Indie Tuesdays: Black Bart

Black Bart (Bernard Robichaud of The Trailer Park Boys) just wants a drink. He has just been released from prison and, some might say, is the very definition of a thug. Now that he has regained his freedom, he just wants to find a bar, get a drink (or maybe a little something more), and avoid those who may be looking for him to repay some old debts.

Black Bart is directed by Andrew Young, a Canadian stand-up comic, writer, and filmmaker. Black Bart was co-written and co-produced by Robichaud and Young and features very Trailer Park Boys style dialogue. The main issue I found here is that unlike The Trailer Park Boys episodes and movies, nothing really happens. Young has stated that Black Bart is meant to be the first in a series of shorts chronicling Bart’s travels as he coasts around trying to avoid the people he owes. The problem is he doesn’t seem to be doing anything besides avoiding people — at least from this 15 minute short it doesn’t seem like he is doing anything.

The entire run time is dialogue driven but the dialogue seems misplaced and without direction. It’s more of a stream of thought type of writing. I assume the intention was to make it funny as well, but I didn’t really catch anything that I found amusing. It really did seem like following a couple of guys that go to a bar to get a drink. Like in real life. They don’t really say anything and don’t really do anything, resolve anything or plan for anything. There is no arc of any sort in this short film, no direction as to where it’s headed. We’re left pretty much where we started when all is said and done.

The camera work has some interesting moments, but the budget really seems to shout off the screen here, and that wasn’t really a good thing at all. There are interior shots where you can barely make out characters faces. I understand budget limitations but turning a few lights on shouldn’t really be an issue? Unfortunately, Black Bart ends up seeming less like the beginning of a series and more like a short film that was never finished. Robichaud’s performance is actually very good, his portrayal of Bart is pretty much the only thing that keeps your attention but you will ultimately wonder when something is going to happen to him. Or to anyone. Black Bart has lots of potential under its skin but feels underwritten, under budgeted and underequipped.

Watch Black Bart

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Indie Tuesdays: Sister

Brenda Davis’ film Sister follows dedicated maternal health workers in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Haiti. With a lack of access to proper medical facilities or a lack of transport to get women to suitable facilities, the mortality rate among pregnant women is shockingly high. Sister follows three women on their tireless crusade to provide care for these women and their children by any means possible.

Sister is quite the eye opening film. Shot with compelling and non-flinching footage, Davis never edits or pulls away from the truth and the enormous difficulties facing pregnant women in particular. The three women featured in the film, Goitom Berhane in Ethiopia, Pum Mach in Cambodia and Madam Bwa in Haiti, are incredible pillars of inhuman resolve and compassion. Along with their challenges regarding health care, access to facilities and medication and proper services for the care of mothers and their babies, they also face obstacles that are just due to the country they live in. Long distances, terrible living conditions, widespread poverty in dense populations and in the case of Cambodia especially, heavily land mined areas. The fact that these women dedicated their lives to helping women in a situation taken for granted here is admirable. For them, there is no other mission in life — and they seem to do it with no thought to the risks. It just comes naturally to them and they never seem to have questioned it.

Kot Peum, 19. Battambang Province, Cambodia
Kot Peum, 19. Battambang Province, Cambodia

Davis and her entire crew (all women) have constructed one of the most honest documentaries I’ve ever seen. They make sure to point out that the drastic mortality rate could easily be reduced or even obliterated with small changes and support to the medical conditions in certain countries. Even just adding the availability of ambulances or other transportation to outlying villages would make a huge difference. As is often the case in many third world countries, small changes can make gigantic differences. When a country’s lifetime risk of dying of childbirth related causes are one in 27 when the United States has a rate of one in 4,800 is staggering and unbelievable. But with more compassionate people like Berhane, Mach and Bwa, there is always hope of a better life for these mothers and their babies. Sister is a beautiful portrait of three women making a huge difference with no desire for a reward or attention, providing a lesson the whole world could benefit to learn from.

 

Indie Tuesdays: Seek

Evan Brisby (Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski) is a writer for a small Toronto gay magazine who dreams of making more of his career. Still in despair over an ended relationship, Evan looks forward to a new job writing an article about Toronto’s gay nightlife for a very large newspaper. Hoping not only for a shot at the big time but a chance to explore the nightlife and maybe find love again, Evan’s journey becomes as much about himself as the scene he is covering.

