Nolan Canova here. 2007 ended with some discouragingly weak TFRs and those still haunted me, despite the wonderful January TFR of this year, the "best-of" and awards show that exemplified the best of last year in an amazing event. This month's showing, however, would be the first of the new year to get back to normal and show new locally-produced indie films to a fresh audience.
And it was fantastic. The Tampa Film Review is totally back on its game with this month's outing where every film was a winner and it was actually hard to pick a film of the night. I'd love to think this will continue!
I rode with Will Moriaty and we made pretty good time getting down to the Int'l Bazaar at around 7:30pm. Will went to go park while I joined the small group already gathered outside the International Bazaar (Paul Guzzo and Robert Elfstrom with my co-conspirators this month, Terence Nuzum and Chris Woods). February and March are normally low-attendance months and the few attendees present was not encouraging any different outlook. However, once inside, more people came in, some late, some very late, until we had an estimated hundred or so at peak. Not bad and definitely better than last year.
Chris Woods here. I have to say that this month’s film line-up was one of the strongest I have ever seen in TFR’s history. Excellent films throughout the night. I know for me it was very hard to decide what film would be the Film of the Night, because they were all so good. It came down to the wire and for me they would be a tie for the Film of the Night for two great films and also a runner-up for another film that also needed mentioning.
Nolan Canova here again. 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.
Nolan Canova's reviews will be in Navy Blue
Terence Nuzum's reviews will be in Blood Red
Chris Woods' reviews will be in Deep Purple
All reviews finish with our critic's rating which sit at the end of our review and are in boldface.
Here we go....
"Skippy Lightfoot's Perfect Day" by Fred and Christopher Zara. Bad days were
routine for Skippy Lightfoot. He was lonely, unemployed, and convinced his
sour luck would never change. Then, a chance meeting with a transient
genie offered this terminal pessimist the opportunity to make a wish.
Obsessed with his own misfortune, Skippy could only think to ask for the
one thing he’s never had: a perfect day. Unfortunately, Skippy finds out
that perfection may come with a price.
Nolan Canova: We start off with a classic from the Zara Brothers, one I'd seen at a Saints & Sinners Festival many years ago, and I gave it a very good review then. (Although TFR normally plays only newer films, more and more "classics" have been re-surfacing and more are planned.) I'm pleased to report this little gem, one of the Zara Bros' first films, still holds up today. Skippy Lightfoot is your typical everyman, except his luck in even simple matters seems to be a little worse than everyone else's. An accident with spilled milk on his living room sofa results in a scrubbing that brings out the couch's genie! (Like rubbing a lamp, get it? Director Fred Zara cameos here as the genie.) The genie tells Skippy he gets one wish and one wish only. Skippy's heart's desire is to have, at long last, a perfect day. Granted. Starting with a tossed pen that perfectly hits its target, to finding $20 bills on the sidewalk, to scoring a perfect blind date, it's all looking real good. Unfortunately, a dark stranger (Robert Pino) appears to tell Skippy his perfect day has come with a price.
The photography on this early effort here is excellent, although the Zaras would continue to improve that on subsequent films. The change of B&W to color scenes to exemplify Skippy's improved outlook is a clever gimmick. And the actor playing Skippy is very good, very "geeky", but that's necessary to sell the character. Surprise, it's screenwriter Christopher Zara, Fred's brother. Good script, nicely edited. Highly Recommended.
Terence Nuzum: For some reason this reminded me of a Coen brothers movie, I think it was the comedy added with tragedy. For the most part pretty humorous but not in a laugh-out-loud kinda way. Good acting from the actor playing Skippy. Decent.
Chris Woods: A great film by Fred Zara, which he made six years ago, still packs a punch. A very good lighthearted film with great characters and a well-written script. I liked how Skippy’s day turns around when the genie emerges from the couch and grants Skippy one wish, in which he wishes for the prefect day. His whole black and white world now turns to bright color as he has the best day of his life. I would like to see more films with the adventures of Skippy Lightfoot. Highly Recommended.
