Monday, October 9, 2017

Movie Review: Faithful (2017)

Movie Review: Faithful (2017)

Faithful (2017) - USA - Drama - Not Rated (Family)
Independent Short Subject - (PRE)FORMA-SE Artistic Productions - 13 Mins
Directed by Niklas Berggren
Written by Aleksandra Milanova
Starring Clarissa Hoffmann, Ellis Miller, Cynthia Aileen Strahan, Eve Coquillard, Eddy Lee, Sarah Schulte

A well written story crafted into an impactful drama with tight direction and top notch performances.

Lauren has always been faithful to Ron. Not only as a loving wife whose heart is given only to him, but in sacrifices she makes for his, their, benefit. But is there such as thing as being too faithful?

Up front, Faithful is an amazing short film. Berggren's direction is tight, taking the viewer exactly where he wants them to be for the best vantage point. There is a scene in here that, when I saw the framing, I thought was Kubrick-esque. I was wrong on that as it reveals itself to be something else and you can really appreciate the beauty of his composition in this. His direction is deliberate, not wasting space and yet bringing full composition to scenes.

The actors really put out in this. Clarissa Hoffmann brings an edgy pensiveness to the character of Lauren. Ellis Miller is necessarily detached as Ron feeding Lauren's need to hold on. Cynthia Aileen Strahan brings a duality to Mary-Anne in having a glib bluntness but with sincerity and an open heart. And Eve Coquillard brings a powerful performance as Lauren's mother, hers and Clarissa Hoffman's mastery of expressiveness tendering the fulcrum of the story.

Faithful uses a destructured narrative of fragmentary collusion which crystallizes at its most potent moment. Story, direction and acting combine into a presentation that impacts the viewer like a ton of bricks.

My Rating: 5 Fingers! I give it a high five!

Faithful's Facebook Page

Niklas Berggren's Facebook Page

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Movie Review: Nite Nite (2017)

Nite Nite (2017) - USA - Horror - Not Rated (Family)
Independent Short Subject - MaxiMeise Productions - 3 1/2 Mins
Written & Directed by Chad Meisenheimer
Starring Tommie Vegas, Brady Bond, Sarah Rhoades

A flashback to 80s horror movies, Nite Nite hits the spot in having an 80s feel and being spooky fun.

As his parents are out for the evening a young boy is being tucked in by his babysitter after a bedtime story. But things aren't so simple as that, being when his dad tucks him in he always checks for monsters. This night it will be up to the babysitter to make sure there are no monsters lurking.

At under 4 minutes Nite Nite defines the 'short' in short subject. When reviewing such short films, contrary to what one may assume, there is not a lot of difference in it and reviewing a feature film. The same basic questions need to be answered by the reviewer as to if it successfully tells its story and what it accomplishes in doing so. The only difficulty that is presented by a punchline skit such as Nite Nite, with regard to the way I review films, is in not giving away too much in my plot summary while still trying to introduce the plot of the skit.

Nite Nite does successfully tell its story. It additionally, being it is set in 1985, evokes the time period and the feel of the movies from that time period which inspired it. Chad Meisenheimer keeps it compelling with a dynamic camera, and keeps it spooky with tense composition.

Brady Bond (that's Bond, Brady Bond) plays the kid at the center of the story, is a natural and is as good as any actor his age, and being that Nite Nite hinges on his performance is exactly why this works so well. Tommie Lee Vegas (as Tommie Vegas) plays his exasperated babysitter perfectly being ever so subtly annoyed without being overt.

The only shortcoming of Nite Nite is it's obvious where this is going. But in the end that doesn't take away from it, and really it is fitting for its inspiration. It is spooky fun and the type of film you can watch over and over for that very reason, and perfect for the Halloween season.

My Rating: 4 Fingers

This is a post-production review of a film entering the festival stage. I'll update this when it is made available online.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Movie Review: Fighting Belle (2017)

Fighting Belle (2017) - USA - Romantic Comedy - Not Rated (Family)
Written by Antonio Gangemi, Aimee Parrott & Sean Riley
Directed by Sean Riley
Starring Jessica Harthcock, Noah Cook, Donnie Pierre, Mallory Hynes, Carol Ann Scruggs, Joel Rogers, Ryan Czerwonko, Sherri Eakin, Caroline Delatte, Austin Langley, Joshua Powell, Naomi Prentice, G. Tremain Merrell, Daisy Prescott

A southern fried romantic comedy with a distinctly different approach to finding love succeeds in delivering a one-two punch with a wonderful performance by Jessica Harthcock and excellent direction by Sean Riley.

It's the biggest day in Delilah's life. She's a southern belle in a proud and prominent family, winner of multiple beauty pageants, and she is walking down the aisle today, her wedding day, to be married to the man she loves in front of all of her family and friends. Wait! What's this? The groom is having second thoughts? Jilted, humiliated in front of family and friends, and now all alone, what's a girl to do? Well challenge the groom to a rematch, with boxing gloves that is. Works for me.

Fighting Belle is a microbudget independent production that was shot in 9 days on location in Mississippi on a budget of only $15,000, as I've been told. As in any low budget production there are seams that show through, in this case primarily being inconsistency in the audio, and occasional inconsistency in the lighting. That being said, what has been accomplished on such a low budget is amazing, and any failings of a low budget are more than made up for by the performances and the direction.

