31 December 2007

13 December 2007

a festival

Word in my email box this morning is that "gravida" is an Official Selection in the inaugural Festivus Film Festival, which runs from 11 January until 13 January in Denver, CO. This is obviously cool for a number of reasons, including the fact that the Festivus episode of "Seinfeld" is one the favorites of the McNelly household. It's another Festivus miracle!

If you're scoring at home, that makes "gravida" 2 for 3 in the festival circuit, with the one negative being Sundance, which was a long shot anyway.

And if for some strange reason you haven't yet seen "gravida", don't forget that we're having a Christmas, etc. sale at the store where you can get FREE Shipping on the DVD and the "un filme" shirt. The sale runs until 22 December and both items would make excellent presents for everyone you know (including yourself)

27 November 2007

A Christmas Sale

Just in time for the holidays and all those warm, fuzzy feelings everyone has, there's a sale over at my production company, d press Productions. From now until 22 December, you can get FREE SHIPPING on everything you purchase from the store. (We don't, however, guarantee that an order before 22 December will get there by Christmas, but we'll sure try)

What can you get? Well, you can get this tshirt for a mere $16:

And for $8 you can get the DVD of gravida, which just happens to be one of the best reviewed short films of 2007 (and should soon be coming to a festival near you).

If you can't fill, like, your entire Christmas list there, well then you just aren't trying and/or stretching the limits of what your family wants for Christmas.

EDIT: for reasons I haven't yet figured out, it's still charging shipping. So, if you get charged shipping, I'll send it back with the item.

19 November 2007

13 November 2007

uber-indie: Never Say Macbeth


starring: Joe Tyler Gold, Ilana Kira, Gregory G. Giles, Tammy Caplan, Tania Getty, and Scott Conte
cinematography by: Michael Millikan
written by: Joe Tyler Gold
directed by: C.J. Prouty
86 min/Los Angeles, CA

I'm pretty active in Pittsburgh's theatre community. Occasionally I'll be in a play, or just help out behind the scenes, and every summer I contribute in some way to the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. What, might you ask, does that have to do with the uber-indie project? Nothing, except that today we're reviewing C.J. Prouty's Never Say Macbeth, a comedy about a theatre group's production of William Shakespeare's cursed[1] play.

The story is simple enough: Danny (Joe Tyler Gold), a science teacher from Ohio, follows his actress girlfriend (Ilana Kira) to Los Angeles in an attempt to win her back. Of course, he accidentally ends up getting cast in the paroduction of the Scottish play, triggers the curse, and comedy ensues. At least until the ghosts of past productions show up.

Along the way we hit all the greatest hits of the uber-indie broad comedy: the forced Star Wars reference, the slapstick moments, the one-note supporting characters, the Kevin Smith influences, and the fish out of water motif. Add a formulaic romantic comedy storyline and some green screen effects, and there's your movie.

An aside: what exactly is the obsession with the Star Wars jokes and references? I understand the films were influential and hugely popular during the formative years of a lot of aspiring filmmakers, but enough already. It was wearing thin five years ago. Move on. I'm starting to think it serves more as a hindrance than a help, as everyone seems reliant on it as a convenient source of humor, rather than taking the time to fill that space on screen with something original.

One of the difficulties of watching Never Say Macbeth critically is figuring out where the line exists between the inept and the jokes at the expensive of the inept. Take, for example, the play's director. He's over-the-top and full of himself, to be sure, and sports a ridiculous, clearly fake gotee. As I see it, there's two explainations for this: either the fake gotee is a joke or it's just a terrible makeup job. If it's a joke, I see no reasoning behind it. But, considering that the character's second scene takes place with him standing in front of an old poster where he sports a shorter, real one, I think we're supposed to think the facial hair is real.

The cast, while generally bad (one gets the idea that some of the actors are giving stage performances on film...or is that part of the joke?), has some impressive moments, such as the ones involving theatre ghosts possessing the cast, but they're too few. It's a problem that exists film-wide. Never Say Macbeth is by no means a good film, as currently constructed, but there's enough good parts, enough inspired moments, to make me think a good film is possible, given the right circumstances. Worth noting is some spiffy special effects, considering the budget, and Michael Millikan's cinematography, which effectively mixes stage and film lights to add cinematic credibility to the end product.

Tim Labor's score, on the other hand, is the film's Achilles' heel. It is forced and omnipresent and cloying. The score is annoying in a vacuum, but to make things worse, it is too loud. The purpose of a film score is to enhance the proceedings on film, not to distract from them. Here, the music overpowers the dialogue, the actors, the images, everything. Moments that might work on their own fail simply because the score is dictating how we should feel about them. As you might imagine, that gets annoying quickly.

[1] According to Wikipedia: "said to be because Shakespeare used the spells of real witches in his text, so witches got angry and are said to have cursed the play...A large mythology has built up surrounding this superstition, with countless stories of accidents, misfortunes and even deaths, all mysteriously taking place during runs of Macbeth (or by actors who had uttered the name)." So there you go.

Check out Never Say Macbeth for yourself at the Official Webpage, where you can watch the trailer and see how the cast and crew suffered from the curse. Or, check them out on IMDB and MySpace.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.

06 November 2007

a self-imposed deadline

If there's one thing I've learned in all my years of writing (especially in school, where I set world records for procrastination), it's that given the opportunity, I will wait until the absolute last minute to do anything. Even now, when I'm much more motivated to get my own projects done, I'll still delay things as long as possible. It's a terrible curse.

So, I've found that the best solution is to set deadlines for myself (I'd still be editing gravida, had I not given myself a deadline) and treat them as absolute. Also, it helps if I tell other people, since I hate to let people down.

22 November, 2007. Thanksgiving Day. I'm giving myself until then to finish the next draft of the feature script I'm working on. Will it be the final draft? Probably not. Will it be pretty damned close? I think so.

By my estimate, I have roughly 20-25 pages to write (to replace the 20 pages I've cut in the past couple weeks), and I have to re-configure one of the film's key relationships (they were previously friends, but I've decided the film works better if they're dating). Also, there's endless tweaking that I'll end up doing.

Anyway, there's the date. Cross your fingers for me.

18 October 2007

cleaning out the inbox

Lately there's been a trend of people sending me emails about their various projects, announcing to me (and I assume others) of their existence. Press releases, if you will. Since a lot of them aren't addressed to me, I'm never totally sure what I should do with them (note: if you're looking for a specific action from me, put that at the top of the email), so they just sit in my inbox.

But, recently I had two that were directed to me, so I'm gonna reach back and let you know about some of the other ones as well.

** There's a new movie community on the internets over at Spill.com. Alex tells me that, "the site’s built around animated reviews we put together on the latest movie releases. We launched originally at the beginning of the year, but it’s only within the last few weeks (and after more than a few sleepless nights…) we’ve added the community features in. The movies we review may be a little mainstream for your taste, but thought you might be interested to check the site out."

** The International Museum of Women is holding an online film festival throughout October, debuting a film a day for 31 days, all directed by women. Should be cool. Go here for more.

** The first DVD from tank.tv is now available for your purchasing pleasure. From the email: "This collection contains 24 film and video pieces by 24 UK based artists, each around three minutes long, and reflects the creativity, innovation and wide variety of subject matter for which tank.tv has become known and respected. It also includes five new, specially commissioned interviews pieces between feted curators and artists." There also seems to be a book.

** Jimmy Traynor's got a new film, Jimmy Traynor's The Ticket, which was filmed in 32 hours. Beyond that, Traynor's a big fan of the collaborative power of the indie filmmaker. Check it out.

That's all for now, as I seem to have deleted some. Enjoy.

13 October 2007

uber-indie: Aesop's Diner


starring: Royce Peterson, Wilder Selzer, and Mary Micari
cinematography by: Eric Giovon
written by: Peter Kohl and Cara Maria O'Shea
directed by: Cara Maria O'Shea
26 min/New York, NY

The Family Johnson was once New York City's "coolest band", but sex, drugs, and rock and roll don't always mesh as well as you'd hope. A year and a half later, lead singer Bugs (Royce Peterson) is a broke addict with nothing but fond memories of his time in the spotlight. As part of his recovery program, he meets former bandmate Shelly (Wilder Selzer) at a diner to apologize for his sins.

The bulk of Aesop's Diner happens in the diner, with various flashbacks to headier days that play like footage from a poor man's Velvet Goldmine (1998). This gives cinematographer Eric Giovon a chance to shine. He composes a number of nice images over the course of the film and really gives Aesop's Diner a professional look that's often lacking in these types of films.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the script and direction, which lack a strong sense of purpose and focus. Tonally, the film is uneven, so while it works in short bits and spurts, there are equally long stretches that don't at all. Most of these occur in the diner, where the film tends to drag, especially in the interactions between the musicians and the waitress (Mary Micari).

