Euthanizer (Review) There’s a certain beauty to the end of pain…




Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Clint Morris at October Coast PR, as well as Uncork’d Entertainment for allowing me early access to an online screener of the Finnish, Crime/Drama film “Euthanizer”, Written and Directed by Teemu Nikki. Euthanizer follows Veijo (played by Matti Onnismaa), a town leper and middle-aged man who euthanatizes sick, dying and abused animals. Veijo mistakenly crosses a group of white fascists, one of them being down and desperate garage worker, Petri (played by Jari Virman) who takes an extreme disliking to him. Veijo attempts to balance a budding carnal connection with his father’s nurse, Lotta (Hannahmaija Nikander) and his desire to see justice served to those who have done wrong. The film also stars Heikki Nousiainen, Pihla Penttinen, Jouko Puolanto and Alina Tomnikov.



Europeans tend to have a knack for making high quality crime films, Morten Tyldum’s “Headhunters” and Magnus Marten’s “Jackpot” (both Norwegian) are just two examples. Nikki’s, Euthanizer isn’t quite in that calibre, but it’s no exception either. He’s constructed an interesting screenplay, at the core of it a man ultimately looking to balance the scales of good and bad while seeking redemption of his own. Experienced DP, Sari Aaltonen presents us with some really clean and effective cinematography. All the shots are nicely framed, and the audio track is clear with correct English subtitles hard-coded too. The music is a wonderful mix of identifiable European classical score and energetic synth. The bulk of the drama is driven by deep cello notes and sweeping violin, but when Veijo’s intensity rises so to does the pumping synthesiser. Euthanizer is extremely well acted right across the board, and to some degree that makes up for several of Nikki’s thin character arcs. The film is carried strongly by Onnismaa, with Veijo being a rather complex character with conflicting customs. Jari is especially good as Petri, the feeble and gullible follower whose controlled by jealousy and rage and who doesn’t possess a thought of his own. Nikander completes the primary cast, playing Lotta, a nurse who occupies some childlike qualities and seems uncertain of her place in the world but feels drawn to the euthanizer. Teemu’s film has something to say about the virtuous nature of animals and the loyalty of dogs in particular. Much like our children, they’re almost always shaped by their environment and the behaviour of others. They don’t choose us, we choose them, and sadly they often suffer through no fault of their own. Veijo’s modus operandi is a simple one, do to others as you would have them do to you. It’s a great approach on how to live your life and his methods are understandable. Believing that if you choose to punish you get punished, an eye for an eye if you will.



While I saw the end of Euthanizer befitting, it does feel somewhat rushed. The result quite opposite in the opening two acts where the pacing is a little sluggish. I found the color grading rather dreary as well, though I suppose it does complement the downbeat content revolving around animal abuse. In the lead up to Veijo’s confrontation with Petri and his leaders, the foursome proceed to sing a karaoke number in what felt like real-time, while a montage of Veijo burying an animal plays out. It’s a bizarre and jarring tonal shift that took me out of the moment. It’s all in the title, but Euthanizer displays some pretty contentious material regarding these characters treatment of animals. That said, nothing is presented simply for shock value, nor does any of the violence really appear on-screen. Dog lovers (like myself) aren’t going to enjoy hearing the whimpers of these innocent animals though, and it does make you wonder how the film makers got them to react that way. I like to think it’s just a pre-recorded sound introduced in post production, but the animals depicted do appear to show at least some fear, and that’s never a good thing. One particular character in, Ojala (Penttinen) another nurse that Veijo knows, a different nurse, has a rather misleading character arc. I felt like she might have been a blood relative to Veijo, perhaps she was his daughter. He certainly treated her that way in regard to his judgements of her. If they were related the film could’ve benefited from an extra scene to highlight that. If not, I guess I just read it wrong, though I don’t think she has a place in the film otherwise. Throughout Euthanizer, Veijo makes it a point to only serve out equal measures of punishment when he sees fit, even regarding his own wrong doings. Although the character then challenges his own philosophy when he almost takes an erotic encounter with Lotta beyond the point of no return, yet doesn’t request she punish him to the same extent, like he later does Ojala.


