

It's one thing to make a movie where there are chases, guns, knives, pirates and aliens and make it interesting -- and it's a whole other beast to try to take something that is visually boring like two people texting and make it not only visually entertaining but emotionally investing.  Somehow, Bair not only manages this but creates a film that is simultaneously funny and affecting.

Our two would be lovers are emotionally stunted -- they live their entire lives using their cell phones as shields against the harsh actuality of the real world.  When it comes right down to it though if their relationship, and if they as people, are ever going to become TRUE people, then they are going to have to break free of their addictions to their screens and become reliant on each other.

It's a warm, heart affirming message, and thankfully both our leads are charismatic in their own ways, and both give meaningful (albeit mute) performances.

So a huge congratulations is owed to Eric Bair and his cast and crew for a job very well done -- I'm very excited to see what they come up with next!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  A well thought out story that unfolds more or less in real time, and manages to tell a funny love story in an innovative way.  There needs to be more of these kinds of scripts out there in the world today.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Bair smartly uses as many angles and shot changes as possible while incorporating lots of visual effects in post-production to make the "slow" scenes fun to watch.
Editing: 5 / 5.  This film was completely made in the editing room, and tons of love and care was put into making it pop.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  While, as I said, the video game music was a bit distracting at times, the concluding song was nice and touching.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Good performances from both our leads.  A special thumbs up for Shelby for his subtle and priceless expressions while he's trying to get his girlfriend to stop looking at her phone.

Final Grade:  3.8 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "@Social #Connection" and follow the creators on Facebook!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

An Unwelcome Guest Is "A Thief in the Night" In Stirring Dogme '95 Inspired FTB Drama!

"A THIEF IN THE NIGHT" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 12:37
Company:  FTB

Felix (Felix Alonzo) and Cassie (Cassie Stewart) invite a bunch of their best friends over for their engagement party, and it looks to be a fun and meaningful night for all of them.

But unbeknowest to Felix, Cassie's taken it upon herself to call Ron (Ron Blanton) over for the festivities, even though he and Felix haven't talked in years, and for good reason -- a reason that just might cause the not quite married couple's relationship to go up in smoke . . .

A DIFFERENT TAKE

"A Thief in the Night" is an interesting short film in many ways, not the least of which because it's made according to the rules of the Dogme '95 manifesto written by Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.  It's highly possible that you aren't familiar with what that is, so I'll break it down for you.  Essentially, it's a series of rules that are supposed to help filmmakers stay focused on story and remain minimalist and ego-free.  One of the ways in which this is done is by not crediting the director, for instance.  In the case of "A Thief in the Night" there are no credits at all apart from the actors, so to remain true to the principles to which this film ascribes, I'll not go into detail about who does what like I usually do.

HATRED OF A MINUTE

As for the film itself, it's smart, subtle and above all else simple.  We waste no time getting to the point and through a very documentarian and handheld visual style, we are swiftly shown what we need to see and quickly feel engaged in the very human drama on display.  The dialogue is extremely realistic and understated, and the acting is top notch from pretty much everyone.  Blanton is the biggest standout, with his borderline narcissistic performance -- he sells every tall tale he tells brilliantly.

Production values are high, although certain scenes carry purposeful amounts of grain but again I felt like this was for a specific aim: the filmmakers are trying to draw the audience in, to give us an emotional result, and it works every time.

The only negative to the film is that the conclusion doesn't quite pay off the way it should -- it just sort of ends.  I suppose you could say this was a bit more realistic, as things in real life aren't open and shut, but considering how emotional the rest of the film was, I really wanted to feel like this movie took me somewhere.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 4 / 5.  I loved the fact that the movie felt real throughout and never was cheesy or over the top with the emotional content, which is all too often the case with short dramas.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Documentary and reality show style works, and at times even feels inspired, but at the end of the day you're limited with what you can do.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Coloring looked good, pacing was definitely on and the film was the perfect length.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5. Dialogue and sound was recorded well, but part of the Dogme 95 stuff is that you can't have unnaturally occurring music (i.e. no soundtrack).  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean a more quiet, introspective feel, which worked for this particular film.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Excellent performances from everyone involved.

Final Grade: 3.7 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "A Thief in the Night" right now on Vimeo and follow the creators on Facebook!

