2017 extended reviews


 

LATE SPRING

The Date (2017, Michael Beddoes)

From the outset, Michael Beddoes’ short film – ‘The Date’ seems like an innocent comedy. A young lady is sent to the bar on a blind date to meet ‘tits and ass’ Toni.

Overall, the film is produced at a very high level of technical gloss, but is internally conflicted – the film’s ‘straight misinterpreted as gay’ feels at times a tad politically deaf in terms of its message, or perhaps even tonally muted. Likewise, before Maddie (played greatly by Melissa Clements) meets Toni, she is told her date is a ‘tits and ass’ seeker, and immediately becomes self-conscious, thinking she won’t ‘fit the bill’. Obviously, by no means do I wish to project onto Maddie and her character, but I am somewhat saddened by her self evaluation at this moment – as the film, at this point, felt like a far cry moment from passing the Bechdel test.

It does however pass it a in a sort of way… this of course being in its ability to use Charly as the butt end of every Maddie and Toni joke – avoiding the ‘women talking about men’ moment. Charly is clearly a fiasco character, one who is both ‘loved’ and hated by her peers.

It is a comedy first and foremost. And it is often comedic – as in, it actually provides genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and has a good pace about it. There’s no denying the energy which its cast has thrown in – most of whom attempt to fill the screen with a certain warmth and liveliness. However, one can’t help but feel that the filmmakers at hand seem rather too comfortable tugging jokes at the ‘straight’ perspective of lgbt dating in the city, the behavior of women tearing each other down in an office environment, and tying up the last messy ‘goodnight kiss’ arc – a moment which feels like a very awkward situation everyone involved would probably wish to avoid in real life.

The Living Room (Screenplay by Matteo Valentini)

At its current state, ‘The Living Room’, a script penned by Matteo Valentini, is an ambitious, and perhaps overfilled feature project. The reason it is ambitious isn’t because of its scope of desire to tell a large story, but rather because of how it extends its very short narrative into a much larger thing – a whopping 137 pages.

Overall, the first quarter feels like a tiresome and very vulgar hang out of two male protagonists spouting sexist remarks – Jay and James are shallow, and forever at each other’s throats. They sit around discussing who they want to fuck, or who they’ve fucked, and so on.
At 40 pages in, a far too late remedy is introduced – new characters. From here on out the script attempts to find some heart. But it is often an odd mix of interesting character dialogues and circumstantial spats.
The script does go to much length to maintain it’s constant ‘punchy’ dialogue. It often becomes overused.

However, with the introduction of a few new scenes outside of these very confined rooms, and the reduction of the vulgarity of the characters, heading towards a more balanced set of arcs, this script may become reminiscent of Doug Liman’s Swingers. Making it brash, bold and very daring. An edit though is needed, as 130+ pages is too long for a film of this nature.

War In Heels (2017, Trent Cliffe and Lily Connor)

The great thing about War In Heels is its script. Penned by Trent CliffeWriter and Lily Connor, the dialogue for the first three minutes is very smooth, and runs at a steady pace. The last phone call does sadly feel like a quick wrap up sentence though – another jolt of exposition.

The performances which Amy Elizabeth Price and Genevieve Brock delivery help to heighten the film’s strengths, often playing off each other and building the scene to its final ‘reveal’. It is thanks to their chemistry, and the chemistry which fills their character’s with angst, that allows this film to feel engaging – even when we are locked in the car with them with a single long take.

Overall, this short, which appears more as a short sketch than a film, suffers at the hands of its minimalism the most. It is under developed in terms of tone, theme or any sort of cinematic language. Of course, that isn’t to say that the ‘aha’ moment at the end wasn’t welcomed… but one can’t help but feel that overall the project could have been taken further, and developed into a more rounded ‘filmic’ experience. What follows this one scene of chatter among women heading out to the ‘stakeout’, or what came before it – triggering the need to stalk someone, would have allowed for more cinematic development in terms of pacing and narrative devices. Ultimately, expanding the film would have reduced the overall feeling of a theatrical set which haunts this film – it almost feels like two actors on a stage sitting in chairs talking.

