This is the last column I will ever write for the Tampa Film Review, at least as we have known it. As I stated in last month's TFR review column, this TFR, January of '09's, is the last of its kind and the end of a five-year mission. "Bittersweet" is how I described it last month and the term still applies to this end-of-everything, best-of show that officially closed this night. (For a little more in-depth as to the reasons, please revisit that issue of PCR.)
This event was held at the venerable Italian Club in Ybor City, the first and last time it would ever happen. (Previous venues include Romeo's Coffeehouse/Art Gallery, The Cigar Warehouse/Theater, and The International Bazaar.) It was a retrospective show not only commemorating five years of the TFR, but also played the best of the best films ever shown during that time. At least the best that could fit into a two-hour time slot. It was a packed house with over 300 people in attendance including many noted local filmmakers and fans, and the past and present Tampa Film Commissioners.
PCR staff writer Terence Nuzum provided my transportation to Ybor City, and we met up with fellow staffers Will Moriaty, Lisa Ciurro, Chris Woods, and Corey Castellano. Of course, the Brothers Guzzo, Peter and Paul, founders of the TFR, were the front and center in the spotlight, but as always, deferred attention to the filmmakers themselves.
Because all the films have been shown and reviewed before, the PCR staff respectfully declined any published commentary, so, like last month, I'm on my own here.
It should be noted that Dan Brienza, whose Film Network Meeting group met before every TFR, announced the likelihood of modifying his future meetings to include a few local shorts for real-time critiquing purposes, thereby combining the elements of the TFR and the now-defunct TFN (Tampa Film Network) into a unified whole. We wish Dan the best of luck with this endeavor, we're certainly glad someone is running with the torch!
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.
Color code of past reviewers:
Terence Nuzum's reviews are in Blood Red.
Chris Woods' reviews are in Deep Purple.
John Miller's reviews are in Hunter Green.
All reviews finish with our critic's rating which sit at the end of our review and are in boldface.
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. Although it may seem pointless to repeat this caveat now, I'm saying it here because the reviews below are all copied from previous issues of PCR (with one notable exception) and had other reviewers posting with me. The notable exception is Joel Wynkoop's TFR tribute. Todd Thompson's film, Time & Again, I didn't see before as it played one of the two TFRs I couldn't attend personally, so that one is also new to this issue.
Here we go....
Tribute to The Tampa Film Review by Joel D. Wynkoop. Wynkoop at his zany best in a two-in-one movie.
Nolan Canova: When Wynkoop's Something for the TFR played July of '08 it was regarded as a stroke of genius. Wynkoop basically made a short video, all in one take, about having nothing ready for the TFR! Really funny stuff. Later, his Wynkoop TV benefactor, Doug Vaters, pitched the idea of a hi-tech HD version of the same idea called SFTTFR 2: Morons In Space (co-starring Anthony Wayne), but taking place in various green-screened locations including one onboard the starship Enterprise. Although it had its moments (all Wynkooop's), it largely didn't quite work because lo-tech is what made the original work so well. It got a fairly negative review (link).
As a joke on me, tonight's newly-filmed Tribute to the TFR starts exactly like Morons In Space, but Wynkoop stops tape and tells Vaters to shut off the green-screen. Off-camera, Vater asks, "Is this because of Nolan's review?" to which Wynkoop explodes "I don't care about Nolan's review!" and other....er....colorful things that simultaneously sacked me and honored me (thanks you two) before starting in earnest on the history of TFR and Joel's feelings on its closing. Believe it or not, it was actually a pretty moving speech. Well done, Joel.
Then, out of the blue, he tells the off-screen Vaters to fill the green-screen behind him with a repeat of Something for the TFR! At the time I regarded this as a sneaky way of getting two of his films into one slot, but I've since cooled off of that (it was a popular request after all).
For sheer balls and a moving tribute, Tribute to the Tampa Film Review is Very Highly Recommended. And now, without skipping a beat....
