Nolan Canova here. This month's TFR was the first at our newest -- and yet oldest -- location, Romeo's Art Gallery, formerly the Romeo Coffeehouse at 1515 Seventh Avenue where the Tampa Film Review -- then called the Coffeehouse Film Review -- started out nearly five years ago. The location of the last two TFRs -- the Cigar Warehouse -- had some problems with fire department code enforcement and had to be shut down at least temporarily. We are grateful that the proprietors of that location let us use their facility in the short time we had, but it sure felt like "coming home" to see Walter Romeo and family in their new/old digs!
PCR staff writer and fellow reviewer Terence Nuzum provided my transportation and we arrived in plenty of time to hang out with a few other film patrons on the scene, like Jon Wolding, Joel & Cathy Wynkoop, fellow reviewer John Miller, and of course the TFR directors, Peter and Paul Guzzo.
Dan Brienza's Film Network Meeting, already in progress, was wrapping up close to the TFR's 8:00pm showtime as Terence, John and and I made our way to the front row seats. (The other PCR reviewer who normally accompanies us, Chris Woods, was unable to attend due to work schedule conflicts. So this month we're featuring three reviewers for the price of one!) The modest initial turn-out was likely due to the location switch (Paul received several phone calls from confused patrons who somehow didn't get the notice). Of course, more people arrived as the night wore on, as is normal.
We also had the temporary use of Jon Wolding's (Ground Up Films) super-fancy, tricked out video projector, which made a huge impact on picture clarity, brightness and color. Too bad we can't keep that expensive, bad-ass piece of equipment with the TFR forever!
I seem to recall several TFRs that seemed to revolve around a theme, however accidentally, but how we'd jokingly refer to them -- all kids' nights, all suicide nights, all "I-woke-up-and-it-was-only-a-dream" nights, and so forth. Tonight's excursion could be called The Night of the Missing or Unsatisfying Endings TFR. Not all of the films, mind you, but many. You'll see why as we progress.
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.
Terence Nuzum's reviews will be in Blood Red.
John Miller's reviews will be in Hunter Green.
All reviews finish with our critic's rating which sit at the end of our review and are in boldface.
Special thanks to Terence Nuzum for noting the exact order the films were exhibited. 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....
"A(t)tempting Escape" by A Cut Above Video Productions. An incompetent office worker and his dreamy attempts to escape reality.
Nolan Canova: I really enjoyed this simple fantasy about a bored office worker named Vince (played by co-director Vince Courtney) who after being yelled at by the boss is in need of some escape just as a comely female co-worker walks by and drops off an uninflated balloon, presumably for Vince to play with. Well, this turns out to be quite the magical balloon, as when Vince inflates it, he sees a vision of a distant beach with wind and waves within the balloon. Very inviting. Vince puts his hand through the balloon and feels the beach on the other side! He then dives head-first into the balloon and lands on the sand. Delighted with his new discovery, he attempts to sever his contact with the office by reaching back through the balloon "portal" and fishes for a pencil to break the balloon -- which he does, except...er....his hand doesn't have time to come back! Not as gross as it sounds.
Extremely well-shot and crystal clear HD photography (by Ed Duroux), and imaginative use of visual FX made this harmless comedy/shocker short an easy 2½ minutes to kill. Very, Very Good. Recommended.
Terence Nuzum: OK little short about a guy who dreams of a fantasy world but overestimates its reality. Fair.
John Miller: The pencil-pusher in this video ought to be so happy to have not been laid off as of yet that he should be on the floor licking the dirty carpet. Plus his job isn't even all that bad, he makes corporate videos or something. If the directors wanted to make this a little more realistic they should have gone to his local manufacturer and filmed the depressed factory workers as they gossip over lay-off rumors. If anyone needs a magic hole in the sky that can transport them to a beachfront paradise its those people. Soap box rants aside this was still a entertaining well-made short. Recommended.
"The Monster Under My Bed" by Todd Thompson. A little girl is tormented by the proverbial dark menace under the bed.