But, if Aesop's Diner is a first film for director Cara Maria O'Shea (as the festival selections seem to indicate), then this isn't so much of a problem, as there isn't anything here that isn't easily fixable with experience and an emphasis on viewing your own work with a more critical eye. These things come with time, as does the confidence required for a director to impose their will and make a series of strong, cohesive decisions.

One of the film's most interesting decisions is the casting decision of Wilder Selzer as Shelly, the still successful member of the group. Shelly's a big star now and rather full of himself, using inane pickup lines to flirt with the waitress (the film never bothers to explain why such a big star would flirt with a waitress so ordinary). Selzer's performance can kindly be described as existing in an entirely different universe than, well, everything else. It's all kinds of weird and the type of performance that's either brilliant or terrible with no chance of a middle ground. Problem is, Selzer isn't Johnny Depp. He isn't even Jon Heder. He's all kinds of bad. None of the performances are good, but Selzer's is easily the worst. There isn't the modicum of acting ability on display that you'd require to believe the character is a human being. In addition, Shelly is supposedly the "next singing sensation" but the film doesn't give us any indication that he's anything but an inept musician.

Of course, that doesn't mean he couldn't be a big star, but that's a discussion for another time.

You can check out Aesop's Diner at the official webpage, the MySpace page, and on IMDB.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.

05 October 2007

an email

Dear Lucas,

Congratulations! Your film, Gravida, has been selected to screen at the 26th annual Three Rivers Film Festival. The festival will be held from November 2nd through the 15th. Our Shorts Program will be presented in two parts with one screening each night, Sunday, November 11and Wednesday, November 14, at the Melwood Screening Room at 477 Melwood Avenue in Pittsburgh. For more information please visit the festival’s official website, www.3rff.com.

03 October 2007


So I didn't get any writing done yesterday, more banging of my head against the wall, etc. I did, however, get gravida entered in 6 new festivals, bringing the total up to 9.

The thing that annoys me about this festival circuit (and maybe someone like Matt Riviera or David Lowery can chime in here and tell me what I'm doing wrong) is that for a film shot on a tiny budget essentially out of pocket, the $20-$40 entry fees can add up pretty quickly. And that wouldn't be so bad if you could, say, enter 3 festivals and then a month later know if you got into any of them, but most of these festivals have a turnaround time of several months, meaning I probably won't know how many of these I've gotten into until something like February. So you front-load all these fees and such for a project that may get completely shut out. And that's ok, but it just takes so damn long that by the time you know, how much incentive is there really to re-evaluate how you're approaching it? By February, I may be on a different project entirely.

This isn't so bad for a large project, but if your entire film cost, say, $500, then it seems pretty stupid to spend $300 on submitting to festivals.

What I have noticed is that a lot of festivals like to portray themselves as champions of the true indie filmmaker, yet they have entry fees of $30+. The DIY Festival is $35, for example. There's a great disconnect there, I think. I wonder if it would benefit some of these festivals to go find some micro budget films and invite them to the festival for no fee. Maybe they could team with, I dunno, the uber-indie project to ensure they don't get stuck programming something truly awful. Because there has to be a more efficient, cost-effective way for these films to find a festival audience.

Anyway, in the interest of full disclosure, here's the 6 (oh, and if you happen to work for any of these festivals, feel free to just plug me into the program, hint, hint[1])

San Francisco Independent Film Festival
Lake Forest Film Festival
Bare Bones International Film Festival
Hoboken International Film Festival
Festivus Film Festival
Oxford International Film Festival

Add those to these previous 3:

Omaha Film Festival
Three Rivers Film Festival

No, I don't expect to get into Sundance, but what the hell.

[1] Joking, but only a little bit.

02 October 2007

finding the film in my head

NOTE: Sometimes my best writing method is to ramble for a bit, so if I do that here, apologies in advance.

With gravida creatively in the rear-view mirror (although, there are still DVDs to sell and festivals to enter and screenings to organize), and indications that my immune system is getting back to normal[1], I'm starting to focus more on the next project, which looks more and more like it'll be the long-delayed coffee stains, an interesting project because it's existed for so long and keeps changing. Several years ago, I had a version of it I liked, and actually filmed probably 1/3 of it before schedules and everything else forced it to fall apart. In retrospect that was a blessing, as the script really wasn't all that good and the end result would have been far below what I would have been happy with. But parts of it were quite good and last year, when I picked the script back up, I decided to keep the storylines intact, but essentially scrap the entire thing and start over.

What ended up happening as a result was that the story, originally constructed as an ensemble dramedy, became more of a drama focused around a sub-set of the characters. I found that as I had gotten older, I was more interested in the relationship storylines than the other ones, and those naturally moved to the forefront. I finished version 2.0, polished it a little, and then set it aside to work on gravida. A couple of weeks ago, I picked it back up.

It needs more work than I thought (or, perhaps my standard are going up). A couple of days ago, I cut roughly 15 pages of the 105 and realized that several connecting threads were missing, storylines didn't flow, and the dramatic build wasn't what it could be. I'm guessing it's going to need another 20 pages of new stuff to work, including a new beginning. Part of the problem is that my writing process isn't linear. That is, I don't write from beginning to end. I'll maybe write the last scene and the first scene, then fill in the middle, in no particular order. I need to teach myself a better method, as this makes for some disjointed moments.

Anyway, I need a new opening, something that'll grab people right off, and the ideas just aren't coming. I feel like that piano player from Sesame Street at the moment.

One of the things I cut the other day was a subplot, so the overall film is much leaner than it was before, and overall I'm happier than I was, but it's nowhere near being ready to film. Not even close. Thing is, the previous version, I saw it in my head, and pretty clearly. But it wasn't great. This version, I don't see it, but I know it's there. I just have to get it out.

I just re-read what I wrote and realized it's a shitty blog post. Whatever. A big part of the artistic process is the struggle where you feel completely lost.

[1] The lead-up to the gravida premiere found me so stressed out that my immune system pretty much shut down and I got really sick. Since then, I've been scaling stuff way back in hopes of getting somewhat healthy.

25 September 2007

A PGH Premiere

For those of you in the Steel City, a bit of film news, courtesy of an email in my inbox:

Kurt Voelker's Park, winner of 3 festival awards[1], will premiere in Pittsburgh on Friday, 28 September at a location not specified in the email. So...I guess keep your eyes open.

Anyway, Voelker will be there, as will producer Dana Jackson.

And here is a clip, courtesy of YouTube:

**UPDATE** Via another email: the film will be playing at the South Side Works Cinema. Also, the film's official site is here.

[1] Audience Award at CineVegas International Film Festival (2006) and the Sonoma Valley Film Festival (2007). Also, the Jury Award at the Garden State Film Festival (2007).

22 September 2007

uber-indie: Universal Traveler and Dream of Life


Universal Traveler

starring: Alicia Fuss, Matt Walsh, and Abby Bader
cinematography by: David Macnutt
original score by: Keith Pishnery
written and directed by: Patrick Meaney
$350/12 min/Middletown, CT

A poetic sci-fi head trip about the nature of time and space, Universal Traveler is at the same time utterly compelling and confusing, fascinating and frustrating. The story follows two scientists (Alicia Fuss and Abby Bader) trying to develop some technology having to do with nanobots. The test is stolen and the subject (Matt Walsh) gains the ability to transcend time and space. Naturally, it doesn't end up being a positive thing. And that's where I lost track of what was going on.

Maybe it's because I'm not big into sci-fi or maybe it's because Patrick Meaney's script is more concerned with ideas than connecting the dots between them, but I found the film difficult to follow. Narratively, the final few minutes seem detached from the rest of the film. However, that's not as big of a problem as you'd think. Universal Traveler is primarily a visual film, the kind where the plot serves merely as a convenient excuse for nifty camera work. So, to say the plot doesn't make sense isn't all that important when considering the filmmaker's goals. Those visuals are quite good, even bordering on impressive. Cinematographer David Macnutt shows us a nice range of images, all handled adeptly. There's some camera placements that don't work all that well in the context of the larger scene, but you'll have that on a film like this. And be warned, it has the standard "student film acting" that we've all seen far too often.