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|Ringmaster Paul Guzzo takes the stage to announce the night's agenda.|
|The 3 PCR caballeros, L-to-R, Nolan Canova, Terence Nuzum, and Chris Woods. The original photo was a bit out of focus, I sharpened it up as best I could.|
|Claymation genius, 16-year-old Garrett Brown, left, his mom, center, and yours truly share a special moment.|
|I feel very lucky to have scored this shot with these two beautiful women of the Tampa film scene. On left, the current Tampa Film Commissioner, Lindsey Norris, and on right, the former Film Commissioner, Krista Soroka, now with the Gasparilla Festival. Both are very special ladies!|
|L-to-R, Krista Soroka, Pete Guzzo, Paul Guzzo, unknown patron (sorry), and Lindsey Norris share a light moment during TFR's wrap-up.|
|This is a portrait of which I'm especially proud. Paul Guzzo, left, yours truly, center, and Pete Guzzo, right. What can I say, guys? It's been a helluva ride!|
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|Wildman Joel D. Wynkoop plays to Doug Vaters' video camera during my "interview". I didn't get to say much that you could hear, haha.|
|Wynkoop practices his karate moves on me. This is the only shot of me with my cane which I used for self-defense as well as, well, walking!|
|Yours truly on left listens intensely as actor Joe Davison, right, spins a plot. Dan Brienza passes by in the background.|
|Later at the Rockin' Sports Bar, our favorite Ybor watering hole. I'm waiting to get IDs on some of our guests, after which I'll update this caption. But that is Joe Davison on extreme right.|
|The other side of the table with L-to-R, actor Rob Elfstrom, make-up FX wiz Corey Castellano, Nolan B. Canova, and Lisa Ciurro. Our photographer, Chris Woods, was sitting next to Lisa.|
|Pete and Paul Guzzo are in the lightest-colored shirts, but I'm waiting on IDs for the rest of our stable of characters, sorry!|
Something for the TFR by Joel D. Wynkoop: Watch the hyped-up antics of a madman as he tries to prepare for the Tampa Film Review.
Nolan Canova: Put simply, this was a stroke of genius on Wynkoop's part: he didn't have anything ready for the TFR, so, the same afternoon, he put together a video about not having anything ready for the TFR! His patient wife, Cathy, follows him around as he desperately tries to figure out what he can do in the hours remaining. He picks up action-figures and starts a little battle, doing the voices himself. He picks up a model of the USS Enterprise and tries to re-live an episode of Star Trek. If he sees Cathy panning down to his hyperventilating, sweating face, he screams, "No, don't film me! Film them!" (Meaning the figures.) As he slowly has a nervous breakdown, he starts to despair that no one can help him and calls us by name, "Chris Woods! Chris Woods lives all the way in St. Pete! He can't help me!" Cathy mentions Terence Nuzum. "Terence?! Terence doesn't care about me!" Paul and I get mentioned as "understanding there wasn't time to prepare anything."
Reviews re-printed from The TFR for July '08, PCR #434
Joel inserted clips of his past movies like The Bite and Lost Faith. He wisely kept these to very short clips, 30 seconds or less. Any longer it would have slowed the pace of the film and ruined it with obvious self-promotion.
Favorite line: "Oh....I know I know. I can just give Paul a blank disc and blame that it won't play on his DVD player, then I'll say 'You broke my movie!'..."
Joel D. Wynkoop is at his absolute best when he's ad-libbing and this is all one-take ad-libbed stuff done just hours before showtime. The laughs came fast and hard and my ribs hurt afterwards. For sheer unadulterated manic craziness, Joel Wynkoop is unparalleled. Very Highly Recommended and One of The Best Comedies Ever To Play The TFR.
Terence Nuzum: A slice of pure comic brilliance. Wynkoop ad-libbing is something that needs to happen more often. The skit itself has every TFR in-joke imaginable that has been bantered about since its inception until now. From Paul not being able to work the DVD player to showing a clip of Gus Perez, to mentioning TFR reviewer (and ye humble editor) Nolan, and even Chris Woods, it was, without a doubt, for the CFR crowd's pleasure, but it seemed the rest of the audience liked it, too. The line "Terence! Terence doesn't care about me!" though, will not get you film of the night, Joel, but I will give ya....Good.