Writer/director Eric Henry has crafted what really seems to be a very personal film. It is a very human story about longing, life expectations, and the inability many people have to move on with their lives instead of letting their past haunt them, which is something we can all relate to on one level or another. It is about living in the now and learning to be aware of your life as it is happening instead of the common approach to dwell on the past and worry about the future. It is a universal story that has a lot to offer any viewer of any persuasion.

Seek

Henry also manages to pull a very good looking film out of very limited resources and funds. With classic shot structure and a solid story arc he creates a great character driven piece that feels very old school in its approach. The shots of the Toronto nightlife are vibrant and feel authentic as do the characters themselves. According to Henry himself, much of the success of the final product is due to the support and co-operation of the neighbourhood itself, local citizens, businesses and friends who wanted to contribute to make the film great and help it accurately represent where they all live. The result is a film that feels real and borders on cinéma vérité. Henry took what he had and maximized it all to the best of his ability and it all paid off in the final film.

Kudos should also be given to Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski in the lead role of Evan. While accomplished in theatre on many levels including acting, directing and music, Seek is his first foray into film and his experience translates very well onto the screen. He is genuine and natural with a charisma that seems to come easy to him. Hopefully he enjoyed the experience and continues to explore the medium; audiences would be rewarded for it.

Seek is currently making the festival rounds. Watch for it at festivals in the city this year.

More About Seek

Seek trailer

Indie Tuesdays: The Last Halloween

While it may be a strange time of year for a Halloween film, writer/director Marc Roussel’s new short film, The Last Halloween, may be the cure for the horror fans drowning in the mountainous snow banks.

A group of trick or treater’s travels door to door through a mysterious neighbourhood, encountering strange inhabitants offering up bizarre treats. What none of them know is what tricks they may have in store in what may well be The Last Halloween.

I am a bit of a horror aficionado and I have to say in The Last Halloween’s short 10 minute runtime it manages to impress. The first thing that becomes staggeringly obvious is that Marc Roussel and his crew know what they are doing. The fast paced short is beautifully filmed and shot with the dark slick look of a much bigger budgeted production. The sets, costumes and lighting are all incredible looking. Had it been included in one of the more recent horror anthology film like the V/H/S series or The ABC’s of Death, it would have surely been the best short among them. While many of those films entries lack imagination and ingenuity, The Last Halloween would have overshadowed them all with both things in spades.

Dialogue is sparingly applied here and to great effect. The ideas behind the story are not spelled out for the viewer and you are left to come to your own conclusions in terms of when it is set, where it takes place, and what exactly is going on. There are many possible answers to these questions but the fun of the film is figuring that out and interpreting it for yourself. The characters are all intriguing and original and the story developments near the end of the film are not only creatively executed, but the stuff of childhood nightmares. The creature designs are innovative and lots of fun and must have been inspired by the classic fright flicks of the 1970s and ’80s. I was actually also reminded of both the classic Twilight Zone TV series and the underrated 1983 film version. With this kind of quality and style, I hope the makers of the next big anthology movie stumble upon The Last Halloween.

The Last Halloween will be attending various film festivals this year and will air on Bravo TV and web in October 2014.

 

Indie Tuesdays: Open City: B.L.B.

Director A.V. Rockwell has been garnering much attention with her Open City Mixtape series of short films that document the many facets of living within New York City’s inner city neighbourhoods. Her newest entry in the series is B.L.B., the story of Jahlil, a young boy in the Bronx who, due to his mother working all hours to make ends meet, finds himself with a city to explore on his own.

B.L.B. is an extraordinary look at life in the inner city for very young kids — and a look that we don’t often get in film. Often it is teens who are the subject of this type of film, but in looking at Jahlil’s story we see what is often the genesis of a troubled childhood. Contrary to what we tend to believe, it is not bad parenting but an unavoidable lack of parenting that may lead to troubles. In the case of Jahlil he has so much time on his hands he wanders the city at all hours of the day and night, often resorting to pickpocketing sleeping transit passengers to get money to eat.

We all know what they say about idle hands and this is definitely the case with this young boy. Picking pockets for money eventually lands Jahlil with a knife that is seemingly harmless, as he often plays imaginary guns with a toy as he wanders the city’s endless sidewalks and subways. But when Jahlil is confronted by someone who may have started out just like him but is now only interested in Jahlil’s pocket full of money, the knife suddenly finds itself playing a very different role in the boy’s life.

