Thursday, 11 September 2014

Briefly - Say It Like It Is

Old friends from middle school years have morphed into becoming adult strangers to each other in Maria McIndoo's micro-budget feature debut Say It Like It Is (2013).

Dylan (played by director McIndoo) is a Philadelphia based wannabe writer who accepts her plight as a bartender to make ends meet, dumping on the urbanized phony artists she labels as the "attack of the clones". She takes a trip into Long Island to meet up with old gal pal Brooke (Rachel Williams). The latter has just moved in with Bill (Alex Karfarkis), the same boyfriend she had been talking about dumping, but now finds herself in the abode he has inherited from his Florida bound parents. Dylan finds it hard to believe Brooke is into the suburban life (including unlocked doors) and talking about starting a family; Brooke seems surprised that Dylan wants to stick to the "writing thing". As if these two weren't out of sync enough, the homeowners are looking after discombobulating nephew Laden (Michael McIndoo), a standoffish kid when he isn't being exceptionally needy. Dylan's next few days feature schedules determined by the "happy" couple's shopping habits or Laden's tantrums. A surprise party for the writer attended by her old friends helps to accentuate how different the two main characters have become.

Some films try to be BIG - all-encompassing, all-knowing, here to have the planet and its seven billion inhabitants entirely figured out. Other flicks try the micro route, examining details in the most petite of proportions. Say It Like It Is refreshingly tries to stay on the same scale as life itself and does a pretty good job of it. The situations are not over-dramatized or carry on as being "important". They're also not drawn out in navel-gazing introspection. The situation here is one you can recognize, the verisimilitude passes the sniff test, and the whole production seems to be in the hands of a filmmaker who knew exactly what she wanted to capture and what to not bother with.

There are some bumps in the presentation - the acting is somewhat stilted at times and the editing has an unimaginative cutting-on-dialogue consistency. But for a production that apparently stuck to less than four grand in financing, the end results bring good value to the 75 minute running time asked of it. After seeing so many cinematic (self) delusions trying to be this or that, it's nice to see a feature which unspools as naturally as this one does. And that's how best to describe Say It Like It Is - it's simply a "nice" film.

(And this feature is currently (11/09/2014) screening over at Cinema Zero.)

Monday, 8 September 2014

Nobody Can Cool - Two Odd Couples Do Not Make One Right

The film:
Nobody Can Cool (2013)

The under-the-radar factor:
The directing/writing team of Marcy Boyle and Rachel Holzman, who piloted this production under the collective moniker of Dpyx, followed up a 2013 DVD premiere with the current iTunes/Amazon VOD offering, a typical route for many indie filmmakers in the absence of opportunities for wider release.

The review:

Andy Warhol said everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes.

Notice he never said they deserved to be.

If Andy was alive today, looking around the digital world, I think he may have come up with the observation that, in the future, everyone would make their own feature length film. Hopefully his follow up would be the suggestion that pursuing such opportunities would not always be the best idea.

Case in point: the micro-budgeted wannabe thriller Nobody Can Cool, about a young couple who literately make one wrong turn. Unfortunately, filmmakers Dpyx make several.

Workaholic lawyer David and aspiring entrepreneur Susan (David Atlas and Catherine Annette) are off for a "relaxing" weekend at a friend's abode but zig when they should have zagged and end up at another cabin inhabited by psycho couple Len and the very pregnant Gigi (Nick Principe and Nikki Bohm). The latter fabricate a story about how they came there and something about a car that is no longer available. Everyone tries to do a nicey-nicey shtick (less so the snarly Gigi) and there is a general (if somewhat reluctant) agreement that David and Susan will crash upstairs for the night. These two folks go through a series of motions that pass for romance, followed by some that pass for revelations and disagreements, followed by some shut-eye.  A sound in the night awakens Susan, who discovers their car has been driven away and they have been locked in their room. She doesn't want to put up with that for a moment, whereas David seems to cherish sleep more than his well-being. (Hey, everyone has their priorities, right?) An eventual window escape leads to the city slicker couple's capture by their hosts. Turns out Len and his gal have committed a heist, with Gigi's cousin Tommy lying in a bed upstairs via a near-fatal gun wound, awaiting the return of the real face of trouble, his brother Mo.

