Nolan Canova here. This year, so far, has been very encouraging for the TFR. The January show was the best organized and staged awards show ever, and, in fact, regular readers may remember my commenting that February's TFR was one of the strongest ever as far as the regular monthly format. This month's line-up was just not quite as strong, but, hey, that's going to happen from time to time. That being said, I hasten to add that it did have its moments.
Fellow PCR staffer Terence Nuzum provided my transportation to the International Bazaar in Ybor City on this very rainy night. Traditionally, February and March are months of low attendance anyway (presumably due to hundreds of competing events in an active carnival/festival season), and the inclement weather wasn't going to help. Terence had other things to attend to so couldn't stay, but I sincerely appreciated the trouble he went to in delivering me to Ybor.
One thing I've noticed that has influenced a higher turnout recently is Dan Brienza's Film Workshop meetings taking place on the same night and location as TFR and they start an hour earlier. Frequently, the meeting's attendees simply stay on through the TFR event. While it makes it a wee bit trickier to track who's there strictly for TFR and who's "inherited" from Dan's group, the net result of a solid house renders the point, basically, rhetorical. (Note: none of this is meant to slag Dan's meetings, he's a great guy and his highly-recommended Workshops are quality-driven and extremely popular gatherings.)
New reviewer on board! PCR staffer, Lisa "FANGRRL" Ciurro, has attended many TFRs (and many Workshops, actually), but has, up to now, declined to join Terence Nuzum, Chris Woods or myself in the reviewing the films publicly. That, I'm happy to say, changes with this issue! Perhaps sympathizing with my Lone Ranger status this month (as stated, Terence couldn't attend and Chris Woods' work schedule prevented a timely arrival), Lisa offered to fill in. Naturally, I jumped at the chance and am honored to have her as co-reviewer.
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
Lisa Ciurro's reviews will be in Lavender
All reviews finish with our critic's rating which sit at the end of our review and are in boldface.
Here we go....
"Nothing to Fear" by StacenJ Bernard. Bernard is at a crossroads. He is
distressed and living in fear. With some encouragement from his
instructor, group members, and a great uncle, Bernard conquers his fears
and takes the next step in his journey.
Nolan Canova: In what looks like a hospital corridor, a group of young people prepare to enter an elevator. One participant, Bernard, is extremely reluctant. A friendly moderator tries to calm his fear, as do the others. "Uncle Dan" then appears to lend moral support and encouragement. His resolve strengthened, Bernard enters the elevator, the moderator smiles knowingly, and we go to white-out. Next scene, a couple is cuddling their newborn baby.
What at first glance looks to be an excercise in "elevator-a-phobia" (there's probably a name for that) and group therapy, turns out to be dreamy excercise in a pre-birth world (there's probably a name for that, too) with allusions to reincarnation (the mother comments Uncle Dan died young) and the birth process. Was the elevator, in fact, "heaven"? Or was it simply a film student's metaphor for the birth process? Or both. Who knows. The acting isn't stellar, but I've seen much worse. And I like metaphors anyway. USF liason and TFR regular Rodrick Colbert cameos as Uncle Dan. Decent.
Lisa Ciurro: I was still getting settled in when this film started (since when does the
TFR start on time?), so I only have a brief memory of a few home
video-esque scenes. First, of a crowd either in or about to get in an
elevator, and someone was scared; next, a young couple sitting together on
the sofa, holding and discussing their newborn baby. I assume, based on
what the new parents said at the end, that the film's message is something
about the circle of life or reincarnation or something like that, but I
didn't catch enough of the beginning of the movie to know for sure. I
remember not being overly impressed by the acting, although it's always fun
to see Rodrick Colbert on the big screen. Decent.
"Melody" music video by Vynez.
Nolan Canova: I don't know what's going on, but this is, like, the third TFR in a row that shows an R&B video and the filmmaker runs off with the disc after the show! So, like last month, I can't really go into much depth except to say decent video, likable artist, good song. Not a ground-breaking video, pretty much by-the-numbers, but not bad. Tacked onto the end is a very short dreamy sequence featuring Vynez on a "dream" date. Good.
Lisa Ciurro: When local musical artist Vynez stood up to introduce the music video for
his new song, I never could have guessed that a couple of days later I
would be on his MySpace page to get the Melody ringtone for my cell phone.