Dream of Life

starring: Lauren Katz, Steve Deluca, Jon Cimmino, Robert Cutts, and Jordan Rennert
cinematography by: Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert
written and directed by: Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert
6 min/Mamaroneck, NY

Much like Universal Traveler, Dream of Life is a visually-based film. The plot, such as it is, involves a failed robbery where the criminal (Lauren Katz) is inexplicably taken down by a machine gun (yes, a machine gun). In the moments before she dies, she imagines an alternate scenario. The film leaves a lot of questions unanswered, such as: why are they breaking into what looks to be a school building? why is it being defended with a machine gun? and why is it snowing confetti at the end?

The answers, I think, revolve around the fact that Dream of Life is essentially a music video. The plot isn't important. In fact, you could argue that Meaney and Jordan Rennert aren't all that concerned with it from the beginning. They want to shoot cool stuff, and this gives them a reason to. The fact that it doesn't make any sense whatsoever is meaningless to them.

The problem lies in the fact that it isn't meaningless to their potential audience, who will require things like story and character development and acting. There's no question that these guys can create nice images. In fact, these images are very, very good. But, there's no reason for them to exist in the films. They just look cool.

From here, Meaney has two likely career paths. He could rather easily become an interesting music video director, and there's nothing wrong with that. His talents seem perfectly suited for it. But, if he wants to move into features, if he wants to become a filmmaker, he's going to have to do a lot of work on storytelling and working with actors to create characters that are more than cardboard representations of real people. Is he willing or able to put in the work? Time will tell.

You can check out these and other films by Patrick Meaney at the Respect Films official webpage and MySpace page.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.

10 September 2007

uber-indie: The Life I Lived

life i lived

starring: Richard Bennett, David L. Buckler, and Ted Taylor
cinematography by: Jason Baustin
written and directed by: Ben Solenberger
Washington, D.C.

One of the nice things about the shorthand of the common cinema language is how easily it allows an audience to get on a film's wavelength. Take, for example, the opening scene of Ben Solenberger's The Life I Lived. We have two somewhat nefarious-looking men standing next to an expensive car in a remote location and waiting for someone to show up. Right away we know the chances that they're out there for anything other than criminal activity is virtually zero. In all likelihood they're involved in organized crime. Sure enough, the meeting doesn't produce the desired results and someone gets killed. Only, the surviving parties aren't really sure how to dispose of the body (or the murder weapon, for that matter), something you'd expect them to be prepared for. They don't have a shovel, so burying him is out of the question, and the pond is too shallow, so they settle on burning the body, somehow finding in the trunk a can of gasoline, a box of matches, garbage bags, and two surgical face masks. It makes you wonder: if they didn't plan on killing someone, much less burning his body, why do they happen to have all this stuff handy? Are we to believe that one of them went to the store? Anyway, the body burns (even the bones, which I'm told by people who know such things isn't possible with gasoline, that it won't burn hot enough) and we start the mob movie.

For an opening scene it's a surprising lack of attention to details, and that's part of the chief flaw of The Life I Lived: the small things have too many problems. There's too many moments where you can spot continuity errors or, worse, logistical flaws that could probably be prevented with a flow chart (or, perhaps they just aren't made clear enough). For example, there's a scene with a Senator running for re-election that's pretty much a twist on the famous scenario from The Godfather, Part II and the next scene, which appears to take place a day or two later, is set at Christmas. This is a scripting problem. Either it didn't occur to anyone that Christmas and an election campaign are too far apart for the progression to be believable or, in a film full of flashbacks with helpful titles like "3 months later", Solenberger chose this moment to not give us a timeline. Personally, I choose to think it's a mistake as Solenberger's script simply isn't good enough to convince me otherwise. The dialogue, which aims for a clipped, film noir sound, is in dire need of some tightening. Too often the characters say in ten words what they could easily say in five, there's a heavy dependence on cliche (for no real reason we hear several variations on the phrase "it's just business"), and on at least four occasions I was able to call lines of dialogue verbatim as they were being said by characters. That's not good. At very least, the script needs one more draft, probably two. And the score, while effective at points, is relentless to the point of being overbearing. As someone else pointed out, it sounds like something you'd see on HBO at 3am, only without lots of sex scenes.

But, to be fair, your average audience member isn't going to notice a lot of this. The litany of flashbacks have us moving around over a range of fifty years so much that we tend to lose track of where we are, but in a way that's not disorienting. It just serves to hide problems. The story of a mob boss's rise to prominence and subsequent downfall is compelling enough to keep us invested in his character and is played well by Richard Bennett. He really looks the part, too, so the scenes where he sits in his office, drinking scotch and smoking, are convincing and, well, pretty damn cool. His is the best performance in a film with a surprisingly large cast that runs the gamut from talented to mediocre. A handful of the more painful performance could easy be taken out of the film altogether, as they do little to advance the plot and have the scent of someone owing someone a favor.

If this sounds like a negative review, it isn't really. Let's call it a qualified recommendation. Or, if you prefer, constructive criticism of a filmmaker who I think is capable of better work. The Life I Lived is a sprawling, somewhat scattered film. I'd love to see what it could be if it were leaner and more focused on the main character, if it had fewer subplots, if it borrowed less from the mob movie canon.

Ben Solenberger has some real talent lurking just under the surface of this film. He just isn't there yet (but who among us is?). The production value of The Life I Lived is higher than I've come to expect from an uber-indie, and features some really nice cinematography by Jason Baustin. It's a testament to Solenberger and his production team that they were able to pull off so convincingly a film of this magnitude. They are nothing if not ambitious, which bodes well for their collective future, provided they can learn to spend the extra time in pre-production to ensure a script is completely ready for the camera. I look forward to whatever they come up with next, and I don't say that very often.

You can check The Life I Lived on their MySpace page or the Official Webpage.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.

27 August 2007

where the hell is the uber-indie project?

I've been getting some emails from filmmakers wondering when they can expect their reviews, seeing as some of them sent me their films over a month ago. Here's the default answer.

Basically, I've been pretty sick since about 1 July, battling a case of mono coupled with two (yes, two) occurrences of a particular nasty brand of strep throat. As you might imagine, this has pretty much sapped me of much of my strength and energy, so after I get done stuff that absolutely has to be done, I pretty much just crash on the couch.

When reviewing for the uber-indie project, I try to watch the films at least twice and avoid situations where I just rush through the review itself, because the filmmakers deserve better than that. But, I have trouble watching stuff I'm going to review when I feel shitty, as I tend to hate everything in those situations.

If it makes everyone feel better, I haven't really been watching any movies this summer. I have, however, fallen asleep on the couch during many a re-run of Seinfeld.

Add to that the fact that I'm moving at the end of the month, so some of the DVDs are packed already.

But, never fear. I haven't forgotten about your film. I will still review it. It may just take me a couple of weeks to catch up now that I'm starting to feel like something close to healthy.

20 August 2007

le foreign language films

Edward Copeland over at Edward Copeland on Film has gone to the trouble of organizing a compilation of the best non-English language films. I somehow got on the list of people nominating films. 21 of my 25 made the first cut, sadly Lelouch's un homme et une femme and Menzel's Ostre sledované vlaky didn't make the cut (but are awesome and totally worth checking out). Here, in the interest of full disclosure, is my list as I sent it to Edward:

edit: updated to include original language titles, plus links to things i've previously written about some films.

1. Dekalog (Kieslowski)
2. Scener ur ett äktenskap (Bergman)
3. The Three Colors Trilogy (Kieslowski)
4. Les Quatre cents coups (Truffaut)
5. Ostre sledované vlaky (Menzel)
6. un homme et une femme (Lelouch)
7. 8 1/2 (Fellini)
8. Les Enfants du Paradis (Carné)
9. Umberto D. (De Sica)
10. Shichinin no samurai (Kurosawa)
11. La Grande illusion (Renoir)
12. La Strada (Fellini)
13. À bout de souffle (Godard)
14. Russkiy kovcheg (Sokurov)
15. Cidade de Deus (Meirelles)
16. Andrey Rublyov (Tarkovsky)
17. La Règle du jeu (Renoir)
18. Det Sjunde inseglet (Bergman)
19. Persona (Bergman)
20. Bande à part (Godard)
21. Pyaasa (Dutt)
22. Ugetsu monogatari (Mizoguchi)
23. Tôkyô monogatari (Ozu)
24. Yi yi (Yang)
25. Hable con ella (Almodóvar)

16 August 2007

15 August 2007

uber-indie: gods in disguise


starring: documentary subjects
cinematography by: Johanna Custer[1]
written and directed by: Johanna Custer
8 min/Pittsburgh, PA

Filmed entirely in Athens, Greece, gods in disguise aims to explore the city's social conditions in the wake of what appears to be some sort of riot or siege by the proletariat. At least that's the impression we're given from the footage of a mural depicting the siege and the outside of a building where it apparently is still taking place. From there, we hear from a tour guide who tells us a little of the context of modern day Athens, coupled with footage of things in the city that look interesting.