But fear not - in a dizzying contest to determine which of these factions has the least common sense, David and Susan take turns with the crooks at capturing and being captured, all the time bickering and proving beyond a measure of a doubt that they shouldn't be a couple in the first place. Len and Gigi, while closer to being two peas in the same pod, are not too far behind in the incompatibility department. Marriage proposals take place at the strangest of times, while plans for from here to eternity are laid out, even though no one's future looks very promising with all these guns and knives being pointed at each other. Eventually Mo appears, looking as dangerous and assertive as we've been told he would be and as confused with the goings-on as he has every right to be. The tale ends with a predictable measure of violence but also a few genuine surprises.

In viewing the trailer you may feel a little left out if you're not packing heat. Everyone else is.

For every positive you can spot in Nobody Can Cool, you'll also notice far too many negatives. The crisp camerawork is betrayed by the unimaginative editing. The engaging performances by Nick Principe as Len and the underutilized Haris Mahic as Mo contrast to the one-dimensional approaches of Annette and Bohm (who don't seem to realize that teeth grinding plus yelling do not add up to "acting") and especially of Atlas, who never looks fully awake, no matter what life-threatening danger awaits his character. And while the story moves along at a good clip, the expressiveness of all the cast has taken the real weekend getaway, replaced by some of the most ludicrous dialogue you'll hear this side of Tommy Wiseau or Ed Wood Jr. The part where Susan and Len decide it's actually okay to do a little alcoholically fueled bonding after she's relived herself in front of him is one for the cinematic Hall of Shame.

So you may have guessed I didn't like this film much. That makes you considerably less clued out than the characters in Nobody Can Cool. Anything else that's positive to say? I will note that in spite of the general lack of merit that prevails, the strong drive on the part of the two female characters in refusing to be subservient to the wishes of their male counterparts is refreshing. I just wish I could say that its worth encouraging these two filmmakers to pursue whatever cinematic goals they have in their future, except, based on this project, I remain unconvinced they deserve such cheerleading going forward. The film world needs more women behind the lens but the results of this effort feels like a setback to that end.

The best thing I can say about this production?...

Dpyx is a pretty cool handle.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

BloodRayne - A Movie For The "Why So Serious" Crowd

The film:
BloodRayne (2005)

The under-the-radar factor:
German born director Uwe Boll has somehow managed to output one of the most prodigious (as opposed to "prestigious") collection of movie titles of the twenty-first century, in spite of never really having blown the pants off of the box office or DVD sale tallies. This entry, based on a video game, is no exception, although it must have made enough/cost so little to allow for a couple of sequels. 

The review:

Some people lack a sense of identity. This surely cannot be the case for Uwe Boll, who only has to look at a small collection of reviews for just about any of the feature films that have had his name on it for the past dozen plus-years. Boll is constantly reminded by many of the cinematic tribe of what he is suppose to be - the worst film director in the world.

Now, are we talking Ed Wood/Tommy Wiseau entertainingly bad? Or just plain simple sucks? This is the question I needed an answer for as I subjected myself to my first ever Boll experience, wondering if 99 minutes of my life could have been better spent on something more entertaining... like hurling snot at rabid squirrels. Well, we will see...

But before we have a look at the film itself, let's hear what fond remembrances screenwriter Guinevere Turner has of dealing with director Boll:

Well, that's encouraging, isn't it? But hang on to that "campy" thought. Anyway, here we go...

It's the eighteenth century and bruising babe Rayne (Kristanna Loken) finds herself trapped as the feature freak attraction in a Romanian carnival. She's considered unusual by being a Dhampir - not really a vampire, but hardly human either. While she'd be happy to drain any person she meets, she tempers matters by settling for the blood of animals. After making an escape where she wipes out just about the entire travelling sideshow (even her friends), she meets up with a fortune teller (Gerladine Chaplin, one of a number of recognizable faces that apparently signed up for some additional beer money) who helps clue her into the fact her mother was raped and killed by the king of the vampires. This dude, Kagan (Ben Kingsley, embarrassingly griting his teeth throughout this paycheck role) would like to take out his daughter as well but is even more preoccupied with coming up with the Tailsman organs (an eye, heart, and rib) that would really make him all powerful. Thing is, Rayne gets into a situation where she obtains and absorbs the eye for herself. She eventually comes across a couple of vampire hunters, Vladimir (Michael Madsen, who occasionally opens his eyes and says a line before going back to sleepwalking) and Sebastien (Matthew Davis, who's basically just around for the one obligatory hot sex scene with Loken). Another hanger-on is Katarin (Michelle Rodriguez), who turns out to be a bad apple among vampire slayers (seemingly for being jealous that she's got some competition in the hot babe department from Rayne...although that apparently wasn't the case - nudge-nudge, wink-wink - behind the scenes between Loken and Rodriguez). And then you get the big confrontation with Kagan, ya-da, ya-da...