"Swear To Me" by by Ali Imran Zaidi. IN A LAND beset by confusion, IN A TIME just like the present, ONE MAN is presented with life, the universe and everything. And does nothing.
Nolan Canova: This light-hearted comedy comes from the director of 2007's award-winning A Man in the Attic, Ali Imran Zaidi, and it stars the director of Skippy Lightfoot's Perfect Day, Fred Zara. A man (Zara) ponders fate and desires an answer to life's questions when he is visited by God (Brian Feldman) who resembles a Jewish homeless man in a bathrobe and is only too happy to accomodate. The two spend the day together, and a little magic happens, a few questions are answered, but it's hard to tell if our boy feels enlightened much at the end of it all.
On a technical level, the cinematography is gorgeous and the audio superb, no problems there, and the scene transitions feature some clever animations. The script's easiest and most obvious comparison would be to the similarly-themed George Burns/John Denver vehicle, Oh God!. While both have great performances (Brian Feldman is a stand-out), Swear To Me played it safe with the Q&A topics (no messianic references), deciding instead to concentrate on the characters' chemistry--which is terrific. In the end, Swear To Me comes off as much more like Neil Simon's Odd Couple than a variation of Oh God. And perhaps that was the filmmakers' intention, since this is a light comedy. It is a very enjoyable watch, so for that I give it a Recommended.
Terence Nuzum: I actually thought I was going to end up liking this one more than I did. It's not that it's bad, but they could have done a lot more with the subject matter. Many opportunities for good jokes just were not used. The two actors have a great chemistry and though I'm not sure if it was the intention or not, I can't help but think that this was filmed as a promo pitch for a TV series. If not, maybe they should consider it. Good.
Chris Woods: A very well crafted film by Ali Imran Zaidi, which stars the director of Skippy Lightfoot, Fred Zara. This was a good comedy about a man (Zara) who has God following him around and they just talk about life. The best thing about this film is the story and the actors. It’s a very strong character-driven film, and I love character-driven movies. This is a perfect example of making a good film, without tons of money, or effects, or huge Hollywood action scenes, and still pulling it off with a good story and a two-actor piece. It works on so many levels. The scene I love is the montage of the two of them walking around the city, which is all done in stills and has a great tune in the background, it's just perfect. Also, I enjoyed the transitions to each scene where each character freezes, and is made into a cartoon of sort, the backdrop falls out, and the individual characters fly out of the screen leading into the next part of the film. Very well done. Very Highly Recommended and Runner Up for Film of the Night
"The Good Samaritan" by Evan Smith. A troubled girl gets her life back with the help of a stranger.
Nolan Canova: I'd never heard of Evan Smith before now, nor of Rachael Lee, but this movie ensured they're both indelibly etched on my brain forever! A young girl, desperate for relief from an abusive past, seeks refuge in a local church. There, she confesses to the church priest a story about a mysterious avenger and his plan to make her tormentors pay.
The opening credits set the stage with the amazing James Tokley's voice-over of Biblical verses (presumably regarding the Good Samaritan) while we pan over some religious iconography in stained-glass windows. We dissolve into the confessional where our above-described story's very personal exchange takes place.
I'm almost used to being dazzled by Robert Elfstrom, one of Tampa's most dependable character actors. Although instantly recognizable from role to role, he so inhabits every role he's in, it's easy to forget it's Robert. The Good Samaritan is no exception. Here he plays the church priest whose job it is to listen attentively to the abused girl's story and offer a hand in her salvation, no matter how difficult. Frequently remembered for making his mark playing heavies in Guzzo Bros films, Elfstrom's chameleon-like qualities ensure his believability in anything he does.
But the real discovery here is 16-year-old Rachael Lee! A devastatingly sensitive and personal performance, handled with the deftness and expertise of someone much older. I had to be reminded she'd been a background extra in The Quiet Place and Gunn Highway. We watched this young woman become a star right in front of our eyes this night and I can't say enough about her.
