String! (Review)

STRING!

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer, Tyler Schwartz and Director, Stellan Kendrick (Goodnight, Gracie) *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/goodnight-gracie-review/ for allowing me access to an online screener of their 10 minute Crime/Thriller short, “String!”. String is a short film inspired by classic radio dramas and film/noir of the 40’s and 50’s. Hollywood. A struggling young actress. Isabelle Storseth (played by first timer, the lovely Kelly Baker) has turned to thievery to get by, fleecing men with her charm and beauty. She finds herself caught in a dangerous and potentially fatal game of life and death with her latest mark, Benjamin Carney (Brad Goodman) aka “The Mulholland Strangler”. The film also stars Stellan Kendrick, Chantalle Williams and Chen Chen Julian. (Excuse the poor resolution poster it was the only one I could find).

THE GOOD

There’s seriously nothing better than a modern dose of stylish film/noir, though it’s all too rare these days. Once the most aesthetically appealing foundation for the crime genre, film noir has since fallen by the wayside in recent years, with Hollywood choosing to market busier looking features and main stream cinema. So it should come as no surprise that even a short film like String comes from a first time writer (whose probably a die-hard fan of the genre) and will most likely remain under valued. Interesting to see that DP, Mimi Cindy Phan made her film debut on String! as well. The promise of elegant cinematography has often been the main selling point of film noir and that’s quite the torch to bear for one whose new to the business. That said, Phan’s framing is lovely and there’s a series of really sharp close-ups. My favourite shot is in the beginning where she employs gentle zooming on a murder taking place inside a vintage car. The lighting and music are two other key facets of the genre, both of which I was incredibly pleased with here. There was some nice colorful back-lighting during the bar scenes and Del Engen’s wonderfully composed blues/jazz score oozes of Hitchcockian-like atmosphere. Engen adopts french horn, strings and flute all of which are prevalent in the genre. The performances are of a high standard and Goodman brings the heat. As a raw actress, not only does Baker’s beauty and character attire look the part of the femme fatale, she delivers an even performance to boot.

THE BAD

Now I’ll admit, I don’t think it’s stated anywhere when String! is set (though if I recall correctly I think Isabelle uses a semi modern phone), but for a film of this nature I expected some of that corresponding noir dialogue and we never really got it. A couple of the effects were a little weak, namely the CG with the light bulb exploding and Goodman’s eye makeup toward the end of the film, which doesn’t quite look right. The script plays pretty straight though that’s usually to be expected, but Isabelle makes it a little too obvious that she’s hiding a weapon to use on Carney and I thought it was unlikely that she wouldn’t have checked the envelope before agreeing to the terms.

Being a cinephile and someone that’s interested in the entire film making process, I’m a sucker for films like “String!”. Reminiscent of a number of film noir gems and Hitchcock’s work, crossed with something like “The Hillside Strangler”, String! is an aesthetically pleasing and entertaining short. I love the cinematography, the lighting is effective and Del Engen’s score is reason enough alone to give this one a look. Goodman gauges Benjamin’s seedy nature really well and I was really surprised with Kelly Baker, she’s gorgeous and delivers a nice consistent performance. There’s a couple of minor inconsistencies and one or two script specifics that I thought could have been handled differently but this is Schwartz’s first writing credit, so with that in mind, he’s done quite the job. String! is a blast and is a must-see for fans of film noir (I just wish there were more of us out there). I’ve seen two of Kendrick’s shorts now and been impressed with both so I can’t wait to see what he does next.

My rating for “String!” is 8/10

 

 

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The Quiet Zone (Review)

THE QUIET ZONE

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Andrew Ionides for allowing me access to an online screener of his 8 minute Horror/Thriller short, “The Quiet Zone”. The Quiet Zone is a self-contained short about Ella (played by Jessica Bayly), a late night commuter who encounters a disruptive passenger on her train carriage. After initially fleeing the ever-growing exasperation, Ella finds herself fighting for her life while trapped in the station with someone or something. The film also stars Kasey Iliana Sfetsios.

