Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Briefly - Le Fear II: Le Sequel

After creating a movie about a particularly bad filmmaker making particularly bad films in the 2010 production Le Fear, writer-director (and sometimes actor) Jason Croot brings back the character of Carlos Revalos for Le Fear II: Le Sequel, a low budget comedy/mocumentary/movie-within-a-movie effort to be released in 2015.

Carlos (Kyri Saphiris) falls for a pitch from his executive producer and ends up putting a substantial sum of his own money into the horror film they will be making. Revalos is a kind of reverse Ed Wood - he too makes crap but at least he knows when things are going wrong and will come out like shit. The flick he's working on turns out to be quite the international effort; the producer on set (actually, there isn't a set as promised...only a van) turns out to be a Nollywood import with a bargain-basement attitude. Mixed in with Brit, French and, eventually, Japanese talent, the production hardly has world harmony going for it. The special effects person provides offerings that are anything but special; the make-up person goes into heat and wants to have sex with just about anyone she comes in contact with; the French actress gets fed up with the chaos and is replaced by an oriental substitute who really can't speak English, and so on...

At one point a frustrated Carlos thinks out loud that he might just take the material he has and at least get a short out of it. Some watching Le Fear II: Le Sequel may think that would have been a good option for Croot's feature. The film has a talented cast trying to handle what appears to be an entirely ad-libbed effort but the same kind of scenes are played out endlessly. "ACTION!"... (something goes wrong) ..."CUT!" ... (curse) ... (argue) ... (despair) ... (rinse) ... (repeat) ... get the picture? The fact the characters come across as too predictable and stereotypical also doesn't help.

Le Fear II: Le Sequel will hold some entertainment value for those of us who have been on film productions of various scales who know only too well that what can go wrong will. And there is a certain build of interest that comes from wondering how the Carlos character will try to overcome all the obstacles. But for many viewers, the entertainment value of this effort will not be regarded as impressive. And certain folks could be uncomfortable with the way the Nollywood contingent are portrayed.

Still, if nothing else, Croot is determined. He already has plans for additional Le Fear/Revalos sequel efforts. Perhaps that perseverance will pay off if it meets up with a little more originality and inspiration.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Jerry, We Hardly Knew Thee...Or Your Friends

The Film::
Jerry (2014)

The under-the-radar factor
First production by the fledgling DreamStreet Movies production company is a micro-budget comedy/drama/romance effort peddled via streaming and downloading options available at their website.

The review:

If there was ever a group of individuals who seemed to have a destiny to be fulfilled by one day making indie feature films, it's the gang at DreamStreet. The Rock clan - that would be Alexander, Melody, and Daniel - teamed up with Brandon Ballard, Max Fox, and Josh Tichauer to form a company with that goal in mind. Backed up by the accomplishments of its various members in short narrative, documentary, instructional, and corporate projects, as well as film studies and acting classes, DreamStreet members also honed the versatility to wear many hats in the production of their first feature. Melody Rock, Max Fox, and Alexander Rock are credited as co-directors, each helming sequences while the other two would assume various other production duties as needed.

Jerry (Daniel Rock) makes the long drive into suburban Vegas to house-sit for a friend and take a summer break from his law studies, for which he has another year to go. A job as a night clerk at a legal firm opens up, where he gets to spend evenings with the ultimate misanthropic curmudgeon Richmond (Alex Rock), a character the out-of-towner doesn't mind badgering. Otherwise, things are mundane in Jerry's waking hours until he finds an eleven year old kid lying outside of the house that's being looked after. This loner loser Steven (Steven Mihranian) insists that he's fallen and injured his leg - weaseling his way into the house, he then begins to intrude into other aspects of Jerry's life. The kid's insistence that a game of catch in the park is just what the exhausted law student wants leads to what seems to be a chance encounter with a young woman walking her leashed cat (seriously). While it's obvious that Jerry finds Rachel (Katie Frey) attractive, it's up to Steven to break the ice, pushing the two potential lovebirds together and insisting his new "friend" obtain the female's number...which the kid eventually ends up dialing on behalf of his older colleague.

