Extended Reviews 2019


SUMMER 2019

 Anywhere Is Here by Ian Lettire

Anywhere is Here has a great look to it. For one, the flashbacks are carefully blurred, and the ‘present’ action, carries a great sense of realism through their digital dithering and textured pixelisation. It is, aesthetically, a very pleasing film, one which carries a great sense of consistency and filmic language, though not too stylised or excessive.

Likewise, the casting of the film, and the script for that matter, often underplays the project’s concepts. It is a minimalist film, one that attempts to make the most of what it has… all the while, doing its best to avoid any sense of overreaching and exposing what it ‘doesn’t have’.

All in all, quite believable and enjoyable… shy of the project’s biggest flaw – the shoot out. Though this is done with a great understanding of matting techniques and the digital layering of particular practical effects, there’s a real sense that this sequence is a little out of place, a little too ‘brash’ for the film’s established sense of stillness and ‘classical’ Hollywood shots (Master and coverage). The action here, which includes a sniper, is too fast and too wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. It’s a small dent though, in what is otherwise a nicely decked and polished vehicle.

As the old saying goes: Thank you, more please.

 ἀλήθεια by Thotti Cardoso

So I do have a bit of an axe to grind with this film. It isn’t anything to do with its whacko content… no, because that is the highlight really… but the issue I have is quite big – polish. Regardless of the budget, the scale or even approach, the film suffers at the hands of no self-control when it comes to polish. The titles – shabby. That gun – sharpie. That ceiling lighting – too simple. And that’s it really.

The film does hit some great moments, mostly for its evocative nutso images – the surreal type that recalls early Tarsem films, like The Cell. Only, the plot doesn’t really carry these ideas through to anything too meaningful (unlike The Cell, which ruins viewers with artful moments stored in a horror chiller box).

The composition, of the scenes, is often the strongest arm in this project – there is a sense of an artist here. The position of the camera is often imaginative, and exciting.

Overall – a bit of a mixed bag. Some strong elements, and ones that, in the right plot, would make for a very unique and bold film style.

 Don’t Tell Father by Jimmy J. Carter

Photographically speaking, Don’t Tell Father is one of the strongest entries we had this season. And, had it been entered into competition, we would have probably given it a few awards.

With its golden hues and dusty textures, all I keep thinking about is The King of the Hill. A great, but so underappreciated, a feature film made by Steven Soderbergh in ’93. Like Soderbergh’s film, Don’t Tell Father has a ‘bygone’ but very modern feeling. Soderbergh’s film was obviously a period piece but had mechanisms in it which made it a very ‘modern’ cinema film… and the same, almost in reverse, occurs here – Don’t Tell Father is a very classical film in terms of its design, but also a very modern story. Heck – there’s a whiff of that ‘classical’ Eastwood direction here… or Frank Capra. Something slick, but hearty.

As you can tell, the film is quite robust… and appreciated by this reviewer. The largest highlight, beyond its overall technical strengths (which include a very solid ensemble) is Daniel Fitzgerald, whose performance sort of really hones in the whole thing… he is the heart of the project.

All in all – just plain superb. I wish I’d had made this film – and compliments don’t come better than that.

 Charlie by Jacqueline Kerr

Here in the UK we have a sort of phone advert (I think it is for a phone service – if I am wrong, well then the ad doesn’t work), which is about a white sheet ghost hosting a party. I always liked this ad, and I liked it for the same reason that I like Charlie. It has nothing to do with the white sheet, but rather the narrative which has been built around the quiet character of the afterlife.

However, whilst dabbling on this ad, one has to note one distinct reason Charlie is better than a multimillion advert. The ad is shallow, and Charlie does, with its ending, hint at the idea of death ‘growing around us’. It isn’t seen, or even heard really, but in this little short film… Charlie makes a friend with another ‘dead one’, and as a viewer – and the thought that occurred to me was that Charlie had to wait for another to join him on this same ‘plane’.

Well, whether this philosophical thought was intentional or not by the filmmaker, it has a way of making the short film seem more weighted and more impactful. It is suddenly sad, despite being comical with its sheeted actors. It is, along with this narrative, quirky in design, and reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s light quicky touches… but it is done in a way that isn’t ‘in homage’, but is rather quite classy and slick and its own thing. Bravo!