THE GOOD

Films set on-board trains have long made for interesting viewing, at least the ones I’ve seen. There’s been classic stories like Agatha Christie’s, “Murder On The Orient Express” and Hitchcock’s, “Strangers On A Train”, all the way through to indie entries like, “Night Train” and “The Midnight Meat Train”. The Quiet Zone is a snappy and isolated tale, far removed from the usual murder mystery stories but equally as enjoyable. The audio track is surprisingly clean considering the location and its probability for unpredictable reverb. Richard Keyworth’s score works a treat, as he uses subtly an eerie sounds to create a sense of unease. In the beginning, he works plenty of bass into the mix to correlate with Ella’s growing annoyance with the passengers relentless noise. The lighting is decent but it’s the faintly back-lit scene mid way through that really stands out, in which Ella stands in the belly of the station in the shadows trying to decipher whose following her. The attention to detail in Bayly’s makeup, and in turn, Ella’s was something that really stood out. We’re introduced to her while she’s in a scramble marking what appears to be work documents and such. She looks over worked and run down, heavy under the eyes and you certainly wouldn’t have a hard time believing that she might have a skewed perception of things, I liked that touch. There’s a nice looking prosthetic piece and some blood and gore on display too.

THE BAD

There’s a couple of focus lapses in the early part of the film and I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the handheld guerilla style approach to the cinematography (but each to his own). Jarring movements if they’re not representing something that supposed to jar you, come off as amateurish. In the case of The Quiet Zone, several shots look good and others are a little so-so. The film’s premise is rather odd, particularly the idea of having a “quiet zone” on a train. I’m not sure if that’s a real thing or not? I find it hard to believe that it would be, given that you couldn’t possibly monitor that. I liked the plot development revealed half way in but I’m not sure how Kasey played two different characters, maybe I missed something. That aspect may have been part of Ella’s deceptive mind and I just didn’t see it like that.

“The Quiet Zone” is Andrew Ionides fourth short film but my first venture into his work and I was surprised with the end result. I’m partial to the train station locale and Andrew impressed with his ability to pull something like this off on minimal funds. The audio is clean, the score builds tension, and the lighting is moody, especially in the second half. The acting was good and the viewer has a clear read on Ella’s state of mind on this most unfortunate of nights. Some of the specifics weren’t completely clear and I’d have preferred to see a more cinematic approach to the cinematography. The Quiet Zone is an entertaining and effective little chiller that you should definitely board when it hits the station!

My rating for “The Quiet Zone” is 7.5/10

 

Retribution (Review)

RETRIBUTION

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Paddy Murphy for allowing me access to an online screener of his 12 minute Exploitation/Crime short, “Retribution”. Retribution is set in Ireland amidst the ongoing criminal underbelly of the catholic church. A vigilante biker (played by Adam Moylan) sets out on the streets at night to rid the city of its most vile sinners. Top of his list, a priest named Argyle (Nicholas Vince from Nightbreed). The film also stars Nigel Mercier and Paddy Murphy. I recently saw Murphy’s debut feature-length film “The Three Don’ts”, which was another Crime/Drama film set in Ireland. Whilst it wasn’t really for me, I’ve been keen to check out some of his shorts. He’s impressively chalked up a number of film credits in a short space of time (under 4 years to be exact).

THE GOOD

Retribution plays like a love letter to the Exploitation flicks of the 70’s and 80’s. A revenge fueled biker tale entrenched in the world of organized religion and aimed at those who pray on other people’s weaknesses (or naivety to be more accurate). I’m selective when it comes to these particular films, you often have to be in the right mood for them. I’m digging the artwork which is reminiscent of films like “The Punisher” and “Drive”. Retribution opens with a passage of “Boondock Saints” like narration, introducing the viewer to the world that the mysterious biker is at war with. Barry Fahy’s camera work and framing are generally quite good, the best shots coming while the biker is in transit. Considering the estimated 2,000 pound budget, I was impressed with Murphy’s ability to procure empty streets and shoot those riding scenes professionally. The neon blue and purple lighting that’s applied in the bar scene looks great and the pulse pounding synth score by David Malcolm is perhaps the best component in the film. He uses a series of low-end piano notes in threes to build the suspense but the synth is ever-present in the mix. All in all the performances are decent, particularly from Moylan and Vince, who share the most amount of screen time. Being a revenge orientated short, there are some on-screen kills, some of which are better than others. The most memorable involves a toaster and some solid practical blood and gore.