Nolan Canova: Kendall Ganey, the little girl who wow'd the TFR in Mr. Bubbs, returns in this shocker as Samantha, the girl with the monstrous enemy. (Funny, in Mr. Bubbs, the monster was her friend, haha.)
This 6-minute dark fantasy starts with a pan of the girl's darkened room to a voice-over by Deacon Dawson doing a dead-on Boris Karloff impersonation reciting Dr. Suess-like poetry (shades of How The Grinch Stole Christmas). The set-up completed, Samantha is terrorized by dark shadows and bumps in her room until the beast starts to show itself with hairy claws and menacing head. The little girl's screams alert mom and dad who come into the room and expose the monster as her annoying older brother (Bo Mitchell) wearing a monster suit. Mom and daughter discuss the incident and how to deal with the brother. A sinister smile crosses Samantha's face as she looks into the camera.
This is an absolutely first-rate production, totally professional, with just about the best of everything, including excellent photography by Stuart Hall. Director Todd Thompson, as I recall, is an established director, one of the top talents to come out of Orlando area and he doesn't disappoint here. And Kendall Ganey is one of the most explosive up-and-coming young actresses around, destined for greatness (I'm trying to resist the comparison to a similarly-aged Shirley Temple, but it's hard.) Like Mr. Bubbs, The Monster Under My Bed was shot on location in Celebration, Florida (Disney World, basically).
Like so many TFR entries this night, if I had to list any minor complaint it's that the story ended too soon. I could've easily invested much more time in this to see what Samantha had in store for the brother. Oh well, maybe there'll be part two! Extremely High Recommendation.
Terence Nuzum: G-rated short that suffered from a lack of a satisfying ending. The actors, though, did a stellar job. Fair
John Miller: A creepy little short that works as either a sequel or prequel to the TFR crowd-pleaser, Mr. Bubbs. Recommended.
"Average Community" trailer.
Nolan Canova: Filmmaker Fred Zara (Sketchbook Productions) recalls life in Trenton, New Jersey in the turbulent '80s.
Terence Nuzum: Not Reviewed.
John Miller: Not Reviewed.
"The Right Profile" trailer, UT Students.
Nolan Canova: What looks to be a well-made bio-pic on the tragic life of movie star Montgomery Clift.
Terence Nuzum: Not Reviewed.
John Miller: Not Reviewed.
"Snow" by The Beauvilles. Music Video by Jon Wolding.
Nolan Canova: I'm on record as being a big fan of anything Jon Wolding does and Snow is no exception. If memory serves, The Beauvilles are the folks who put the catchy soundtrack on Wolding/Persons' In On It, one of my all-time favorite TFR films. Snow is considerably darker with the initial set-up being the band is facing what looks to be a Nazi firing squad and asked if there are any last words. The "last words" are the song they sing. Good rock music follows.
The video is well-shot and directed with gorgeous photography, a Wolding/Persons trademark. I confess I wasn't too crazy about the ending, the band is shot dead, quite bloodily as the music trails off, but I don't know if that's the ending Jon chose or the band chose (I sense the latter). In any event, it's quite a downer for a comparatively upbeat song. But, it's a damn good video, so, Recommended.
Terence Nuzum: A well-shot music video that I could easily see in rotation on MTV if they still played videos anymore. The performance part of the video and the narrative section of the video could've been put together to form a story, but instead, apparently, exists on its own. The ending would have been far better had the band and singer played until the last note and then died but overall its a minor gripe. The similarity between the execution by gunfire sequence of this video owes more than a little to a certain Black Keys video. Good.
John Miller: Not Reviewed.
"Without Mercy" Dan Brienza: After obtaining inside information from his old pal Tommy Rooney, career thief Sam McCavoy attempts the heist of a lifetime – stealing a $2 million bribe from ruthless mob boss Antonio Moretti that was intended for the crooked Mayor Russo.