I had the opportunity to meet Rachael after the show and was taken aback by her size (just a little slip of a thing) and youth (I thought she was older). A recent newspaper interview revealed in real life she's actually Rachael Stroud of Plant High School in Tampa, and has been acting since she was three! This one's career bears watching!
Of course, the story wouldn't have been as watchable without the outstanding cinematography of Matthew Vigil and Greg Baldi (Hey, Greg). Mike Compton and Pete Guzzo of Tampa Digital Studios co-produced. Very Highly Recommended and Film of the Night.
Terence Nuzum: This film looked damned good on almost every technical level. Solid direction by Evan Smith and acting that was right on spot, too. One of Robert Elfstrom's best roles and with this film Rachael Lee has proven to be, without a doubt, a talented actress to watch out for. The only real problem was the predictability of writer/director Evan Smith's script. I saw the ending of The Good Samaritan coming from miles away. I've seen this type of film before. Very Good.
Chris Woods: An excellent film from Evan Smith. A well-crafted short with a great cast, beautifully shot, well lit, and just an all around great film. I loved the opening scene during the credits. A very creative way to show the titles going across religious images, excellent job done by the graphic artist. But the very thing that stands out from this film is the actors. They give a superstar performance. Just like Swear To Me that is very character-driven, those are the films that I love, that have a very simple story with few characters, but the presence of them are so strong that they make the movie great. Rachael Lee gives a breakthrough performance in this film and also carries it as well. Just like I said back when I reviewed Rod Grant’s performance in Gunn Highway, that we saw him become a superstar in front of our very eyes, Rachael Lee does the same thing here. And also she had an excellent partner in the film, Robert Elfstrom, who gives an awesome performance as well, playing the priest. But, these two strong characters, two talented actors make the movie for me. This film is a must see. Very Highly Recommended and Tie for Film of the Night.
"Pornography" by Eric Haase. A stream-of-consciousness film about a guy who thinks he has a sweet girlfriend until he finds her on the pages of a porn magazine and in XXX-rated films.
Nolan Canova: This is the most compellingly gritty-but-good film I think I've ever seen at TFR. Shot on Super-8 home movie film in the '80s and transferred--crudely--to digital video in the days before this exhibition, we're talking a look that's a cross between a snuff flick and an amateur porno film. Well, the subject is porno isn't it? While our hero slowly comes to the realization that his dream girl is now a centerfold in magazines and starring in porno flicks (yes, I, too, am reminded of the J. Geils hit about this subject), he shares his mental ruminations about it with us via some voiced-over beatnik-by-way-of-performance-art poetry that's pretty darn good, considering his young age at the time. Inject The Cure into the soundtrack and you have a virtual hallucinagenic experience on par with Videodrome. Well, let's make it Videodrome-light, and you get the idea. Very Highly Recommended.
Terence Nuzum: Now this is what we need more of at the TFR. Good old genre-defying, boundry-pushing, message-spouting art. Being filmed on Super-8 and then projected on a wall and then reshot on video gave the film an otherwordly graininess that evoked one of David Cronenberg's student films. A rumination on drug companies, the government, and the connection between sex and death all backed by the music and images of my favorite Cure album. Even though long time readers know I'm biased to art films, I still highly recommend this to anyone who knows there is more to filmmaking then making a buck and learning the three-point light system. Film of the Night.