The end result is a documentary short that's unfocused and scattered, never spending enough time on any one issue to explore it with any amount of depth. Take, for example, the siege mentioned in the film's opening minutes. Here you have any event that's prime material for a documentary film, the type of happening that filmmakers dream about. But not only do we not see any footage of the event itself, we don't hear from anyone involved or see anything other than a glimpse at the fallout. The siege happened three days ago, but for all we know it could have taken place years ago. Clearly director Johanna Custer couldn't get access (otherwise, we would have seen that footage), but decided to try and bluff her way through a film anyway, opting instead for a tourist's view of Athens, showing us easy to access exteriors and a poorly executed interview with a tour guide that, at times, is almost impossible to hear.

As is the voice-over narration, which is so poorly recorded that the audio cuts out on every plosive. In theory, this should be the film's strong point, as voice-over narration allows for the multiple takes that filming in a foreign country doesn't, but it ends up being the film's Achilles heel. Even if an audience member were willing to watch what comes off as Custer's vacation video, the audio is so bad they'll want to quit well before the end.

[1] Johanna is a regular reader of this blog and contributed to the fundraiser for my latest film.

You can check out Johanna's blog at the lone revue. Also, you can check out her webpage or her MySpace page.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.

14 August 2007

Woody on Bergman

I haven't said anything about the death of Bergman, because what can you really say about the death of one of your heroes? (other than to be an asshole--Rosenbaum, not Jim--who uses the occasion of an icon's death to sully his reputation...not a classy move) Thankfully, Woody Allen has said it all in his wonderful article in The New York Times.

I learned from his example to try to turn out the best work I’m capable of at that given moment, never giving in to the foolish world of hits and flops or succumbing to playing the glitzy role of the film director, but making a movie and moving on to the next one. Bergman made about 60 films in his lifetime, I have made 38. At least if I can’t rise to his quality maybe I can approach his quantity.


uber-indie: gravida

gravida bathroom

starring: Rachel Shaw and Adam Kukic
cinematography by: David Eger
written and directed by: Lucas McNelly[1]
$2,000/25 min/Pittsburgh, PA

updated: 17 August 2007

We come now to our biggest ever conflict of interest, Lucas McNelly's gravida (2007), a film made by the very person who does these reviews you've come to eagerly await. Naturally, I cannot review my own film. That would be weird and completely inappropriate, which is probably just as well because I'm at the point right now where I can't stand to look at it anymore. But does that mean gravida should be denied the rich experience that is the uber-indie project? Of course not. So, I've asked ten of my favorite fellow bloggers to review it for me and if any other reviews trickle in, I'll add those as well. Good, bad, indifferent. They're all here.

...and away we go...

++ "The short film is a "study in loneliness" from dedicated indie filmmaker Lucas McNelly, the creative mind behind the stark, French New Wave-inspired L'Attente (2006). Expressing an intangible concept like loneliness through the screen might seem problematic, but McNelly takes his best shot....The results are heartfelt and poetic. If McNelly is striving to craft an indie film masterwork gravida is a major step in the right direction." -- Thom Ryan, Film of the Year

++ "Like the best films about intimacy, it draws you in close but leaves out enough that you can project your own hopes and fears onto the characters. This allows for conflicting sympathies and ensures that not everyone in the audience relate with the characters in the same way. Loneliness is a mysterious beast, hard to tame. Resisting the temptation to simplify, gravida invites us to ponder the complexity of the choices we make, the unreliability of human connections." -- Matt Riviera, Last Night with Riviera

++ "Watching gravida, I gained a little more faith in ultra-low budget filmmaking; it's far from a perfect film, but it shows that you don't need a lot of money to make a smart, personal, interesting movie. To do this, Lucas McNelly's film utilizes the writer-director's ear for dialogue and some intriguing subtext in it's look at a woman who's dealing with something very familiar: loneliness." -- Pacheco, Bohemian Cinema

++ "gravida deals with a delicate subject matter, and could have lost the audience's interest and trust without a careful hand, but Lucas is certainly up to the task. Lucas' camera is never obtrusive, acting more as an invisible observer even when the story's emotions peak. Actors Rachel Shaw and Adam Kukic find their stride as the story builds and are able to sell the idea that their characters are facing troubling, adult decisions." -- Adam Ross, DVD Panache

++ "gravida is an excellent short film. Beautifully photographed with a terrific lead performance by Rachel Shaw. Called “A Study In Loneliness”, the film effectively creates a very somber tone that it is able to sustain throughout. It almost works as a silent film, as the visuals are so strong." -- TalkingMoviezzz.com (plus an interview)

++ "Filmmaking in general could use a little bit more of Lucas' talent because he uses the medium perfectly: revealing pieces about characters in matter-of-fact glimpses, letting the audience in on what the other characters don't know just yet...The camera work is also a perfect compliment to the story. Long static shots and few edits help capture the stillness of Kristin's life. The camera rarely moves, instead it sits there often from a distance, letting us take in what we are seeing." -- Piper, LAZY EYE THEATRE

++ "gravida fails to explore its subject matter in any great depth, but it undeniably represents a big step forward for its director...I merely feel that he could have penetrated deeper into the underlying causes and nature of his protagonist’s despair...That said, I definitely enjoyed the film (which, incidentally, holds up to repeat viewings), and it contains a number of moments that I like quite a bit." -- Andy Horbal, Mirror/Stage

++ "Lucas McNelly has made a serenely confident short film, with which he shows a real facility as a director. He never tries to dazzle the audience with flashy technique or camera work, preferring his style to be dictated by his material. Despite his obvious budgetary constraints, he’s capable of some lovely low-key touches, like his use of colored lighting in the climactic revelation scene...gravida is small film in the best sense, one that’s exactly the right size for the story it tells. McNelly’s direction is subtle enough not to overwhelm the film, but strong enough to assure us that there’s a firm hand on the wheel." -- Paul Clark, Silly Hats Only

++ "[McNelly] has produced a film of understated elegance and thoughtfulness that allows the viewer to glimpse, ever so briefly, a moment in time that will be burned for eternity in the heart and mind of its protagonist...He's the best kind of filmmaker there is, the kind driven by a love of the art not a desire for a contract...gravida is not a perfect film but considering the budget and time limitations it is quite an achievement." -- Jonathan Lapper, Cinema Styles

++ "[McNelly] and Shaw effortlessly illustrate the moment when she grasps the temporal fleetingness of this comfortable, familiar sort of pain and longing, which is about to become but a wistful memory. In the end, the movie slips through our fingers, like a memory itself, which is, as it turns out, its most impressionable, poetic quality. gravida marks the first sure steps in what one hopes will be a long and fruitful filmmaking career for its director." -- Dennis Cozzalio, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule (plus an interview)

[1] In addition to being your humble host and narrator, Lucas is a kind and generous soul, according to such impartial sources as his mom.

You can check out gravida at the Official Webpage, where there's all sorts of wonderful things for you to explore and a DVD to buy. You can also visit Lucas McNelly's MySpace page, his IndieFilmPedia page, and blog, 100 films. Of course, chances are you're already there.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.

08 August 2007

05 August 2007

the premiere update

I keep forgetting to post something about the gravida premiere. While the great reviews are nice, obviously that's not the whole story.

Oh, and I thought there'd be more photos to choose from, but apparently there was an early memory card issue. So it goes.


Prior to the screening, we placed approximately 70 of these posters around the city, mostly in the windows of various businesses. Also, we put the image all over MySpace and email, getting various friendly folk to re-post and forward the information to their contacts. Then, there was the whole getting on the phone and telling people they should show up. We got the premiere listed in all of the events calendars in the city that we could and I would have gotten a preview write-up in both Pittsburgh City Paper and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but my strep throat, coupled with a holiday weekend caused me to miss those deadlines by a day or two. Yeah, that was my mistake, and probably a big one.

So, on to the show...


That's yours truly, pale and gaunt from not having strayed from an editing suite for several weeks and, well, just a little bit stressed out, waiting for things to start.

Rachel Shaw, the film's lead, gave birth to her child (a boy) only 2 or 3 days before the premiere, so she was unable to attend, and Adam Kukic had a play dress rehearsal he couldn't get out of (both of these weren't problems we anticipated when we set the date), so sadly, neither of the actors were able to be there. So, for a hip photo of a star, we have to use this one of Matt Reed (L'Attente), who is neither hip nor a star. Nor is he even an actor.


