Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Established A.D. 2000, March 19. Now in our eighth calendar year!
Number 364 (Vol. 8, No. 11). This edition is for the week of March 12--18, 2007.
The Tampa Film Review for March
By Nolan B. Canova and Terence Nuzum
Nolan here. My traveling companion for this month's review, Terence Nuzum, and I left here early, but still managed to just barely make it to the TFR in time due to construction in Ybor tying up intersections with "DETOUR" signs.
Fellow PCR columnist and stellar author William Moriaty was unable to make this Review due to illness (I'm glad to report he's since improved).
Gus Perez and Jennifer Moore however, were there, as were Tim Griffin and Emerald Gowers of Griffowers Productions. Eventually, Chris Woods, David Audet, Derek Miner, John Matheny, Joel and Cathy Wynkoop, Rodrick Colbert and several of tonight's filmmakers would be in attendance.
And speaking of attendance....tonight's crowd was HUGE. Surprising in that TFR organizer Paul Guzzo and I pretty much agreed that with all the recent fests, filmgoers might be fested out. Not so!
Terence is reviewing films with me this month, so you're getting two reviewers for the price of one!
To remind everyone of the drill: Movie titles and their descriptions, usually a summary written by Paul Guzzo (or sometimes copied from the DVD box cover, if available), are in black.
My (Nolan's) reviews are in blue.
Terence's reviews are in dark red.
This is simply to help separate the writers' contributions at a glance and reduce confusion. If there is no offical tagline or description supplied for a video, I simply include my personal summary in my review. Hope it helps!
Heeeeere we go.... (Note: in the original edition of this page, some films were listed out of order due to my fragile memory of such things. Terence's reviews, sent in order, has updated and corrected this shortcoming. --Nolan)
"Lector" (alternate title, El Lector), written and directed by Greg Marcks, starring Randy Cohlmia, cameo by Gus Perez. A man who makes his living by reading books to cigar rollers struggles to keep his job in the face of a new technology: the radio.
Nolan: This 20-minute film, originally released in 2000, is a student film produced at Florida State University. It's 1924 Ybor City Tampa, and Cesar Hidalgo (Randy Cohlmia in a compelling performance) is a third generation lector (a Hispanic term for lecturer/reader). He enjoys his job of reading books and newspaper articles aloud to the workers and looks forward to it every day. He's paid solely by tips from the grateful workers. One day, a radio appears in the cigar factory and the workers seem more taken with that than with the lector. At first, nothing changes, but over a few days, the radio garners more and more of the workers' attention. Soon the tips dry up and Cesar must make a life-changing decision.
The photography, acting, and script on this are top-notch. I've seen this film several times and it never gets old. Randy Cohlmia is extremely effective at conveying his pride and evoking sympathy, very powerful performance. Look for Tampa's lo-budget indie legend Gus Perez in a background non-speaking role as a cigar roller.
Note to TFR patrons: Although this film was shot and released on film in color, due to a technical glitch with the video projector last Friday night, the DVD of Lector was shown in black-and-white. Because the film is set in the '20s, this arguably gave it an improved retro look, and I doubt if anyone in the audience ever caught on that it was a mistake. Very highly recommended.
Terence: I have seen this one before, but it still packs a punch. Everything about it reeks of how to do a period piece on a low budget correctly. The actor who plays the Lector, Randy Cohlmia, is amazingly good except for some minor over-acting in the sympathy department when he is accepting his tips. Also, look for a don't-blink-or-you-might-miss-him cameo by Gus Perez. Recommended.
In this next section are previews of some films playing at this year's Ybor Festival of the Moving Image. Festival director David Audet was on hand to introduce the films and promote the festival. Unfortunately, he left with the discs afterwards, and repeated inquiries for information this week went unanswered. Their website is down (and has been since last week), so I have only my memory to go on regarding the films' titles, which are, therefore, approximations at best. Also, forget about specific credits for the time being. Sorry. If and when the information becomes available, I'll update this section.
Films from the upcoming Ybor Festival of the Moving Image
April 19--22, 2007, Ybor City
"Bars and Tone" -- I'm pretty sure I have this title correct. Anyone in the least familiar with television production knows that every professionally-produced TV program begins with "bars and tone" running up to about a minute on the master tape. This is a set of color bars recorded on the tape and is used to calibrate monitors in the broadcast studio. Also recorded on the tape is a piercing tone used to set audio levels for the same purpose. These are commonly referred to as "bars and tone" and are meant to be seen only by studio engineers and never by the viewing audience. In tonight's film, Bars and Tone, it would seem the producers f*cked up leaving the bars and tone on the DVD. The subsequent sequence would normally be "the slate" which would reveal title and producer, but then we suddenly discover we've been had: in tonight's film, the bars and tone ARE the show! Roughly a minute into it, the bars start to shimmer and shift, the audio track starts to waver and pulsate. This begins a very trippy feedback loop of sorts where the bars and tone automatically and geometrically get more and more whacked out until after several minutes we're left with a nearly blank screen and white noise. Ultimately, we're rewarded with a placid scene of a boat on a lake, never really remembering for sure where the bars and tone ended and the boat came in. Experimental, but recommended.
