29 March 2007

uber-indie: Mutual Appreciation


starring: Justin Rice, Rachel Clift, Andrew Bujalski, Seung-Min Lee, and Bill Morrison
cinematography by: Matthias Grunsky
written and directed by: Andrew Bujalski
R/109 min/Boston, MA

Largely hailed as one of the no-budget triumphs of the 2006 film year, Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation (2006) found itself with a lofty score on Metacritic.com, a couple of appearances on critic's Top 10 lists, and the general consensus that Bujalski had fulfilled some of the promise of his debut, Funny Ha Ha (2002). Or, at very least he didn't squander it.

This, of course, sets the bar of expectations pretty high for someone approaching Bujalski's work for the first time (as I am), so it shouldn't be all that surprising to hear me say the film doesn't exactly live up to the hype. But, to be fair, that's more the fault of the hype than the film itself.

The story of Mutual Appreciation is something of a slice-of-life following Alan (Justin Rice), a musician recently moved from Boston to what I assume is New York City. His band has recently broken up over creative differences and it appears his relationship situation has followed a similar path. But he's newly energized--sort of--thanks to NYC and a couple of friends who share his artistic disposition.

It's the sort of film where everyone has some level of artistic involvement, even if they don't see themselves as being at all artistic.

Andrew Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha is generally credited with being one of the first entries in the mumblecore movement, which Bujalski refers to in the indieWIRE interview as "a bunch of performance-based films by young quasi-idealists." What this basically means is that the films are comfortable with raw dialogue and uncomfortable silences, the sort of thing that, you know, happens a lot in real life. The films feel improvised, when they are usually scripted (think of The Office as a network TV approved example of what the dialogue is like). In the case of Mutual Appreciation this results in a film that swings freely between being poignant, beautiful, funny, and...boring. Yes, boring.

There's a lot to like in Mutual Appreciation, a lot of fantastic moments, but there's also a lot of time spent on absolutely nothing, with little to no substance percolating below the surface. A lot of time where I found myself wondering how I could get my hair to look like Justin Rice's. It's never good when a film lets my mind wander that much.

Part of the problem was that at no time did I really find myself connecting with these character on anything other than a surface level. The film never really lets us get close enough to these people to give us a reason to empathize with them. And this shouldn't have been hard. I know these people. Hell, I am these people. But the best feeling I could muster was "gee, it sure seems like these are people I should like."

It took me awhile to figure it out, how bored and disinterested I found myself for long stretches. Then it hit me: the parts of the film that are least interesting almost universally involve the characters when they are pretty far past sobriety. What the film fails to realize is that two people "mumblecore-ing" is great...until they get drunk. One of the universal rules of alcohol is that drunk people are only interesting to other drunk people, unless they're doing wild and crazy stuff like dancing on tables. The designated driver is almost always the one annoyed by how inane his friends are being, how boring their conversations are. And that's the chief problem with Mutual Appreciation--at times it's a lot like being the designated driver. You're there because you feel compelled to be there, and more often than not you'll find yourself checking your watch once or twice before the night is over.

That doesn't mean there isn't a lot of value in the experience, though.

There's all sorts of ways you can check out Mutual Appreciation, whether through Amazon.com or Netflix or any number of retailers. Or, you could just go to the official webpage where you can do all sorts of stuff, and even buy a Limited Edition poster.

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.

28 March 2007

24 March 2007

let's talk about fundraising

i recently hijacked this discussion with my tangent on the gravida fundraiser. I didn't do it on purpose, mind you, it sort of just happened (kids, this is why you don't drink and blog). So, in the best interest of that previous discussion, I'm setting up a spot for it here.

The idea is to talk about fundraising in general, as a means for financing no-budget films, not just my one attempt at it.

22 March 2007

Friday Screen Tests

In my opinion, one of the coolest features in the film blog universe is Adam Ross' Friday Screen Test series at DVD Panache where he interviews the people who actually do all this film writing we all enjoy so much. Adam allows us to see something of what they are as people, what makes them tick, etc. But this week, it's of a particular interest because the subject is yours truly.

Adam manages to make me sound much more interesting than I actually am, but beyond that, I'll only add this: I anxiously await that Criterion release. I just hope I can afford it.

20 March 2007

the d press mailing list

it's super cool. all the hip kids are on it. get updated info on films and whatnot. either email me or leave a comment if you want in.

19 March 2007

15 March 2007

uber-indie: Deadly Obsessions

starring: Nick Capous, Irene Glezos, Karen Stanion, and Michelle Verhoeven
cinematography by: Karl G. Bauer
written and directed by: Karl G. Bauer
$50,000/101 min/Philadelphia, PA

Karl Bauer's Deadly Obsessions (2003) is a semi-erotic thriller in which people try to deal with their failed marriages by finding love elsewhere, whether it's in another person or money or both. Marty (Nick Capous) and Rebecca (Irene Glezos) are in a loveless marriage, both of them cheating on each other without really bothering to hide it from the other. Marty has Monica (Michelle Verhoeven), and we can probably assume there are others. Rebecca has her best friend, Lisa (Karen Stanion), a bi-sexual participant in an equally loveless marriage who's teaching Rebecca how to be a proper lesbian while attempting to seduce Marty. Throw in a murder plot, and you've got the makings of some sexy escapist cinema. Fun for all ages, as they say.

