Writing these reviews is a bittersweet experience this month. It is bittersweet because it is likely the last one. So it was announced by TFR head Paul Guzzo. Paul and his brother Pete have had a good 5-year run. They have other projects awaiting them in 2009, and due to several factors, cannot continue to head up the Tampa Film Review. Unless someone comes forward with a plan for its rescue, we've seen the last of a very special monthly event.
The Guzzos will, however, host a retrospective show in January '09 at Ybor City's Italian Club. It will commemorate five years of the TFR and the best films of the past five years will be shown. Yours truly intends to be there.
Back to the present. PCR staff writer and fellow reviewer Terence Nuzum provided my transportation to Ybor, but was unable to stay due to a previous commitment (David Byrne concert). Thanks to Terence, however, I arrived in plenty of time to hang out a bit with PCR head honchos Peter and Paul Guzzo and even made a brief appearance on Wynkoop TV, where, like last month, I was interviewed by Joel D. Wynkoop for the internet video show hosted on Doug Vaters' VEFilms.com.
As the roll-of-the-dice would have it, NO other PCR reviewer was able to attend this night! That's been a while since that's happened, and wouldn't you know, it would be this night. So, you've only got li'l ol' me this month to take you on this brief and somewhat somber journey.
Dan Brienza's Film Network Meeting, already in progress, was wrapping up close to the TFR's 8:00pm showtime as I made our way to the front row seats. The initial turn-out was extremely small, but, as usual, a few more people arrived as the night wore on.
If this month's selections seem few in number, well, they are. Paul said one 40-minute film was pulled at the last second. So, this month we only had four films, but they were pretty good!
To those new to the process of reviewing the films, all our reviews are bundled together under each movie title, and I've been using a color-coded system to help the reader differentiate when a reviewer's "voice" changes. To wit:
All movie titles and descriptions, usually written by Paul Guzzo (or myself if none is provided with advance publicity) will be in black with a yellow background.
Nolan Canova's reviews will be in Navy Blue.
No other reviewers this month
All reviews finish with our critic's rating which sit at the end of our review and are in boldface.
As stated here a few months ago, it's our policy to grant all reviewers the ability to "opt-out" of commenting on things like movie trailers and short previews which are promotional in nature, and therefore, awkward to judge and rate; also anything deeply conflicting with personal beliefs.
Here we go....
"Snow Day, Bloody Snow Day" by Faye Hoerauf and Jessica Baxter. Snow is falling and a group of much-wilier-than-usual zombies have come out to play!
Nolan Canova: Disguised as pizza deliverymen and the Publisher's Clearing House prize patrol, zombies are storming the city, preying mercilessly on gullible housewives and unwary frat boys. Fortunately for all mankind, our saviors appear in the form of a gang of socially-inept movie geeks. Armed with a slapdash but surprising effective array of weaponry, our heroes march boldly into the streets to fulfill their destiny.
Made in Canada, but set in Seattle, this is basically a low-budget but earnestly made Shaun of the Dead fan film (ironic if you consider Shaun itself a fan film). First shown at the TFR in 2005 as a Halloween Horror Picture Show preview, it's still a very enjoyable romp for all its fanboy indulgences and it won't disappoint. Excellent performances and make-up effects. Very Highly Recommended.
"Todo Sigue Igual" by Gabriel Gomez. Spanish-language film (w/subtitles) tracks a few days in the life of a South American drifter.
Nolan Canova: Despite the fact that non-Spanish-speaking movie viewers will have to "read" this film via subtitles, and gets off to a fairly slow start, Todo Sigue Igual is a surprisingly engaging, even riveting dark drama dealing with a desperate drifter's life after a bad marriage and no luck finding work. After confronting his ex and discovering he's unable to see his young son, he turns to a friend for help. He confesses both his problems and his decision to return to a life of crime for money. His first car-theft out of the gate turns violent, and unfortuntely, his young son was nearby. His grief becomes overwhelming leading to still more tragedy.
This is a terrific short in that the language barrier is really secondary to the action. Great camerawork and performances. Very Highly Recommended.
"This Man's Life" by Todd Thompson. A star-studded magical tale about a man who travels home to claim his estranged father's inheritance when he encounters a peculiar stranger that seems to know everything about his life.
Nolan Canova: Dr. Richard Crummly (Michael Rooker, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Days of Thunder,JFK) is not a nice man. At the train station where he waits his ride home to claim his inheritance from his estranged father, he's nasty and bitter to everyone he meets, including a mother with an obviously disabled child. No matter, all the doctor cares about is himself right now. On the train, he meets ordinary garage mechanic, Myer Truman (Bill Cobbs, Night at the Museum, That Thing You Do!) who will change his life. Myer has the ability to transform the train into a time-tunnel of sorts and in a seeming homage to A Christmas Carol forces the doctor to revisit his past and realize the mistakes he's made. And like Scrooge, Crummly learns enough to desperately hope he's in time to make changes. Also stars Betsy Brantley (The Princess Bride, Deep Impact) as his lost love.
This is a Todd Thompson film, which carries with it a certain expectation of par excellence, and I wasn't disappointed! Todd is reknown for invoking dark fantasy themes in his often deceivingly simple tales (Mr. Bubbs, The Monster Under My Bed). To these ends he employs the best of the best in talent and acting and crew. Everything is first-rate. I was honored to finally meet Todd Thompson at this TFR and was able to convey my feelings in person. Hands-down one of the finest filmmakers in Florida...or anywhere. This Man's Life has my Highest Recommendation and is Film of the Night.
"Something For The TFR 2: Morons In Space" by Joel D. Wynkoop and Doug Vaters.
Nolan Canova: Regular readers will remember a couple months ago when we gave Joel & Cathy Wynkoop's Something For The TFR extremely high marks for spontaneity and originality. It was a very funny film made for literally nothing but the tape it was on the afternoon of that month's TFR. Basically, Joel went around their home picking up toys or whatever and acting out little mini-plays in a desperate attempt to have something ready in 2 hours while Cathy followed him around recording it with a camera. Nothing ever quite worked, and Joel slowly desolved into madness.
Enter Doug Vaters of Vater Entertainment, producer of Wynkoop TV. I figure it went like, "Hey Joel, let's do a sequel where you do that kinda stuff again, but we'll add some green-screen effects and go hi-tech!" (Groan.) Well, Joel and a fellow actor Anthony Wayne (god, he sucked) act out similar scenes from the first movie, only now in front of a green screen (with frightful bleed, including green parts of Wynkoop's T-shirt that would go invisible) in various locales, starting with a picture of Wynkoop's living room(!) and ending up in a CGI recreation of Picard's bridge from ST:TNG. Because of the necesary staging for the green screen, they're locked in place, basically hopping up and down and screaming at each other.
Wynkoop can't help but be hysterically funny when he gets all crazy, but the chemistry between him and Wayne was irritatingly Gilligan-and-Skipper-like and tended to drag towards the end, like they were determined to get a full 10 minutes out of this no matter what (it actually ran almost 14).
What made the original Something work was the moving camera and Wynkoop's desperation, mixed with Cathy's off-camera admonishments. The sequel functions more as a commercial showcase for Vaters' CGI chops and pulls way too much attention away from Wynkoop's crazy chops which defeats the purpose of having Wynkoop there. Doug, you've come a long way in your technical expertise (and I sincerely appreciated the ride home, haha), but with Wynkoop, less is more, effects-wise. Good, but not like the first one.
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"The Tampa Film Review for December" is ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.
All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.