It would be cruel to keep you in any further suspense without watching some scenes, so to the trailer we do go...

Problems with the storyline? Oh yeah, we got problems with the storyline. What's up Rayne single-handedly destroying her captors but then getting a little love tap on the noodle from Domastir (Will Sanderson) that turns off her lights for hours? And what about Vladimir insisting she's too raw and unready without further combat training, even though she can already slice and dice multiple swordsmen at a time? Aggravating annoyances? Nah, not at all - it's some of the cinematic ineptness that had me howling throughout this catastrophe.

And call me cruel but there really is something entertaining about the look on Kingsley's face throughout, with that "how do I torture my agent for getting me into this mess" scowl. Or watching Madsen almost refusing to address the camera - if he had his way I'm sure he would have done his entire performance walking backwards or with his long hair combed over his face.

While I admit that the costumes look like they were purchased at the weekly half-price off sale at some local thrift store, some of the cinematography/scenery bits are actually pretty good. And while I've heard critics complain (they were actually analyzing this film in a serious manner - whats up with that?) over the veg-a-matic style of editing that was clearly done to compensate for the obvious lack of swordplay talent in the cast, I thought it added some needed flash to the proceedings. Hey, BloodRayne is a piece of crap film, sure... but in some places it actually looks like a fairly artsy piece of crap.

I had an okay time at home watching BloodRayne on DVD - I would have had a howl watching it in some musty, dilapidated grindhouse theatre (if you can find one...farewell, Rio Cinema) with a bunch of grubby alcoholics shouting at the screen. Based on this offering, I would suggest that's the way all Uwe Boll masterpieces should be absorbed.

I don't exactly recommend the film - there's defiantly better schlock out there - I'm just saying it's not a write-off as a time-waster if you're in the right kind of uncritical mood. In some ways, it's the sort of production the CW would turn into a weekly tv series if they could get away with this level of constant gore and occasional birthday suit T & A. If you ever do view it, leave the serious, critical attitude vibe at the door.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Littlerock Kinda Rocks!...Quietly (Shh!)

The film:
Littlerock (2010)

The under-the-radar factor:
This small indie production has screened at over 40 film festivals and picked up awards at the AFI Fest, the Independent Spirit Awards, and the Reykjavik International event, among others. In spite of crossing the globe at these gatherings and winning positive critical notices, this work has received extremely limited exhibition possibilities and nothing too significant by way of digital channels.

The review:

We've all encountered those people who you meet for the first time and they just can't stop it. The loquacious. The wind-bags. The gab-a-holics. People who talk a lot but really say little, if anything. But they go on and on. Then there's the quiet introverted types who feel drained by even attempting to put forward a welcoming remark.

And then there's the young Japanese girl who stares blankly with hardly an utterance since she can neither understand nor make herself understood in Littlerock, put out by Indie Spirit "Someone to Watch" winner Mike Ott. Fortunately, his film, a second feature effort for him, is itself mostly well worth watching.

Siblings Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka) and Rintaro (a young gent named Sawamoto, also going by his real first name) are taking a trip across the United States, much to the disappointment of their father back home. He's detail driven and cautious - she's more relaxed and open to experiences when they come up. Bro speaks a tiny bit of English, which is lot more than his sister can muster. Their rental car breaks down in the Los Angeles exurb of Littlerock, a place which is about as anti-glamorous as California gets and the driest the state has been seen on screen since Polanski's Chinatown. While waiting for a replacement vehicle they first meet some of the shiftless locals at their motel in a confrontational manner but are quickly adopted by the populace at large as new friends. Much of this has to do with the fact that many of the Caucasian boys find Atsuko attractive and alluring. Two in this boat are Cory (Cory Zacharia), a somewhat effeminate fellow in trouble with the local drug dealer for having smoked most of what he was suppose to distribute, as well as Jordan (Brett L. Tinnes), a wannabe musician who can't suppress the glint he has in his eyes for the oriental visitor...for which she "glints" back. Together they take their new Japanese friends sight-seeing (in this town, that doesn't amount to much) for which two-wheeler bikes (not the motorized kind) are supplied. These same two locals blokes are not, however,  too broken up when Rintaro decides to go ahead with a visit to San Francisco without his sis. She proceeds to find romance with one fellow, artistic endeavors of sorts with another and gets to pass time alongside an immigrant cook (Roberto 'Sanz" Sanchez) that she can't talk with but can relate to. Rintaro eventually returns and, while I won't go into the details here, the last leg of the trip taken by brother and sister delivers a poignant (and unexpected) conclusion to their tale.