Teemu Nikki’s, Euthanizer is my first Finnish film experience and the script was a fresh and intriguing one. I can sort of liken Onnismaa’s character to Tom Hardy’s softly spoken and mysterious loner in the underrated 2014 film, “The Drop”, but can’t think of a film like this one. The camera work is solid, the audio track is sharp and the multi faceted score really elevates the film. Each of the performances were great, Virman reminding me a lot of fellow actor, Andrew Howard with that ability to chew the scenery. Veijo is such an interesting character. I enjoyed the personal layer added by Teemu, and the characters underlining motive behind the way he conducted himself. The film heads in a dark but ultimately satisfying direction. There’s a few pacing issues with the first two acts, in addition to a rushed showdown between the pair. The musical number just feels awkward and there’s some script specifics that go against Veijo’s previously established rules. The characters could have used a little more fleshing out and the animal deaths don’t make for the easiest viewing. They’re bound to anger or even turn off some viewers completely. Please try to take the film for what it is. I give Nikki plenty of credit for his willingness to shine a light on something that has gone unpunished for too long. Thankfully our judicial system has begun to wake up to the atrocities being committed against animals and have now made this kind of treatment of them an offence criminally punishable by law. So put away your guns and hammers people and leave it to the law. Be sure to check out the trailer below! Euthanizer is a very well made film and it’ll be released August 7th on VOD (video on demand).

My rating for “Euthanizer” is 6.5/10


The Forest Of The Lost Souls (Review) It’s where they go to die…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to the team at October Coast PR and Wild Eye Releasing for allowing me early access to an online screener of their upcoming theatrical release of the Portuguese, Drama/Horror/Mystery film “The Forest Of The Lost Souls”, Written and Directed by Jose Pedro Lopes. The Forest Of The Lost Souls is a black and white contemporary film about Portugal’s most dense and remote forest, a place most visit when they wish to end their lives. On this particular day, young emo teenager, Carolina (played by Daniela Love) crosses paths with aimless and depressed father, Ricardo (Jorge Mota). The pairs interaction ultimately becomes the catalyst behind a violent home invasion. The film also stars Mafalda Banquart, Ligia Roque and Tiago Jacome.



Lost Souls is the debut feature-length film from young director, Lopes and it’s certainly a stylish inception. The topical themes of grief and suicide make for a good foundation for the drama, and that’s usually where The Forest is its strongest. Francisco Lobo’s stunning black and white photography provides film-noir fans with a sense of true visual extravagance, most notably with the way the natural light peers through the trees and bounces off the land. The forest itself is gorgeous, with its very own remote lake adjoined. There’s some lovely shot choices and nice gentle movements as we, the audience, accompany Carolina and Ricardo through the forest as they discuss what has led them to the loneliest place on earth. Emmanuel Gracio’s score is an atmospheric one, drawing on ambient bass and synth tones in order to give the forest itself an other worldly somber feeling. The audio track is loud and clear too. The performances are solid right across the board, Mota conveys Ricardo’s hesitation and indecisiveness well, and Love brings an enticing quality to Carolina’s mysterious persona of a drifter. Mafalda Banquart completes the core trio of performers and develops an innocence to Filipa, Ricardo’s teenage daughter.



The Forest Of The Lost Souls is a film of two halves. The first being a slow burn, melancholy character piece, albeit methodical with its approach to encapsulating that anguish. The second half plays more like a stalker-based thriller, just without any real thrills. There’s a tonal shift that’s likely to throw viewers off, and perhaps Jose’s film might have been better suited to a different setup, or an alternative second act and climax. While most of Lobo’s 4K cinematography (maybe even 5K) is high in production value, there are a few odd framing decisions and some brief lens flutters when the film moves to its internal setting at the house. Regarding plot points, it wasn’t all that difficult to predict that Ricardo was going to be the father of the girl in the beginning (Lilia Lopes). There’s a glaringly obvious continuity error in how a certain character could be downstairs carrying out an act of violence, and then within the space of thirty seconds, be upstairs hiding in a room (and in that particular place of all places *rolls eyes*). I think I would’ve got behind the shift in narrative a bit more had there actually be a motive for the characters actions, or something that would potentially reveal itself to be of importance as the third act rolled on, alas. It’s not like Lopes didn’t have avenues to formulate that either. Said character may have held a connection with the girl at the centre of it all, but if she did, it wasn’t an obvious one.