 

SPRING 2019

 July 15th by Kristian Comer

Considering how much of this film is dialogue, the persistence of keeping it silent is somewhat perplexing, especially given the sheer loss of performance value within the actors, all of whom seem to be doing a fine job expressively through their dialogue.

Given this is a silent, one that simply subtitles without intertitles, a viewer is somewhat thrown into a weird modern/old confliction. The film is neither new – as it is using the medium of the old, but then it isn’t a reproduction of the old style. So, it just generally feels a tad bit confusing.

All of this aside, the music is quite nice. And the edit keeps a nice pace throughout the whole project. I guess, when all things are said and done, the project lacks a clear sense of style, but not tone.

Perhaps with the next project, Comer could explore either an outright pastiche silent or a more modern film style… rather than mix the two together in a confusing fashion.

 The Alliance 2019 Robert L Butler

There’s a hell of a lot of lighting snags in The Alliance. A lot of the film feels poorly lit, or rather – cheaply shot with wides that just cover a space that’s using ‘natural’ lighting… though, not in the same way some cinematographer use natural light. The camera in this is never placed in a position to be advantageous towards the light source. Because of this, it often feels very TV like and uncinematic. It is a room that requires some improving on.

And there’s the edit. It’s style changes. Sometimes its quick, other times it’s indirect and a little generous with the time spent on certain points of focus.

However, that double kick in the teeth aside, this is a very fun project. It’s well written, and there’s a genuine sense of the ensemble characters at play here. They keep it going. There’s also a feeling that the locales are quite ‘real’, and that the film is placed in some sort of filmic world.

For all of its issues on the technical side, most of which are budget related, The Alliance is a great starting project. One can feel as if this is headed somewhere. Or that the people at hand are heading somewhere… basically, it is a great little indie film that shows promise of future projects with more technique. Plenty of heart here though.

 Darkus Buckerbergius by Schikhur

Is it a comedy? I’m not sure. Is it a farce? I’m not sure. Is it a political drama with a surrealist twist to get the message across? Not sure.

Darkus is a strange little short. In fact, I wouldn’t have been too surprised if the whole thing had been turned up a notch. Had rock music blasting and strange looped editing that would have further fizzled and made the film seem organic and dangerous.

Bottom line is this – the film’s technique is good, and the acting and script were fun to observe. There was a feeling that this was the product of a single artist, and that this was their vision. That’s a refreshing thing here, especially with most short films being quite generic in terms of their subject choices and filming styles.

At the end of the day, this isn’t the best film… but it is at least one made with a genuine original grain in it… and that element is massively recommended to all!

 An Auspicious Effort by Deniz Uymaz

An Auspicious Effort is one of the best short films I’ve seen this year.

Its photography is delicious. It is aware of its locale, and in such a way that it is more than just an exotic locale… it is home, and it is a danger and peace for its characters. The town is to a degree, like its community, a breathing part of the film. We feel it, the heat and the atmosphere. The sound is crisp, but also dynamic enough to provide a sense of texture and reality. There’s a great sense of weight to these things.

The performances, the script, the direction and the overall tone, which is maintained very well for the entire length of this short, are just superb.

This is basically just grand.

As the old saying goes – Thank you, more, please!

 Shadow In The Mirror by Ron Foley Macdonald

Ron Foley Macdonald writes and directs Shadow In The Mirror – an eerie, self-contained, isolating, creepy, snowy, strange and wonderful thriller.

There are windows. They look out, but we are looking in. The house looks warm, but one can’t help and wonder – is it?

Sandesh Motwani steals the show. She’s got this great energy about her. Her work is dynamic and well timed. And so is Macdonald, whose film seems entirely encapsulated with her. In fact, one can’t help but feel that perhaps the two are intertwined – that they are as equally sharp and tone sensitive as each other. Together, this little dance of danger is fulfilling and very enjoyable as a viewing experience.

I kept thinking of Atom Egoyan whilst watching this film. That’s a massive compliment coming from me. The Canadian auteur is often overlooked, and his style – which often is built around a sort of post-Lynch Lynch narrative device of mystery and chaos a memory and calm spaces is quite fantastic. Shadow In The Mirror has a taste of this – it is a sort of experiment in terms of minimalism, as well as a dark and intrusive film that focuses on isolation, individuals in the harsher outskirts of non-city life, and the psychology of these varying elements.

The only small remark I have that isn’t positive is this: the film, with its edgy narrative and idea, didn’t seem to let its style get out of control. We never really felt the tone shift into something more than what it established.