Nolan Canova: After our main bad boy gets caught in a mob robbery gone wrong, he's brought to a hide-out, roughed up and eventually killed. His parting words, "If you kill me, I swear I'll crawl out of my grave to find you," or words to that effect, made me anticipate a really devastating ending where we see the corpse rise and get his revenge. Instead, the movie ends and the credits roll. I don't know if it's missing a middle act or an ending, but there's something missing. To be fair, I think I remember director Dan Brienza saying this was shot in a phenomenally short time, like two days or something. The cinematography is excellent as is the acting (actor John Sullivan starred in the TFR crowd-pleaser There's Always Hope), there just isn't all that much story and definitely no real ending. Still, for a movie shot over two days, you know? Good.
Terence Nuzum: OK, there are a lot of things that bother me about this short. 1. People do not have sex with their clothes on. Think of a creative way of going around that if you can't be risque. 2. Apparently, the main guy is a bad ass since he considers a heist by gunpoint an easy job and yet he is caught easily. 3. A poor ending. Without giving it away, I'll just say that the ending was neither satisfying or anticlimactic. It just sat there and begged for a continuation. The film itself was technically well-shot, though. Poor.
John Miller: A fairly interesting heist story until it's abruptly ended out of nowhere. I like the beginning and I liked the finale, but without a middle, the film just kinda falls flat. Decent.
"One Last Stand" by Alan Mehanna: With only hours left until World War III, God chooses two people to decide the fate of humanity. They both must agree on a course of action or all is lost.
Nolan Canova: Despite odd juxtapositions of setting, script and talent, I wound up liking this a little more than I initially thought I would, but for all the wrong reasons, haha. The opening titles were very polished, with the voice-over setting up an end-of-the-world story. We are told there are five hours left until World War III. Then we cut to a flaty-lit video of two young people, male and female, in a room with a table in the center, and the walls covered by white bedsheets, the folds still showing. I couldn't figure out for the life of me how the filmmakers would assume we'd overlook the cheap set. As the screenplay unfolded, however, it became more apparent what they were going for.
The two young people in question (Erin Kirby and Alan Mehanna) have been chosen (by God, it's suggested) to make a very important decision. The big red button sitting in the middle of the table, when pressed, will "re-set" humanity to an earlier time, before nuclear weapons. But current history will be rendered null and void. Or....they could not push the button and hope that WWIII will not start and they could rejoin their families and all will be great. Problem: they are diametrically opposed to each other's viewpoints and BOTH must agree on a course of action or the button won't work. They only have five hours to decide.
This reminded me of some of my favorite early Twilight Zone episodes where a group of people are placed in a similarly sterile room, without knowledge of how they got there, but charged with making important decisions (usually as some sort of experiment done by aliens, or the military, or whatever). What maybe went on too long here is the dialogue seemed repetitive (trying to reverse each other's views tends to cover the same ground over and over), and the "clock" kept cutting in every few minutes to remind us how long we had to go. Rather than create tension, it served to remind us we had several more scenes to sit through without resolution.
The ending was an obvious nod to the Adam & Eve motif, that after the world ends, these two begin it again. And the apple hanging from the tree suggests we're doomed to repeat our mistakes over and over. Pretty lofty philosophy to a film student, I suppose, but older fans of the genre have seen this many times before. Still, I love the Twilight Zone-esque-ness of it (I'm a sucker, what can I say?), so....Good.
Terence Nuzum: OK, this was obviously supposed to be like those plays in drama class where you are left with no set and limited props and the whole angle is that the acting is the focus. Understood, but the problem was that the acting was too amateur for the material. They weren't the worst actors, but they either just didn't have time to get into the roles, or simply couldn't handle the drama asked for. Also it ran way too long. When you have a scenario that has a time clock that you keep referring to periodically in the film then you want to use that sparingly or else it becomes almost humorous. The ending with Eve in the garden, though, was intoxicatingly dreamlike and the best thing about the feature which leaves me to believe that I am right in thinking that we are supposed to ignore that the first act has a non-set, non-prop setting. Fair.
John Miller: On paper I'm sure this story comes across as an interesting examination of vastly different global ideas and opinion. On video it just looks like two people in a room with white sheets for walls. If this movie had just been edited down by ten minutes or so and kept the ending with Eve eating the apple I'd say this was worth a watch. I compliment the actors for being able to maintain strong performances for so long with such little material to work with. Bad.