The Forest Of The Lost Souls is a polished and professional feature-length debut from Portuguese native, Jose Lopes. It’s akin to something like “True Love Ways” with its black and white presentation, and the script is reminiscent of the little known indie “The Sea Of Trees” or even “The Forest”. The cinematography is classy, the audio and sound design are extremely moody and the performances are consistently good. The subject matter surely hits home for a lot of people who have suffered from, or are currently still suffering from depression. Lopes never quite takes the discussion far enough though, instead, opts to change direction and head for the main land by way of generic home invasion. I predicted a couple of the specifics, there’s one key continuity lapse and unfortunately one of the central characters motivations are never truly made clear. Now sometimes that creative license can suit a narrative even better, but other times it doesn’t, and this is unfortunately one of those times. Despite its shortcomings, there’s a lot to like about The Forest Of The Lost Souls and the speedy run time of just 70 minutes (including credits) prevents you from getting too bogged down in the nitty-gritty of it all. The film hits limited theatres in LA from August 3rd, so keep an eye out for it. You can also check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “The Forest Of The Lost Souls” is 6.5/10

Big Legend (Review) Something lie beyond the woods…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Papa Octopus Productions and Jacki Thomas at Jive PR Digital for allowing me early access to a screener of the Drama/Thriller film “Big Legend”, Written and Directed by Justin Lee. Big Legend focuses on ex-soldier, Tyler Laird (played by Kevin Makely) who returns to the spot in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest where his fiancée mysteriously disappeared exactly one year ago. Seeking answers, he sets off on a hike where he encounters an enthusiastic hunter named, Eli (Todd A. Robinson) and discovers the all too real monster that inhabits the land. The film also stars Adrienne Barbeau (Escape From New York), Lance Henriksen (Aliens) and Summer Spiro.



Big Legend is Lee’s debut feature-length film (after previously having done work in both TV and shorts) and he’s chosen an interesting sub-genre in the “Bigfoot”. The script is certainly more drama based, with the core story centering around Tyler and his search for answers. Add the element of myth and you’ve potentially got an interesting independent monster film. The pacific northwest makes for a stunning backdrop to Big Legend, and it’s only further enriched through Justin’s determined pursuit for the ideal shot. Cinematographer, Adrian Pruett captures some gorgeous photography, a lovely clear lake and exquisite waterfall being two of the most memorable sequences. Pruett employs gentle Steadicam movements, and in turn, everything is pretty well shot. Some of the night scenes look really good too. The audio track is clean and Lee appears to only resort to a minimal amount of ADR (additional dialogue recording). The score was done by Jared Forman (an experienced music assistant) and there’s some pretty suspenseful stuff in here. The film opens with a lovely theme performed with a combination of violin, cello, drums and piano. It appropriately shifts up a gear or two with the bass when the tension starts to rise.


Lee’s story is all about its characters, and while there are only really two key players involved for much of the 90 minute run time, the secondaries are still important. Big Legend opens with authentic couple Tyler and Natalie (Spiro) venturing into the heart of the forest for some downtime. We’re given a good ten or twelve minutes to really warm to the couple and watch the natural dynamics of their bond play out. It’s not just Lee simply divulging pointless exposition to his audience. Both Makely and Spiro carry themselves well and they make that twosome’s connection translate smoothly. John Carpenter movie alumni, Adrienne Barbeau is well cast as Rita, Tyler’s mother. The two share a brief but heartfelt scene as Tyler wrestles with his conscience and grief. My favourite character in the film was Eli or “Chief”, as I aptly branded him, played extremely well by Todd Robinson. Eli’s your All American hunter with a surprisingly  personable demeanour. He insists on using the term “chief” every other sentence, and proves trustworthy after offering Tyler shelter when things inevitably go pear-shaped. Little is learnt about the man, but regardless, he makes for an enjoyable watch. Big Legend is a little light on action considering it’s a film about a Bigfoot. That said, the creature design is a practical one (the suit worn by Skotty Masgai) which will always garner more respect than the usual CG shitfest we’re witness to. There’s a cool practical effect that involves a bone break, as well as some aftermath shots of a latex prosthetic on a characters arm. In addition, there’s a few nice moments utilizing some blood spray.