In spite of himself, Jerry does arrange to meet up with Rachel, starting with simple frolics in the park involving the learning of bicycle turn signals and then leading to the hiking up of mountainsides that she does far more effortlessly than her less than enthusiastic date. Slowly, romance does bloom; perhaps not as aggressively - or physically - as Steven wonders it could. But before a next possible step in the Jerry-Rachel universe can transpire, he's hit with the realization that summer is ending and the scheduled return to his law classes are imminent. Rachel is left to ponder her own options as Steven and even curmudgeonly Richmond implore Jerry to take some decisive steps.

Overall, this film should be regarded as an achievement by the people who put it together. Still, there's a fine line to straddle between being delightfully simple and disappointingly slight. Jerry has some trouble staying on the desired side of that divide. On the one hand, the production shows the right indie attitude of saying any attention deficit issues Hollywood seems to feel have affected movie going audiences should be ignored - the film takes its own sweet and mostly enjoyable time to deliver the tale of this fledgling romance. At the same instance, the richness of Ballard's standout cinematography on the screen isn't matched by depth of characterizations in the script. While one can accept Steven's presence as more or less representing the voices in Jerry's head telling him what he should be saying to himself, the mysterious kid's unusual command over the adults around him stretches suspension of disbelief to the limits. Rachel is also a pretty blank canvas - while played with charm and appeal by Frey (who's a daytime social worker making her screen debut - bravo!), her character seems to exist in too obvious a void when it comes to background and desires. She simply seems to be there for the story's sake, as opposed to be being a fully fleshed out presence. It also doesn't help that the low budget production's lack of extras and crowd scenes makes the results a little less cinematic in feel and more like a series of scenes from a stage play. At times, Jerry seems like a predictable series of puzzle pieces waiting to be too conveniently snapped into place.

Arguably the major irritant of the film revolves around the nature of the title character. Daniel Rock puts in a worthy effort with the material provided but Jerry seems too much of a wuss around Steven and as uncaring of Rachel's feelings as the kid accuses him of being. In spite of not living the most exciting of lives, the story's lead still has things pretty good and comes across as being a little too much of a "poor-little-spoiled-guy" to make one root for him...or even think that he really deserves the possibilities that have been offered.

Yes, these are weaknesses in the parts that make up Jerry but the actual sum still comes across as being pretty good. The cast of first-time feature performers are highly likeable regardless of any script shortcomings and definitely show some nice chemistry when interacting. The practice of sappy Hollywood efforts to lay a sugar-coated musical score to nudge viewer sentiments has been mercifully ignored here. The rest of the production values match the impressive Cannon 7D camera work and the film greatly reeks (in a good way) of the dedication that the DreamStreet team has put into the endeavor. Unlike some other filmmakers who look like they would be spinning their wheels with a follow-up production, one senses the group assembled here has learned much and has plenty more to offer in the future. No career changes are to be suggested...only encouragement. A comedy and a sci-fi flick are said to be in the DS pipeline - based on the potential seen in this effort, these are films to look forward to.

It may be true that Jerry is a film that's just good enough to make one wish it was a little better but it's still a strong first effort from this troop and is far from a waste of time to regard.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Let It Go...And Listen To Your Friends!

The film:
Let It Go (2014)

The under-the-radar-factor:
Micro-budget production has had a few theatrical screenings but is mostly making the rounds with VOD distribution via Cinema Zero. As of this writing, a 15 minute preview of the feature is available. 

The review:

Many years ago my first real girlfriend had decided we could/should no longer carry on a relationship. In my heart of hearts I knew we were kaput as a couple but another part couldn't accept that. I had a determination to win her back that lasted for a couple of weeks but was never acted upon through any attempts on my part. In other words, I saved myself a lot of embarrassment over what I later realized was indeed a much needed parting of the ways.