But the R&B-meets-pop-meets-rap song made an impression on me...more so
than the music video itself, probably. The video was well done; nothing
fancy: shots of a woman walking around town (Ybor City?). She crosses
paths with the man who's in love with her, who proceeds to confess his
feelings to her. Well done.
Vynez's Dream: A well-done, cute little 45-second Weekend Film Crew short about a guy
(Vynez) sitting around at a cafe (with Vynez's song "Melody" playing in the
background). He snaps his fingers and his clothes are instantly
transformed into a suit and he is now sitting at a table in a swanky
restaurant. He snaps his fingers again and a beautiful woman is sitting at
his table. Another snap of the fingers creates a red rose for her. She
smell the rose, looks at the camera and then back to him. He turns to the
camera, grins and shrugs as if to say "So what? It's my dream!" Good.
"Indiana Jones and the Runes of Ende" by Mike Beazel and Scott Jones. Indy searches a marsh-filled island for the ancient runes that will release a world-ending entity in order to prevent it from falling into Nazi hands.
Nolan Canova: One of the very first movies ever to play TFR....when it was the CFR back in 2004.....Scott Jones stars as Indiana Jones in this hearty fan film designed by fans for fans by Jones and director Mike Beazel. Authentic Johnny Williams music soars in the background as Indy faces Nazis in a mysterious, swampy jungle. He's just collected the stone tablet with the Runes of Ende inscribed, and naturally, the Nazis want it. The chase ensues, with snakes, the trademark bullwhip, fights and lots of running. Of course, Indy wins in the end, what did you expect?
I think what suckers me in to fan films is the naïve charm they evoke. All the elements that make the original version special must be in place for it to work. While Scott Jones bears a passing resemblance to a young Harrison Ford, his too-high-pitched voice solidly remind us we're in amateur territory. So, too, do the young Nazis, who look like they were drafted out of their high school's drama department. However, the decent fight choreography and that John Williams music is a powerful combination -- the movie pretty much runs itself. The end credits enthusiastically proclaim this was "shot on Sony Digital-8 video" (complete with the model number) and "edited on Pinnacle 9!" Well, it seemed a bigger deal at the time to director Beazel, I'm sure.
My colleagues are not as enamored of fan films as I am, so they're a harder sell. Considering the Digital-8 video image hasn't stood up all that well over time makes it an even harder sell. However, sucker for this that I am, I can't help but give it a Very good. Recommended.
Lisa Ciurro: This movie has all the elements required for a successful Indiana Jones fan film. Nazis? Check. Mercenaries? Check. Indy -- and his hat – searching for a mysterious treasure of some sort? Check. A cracking whip? Check. Chase scenes, fight scenes, action, adventure? Check, check, check, check. Yet somehow this film didn’t quite click for me and seemed to drag a bit in places. Nolan and I are probably going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Decent.
"Johnny Blue" by Gene Howes. Johnny is in love with Nicole but can't find the guts to tell her how he feels. Instead he buys painting after painting from her gallery while falling deep into an obsessive funk.
Nolan Canova: Johnny's depressed. He hasn't shown up at work. He's not answering the phone. He's listless and lethargic, and his friends are worried. Suicidal? Nah. He's just pathetically in love. The girl at the museum, a cute-but-distant redhead named Nikolle (i.e., "Nicole" -- I discovered the alternate spelling on the end credits, but I'm spelling it Nicole anyway) is the object of his obsession. His apartment wall is covered with paintings from her art gallery. After repeated failed attempts to ask her out, he spies her with another man. The predictable bipolar meltdown results in Johnny throwing away all his collected art with the help of his two concerned friends, Matt and Amy. When Amy unexpectedly plants a kiss on him, Johnny suddenly awakens to a new possibility. He races around re-collecting his art. In a melancholy epilogue, Nicole (who saw Johnny kiss Amy), has second thoughts about her own actions.