The people start to roll in. The crew, various friends, people from the community, Andy Horbal. Surprisingly, none of the other filmmakers in the city who's screenings I've attended bother to show up. As you can imagine, I'm a little annoyed at them. All told, when the show starts, there are 45 paid admissions, which at $5 a head puts us below our goal of making back the theatre rental of $250. Surprisingly, there are a number of people who said they would show up and didn't, but there are a number of people I've never seen before in my life.

Anyway, on to the show. First up: music by Jerome Wincek on the banjo, with help from Nate Custer on the guitar. Jerome and Nate are ridiculously talented and despite some tuning problems, they played a great 40 minute set. Here's a photo of them setting up. That's Nate, with Jerome in green standing next to him.


Then, the films. First up is David Lowery's Some Analog Lines, one of my favorite short films. Then, my own L'Attente. The beauty of the Hollywood Theatre, besides the fact that they're very helpful, is the fact that they have a brand-new high-def projection system. L'Attente looks better projected there than it does in any other place I've seen it. Also, there isn't a bad seat in the house (if you don't believe me, ask Andy). It's a really great place to see a film, especially one projected from DVD.

And now, our feature presentation...gravida played smoothly. There was some rustling and shifting in the audience during the beginning and in the middle, but over the final third, they were hushed, silent, maybe even engrossed. As the credits roll, there's some applause, then silence again as they credits continue (at which point I overhear someone say, "that was tremendous"), then more applause. I go up front, thank the necessary people, and tell people they can buy the film on DVD in the lobby for a mere $8 (so can you) from these fine people:


They were also supposed to be able to buy this shirt, but due to a miscalculation, the shirts arrived the next day...grrr...

After that, we had a bit of socializing over wine. Reaction from everyone there was very positive. In fact, I've not gotten any negative reaction from anyone who's seen the entire film. That is, no one who's seen it has given it a thumbs down. Some have been more enthusiastic than others, sure, but they've all been positive overall. Is it a fluke or is the film really that good? I don't know. But if you're curious, there's only one way to find out for sure, and that's by purchasing a copy for yourself. It's a hell of a bargain and good karma. Everyone can use more good karma.

04 August 2007

uber-indie: 42 Story House


starring: Todd W. Langen and various things in his house
cinematography by: Todd W. Langen
written and directed by: Todd W. Langen
90 min/Los Angeles, CA

A few weeks ago I was downtown for a production of James Thurber's A Thurber Carnival. The opening number, if you haven't seen it, is a sort of dance number filled with puns and witticisms and other such observations, which is all well and good, but if you're like me, your tolerance for puns is only so high. You concur with Samuel Johnson, who famously called puns "the lowest form of humour." After seven or eight, I was ready to bolt (but couldn't, for I knew too many people in the cast). Of course, it's all a matter of taste. Some people love puns. I tend to hate them. I don't find them funny at all. Keep that in mind as you read the review for Todd W. Langen's 42 Story House, which is best described as, you guessed it, 42 cinematic puns and witticisms and whatnot.

But first, let's back up a little. Langen is, by trade, a professional screenwriter. He has an Emmy nomination for his work on the first two seasons of The Wonder Years. He wrote Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), which just happens to be one of my first memories of seeing a film in a theatre, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991), which despite what anyone says is awesome simply because it gave the world Vanilla Ice's "Ninja Rap" (also co-written by Langen). Throw in a couple of years of traveling and some un-produced spec scripts and Langen, as he puts it, "...decided to take a year, buy a (not great but decent) camera, learn a (surprisingly powerful) consumer editing program, and see what I could put together." He gave himself two rules: only one location and everything done by one person. So, complicated dolly shots with a large cast were out. Instead, we get lots of cameras on tripods and a surprising amount of acting performances from common household objects like balloons, chairs, eggs, and a lawnmower.

The simple fact that 42 Story House doesn't collapse under its own weight is reason enough to commend Langen. Few would have the patience, imagination, and determination to do what he did. After the first ten, I was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to sustain his pace all the way to 42, but he did and along the way managed to pull off some nifty camera work and special effects, especially considering the size of the crew. Kudos.

As a rule, I never read any of the promotional materials or other such additional information before viewing a film, preferring to come at each one as fresh as possible, letting it live or die on merit alone. So while I greatly admire Langen for his accomplishment, I flat-out hated the film. Part of that is my previously stated distaste for that form of humor, but beyond that it felt repetitive and therefore quickly became dull. There's only so much of one guy in his house you can watch before you start wondering if maybe he has too much time on his hands, if perhaps he should get out more. To me, it felt like a bunch of half-assed ideas strung together by a writer desperate for a reason to procrastinate. And on some level the film seems to sympathize with me. Beyond even a cursory self-deprecating sense of humor, the film takes great pains to point out that the jokes are juvenile, the actor not interesting, etc. The answering machine is harsher on the film than I expect most audience members will ever be. Whether that's self-awareness or a defense mechanism I leave up to your speculation.

Also, I'm not sure why there are 42 stories (Mere chance? A nod to Douglas Adams?), but I'd be willing to bet it'd be a stronger overall film if Langen opted for fewer stories and fleshed them out beyond the easy jokes many of them settled for. A little more depth, a little more nuance, perhaps something of a story arc. Because while some people will find themselves laughing over and over at each little vignette, there's an equal number of people like me who will grow tired of them quickly. As it stands now, much of 42 Story House feels like random YouTube videos, and how many of them can you really watch before you start looking for live performances of your favorite songs?

Again, some of that is a matter of taste, but I believe that same matter of taste that prevents me from enjoying 42 Story House is going to be a hurdle for others as well, so I can't recommend it purely as a film worth seeing, but the process behind the film makes it well worth your attention. Such is the duality of the uber-indie project.

You can check out 42 Story House at the Official Webpage, where there's all sorts of stuff for you to explore and a DVD to buy. You can also visit check out Todd W. Langen on IMDB. You can watch the trailer here.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.

26 July 2007

uber-indie in the news?

So there's a rumor floating around that the uber-indie project made the pages of Variety (today? yesterday?), but I've been unable to confirm that, as I'm still in Maine. Has anyone actually seen this?

09 July 2007


Remember Andrew Horbal? He used to have this blog, No More Marriages!, which was pretty awesome.

Well, he's back with a new blog, Mirror/Stage. And what, might you ask, is he doing over there at the moment? Well, he just happens to be interviewing yours truly about the gravida premiere. So, what the hell are you waiting for? Check it out.

08 July 2007


gravida email

From the guy who brought you a French film without subtitles, a play about a buffalo, and the world-renowned uber-indie project, comes gravida, the highly-anticipated follow-up to L'Attente, a film the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called "intriguingly spare".

Written and directed by Lucas McNelly, gravida stars Pittsburgh actress Rachel Shaw (Life. And other one-man shows) and Thank You, Felix's Adam Kukic in a nuanced drama with European overtones.

Join us for the World Premiere of latest film from "an artist whose craft is informed by cinephilia" (Mathieu Ravier) at 7.30pm on Thursday, 12 July 2007 at the newly renovated Hollywood Theatre in scenic Dormont (1449 Potomac Ave.).

The night begins with the triumphant return to the 'burgh of acclaimed singer/songwriter Jerome Wincek, one of the most amazing musicians you'll see live all year long. Then, it's Dallas filmmaker David Lowery's Some Analog Lines, a thoughtful look at the creative process, the nature of art, and the inherent nature of audience perception from one of the most talented filmmakers you've never heard of. That leads into the main event, a double bill of L'Attente and gravida.

The cost? A mere $5. A pittance, really.

Afterward, hang out and look cool drinking wine and socializing with your fellow artists and lovers of art.

This is a one night only event. Blink and you'll miss it.

To reserve your tickets, call 724.544.6417 or email lmcnelly@gmail.com

05 July 2007

the "un filme" shirt

(click me. i go places.)

$16 (plus $4 shipping)

At long last. The order is in. The shirts should be arriving in due time (1 week? 2?). Be the first kid on your street to have one. Be the most pretentious person you know.

And if the shirt's not pretentious enough on it's own, you what is? Poetry. And not good poetry either.

by Matt Reed

a bottle of wine, a book of verse,
wandering the south hills (and how!)

wearing a "un filme" t-shirt:
a t-shirt is happiness for now...

a poem about a t-shirt about a film
by Ryan Estes

I’ve not been to Pittsburgh
in a very long time
(years, not months)

Yes, and my taste in cinema is on the decline
and even Battlestar Galactica (oh the horror)
suitably entertains

as do films with
car chases, shiny things
or stuff that blows up

and much as I like the starving artist ethos
I am not starving and am unsure
If ethos is even the right word

despite all this
I would still pay $16 for a t-shirt
Telling the world of
un filme de lucas mcnelly

Le chemise a'la filme de lucas mcnelly
by Joshua Edenhofer

The shirts are black
like my soul
they feature Matt & Dan
Is he eating a roll?