I wish I could have commiserated with Jeremy, the character played by Andrew Leland Rogers in director Tom Wilton's black and white micro-budget effort Let It Go. But of course, if I had suggested he should follow what I did...or didn't do...we might not have had this film, right?

How does that story go about the best laid plans? It just so happens the day that Jeremy has picked to propose to his live-in gal-pal Steph (Gillian Visco) is the same one she's lined up to call off their relationship. He's just shared his dreams with his old friend Frankie (Maria McIndoo, who also co-wrote the screenplay), while Steph has revealed her break-up plans to her buddy Ryan (Josh Hawkins). Upon officially splitting, the two ex's go into their own separate tailspins. Steph hits the party circuit and indulges in the kind of alcohol fueled behavior that Ryan has embarrassingly had to bear witness to before. Jeremy is more on the numbed side and it's up to Frankie, who's lent him her couch as a temp residence, to try to get him back into the swing of things. Setting the wheels in motion for him to go out on dates with her friends turns out to be a waste of time; Jeremy can only blabber away on details about the woman who has left him behind. Steph manages to convince Ryan to join her for an out of town Christmas time break from it all, just as Jeremy coaxes Frankie to accompany him on an adventure meant as an attempt to reconnect with the lady he has lost.

The story begins like this...

I quite liked McIndoo's own feature Say It Like It Is ("Let It Go"..."Say It Like It Is"...hmm, such frank piece-of-advice type of titles from these guys) and was looking forward to her collaboration with Wilton here. This film does start slowly, the visuals are not given any groundbreaking treatment by way of either the cinematography or editing, and it's hardly an indie flick trying to rock the cinematic world. At the same time, it still has that genuine slice-of-life quality that McIndoo's movie possessed, with, gratefully, no attempt to slop on the melodramatics that one might expect from a film that centers...

...well, I was going to say from a film that centers around the breakup of a relationship, but that's not really the case here. Let It Go is far less about the disintegration of Jeremy's world with Steph's, as it is about these two people's relationships with their friends. Friends who know you may end up acting a little drunk and stupid; who excuse the fact that one tries to plant a kiss on them in a moment of emotional anguish and confusion; who'll stick by you even after you've heaved into their shoe...more than once; who won't make fun of you as you react to your first toke... (well, won't make MUCH fun of you)...

To a great extent that's what Let It Go is really about - the subtle celebration of friendship! Friendship through thick and thin, through the laughs and the really annoying stuff. The likeable cast (McIndoo is particularly good and I hope she makes more appearances in front of the lens) are definitely up to taking the viewer along for this quiet but warm ride.

Let It Go is a rewarding put-your-feet up and relax experience for those with the patience to allow the film to find its footing, which it eventually does. So overall, if you're in the mood for a simple but sweet journey, I would recommend checking it out. But don't watch it alone...even though I'm not calling this a "date" film...

Watch it with a friend. Your best friend. That one who will always be there for you... and vice-versa.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

"American: The Bill Hicks Story" Is One For The Fans

The film:
American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

The under-the-radar factor:
A UK production, it was shown at the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival and released in the U.S. as a 2 disc box set DVD with several hours of extras. Aside from that...

The review:

"I believe there is an equality to all of humanity. We all suck" - Bill Hicks.

I'm still rather astounded by how many people have not heard of this guy or are only faintly familiar with his work. Their loss. Hicks was a stand-up genius; when on the ball (and not so drunk) he was worthy of being compared to the subversive, shock likes of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Lenny Bruce in making you think and laugh, even when it felt a little too close to home with your own beliefs and actions. Pancreatic cancer ended his life at the age of 32 but not before he left this planet with sizeable (and often funny) food for thought.