Chris Woods: As The Good Samaritan and Swear To Me were character-driven, E. Haase's short film Pornography is visual-driven. And those are the two elements I love in a film, great characters and awesome visuals. This film was made back in the late 80’s during Haase's film school days and was shot on Super-8mm or 16mm film. I have to say the film was a real treat for me to watch. A really great film that was rough, raw, and gritty. This is before the days of video being the mainstream thing to shot movies on and before computer editing. This short was made on film and edited on a flatbed, real hardcore filmmaking. This was just a stunning piece with outstanding visuals that were very demented and very beautiful at the same time. It also had a very good and simple story. Pretty much a silent film in the way of the actors, but the film had a great soundtrack and an awesome narration from Haase himself reading poetry that blended so right with the film and all the images. It was poetry in motion. The film also had a cool 1960’s UCLA film school movie vibe to it and it was a great example of a kick ass experimental film. The poetry read also reminded me of Jim Morrison and The Doors’ work. This was a great early work from E. Haase, who makes great films today as well and is truly a great and creative filmmaker. This one is also a must see. Very Highly Recommended and Tie for Film of the Night
"Suicide Casanova" by Wendi Hughes. Not a typical student film by any means, this five-minute short deals with porn and suicide.
Nolan Canova: A very interesting debut from E. Haase's friend Wendi Hughes. A man (Steve Sabatini), obsessed with a porno actress named Sky, has evidently decided if he can't have her, he doesn't want to live at all (I haven't read the Arthur Nersesian story this is based on, so I'm surmising here). He takes himself out rather sloppily in a bathtub surrounded by pills, booze, and melting ice cream, all the while narrating his own downfall. Very nice camerawork and audio, especially considering this is Wendi's first film. Recommended.
Terence Nuzum: Based on the novel by Arthur Nersesian this debut film from Wendi Hughes is one of the most promising debuts since the films of Griffowers Productions. The tale of a man's obsession with a pornstar and the final moments of his life with some deadly pills, booze and a bucket of runny ice cream. For a first time filmmaker Hughes has managed to instill more characterization and camera work into her film that a lot of TFR veterans. She better not quit. Excellent.
Chris Woods: A first film from Wendi Hughes who does a great job in her first effort. Like Haase’s film, this one also deals with pornography and is a very good experimental film. Most of the film takes place with a man lying in a bathtub taking pills, drinking alcohol, and eating ice cream. One great scene in the film is when the man starts to pass out and goes under the water as the ice cream dips out of the cup into the water in the tub, now having the man soaking in melted ice cream as well. Again, a very good first effort. Recommended.
Music Video produced by David Hurd.
Nolan Canova: R&B music video, liked the song, liked the artist, video competently-shot. The producer left with the DVD, so I have no production notes to relay. Good.
Terence Nuzum: Decent video that was a little uneven. Good r&b singer in what is mostly a well-shot video with the mysterious appearance of '80s-style segments. Decent.
Chris Woods: (Can’t remember artist or name of video) – Well done music video. It was shot and edited well. It’s not my taste of music but the singer was very talented. I can see the video on MTV, if MTV still showed videos. Good
"Central Avenue Remembered". WEDU’s Emmy-award winning documentary on the heyday of Central Avenue in Tampa, the onetime center of the African American community in Tampa.
Nolan Canova: Paul Guzzo is gradually breaking down my resistance to documentaries by finding one great one after another to show at TFR! This is without a doubt one of the best ever shown and, now, a personal favorite. Interviews, vintage photographs and film clips take us back to a time before civil rights when Cental Avenue in Tampa was the place for African-Americans to gather and party on Saturday nights. Hotels and restaurants spotlighted make me miss a place I never even knew. James Tokley's inserted on-camera appearances reciting his own poetry are an appropriate seasoning to this engaging affair. Very Highly Recommended.
Terence Nuzum: A really good doc on Tampa's lost street and black community narrated by the excellent James Tokley. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this street and community spawned so many musical milestones and artists. The pictures of 1920's and 30's Tampa of course would always sucker me in. Excellent.
Chris Woods: Very well done documentary on an avenue in Tampa in the early part of the 20th century that was the center for the African American community. The doc was well put together and well told. Kind of started out slow, but picked up a little in the middle when they started talking about all the great musical acts that played on that street such as James Brown and Ray Charles. The film also had the great James Tokley who popped up through out the documentary to narrate. Highly Recommended
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"The Tampa Film Review for February" is ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova, Terence Nuzum, and Chris Woods.
All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.