L'Attente makes my heart throb with pleasure
the shirts cover my body with cotton
or is that a polyester blend?
I sure don't like sweatshop labor
these shirts are a godsend

these shirts won't keep you warm
on a blustery sub-zero degree day
but they will let you freeze to death
in style.

Lucas vs. His Health
by Lucas McNelly

Last week I had strep throat
(believe me, it sucked)
I couldn't talk for three days
and some people seemed to prefer it
that way, I suppose

But worse than the strep throat
(well not really, but work with me)
was the caffeine withdrawal headache
from not drinking any coffee.
Seems I have an addiction.

I'm like that guy in L'Attente
(only, not bald)
who can't function without his coffee.
It defines who he is, how he functions
Addictions are like that.

Also, I can't speak French at all
(but I do know some Spanish)
Maybe just some ooh-la-la's and
other quasi-seductive guttural noises
but I don't think that counts

Still, I really wish I knew French
(and Italian)
But I'm lazy, so instead I wear my
"un filme de lucas mcnelly" shirt, hoping
people will think I do.

I don't think I've fooled anyone yet
(how could you tell?)
but that's ok because the shirt is wicked
cool and one of the nicest I own
and I'm not just saying that.

30 June 2007

meme meme everywhere, and not a drop to drink

So this meme thing is apparently this summer's blog trend that just won't die. This time I've been tagged by pacheco over at Bohemian Cinema.

The idea? 8 things about yourself. I've got time to kill right now, so why not?


1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

So, yeah. On with the show...

1. I'm obsessed with music

I purchase way too much of it, spend way too much time looking for it, and when I find a band I really like, I absolutely have to tell everyone about them. The current obsession? breathe owl breathe and Jaymay. Also, even though I'm nearing 30, I still make mix CDs for people all the time. Chances are if I see you on a regular basis and I like you at all, you've got one somewhere in your apartment/house.

2. I used to be an athlete

These days very few people believe it, but for the longest time I ran cross-country competitively (even though now I probably couldn't run a mile without dying), and was a pretty good basketball player. When I graduated high school I was second in school history in scoring and first in assists. I'm pretty sure by now I'm neither.

3. Once, I wrote a novel

And, no, you can't read it. Mostly because it sucks and is over 300 pages long. I'm a big believer in the concept of art as therapy (not as much now as back then), and my senior year of college was something of an existential crisis for me, so I wrote about it...and wrote...and wrote...and wrote. It took me a long time, and I was kind of screwed up in the head for most of that, but the moment I finished it and put it aside, the clouds cleared away. Special bonus: it made me the writer I am today.

4. I'm a baseball stat geek

I'm the guy who as a kid memorized baseball statistics, and even to this day I can parse some of the sabermetric stuff sight unseen. Example: the other day I get a phone call from my buddy Ben asking about a fantasy baseball trade and over the phone I'm having him look up line drive percentages and batting average on balls in play. I have a subscription to Baseball Prospectus that's at least as valuable as Netflix.

5. I'm a marked man

I come from a family of outdoorsmen and hunters, so when I was 9 or so I had to learn how to shoot a rifle, naturally. Only, I've never been all that strong (nor have I ever had much interest in shooting things). So, the rifle fires and the kick is enough that the hammer hits me in the mouth. To this day I have a scar in the shape of an "L" on my upper lip. I should mention, though, that I hit the target.

6. I'm a self-taught filmmaker

I didn't get into film until my final semester of college, and my school didn't really have much of a video program anyway. I've taken a grand total of one film class in my life (Intro to Cinema). As a result there's a great deal of basic, essential stuff I don't know. This week I'm showing someone the basics of Final Cut and realizing that I really have no idea how to edit, that I essentially am just making it all up as I go along. It's kind of humbling. I think the crew of gravida might have suspected that I'm a complete idiot. They may have been right.

7. Bad habits

I bite my fingernails, like, a lot. I used to be pretty self-conscious about it. I even tried the trick of putting clear nail polish on them. Then, one day I realized I really didn't care if other people thought it was a disgusting habit. So I nibble on them at will. I feel much better about myself as a result.

8. I'm addicted to email

Some of you may notice that I tend to respond to emails pretty much instantly. Well, that's because I have a GMail addiction. I've got the GMail Notifier set up on my computer so a little box in the corner turns blue whenever I have an email, and I have to respond right away (because then they can hopefully send me another email more quickly). When I'm away from my computer, I end up checking email on my phone something like once an hour. I don't even want to think about what that does to my cell phone bill.

So now I'm supposed to tag 8 other people, even though I'm pretty late to the game and most of them have already gone. But, I shall try:

1. Andy Horbal, Mirror/Stage
2. Matt Riviera, Last Night With Riviera
3. Jason, Italian Folk Music
4. Dennis, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule
5. Edward Copeland, Edward Copeland on Film
6. Adam Ross, DVD Panache
7. Bill (Milo), tying tethers
8. Kristine, Fidgety

29 June 2007

this blog is apparently tame (ugh)

So all the buzz around the blog world at the moment is this whole MPAA rating of your blog that you can get. Certain of our friends, namely Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and The House Next Door, got a NC-17, which is pretty cool. So, I went to the page, looking for the 100 films rating and got this:

Online Dating

And that just won't fucking do. No fucking way.

So here's what I'm gonna try and do with this post: get upgraded to at least R. First, two quotes from Deadwood:

"Wild Bill Hickok: Sure you wanna quit playing, Jack? The game's always between you and getting called a cunt.
Tom Nuttall: Meeting adjourned, fellas, take it outside.
Wild Bill Hickok: That dropped eye of yours looks like the hood on a cunt to me, Jack. When you talk, your mouth looks like a cunt moving.
Jack McCall: I ain't gonna get in no gun fight with you, Hickok.
Wild Bill Hickok: But you will run your cunt mouth at me. And I will take it, to play poker."

"Tom Nuttall: My bicycle masters boardwalk and quagmire with aplomb. Those that doubt me... suck cock by choice."

Oddly, IMDB doesn't have any of the great "cocksucker" quotes that define the show, but perhaps this will be enough. If not...fuck fuck fuck shit cocksucker motherfucker

27 June 2007

emails from the road

So I'm in Philly all week helping my good friend Dave Young at Widget Studios with a project (and he, because he's a nice guy, is helping me tweak some audio for gravida).

Anyway, all that has nothing to do with the rest of this email, but whatever. If you're looking for me in Pittsburgh this week, I ain't there. I'm in Philly, which is insanely humid.

But I'm still getting emails, and in the inbox yesterday was an email from someone affiliated with IFC and/or Rooftop Films, which is a indie film series of some acclaim that rejected a certain french film by yours truly.

I'm not one to hold a grudge, though, so when Andrea emailed me a link she thought you, my loyal readers, might be interested in, I saw no reason to keep it from you.

To quote Andrea:

A selection of great short films are now available to view for free online through a collaboration between Rooftop Films and IFC.com.

The online festival posts one new short each day through the end of August. We started on June 1, so there's a good selection up there now, including documentary, animation, comedy, experimental, and more.

The link is here


22 June 2007

20 June 2007

you can fool some of the people...

Ok, I admit. I haven't been around all that much lately. Between finishing up the picture edit for gravida, figuring out the details of the premiere (*cough* 12 July *cough*), sorting through the entries for the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, the uber-indie project, and baseball season, I've barely had time to even read the film blogs, much less participate. So, imagine my surprise when I swing by Piper's LAZY EYE THEATRE and discover that not only is he talking about me, but he's saying nice things. Really nice things.

Wait, let me back up a bit.

Turns out there's this "Thinking Blogger Award" floating around the internets lately. Piper explains the recent history of it, which is convenient, since I don't feel like repeating it, but suffice to say it involves everyone's favorite quiz master, Dennis Cozzalio over at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, and several other of the best film minds the blog universe has to offer.

Anyway, so if you receive a "Thinking Blogger Award", you get to put up a cool banner/graphic on your site, like this:

Provided, of course, you follow some rules:

1) If, and only if your blog is one that is tagged on my list below, you must write a post with links to five other blogs you like that consistently make you think (hence, the Thinking Blogger’s Award).

2) Link to this post so people will know whose good idea all this was.

3) Proudly display the “Thinking Blogger Award” logo with a link to the post you wrote.

