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 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! :)