Extended Reviews 2020



Am Rande der Zeiten by  Jörg Reichlin

Provincial for the most part, Am Rande der Zeiten carries a certain of charm which is often neglected in indie films – the personal, the introspective journey… it is also the vagabond genre here – the film is a journey to a world we (city folk) don’t get to see often, and more so – the relationship dynamics explored are of a particular locale – they are virtually linked (the conversations via video calls are an echo of the new ‘world’ media forms entering the old ones); and there is the ‘human’ link – the in-person meetings in the dark, by the fire.

Overall – the film carries a solid sense of film technique, but perhaps lacks a sense of genre. It is never quite dramatic enough to be a drama, not intimate enough to be a character-driven film… and clearly not a horror, comedy or science fiction flick.

All in all, from the approach of an art-house palette, Jörg Reichlin does succeed in making one clear defined object: the film is a very cinematic experience. Time and space are largely explored and devoured. And there are many moments to make you chuckle and enjoy the bemusement of the scenario. It is here that the film strives for pleasure, and is by nature successful: the film is a cinematic sweep of ideas, moments and memories formed and forgotten. It is a rich experience that is not one singular thing, but multiple entities… like perhaps, the feelings and experiences of its lead poet.

The Eve by Luca Machnich

The Eve has a particular ‘classic’ feeling to it. The film excels on its design properties: slick photography, skilled editing, and a consistent corny tone.

Also, the mise en scene is well organized. Almost like something Wes Anderson would have thrown together…

Overall, The Eve has a certain sort of ‘ageless’ pre-digital feeling. The plot is quite simplistic – a fantastical take on Christmas. I’m surprised that it hasn’t (from what I know) been expanded into a feature. The short feels like a successful nod towards the expansion. It is, after all, a very well-executed short film. Unlike most short films, with The Eve – you can see the money that was spent… though, I should add at this point, that I am personally shocked that the short film cost as much as it did.

Family minded, the film has a very solid festival-friendly approach to its content… something which is greatly exemplified by the fact that it is from 2015, and has over in the last six years collected a total of 499 awards.

As a fun viewing experience, and one which has now tipped closer to ten years of age instead of zero… I guess all one can say is ‘it is worth your time’ and deserves to be watched.

CHAMP 5 by Paul Gatto, David Jester, Kathleen Strouse

From the small communities to the grand victories, Champ 5 has a fantastically ‘old school’ tale to tell. Now, to be clear – by ‘old school’ I am not actually referring to the charming gang of golden age interviewees… but rather, the style of the film. It is rare these days to find documentaries on bygone subjects that take great care in finding the character within the landscape from which it comes from, but also framing it within the context of the ‘personal’. At least, to me – it feels as if we have entered a new age of consumption when it comes to documentary-style video… those Facebook scroll videos of ‘famous person do this, or quaint person does that… someone has a hobby you will find interesting…’ – rarely do these videos contain the individual really… they instead, in the worst way possible, have a simplified individual framed within a sort of quirky space. That is not what CHAMP 5 provides, and that is why CHAMP 5 is eh champion!

Humanist elements aside, the film carries a great understanding of the key technical elements of filmmaking. The pace is never compromised, and the photography is well balanced with a tight edit. If anything – CHAMP 5 could be expanded to a feature…. but that’s a tale for another day.

Overall, the intimate tales of these individuals, framed within the carefully designed documentary, which captures the bygone era mostly through memorabilia and the ‘persons’ telling the tales, helps solidify the film as almost a kind of time capsule. Not a capsule of the past, but rather of these individuals’ recollections of the past.

Ultimately the film is intimate, personal and above all memorable.

The Colour of Spring by Paul Andrew Kimball

Alexa Morden’s performance in The Colour of Spring is actually quite a fantastic thing… and I start this review highlighting it with particular reason – indie films rarely suffer from a sort of ‘clash’ when it comes to casting, because really – they often just don’t have many good actors. Morden is one of these… and in fact, perhaps to the film’s disadvantage… because, with her opening scenes we are linked to her… but then, when Jamie Muscato appears, the film shifts in tone and gravitates to him. In reality – both of these performers have done a great job here, and so has Paul Andrew Kimball – a director who has clearly reached that ‘top’ range of indie work.

It is, however, from a distance – and from my own opinion, that Muscato and Kimball are on a level entirely their own making. There’s a sort of spark that goes off when we are fixed on Muscato. When he is bored of listening to someone else on the screen or is waiting for another actor to perform one of their threatening rants… the film of clings on him. This is again, not to say his peers are not up to scratch, but perhaps to highlight that this pairing of director and actor seems to be that ‘elevated’ dynamic that usually only occurs at the higher budget end of the industry – I’m talking about the Depp/Burton and Wahlberg/Berg pairings (there are many).

OK, so casting rant over.

