extended 2018 reviews


SUMMER 2018


 

 Ming… Voice of Deception by Brian Lutes

‘Ming… Voice of Deception’ isn’t your average joe indie film. In fact, even in the realm of period piece war films (which, with being a UK based festival we seem to get a lot of these), the actual picture is above average. This is mostly through the filmmaker’s apt eye for detail, the realistic, and often sharp, characterisations, and the harsh textured applied to the picture, be it in the grit of the scenes themselves, or the fundle of mud, dirt, rain and sweat.

Lutes’ war film leaves little to critic in a bad light, mostly as the film gleams with a bold consistency to its period piece allure. The streets seem authentic, and shy of one dinner scene in a restaurant, where the plates seem to pristine, the entire production boasts an almost similar quality to the wonderful ‘old school’ films of this ilk – the likes which have been absent from the screen for decades (though, The Sea Wall, with Isabelle Huppert, still feels a close by memory).

All in all the film’s only flaw is perhaps its budget, not so much the use of it, but rather the restriction it has forced upon its team at hand. The lush serving of this film does feed the appetite, but at times one wishes the kitchen had access to more cream with which the project could have been whipped into a delicate sweetness. It’s a delight through and through all the same.

 The Percy Harris Story by Brian Lutes

Though there are some issues here, the image itself isn’t wonderful – the camera work is at times a little haphazard, and the actual tonal side of the light and colour is often undermanaged, and inconsistent… one can’t believe the sheer creativity and scale Brian Lutes has brought to the screen in The Percy Harris Story. Because, in truth, pushing aside the qualms with the film’s ‘look’, it is actually a pure pleasure to see this film.

For a mere budget of 10k, the film is slam dunk bold. It has that rich flavouring of deep turn-of-the-century Gothic tales, all the while balancing the film’s thrill ride with some meaningful dialogue, calmer quaint sequences. It’s also thematic, which is a rare thing in films made for these scales.

The film’s first quarter, which mainly is built around a nighttime incident, which leads on to what feels more like a survival route of a film: a journeyman moves through a constantly shifting and challenging terrain, which encapsulates some fantastic locales. And by the final note of the film, which focuses mostly on the idea of the sacrifices made by people in these harsh times, is heightened by the inclusion of flashbacks, and a seasonal footnote of snow. Though there aren’t many standout performances here, these scenes tend to cement the film’s overall standard, which is quite solid, and reminiscent of those ‘classical’ film types mostly exercised in the 1990’s by Jon Amiel in Somersby and Michael Mann with The Last of the Mohicans.

All in all it is quite a fantastic indie film.


SPRING 2018 


 

 Futureworld by Christopher Angus

Futureworld might not be the most glamorous animation film, but it is quite a sophisticated little thing. It has that double levelled material – it is both thoughtful and artful.

Though the actual length, and perhaps even the scope of the story Christopher Angus weaves is restricted by his film’s budget and production scale, one can’t help but love and admire the effort here… in fact, I’d welcome the idea of a feature film made by him, or even a serialised show.

For some reason its quirky darkness reminded me of the ‘good old days’ when Cartoon Network was edgy, but also kid friendly, with classic shows such as Courage the Cowardly Dog and Scooby Do. All in all this Futureworld short is a great throwback to those particular punches of animation stories, and one that should pave the way to many more!

 Lazarus’ Resurrection Won’t Do Any Good by Clodoaldo Lino

Quite frankly – this is hands down one of the most bold art directed short films I’ve seen through my festival work, and I must say it is a very fantastical presentation of such a lavish vision. In fact, this is the key element of excellence within this project, along with the actor’s performances, which are as convinced of their situations as any could be.

The overall plotting, and the structure of the film’s narrative, is rich with poetry, and is perhaps at times bordering on indulgent with this front. Perhaps a more restrained narrative would have meant a more flowing picture, but that is really just a minor qualm.

Likewise, the only really inconsistent element of Lazarus’ Resurrection Won’t Do Any Good is its actual technical presentation. The film as a whole seems to ebb and flow from having some beautiful shots and crip sounds to some less enjoyable ones, making it all fuzzy. Pushing this aside though, the actual project is very well delivered, and one can’t help but adore the film’s style, content and wild nightmarish vision.

 Bench by Charles J. Ouda

OK, a flattering review of this nature has to be kept short, otherwise it reads nauseously. Here we go: performances were all on point and quite fantastically nuanced, the camerawork could have been more creative… but lets be honest, it was beautifully done and consistent, the script was original, engaging and interesting, the actual direction and use of cinema was overall quite sharp and ‘to the point’.

Had Charles J. Ouda submitted his short into our competition category it would have eaten up quite a few categories… all in all, this is a rarefied beast – a short film worth your viewing time, and an enjoyable experience.

Congrats Bench team!