Chris Woods: This little short film was hilarious. Wynkoop is pure entertainment and an awesome performer. It had me laughing hysterically all the way through. I was even crying cause I was laughing so hard. A film that was shot in a matter of minutes by Joel and his wife Cathy that has Joel trying to put together a short for TFR to show that night. It was great and was also pretty much done in one take, only time they cut to something else is when they showed a few clips from Wynkoop’s films. One of the best parts is when Joel was doing voices to some action figures and Cathy panned the camera back to Joel and he starts screaming, “Don’t have the camera on me shoot the figures!”, something along the lines of that. But the whole piece was very funny and entertaining. Very Highly Recommend.
John Miller: When I first saw Joel's smiley mug plastered across the screen on what appeared to be a home video, I broke a sweat thinking the guy had finally cracked. Was I ever wrong. This video turned out to be a stroke of genius and Wynkoop at his absolute finest doing what he does best---Entertaining the shit out of everyone in the room! Joel's wife Cathy does an excellent job of narrating the chaos from behind the camera adding to the hilarity. Runner Up Film Of The Night.
Gunn Highway, by Stefan Vino-Figueroa. Looks can be deceiving. Just because someone looks one way on the outside, doesn’t mean they look the same on the inside.
Nolan Canova: This entry came out of nowhere and knocked us out with pro lighting, pro acting, top-drawer camera-work, creative direction. Jeezis, everything. Rod L. Griffin, smoking a cigar, and Rich Boyd sit in a dark room chatting, trading dream stories, and the like, against a nearly black background. Doesn't sound like much so far, except that the caliber of their deliveries keeps you riveted. The "flashbacks" are hilarious, even surreal. As the show wears on, we discover these two men's destinies are very dark. I've seen Rod Griffin in movies before. He was OK. Here? He is AMAZING. Why? The lighting? The direction? Maybe. Maybe Rod was having an exceptional day. His buddy, Rich Boyd, is incredible, like out of an HBO special or something, but with a gritty quality. To me this had David Lynch written all over it, and I even asked the director, Stefan Vino-Figueroa about it afterwards. He said his hero was Stanley Kubrick. OK, good enough. Very Highly Recommended, Film of the Night, and One of the Top 10 Films Ever to Play at TFR
Reviews re-printed from The TFR for August '07, PCR #386
Terence Nuzum: Wow! This came out of nowhere and hit like a semi truck. Top notch camerawork, lighting on a pro level, and acting that can't be beat. Almost a flawless film. The moral tale thingy was a bit thin and if they were going for statement on capital punishment then they didn't push it far enough. I suspect though that it's simply a self-explanatory tale which is brilliantly directed with a visual style in some scenes that has echoes of Wes Craven's dinner table sequence from Last House on The Left and the noirish nightmares of David Lynch's Blue Velvet. And while I haven't seen everything ever made locally, from what I have seen, this is hands down the best short film made locally. Film of the Night. Best Film of TFR ever!!
Chris Woods: All right, now this is a movie to see. A very creative film from new director Stefan Vino-Figueroa. The film is just awesome. Probably one of the best films that ever played at the TFR or (CFR). It was very well written and was a great example of a well done character piece. Vino-Figueroa knows how to direct his actors. Rod L. Griffin gives an amazing performance as a man on death row talking to another death row prisoner at their last hour. We witness Griffin become a superstar in front of our very eyes with this role. The other lead, Rich Boyd in the film gives an awesome performance. His best part is when he’s about to be executed and he speaks his last words. The other actors in the film, such as Rachael Lee, do great jobs as well. Some of the film had a great gritty look, kind of retro 70’s, which was cool. The cinematography was just beautiful and the lighting was top notch and best I’ve ever seen in any film period. Especially the scene where Rich Boyd walks in the room and about to be executed and the light is just glowing on him and around him is total darkness, that was very well done. The whole film was a well rounded great piece of art. I enjoyed it very much and can’t wait to see the next film from this talented filmmaker. Very Highly Recommended and Film of the Night.