Almost the best film of the night. Bars and tone literally meld before your eyes into a moving picture of seaside and bridge. This was only the beginning of a revelation I had that night that after viewing the quality of Ybor's Film Fest submissions, I realized how long all of us have yet to go. Very Highly Recommended.
"Swimming With The Fishes" -- This recalled title is approximately correct. A touching but strange little drama of a little girl who seems to drift in and out of reality, confiding little in her best friend, except she's anticipating a visit from her divorced mother. The friend always wants to go along for the ride where they walk. Our main girl seems fascinated with being underwater (I think she was staring at a fish tank for a while), which develops into an obsession with the Weeki-Wachi mermaids, dragging her friend to their shows. She seems to fantasize being one of them at the same time mumbling about her tardy mother's visit. Eventually, they visit the beach where mom is due, but when the friend loses track of her, we discover the original girl's belongings on the shoreline. Did she try to become a mermaid with tragic results? Up to the viewer. Recommended
Hands down, the best film of the night. It managed to get good performances out of children and simply and quickly tell a sad and moving story. The direction, too, was inspiring. Film of The Night.
"Mirage" -- Thanks to Terence for remembering the title of this extremely well-executed CGI animation of a robot with a young child's face (male, likely, but hard to tell) dealing with his environment and learns a lesson about mutual needs. That's about all I got out of it at the time, I'd really like to've given it another look. But the animation was pro level. Recommended
A animated short that I can't believe wasn't a professional job. Stunning visuals that melded A.I. and scenarios from Brothers Quay. Definitely liked this one. Very Highly Recommended.
"Ten Souls Rising" -- I didn't remember the title at all, but two weeks after this review first saw publication, Eddie Leonardo did, and informed me via the message board (earlier versions of this review simply referred to it as "The Elevator film"). This is a surprisingly engaging comic-drama, riffing on the old chestnut of people trapped on a stalled elevator (I believe the location was set in France, but can't swear to it right now). Everyone from the nervous-Nellie, to the businessman-late-for-a-meeting, to the child who needs to pee are all represented with the added spice of a Muslim, a recently-divorced couple, and a black elevator-operator on board. The building supervisors are in steady intercom contact, but are powerless to help until mechanics arrive (union problems, evidently). Trying to remain calm in the face of uncertainty, our travelers pass the time venting personal stories and occasionally hatching an escape plan. The upbeat ending reveals a telling side of human nature. Highly recommended.
Like Nolan, I didn't remember the title. But unlike Nolan, I wasn't all that thrilled with this one. It had a neat surprise plot shift, but I feel it ran a little too long once that was revealed. We got the idea too many times before it was over. Again, another professional-looking short that makes most local stuff look pale in comparison. Chris, Griffowers, me, and all of us local filmmakers apparently have a lot to learn yet. Not so much in the technical areas because that isn't everything, but in the maturity level and impact of the scripting exhibited in all the Ybor Fest samples. Good.
And now back to the regular TFR...
"Happy Birthday Jack" written and directed by Eddie Gerbacht. About 5 minutes. Everyone seems to know Jack better than himself. On his birthday he learns more about his surroundings and acquaintances through an unfolding of truths. Will Jack get to the bottom of what is taking place in time? Will you?Back to Top | Back to Home
Jack (Travis Raisler) is invited to a supposedly intimate birthday dinner at his girlfriends' uncle's storage warehouse. Weird, but he goes along with it until he's handcuffed to his chair and confronted about his infidelity. His girlfriend (the sexy Karen Hursey and her veddy proppa English accent) reveals she's only dated him the past three years to discover where his allegedly dead brother stashed several bags of cash stolen in a bank robbery. He denies any knowledge, but she doesn't believe him and things heat up as the interrogation continues. In the background is José the night janitor (Dennis Solorzano), who reputedly doesn't speak or understand any English. When the heavily-armed dead brother shows up very much alive and reveals the location of the cash, José vanishes.
Nicely-done, good performances and camerawork, good music soundtrack. I don't think I'm betraying any confidences by telling you director Eddie Gerbacht goes by Eddie Leonardo on the Crazed Fanboy message board. This is the first film I recall seeing a film by Eddie and look forward to more. A quick, easy view, Recommended.