This very ambitious, well-shot, and well-acted film was slow to get off the ground, and while it did accelerate to an acceptable pace, left a lot of questions unanswered. I couldn't decide if Johnny himself (John Reimer as a Karouac-ish rogue) was an artist or was his accumulated collection solely to impress Nicole? Nicole (Megan Brown who reminds me a lot of a young Piper Laure) herself is enigmatic, but I think that's intentional. Johnny's best friend Matt (Joseph A. Grey) is basically there simply to drive the truck and facilitate alone time for Johnny and Amy (the fetching Sherri Romito, with a girl-next-door sexiness). The whole film took a wee bit too long to come to the point which affected an otherwise fairly satisfying (if predictable) ending. However, the photography, the sultry jazz soundtrack (E. Sample among others) and classic idea redeem a few shortcomings. Since this 2002 film really doesn't have much other competition this night, I'm awarding it Film of the Night.
Lisa Ciurro: After a slow start, this movie presented an interesting story of love, obsession and melancholy. John Reimer convincingly portrayed longing and neediness as Johnny Blue, the bankrupt, failed writer who is in love with art gallery employee Nicole (Megan Brown). He never tells her about his feelings; instead he visits her art gallery frequently, buying every painting he can afford. In an attempt to get him out of his depressive funk, Johnny’s friends drive him around town as he tosses all of his painting purchases into the street. Through a plot twist that … well, came out of the blue, Johnny’s attractive blonde female friend (Sherry Romito) kisses him, which takes his mind off of Nicole and her paintings for a while. Unrequited love is not so easily abandoned, however, as the remainder of the film shows. There’s a twist ending that is in no way surprising but is very fitting.
Johnny Blue successfully incorporates its theme in various ways besides the film’s name and the main character’s melancholy. There’s Johnny’s piercing blue eyes, the jazz/blues soundtrack, the frequently-used blue paint, the moody bluish lighting throughout the film...there’s even a peek at the blue panties one of the characters is wearing. Very good. Film of the Night.
"Jules Dongu Saves the World" -- trailer.
Nolan Canova: I don't usually review trailers, but this one looks like a winner. Somehow I missed the intro that this was from the same filmmaker who made last year's Flushed Up (I remember they ran off with that disc, too). The trailer looks like hijinks at a comic book convention. It also looks well-shot and acted, with high energy. See Lisa's write-up below for more details.
Lisa Ciurro: Filmmaker Christian Schwier’s comedy Flushed Up (a Tampa 48 Hour Film project) screened at the TFR last June. Schwier continues on the comedic track with this silly, goofy action/adventure flick. Jules Dongu is a chubby anime voice actor who wears a superhero costume, travels with a faithful sidekick, has an evil arch-nemesis and apparently – according to the trailer, at least – saves the world. It’s impossible to say much more since this was only a trailer, but Schwier’s introduction description of “sort of Ben Stiller meets Spy Kids 3” seems accurate. Good.
"Screw Cupid" and "The Art of Pain" -- two trailers from the upcoming SunScreen Film Festival.
Nolan Canova: From writer/director Sanjeev Sirpal comes "Screw Cupid" about a 25-year-old loser determined to find love any way he can.
From Chicago-based Matt Brookens comes "The Art of Pain" a serio-comic look at a failed ninja who meets an aspiring artist while working at the same movie theater -- they both have frustrated ambitions and an intense rivalry. (This filmmaker actually mailed me a disc. I've written a full review that will be posted on It Came From The PO Box tonight or towmorrow.)
Lisa Ciurro: Two good trailers; two appealing comedies (Screw Cupid being the funnier of the two); two good reasons to attend the Sunscreen Film Festival. I’m still quoting Screw Cupid’s “My life is a big pile of suck” line.
"Innocence Bound" by David Tinoco. A short film about a man who finds his inner child, only to discover it has fleeted as quick as it appeared.
Nolan Canova: The above description pretty much says it all. A man, watching through a fence, sees a young boy running in cirlces on what may be an amateur ball field. He halts and they glare at each other. The boy runs, the man takes off after him. Soon, the man finds himself on the ball field with the boy looking through the fence at him. Movie's over. According to the credits, they were father and son. Love the Bjork soundtrack. Nicely shot (the cinematographer's first name is Nolan, weird, huh?) and acted for what it is. It sure didn't take up too much of our time! Maybe two minutes. Good.
Lisa Ciurro: The two things most memorable things about this film were the song (Unravel by Bjork) and the blink-and-you-miss-it running time. What I thought were the opening credits were actually the end credits and all of a sudden, the movie was over. This super-short short was well-done, with scenes depicting a man, a boy…and a fence, I think. Was this a father and son? An adult remembering the innocence of his youth? I have no idea. I hope to have a chance to see this film again. When and if that happens, I’m going to try not to blink. Good.