The camera work is well done using multiple camera angles in even the simplest of scenes. The director Sean Riley succeeds in not letting the camera or viewer linger. Changing up the perspective often and successfully, keeping the flow and not creating confusion, keeps the attention of the viewer, and Riley certainly accomplishes this very well. There's some nice scene structure as well. A particular scene at a charity event uses Harthcock's wonderful ability with expressiveness to lead into a wide shot showing the characters in different positions then drawing them across the scene into place. It is beautifully orchestrated and portentous in its setup. I'm seriously impressed with the group composition in this film as well.

Jessica Harthcock gives the viewer a deceptively brilliant performance in this. I say deceptively because it's multi-faceted incorporating humor, physical comedy, tenderness, romance and feeling, yet she is so effortless in doing it that she just seems natural. Sometimes the very best performances are the ones hardest to see, but if you pay close attention, or cheat like I did and watch it twice, you'll see a performance that brings a character to life while Harthcock completely disappears into the role.

An interesting assortment of characters populate the movie including Delilah's gym mates such as the intimidating yet sexy Slice, the buoyant Romeo and the head-turning Tandy played by Noah Cook. In a movie filled with caricatures Noah Cook provides a balancing straight man character as well a catalyst to bring out Delilah's more intimate self. Additionally Noah Cook's physical prowess as well his intensity brings a believability to the boxing aspect of the film. I would be remiss if I did not make a special mention of Mallory Hynes as Delilah's sister Charlene who adds a soulful southern charm to the film, Caroline Delatte as Tandy's too smart for her age little sister, and also Daisy Prescott who is just the most adorable flower girl.

My first time watching this film I felt there were parts that lingered. A second time through and really it is the inconsistency in the audio that created that and not the story itself. The narrative is well structured not leaving anything out, nor are there any superfluous scenes. The story takes its time to focus on the characters and the budding love story; the plot seed of a jilted bride getting revenge is just that, a seed, and that seed grows into a story of a young woman finding love and people finding themselves once they step out of their expected roles. The last bit of the movie did feel a little rushed to me, though it's not incomplete at all and was probably just me wanting a little bit more.

Despite the often times under-classed audio in this, the performance of Jessica Harthcock alone would be worth recommending the movie, but add to that an interesting supporting cast of characters and especially fine direction showing a promising director in the making and my recommendation goes up another full notch.

My Rating: 4 Fingers

You can Buy or Rent Fighting Belle from Amazon Video

Visit the Fighting Belle Facebook Page

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Movie Review: Flesh & Blood a Go! Go! (2017)

Flesh & Blood a Go! Go! (2017) - USA - Horror - Unrated
Independent Short Subject - MollyWalsh Video Productions - 30 mins
Written and Directed by Adrian Baez
Starring Karri Davis, Shane Ryan, Nicoletta Hanssen (credited as Nico D.), Adrian Baez (as A. Baez), Matt Holbrook, Denis Tolyarenko, Jacqueline Dusza, Maggie Smith

An at times ambiguous story with a lingering third act succeeds more in its imagery, 80s backdrop and soundtrack resulting in a nihilistic murder romp.

Sleeping in her car and looking for work in Los Angeles, a young woman is approached by a man claiming to be with a new glamour magazine and sets up an appointment for her to take part in a photo shoot. What follows is a world of drugs, blood splatter and snuff photography.

Straight up if it were not for the smartphones being used and a flat screen TV on a wall this could have been an 80s period film. The use of a 35mm program SLR with a manual focus lens, an old style boombox complete with cassette player and no hint of being any newer than 1985, and a generous soundtrack that toes the line between death metal and synth-pop all smack of the 1980s. The film itself frankly feels 80s to me as well.

The 80s backdrop, bold imagery including a splatter scene that seems like it fell out of an old splatter movie and the pumped up soundtrack are the strengths of Flesh & Blood a Go! Go! Baez's camerawork and editing are also a strength as an otherwise basic story that has a tendency to drag in the 3rd and 4th acts would drag even more if he just let it observe. A combination of documentary style camerawork and music video editing help move the story along. What's not its strength is both unintentional and intentional ambiguity. 

I had to go back to confirm that the character of Mick and the Murder Photographer (as per the credits) are not the same person. Mick (1st act) is played by Shane Ryan and the Murder Photographer (2nd and 4th acts) is played by Adrian Baez, but they physically resemble each other just enough to cause confusion. Of course carefully listening to the dialogue will confirm that too, it's just so momentary that's it's easy to miss. 

The prologue additionally is a source of confusion. The woman, Jacqueline Dusza, is there to set the atmosphere, and frankly for eye candy too, but has nothing to do with the rest of the story. Realizing this up front will save you from a WTF feeling later as once again there are physical similarities, this time between the women in the film.

Ultimately Flesh & Blood a Go! Go! is simply nihilistic. Life has no meaning in its existential being. Hence the philosophy of snuff; art gives meaning to life, so the taking of a life is giving it something it does not possess.

I originally was leaning toward a 2 Plus rating on this. I view films twice, once on TV and once on my laptop. The second time around it moved better for me, was more enjoyable (you don't know how twisted that sounds until you've seen it), I liked the 80s vibe, and with headphones I was able to appreciate the soundtrack even more. The soundtrack really works to pump some energy into the film and move it along. The soundtrack alone as well is worth the price of admission.

My Rating: 3 Fingers

You can get a limited edition DVD on the MollyWalsh website.

You can find out more about this movie and other productions on Facebook.