THE BAD

I noticed a few minor issues in several technical aspects of the film but that’s to be expected in low-budget independent film making. There’s a few moments where the camera loses focus briefly and the audio seems a little low in places. Most of the edit works well but I wasn’t a fan of the rapid cuts toward the end of the film during the representation of the biker’s life. It hazily depicts abuse he endured as it all flashes before his eyes. My only complaint with the acting was the complete lack of reaction from the girl (played by Courtney McKeon) who witnesses the biker killing a man. I’m not sure if she was supposed to have been drugged or something but there’s no way you wouldn’t react in that situation (the writing could be to blame as well).

Paddy Murphy’s, Retribution makes no apologies for its formulaic revenge soaked exploitation framework. Clearly inspired by the likes of the aforementioned, “The Punisher” and even films like “Mad Max” and “Torque”, Retribution is a welcomed addition to the sub-genre. Being an atheist I do get a kick out of this attack on the church (albeit in a fictional sense haha), I like the narration, the presentation and the heavy synth pumping soundtrack. There’s effective lighting, a couple of good kills and the performances are mostly solid. The film isn’t without its lapses in technical professionalism and I didn’t love the editing during the climax. If you’re a fan of these particular vigilante films and exploitation of the 70’s and 80’s but maybe you don’t want a full 90 minutes of it, Retribution is your best bet. I enjoyed the hell out of this one and I’d love to see Murphy come back to it again.

My rating for “Retribution” is 7.5/10

Bear With Us (Review)

BEAR WITH US

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Funky Pretty Pictures and Co-Writer/Director, William J. Stribling for allowing me early access to his Comedy/Creature Feature “Bear With Us”. Bear With Us centers around Colin Dense (and no the irony is not lost on me), a hapless, love struck guy (played by Mark Jude Sullivan) who orchestrates an elaborate proposal via a trip to a cabin in the woods with love of his life, Quincy Adams (Christy Carlson Romano from The Girl In The Photographs). Joining the young couple are their respective best friends, Harry (played by Collin Smith) and Tammy (Alex McKenna). Colin’s somewhat secretive plan starts to fall apart when the foursome receive a warning on the radio about a bear loose in the area. This is just the first of a series of unfortunate events that place the group in a life or death situation. The film also stars Cheyenne Jackson (American Horror Story), Kevin Carolan, Curtiss Cook and Alice Ripley. The following review will be based upon my one viewing of the film (which was a few weeks ago mind you). Ideally I’d liked to have re-visited it before this write-up, but with limited time and an infinite amount of content to sort through, this will have to suffice.

THE GOOD

The aspect of Bear With Us that stands out most and perhaps separates Stribling’s “creature feature” from most others, at least aesthetically speaking, is Alex Gallitano’s black and white cinematography. Said foundation was initially what caught my eye, and from there I did some inquiring to learn a little bit more about the film. At the crux of Bear With Us lies an offbeat comedy amidst a creature feature. That said, the meta approach to the cabin in the woods formula mixed with the situational dark comedy, makes for an interesting, albeit, somewhat uneven blend. On Gallitano’s cinematography, it’s simple but smart and drives most of the films seemingly high production value. I love the handful of tracking shots, particularly the opening one that closes in on Colin and Quincy as they enter a restaurant for their anniversary dinner. All of the framing is neat and there’s intelligent editing where Raymond Fraser (the credited editor) utilizes some slick transitions, particularly in the first act. For the most part, the audio is natural and consistently clear in the mix. While I don’t feel that all Dylan Glatthorn’s score worked, I commend him on his ability to use bass to evoke similar tones to that of a Coen Brothers picture (some of their more light-hearted works). I found several of the quirky pieces of music extremely effective for matching the films desired atmosphere.