"The Adventures of Cope Ransom, Part One" by Tim Ritter and Joel D. Wynkoop. Cope Ransom, a
war-torn mercenary working for the aliens is sent to find time travel
technology in the Everglades. He's up against the Grays and the Morphs,a
mutant alligator, a spaceship, men in black, a 16-foot boa constrictor,
dad-eating zombie kids, swamp monsters and more! Ransom must plant a bomb
and blow up the alien hide, but it seems the people he works for are
always double-crossing him. Damn aliens.
Nolan Canova: I've a weakness for post-apocalyptic fare and this 1996 Joel Wynkoop/Tim Ritter production hits me where I live. In the not-too-distant future, South Florida is quarantined over the radiation from a nuclear plant melt-down. Only thing is the government is covering up that it's actually over an alien base hidden in the Everglades! I love it already. Cope Ransom (Wynkoop) is a mercenary drafted by the secret goverment to infiltrate the alien base and thwart a plot for a world take-over. So far, so good. Now for the bad news...
I have mixed emotions over this fairly typical Joel Wynkoop vehicle. The Tim Ritter influence is visible in scenes with zombies and gore (Yay!), but Joel's generous onscreen time is mostly spent roaming the ruins of South Florida which seems to drag on forever (maybe to linger on the admittedly excellent sets), and confronting the occasional obstacle like snakes or murderous clones or flesh-eating zombies. His usually reliable karate moves seem tacked on in places that need action. His trademark madman character is deliberately subdued.
Hang on, there's more. The special-effects of an alien craft seem borrowed from an Amiga video game circa 1884. His costume is an über-typical retro merc-for-hire comic book image that screams early 90s fanboy (trenchcoat, headband, fingerless gloves), but at least steers clear of Matrix-style goth (with a notable exception I'll get to in a second). The chief alien "gray" is a papier-mache bust. In the funniest scene, the aforementioned fleah-eating zombies devour some guy's innards for several minutes; Cope Ransom approaches the scene, and the guy....still alive....tells him they are his kids!
This film is a product of its time: X-Files meets Chuck Norris with a dash of Escape From New York thrown in. Speaking of The Matrix, Cope Ransom's chief antagonist toward the end of the film pretty closely anticipates the man-in-black look of the guy hunting Neo. I thought that was interesting.
Despite all this, I am a Joel Wynkoop fan thru-and-thru and I can't hate this. He's done much better films, but he's done much worse, too. It's 30-minute running time will try anyone's patience (it was not designed for film festivals), but if you love Wynkoop you'll get a charge out of it so.....Highly Recommended only for Joel D. Wynkoop fans. All others quarantined!
Lisa Ciurro: This apocalyptic adventure, part of a larger series (a trilogy, I think), is set in the not-too-distant future. Southern Florida has been sealed off due to radiation, mutations and a possible alien attack. Cope Ransom (Joel Wynkoop), a long-haired bounty-hunter type who wears a trench coast, bandana/headband, fingerless black gloves and mirrored sun glasses, is awakened by a phone call. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to sneak into the quarantined section of the state and spy on a possible downed UFO. As Ransom slowly treks across Florida’s bleak landscapes, he crosses paths with a slutty mutant who reminds him of his wife (or perhaps IS his wife in some mutated form), a gaggle of gut-munching kids feasting on their father (who’s still alive!), a pissed-off alligator and a Man In Black with a metallic mannequin for a girlfriend.
The overall premise was interesting, but several things about this movie were bad…laughably bad. The spaceship special effects, for one. The torture sequence, for another. Plus, putting Joel Wynkoop in a movie with little dialogue is like putting Robin Williams on stage when he’s got laryngitis. What a waste! Wynkoop did his best as the B-list Snake Plissken character, but in this movie he wasn’t given the chance to do what he does best: talk. When I see Wynkoop on the screen, I want to see the riffing, fast-talking, hilarious, ad-libbing, non-stop smart ass character he does so well. Not as the mostly-silent adventurer/spy Cope Ransom, who spends long stretches walking, canoeing and then walking some more. Poor.
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"The Tampa Film Review for March" is ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova and Lisa Ciurro.
All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.