The actor playing Jahlil is incredibly authentic. He grabs your attention from the first frames and holds it throughout. Rockwell’s eye for shots is astounding, really capturing the city in a way similar to masters like Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Woody Allen. The city is as much a character as Jahlil and the photography is beautiful. Rockwell writes, shoots and directs her own films, and she is a raw talent to be reckoned with. This particular short utilizes Beethoven as the score and the effect is unforgettable. This film has made me a fan and I immediately went back to watch the entire Open City Mixtape series and I can only hope someone of influence has done the same. Rockwell needs to be making bigger films that are seen by wider audiences.

Open City: B.L.B. is a thoughtful examination of what effect an environment can have on a person, especially a young impressionable one. The escalation that Rockwell portrays in just 12 minutes is immensely powerful and will open many eyes to factors that weigh heavily into the formation of inner city youth and their futures.

Watch Open City: B.L.B.

Indie Tuesdays: Laughing Out Loud

There is nothing like a good dose of dark humor. Better yet if it also pertains to something relevant in our society. This film is for anyone who has ever gone to a movie and been pestered by a patron who won’t put their phone away; for anyone who has had to sit through a person in the doctor’s office waiting room who won’t stop talking forever about absolutely nothing on their cell; or anyone who has encountered those people with hands-free headsets walking down the street seemingly talking to themselves like well-dressed crazy people.

Director Daniel Clements has created a short film just for all of us who have found ourselves in these situations. Running a taut eight minutes, Laughing Out Loud concerns one of those cell phone addicts who is so self-absorbed in her cell conversation that she puts herself in quite the unique situation. The cinema verite point of view taken by the camera allows us to fully engage with exactly the kind of stereotypical person who normally engages in this kind of cell phone behaviour. Not only is she immersed in her discussion, but she is also one of those people that speaks in text talk, actually saying things out loud like, “OMG, laughing out loud, he is such a loser.”

Clements keeps the pace quick and sharp and the dialog is such an accurate representation of these conversations we actually hear that it borders on painful, but the climax of the film is so thoroughly satisfying and funny it makes it all worthwhile.

Given that when we are in a waiting room, movie theatre, or streetcar and we encounter one of these oblivious people who beleive that wherever they are is their living room, so they can do whatever they want, we have all fantasized about violence. Laughing Out Loud is the kind of short film that provides us exactly the kind of cathartic release we’re looking for. While we may not wish anyone harm in real life, it can’t hurt to fantasize once in a while can it?

Watch Laughing Out Loud

Indie Tuesdays: From Nothing, Something

There have been many documentaries about the filmmaking process, some about the processes of artists, musicians, etc. But with this new and fascinating documentary from director Tim Cawley, From Nothing, Something, we get a unique perspective on the creative process painted on a much broader canvas.

Featuring interviews with musicians Tegan & Sara, composer Jay Greenberg, Hollywood creature designer Neville Page, novelist Tom Perrotta, and many more including a comedian, cancer researchers, an architect, a choreographer, and a chef, From Nothing, Something takes all of these different variations of artistic expression and dissects their individual processes and approaches to life and finds common threads that tie them all together. It is quite extraordinary to hear each artist talking about not only their approaches to their crafts, but their outlooks on life, how their art and their career affect their relationships, and the many neuroses that drive them all.

On the surface it would seem that such different people with such varied jobs would have much in common but through the candid and intimate interviews with each subject the film really takes on the common theme of inspiration and drive through all of their eyes. The film is insightful, funny, touching, inspirational and utterly fascinating and ultimately reveals the art is what all of us do every day.

From Nothing, Something: A Documentary On The Creative Process, will be having its Toronto premiere at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Monday, January 20 at 6:30pm. Check their website for details and showtimes.

More About From Nothing, Something

From Nothing, Something trailer

Indie Tuesdays: Shooting Oliver

The process of making a movie in Hollywood has long been fodder for screenplay ideas, from Robert Altman’s The Player to Sunset Boulevard to the underseen and hilarious Christopher Guest film The Big Picture. Now that Toronto is such a big part of the Hollywood machine, where is the film about making movies here? Director Daniel Clements and writer Tadhg McMahon have given us just that in their short film Shooting Oliver.

Shakespearian method actor Oliver Lawrence (Tadhg McMahon) is on a Toronto film set filming a major blockbuster for emerging indie director Vincent Gill (Jameson Kraemer) when he suddenly disagrees with his character’s motivation and refuses to film a pivotal scene. With every second costing a fortune, Gill must convince Lawrence that his character’s motivations are true.