Verging on 99-esque frat humor and a romantic comedy/mystery, I honestly was not impressed with this film all that much. It had a fun little ending but you could see that coming a mile away. The direction was flat and nonexistent, but the actors, while amateur, somehow managed to translate the story to the audience without giving away their lack of skills. Decent.
"Meet Pino" written and directed by Ben Rosa (produced in association with the Weekend Film Crew). About 10 minutes. Pino Gheppeto is a 48-year-old bitter man who carries the weight and burden of regret about a significant decision he made in the past. Pino's only happiness lies in playing with toys, Toys that help him reconnect to his once magical childhood. What Pino does not know is that soon Fate will intervene.
The title and main character's name should give you a hint as to where this is going, haha. A lengthy opening segment shows our boy Pino (Ian Powers in a fantastic performance) playing with his super-hero action figures, his over-the-top zeal rivaling any 10-year-old's genuine involvement. Reality check soon comes in as he must stop playing and get to the office to attend to business. His first appointment brings a mother and her young son in to correct an accounting error. The boy, Austin, starts playing with an action figure Pino can't take his eyes off of. When the boy (played well by Austin Blay) refuses to part with his toy, a panicky call to the local toy store results in a personal visit by Pino. When a scuffle with another 12-year-old over the last "Victoro" figure nearly results in a fist-fight, the store manager intervenes --- and in a dreamy, magical sequence, this Blue Fairy (the beautiful Kate Holliday) admonishes Pino (get it yet?) that he's been a very bad boy and must be punished. Dandy little drama, good performances, very nice music soundtrack. Highly recommended.
Very interesting take on the "what if Pinnochio became a real boy and grew up" theory. Although the filmmakers somehow translated that into Pinnochio would still be playing with toys at 40. Yet, I don't remember Pinnochio playing with any toys in the original fairy tale, so I assumed that even though he is a real boy now, he still feels an affinity for toys, because somehow they relate to puppets and remind him of his past. I guess. Not sure exactly what happened at the end with the fairy godmother, though. Decent.
"Night of the Bat Demons" written and directed by David Melendez. When a camper returns to the campsite to retrieve his wallet, he finds there is more in this forest than your normal animals.
I really enjoyed this mini monster movie by A Group Of Friends With A Lame Idea Production company (LOVE that name, haha). My colleagues and I were in some disagreement over whether this was an intentional send-up of monster movies, or a sincere effort that merely came off as a send-up. I myself am voting for deliberate send-up as it hits all the familiar marks. Alex and Angela Cruz play our hero couple, Louis and Tina. Louis teases Tina about being scared of the dark after they stop along a dark road for him to find his wallet. Of course, after he leaves the car for a few moments, we're treated to the requisite false alarm scare when he jumps in front of her window and yells. We follow him out into the woods (as does the glaring, camera-mounted spotlight), where he's attacked by the Bat Demon (stuntman wearing a full-length adult Halloween costume complete with pullover mask). Tina, hearing some commotion, decides to investigate. When she sees the Bat Demon, she exclaims "Oh my goodness!" pivots and runs (her amateur peformance providing one of the night's big laughs). Unfortunately, the house in which Tina seeks sanctuary contains another surprise. Shot at New River (wherever that is), the residents of which get a sarcastic film credit for calling the cops on the production team while they were shooting in the woods. It's a fun little flick and demands little from the audience except to go along on its 5-minute ride. Recommended.
Thoroughly enjoyable and a failure all at the same time. The problem I have with it is that all clues would lead me to believe this was a horror film being played straight if not for the way over-the-top bat costume (not counting some of the acting which you could say plagues a lot of local films). Since that is really the only silly/spoofy type element in a film where there are some genuine scare moments, I have to conclude that it either was meant to be a spoof and failed due to lack of satirical set-ups, or that it was a serious film where the filmmakers gained access to some giant bat costume, and without proper lighting, directorial choices, and editor skills, simply didn't realize how hokey it looked. Either way, it was the most talked-about film of the night and one of the more well-paced and fun. Good.
In this next section are previews/trailers of some films playing at this year's Sunscreen Film Festival. Festival director Derek Miner was on hand to introduce the films and promote the festival. Fortunately, I was able to borrow the discs afterwards for further review. Terence's reviews are from memory. --Nolan
Trailers from the upcoming Sunscreen Film Festival
April 6--8, 2007 at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort
"Mojave Phone Booth,". A multiple award-winner. A number posted on the internet is discovered to belong to a lone phone booth out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, 70 miles from Las Vegas. Our heroine discovers the booth and the phone ringing, the callers lead to several encounters. At the same time is a sub-plot dealing with hundreds of miles of magnetic tape, some in cassettes and some not, being strewn across the desert, and their possible significance. Looks beautifully shot to me, I love the questions being asked, I'm hoping the payoff will be as satisfying.