Each of the on-screen performances are more than serviceable. As a whole, the cast certainly have a mixed bag of experience, but everyone, at the very least ,has reasonable comedic timing. The two most consistently funny characters here are Harry (Smith) and Hudson (Jackson). Harry is Colin’s harmless and significantly less mature buddy. He’s the guy Colin bounces his ideas off of, and more importantly, he’s the only one who knows about the proposal, offering up his Aunt’s cabin for the big day. Collin Smith has got the feel of a Fran Kranz (from Cabin In The Woods) meets Tom Green (Freddy Got Fingered), and it works for him. The back and forth that develops between him and Sullivan makes for some good dead pan gags throughout the film. In a film called “Bear With Us, you’d expect plenty of bear puns but there’s also some funny situations that arise over the course of the film. Example being, Col will question Harry and he’ll reply with “I’ll spare you the details” (to then proceed to go straight into the details). The “This is a test, this is not a test” line got a good laugh, in addition to the repetition of “When did you have time for this?”. Most of the comedic highlights center around Smith in one way or another. I like that Writers, Russ Nickel and William Stribling seemingly take inspiration from a more dry sense of humor that comes out of the UK and Australia (rather than some of America’s in your face content and toilet humor). Christy and Alex get time to showcase their comic sensibilities in an awkward but funny intervention for Tammy. Cheyenne Jackson’s, “Hud”, whose a local hunter/tracker, comes in all guns a blazing, and in turn, Jackson runs with some of that sporadic delivery. The film is nicely set up and built around the differences between men and women in relationships. We get both sides of the conversation and I enjoyed the way it played out in tandem.

THE BAD

During the introductory credits there’s some random imagery of schools of fish swimming in a river (and some not so good-looking CG ones jumping out of the water), I’m not sure what relevance that had as a lead in. Maybe it was just a visual representation of the classic saying “There’s plenty of fish in the sea”, in regard to relationships and the Colin/Quincy dynamic. The film is not without its patches of ADR (additional dialogue recording), though that’s natural on independent films (even though I’m never going to be a fan of it). Some of the science fiction themed sound design threw me for a loop, given that all the events taking place in Bear With Us are grounded in reality. Once again, maybe it’s just a nod to the creature feature era and 50’s b movies, I’m not too sure. Speaking of creatures, I’m usually all for practical effects even if their incredibly cheesy (which they are here). In this case I’ve got to warn you that the bear is literally just a guy in a suit, and not a very convincing suit at that (which is fairly quickly revealed haha). If there was an inconsistency in the acting department it was the forced nature of Chief Ranger Stewart (voice over). I know the part was supposed to be played for laughs but I thought the dialogue was weak and translated poorly. A couple of semi insignificant points bothered me as well, such as the name Quincy, which sucked. Was it intentionally a horrible name to perhaps give the audience a little insight as to what type of girl she might have been? (e.g a ball buster) Each time Colin called her name out (or somebody else for that matter) it grated on my nerves…. I know that’s silly, but still.

There were a handful of other script specifics that I didn’t care for either. I can’t remember which character was involved, but at one stage someone bellowed out at the top of their lungs for what felt like forever. There’s an overly long, rather self-indulgent scene in which Hud boasts to the group about a tale of his heroics. Once again, I understand that the intention was to play it for laughs, but I personally just didn’t find it all that funny. There’s also a poorly staged, impromptu sex scene in the latter part of the film, it leads to a revelation between Harry and Tammy though it wasn’t really necessary and just feels perverse. Sullivan handles the lead role really well and looks quite comfortable in front of the camera but I found it difficult to have much sympathy for the guy. Most of the time he just comes across as a sap who wreaks of desperation, and therefore it’s hard to engage. Sure, his heart is in the right place and I suppose that’s somewhat relatable. It’s just that deep down you can see through the charade and she clearly isn’t in the same place as he is emotionally speaking, and that makes for more awkwardness than you’d care to witness. The film suffers from some average pacing in the middle act and by the time it’s drawing to a close you’ve lost track of where everyone’s loyalties lie.