Editor's note, post facto: Since this TFR, actor Rod L. Griffin has changed his name to Rod Grant. ---Nolan
To Live Is To Die by Chris Woods: A group of college students are asked to share non-fictional stories in the writing class. Strangely enough the authors fall victim to their own tales.
Nolan Canova: One of Chris Woods' and Simon Lynx's better ventures, a combination of black-and-white and color photography enhances the dreamy nature of what seems to be a POV story of a college-writing-class-gone-wild, haha. Nice script, very good performances, and one of the first appearances of Jereme Badger. Simon Lynx plays the "dark stranger in the hat and trench coat" as he did in several ICON productions. Heavy existentialism, a Lynx trademark, comes into play here, but not to a distracting degree. A love story sneaks in and a moving final act wraps it up. Tech note: this was shot several years ago on one of the first generation Digital-8 cameras and the image really holds up well in today's increasingly Hi-Def world. Recommended.
Review re-printed from The TFR for May '07, PCR #373. It should also be noted that this film played the very first TFR, January '04. It got mentioned in my Florida Filmmakers Newsletter, but was not actually reviewed. ---Nolan
Chris Woods: (Chris Woods had to recuse himself from jury as he is this film's director.)
Tale of Two Megans directed by Fred Zara, written by Chris Zara: Confident science major Mark Jarvis has never encountered a problem he couldn't solve through cool-headed analysis. But when he falls head-over-heels in love with two women of equal-but-opposite appeal, the cocky whiz kid finds himself faced with the impossible task of having to choose just one.
Nolan Canova: I was pretty confident I was going to like whatever Fred Zara brought to the review, as I am a big fan of his. His studio, Sketchbook Productions, has appeared in these pages many times, and always positively. Skippy Lightfoot's Perfect Day and Entering Wendy being just two that come to mind I'm crazy about. Fred's themes of crazy-sexual-attractions-gone-bizarre continue in A Tale of Two Megans. The cast is terrific. Our hero, Mark (John Hill), confesses to his friend Josh (Shane Wilkenloh) that it's a shame he can't graft together his two favorite girlfriends, thereby combining their best qualities into one. Mark's mad-scientist father (Paul Austin Sanders in a hilarious turn as the nutty professor) unintentionally provides the answer when he leaves his new working-but-faulty teleportation device (think The Fly) with Mark. It is through this wacky invention that Mark "solves" the problem of his heart's desire. Only the solution comes with a price. A very funny movie that threatens to end on a bummer note, but is saved by a poignant twist-ending. Like all Sketchbook Productions, this one is also Highly Recommended.
Review re-printed from The TFR for June '06, PCR #325
Mexican Sky, written and directed by Ken Collins, featuring Jay Hewlett. A mouthy career criminal takes a sheriff and his deputy hostage in their own squad car in a desperate attempt to flee across the Mexican border. 10 minutes.
Review re-printed from The TFR for December '06, PCR #351.
Nolan Canova: This is one of the finest films I have ever seen play at the Tampa Film Review. Ever. The lead lawman, Ray, is played by stand-up comic Jay Hewlett (also a member of Damage Control, Inc.), who is outstanding in his role as the taunted lawman. What is it about stand-up comics that they seem so frequently to be able to cross-over into drama. The reverse isn't usually true, at least I've never known it to happen. Jay's performance is amazing. The mouthy skinhead crook, the one with the child-killer past who with great bravado taunts our heroes all the way to Meh-hee-ko, is played by the director himself, Ken Collins. The quiet Hispanic deputy who drives them, Paul/Pablo (Jamie Clark) will get his showdown at the end. And the ending is quite satisfying. Ken Collins has written some juicy parts for himself and his players. Chad Fukuda's cinematography is breathtaking as is the super-tight editing. Congratulations to Largo Films, Mexican Sky gets my Very Highest Recommendation.