Drilling Holes into the Sun by People A Sponies, Philip Nguyen and Brett Herman

People A Sponies, Philip Nguyen and Brett Herman have compiled a variety of great dancing showcases, sandwiched with poetry and creative editing.
The actual arc is a mess, and I’m not entirely sure the purpose of the characterization, but what one can highlight is the film’s technical artistry, which seems to have a real rich flavor for careful framing and creative shots.
There’s also the music – which is quite eclectic, and varied to a satisfying level which manages to avoid a bored continuum of a single style or sound.
All in all its quite impressive, and the performers, along with the well managed technical mechanisms, keep the film’s length quite balanced and well toned.

Aconcagua by James Kellett Smith

The main difficulty with ‘explorer’ documentaries usually is their lack of force or direction. It is usually just a simple chop collection of various holiday shots and ‘funny’ glimpses into the lives of said back packers, and very little awareness for the length of the film, its tone or the audience’s interests.
Thankfully James Kellett Smith’s Aconcagua isn’t quite that. Its more of a ‘step by step’ journey, and instead of showing us picturesque shots like a dull BBC nature documentary, his short is more to do with the practical elements of the exploration and the journey involved with it.
Overall the camera work is quite consistent, and the editing of the whole project is quite nicely done. The only hiccup really is the sound of the interviews, which is a tad too ‘laptop’ than a clean sound.
The project is reminiscent of some of Werner Herzog’s icy documentaries, such as Bells from the Deep (1993) – minus the religious poetry.

 Aliens With Knives by Struan Sutherland and Nicole Steeves

Struan Sutherland and Nicole Steeves write and direct this comedy science fiction romp. It’s a delight really, reminiscent of Tim Burton’s early comedies, such as Mars Attacks!

At its core there’s much micro budget wizardry going on here, and a lot of ‘oh well, its just a comedy’ factor. Like, lets be honest – there’s no real issue with the aliens looking bloody ridiculous… because the plot is just that. And there’s no real issue with the production values being standardized, but nothing special, because at the end of the day the film’s main ploy is to be enjoyed as entertainment and not some over baked art house comedy, like say The Seventh Seal. Though I still do love The Seventh Seal, but its a very stuffy affair, and it takes itself far too seriously.

Aliens With Knives is a fantastic presentation of what happens when people who enjoy being funny shoot a film and present it to you. With more funds, and more glamour, the team will find the mega audience that they deserve!

 Creepy Crawling by Chelsea Comeau

With Nick Piovesan’s consistent performance, and the well paced filming methods used with great care in Creepy Crawling, Dillon Garland’s script is brought to great life through Chelsea Comeau’s direction.

The film as a whole reminded me a great deal of those ‘visiting’ town films, in particular the likes of Jason Reitman’s films, such as Men, Women and Children, and Young Adult. Like with Reitman’s films, through Creepy Crawling’s world, we are invited to witness both the life of a single family unit, as well as the locale, community and cultural behaviors of this locale. It’s very detailed, and quite sharp in terms of its observations and highlights.

The cherry on the top of the whole affair is really the film’s consistent delivery and understanding of its own material. So many independent films, and filmmakers, stumble over their own comprehension of their material, the goals they set themselves, and what it is they can produce. Comeau and her team balance it all so very well.

 Nature by Richard Schertzer

Nature does’t provide much in the terms of a filmic experience, shy of the chiming music and ordered nature shots… and well, the credits, which bookend the film. Overall, the film is a nice series of shots which describe, or capture, the natural space with which the camera scans or shoots. The film itself is rather short ended there in terms of its content, and the music is very ‘midi’ sample file.
There isn’t much to complain about though, as it is completed with a steady hand of competence, and it is overall quite consistent with its presentation… just ultimately one can’t wish for more from a film – be it a narrative, character or even some sort of message (say like – Gus Van Sant’s Mansion on the Hill).

 Afrit by Richard Schertzer

Lets get one thing straight out on the table – the acting in this ain’t wonderful. And even more so, the music is fairly irritating… though it is at least fitting for the film’s ‘gotcha’ tone of grimy Gothic horror silents.

The photography, and the editing for that matter, is consistent, and though one can’t really shelve much of a complaint in its way – there is a comment to be made about the film’s very much expected handling of scenes, all of which feel cookie cut in terms of the ‘conventional ways’ of filming.

Little is done in the way of trying to mix things up here, or show a little bit of uniqueness, and much like Richard Schertzer’s previous effort in this season (Nature, see above), the lack of any sort of real narrative seems to leave much to be desired.

In terms of handling of the genre though, Afrit does a steady job of playing up the horror motifs of what reminded me of the likes of 70’s exploitation films which often opened with those ‘stalker’ scenes.