This film is shot in a beautiful black and white palette. It has that almost European feel of the grand filmmakers of the past (Godard, Bergman… even perhaps a hint of that Woody Allen moment: Stardust Memories and Shadows and Fog). Long story short: This is a prime cut of indie filmmaking. It should be admired, and encouraged… can we please have some more sir?!

Paradox by Diego Cowks

The fundamentals of filmmaking are greatly explored in Paradox – there is an acute awareness for sound, colour, edit, shot composition, the effect of sequence building and so on. Overall, it carries itself as a very well rounded project and has a very specific genre flavour – which is something many indie films tend to miss.

The hiccups are simple: the film relies too much on its overly digital ending. The setup, which recalls a sort of House of Wax vibe is quickly thrown out in lieu of a digital nightmare… Black Mirror, and its sister films and TV shows, have clearly over infused our current aesthetical style, and Paradox, paradoxically, provides that reality in just a short film.

The upsides are even simpler: fun self-awareness, strong performances, and a strong sense of efficiency – with a short run time of just four minutes, Paradox is like a speedy bag of sweets… likewise, the project is consistent quality throughout the entirety of the film… again, this is something indie films often stumble on. All in all – Paradox is a sour and sweet bitter infused delight. Get crunching!


Regular Reviews:

In Place of my Thumb by Joseph Lawson 

Taking stand up monologues into the digital era, Lawson tries to do something that’s quite hard to do – make something very singular, very performative, work in the cinematic space. In truth, the result is a real mixed bag… a part of me recalls Sally Potter’s Rage here – it has that sort of similar post-modern feeling to it. But also, it doesn’t have the boredom of Rage… instead, it has something else – a flatness. This isn’t a cinematic story.

The personalities on show are the greatest strength. Lawson really knows how to deliver the comedic roles in a mix bag variety of low budget scenarios with wigs and different backdrops. It isn’t like your standard Youtube clip though… there is a sense of a more personal story here, something a little more intimate than a Youtube channel rant.

Bottom line – this film is very insular and singular. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing… but it is very restrictive in terms of its scope of what it offers an audience, as well as what it offers the creators behind it. At the end of the day though one highlight is true – Lawson is quite a showman, and it feels like a fantastic effort to show off his acting abilities all on his lonesome.

Expedited Reviews:

The Jersey Connection: S2 Premiere by Tim Firtion

I am writing this review before we’ve started the judging process of this month… and I say that as a keen side note – as I’m being proactive and forward-thinking for a change. But it also comes with this side remark and is one that I hope Tim Firtion takes as the compliment it is intended to be… Peter Greene’s performance in this episode of The Jersey Connection is just brilliant… and when our jury does get to the stage of making their nominations for our current cycle, I will be insisting on them to consider Greene’s performance as almost essential. It is bold, it is better than any acting I’ve seen in a web series (that memory can recall) and it is played brilliantly opposite Greene’s co-star, Dairius Elliott – who is level headed, striking and engaging.
Right, some more details – the show is gritty… and the photography matches this tone brilliantly. There is a feeling that this is a ‘live or die’ scenario, and it is further punctured by the harshness of the image, the almost CCTV digitalisation of it all. There’s basically a lot of texture.
The two handler that this episode is is quite delicious might I add. It is rare that web series bring focus to performance and minimalism, and even more rare that they rely so heavily on actors to carry the content. There’s no genre mishap here, it is pure pulp.


Married and Loving It! by Ryan McDonald

The greatest strength of Married and Loving It! is perhaps its balancing act of camera whip setups and the constant attacking performances. Overall, the film’s design – which allows for these constant confrontations, both in the technical side of the film’s camera movements and the personas in the text, is a particular shape of American cinema which remains mostly untapped by the micro-budget world.

The highlights: the script, the cast that really pulls through for the writer’s main objective: people living together, through good or bad… the slight downside: too much of the same thing happens in this feature. There’s shouting, there are couples on edge and there’s us – the witness of the whole attack. It feels like a constant loop of the same scenes at times.

The real take away of Married and Loving It! though is the forefront presentation of a bold dramatist. With more ‘filmic’ scenes, and less theatrics, this sort of filmmaker would be bound to make a very moving and captivating drama… but for now, this is more Sidewalks of New York, and less She’s the One (excuse the Edward Burns comparison, but he is great).

It’s Here by Michael Davis

Davis brings his own flavour of the creature feature in this delightful short. The performances here, which really are quite key in terms of the ‘selling’ of the idea and world are brilliantly on point. Also, one should note that the performances are slightly enhanced by the fact that they are remote and on a video chat system… a remark I wouldn’t dare make for most of these quarantine shorts, which are more hindered than improved by the conditions of self-isolation filming.

The creature feature itself – well, the core concept is quite fun. There’s a taste of The Ring here, and even a kind of throwback to the urban haunting horror… those kinds that really had their key moment in the mid-90-s until the early 2000s… so, really, in a long-winded fashion I am saying: it is great to see this retired version of the subgenre, and Davis does this sort of film’s style brilliantly.