Big Legend is partially lacking in some of its technical execution, but keep in mind this is Lee’s first full length feature and there’s always learnings out of it. Pruett’s camera work is quite good for the most part, but there’s a couple of focus issues during a scene where Tyler is rigging a tripwire (I think that’s what it was?). That particular series of shots sees the camera shuttering a bit too. On occasion, some of the framing is either moderately high or low, almost as if Justin was debating the shot choice on the go. Michael Tang’s edit is pretty tight but there’s an abundance of fades used in quick succession and I’d much prefer to have seen a little more creativity go into those transitions. The sound bed is also a bit flat in places, most notably during scenes where Tyler and Eli trek through the woods. Maybe it’s just that the crew had audio issues on set and couldn’t use all of the raw sound. While the acting is solid from all involved, there’s a few lines of dialogue that felt stiff. The only continuity hiccup was the sudden weather change throughout the film. It seemed to occur in such a short space of time. Tyler arrives in ideal weather, blue skies and not a breath of wind, then shortly after, it’s a snow-covered landscape and quite windy. I know weather patterns can change, after all it’s America’s Northwest and that can sometimes be unexpected, but I’d wager that the second portion of the film was shot during a different season. Big Legend is perhaps guilty of not quite delivering enough action to satisfy fans of this particular type of film. In comparison to this year’s earlier bigfoot film “Primal Rage” (which delivered in spades), Lee opts to keep his beast in the background for simply too long and the attack sequences don’t end up possessing the same wow factor. Though like the lead character of the aforementioned, Tyler does similarly fail with some of his decision-making. For one, he’s ex special forces but leaves his backpack unattended at one point and it disappears. He retrieves it later, and yet chooses to put it down a second time… uh why? He never asks Eli how he got to the forest, Did he drive? If so, where’s the vehicle? Does it work encase they need to bust out in a hurry? He chooses to run away from the creature on multiple occasions despite realizing it’s the reason for the loss of his fiancée and that’s why he’s there in the first place.


Big Legend is like a cross between “Primal Rage” and “The Edge”, with an independent nature of something like John Portanova’s 2015’s “Hunting Grounds” aka “Valley Of The Sasquatch” Justin’s screenplay is solid, the production values are good and horror fans have been in desperate need of some better bigfoot content. The location is beautiful, a bulk of the cinematography is stylish and the score generates a good brand of tension. The opening is bound to get you initially invested in the core couple, and the combo of Makely and Robinson makes for an entertaining two-thirds. What we do get to see of the monster, looks good, and the limited set pieces are well executed, especially those with a couple of practical effects included. The cameos by Barbeau and Henriksen are a good bit of fun too (the latter of the two bought in to set up a sequel). There’s a couple of focus lapses, some absent foley and a few repetitive editing techniques throughout the film and the weather continuity is a bit of a miss. Tyler’s lack of initiative (at least until the third act) can be somewhat frustrating and he doesn’t often make a lot of sound decisions. I think Big Legend does lack some on-screen action, in part probably due to the small budget, just the same, that may hurt its value for multiple viewings. Justin has since shot three more films in a number of genres and I’m really looking forward to checking those out. If you’re a fan of this particular style of Horror/Thriller, Big Legend is well worth a watch. The film is currently available on DVD and through a number of online streaming services. Check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Big Legend” is 6/10

Sequence Break (Review) Look into the white eye and it’ll pull you in…





This is a review of the Region 2 (UK) DVD of the Sci-Fi/Horror/Thriller film “Sequence Break” , Written and Directed by Graham Skipper. Sequence Break is a Cronenberg inspired, Sci-Fi/Body Horror film that centers around Oz (played by Chase Williamson from Siren and The Guest), a loner arcade game technician who experiences hallucinations and a bizarre transmutation after discovering a motherboard that connects to a previously untried machine in his shop. His fast developing relationship with Tess (Fabianne Therese from The Aggression Scale) further complicates matters as Oz finds himself coming to a shocking self-realization. The film also stars Lyle Kanouse (Hesher), John Dinan and Audrey Wasilewski (TV’s Big Love).