All in all, much has been left in a bit of a mess here… though, I do want to say this – there is a slightly raw element to this project which hints at a potentially great taste… it just requires Schertzer to go deeper into his own world and create something a little more ‘him’, than simply exercise standard filmic filming modes. Once he drifts into his own world, and provides us with a view point from which we are able to enter it (a unique perspective), then his work will be much more appealing.

Interruptus by Duane Michals

Duane Michals’ Interruptus is a scarecrow of a film. And I mean that it the literal way – its a visceral standing object that gawks at on lookers… or perhaps it is us that gawks at it.

All in all the short is quite well executed, and tastily experimental. Like with Michals’ previous work, there’s a very thin plot here: a woman walks in on (who I presume to be her partner) busy getting it on with another bloke.

At moments the film recalls some sort of porn plot, but it is ultimately a different idea here: the idea of time, duplicity and perhaps the ebbs and flows of how action often cause reaction and so on. At least, that’s how I’ve read it with the double exposure. But it could be more than that, it could actually just be about the act of watching, and then the medium with which we watch… and the eventual filtering and playform digital media provides itself in: cue Instagram and Snapchat rant.

All in all Michals’ has served an impressive little object here, like the scarecrow analogy – the film could stand comfortably in a public space playing on a loop, forever condemning the couples to argue, move and physically respond to the reality of being caught in the warm up act.

 

People Eat People by by Duane Michals

Fantastic moments of duality are explored in People Eat People… and what’s even more refreshing is that Duane Michals’ unexpected drift towards a narrative based form of film here. Even more so, the camera work is often smooth, or at least perspective based, rather than say an observational one (a method he often expresses). Though, I should note – it turns out this film is older than his recent films!

Not that I don’t like his heavy experiments. In fact, I welcome Michals’ work as a constant distraction from the heavy formulated entries our festival often provides.

Not that said formulated films aren’t enjoyable. They are.

But variety is the spice of life.

The film itself concerns a couple, and a letter. Like many love stories found in melodramas from the 1950’s in American cinema, this one has a bitter taste to it to do with infidelity and unhappiness, insecurities, and so on. The film’s short run time keeps it to a very punchy length, and allows for the kaleidoscopic images to cascade to a concluding note of reflection.

One should add a note about the two performers, Whitney Harris and Derek Stratton, who do a great job with delivering the drama, face contortions and agony of their short roles.

Destiny by Vikkramm Chandirramani 

With Destiny we open on Tanya and Richa, who are exchanging romance gossip. It seems Tanya has been keeping her latest love affair secret, but in fact she is simply disinterested in it. Or perhaps she is weighing its value. Her opinion of it all is intertwined with Richa’s questioning… all in all, the opening scene provides a backdrop for the film’s overall arc, which focuses on missed opportunities and online dating.

The greatest strengths of this short film though are mostly its depthful characters, and the actors who provide some stilted realism to them. It is thanks to this solid grounding that the film avoids becoming a cliche rom-com short, and furthermore, and overworked stylisation of one.
The ending of the short becomes somewhat muddled, with the remediation of a wedding video confusingly appearing as a cinematic sequence watched on a laptop screen… which sadly aborted the film’s overall realism. But hey ho – a bit of a cheesy ending never hurt anyone, and this particular flaw isn’t exclusive to Destiny, but is instead very much a present thing in most films made by large studios.

All and all, Vikkramm Chandirramani and his team deliver quite an impressive film, and it is one which has solid footing for a future step – Chandirramani definitely has the makings of a feature film within his characters alone.

 We Need To Talk by Robert L Butler Jr

Robert L Butler Jr’s We Need To Talk is a feisty dramady headed by a fantastic performance by Butler himself.

One though must immediately highlight the film’s somewhat dated feeling – which is mostly provoked by the naughties styled photography of video recording. I don’t know when miniDV became dated, but it truely has entered that retrozone now, and is unavoidably out of style. Regardless of the film’s technological ‘look’, or rather its mechanical exercise of this, the actual imaging isn’t all that bad. Though some lighting, and a few more creative coverage could be exercised. Most of the film is very character focused, placing the camera in these ‘long take’ vantage points.

However, despite my throwing rocks at the film’s look or its technology, I must return to the original remark – this is a solid dramady with a very strong performance by Butler himself. One can’t help but wish to see another project made by him, one which would hopefully see him move away from the safety zones of simplistic theatrical filming to a more cinematic space, in which his work will eventually be elevated to a particular classier level, which he all so obviously deserves!


WINTER 2018


 Holy Spirit (Directed by Mike Baran)

The opening scene of Holy Spirit is quite fantastic, and features an almost Claude Chabrol quality to it – sweeping shots of the countryside expand before us, a car travels heading somewhere, a few dramatic cuts, and a child before the image of Christ. This opening sets the tone of the film. Furthermore, this scenario helps establish the most successful element of Holy Spirit, which is its high polished images: the sequencing of which often build on a strong array of locales, bold iconography, and thematic elements.