This is at the end of the day a very competent film, and quite recommendable… and bound to be followed with more edgy and enticing projects from Macdonald, who has a great eye for detail, textures and tones.

 Is Love Enough? by Eric Weber

Allison Broucek carries Is Love Enough?. I mean, there’s also the nice music, and the odd interesting shot. The makeup is also quite noticeable, mainly for the ‘black lip’ effect, which is rare in films.

Overall though, the short doesn’t seem to carry much polish in its mindset, which forces one’s viewing experience to highlight the lack of detail. For one, there’s the shaky wobbly camera work. It neither contains handheld footage (ie. an intentional motion of ‘looking’), nor does it contain any sense of real stillness from which the movements arise. Instead, it just sort of wobbles .

Likewise, the insertion of the daydreaming shot of Garrett Thierry contains a real lack of attention to detail – I mean, man… why oh why would you just screengrab his IMDb Pro account and pretend that the IMDb Pro logo is part of your intended visuals?!
– I somewhat doubt IMDb cares, but copyright alone becomes complex at this junction, not to mention that as a viewer, the idea of realism is completely lost through this poorly edited graphic.

The film as a whole is quite unsatisfactory. It is hard to get over the lack of detail. It feels as if the team behind this project rushed the basics, and spent too much time on the wide strokes of just shooting the project.

The positives – the characters and their interactions as a whole were interesting, and with a little more care, the next project might be delightful.

 anexperimentalviralvlog – the movie remix # ! by Vasco Diogo

Vasco Diogo is mad. In the best of ways. This vlog, which he claims is remixed is well, edited into madness. Absolute madness.
There is a chorus and a sort of weird echo through this whole thing. It is best described as a meditation on lunacy or dreams or whatever. It is barmy!

The actual performance elements of this vlog, the score and art direction (both of which really highlights the sense of a retro art house cinema), tend to remind me of the Danish poet Jørgen Leth, who famously shot Andy Warhol eating a hamburger 1982. It is this, Diogo’s performance, which is the best part of the project, and is the true highlight.

I’d struggle to describe this as something one should share. It is hard for me to interpret if this was just experimentation set around video form or perhaps a joke about vlogs.

It is, nonetheless, very strange.

 It’s Over by Salena Katiyar

Salena Katiyar’s bittersweet short is well… I want to say a rom-com style, but it actually like a very flat comedy with a romantic drama element. But it is shot with a rom-com look. There is a glossy image and a simple pattern of master and coverage. These two parts clash, for better or worse. As for the script, in an almost contradictory sense, is a potboiler. All these parts clash but also come together in a cohesive skit routine. All in all, there’s a whiff of Roy Anderson’s uncomfortable comedy here; as well as that very English stiff lip comedy. It’s brash with its atmosphere in the best of ways… and well, comedically satisfying (not dramatically).

The performances, like the script, are edgy for the genre type. Hayley-Marie Axe is especially great. And well, Gary Beardsmore’s Alex, with his eat-friendly ending, is quite humorous. The other supporting parts help fill in the gaps, but could have been more comedic or at least more ‘arc’ driven (they don’t seem to have much going on shy of acting as part of the scenario).

All in all this is a great little skit of a short, but it could do with more texture to elevate itself above the average joe shorts.

WINTER 2019

 The Perfect Murder by Vikkramm Chandirramani

The Perfect Murder, though a drama, carries a great comedic punchline. We, as viewers, are lead to believe that this struggling actor has found himself in a sticky situation with his wife and his fling. The whole narrative, built on this idea of someone who has indulged a little too much of course, is brought to a complete simmer with the film’s concluding moment – how the perfect murder is pulled off.

This aside, the film is quite well delivered. The photography has a few moments of great beauty and the two lead actresses seem to be playing off each other (even though their screen time is apart). As a cinephile, I have to immediately draw a comparison here with the duality of the lead female performances with the 1977 masterpiece That Obscure Object of Desire. Vikkramm Chandirramani does a great job here of creating a similar feeling to Luis Buñuel’s film.

The film’s strongest suit is in its overall arc, and the ability it has to polish off its qualities with slight self-awareness to its understanding of being a drama that contains comedy. The only improvements one can make beyond this is to improve on the overall style of the project and allow a cinematic language to further develop and shape the content at hand.

All in all, this is a great fun project – and a film worthy of a viewing!