Perhaps, the only real complaint one has is the length… there’s plenty of room here to expand the story, and to add more to it. It is an exciting concept and has a simple but very effective tone. The film itself is so very consistent in quality that in truth there’s not much to say.


Regular Reviews:

Duck Egg Blue by Margaret Kane-Rowe

The script is punchy, the photography is well designed and often slick, and the whole thing feels like a great device for a very skilled cast – the lead, played by Colin Walsh, is a complete scene-stealer. It’s mainly thanks to his emotional level of being both present and trauma filled. One should actually note Maureen O’Connell’s performance as well, something our fest judges failed to acknowledge. O’Connell is quite comical and sharp – she’d make a fantastic lead for a feature film, a sort of like Maggie Gyllenhaal character film (at least in my eyes).
Overall though, the film has a great tone. It’s consistent, engaging and emotionally divisive – characters (or the actors rather) live in their moments, all of which appear part of a ‘world’ rather than be an artifice where actors puppet their way through the script. All in all – it’s something which shorts often fail to pull off.

Prize Board by Chris Bowers

Prize Board has a certain ‘Welcome to Me’ vibe about it. Which is great really, as I think very few films have dealt with the nature of reality TV in a comical way… which is strange really, as reality TV is a genre that is ripe for parody, comedy and self-aware narratives.
My only gripe with this project? – it’s perhaps a bit fatty. The plot loses its punch with repetition and the boldness of the concept wears off with overly-detailed-steps… but, I should add, that is perhaps more of a comment than a complaint. As, the film could make quite a great shorter short, or perhaps a more robust film (ie feature)? – it sort of sits between the two right now and struggles to maintain itself as either.
The cast seems game for the laugh, and though some of the CGI is at times not convincing, its also part of its self-aware charm, like an SNL skit you can sit back and giggle at. All in all, Prize Board is winner of the post-reality or hyper-real world we now inhabit with game shows, reality TV and comedy skits all mixed together.

Beneath by JJ Perez

JJ Perez does a great job here at balancing the coming of age genre with the horror genre. It’s got a fantastic use of locations, its ensemble cast (which at times makes me feel like we’re watching one of those Stephen King adaptations) and also, perhaps most importantly, budget. Overall, the film could have done with more money – but that’s not a complaint, but just a plain compliment – there’s clearly talent on board here both in the cast, the crew and the general atmosphere to be had with this project. Like, imagine this as a Netflix teen film – it would be watched by the thousands and enjoyed appropriately.
Overall, my only complaint beyond the budgeting might be that the film could have turned up the creativity. Like, we could have less-generic plotting, and less generic camera angles… but, again, some of these things I acknowledge are budget-related, as locations are sparse and master & coverage means you’ve got what you need in the bag.
My biggest compliment I can make – I’d have been quite satisfied with myself if I’d made this film. So, bravo to all involved!
PS. actually, upon revisiting this film, I have to say – this is quite a great ensemble of actors, especially the youngsters, who seem really to put both feet in and do all they can to make it seem real.

Expedited Reviews:

The Confined by Christopher Picone
With a sort of American Horror Story – Season 2 vibe about it, this ‘return to the institution of horror’ horror contains the simple elements for a really solid basic premise. The performances featured, the lead three that is, do somewhat lean towards this… they clash, they bicker, but they are also bubbly and prone to being very entertaining. …but this short does also have its major flaw that trips up the entire confined plot – the projected image is not believable. All in all the short film’s tension gives way when the reality slips up and causes the film to trip over itself. For what it is worth, shy of the digital projection snafu, I’d rate this as quite a solid horror film. The opening titles are cheesy (in the best of ways) and the location is spot on.

The Magic Watch by Richard Schertzer
With The Magic Watch, Schertzer revives the black and white stills of La Jetée. Both are confined to their worlds – one a 1962 sci fi post-war mirror, the other a kind of urban hangout of concrete and social interactions. Whilst La Jetée speaks of time, space and the impact of mankind’s carnage, Schertzer’s film talks of civilisation, congregation and order. Both films thrive on the mechanisms of film as an artefact that can be manipulated through careful editing… though, The Magic Watch is more intriguing here, and less romantic that the older and more classical La Jetée.

Bubble by Richard Schertzer
Simple, and very reminiscent of The Red Baloon (1956), this film derives simple pleasure from the idea of sight, sound and movement. The flaw of course, and perhaps the only one that can really be felt is this – the bubble never looks real, and of course – The Red Baloon’s charm did include that one finite element of pre-CGI cinema: ‘how did they shoot this?’ Bubble is a fun one minute of joy, and reminds its viewers of the importance of observing simple and singular ‘events’ within the world we inhabit.