Shooting Oliver is a fast paced 17 minutes and contains so many laughs directed at the process of acting and making movies, I don’t know how they fit them all in there. McMahon is brilliant in the role of the self-righteous actor Oliver Lawrence, a perfect amalgam of every prima donna movie star you ever read about in a grocery store magazine. McMahon plays him with manic silliness and his line deliveries are priceless, especially when discussing the intense training for his role. You have to see it to believe it.

From the behaviour of the crew to Lawrence’s ‘yes man’ cronies, Shooting Oliver packs about as much Hollywood parody in a quarter of an hour as is humanly possible. It actually reminded me a lot of the The Big Picture. It has the same sort of comic timing and true to life situations that make Guests’ films so memorable. Word on their website is they are looking to turn Shooting Oliver into a series, so for any producers out there considering this, I say: yes please!

More About Shooting Oliver

Shooting Oliver trailer

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Indie Tuesdays: 48 Hours in Purgatory

48 Hours in Purgatory revolves around a group of filmmakers that find themselves in the spotlight, looking for something different and exciting for their next project. They come up with a psychological study documentary in which they would offer $10,000 to people that agreed to be locked in a room alone for 48 hours, honestly answer questions and face their personal demons in front of a camera. Throughout the experiment, not only do the participants confront their lives and the decisions they have made, but the filmmakers find themselves doing the same.

48 Hours in Purgatory is an interesting film story-wise. The basic premise of people being chosen based on events in their pasts and then exploited for them is fascinating. While the story is intriguing, the execution of this film leaves a lot to be desired. The two leads, Andrew Roth and Emily Alatalo both have a lot of potential, but the script is so muddled with rigid dialogue they can’t seem to find their footing often enough. Much of the acting in the movie sees the script’s lines delivered blandly and mechanically. Almost every actor besides the leads look as if they were just pulled off the street and thrown into the film, with none of them delivering anything seeming natural in the least. It’s hard to know whether this is the fault of the actors themselves, a bad script, bad direction, or a combination of all three, but it comes off as brashly amateurish.

Some of the camerawork is inventive and interesting, but many scenes look as though they were either not really thought about beforehand or not finished afterwards. There is a scene in the second half of the film with the filmmakers meeting at a house and the scene looks to be almost completely devoid of lighting. It is so dark it is hard to make out any detail at all. This type of thing is very distracting and instantly pulls you out of the film.

Lastly, the film never really decides what kind of movie it wants to be. It starts as an interesting character study, has many dramatic elements, sort of becomes a thriller, then turns to horror momentarily, then turns paranormal. Again, this disjointed feel really pulls you out of the story and just makes you keep questioning the validity of the film overall.

While there were many interesting ideas in 48 Hours in Purgatory it feels like it really needed a few more script revisions, maybe some more rehearsals for the actors, and definitely some more lighting.

More About 48 Hours in Purgatory

48 Hours in Purgatory available now on DVD/VOD. Click here for more details.

48 Hours in Purgatory trailer

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Indie Tuesdays: Streamer

Streamer is a new short film from writer/director Jared Bratt. The eight minute film concerns a man (Ryan Fisher) who is sitting on the edge of a tub in a bathroom contemplating a meeting he had with a woman (Cydney Penner). The man is obsessive about every detail during the time he spent with the woman, cycling over every moment, every word spoken, every gesture and insinuation.

Bratt has crafted a story that, when first viewed, seems not like a self-contained short film but like a scene from a bigger film, but upon repeat viewings it is evident that all you need to know about what came before is related to you through the man’s over analyzed recollections. While I actually dismissed the film upon watching it the first time, I grew to understand it more with subsequent viewings—and then it became apparent that it was also totally relatable.

Every one of us has had an experience where we met someone, or had a short relationship or fling with someone, then spent countless hours thinking and rethinking the situation to look for hidden clues or signs as to where the relationship was going or what the other person really thought. The situation gets even more convoluted when the other person is not completely honest and is playing games, which is presumably the case in Streamer.

Fisher and Penner are both very good here, especially Fisher with his frantic train of thought ramblings about the experience and how he manages to convey the madness it can lead to in such a short run time. Bratt is also to be commended for his handling of the one location scene with his dizzying and inventive camerawork. Streamer is an inventive and intuitive short film that anyone can relate to, even if it does take a few viewings to realize it.

Streamer will be having its Canadian premiere at the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival on November 29, 2013.