Having said all that, this little super-short is very pleasing. It is easy to watch, and a wonderful ‘starter’ project. Wanting to see more is really just a compliment, as the film at hand feels like a charming appetizer for future projects.

Dress Rehearsal (2017, Michael Boston)

What is most surprising about Michael Boston’s ‘Dress Rehearsal’ is its heart. And I say that, or rather write it, with complete belief in it. ‘Dress Rehearsal’ has more heart in it than most short films, and furthermore, when compared to the majority of entries presented to us on a seasonal basis, I can immediately pin it as one of the most interesting character studies I have seen in ages… and one of the most impact filled.

Yes, it is about an actor, and traditionally that would be a major turn off (as there are far too many shorts and webseries focused on that particular persona type), but here, for the first time in a long time, I was presented with an actor’s tale that was cinematic, engaging and flipping heartfelt.

The film focuses on Abner, who inadvertently is offered to audition for a part which requires him to research and attempt the ‘method’ process of acting as a transsexual. He goes about it with care, shaving, and dressing up. Almost like Mel Gibson at the start of ‘What Women Want’. Only, instead of a bathtub shock that leads to romance, this film takes a much darker turn.

The film wholeheartedly embraces its narrative, balancing comedic characters, and their minor subplots, which help nuance the overall script, with rough and tumble LA types, capturing some underbelly issues of the city – race, sex workers, the system of policing, and the fame hungry community. This is done all the while capturing the city, and the slum like alleyways, in a series of lush textures, with a thematic tone, which appears present both in the edit, cinematography and score.

All in all, captivating, moving, and memorable.

Thirst (2017, Kevin Singh)

The most admirable thing about Kevin Singh’s Thirst is its scale. Shot in an almost Steven Soderbergh Traffic nature, the film reels off of its violence, and divides itself into sections of color coded sequences. The issue here though, and I don’t mean anything too harshly but it, but the film is by no means equal to Traffic.

Though there are plenty of characters to keep the ball rolling in terms of attention span, the film’s arc is entirely glued around its violence, incidents of fear, remorse and throw-away ethics. Sadly, it is here that one feels the weakest joint in the project – there is a true lack of realism to the production; one which is so overbearing, the film itself becomes more of an imitation of American war films, than one in their image.

This is in part due to the locale of the production. Though it is often well disguised in terms of technology and decor presented within the film’s mise en scene, it does however become clear through the casting of native South African actors that these are not Americans, nor are these ‘terrorist’ military bodies genuine. It may be dubbed to hell and back, but the film still tastes a little too foreign to be American.

Furthermore, whilst on the note of lacking realism, there’s one giant hole one can’t help but point – the film, much like many American blockbuster efforts, seems quite comfortable with depicting foreign militia as dangerous men with mustaches. It is on this note that the film fails to discover its strongest potential – which of course would have been to challenge the stereotyped images of the Middle East, something that the European production of Essential Killing relished in.

Returning to the due praise however, there is no denying that this film was overjoyed with its scope – and it is a bold one. There are many shots which depict a waterless desert, and night scenes dipped in beautiful blue hues. It is however a shame that the film didn’t think more of its own script and content, as it is there, with a stronger understanding of character and plot, that a concern for a narrative’s realism would have been won, and that a gem might have been found.

Free Fallers (2017, Rick Masi)

I’m not sure of the length of the opening titles of Star Wars, nor do I really care. The opening sliding words here, presented in a homage to Star Wars, are a tad long winded, and actually are unnecessary – as the exposition in the dialogue, and the general material of the project, are stronger than the scrolling words which open the film. That however, is the only real issue I take with the film.

The sound is clean, and the photography is consistent, allowing for the regular painful ‘indie’ technical work to fade away… meaning, one can watch the film without any sort of discomfort. Sure, with both elements of the film – that being the nature of sound and image, one could have hoped for more creativity – but this is a comedy after all, and style isn’t entirely necessary.