Sequence Break is just Skipper’s second feature-length film, and it’s certainly an ambitious one at that. Cronenberg fans have quite a grasp on the body horror sub-genre, seeing as a sizeable chunk of his early work was all about that notion. Films like “Shivers” and “Videodrome”, just to name a couple. Sequence Break is bound to draw comparisons to those types of films, and in particular the latter. Personally I think David made better films than those, such as “Naked Lunch”, “Spider” and of course perhaps the most iconic of body horror films, “The Fly”. Anyways.. onto Skipper’s independent venture. Having come from an acting background, I think he knows what works well for whatever the allocated time and budget. Sequence Break only consists of a handful of characters and very few locations, but it’s never boring. Despite treading over some familiar ground, Graham’s characters convey some relevant commentary and an awareness of the evolution of technology, most evident these days in modern film and gaming. Arcades are now virtually non-existent, video rental shops went bust and even collectors are few and far between. Everything’s sort of just floating around in the stratosphere of digital streaming and downloading, “it’s a whoozy it’s a whazzy”, it’s a little sad. There’s a cool “Space Invaders” like backdrop to the title credit sequence (a tip of the hat to old school gamers), and I particularly like the way the arcade workshop lights up with the multi-faceted lighting setup Oz has rigged. Skipper grounds Sequence Break with simple but well executed visuals and employs the use of practical fx wherever possible. There’s a lot of gooey slime and black sludge that once again calls to mind The Fly.


Cinematographer, Brian Sowell (Beyond The Gates) produces some nice clean visuals and all the framing looks pretty good. Sowell comes with a lot of experience, having been an assistant camera operator for over a decade. The audio track appears to utilize almost all natural sound, which is rare for an independent film. The original score by Van Hughes is probably the films strongest creative aspect. 80’s synth fans are going to love it. It’s super slick and there’s warping bass to drive the films other worldly feel. There’s a section of music that reminded me of some of Brad Fiedel’s synth work on James Cameron’s iconic film, “The Terminator”. The likeable characters, and in turn the actors performances, make Sequence Break as good as it is. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Williamson has proven himself astute in similar terrain, with lead roles in “John Dies At The End” and “Beyond The Gates”. Chase even bears somewhat of a resemblance to Skipper (the two having already worked on the latter), so it was nice to see him cast here. Therese, the girl next door type, is another handy inclusion. I remember seeing her back in Steven C. Miller’s “The Aggression Scale” (a sort of violent Home Alone for adults). The natural chemistry between Chase and Fabianne should come as no surprise, with the two both a part of John Dies At The End. Kudos go to Graham for being one of the first writers to actually create a likeable “boss”. Jerry (Kanouse) owns the workshop but treats Oz like an equal, acknowledging his value to the business. He even offers to split the sale money with him and urges him to unwind a little in order to find what makes him happy. Dinan rounds out the key cast. His mysterious vagabond role is a serviceable one, but the exposition around his character was a little lacking.



Sequence Break has a higher than expected production value for a film entering science fiction domain, but it’s not all perfect. The neon reds used to light the bar sequences with Oz and Tess are quite fiery and a bit too harsh. Following that, there’s a scene with Oz either back at the workshop or in his house (I couldn’t decipher which) that’s virtually shot in total darkness. I’m not sure if Skipper was attempting to convey that Oz couldn’t pay his utility bill, because if it was the workshop surely there’d be a light and he’d just turn it on? For an 80 minute film, the pacing does still lag somewhat. A tighter edit could’ve been achieved by cutting the time-lapse sequence (which only aims to show more time spent between Oz and Tess) and perhaps even a scene or two where Oz revisits the game, because it’s not like there’s a discernible escalation in events with every return. The consensus surrounding Sequence Break is that it’s guilty of coming across as too vague in regard to most of its finer details, and I’d concur. I have no shame in admitting that I didn’t fully understand it, and well, maybe we’re not supposed to. There’s no doubt something primal or animalistic is going on at Oz’s core, and that manifests itself through images of sexual obscurity and an all out cerebral vortex as the film nears its climax. I was relieved to see Oz finally ask questions of “The Man”, though it’s a case of too little too late by the time that eventuated. I think he should have been investigating much earlier in the film. What had Oz fixated on the game? What was it about the white eye that drew him in? Or was it just a way of depicting his inability to get out of his own head and pursue his dream? Those are the questions one is likely to have at the conclusion of Sequence Break. Why did the game appear to have a sexual drawcard? And was that symbolic of Tess and her place in Oz’s life? The only detail I got thinking about was the double representation of Oz conceivably meaning that his head and his heart were caught between two worlds. The questions raised are at least interesting ones, though I can’t help but feel like the frustration of not knowing might tip the scales in the wrong direction.