More About Streamer

Streamer trailer

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Indie Tuesdays: Personal Space

Sid (James McDougall), a reclusive customer service agent, has broken up with his girlfriend Karri (Amelia MacIsaac). After what appeared to be a strong relationship, Sid and Karri seemed to suddenly be drifting apart. Not sure what to do with his newly found single life, Sid ventures out into the world, trying to mingle and find someone new. As Sid begins seeing new women, he starts putting together all the things he is looking for into something of a mental checklist. As he slowly realizes he may have already had someone who fulfilled all of his needs and wants, he also starts to realize it may be too late to get her back.

Personal1

Personal Space lives up to its name in more ways than one. As a character study of Sid, it is at times unbearably personal. We see Sid first in his in between stage, not knowing how to fill his time, imagining being with a woman while cradling his pillow, keeping himself busy with mundane activities. Personal Space also felt like it might have been a personal story for writer/director Elli Raynai, however.According to Raynai’s website, he only brought a rough outline of the story when he began shooting Personal Space and instead let the actors improvise their way through their characters interactions. The result is a fascinatingly realistic feeling film with a real fly-on-the-wall feel to it. Raynai’s formula pays off big time and gives the film a very authentic heart.

James McDougall is excellent in the lead role of Sid; he is not your typical good looking model type that populates many films of this ilk. Instead Sid is more like the majority of us— average looking, overweight, shy. At times it is uncomfortable to see into Sid’s private life, but it ultimately pays off emotionally when we see where Sid ends up. Personal Space is a curious experiment in filmmaking and a touching, quirky and very intimate character study as well.

Personal Space will have a premiere screening at Carlton Cinema on Thursday, November 21, 2013, 7:30 pm. Visit their website for details and showtimes.

More About Personal Space

Personal Space trailer

http://vimeo.com/76342201

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Indie Tuesdays: Incident #32-250

On a secluded farm on a quiet night, a farmer and his wife hear a rumble throughout their house and are blinded by a fiery light from the yard. Armed with a flashlight and an axe, the farmer investigates only to witness something that will forever change their lives and make them question the foundation of their existence.

Written, produced and directed by Jonathan Chiovitti, Incident #32-250 is a throwback to classic science fiction like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Fire in the Sky. Relying more on atmosphere and tension, Incident #32-250 immediately takes you into that “What would I do if I encountered that?” territory. Once Chiovitti settles you into the uncertainty of the farmer’s mysterious visitation, he promptly turns it on its head with a bit of a horror twist. To be able to achieve all of this in an eight minute run time is impressive indeed. Chiovitti also creates an interesting visual style that starts off with a slight indie vibe but quickly morphs into something much more remarkable with some spectacular visual effects and a fairly terrifying bit of makeup work. Kris Johnson and Devon Hubka are both excellent here as well, accurately conveying the sense of confusion and terror when confronted with the unknown.

Chiovitti has constructed an excellent little sci-fi gem with Incident #32-250 and definitely make me curious to see him handle a full length film of similar material. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. But in the meantime, I just put a much brighter bulb in my outside security light.

More About Incident #32-250

Watch Incident #32-250

http://www.loosenoose.ca/2013/10/incident32-250/

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Indie Tuesdays: Calcutta Taxi

On a particularly hectic day in Calcutta, a young art student finds his backpack and all his belongings missing when a cab takes off with them in the back seat during a hectic political strike. With some assistance from another cab driver, he must race through the crowded streets and retrieve his pack, while the driver of the first cab is sure the mystery backpack must be a bomb.

And so is the story of Calcutta Taxi, the brilliant and frenetically paced short film from writer/director Vikram Dasgupta. The first thing that really caught my eye in Calcutta Taxi is the look of the film Dasgupta has really poured a lot of substance and style into the 20 minute short with production values mimicking that of a much higher budget film. Acting across the board is fantastic with a fully involving tale that keeps you hooked from the first scene and keeps you dragging along right behind the taxi’s as they careen through the crowd filled dusty streets. It is also Dasgupta’s sly sense of humor that keeps the proceedings entertaining as we follow these quirky characters on their manic journeys.

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As Dasgupta ties together the threads that weave the three stories together, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a lighter (and shorter) cousin to the film Traffic. The foreign setting, the same sort of photographic filters, the same calibre of fine acting. The film’s three leads are captivating, especially Sunnie D’Souza as the art student who finds himself in a race against time. D’Souza is magnetic on screen and judging by the vast number of awards the film is accumulating, I am not the only one who thinks this.

According to IMDB, this is Dasgupta’s first and only film, which if true, is astounding. The film breathes with life and feels as if it was created by someone with a much longer resume. If Calcutta Taxi is any indication, someone had better take notice because this is someone that should be going places fast.