Reeked of extremely competent filmmakers who have no idea how to make mysterious, abstract ideas not ridiculous. It has the most ludicrous idea I have seen in awhile. It felt like one of those Saturday Night Live fake movie trailers where they are so well done that you can't tell if it's part of the show or a real commercial till, of course, you see it's too silly to be real.
"The Last Western," DeauxBoy Productions. Chris Deaux's documentary about Pioneer Town, California, a town originally built strictly as a western movie set that eventually became a real town, and subsequently nears re-abandonment. Features several interviews from past/present residents. In the trailer, the town is portrayed as a sort of time-capsule, as are its residents. Might be interesting.
"The Last Western" about a real life town built around a western movie set looks to be one of most boring documentaries of the year.
"Last Stop For Paul," a Mandt Bros Production. Our hero loves to travel and always wanted to go to Russia. Well his trip seems very exciting until a brush with the authorities makes him a fugitive. Funnily, despite the title, he says his name is Charlie. Whatever, sounds like a fun movie.
OK, first off, "Last Stop For Paul" is not about Guzzo's enemies finally ending his career in this town. What it is about is some frat boy jerk who goes to Russia and, I'm guessing, various places and lands in trouble. Is any of it real? I don't know. Would Russian police allow a cameraman in the squad car with him? I doubt it, but somehow it looks like it could be a fun film.
"Nature's Way" by Griffowers Productions (Tim Griffin and Emerald Gowers). A camping trip on the beach goes awry for a young scooterist couple in this nightmarish short film.
Emerald Gowers and Tim Griffin once again star in their own screenplay which bears the suggested tagline "Before you go camping, make sure your vaccinations are up to date". Tim and Em scooter around St. Pete scouting for a place to go camping, finally settling on the always-to-die-for location of Fort DeSoto Beach. While hiking down one of the nature trails, Tim spots a racoon in a bush, and can't resist the urge to pet it despite Em's warnings. Bad idea. Tim gets bitten hard by the feral animal and eventually pays a very dear price. A price, that, unfortunately, through sexual contact, is ultimately shared by Em.
Tim and Em have patented a certain "look" for their films that's obtained via a Sony Still Pix camera set on movie mode. This gives their films a surreal, silent 15fps quality that makes it quaintly home-movie-like (even with a film look, strangely enough), and it's always worked for them. Dialogue is provided through captions and the dubbed classic rock music soundtracks are always quite listenable. This is my second or third viewing of Nature's Way as I'd seen it before on their MySpace page. I found it an engaging and encouraging return to form after the less encouraging experiment, Lemon Law, an attempt at slicker production expansion, was not as successful.
Possible nitpicks might include the obvious filming of a computer monitor for footage of the racoon. A late afternoon beach scene with long shadows glaringly exposed the camera tripod which elicited groans from my colleagues. To me, those are typical Griffowers things I overlook (I mean, once you're onboard that this is done with a still camera, I figure you can overlook a lot).
If I found anything approaching a serious fault with Nature's Way, it would be it runs pretty long for the scant plot (about 20 minutes). I'd suggest cutting at least 5 minutes to tighten it up a bit and it would be readier for repeated viewings. Recommended.
The Griffowers are at it again. While not the let-down that Lemon Law was, I agree with Nolan about the running time and technical goofs. Those include one he didn't mention where you can see the camera in the scooter's rearview mirror. And yes, the computer screen shots are unforgivable. But keep in mind, in the online version you cannot see that. So, I'll blame it on the projector and give them a pass because I am the first to say you shouldn't shoot to please the TFR projector. I still love the cult that could seemingly grow around these two where they always star in their films themselves and use the same house, but yet it's all unrelated stories; almost like John Waters' films where you can rely on certain things to be there. Yet, I wish they would expand and include other actors more. I also feel the quality of filmmaking has gotten lazier since Farewell Frieda and particularly, Second Time Around. I hope it's not to meet TFR deadlines. Or is it just that the novelty of their style has worn off? Only time will tell. Either way, they will continue to make them for the pure art of it, as, unfortunately, others don't always do, and for that I respect them as contemporaries. Good.
Nolan here again. After the Tampa Film Review, Chris Woods and I headed over to The Rockin' Sports Bar on 15th St. to join the few others who cared to indulge in post-fest libations (Terence opted to call it a night early). Not as many gathered as last month, but the Guzzo Bros, Eric Haase, and Gus Perez were among the brave souls with whom we clinked glasses.
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"The Tampa Film Review for March" is ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova and Terence Nuzum.
All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ę2007 by Nolan B. Canova.