American: The Bill Hicks Story charts the history of its subject in great detail and with tremendous visual panache. Directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas were able to convince Hicks' family to provide a stunning amount of photos spanning the comedian's life, which were then used in a type of cut-and-paste animation technique rendering impressive results. Family members, childhood friends, and the other stand-ups from the Houston area where Hicks grew up are interviewed at length, with a smattering of his routines. For a guy who lived such a tragically short life, there is a long and engaging story told here. After starting his live stage work in his teens (first as part of a duo, then going solo), his career accelerated to the point of at least being followed by fellow performers, if not the public at large in the U.S.A. (Hicks was to become in a way to the Brits what Jerry Lewis was to the French - an American cultural figure far more appreciated overseas than on his native soil.) The self-assured qualities he displayed in his earliest periods contrasted to the drunken ramblings he had to fight off later. Sadly, the height of his creative genius seemed to be obtained just as he reached his cancer stage and faced an infamous censorship incident on David Letterman's tv show. More on that shortly...

For those neophytes looking for an intro to Hicks the performer, this production is really not the answer. The major complaint to be had with American: The Bill Hicks Story is in the surprising paucity of actual performance footage (even though his personal territory is given full analysis). Those who have already come to know the man and his material will appreciate the intimate details that emerge regarding his short but accelerated life. While there is a fair bit of hero-worshiping taking place here, there are some unflinching looks at his down-and-out alcoholic period as well, helping to create a balanced portrait of the man at his best and worst.

Like I said, this documentary is highly recommended only for those who have already taken the Hicks comedic journey. Fortunately, there is a plethora of material to be found both online and in hard copy forms to initiate any rookie. A perfect example is the video below from the October 1993 performance on The Late Show with David Letterman that was never allowed to air...  until some 15 years later, when Letterman invited Hicks' mother on his show to apologize and run the clip. Have a look - if you're not into the pro-life campaign, anti-smoking messages... or Billy Ray Cyrus... you'll laugh a lot...

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Briefly - Tom Atkins Blues

It wasn't long ago in my part of the world that I observed a cozy, indie breakfast and lunch joint being blown out of existence by the arrival of one of those chain/franchise egg palaces across the road from it. So I was in more than a sympathetic mood for the goings-on in Tom Atkins Blues, a 2010 German based indie by British ex-pat writer/director Alex Ross.  Shot in 11 days with a crew of six and a budget that wouldn't come close to maxing out a college student's credit card, the film features scripted acting parts based on Ross' own experiences in Germany, with interviews with some of the actual locals who lived the life in his old neighbourhood.

Tommy (played by Ross) runs the Spatkauf (Late Night Shop) that he has been looking after in the former East Berlin since a bit after the fall of the wall. His gal-pal, a woman unimpressed with what she perceives as a serious lack of ambition on his part, leaves him. The pain of the breakup is eased for the shopkeeper by the community around his enterprise - people come to chat, buy a beer, and sit outside - maybe to play some chess or a musical instrument. Tommy's place is one of life and vitality - especially with drunks trying to raise the ceiling on the tabs they owe or lazy friends who hang around to pick up women. The bubble bursts for all when a refurbished supermarket around the corner signals the gentrifying tides of change that Tommy is powerless to stop. Customers disappear, business dives, and the eclectic multinational group of people who have regarded the shop as a kind of second home come to realize the worst is yet to come.

Without the pressures of earning enough box office receipts to pay for a studio full of lawyers, Ross is able to take full advantage of the true freedom micro-budget filmmaking affords. The pacing is leisurely and the storyline is hardly stuffed but the results feel highly genuine. A charming tale of friendship and community, Tom Atkins Blues is firmly set in its German locale but has a universal voice that all can connect to. It greatly helps that the cast is well chosen and delivers likable performances throughout, matched by sharp production values and a highly appropriate musical score. Unlike many so-called indies that try to function as Hollywood studio cover letters, this film succeeds in showing that strategic plot points can't compete with earnest reflection and expression. What Tom Atkins Blues lacks in adrenaline, it more than compensates for with atmospheric richness and a warm spirit.

If you didn't catch this film's run on Cinema Zero (congrats to them for continuing to showcase such worthy independent work), you can always have a gander at the DVD.

Man, that Spatkauf must have been one cool place!