 

More About Calcutta Taxi

Calcutta Taxi Trailer

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Indie Tuesdays: Junkie

Writer/Director Adam Mason’s new film Junkie looks at first to be a familiar animal. It is a twisty, dark comedy about two brothers, Danny (Daniel Louis Rivas) and Nicky (Robert LaSardo). The two brothers live a drug addicted lifestyle that is about to take a sharp turn due to Danny’s decision to go clean. Nicky reacts aggressively, not wanting to quit drugs and being particularly enraged because Danny is usually the one to procure the goods. As Danny tries desperately to kick the habit, a surreal menagerie of acquaintances and family show up to help Nicky wage war on Danny’s fragile psyche.

Junkie may seem at first to be a straightforward tale about addiction and the obstacles it creates, but it transforms into a hell of a trip that deals with just about every aspect of drug abuse you can think of, yet deals with it all in an extremely bizarre manner and an incredibly smart and funny script.

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The two brothers are played by Daniel Louis Rivas and Robert LaSardo and it would be unfair to not give these actors their due in this review. Rivas is dryly hilarious as he deals with the barrage of abuse from his brother and from the slew of confrontations that show up at his front door. As for LaSardo, I find that every once in a while, when I am watching action movies or thrillers, I see character actors that turn up all the time. LaSardo is one of those actors. With over 100 roles on his resume, he has been a tattooed, bald headed thug in almost all of them making him instantly recognizable to movie fans. When I see guys like LaSardo, I always wonder why nobody gives them bigger roles when they garner such attention in the small roles they are in. Mason must have taken notice of LaSardo because the role he has given him in Junkie has been his best role to date and a fantastic tour de force performance. He is scary, hilarious, sad, and brilliantly manic. It is a rare occurrence of such a recognizable character actor being given the opportunity to really make a role his own.

Great direction and script by Mason anchored by stellar performances by Rivas and especially LaSardo escalate Junkie above the standard fare you might be expecting when you sit down with it, but it is a guaranteed fun ride that will keep you guessing throughout.

Junkie will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on November 12, 2013, as well as streaming VOD platforms in the US and English Canada.

More About Junkie

Junkie trailer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHb-q0h2CVQ

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Indie Tuesdays: Aleksandr’s Price

Aleksandr is a young Russian immigrant living alone and trying to survive in New York City after the tragic death of his mother. Hard up for cash to live on, Aleksandr takes a job dancing at a gay club and after what he thinks is a one night stand with a customer, he is paid for sex and drawn into the life of a paid escort, finding the cash hard to turn down. With his income on the rise and his self-worth on the decline, Aleksandr struggles with his identity and questions who he really is while descending deeper into New York City’s gay club scene.

Pau Masó, who plays Aleksandr, also wrote the screenplay and directed Aleksandr’s Price, which is only his second feature to date. Aleksandr’s Price is an impressive film for such a new filmmaker and shows much promise. Not only is Masó very good in the role of Aleksandr, but his direction is sure handed with the film echoing classic indie fare such as Sex, Lies and Videotape. Essentially the story of a man’s intense journey of self-discovery, the arc of Aleksandr’s tale is very dark and very intimate. The unfortunate path Alexandr must take to get to the core of who he is is not easy to watch sometimes and really becomes a detailed deconstruction of a characters entire persona. Masó plays the conflict and torment well making Aleksandr sympathetic and relatable.

While Aleksandr’s Price may not be for everyone, it is a well-made film about the very dark path of one man as he struggles with his place in the world and although it may not be a pleasant journey to take, it is a compelling one.

Aleksandr’s Price is currently available on DVD.

More About Aleksandr’s Price

Aleksandr’s Price trailer

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Indie Tuesdays: One More for the Road

Writer Kelly Michael Stewart and director Navin Ramaswaran come together to tell the tale of Bill (Jeff Sinasac) and Diane (Lindsay Smith), a couple who find nothing left in common and their marriage on the rocks. To give their union one last chance, they embark on a road trip together in hopes of rekindling their feelings for each other. This starts out as a familiar enough story but where Stewart and Ramaswaran differ from the usual “relationship on the rocks” story is the extremes the couple is willing to go to prove their underlying hate for each other.

From the first frames of One More for the Road I was intrigued by the couple, they instantly have great on screen charisma and their personalities are immediately like oil and water. When Bill announces that he knows of an extramarital affair that Diane is having, things really start to spiral out of control. Within the short film’s brisk 18 minute runtime we are witness to a barrage of hate between two couples that is darkly funny, violent, and in a strange sort of way, a microcosm of how many people handle relationship issues, but on a much more extreme scale.