Want to learn more about Dogme '95?  Learn more from Wikipedia right here!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Young Woman Decides Her Own Fate In Death With Dignity Inspired "CHOICE: 'Mother'"

"CHOICE: 'Mother'" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 7:13
Company:  Halsey Films

A young woman (Kelly Driscoll)  is interviewed by a television personality (Hannah Ryan) for her decision to die with dignity after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

THE PURPOSE

"Choice: 'Mother'" is the first in a series of short films dealing with death and dignity.  This entry is directed by Joseph A. Halsey, who we've featured here on Forest City Short Film Review previously as the lead actor in "Junkie Heaven" and had an important role in "Leaving", which was directed by one of the producers of this film, Debra Markowitz.

It's an interesting, if not particularly original idea for a film -- the whole "death with dignity" thing has been done several times now (see "Promise Me" by Kevin Machate, a short film reviewed here a few months back, as an example).  The main problem with these kinds of films is that they come off as more of a soapbox, or an informational tool, than a film, which should always primarily be about entertainment.

WHY "DEATH WITH DIGNITY" CAN'T MAKE A GREAT FILM

The problem is that there's no story to tell about death with dignity: a person's going to die, they choose to die sooner to forego the pain and suffering of a natural death.  There's only two possible conflicts we could show here.  One is to give us a character suffering, and who is trying to decide whether to in fact go through with it or not.  But in all these films, it's definitive: they're GOING to do it, it's just a matter of when.

Now then, the OTHER possibility would be to have family members who disagree with their loved one's decision, and then have the issue blow up and see who can pick up the pieces, as in the aforementioned "Promise Me".  But that's a pretty sensitive topic, and those who disagree with the dying person are inevitably seen by audience members as mean and insensitive.  So for this storyline to work, it has to be handled extremely carefully.

Death with dignity, for it to make a great, entertaining movie, ought to be a THEME, and not the story.  It should be part of a metaphor in the background, rather than front and center, because the power and passion of the topic has a tendency to smother all other story elements.

THE FILM AS A WHOLE

All my complaints thus far have been about the writing, but what about the movie itself?  The production values are stellar, the look and feel of the film are top notch and the casting is superb.  It looks like a movie far more expensive than what it no doubt was, and with the performances we get from the actresses and the weary but unwavering directorial eye of Halsey behind the camera and Marc Riou as Director of Photography, there's an emotional punch to be had to almost every scene.

Of particular note is Driscoll -- her performance is note for note perfection.  She feels genuine, completely unrehearsed, and she has just enough "off the cuff"-feeling moments in her interview responses that if I didn't know this was a fictional story, I might question whether this was possibly a true story.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The script, written by David Spaltro and Halsey, works as a soapbox but falls short as an entertaining short film.  The dialogue feels real and the characters act like real people, but when push comes to shove, there's just nothing going on behind the curtains: without conflict, we have no story.  Without story, we have no film.   I suppose you could say the conflict is inside our lead, but that conflict isn't given any screen time.  The conflict has to be front and center, always.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  An understated turn behind the camera for Halsey, but it's exactly what this film needs to succeed visually.  Not every film needs to feel like an MTV video, and he gets that, but he adopts just a hint of the shaky cam which subconsciously carries the weight of our protagonist's decision with every slow, thoughtful camera move.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The film moves quickly and no shot overstays its welcome.  Robert La Rosa does a great job editing here, and Marc Riou's coloring gives the film a cinematic, desaturated look that lends some much needed gravitas.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Very minimalist, but all the dialogue is recorded perfectly and what music there is hits the spot.  Taylor Bradshaw and John Swanhart provide the soundtrack.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Genuine, heartfelt performances all around the board, particularly from Driscoll, who I hope we get to see a lot more of because she's quite a talent!  Roseanne Ryan, as the lead's mother, also deserves a mention because she is incredible as the supportive mom just trying to be a rock for her daughter.

Final Grade: 3.5 / 5.

Don't forget to check out the trailer for "CHOICE: 'Mother'" and learn more about the series by clicking here!

For more information about the Death with Dignity Acts, visit the official website right here.

Friday, January 8, 2016

A Fishing Community Trapped Inside Itself: Turkish "Dugum Node" Breaks Down Time!

"DUGUM NODE" (2015)
Genre: Experimental
Length- 19:58
Company: N/A

A small island community copes with a shrinking supply of fish and a growing sense of repression from the limited lives they are able to pursue there.  We follow a young boy (Suat Kucukade) and his two older selves: a handsome adult (Murat Yilmaz) and an old man (Tahsin Oktay) as they all attempt to escape the island and the vicious circle it has become for its inhabitants.

