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.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Indie Filmmakers: Getting Higher Ratings for Your Movies

Whether it was three decades ago or today's online community with its social media, good buzz on a movie has always been necessary. Things have changed though and the expression "there's no such thing as bad publicity" does not apply to films when it comes to their online ratings. 

We don't buy printed movie guides anymore. Instead of just what one reviewer says being pertinent it is now the average of what anybody says that determines a movie's online rating. So if everybody is talking, just how can you influence everybody? Well, you can't; but you can influence the talk before it gets started.

For some context for this article, I am just someone with a blog who posts opinions about movies. That does not make me a film critic and I am certainly not a filmmaker. As a filmmaker, you know better how to promote your film better than I would, but as a reviewer I know some things that makes reviewers tick, and I'm going to share one of those that will help some of you to get better ratings on your films just starting out.

The key is that we who review movies online are not very original. We're even less original than the flurry of remakes, sequels and reboots flooding the theaters and TV today. This is nothing new as often times through the years anybody who has had to share an opinion on something has often relied on the opinions of others to form theirs.

The reason, as I have probably stated to some of you, that I don't read reviews before I write mine is that I find so much duplicity in online reviews. People are often swayed by the opinions of others for their own opinions, and that is central to getting good ratings at the outset.

What you need is 1) to find reviewers you feel will be friendly to you and/or your type of movie and 2) who also rate the movies they review on other sites like IMDb, TMDb, and Letterboxd. If your initial wave of reviewers is friendly to you, then your rating is going to be higher. IMDb is the most important site to get a good average rating on as it is the first one that comes up in searches for your movie, and other reviewers will be using it to cull information for their reviews, and will be influenced by the rating; it only takes 5 ratings on IMDb to get a rating average.

Well now just how do you find reviewers who will likely be friendly to you, and who rate movies on IMDb? Well through IMDb, silly. Find movies on IMDb you feel are in a similar category as your movie, that have a good average rating, and check under the critic reviews. Those sites/reviewers most likely posted links themselves and probably rated the movie on IMDb as well. You can follow those links and if you're smart enough to make a movie you're smart enough to figure out who's the easy pickings by reading their reviews.

Of course the bigger sites are important. If you get one of the bigger sites to give your film a review and they pan it, then you're going to have reviewers influenced by that. You may want to consider getting some positive vibe going first before asking the bigger review sites. Reverse the influence so to speak.

I am not an expert on movie promotion or on other reviewers. This is just a trend I have noticed. That doesn't mean it's science or foolproof. But it does give you a perspective you might be able to use to help get your films noticed, and in a more positive light.

Will some reviewers likely be upset with me for posting this, or even likely be offended by my comments? I can only hope! :)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Movie Review: Night Kaleidoscope (2017)

Night Kaleidoscope (2017) - Scotland - Horror - NR
Directed by Grant McPhee
Written by Megan Gretchin and Chris Purnell
Starring Patrick O'Brien, Mariel McAllan, Kitty Colquhoun, Jason Harvey, Robert Williamson, Craig-James Moncur, Gareth Morrison, Ashley Sutherland


A psychedelic fueled antipathy through Dada Land, luridly lensed in sanguinary obscenities, escalates vampiric cinema into something that is as ghastly as it is sensual as it is a unique commentary on art and depravity.

A man sits alone in a room. Alone from the living that is, for his only companion is a corpse under a bloody sheet. Soon, though, he will be joined by vestiges of past events as he inhales a thick smoke, its psychedelic properties unleashing his ability to see into the moment, to see a frightened young woman become the very corpse before him at the hands of bloodthirsty butchers living in the night. These butchers cut at the flesh of their victim, drinking her blood and ripping skin wth their teeth, and they are strangely aware even in the absence of their watcher that he can look into this moment; he is hunting them and they will be hunting him.