Bear With Us is a quirky Comedy/Creature Feature presented in glorious black and white photography, seemingly for no other reason than its specific aesthetic appeal (but I dug it!). Nickel and Stribling’s script blends something like “Cottage Country” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/cottage-country-review/ with the more recent “Better Watch Out” (to a lesser extent). I dug the camera work, the audio and a sizeable amount of the score. The performances are of a high standard, Harry and Hudson provide most of the films comedy and there’s enough funny puns and good one liners to keep you entertained. The first half of the film is tightly cut together but unfortunately it eventually loses its way. However, I do like the dynamic between the two pairs of friends, as well as the depiction of the differences between men and women in relationships. The opening credits were a little obscure, not all the music fits and the bear costume looks average to say the least (probably intentionally). Quincy annoyed me, sadly even the name did and the character on occasion too. Certain scenes wear out their welcome and some weren’t really required at all, on top of that, Colin is a difficult character to engage with and that can work against a film of this nature. Bear With Us certainly isn’t perfect, it stumbles here and there, and while it’s probably not the first of its kind that I’d go in for, I do think it’s a pretty well made product and certainly worth a look. Check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Bear With Us” is 5.5/10

Used Body Parts (Review)

USED BODY PARTS

 

THE SETUP

I happened to stumble upon Venita Ozols-Graham’s debut 7 minute Horror short, titled “Used Body Parts” on Vimeo.com (streaming platform). Used Body Parts focuses on friends, Jenny and Scarlet (played by Brigitte Graham and Jordan Elizabeth respectively) who after stopping for gas in the middle of nowhere, end up in a fight for their lives when the owner (Tim DeZarn of “Fight Club” and “The Barber”) of the station reveals his disturbing operation. The film also stars Michael Villar (Carnage Park) *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/carnage-park-review/. Venita’s been working as an AD for well over 30 years, with her name attached to shows like “Star Trek”, “The X-Files”, “The Shield” and “Veronica Mars”. She’s now beginning to venture into writing and directing and it’s great to see someone from her TV background tackling Horror.

THE GOOD

Anyone who knows me knows I’m big on the dark horror content. Graham’s screenplay is built on the most basic of setups but it wears that familiar badge with pride. Those of you who enjoy a good gas station scene, and there’s been countless numbers of them (The Hills Have Eyes, Urban Legend, Cabin In The Woods or even Wild At Heart), will surely enjoy Used Body Parts. There’s a nifty introduction with the title credits appearing in the form of neon lights. Everything is nicely shot, well framed and smoothly edited and the audio track is loud and clear. Alexander Arntzen’s approach to the score is interesting as well, opting for high frequency sounds which are bound to jangle ones nerves, similar to that of the aforementioned “Hills Have Eyes” (06 version). The four performances are solid and the girls themselves are lovely. Fun fact, DeZarn (who reminds me of Lance Henriksen) also appeared in “Cabin In The Woods” in a very similar role (his agenda not far off as well). When the action hits it takes place in the blurred background of the shot, which I thought was a welcome change that worked extremely well. Fans of blood and gore will not be disappointed either. Graham utilizes practical effects and only some brief CG, also employing a great backdrop with which to showcase them.

THE BAD

My only minor complaint was the creative decision to have Jenny convey her text messaging through self-dialogue, rather than just showing the viewer the conversation on the phone. People only tend to voice what they are writing if they’re telling someone about it but not if they’re on their own.

Used Body Parts is now the third short film I’ve watched in quick succession and ended up being thoroughly impressed with. It’s also another one to come from a first time writer/director. I love the premise, the production value and the direction it takes with its conservative approach to the action. Practical blood and gore effects are always a positive and fans of the gas station setup are bound to dig it. I ask myself the question, How on earth am I going to rank some of these short films come the end of the year? Especially when they’re all so damn good! You can purchase Used Body Parts (though I wouldn’t recommend it, because well it’s just not sanitary is it?), I can, however, recommend this fun little horror short and you can rent/purchase it at the link here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/usedbodyparts/202706115

My rating for “Used Body Parts” is 9/10

Mannequin (Review)

MANNEQUIN

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to DND Creations and Co-Writers/Directors, Dante Aubain and Danny Summonte for allowing me access to an online screener of their debut 10 minute Horror/Thriller short, “Mannequin”. In a quiet suburban neighborhood, a young man finds a mysterious package dropped at his doorstep. After doing some investigating he soon realizes the box may harbor something far more sinister than first thought. The film stars both Aubain and Summonte, who also combined as producers, editors and composers. Mannequin was a two-man shoot made on a shoe-string budget of just $150.