Ramaswaran’s direction is confidant and sure handed, the 7 years or so he has been making short films have really given him a distinct style and assurance. The performances by Jeff Sinasac (“Clutch – the Series”) and Lindsay Smith (In the House of Flies) are both stellar with the delicate balance between humor and madness handled deftly. I did think the film went off the rail with the final shot and it would have been immensely more satisfying had they cut to credits after the second last scene, but it wasn’t enough to warrant condemning the short film as a whole. One for the Road is a worthwhile trip.

More About One More for the Road

One More for the Road trailer

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Indie Tuesdays: Peace, Love, Unity, Revenge

Peace, Love, Unity, Revenge is director Marcus Kempton’s entry in The 2013 Action Film Challenge, a competition in which indie filmmakers are to write, shoot and deliver an action film short in 30 days. Kempton’s film revolves around Felix (Steven Elliot), who is determined to get out of a life of crime, but not before his past catches up with him one last time.

The first thing that stands out about Peace, Love, Unity, Revenge is the quality. Kempton shot the film beautifully with vivid night shots and fluid camera movements. The chase scenes are well laid out as well and could have potentially been quite entertaining with the fight scenes integrated, which is where Peace, Love, Unity, Revenge falls apart. The fight scenes here are sloppy, with the angles of punches being so off you can tell the action is staged, and even in the final film submitted on the competition site, there are sound effects missing during the crucial fights.

Much of this could actually have been forgiven though if Kempton didn’t do one thing: cast Steven Elliot as his leading man. Elliot is obviously not a professional actor, but if you are not going to cast pros, at least find an amateur that can pull it off somewhat. Elliot gives one of the worst and most obvious performances I have seen in a short film in quite some time. There are a few decent performances in here, but Elliot’s is not one of them.

Had Kempton found a more charismatic lead that could be marginally convincing, found someone who could stage a fight more realistically, and done a little more work in post-production, this could have been a really entertaining action short. Unfortunately, it ended up feeling like a work in progress with some key ingredients missing — and it’s a shame, because in an action film competition, the action should have been the most important element. But Kempton shouldn’t give up; the film looked great and has some interesting camera work. There is definitely potential in Kempton’s style in Peace, Love, Unity, Revenge, I think he just needs more than the 30 days allocated by this competition.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jegPCqcFUps

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Indie Tuesdays: Hayter Street

One of the most wonderful things about film is the wide array of experiences out there for the audience.  Everything from the $250 million dollar Hollywood blockbusters to the smallest indie film make by the passionate film fan for next to nothing. Hayter Street is a labor of love from Torontonian Andrew Cassidy and solidly falls into the latter category. Cassidy wrote the film with his love for silent films and film noir firmly in mind, while also attempting to craft a love letter to his neighbourhood in Toronto, using his family and friends as cast and crew over an extensive 10 year period and using the city streets to tell his story.

Hayter Street is the story of a nightclub singer whose voice is stolen at the now defunct Speakers Corner on Queen Street. She hires a private detective, Double Dutch, to find her voice among the denizens of the dusky city streets.

First and foremost, I have to say that Cassidy has an eye for shot compositions. Some of his footage of Toronto is beautiful and inventive, capturing the city at night much in the same way early Scorsese and Woody Allen films captured New York. It is a fascinating portrait of a city I am familiar with, but had never really seen in this light. Even though the film was shot over the past 10 years, it has the distinctly older feel of a film from the 1980’s or early 90’s. It might just be the lack of money talking, but Cassidy’s images really are hypnotic and nostalgic.

The issues with Hayter Street occur in pretty much every other aspect of the film. The narrative is choppy and disjointed, any indoor shots really scream out the films near non-existent budget, and the silent film gimmick really doesn’t work. In fact, it isn’t even well executed as some things still have sound effects and atmospheric noise. And Cassidy’s choice of using various means of conveying the dialogue – subtitles and title cards were never consistent, constantly varying fonts, colors and placement that just made them distracting. The acting from Cassidy’s family and friends is not too bad considering the lack of professionals, but the biggest disservice to the film has got to be the editing. There is just far too much footage in this film. Clocking in at almost 2 hours, the movie could have been vastly improved (in terms of being able to sit through it at least) by trimming it back by about 40 minutes. This may have just been a classic case of a filmmakers love for his footage, wanting to show off the evidence of his long labor of love, but it just drags the film down and makes it near impossible to sit through all at once.