And that brings us back to Piper. You see, Piper was given this prestigious award and in the process of following the rules had this to say about yours truly:

As all who visit Lazy Eye know, I am a fiend for blog-a-thons and the very first blog-a-thon I wrote for was Lucas' Lovesick Blog-A-Thon at 100 Films. It was sort of a trial by fire for me because I really had no idea what I was doing or even what a blog-a-thon was. From there, I began to e-mail Lucas from time to time for advice. I consulted him often on themes for my first blog-a-thon. What I found most refreshing about Lucas was that he was honest. He cared enough to give me his honest opinion. May not seem like much, but to me, it's a 100 pounds of gold. But more than that, Lucas has given film blogging a purpose. A purpose much higher than just an outlet for film lovers trying to show how movie-smart they are. At 100 Films, you will see that Lucas has created the uber-indie project where he invites every independent filmmaker that has made a movie or short to send it in for him to review it on his site. This doesn't guarantee a positive review, but what it does is help give a voice to independent film. That's so much more important than anything I do or will probably ever do on my blog. And for that, I bestow unto you The Thinking Blogger's award to Lucas. Use it and continue to provide a lush valley for filmmakers to find safe harbor in which to thrive. But don't try to hock this award to help fund your recent movie gravida, which gets a Pittsburgh release July 12th by the way.

High praise, indeed. Although, to be fair, I should point out that perhaps Piper confuses my generally kind nature and rampant gmail addiction with real, actual concern, but I won't quibble over that. The fact is I'm always excited to get emails, but even more so if they have something to do with my writing. Oddly enough, it never gets old.

But enough of that. Who am I going to name? Oh, the tension! The drama!

Here goes...

1. No More Marriages!

Andy Horbal and I live in the same city. We walk the same streets. We see the same films at the same theatres, sometimes at the same screening (once, I had to keep moving in my seat because his big hat was blocking the screen). Strangely enough, we've never spoken in person. Still, Andy is the person who first comes to mind when I think of the term "Thinking Blogger". His now-retired blog was one of the very first things I read every morning (after my email, of course), and usually at least once during the day. It was a clearinghouse, of sorts, for the entire film blog community, and it's absence leaves a rather large hole in our group. You could argue that Andy's blog was the one that kept us all together. Here's hoping his upcoming Mirror/Stage is half as effective.

2. Last Night with Riviera

A long time ago, back when I was new to this whole blog thing, I was reading my meager Statcounter log when, lo and behold, I noticed a hit from Australia. Australia!. And not just a random hit, but multiple hits. Clearly someone I didn't know was reading my blog on a regular basis. As you might imagine, I thought this was pretty fucking awesome. That random reader in Australia was, of course, Matt Riviera, who read this blog so long ago that he might have the only non-"100 films" sidebar link left. Because Last Night with Riviera deals primarily with the Sidney festival circuit, it tends to get ignored by the rest of the film bloggers. While everyone is talking about whatever terrible horror film is in theatres this week, Matt's diligently writing about Hallam Foe, a film that won't see a theatre near you for a long time. You can't even imagine how far ahead of the curve he is.

3. Film of the Year

Also not writing about crappy horror films (well, at least not yet) is Thom Ryan over at Film of the Year. Starting all the way back in 1909 (earlier?), Thom is methodically working his way through film history, writing a thoughtful, educational post about one film per year. He's already up to 1936's Sabotage. If you're gonna jump on the Thom Ryan bandwagon, now's the time to do it, because he's starting to write about films you've heard of. But if you're lucky like me, you can always say, "Man, I used to read Thom back when it was 1909." We call that film snobbery for the indie aesthetic.

4. The House Next Door

You can't really have a discussion about thinking bloggers without mentioning Matt Zoller Seitz's The House Next Door. Has someone already mentioned him? Sure. Do I care? Nope. What Matt has created is something of a online publishing house where contributors such as Todd VanDerWerff, Edward Copeland, Keith Uhlich, and Ryland Walker Knight write about everything in the film and television universe. On any given day you can read about the latest DVD releases, or an in-depth examination of the Sopranos finale, or just a list of 5 things that peak Keith Uhlich's interest today. It's one of my favorite sites on the entire internet.

5. Drifting: A Director's Log

Dallas-based filmmaker (and uber-indie participant) David Lowery's blog is a candid look at the filmmaking career of one of the more interesting of the next wave of young filmmakers. David's posts are short, succinct musings about film and life, but the real value is on the sidebar where David has provided links to several of his short films. The best, if you ask me, is Some Analog Lines. Check it out.

18 June 2007

16 June 2007

uber-indie: the short films of Evan Richards


Note: Since this is a collection of shorts, we will split the review into three parts.

A Schizophrenics Love Story

starring: Hans Stefan Ducharme, Sarah Farnham, Joy Vanmeter, and Shawn McVicar
cinematography by: A.J. Muffet
written by: Evan Richards[1]
directed by: Evan Richards & Nathan Horn
17 min/Bangor, ME

Mark (Hans Stefan Ducharme) hears voices. They tell him to touch things. They prevent him from showing up for dates with his girlfriend (Sarah Farnham) and, once, from attending her birthday party. As you might imagine, this is a problem for her. Our hero tries to explain, but as she sees it either her boyfriend is lying to her about skipping her birthday party or is crazy. Neither option appeals to her so she dumps him.

A Schizophrenics Love Story, as a whole, is a largely effective short that tends to wear some influences on its sleeve. And while that's not always a bad thing, here it tends to be a bit much over the final third. It owes a debt to modern thrillers like The Usual Suspects (1995). I would stop short, however, of calling it derivative. You can see where the ideas are coming from, but the film thankfully resists becoming a carbon copy.

Evan Richards' main strength is a visual style that, in conjunction with cinematographer A.J. Muffet, provides a consistent style throughout his films. The eye for framing and composition is innate, as most good ones are, and he understands, for the most part, the value of a camera move as a narrative device, and not just something to do because it looks cool. That's not to say he's a visual virtuoso, the second coming of P.T. Anderson. There's still moments where the camera could probably be in a better spot, where the camera move could be more effective, but for the most part Richards gets it, and who's to say those hiccups aren't just budgetary limitations or perhaps simply part of the learning curve?

Lest I give too much praise for a film that clearly has some flaws, consider that Richards' writing here is a little choppy--the dialogue tends to go directly from point to point without bothering to transition cleanly--and I'd like to see some of the characters and scenes fleshed out a bit more, as the film occasionally leans toward cliche. But these are problems fixable by experience, and there's no reason to believe Richards won't grow as a writer (the script itself was written in 2004). The dialogue has a generally natural feel. It just needs another draft or two with the realization that just because dialogue reads well on the page doesn't always mean it will sound good on screen.

If this were a lesser film, if the visuals weren't so well-composed, then the dialogue might come off better. It just isn't up to the film's visual standard. But I have little doubt that in time it will be.


starring: Joshua Whinnery
cinematography by: A.J. Muffet
directed by: Evan Richards
2 min/Bangor, ME

Sleepwalker is, above all else, an exercise is style. It follows a sleepwalker (Joshua Whinnery) who, while crashed on his couch, gets up and wanders around downtown Bangor in the middle of the night. It's something we've all seen before, but it gives Richards and Muffet a chance to show off a beautiful side of a city that rarely gets noticed as such. Working with what must be almost entirely natural light, they compile a city fit for a dream sequence. And as someone who's been to Bangor on several occasions, let me just say that's no small feat.

Richard Robertson's Rockport Pottery

starring: Richard Robertson
directed by: Evan Richards
4 min/Rockport, ME

There's something about footage of a someone making pottery that instantly grabs my attention. Whenever I'm channel surfing and there's something about pottery on PBS, I have to stop and watch. I'm just so fascinated by how this spinning lump of clay so quickly becomes something else, how with the smallest amount of pressure, the potter is able to form this nearly flawless thing. I can't fathom how delicate and precise that process must be, yet it always looks so damned easy.

But even beyond that, this is a compelling documentary short. Through a voice-over, Richard Robertson explains how he got started in pottery and how that led to him studying for two years in Japan with Zen pottery masters. Richards combines this storyline (and the resulting tangents about finding an artistic calling) with the visual progression of the pottery's creation. The two narratives--the audio and the visual--work well together without feeling cluttered. Or maybe they do. I keep getting distracted by the spinning clay.

[1] Evan and I went to the same private High School in midcoast Maine. He was in my brother's class and I was in his brother's class. The school has zero cinema courses and has fewer than 200 alumni, yet has produced two filmmakers. Figure the odds on that.