THE GOOD

Aubain and Summonte’s first screenplay carries a similar tone to that of David Sandberg’s “Lights Out”, as well as the criminally underrated “388 Arletta Avenue” from Randall Cole. One might draw the more obvious comparison to Richard Kelly’s, “The Box”, but other than the package itself, this one never ventures into the realms of science fiction. I was really surprised by the classy cinematography given that this was shot and edited by a couple of first-timers. Speaking of the edit, it’s smooth and I particularly like the series of shots in the kitchen which are cut together effectively. My favourite shot is a clever one looking back up out of the box. The audio track was consistent and the score perfectly implemented. I thought Danny’s themes were reminiscent of a number of the suspenseful scores used in TV’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. In addition, this duo knows exactly when to employ silence in order to help build tension, it works wonderfully here.

THE BAD

On the technical front, Mannequin surpassed any expectations I had going in. That said, I do think that perhaps the lighting was a little dull in a few places. I thought that by and large, Danny’s performance was pretty good. My only criticism was that he seemed unusually upbeat considering the escalating situation, his dialogue delivery rather jovial.

Mannequin is the rarest of short films and I don’t mean that in the literal sense. It’s just that it’s a two-man show and a superb triumph given Aubain and Summonte’s lack of experience and budgetary constraints. The premise is unnerving, the cinematography sharp and the edit brings it all together for a ten minute creepy horror tale. I enjoyed the score and the eventual payoff. The couple of minor gripes I had were in the details but Mannequin is up there with the best shorts of 2017. Where will DND Creations go from here? I, for one, can’t wait to see what they do next! You can check out the film at the link below and I suggest you do. I’m off to watch it again!

My rating for “Mannequin” is 9/10

 

 

Goodnight, Gracie (Review)

GOODNIGHT, GRACIE

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Patricia at Chicart Public Relations, along with Writer/Director, Stellan Kendrick for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 4 minute Horror short, “Goodnight, Gracie”. Goodnight, Gracie sees 8-year-old, Gracie (played by Caige Coulter), a true believer in god, awaken to a loud bang downstairs late one night. With flashlight in hand, she approaches the top of the stairs, where below, she witnesses the shocking murder of her mother (Zoe Simpson Dean) at the hands of her stepfather, Billy (Courtney Gains of “Back To The Future” and “The Funhouse Massacre”) *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/the-funhouse-massacre-review/.

THE GOOD

Kendrick’s, “Amityville” inspired quickie touches on the notion of faith, and what role, if any, that ultimately plays in altering ones fate. At the very least, it illustrates the fact that it isn’t really important if what you believe is true or not, just that you believe it to be. Julia Swain’s camera work is simple but effective. Built on slick framing and moody lighting, the gentle transitions work wonderfully. My favourite shot is a low angle under the bedroom door looking at the shadowy outline of Billy’s feet. I enjoyed the brief suspenseful score and its appropriate spacing amidst the striking sounds of an axe impacting human flesh. The two key performances required high tension levels and both the experienced, Courtney Gains and young, Coulter, carry it well. Stellan is not afraid to showcase some fairly graphic practical blood and gore effects. The red on white backdrop during the action sequence caught me off guard (in the best possible way), and makes for some intense visual stimuli.

THE BAD

I only had one minor complaint and that was with a piece of the dramatic score that plays under the main theme, it felt like it clashed tonally speaking.

Stellan Kendrick’s latest short film, Goodnight, Gracie makes for a great introduction to a new and young filmmaker, albeit just a 4 minute glimpse. The cinematography is smart, the casting impressive and most of the score fits nicely. The gory action sequence is well worth your time and it will be interesting to see where Kendrick ultimately goes with this premise. Goodnight, Gracie is currently showing on the film festival circuit, so keep an eye out for this one soon and check out the teaser below!

My rating for “Goodnight, Gracie” is 9/10