extended 2018 reviews


SPRING 2018 (updating)


 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.