Chris Woods:This was a good little piece about a sheriff driving a convict who is a child rapist and murderer, to prison but the con turns the tables on them by pulling a gun on the sheriff and the driver. The tables turn yet again at the end. This film is a great example that you don’t need a big budget and special effects, all you need is a good story and great performances from the actors. Most of the film was shot in a car with the con and sheriff dominating the scene. And a great twist at the end seals the deal.
Time & Again by Todd Thompson: Steve Peters has found a way to control time, but how can he cheat death if fate has a mind of his own?
Nolan Canova: Although this film played the TFR in the hurricane-racked month of September 2004, my write-up of that month's event includes a note from me that I "couldn't stay" to watch Time & Again (no excuse given), but hopefully I would have another chance again soon. I never thought it would take over four years! But that mistake was corrected this night.
Elderly Steve Peters (Seymour Cassel), a clock-collector fascinated with time pieces, is caring for his dying wife, Mae (Margaret Blye) who he obviously adores. One night while playing with a new acquisition, an antique clock, he makes the amazing discovery that the clock can roll back and forth through time by simply moving the hands! Ecstatic, he winds the clock back to catch the TV broadcast of the state lottery number drawing which was just on. Writing down the numbers, he winds the clock back again and heads to the store to buy a winning ticket. He sits and watches the drawing again, and, of course, he's a winner. Triumphant, he bursts into his bedroom to tell his wife the news only to discover she's died. Devastated, he runs back to wind the clock to before that point so he can see her alive one last time. Eventually he figures out that while he can control time, he can't cheat death. In a desperate attempt to defeat that outcome he winds the clock too tight and fate is finally sealed.
Tampa film fans may also recognize Bay-area favorite Jack Amos in a cameo as the mailman who gets caught up in the time shifts.
Like all Todd Thompson films, this has outstanding performances, writing, music, photography, hell, everything. Totally pro-level stuff. It also has Todd Thompson's magical and nearly child-like sense of wonder, kind of Spielberg/Disney-like that way, that so many of his other movies have (Monster Under My Bed, Mr. Bubbs, This Man's Life) that draw you in like a comfortable old storybook.
I met Todd Thompson for the first time just last month and I was able to get a few words with him in this month as well. He's going places and I intend to follow his career closely. Time & Again is, of course, Very Highly Recommended!
"The Last One" by Garrett Brown Stop-motion claymation about a slacker who gets into in a horrific car crash and wakes to a surreal world where all perception is skewed.
Nolan Canova: When Paul Guzzo first told me there was going to be a claymation short at this month's TFR, I groaned, especially when I learned it was going to be by the same young man who underwhelmed me with his entry to this year's Gasparilla Film Festival, Murray's Law: A Trilogy of Disaster, a poorly-done, but aptly-named major disappointment that somehow got by the show screeners. (The disc I saw didn't even have an audio track.) When I asked for details about the filmmaker, I was told something like, "I dunno, some kid...teenager, I think." Great. How much different could his kid's new film be, I thought.
Reviews re-printed from The TFR for July '08, PCR #434
In one of the most indescribable turnarounds/comebacks I've ever known in my entire life, 16-year-old Garrett Brown has gone from a clumsy Will Vinton wannabe to groundbreaking visonary in just one film! If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it myself. That he's only 16 years old makes my head spin.
Our "hero" Steve is a slacker/stoner who comes home only when he needs money. He shows up for dinner one night, and mom and dad cringe at his worthlessness and lack of ambition. After a brief argument with his parents, our boy leaves, gets into his car and tears out into the world only to get in a horrific car accident. Rescued and taken in by a seemingly compassionate doctor, Steve's "treatment" results in severe disfigurement to his face. Stunned that he may not ever be able to rejoin the world, he joins the doctor's "family" who consists of two others, like himself, who've been victimized by the doctor/madman. Discovering he's slowly becoming a prisoner, he makes a desperate move to save himself: he finds a gun and makes his way out into the world---but what world awaits him reveals the final shock.
The amazing thing is, technically, there are some crude things about the execution of the animation that remind me of Murray's Law. Many animation scenes are fairly jerky. His clay characters are, at best, very rough representations of anything human. He incorporates store-bought action-figures into the same scenes as the hand-made claymation figures. This shouldn't work---and yet, the weird thing is it all works incredibly well anyway!! Why?
