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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!



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!