Hayter Street is a film that was not particularly good, and was a little difficult to sit through in its entirety, but the one thing that is blatantly obvious is that Andrew Cassidy is a passionate filmmaker with a great eye.

Hayter Street is now available for streaming on YouTube.

Do you have a Canadian or locally shot film that is available for viewing online by digital purchase or streaming? Let us know about it and we just might feature it here! Email tellus@thetfs.ca with details.

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Indie Tuesdays: Separation

Jack (Peter Stebbings) and Liz (Sarah Manninen) are trying to make a new start. They have moved into a new house in a new town hoping to leave their mistakes in the past. Along with their little girl and Liz’s mother, the household is tense with feelings of betrayal and sadness. When a strange neighbour and a persistent real estate agent continue to show up with an unusual interest in the family, Jack and Liz suspect something is afoul in their new neighbourhood.

Thus begins Greg White’s Separation. I went into this film knowing nothing at all about it, having not even viewed a trailer. The first thing that was evident was the director’s sure hand and keen sense of building scenes with a foreboding sense of dread, even when nothing was happening. Once I got about 40 minutes into the movie, I was pretty sure I had it all figured out. It was a relationship drama about a couple trying to get over something traumatic in their past, probably a miscarriage or abortion. The character of Liz has disturbing dreams and hallucinations that are definitely from the horror realm though, so I started to rethink what the movie was about. Once the mysterious neighbour and the strange real estate agent showed up, I was convinced the couple had moved into some sort of cult infested neighbourhood, and the film started heading out of the drama genre and into horror. What I ended up with was neither a drama nor a horror film, but more of a thriller. To my absolute pleasure though, it was a thriller that kept me guessing, and once the plot was fully revealed, I was stunned and overjoyed that I had not predicted any of it. That is not something that happens often anymore.

The tight and twisty script by the director Greg White was excellent and reminded me of brilliant thrillers in the vein of Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave or classic Hitchcock whodunits. White’s direction is superb as well and shows a confidence and maturity far beyond White’s experience with this being his first feature film. In addition to all of White’s vision here, he has also assembled a stellar cast that pulls off the story with conviction. The weight of the entire film falls upon the shoulders of the two lead actors, Peter Stebbings and Sarah Manninen. Both of them turn in phenomenal performances say so much more with expressions than with the words they were given to speak. Stebbings is well known for his extensive work on TV in such shows as Traders, Murdoch Mysteries and The Borgias and in films like Immortals and Defendor. He and Manninen are both captivating as the struggling couple and really sell the story through all its reveals. Separation is one hell of a zinger and a refreshing film that reminded me how great thrillers are constructed.

Separation is now available for streaming and digital download on iTunes and Amazon as well as VOD on all the major cable/sat systems across Canada.

Separation trailer

Do you have a Canadian or locally shot film that is available for viewing online by digital purchase or streaming? Let us know about it and we just might feature it here! Email tellus@thetfs.ca with details.

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Indie Tuesdays: Free Door

Michael L. Schmidt is a writer and director from Toronto. The reason I thought it pertinent to state that up front is that after watching his short film Free Door, I had an epiphany that it may be the quintessential Canadian film, embodying everything I love about being Canadian.

While driving down a rural road, Jim notices a red door with a sign reading ‘free door’. He stops, examines the door and comes to the conclusion that it just might be perfect for a project he is undertaking. Jim approaches the house and asks the owner if he could have the door. What follows is an absurd conversation that demonstrates the personality traits that we Canadians hold dear.

Schmidt really nails the dialogue between the two men in Free Door. Jim is the personification of the polite Canadian, actually going to the trouble of double checking with the owner of the home if it is okay to take the ‘free’ door. The owner of the house is also a perfect representation of a Canadian, being a common sense man who can’t understand why people have to make simple things complicated. There is a lot of both of these characters in almost everyone I know, and it is the balance of these two that make the people of this country so great. In the case of Schmidt, this is yet another fine example of why the funniest people in the world come from Canada. Classy, hilarious, insightful and dry, Free Door gave me more enjoyment in 8 minutes than I have in most 90 minute comedy features.

Free Door is screening as part of the National Screen Institute (NSI) Online Short Film Festival from July 15 to August 15, 2013.

Watch Free Door online at the NSI website and find out more about the film at its Facebook page.

Do you have a Canadian or locally shot film that is available for viewing online by digital purchase or streaming? Let us know about it and we just might feature it here! Email tellus@thetfs.ca with details.

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