The strongest strength of the film is its use of characters, with its ‘film production’ ensemble, the film unfolds as a series of revolving door scenes, comedic and typical of the indie film production moments (I’ve lived through those kind of shoots, and I know many others who have). The strongest part to this cast is really the pumped ‘ac-tour’ Steven Didas, and soundie Kevin Sampson, as their performances lean more towards naturalism with their characters, rather than caricatures.

Overall, it is the script which helps to string the project together, as its overall arc of a film being made becomes an excuse to explore various scenes of social interaction. It is here, with the humanist narrative – a kind of expression of how we work in a social construct: our interactions with each other, treatments of one another, and opinions of those interactions; that provide the film with a unique quality. It becomes a kind of reminiscent throw back towards a Rainer Werner Fassbinder styled narrative, and it is where I’d recommend Rick Masi travels to next, as his comedy is good… but not as good as his potential for character studied dramas.

 

SPRING

Hair Cut Man, Hair Cut Woman (2017, Jason Britski)

Within film, this being the concept of it as a medium, a concern for genre, narrative and character has often overtaken other paths of the product’s potential. And it is with experimental film, the type which expects viewers to sit back and enjoy and experience which washes over them; where we are able to find some of these particular often unexplored paths of film.

With Jason Britski’s ‘Hair Cut Man, Hair Cut Woman’ we are able to experience just that. The film is a moving post card, a kind of triptych image of passing moments explored within Thailand. Yes, perhaps the city is the core character, and the narrative is that of a videographer travelling and exploring the space which they are now inhabiting, but much like Werner Herzog’s work in the 1970’s, specifically the likes of ‘Fata Morgana’ (1971), Birtski’s film is perhaps more about dreams, dreaming and the nature of daydreaming whilst watching moving pictures, and the attributes which film provides for such dreaming, which take the forefront of our experience of the film. Furthermore, the film, with its quick paced editing, the shifting and sliding shots which often escape the viewer, trigger a thought within ones own mind’s eye – this being of the present, past and future moments, and how we might experience them.

This film, with its grainy expression of video texture, allures to a bygone taste of film – the type of the home movie, developed over time, and rarely screened at gatherings. It might not be the most polished form of cinema, but it sure is one of the most exciting expressions of pure cinematic language.

Clever Girl (2017, Joe Zappa)

With the webseries format, it is very hard to evoke style, or even evoke emotion. It is often a simple one note exercise, much like TV shows, whereby a story is delivered in small bite sizes, easy for consumption. Rarely, does a webseries show open with conviction to its tone or content, but ‘Clever Girl’, by Kip Bennett and Joe Zappa does just that.

The first episode opens boldly, and with a streak for the emotional side with the reveal of the dead body, but also the establishment of its genre style – the thriller mode.
Much like David Lynch’s earlier work, there’s a touch of the film noir here, one which appears only in the context of the show’s overarching tones, and flavor of characters/narrative style. A particular shot of note, which emphasizes this, appears at the end of the opening credits, where the camera slowly moves in towards a victim, sliding towards the shadows of the room. Likewise, the ending, where we witness a body’s wounds, we move around observing the flesh from a very particular perspective, and interpret the material both in a critical context, as well as an emotional one; similarly to the way in which Dorothy Vallens’ body is depicted in ‘Blue Velvet’.

Overall, the show outlives its own Americana, including a European flavor when it comes to how its story is delivered – the voyeurism, the teacher/student complex (perhaps this is just how I’ve interpreted the show though). There’s something quite arty here, one unfamiliar when it comes to comparing this webseries with other shows currently present online. It is this ultimately which makes it above average, and memorable.

Edna’s Dearest Secrets (written by Ozge Gozturk)

‘Edna’s Dearest Possessions’ is a very specific type of narrative – one focused on the decisions which a single individual will enact in order to determine their future, and in turn, the future of the next generation.
This particular ‘dilemma’ form of narrative, which is very much about the debate of ethics and social issues is of importance, but does in turn, lack a particular amount of detail – the characters are often caricatures, instead of actual ‘beings’ who act and speak beyond their simplified roles’ dialogue (ie, the doctor is just a doctor, he is not explored further than that, the couple too, are just a couple, they don’t explore their individuality beyond a mere surface of a few scenes).