 Roadside Assistance by Ali Matlock

Roadside Assistance comes with a certain ‘unpacking’ quality. I say this in the sense of how a film, or any work of art, has the ability to extend itself beyond its casual linear context. In this case, there’s the obvious gritty plot (your usual horror ‘encounter’ premise), and then, along with this, the film comes loaded with a variety of extensive tools – the mode of survival, the role of survival and of course, the social and economic context of survival.

In this little short film, we are provided with the relatable couple, the usual ‘on the road’ duo. But their pairing, which is thrown into conflict within this journey and their interactions with a stranger, evokes a certain lamentation over death, and the fight to escape mortality.

The film’s overall grasp of its technical aspects is all moderately placed within the film’s handling of the budget. The photography, editing and design are comfortably sharp and well attuned to the audience’s desires. I’d love to see Ali Matlock make a feature film, one with a bigger budget. He carries a great sense of style, and there’s no denying that he would make a great genre director.

I could in fact, histrionics aside, see Matlock and his team as one of the Dark Castle Entertainment horror film production teams who once helmed the genre in the 2000’s. Their work here, with its almost modern-Gothic feeling, feels equal to those film titles.

 Blackbetty by Marco North

Blackbetty should have been entered into our competition – why? Because it would have lapped up some noms and even a few wins. Well, at least this is my opinion.

The project comes packed with some forceful and impressively designed shots. Often these images are high in contrast and boldly done. Along with this, there is a real sense of the locale and space which the project inhabits, both on-screen (the actual places it is set within) and off-screen (the psychological rendering of daydreaming, cinematographic spaces and our placement within these). These elements, in totality, have a fine balance of how cinematic storytelling works, and how the edit can be used to enhance this further.

The music and acting are fairly consistent, and likewise, the script seems to tread a comfortable understanding of itself, as well as the exploration of the project’s themes and overall idea of movement (mainly explored through the project’s shifting locales, the pivotal character of each narrative, and the splicing of these things together).

My only gripe – and it is one that many will read and stammer over, is that this actually felt more like a film than a web series or new media video project. And because the project’s form is the latter two, and not the former, I can’t help but feel that it didn’t live up to its own fantastic qualities. But, please note – I am a snob. A total film snob.

PS. Fantastic opening credits. Can other web series have credits like these please?!

 Old Girls on The Road by Tracey Walker

The fantastic charm of Old Girls The Road is served up quite fantastically within this single episode – Ms. January.

The presenters, both of whom carry a certain energy and passion for their subject, narrate and carry the show predominantly. Despite the guests and the cars, the ‘real’ show is the hosts. They have a great world view and hunger to share it with us (the viewers), and furthermore – the age difference between the duo makes for some fun interaction in a sense of a character clash which isn’t competitive, but rather engaging and fun.

The photography varies its qualities, but overall captures the talent within a fantastic sense of speed and framing (in the sense of how it is collated together), and the music tends to simply enhance this further – acting more as a lubricant than a solo piece (not a complaint might I add). These two elements could be a little slicker really. But it isn’t a real axe to grind either.

The best part of the show though (shy of the presenters, as discussed above) is the combination of its edit, and the varied locales. There is a real sense that the subject matter at hand, and the journeys undertaken by this documentary team, who are bringing something to the screen we haven’t seen before (ie – this isn’t some slappy macho car show). It is something fun, fresh and well edited. It’s fast, slick – but also tonal, and has a real sense of what makes itself enjoyable and when one needs to move on.

All in all – just fantastic really!

 Jesus Rides A Harley by Michael Boston

With Jesus Rides A Harley, Michael Boston delivers a knockout combination of a comedic ensemble, and well – his own lead performance as this sort of wonderboy miracle spinner!

The film’s structuring, which is greatly enhanced by a rule-breaking plot, shifts its core focus of what is presumably a romantic comedy into a surreal fantasy like a comedic voyage. It smells a bit like a John Hughes high school film in this sense, whereby the encapsulated genre and presentation are actually just a fantastic character study that includes some heartwarming messages and overall showstopping set pieces.

The only real flaw here is the cinematography, which is paired with its editing. Both at times feels a bit at odds with the content, often flexing their technical muscles in the wrong direction (the edit a tad fatty, and the cinematography featuring some fancy throwaway moments that feel more dramatic than comedic).