Ott seems at home delivering a film at this scale, which is not as easy as it sounds. Staying within smaller confines and resisting the temptation to paint bigger pictures is a discipline not everyone possesses. Littlerock is a simple and appropriately subtle tale. The characters in the film are neither saints nor satanic - they're simply real. The Asian girl finds herself alone with the guys of the town, instilling enough creepiness and suspense to her plight. At the same time, while Atsuko may be unworldly, she's not naive or stupid. It's obvious the local residents are their own worse enemies, particularly true of Cory. Even though he's the one who can speak English, he seems less clued in to what is going on around him than she does though surveillance and intuition. She discovers, he spins. It makes for a mostly interesting, if somewhat predictable relationship. (Unfortunately, you can see her rejecting of his advances from a mile away, one of the few significant weaknesses in the film.)

The town of Littlerock itself is an interesting ingredient in the movie, a place that seems to be in the middle of a desert and a fairly comical locale to drop off two foreigners "discovering" America. But it's on this blank slate of a nowhere town with a group of inhabitants going nowhere in particular that makes for an appropriate place for the protagonist to get her bearings. Littlerock is largely a film about communications and miscommunications, experienced by both the protagonist herself and observed in the dealings of others who supposedly speak the language.

Mainstream audiences who prefer their movies with popcorn and a heavy lathering of Michael Bay on top will be bored to tears by Littlerock. And even some of the latte crowd will accuse Ott of delivering less than meets the eye. But there are enough of those out there who will appreciate this quiet character study and the naturalistic acting style of the cast to make the trip to this nowheresville a destination appointment.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Who Killed Johnny Doesn't Survive On Screen

The film:
Who Killed Johnny (2013)

The under-the-radar-factor:
The film has played at a number of smaller and specialized film festivals where it has won some awards and has aired on Swiss television but its main means of exhibiton appears to have been through streaming on Google Play and DVD sales through the production's website.

The review:

Two Swiss filmmakers try to come up with a script for their made-in-Hollywood micro-budget movie when a dead dude bearing a strong resemblance to a certain A-list celeb complicates an already chaotic situation in Who Killed Johnny, a first feature directed by European actress Yangzom Brauen.

As indicated, the story takes place in a film-within-a-film setting. A writing/directing team (Melanie Winiger and Max Loong) sit around their apartment doing alcohol, drugs and very strange conversation with the very strange people dropping by as they bounce ideas around for the script they are trying to write for a low budget movie. Imagined scenes go through numerous variations involving the male lead (Carlos Leal), while the creative team try to also put some focus on their real lives and desires. Providing unneeded distractions are the outré crew/cast members in waiting, Jambo (Ernest Hausmann) and his outrageously curvy gal pal Gudrun (Jordan Carver), who end up hogging the swimming pool. The production and the lives of all involved turn on their heads when a dead body shows up on the street outside. A Johnny Depp lookalike for hire (Ronnie Rodriguez) has apparently been run down by a car and his corpse creates problems and opportunities for the desperate filmmakers. Genuine principal photography of the film finally gets underway, where tensions rise and the lead actor gets a little too real with his intensity in the pivotal kitchen scene.

The problem with this movie is the same problem faced by the two lead characters in the film - what to do about the script? Who Killed Johnny spouts out a number of ideas and premises but never really develops any, jumping from one implausible circumstance (even for a comedy) to another. People with filmmaking experience that can relate to the agonies involved in trying to put out cinematic endeavors will be more amused by the frustrations of the two main characters than general audiences will. At the same time, the lackadaisical manner in which the protagonists try to throw together a movie project may be seen as insulting to dedicated film artists.

The movie does realize a needed focus in its last twenty minutes, as the cast and crew characters finally get around to trying to accomplish something tangible and the interplay between them works in an arresting manner. Unfortunately, it doesn't make up for the rag-tag nature of the preceding hour that gets the audience there.

This is all very unfortunate, as the cast is actually very likable and seems more than talented enough to take on a better developed project. And for a film that is obviously being done on the cheap (sticking to the one central locale of action throughout), the production values are first rate, with particular kudos going to the crisp photography and sharp editing on display.

Who Killed Johnny, like the film within the film, is a glimpse of what might have been if serious scripting details had been improved. Director Brauen and company serve notice they are capable of better things and should be encouraged to go forward with such.