The story and script are great. The backgrounds and set pieces are actually very meticulously detailed and scaled. The voice-overs are horrifying and amusing at the same time. (Favorite line, freak-brother to Steve as they lie in bed together, say it like The Elephant Man: "I.....love......you....Steve!") The music appropriate. The lighting and camera angles are similar to what I'd expect from someone at a pro level! The story and pacing are excellent, the weirdness draws you in and doesn't let go until the last frame.
In some ways, he's already sailed ahead of filmmakers years--or decades--his senior. Like I said, makes my head spin. Garrett Brown has joined the ranks of the young-people-to-watch in the Bay area. I was honored to meet Garrett and his mother at TFR and was able to convey my excitement in person. I look very much forward to anything this young man produces from here on. And, oh yes, for whatever it's worth, all is forgiven for Murray's Law!
A disturbing piece of outré horror cinema on every level, and an example of the best that TFR has discovered, I give The Last One my Highest Recommendation, Film of the Night, and one of the Top 10 Films Ever To Play TFR.
Terence Nuzum: The Last One (or as I like to call it, Everything That's Right About TFR) is a stop-motion claymation horror film that defies words. I'm not one to overly praise something, so when I say this is the shit, I mean it's the shit. Sporting ideas, camera angles, and mood that blew everything away at this month's TFR and maybe ever. Definitely in the same league as Gunn Highway. The director and animator is only 16, but he has already shut down half of TFR's competition some of which are men way into their 40s. Why more TFR entries can't be original like this and less like a shot at a TV show or distribution deal is a sad question. Sometimes it takes someone with a untarnished artistic vision to remind us that we should be making movies from our hearts and not for cash and fame. If I'm wrong and everyone is making films they truly love, then maybe filmmakers here have less creative talent than once thought. This kid, though, is either going somewhere or he will leave this as his sole masterpiece, but either way, for him it's a win-win situation. Film of the Night.
Chris Woods: This has to be one of the best films to play in CFR/TFR’s history. An excellent clay animation short done by 16-year-old director, Garrett Brown. Most of the film features all characters created by clay, a few are action-figures. Animation on all the figures is amazing. But not only is there great animation, there’s also a great twisted story with very strange and awesome characters. The story really takes a weird twist when the lead character is injured in a car accident. He is rescued by a so-called doctor that saves his life but is left with his face disfigured. (One of the best parts of the film is when his face is revealed.) The doctor also has two other patients there who are deformed and call him "father". The lead character is asked to stay with them but realizes how sick and twisted they are and wants to leave but the doctor won’t let him escape.
There are so many great things about this film. The voices to the characters are very creepy. The whole atmosphere and the mood just pull you into the story. The small miniature sets give a great dark and gritting feel and almost feel like the place is real and at full size. The film is shot on video but at most times looks like it is shot on Super-8 or 16mm. And the lighting is excellent. One shot that comes to mind is a spotlight on a gun that is set on a platform, the way the reflection off the gun and the complete darkness that surrounds it was just awesome. At 16, this filmmaker has a lot of promise and look forward to see his next film. This is a must see! Very Highly Recommended and Film of the Night.
John Miller: I feel honored to have been in attendence to witness this masterpiece. Filmmaker Garrett Brown at just sixteen has fired a warning shot to everyone with a camera and a script that they need to step their games up. Way Up! This kid's whole approach is something new and fresh. It's as if Mr. Brown saw the fork in the road between honoring the glory days of the past and staying stuck in the staleness of the present, put the pedal to the metal and forged straight ahead, carving his own path. Film Of The Night.
Garrett Brown has made his wonderful film available on YouTube! It is in three parts due to YouTube's time/space constrictions, but well worth a look. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUXJjN7Fnm4 -- Nolan.
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"The Tampa Film Review for January" is ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova. Reviews by all other contributing writers ©2004--2008. All photographs used in this article are ©2009 by Chris Woods and are used here with permission.
All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.