Issues aside (as they are minor remarks), this is yet another fantastic effort from a team that have delivered time and time again. It is a real joy to see Mr. Boston and his teams work on an on-going basis. And one can only wish that he’d get a chance at making a feature film… one that contains some of his stable characters, insights into the human pysche and textured locales.

 Yort by Duane Michals

With a sort of Guy Maddin by way of digital distortion, comes another wild adventure from Duane Michals – Yort!

What a delightful magic lantern styled presentation. For one, we have the circular frame, which is in itself an underappreciated film form, which Michals fully utilises to evoke a real sense of nostalgia and format. This is further enhanced by the post-production effects, which distort the film’s colours, its opacity and overlay. Furthermore, the film’s adventurous journey is used as a sort of backdrop to a series of homemade locales and some ‘slight of hand’ puppeteering.

The film’s only real core is its lack of a character, though it gasps full of energy and caricatures within its mirror of wild distorted attractions.

 You or Me by Yana Zinov

The core mechanics of You or Me is its concept of duplicity – a fine trick for low scale short films, and a fantastic tool with which to minimalise a film’s overall expenses and production conflicts.

The technical tools at hand though, these being the overall stylistic and operational choices made by director Yana Zinov, seem to be an odd balancing act of style and overindulgent delivery. There is a great sense of space, and more so of a stylistic vision, but it rarely seems to veer into a cinematic realm, often finding a comfort amongst the simple TV style of master and coverage rather than something more unusual and ‘edgy’.

This isn’t to say that the film isn’t well made – it is, and very consistently so… but it often lacks a feeling of being richer than the content at hand: an unwanted guest invading one’s personal space, psyche and life.

In a vague sense, the film is a very confident piece, and one which seems to elevate above the average short film produced… however, in a sort of self-aware motto – the film never steps too far away from its core concept of being a combination of two staged performances combined as one with a psychological twist. In a sense, we’ve seen this before… though, perhaps, it has never been done with such a glamorous location or chutzpah since Fight Club.

 Abra Cadaver by Duane Michals

Duane Michals’ is back with a mystery box this time – Abra Cadaver. It is perhaps one of the most bizarre shorts we’ve ever had, mainly because it is so self-aware that one almost feels like the film is a joke of itself than in itself. But it is also mighty creative and has a feeling of the bygone – a celebration of past time practices of magic, gatherings of magic, and well, the showmanship of the 20th century.

The main premise seems to revolve around a gathering of magicians, or performers (one has to consider the magic show as a bit of a farce really), who have a series of ‘deaths’ occur. The whole thing is a bit of a ‘slight of hand’, though not so much in terms of the magical practices, but rather that of cinema itself. The theatrical presentation, headed by Michals himself, is brought forward by the idea of him as a sort of host for the film. The kind of eyeglass that moves through space and somehow is incorporated into all of the drama and mysticism.

The only real flaw of the film is the film technique. Little care is given to the style of filming, and the photography at times veers off into that early digital look of the 2000’s, rather than say the current decade. Though of course, with such an experimental subject matter, digital ‘looks’ become a part of the style, and are perhaps intentionally flat in lighting and a bit staged.

All in all, as ever, Michals’ work here is at the very least intriguing, and memorable. I’m still not sure what it is that we’ve seen… but it is a delight just the same.

 The Little Chapel by Richard Schertzer

Richard Schertzer’s The Little Chapel is a short horror delight. First off, the short has this fantastic establishment of the old chapel – it’s presentation is made within a series of opening montage shots with the credits, all of which seem to hint at that B-Movie base, one which is further enhanced by the film’s simplistic ‘gotcha’ plot. Overall, the film’s eerie locale and the way with which it is captured is the strong suit of the production overall.

The minor hiccup that really hits The Little Chapel is its lack of plot, or perhaps, the impact of what it has plot-wise. The chapel as a cage is a fantastic idea, especially considering the stigma dogmatic practices can evoke in people and societies, but all of that is ignored in terms of opportunities here… and the simple supernatural building plays out instead, or does? The film ends as a sort of punchline to its own genre, so – I guess to a degree the film might be in itself a sort of parody of horror films, rather than say a pastiche of one. The confusion around this, and what the film is trying to say is somewhat embedded in the film’s plot. In terms of beats, more time is given to credits than the film’s dialogue, character or purpose.

Overall this film is a micro short, and one that can be enjoyed as such. With a bit more wit and atmosphere, it would serve as either a fantastic premise for something that Funny or Die would make, or perhaps a Crypt TV production.