"Secret" by David Tinico: An old man who works in a supermarket discovers the son he has never met is a frequent customer.
Nolan Canova: Tampa's Whaley's supermarket is the main set in this simple story about an older clerk (Mike Agresta) who seems to be fixated on a young male customer (Christopher Sarlls). He takes out a picture of the young man occasionally just to look at it. When the customer comes in to shop, it obviously moves the old man greatly, but we're not sure why (lurid scenarios cannot help but cross your mind here). When the younger man comes in one day with his small son, he scolds him after the little boy accidentally knocks over some cans. The old man admonishes the father for such scolding. The young man, indignant, asks what business is it of his how to be a parent. Said, but not heard by the young man, was the older man's admission that he is the man's father.
Simple morality tale, if you will. Well-shot and very well-acted (particularly Agresta). Very Good.
Terence Nuzum: Well-shot and well-acted short film about a secret that at first comes off kinda creepy (think child molester) but in the end turns out to be far too obvious which is, of course, the film's weak point...predictability. Fair.
John Miller: Don't really have a feeling about this short one way or the other. It looked good. The players all had some chops. Just wasn't my thing. Decent.
"Unlikely Likeliness" by Romy Rolloff: Two young people who keep running into each other suspect fate may be bringing them together.
Nolan Canova: Katrina Barrios and Zack Knoy star as teens or twenty-somethings who have never met but keep encountering each other on one special day. Eventually, fate brings them together.
The filmmakers got together one day with their first video camera and some editing stuff and, like, decided to make, like, their first movie. The director/cameraman obviously never operated a zoom lens or tripod mount before but decided to learn on the job. The music soundtrack is nice, but the dialogue is virtually inaudible, which, considering it's likely these kids' first acting role, might not be a bad thing. However, it's a start, the next one's got to be better. Not Good.
Terence Nuzum: Bad acting, poor scripting and camera work that looks like the camera man just realized there was such a thing as a zoom lens. Poor.
John Miller: Before this crew takes another stab at this filmmaking thing two very important things need to change. One, don't look into the camera. Two, take your finger off the zoom buttom. Bad.
"Chrysalis" by Kenisha Walsh: A disadvantaged young woman, hooked on drugs and leading a life doomed to tragedy, finds redemption.
Nolan Canova: In a mesmerizing film with no dialogue, Sowsan Karim stars as a young black woman who is a drug addict and may be a hooker. As she lapses into one drug-induced state or another, she dreams/hallucinates about other black women in other times who were victims of society. In the end it's suggested she found redemption through a religious life as a nun.
Easily the most artistic film this night with stunning B&W/monochrome photography that turned out to be shot on motion picture film, likely 16mm (I didn't believe it at first until I read the end credits -- a Canon Scopic and Kodak film).
You know a great vision when you see one. Kenisha Walsh has made a BIG impression. Highly Recommended and Film of the Night.
Terence Nuzum: An amazing film that I'm guessing was shot on 16mm that shows us a young woman's current life as a coke addict hooker and then via flashbacks shows her past lives as a slave, a nun, etc. I don't want to presume too much and say that it had a larger message such as the tragedy of black females in society so I'll leave the viewer to decide. The lighting, camera work, etc. was amazing and invoke such avant-garde techniques as collages and reminds me for some reason of a Kenneth Anger or Richard Kern short film. Film Of the Night.
John Miller: In a better world most local talent would be as daring and experimental as the young lady who made this short. Nothing much to really say. Everything about this film works, from the choice of locations to the disturbing subject matter. Beautiful and intensely grimy all at once. Film Of The Night.
"The Trunk" by Tim Compton: A dangerous hitchiker takes a ride with someone who may be even more dangerous.
Nolan Canova: The disc of this film provided for the Tampa Film Review contained no credits of any sort, no opening titles or anything, and it's a shame because I'd love to spotlight the two terrific actors who made this work so well. An edgy young man takes a ride from an older husky terse-sounding man along a lonely highway. The two have a disturbing conversation filled with pregnant pauses and weird rhythms. Suddenly, the car seems to breakdown and the two are outside the car, the older man attempting a tire repair. As the conversation gets more threatening, something happens and the screen goes to black.