There’s also the keen use of sound, which is fantastically balanced between being comically musical, and cleanly delivered dialogue, which thanks to the actors is well textured.

On the flip side though the film seems to lack much of any real emotional depth, this in part due to its handling of comedy and other genre cues, such as thriller and action motifs. Whilst some characters are likable, most aren’t. Furthermore, the film only seems to touch of its contextual set up – often dipping in with a soft touch in order to establish something, but never going into too much detail truly make it authentic. A part of me feels like the film somewhat lacked a tension which would drive the film forwards, one which was more forceful than its pastiche ‘beloved public figure turned killer’ plot.

None of this results in an exception film, nor does it result in a horrible one. Ultimately, Holy Spirit is a well executed film, and is perhaps best understood as an exercise in style over substance – which is completely recommendable.

 The Guitar (Directed by Michael Boston)

For the most part, The Guitar, sails as one of the more polished and strong short film efforts we have seen here at TMBT Film Awards.

The fall though with this short is quite a minor one – excess. There’s an excess in content for a short film in my opinion – too much scale, and too many plots, for this runtime (Boston clearly is gearing up for a feature level now).

And perhaps, the second fault – no offence to Michael Boston with this, but its inability to measure up to, or be of the same flawless delivery of his previous submission to us – Dress Rehearsal.

Here though, unlike Dress Rehearsal, there is a specific dynamic between people. A community of sorts gather around Leo, a thin homeless being with a fantastic musical skill. It is a fantastic dynamic, and shows a real concern and understanding for the growing disassociation society has between those who ‘have’ and those that ‘don’t have’.

Though most of the film’s plot line tends to surround subplots, it is the dynamic between son and father, or perhaps socially comfortable persons and paraniahs – that drives the film’s success. One must add a commendation to Raquel Gallego, whose photography really helps capture a disenchanted locale, and a worn and tattered person in the centre of this landscape.

Michael Boston does here what he did in Dress Rehearsal in essence: he delivers a quality product steeped in a rough urban heart.

 The Somnambulist (Directed by Duane Michals)

Duane Michals is back at it in the surreal powerhouse (we previously saw his glove fetish a few months ago). This time the focus seems to be very much on the circumstance of time, and its passing. An elderly man walks through an apartment opening rooms into metaphorical memories. The film on the surface sounds fairly shallow, but its strongest asset is its form: a steadfast dreamscape of moments intercut, almost like a silent film, overpower the first third of the film.

Here, almost like Ingmar Bergman’s opening for Persona, we are provided with a kaleidoscope of images which recall an earlier primitive form of cinema.

Though the editing of the film tends to be quite stylized to perfection, the budget of this project, as well as its overall execution, seems to lean heavily on the audience being forgiving towards this in lieu of its unusual template.

Where Michals’ previous short presented to us bolstered with a fairly original story, this one doesn’t – the scenes which make up The Somnambulist strongly recall the dream walks of Sophie Barthes’ Cold Souls, as well as the classic Being John Malkovich, but unlike those films, fails at the glossy delivery, or the blatant bold answer to a character’s existence.

Having said all of that, one has to admire Michals’ consistent surreal tone.

 The Radicalization of Jeff Boyd (Directed by Uwe Schwarzwalder)

With a budget of $35,000, Uwe Schwarzwalder has done a great job with The Radicalization of Jeff Boyd. The film feels quite well rounded in terms of consistent image and performance quality, the script too seems to be quite well adjusted to its genre and tone, which slides along as one would hope to see in a production of this calibre. The cast, who carry quite a large array of characters, keep the film’s pace alive, most of whom have a great vocal gusto, which elevates the viewing experience.

The main fault of the film is its photographic style, and its particular choices in terms of frames and editing though, all of which tend to render the film’s style into the look and ‘feel’ of a TV show. This is mostly because of the cookie-cut routine of master and coverage, as well as the all too predictable repetition of particular scenes in terms of their determination: enter character x, x and y talk, y leaves. This isn’t to say that the film isn’t good, in fact – it is in a sort of a way a compliment: Schwarzwalder and his team have managed to produce work at such a consistent level, and with such a consistent vision, that the film itself slips away from any creativity that one would wish for in terms of the cinematic space. To achieve this level of consistency is hard, and quite rare in low budget films.

Overall the experience perhaps feels a tad dated, like a Hong Kong cop film which circulated just before the Hong Kong New Wave, The Radicalization of Jeff Boyd feels as if it belongs to a bygone era of film that no longer really exists in film (and perhaps does in TV). There’s a definite 80’s vibe about the film, be it in terms of its open thought-experiment plot line of politics mixed with social justice, or just the film’s tone and delivery. Overall it is quite satisfactory, and perhaps only looked upon with a harsh eye by those hardcore cinephiles that want more in terms of film style.