A QUIET PLACE

Written, directed and produced by Engin Poyraz "Dugum Node" is a one man show coming to us from Turkey that attempts to thread time in a nonlinear fashion in a similar style to what Christopher Nolan did with his box office smash Interstellar.  Whereas that film had state of the art special effects and tens of millions of dollars in budget to work with, Poyaz's film is forced by budgetary restrictions to use far more humble, but in some ways starker and more affecting, imagery to get across his point.

There are some nice moments in "Dugum Node".  Take for instance the many shots of boats, either being tied or untied -- each one an attempt to escape, but ultimately no matter where the boat goes, it winds up being drawn back to the island shore.  Another inspired moment is when we see the fish struggling to breathe out of water, and the audio of the young boy's breathing is overlaid on top of it.

This short film is clearly made at a real fishing community, and all shots of fish out of water are obviously documentarian in nature, not for cruelty's sake.  There is one brief moment of violence done to a fish, but the camera smartly cuts away.  I am sure this moment would have occurred anyway, but it feels a little more staged because of the camera placement.  It was disturbing to watch, even though it's blink-and-you-miss-it.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  Poyraz's script buries the meaning of what he's talking about pretty deeply, and it took an entire watch of the film to start to begin to understand what I was seeing.  Even so, the connections to be made were pretty loose, and much of the film feels like random wandering.
Directing: 2 / 5.  Again, there's no sense of a cohesion to what we're seeing -- it all feels random and it doesn't build up to a climax.  There are some nice shots though courtesy of Poyraz and his Director of Photography and editor Omer Oylar.
Editing: 2 / 5.  This movie is simply too long.  At twenty minutes, there is so much down time, so much lighting cigarettes and walking aimlessly about.  The pacing would move a whole lot better if the running time were trimmed down to about ten minutes.  Also, the subtitles were not translated very well.  I could pretty much pick up what they were trying to say, but it took some effort.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The sound is designed well and the music (a couple of Bach pieces performed on cello) is clearly audible.
Acting: 3 / 5.  There is very little dialogue, but everyone does a good job of conveying their feelings.

Final Grade: 2.4 / 5.  

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

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dark Fairy Tale Thriller "In the Woods" Talks Justice . . . Or Vengeance?

"IN THE WOODS" (2015)
Genre: Thriller
Length- 20:33
Company:  South Wind Pictures

Harry Sheperd (Alpha Trivette) lost his wife to a brutal killer twenty three years ago -- a killer that was never found.  But he never gave up hope her killer would be brought to justice, and in fact he thinks that today very well might be the day.  You see, Harry's got a man in chains in his cellar (John Kap), a man who might be the killer.

Or he might not.

It's up to Harry now to make sure before he makes a terrible mistake.

WAITING FOR THE SHOW TO START

"In the Woods" is a short film written, directed and produced by Brett Bagwell, and it deliberately attempts to marry contemporary film with fantasy and fairy tale stylings on a tiny budget.  It's an ambitious concept, and clearly there's a lot of passion behind this project and I respect that.

In the first three minutes of the film, pills are put into a cup, a sandwich is made and Harry heads down into the cellar.  That's all that happens.  As a viewer, I want to have a mood set for me, by all means, but that should only take a matter of seconds, maybe a full minute, tops.  Consider the fact that the entire movie is only eighteen and a half minutes long if you cut out the credits.  That means we're setting the mood and making a sandwich for one sixth of the ENTIRE RUNNING TIME OF THE FILM.

At another point, we pan upward through trees and leaves for a full fifty seconds.

I'm all for slow, methodical filmmaking, but that just ruins any pacing the film might have otherwise established.  Instead of being engaged with what is otherwise an interesting story, the viewers are scratching their heads, wondering when the story's going to start.

AND THE CURTAINS RISE

Now then, once the film kicks into gear it's plenty entertaining.  The makeup effects are well done, the lighting is excellent and in every physical aspect the production looks fantastic.  The script's written with dialogue that emulates a wordy, Gothic style, and the results are a bit hit or miss, but it's an interesting move and it certainly gives the film a different flavor.  The actors work with what they are given and come out on top.

The conclusion isn't spelled out, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but here it's not only ambiguous, it feels nonexistent.  After watching for twenty minutes, I felt like I wanted a more definitive cap to a story that had genuinely interested me.