Overalll, the script is well thought out, with the plotting of its story points clearly established, and leading its reader through the motions which are faced by the couple who are considering giving up their unborn child. There’s also no denying that this particular piece would be quite rewarding to actors, easy to produce on account of its low budget, and not far from becoming fantastic.

The script, or perhaps its story, could be polished even further with a distinct directing style when brought to the screen. It is here, with the finer paint brushes of production, that one may be able to elevate the already well established and thoughtful script to a higher level of excellence.

 

WINTER

 

Running For Pride-A Cross Country (2016, Alec Douglas)

There is a great feeling of brotherhood to Alec Douglas’ 45 minute documentary Running for Pride-A Cross Country. The people we meet, their stories, and the experiences shared with us of the cross country courses which they run, slowly builds a very particular welcoming and engrossing community. We care about them because they are real, unlike the people we see in ‘reality TV’.

Though the film could have done with a stricter edit, and perhaps even a slightly stronger visual style, it remains a very humanistic depiction of youth – it is unadulterated, unrehearsed, and like most American things which delight the rest of the word, genuine.

It’s on that note that I’d like to make a genuine remark – yes, the short does have a few issues, but, when compared to other documentary short films made for this budget, it goes without saying that we would have awarded this effort had it been entered into the competition. It is a wholesome tale, and it is told with so much conviction and friendship, that one can’t help but feel for a moment as if we were part of the running team; or at least a member of the team which cheer them on.

The Last Dream For The Moon (2016, Octavian Repede)

There is something very unusual, and original, about The Last Dream For The Moon. The film, part documentary and part fiction, blends its editing into a sequence of montages; almost in throwback motion towards the soviet mode of filmmaking – which is incredibly fitting considering the space race plot.

The film’s form, which would drive a feature film viewer insane, finds a perfect home here. After all, the short film format is incredibly fitting for an experimental effort like this one.

It is a forward motion collage of ideas, ones which expand outward into various sheets of time. Deleuze would be very proud of this filmic effort. It is interesting to consider that this mode of filmmaking could only exist at the point which we are are at now – with 100 years of film history, we are now seeing filmmakers embracing various modes of film language, and mixing them. It is hard to describe this film effectively because of this, it is several things at once, and feels incredibly fluid.

There is a second element at play though, one which really does demand recognition, the film is fantastical with its plot line. The narrative presented unravels its perspective, and allows it to be reshaped accordingly; often finding various tones, and shapes within the film’s arcs. It is here that the film’s script, penned by the director, finds its strongest suit – it is a film which embraces and acknowledges the fact that it is a film. A kind of Guy Maddin meets Jean Luc Godard voyage for the nostalgic viewer.

Kata Muktu (2015, Brian K Palmer)

With a kaleidoscope opening, Brian Palmer’s Kata Muktu feels like a throwback to the era of filmmaking where primitive subjects, ones which are based around the ideals of the mystic and unknown reigned. Though, as much as I’d love to simply paint the film just as a past-time filmic experience, it is much more than that – it is a rural reflection, one which considers life before Facebook and internet feed living, and also acts at its peak as a comedy about living a non-nonsensical humanistic life.

The highlight of the film is Palmer himself, appearing in a mostly silent role, he depicts the epitome of a good comedic silent star – he goofs around, marches in his terrain, and acts as an old character actor would have (by old I mean the type from the 40’s and 50’s Hollywood turn).

The film overall though does trigger a simple thought: What would we love to see next? Personally I’d suggest a turn towards a horror, or some other goofy genre film that could be parodied. The film, on that front, does feel like a great starter project, one which is beginning a post-modern conversation as to what it is, and what it isn’t in terms of its form. It would be great to see that further developed in a future project.

The only downfall Kata Muktu really holds is its plot: the film is at times quite slow, and also tends to lack a clear vision as to where it might be headed. The closing note though, of making ‘love and not war’ seems really timely with our current turmoil internationally, and one can’t help but feel a simplified story like this, with a sweetened message at the end, is quite appropriate and welcomed.