Even after a second viewing, I'm not sure I totally "got" this film. The significance of the title is indicated by bookend segments (kinda sorta) implying the young man is in the trunk and these are flashbacks...or flashforwards...or something. Doesn't matter, the chemistry between these two kept me on the edge of my seat. If I'd've changed anything, I'd have the older guy be a truck driver. He looked kinda silly getting out of a small Toyota! Recommended.
Terence Nuzum: This was my runner-up for film of the night as the acting amazed me and the set-up had an eerie atmosphere that's hard to evoke in low-budget films. But the ending made it lose out. Talk about anticlimactic. I'm sorry, but the situation and story does not lend itself to an open-end ending. Excellent and Highly Recommended.
John Miller: This movie is the best P.S.A. ever made on the dangers of picking up weirdos from off the side of the road. Honestly, the sweaty fat man behind the wheel was more then likely seeking some sort of kinky sexual favors in return for the ride so it's probably best the drifter stabbed him with a screw driver before he had to do something he may later regret. Dark, ugly and a lot of fun to watch. This well-done thriller deserves a look. Recommended.
"The Survivors of Remic" by Joel D. Wynkoop: On a routine mission, the Starship Genesis under the command of Captain Paul Winters has orders to check on a "life beacon" that hails from the planet Remic. Together, the crew and survivors will learn a lot about each other as their mission is completed.
Nolan Canova: Like so many fanboys, Joel Wynkoop is nothing if not the sum total of his influences. I was never really aware that Joel was a religious man, not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just never come up before. Now, combine that with the Star Trek episode about the Followers of Landru, mixed with a tiny bit of V'Ger from ST: The Motion Picture and you have a pretty close approximation of The Survivors of Remic.
Though Joel played action heroes years ago, he's been much more at home with the hired psycho role in recent times (and pretty darned good at it, too!). Uncharacteristically restrained here due to the more sensitive subject matter, the Kirk-osity of his captain's character still shines through.
Arriving at the planet in question (above average special effects there), Joel explores the lone building, a suggested church of some sort (Ybor's Cuban Club playing the alien's house of worship) until he's introduced to the high priest "Andrew" (Andrew/Landru, get it? Played by the Club's owner Michael Gonzales) who grants the captain an audience with their holy book, they call "Oly Bool". When we see the book in question, it's obvious it's The Holy Bible, but part of the cover's missing revealing only the letters "oly ble", or "Olee Bool" (V'ger/Voyager, get it?), left there by a previous mission ages ago.
A brief discussion yields the conclusion that, hey, we're all on the same page regarding eternal salvation, by whatever name it's called. An unusual direction for Wynkoop and a fun variation of space faring themes, it's Very Good.
Terence Nuzum: with more Star Trek homages than a bum has lice, this featurette by Joel Wynkoop is a faith-based sci-fi tale which means no violence. Considering that, it still works well. Besides, who doesn't want to see Joel Wynkoop playing Kirk? He's a natural. Admittedly, Wynkoop was in restraint and didn't just do a Kirk impression but actually made his own character. Ed Walker Jr. and Cathy Wynkoop were highly entertaining as the two priests of the planet. My only complaint is that I felt it ended kinda too soon with no real resolution, and of course since it is faith-based, it prevented the line "eat the flesh and drink of the blood" from turning into something far more sinister. Good.
John Miller: When word of the film's Christian theme first surfaced it felt like maybe I needed to brace myself for the onslaught of dullness. Not that I have anything against Christian films, quite the opposite. My problem is that like most message movies the entertainment value is watered down like sugar-less Kool-Aid and whatever positives the creators were trying to enlighten us with is lost with the low quality of the project. Thankfully, such is not the case here. From an artistic perspective I would argue that this is Joel Wynkoop's finest work from behind the camera. Joel's fanboy credibility lends an authenticity to the story that I think would have been otherwise absent had he not been the director. Reminded me of a cross between The Omega Man, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes and the original Star Trek series. Highly Recommended.
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"The Tampa Film Review for September" is ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova, Terence Nuzum, and John Miller.
All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.