I’ve been looking forward to checking out Sequence Break for a while and it definitely feels like a love letter to Cronenberg, even American Science Fiction author, H.P Lovecraft. There’s the technological aspect evident in “Videodrome” and the sexualized euphoria experienced by characters in something like “Existenz”, it’s a weird combination that doesn’t completely compute. I do, however, think it’s quite an ambitious project with solid cinematography, good sound design and a stylish synth pumping soundtrack. All the performances are consistent and the combination of Williamson and Therese makes for organic and enjoyable viewing. The CG is admirable considering this is a low-budget undertaking, and the practical fx are a welcomed addition. There’s a couple of minor aesthetic choices I didn’t go in for and the edit could’ve been trimmed in a few places. In the end I had a lot of questions and I didn’t entirely grasp all the conceptual notions at play, and I’m not sure many will. Still, there’s enough here for me to get behind Skipper’s, Sequence Break and I can certainly recommend this to fans of Cronenberg and others like Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). This one is now available to stream through Shudder and you can purchase the DVD from Amazon and other online outlets. Feel free to check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Sequence Break” is 6.5/10

The World Over (Review) What’s on the other side of the door?





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Jasmine Durand at ChicArt Public Relations for forwarding me an online screener of “The World Over”, a 17 minute Horror/Mystery short Written and Directed by Heath C. Michaels. The World Over is a “Twilight Zone” esq short about a young couple, Cass and Jules (played respectively by Tess Granfield and Brett Keating) that discover a key to a doorway in their home that leads to an alternate reality. After curiosity gets the better of the man of the house, Cass is left to fend for herself and eventually comes face to face with her Doppelganger during a strange series of events.



Michael’s first screenplay in almost a decade has its foundations deep-seated in the world of science fiction, calling to mind the aforementioned “Twilight Zone” or even “The Outer Limits”. It’s an ambient-filled thriller with plenty of mystery about it, and the two performances are very good. Gaffer and DP, Greg LeFevre (whose worked on a number of films over the last ten years), showcases some smart and simple camera work. It’s all appropriately framed, there’s subtle movements and it’s all wonderfully edited by Kevin Hickman (an experienced first assistant editor). I particularly liked the time-lapse that highlights Cass’s pregnancy progress. The audio track is nice and loud and the low-fi synth score keeps it feeling grounded in that other worldly niche. It’s not an overly effects heavy film, but the limited visuals representing the gateway were well handled and professional looking. There are a few brief moments of action and some practical blood on display too.



From a technical standpoint, there were only a couple of minor issues I had. In a handful of shots during the first third of the short, faces were often halve shadowed, probably due to the natural light only hitting one side of the room. It was just a little distracting at times. There’s also a whole scene that’s lit using only candles, and seemingly there was no probable reason for Michaels to have done so, other than perhaps just curbing some creative license. After looking over the press kit, I discovered that The World Over was intended as a proof of concept idea for a feature-length film that’ll further explore the notion of parallel universes. Now that’s a good thing, because I had plenty more questions. I was hoping that perhaps when Cass approached herself again on the other side of the doorway, she might have had some more questions. She may not have got any answers, but I would’ve liked to have seen her try. The situation didn’t look like eliciting that from her.


I was pleasantly surprised to find the link to The World Over in my inbox because I hadn’t heard anything about it, but I’m all for new content. I love the Mystery/Thriller genre and this one is shrouded in ambiguity and screaming out for expansion. The cinematography is good, the sound design and score atmospheric and the visuals more than serviceable. The characters are well portrayed by Granfield and Keating and there’s a couple of interesting occurrences. A couple of minor technical things can mostly be chalked up to personal preference, but I would’ve enjoyed seeing Cass pry into the workings of the domain more than she did. The World Over should make for a great feature-length film though, and I, for one, can’t wait to see it. Check out the teaser trailer below and if you enjoy films like “Enemy” and “Persona” keep and eye out for this one soon!

My rating for “The World Over” is 8/10

California Roll (Review) When destiny calls…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Ken Lin for allowing me early access to his debut, 7 minute Crime/Drama short, “California Roll”. California Roll sees Billy and Tako, two conflicted and inefficient criminals (played by Lin himself and Jun Suenaga) storm a quiet sushi bar ill-equipped to deal with the female patrons and their intended follow through. The film also stars Sibyl Santiago, Veronica Reyes-How and Sara Kim.