Night Kaleidoscope takes a distinctly different approach to the vampire movie in its representation of vampires not as the supernatural entities of films past but as killers who pleasure themselves in the brutal slaughter of their victims. It takes an even more distinctive approach in its darkly atmospheric and surreal approach to filmmaking. Appearing to be shot mostly with available light, and handheld, it is filled with discordant vibes from scene to scene harmonizing (pretend it's not a contradiction for just a moment) the viewer with a world of wanton drug use and hallucinatory clarity.

A cognitive dissonance in film where at once it is rich in visual stylings, horrifying as they may be, yet devoid of much of the narrative dialogue we have been conditioned to expect. Within the first 10 minutes the narrative moves almost entirely frame by frame rather than word by word. Beyond that preamble take no comfort still in the narrative structure, as this is surrealism in cinema; by design devoid of control, the expected, the comfortable.

Richly drawn in speculative style it is. Minimalist in character definition, it is that also. It's the body of work as a whole holding together the disparately rich visual acuity and minimalist script. The viewer is dropped into the middle of an ongoing story as though walking into a strange home only intending to get directions and finding yourself in the midst of something intense. You want to get out but something holds your curiosity. Knowing is something that only comes from observing, without the benefit of a roadmap. Uncomfortable it may be, but it starkly tells its story in an unforgettable manner.

Observation may be a blessing or a curse, and that is up to you. As with any surreal film the details are in the underpinnings of the story, or maybe not. The vampire in story and in legend is very old indeed. At the core of all vampire legends is something that takes an essence of life from another to further itself. That very essence, by legends broad and far, has been provided by an even greater power. At the core of all religion is something that emanates from a higher source and hence everything, to be read as everyone, is subjugated to that source. The mandalas of religion and of social structure are indistinct. 'Higher up' may sound administrative, but it may just as well be provincial; for only the inner circle can afford the perversions it exacts on the proletariat.

Of course interpretation is entirely up to the viewer. There is not necessarily a right or wrong interpretation, as anything's value ultimately lies entirely in what it means to you. There may be an underlying message in Night Kaleidoscope. Images may just exist for the visual style and symbolism solely for the narrative. For sure though, Night Kaleidoscope takes pleasure in happy humping the leg of metaphor all the way down the bunny trail. 

On the whole, Night Kaleidoscope is a visually stunning movie, morbid in its obsession, and vibrantly pulsed by a synth soundtrack keeping straying scenes in check. Its story is complete, but not full, leaving room for interpretation. In comparison with other directors Grant McPhee has made a film with the chilling vision of Murnau, the esoterica of Anger, the destructuring of Roeg, and liberally sprinkled with the violent insanity of Jodorowsky. Night Kaleidoscope ultimately is genre setting.

And where do I go in rating this movie? Somehow, appropriately, my review has been written as fragmentary and disjointed as the film is at times. It surely has taken longer to write what I hope is an appropriate review. Even before I have written a review I know where my rating for a film lies; the review just explains how I got there. I knew my rating was on the positive side, 3 to 3 Plus, after the first viewing. For sure this movie is a different experience which at first had me wondering what I had gotten myself into, to something that has lingered and grown in its lasting effect.

The movie and imagery stayed with me after the viewing; though not necessarily unusual for some films, the degree to which this movie stayed with me and instilled in me a drive to want to understand it more was intense. This drive alone had me upping my rating to 4 Fingers. Through writing most of the review I have been conflicted about staying with 4 Fingers or taking the bold move and upping my rating; again this is unusual for me.

What has pushed up the final rating definitively for me is in myself referring to Night Kaleidoscope as being genre setting. It is its own unique film. Elements of horror, vampire cinema and surrealist cinema are here, but it goes beyond its inspirations to create, in my opinion, its own genre. It's not defined by any other film than itself, and when a film sets its own template for others to follow, that defines a genre and that is more than worthy of one more tick up on the rating scale.

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


You can stream or download the movie from Amazon.

Visit the movie website for more information.

Grant McPhee on Vimeo.