CONCLUSION

"In the Woods" is a well made film in most respects, and its aspirations help it rise above a lot of other movies I see here at Forest City Short Film Review.  Bagwell and company are talented filmmakers and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next!

OVERALL SCORES: 

Writing: 2 / 5.  It's a very small scale film, shot primarily in one location, which means that the entire storyline rides on the interplay between our two leads.  Bagwell attempts to emulate a Gothic, fairy tale style in the dialogue, and at times it works and at other times it doesn't.  I couldn't 100% follow where      
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  It's a good looking film all around courtesy of Director of Photography Joshua Heetderks and Bagwell, whose eye for visuals keeps the film interesting, even when all we're doing is watching two guys talk.  The chase scene three quarters of the way through the film is particularly inspired.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Though cut together reasonably well by Marquis C. Mosley, it still feels far too long.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  The dialogue and sound effects are recorded professionally, and the soundtrack by Brandon Squires is rustic and dirty.  
Acting: 3 / 5.  The dialogue is half the problem here, attempting to emulate a Gothic style, but both actors put in their best performances and manage to get their mouths around their lines.  Of the two, Trivette is the most credible.

Final Grade: 3.1 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "In the Woods" and follow the creators on Facebook!

Friday, January 1, 2016

"The Brazilian Affair" Shot Beautifully & Well Choreographed, But Does It Live Up To Its Potential?

"THE BRAZILIAN AFFAIR" (2015)
Genre: Action
Length- 23:35
Company:  Casualty Films

Carter (Lon Sierra), an ex-bodyguard for the governor (Michael Madden), returns for a new job: get to the bottom of a ransom note for a kidnapped Brazilian mistress.  As is so often the case though, things aren't quite so simple as just dropping off a sack of money -- Carter and the governor's wife (Jennifer Scibetta) kinda sorta got close the last time they were together, for one thing, and for another, the governor's a Presidential hopeful, so whatever happens needs to be done with as little mess and as quietly as possibly.

Yeah . . . about that . . .

THE VIRTUE OF GORGEOUSNESS

Many short films have difficulty establishing a cohesive setting, or even a believable one, but "The Brazilian Affair", directed by Alex Robles and aided by Director of Photography Terry Adams, features an exceptionally shot series of beautiful locations.  The scenic vistas we see from the shots on display here make it easy to believe, for instance, that the governor is wealthy, and that the world in which we are inhabiting for the twenty plus minutes of running time of the film is authentic.

While the production values were upped a great deal by amazing locations and nice video quality, the film took a few hits from echo laden sound, pedestrian direction and uneven editing.  There were also a few pacing issues, most blatantly during the golf scene, which could have been cut completely.

BOOM, SMASH, POW

As an action film, "The Brazilian Affair" still has its moments beyond just being nice to look at.  The fight choreography is done well, and the blood and gun visual effects work.  Sierra carries himself like a badass and he has the voice for it.  He makes an entertaining action hero, and I enjoyed watching him take out bad guys left and right.

The script, by Joseph Luna, is where the film falls short.  It's an action film, and you don't often watch action films for the writing, but even so, the final reveal in this movie felt overwrought and generic, and gratuitous in a certain way.  It's also an awfully talky script and most of the actors are not up to the task of carrying the story, with the exception of Sierra and Scibetta.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 1 / 5.  The writing was generic and downright silly in places, particularly the finale.  I also didn't buy Carter's final decision, considering the apparent honor he demonstrated in other areas of his life.
Directing: 2 / 5.  Most of the shots are pretty static, with a couple POV voyeur-style shots here and there to add tension.  A strong presence behind the camera is a must for an action film -- think James Wan, John Woo -- these are directors who successfully convey the ENERGY of an onscreen moment through camera movement.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  The pacing was all over the place, but most of the film cuts together reasonably well.   What didn't work for me was when Carter goes to deliver the money, and the editing style completely changes.  It's supposed to lend the scene some immediacy, but it comes off as more jarring than anything.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  I liked the soundtrack, which was full of a variety of rock bands (including Moby -- used under license) and Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech songs.  The sound design, as I mentioned above, was pretty poor as a whole.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  Sierra is our rock for this film, and he has the acting chops to carry us from start to finish.  Scibetta is the closest to his level, and their scenes together are the easiest to watch.  The rest of the actors range from OK to bad.

Final Grade: 2.2 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "The Brazilian Affair" 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!