The colorful poster art was the determining factor in me inquiring about Lin’s film, and his first foray into the world of film making at that. The neon structured palette carries over to the presentation, in turn giving off the feeling of something late 80’s early 90’s in nature. DP, Roland Lazarte has a number of credits under his belt and it shows in the quality of his cinematography. Everything is neatly framed and competently shot, while keeping the approach simple. The audio track is clear and the synth orientated score complements the tone of the setting too. There are dueling dilemmas at play in California Roll. One is the realization that Billy and Tako’s destiny is completely in their hands, at least right up until any action is carried out. Secondly, they have to contend with the unknown and what they mind find if they choose to embrace the women in the restaurant. Lin’s performance reminded me of a James Duval type display, and I dug it.



California Roll would benefit from going through another master to get a slightly better sound mix. The dialogue is a little low in places and the music marginally loud (though this is just a screener).  There’s a lack of confidence that unfortunately shines through with first time performer, Sara Kim. She does her best, but it’s a bit too calm of a portrayal and a little awkward in delivery. Given the plight she’s in as an employee of the bar, I found it hard to believe.

California Roll is a pleasant watch and a professionally made film from a first time filmmaker. It actually took me back to my own first filmmaking experience in 2016. I love the poster art, the premise is interesting and the resolution was a surprising one. The camera work is solid, the music retro and Lin’s first time in front of the camera (as well as behind it) is a successful one. The master could use a little tweaking and hopefully Kim finds growth in any future projects. All in all, great stuff and I can highly recommend this one for Crime fans! Keep an eye out for California Roll, it’s currently on the film festival circuit and you can watch the teaser trailer below.

My rating for “California Roll” is 8/10

Herbie! (Review) Herbie Duck just wants to connect…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Radar Dog Productions and Writer/Director, Drew Barnhardt for sending me a link to his 18 minute, Horror/Dark Comedy short “Herbie!” originally released back in 2004. Herbie Duck (played by Reggie De Morton) is a nice, quiet well-mannered man, the problem is he has violent tendencies and a void in his life. He’s searching for a connection, something of substance to give life meaning. Enter Rosie (Gena Shaw), a young woman whose looking for her mother (Deborah Mousseau), but instead, gets more than she bargains for with the delusional man who has now taken  refuge in the family home.


I recently stumbled upon some promo for Barnhardt’s upcoming feature film “Rondo”, described as a darkly funny revenge, murder, thriller film and I thought I’d reach out via Facebook to further inquire. I did, and he was kind enough to share a screener of his award-winning short from back in 2004. Drew and Co-Writer, Chris McKinley conceived a very tonally awkward, but charming little film about an individual looking for kinship but going about it in the most unconventional of ways. The film has a 90’s, made for TV vibe about it with its grainy presentation and idyllic isolated setting. DP, Kevin Graves (TV’s The American West) utilizes simple shot setups and subtle camera rotations and the edit looks great. Herbies audio track is good as well, and this is before the days of quality and affordable sound equipment, so kudos to the crew. Composer, Ryan Franks (who now works closely with filmmaker Steven C. Miller) began his career on this short film and managed to bring a fresh sound to what’s an unusually peculiar premise. It’s a big score that opens with nice acoustic guitar, followed by quirky instrumentation and even a sequence of bells, electric guitar and marching drum. Herbie is all about its titular character though, that and Morton’s performance. The diction in his narration is perfect, and you certainly feel for the seemingly harmless guy despite the fact that Shaw’s, “Rosie” is innocent in all of it and you know Herb isn’t.


It may seem like an unfair criticism, but those who are used to watching short films with high quality production value may look at Herbie as quite amateur in nature. It has a shot on video look that won’t appeal to everyone, and perhaps Graves could’ve suggested alternative equipment. Content wise, the only qualm is that there was no visual representation on Herbies head or face in the wake of him getting hit with the shovel by Rosie.

Herbie is a one of a kind short film that has shades of Matthew Roth’s little known film, “The Man Who Collected Food” and even “Some Guy Who Kills People”. It’s absorbing, extremely well written and even contains an affable antagonist (if that’s at all possible). The camera work is simple and smart, the score rather lively and diverse, and the lead performances from Reggie and Gena are wonderful too. Perhaps some better equipment might have made the visuals a little easier on the eyes, but aside from that and the minor continuity hiccup regarding the makeup, Herbie is simply outstanding. This may be almost 15 years old, but do yourself a favor and hit up Drew so you can check it out. He’s friendly and this one is a must see for fans of dark short films.

My rating for “Herbie” is 8.5/10