You can watch these and other films by Evan Richards at his blog, The Complete Works of Evan Richards, which isn't as much a blog as it is a collection of all his films. You can also be his friend on MySpace and check him out on IndieFilmPedia and IMDB.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.

01 June 2007

a birthday gift, from me to you

Monday, 4 June, I turn 28.

I kind of have mixed feelings about the thing. One the one hand, getting older sucks. But, I'm starting to come to the conclusion that a lot of people already think I'm over 30, which may or may not be a compliment, but I'm going to assume it is. Mostly, I think it has to do with my writing, but that's not really the point of the post.

the point is, that I'm too old to expect presents from people who aren't my family (other than, you know, free beers from friends), so instead I'm going to give all of you a present.

however, it should be noted that if you really want to get me a present, I'm in no way against that.

anyway, the other day I discovered that Google Video has an option where you can download stuff for your video Ipod or other portable device (also, your hard drive). so, being the nice person that I am, I've decided to make 2 of my films, L'Attente and guard duty, available for Ipod consumption. And it's completely free.

Just go to the d press Productions webpage and follow the links.



30 May 2007

uber-indie: the short films of David Lowery


Note: One thing I like to do as part of the uber-indie project is use the space to throw a small amount of recognition to not only the films themselves, but the people who made them, the creative souls who toil in obscurity. Usually this does nothing more than show up when someone Googles themselves, but still, you never know. That's why you always see the list of credits at the top of the review. But with shorts, it's a little different, because the credits don't hold true from film to film. So what to do? Well, we're going to try splitting the review into parts and see if that works. If not, we'll try something different next time, as that's also going to be a collection of shorts. Unfortunately, I can't get as in-depth with these as I normally would. So it goes.

The Outlaw Son (2006)

starring: Kyle Williams and Machete
cinematography by: Nicholas Prendergast
written and directed by: David Lowery[1]
11 min/Dallas, TX

A flight into Austin. A phone call. Coffee in a diner. A long night in a parked car. Silence. Long, uncomfortable silences. To call The Outlaw Son sparse and minimalist would be something of an understatement. This is a film where, at first glance, nothing happens until the final moments, where it might appear that Lowery is stringing us along until the finale, but I don't think that's the case. The way he films it, in short little clips surrounded buffered by a blank screen, almost like flipping through a photo album, builds ever so slightly. The sort of thing you could easily miss. It's a film where the tiniest of gestures mean everything, and even thought the film at no point bothers to connect the dots between the ending and the rest of the film, here's my either/or theory: either Lowery is indulging in art for art's sake, the standard student film approach, or (and I hope it's this one) The Outlaw Son is a picture of a relationship in trouble, of some level of heartbreak, of the long sleepless nights working through your problems, and the ending is an act of solidarity, the type of "we're in this together now", team-building thing you see when sports teams all shave their heads for the playoffs. They've come to some sort of resolution and this is the point where they begin to move forward. And even if it isn't, even if I'm completely wrong, it's an effective film regardless.

A Catalog of Anticipations II

starring: Mary Margaret Lowery and Cammi Heath
cinematography by: David Lowery
written and directed by: David Lowery
4 min/Dallas, TX

A story of a little girl (played by Mary Margaret Lowery, narrated by Cammi Heath) who collects interesting things, only to discover a dead fairy in the field behind her house. She finds more and more, eventually theorizing that there must have been some sort of war, and then one day, one of them comes back to life. It sounds pretty out there, but it isn't, mostly because of the way Lowery chooses to tell this story. Eschewing traditional means, the film exists as a series of photographs, advancing one still image at a time, with the fairies realized by stop motion animation (using clay, I assume) that merges flawlessly with the rest of the film. The story is a short one, recounted in a matter-of-fact way that only a child can. To her, there doesn't seem to be anything all that remarkable about a fairy war in her yard, and so she tells the story in that manner. But it still contains a dry sadness that's in a lot of ways more poignant than a river of tears.

A Catalog of Anticipations I

starring: David Lowery
cinematography by: David Lowery
written and directed by: David Lowery
4 min/Dallas, TX

Lowery himself stars in A Catalog of Anticipations I, a take on the classic rebirth theme that's so prevalent in cinema. It's nicely done--the shots are well-composed and the editing is crisp--but this isn't something we haven't seen numerous times and it doesn't attempt to put a different twist on it. I don't know that there's much of a reason for this film to exist, other than in a larger work or as something of an exercise. That being said, there aren't many filmmakers who'd be willing to lay in the mud and put dirt in their mouth for a film. Hell, that's why you hire actors, so someone else can lay in the mud while you sit in a chair sipping coffee.

Some Analog Lines

starring: David Lowery and Benjamin Lowery
sound design by: Brad Mitchell
cinematography by: David Lowery
written and directed by: David Lowery
6 min/Dallas, TX

Disclosure: Some Analog Lines is one of my favorite short films and the main reason I asked David to participate in the uber-indie project.

David Lowery's Some Analog Lines is a thoughtful, nuanced look at the creative process, the nature of art, and the inherent nature of audience perception. Lowery narrates himself, sometimes doubling, tripling his voice into uneven layers, sometimes letting it run solo. He chronicles the genesis of his filmmaking career, starting with a ghost story he made as a child along with his younger brother Benjamin. Cut to today where they're both still making films, only now they're animated, David's a stop-motion animation and Benjamin's CGI. He ponders the differences between the two mediums, how the stop-motion gets more respect from a cineaste, how the CGI doesn't get the credit it deserves, how the fact that we can see the fingerprints in the clay somehow means something to us on a fundamental level. Much like the homemade bookshelf or the Super-8 footage of a ghost story or the hand-written message in a book. Because it's easier for an audience to identify with something when we can see the humanity in it. The ability to see those fingerprints is important somehow.

But does that diminish the CGI? Of course not.

What's interesting to me about Some Analog Lines is how in talking about the fingerprints, Lowery so freely uses technology to make his point, almost as if he's showing the audience that the computer can too have a soul. He pulls the screen out of the computer and puts it in the air around him, manipulating the controls with his hands, must like he did with his stop-motion animation. He literally takes two clips and splices them together in the air, almost exactly as he does earlier in the projection booth. It's a fascinating marriage of two aspects of the medium that all too often seem to be at odds, fighting over who will survive. What Lowery's effectively saying is that we can take the best of both worlds, we can use the digital wizardry to enhance the tried and true analog methods, and vice versa. At which point we'll really have achieved something.

Web Series--Episode 1

starring: Nathan Lowery and Anna Lowery
cinematography by: David Lowery
written and directed by: David Lowery
4 min/Dallas, TX

It's difficult sometimes to get an accurate sense of a potential web series from just one 4 minute episode, but I'll try. The story follows a brother and sister who are, for whatever reason, on their own in the wild (or, at least in the woods near a town with a train). The brother leaves the little girl hidden in the woods while he scouts for an empty house they can inhabit, at least temporarily. At first, you'd think maybe they're just wandering the country, but the brother seems to have set up some sort of trap out of twine (or perhaps he's just putting their food up in a tree where people can't reach it, I'm not sure), so perhaps there's something larger at play. I'm reminded of Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973) and Denis Johnson's novella Jesus' Son, and that's a pretty good start.

Land of Nod

starring: Michelle Proksell and David Lowery
written and directed by: Michelle Proksell and David Lowery
3 min/Dallas, TX

Finally we have a music video for an uncredited song (edit: David tells me the band is The Theater Fire). What's most impressive here, besides the shot where the pills rise out of the bottle, is the fact that Proksell and Lowery both play multiple characters in the same scene that interact with each other seamlessly. Rather than the standard move of having them stay in separate part of the screen, where you can easily edit the performances into one shot, these characters pass in front of each other without the it really occurring to the audience that these characters are being played by the same actor. And, sure, this isn't such a big deal in a Hollywood blockbuster, but in an uber-indie? It just doesn't happen all that often without looking terrible. But beyond that, it's a nice looking video, with crisp photography and a vintage set that contrasts with the final scene in the overwhelming brightness of a hospital. It just shows the value of cinematography in setting the mood for a film, and it's this that Lowery does exceptionally well. That's the unifying theme in all these short, the ability of a filmmaker to sustain a mood, and not just one, but several different ones, unique to each project.

The point being that Lowery's talent is undeniable, his grasp of the medium innate. He is, beyond question, a filmmaker worth watching.

[1] David exists as part of this same blog universe as yours truly. I read his blog on a semi-regular basis, and he reads mine.

You can read David Lowery's insightful blog, here, where he not only chronicles his own filmmaking journey, but also makes available some of the films you've read about here. Also, you can check out the Official Webpage and his profile at IMDB and IndieFilmPedia.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.