Only, it isn't nearly sexy enough or escapist enough or even campy enough to really succeed in any one direction. The performances aren't over-the-top enough to justify the type of guilty pleasure you'd find in a telenova--everyone's very serious about what's going on, but not in a histrionic sort of way. The plot isn't big enough to be escapist. Sure, there's murder and lesbians and deception, but it's not a combination we haven't seen before and none of it's shocking. The lesbian twist is pretty apparent early in the film, so it comes as no surprise. But, the film seems to think of it as something of a trump card (albeit a preliminary one), so it spends all this time setting up a grand reveal and all the audience can say is "well, yeah, of course they are." It doesn't help that the first lesbian scene breaks the 180 degree rule maybe 15 times. That's not the type of thing that instills confidence in your audience.

Nothing the film does, plot-wise, is bold enough to get our attention. At no point does it really go for broke and risk being a big disaster. It plays close to the vest, unwilling to take a real chance. And there isn't enough talent on display (not to say the people involved don't possess that talent, it just isn't on the screen) for Deadly Obsessions to work as a middle-of-the-road thriller. Ergo, it ends up being kind of dull.

Which brings us to the sex. These characters spend a great deal of time having sex. The script has lots of sex. The film does not. What we get more often than not is a fade to black, or a pan to the window. It feels like the sex has been edited out of the film by someone other than the director, like a TV edit. Actually, the entire time I'm watching Deadly Obsessions I can't shake the feeling that what I'm watching is one of those 80's TV movies they show on Saturday afternoon when there's no college basketball on. For most of the film I actually thought that's what Bauer was going for, I thought he'd made an interesting genre choice, but the more I watched, the more I thought it couldn't be possible. Too much of it was modern, even if they did seem to be wearing clothes that had a distinct 80's look. Maybe it's the fact that the film is shot on 16mm.

One more note. The script feels like an early draft. Much of the dialogue is stilted and cliche, almost a script by numbers. There's very little subtext, and what little we do have is played so that it's impossible to miss (which kind of defeats the purpose of subtext). But more importantly, there's a long exposition scene between Marty and Lisa that just destroys any and all momentum the film had. The scene is at least 10 minutes long--maybe longer--but it feels like 45 minutes and after a while you don't even care what they're saying. You just want the scene to end. That's when my roommate decided he'd rather be doing something else.

But hey, I could be wrong. Check out Deadly Obsessions for yourself at the official homepage. You can purchase the film for $14.99 on FilmBaby.com. You can read the director's blog 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.

13 March 2007

the official gravida fundraiser

PXN8.COM - Mon Mar  5 20:42:57 2007

This is a copy of the recent d press Productions mailing list email, re-posted here because, well, I want to, and because some interested parties aren't on the list.

As some of you may very well know, we here at d press are hard at work on our next film--gravida, which we are billing as a study in loneliness. 99% of the film is in the can and the footage looks pretty spectacular, thanks in large part to the work of cinematographer Dave Eger and gaffer Don Yockey, who composed some pretty cool images. It's pretty exciting, actually. Expect a teaser to show up on the webpage (www.dpressproductions.com) in the near future.

The dedicated gravida page is: here

Of course, while it's pretty easy to shoot a French New Wave film like L'Attente (2006) on the super, duper cheap, a film like gravida has different requirements, stuff like dolly moves and professional lights and a better camera for shooting at night and food for a crew of 10-12 people. Some of it (like the dolly) we were able to build using good old Yankee ingenuity and a trip to Home Depot, but a lot of it had to be rented. Throw in a far-too-close encounter with a certain deer, and we're looking at a budget in the $800-$1000 range. Not bad at all for what's looking to be a 20 minute film, but not exactly pocket change either.

And even though the film will have a Pittsburgh premiere and later be sent out of the festival circuit, it has little to no chance of ever making that money back.

So the idea struck me: we're starving artists. Why not hold a fundraiser? So that's what this is: "the official gravida fundraiser". Your kind donation can help defray the costs of the film and give you the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with being a patron of the arts and allow your favorite film collective to do what we do best. Plus, at parties you can refer to yourself as a "patron of the arts". Chicks dig patrons.

Already fellow artists have donated a great deal of their time and abilities to make this film happen. Your simple donation would be a greatly appreciated signal of support. I know, I know. I hate asking for money as much as you hate being asked. But this is the world we live in.

Should you decide that it couldn't hurt to create some good karma, there's a couple ways you can do this: You can give us the money in person. This is of course easier if you actually see us in person. You can go to the d press webpage (www.dpressproductions.com) and in the store there's a button where you can donate using PayPal. You actually don't need a PayPal account to do this. It's incredibly easy. Or, you can send it using the US Mail to this address:

Lucas McNelly
d press Productions
1466 Kelton Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15216

Consider this: if everyone on our email list were to give just $5 (you probably have more than that in spare change laying around), we would raise over $250, roughly 1/4 of the entire budget. But any amount, even $1, will receive our sincere and profound thanks (and mad props...everyone loves mad props), in the credits of the film no less. If you're a shy type, you can donate anonymously, but if not, we'll profess our gratitude in a hip, happening way.

Think of this as a PBS drive, only without Big Bird.

$25 or more, and as a gift, we will send you a DVD with gravida, L'Attente, and guard duty on it, so that you can show people just what sort of awesome films you support.

$50 or more, and we'll send you not only that awesome DVD, but also a mini promotional poster of gravida, designed by our good friend Ryan Davis and signed by, at the very least, director Lucas McNelly. Stick it on your wall and be the envy of your apartment building.

A gift of $75 or more and we'll not only send you the DVD and the poster, but also a t-shirt. That's right, a soon-to-be-revealed, custom t-shirt. That's right, custom. Wear it with pride around town, knowing that you've supported a progressive, innovative production company. We can't even describe to you how cool it'll be. We should warn you, though, that someone might be so jealous they'll try to steal it.

If you can find a way to part with $100 or more, we'll not only kiss your feet, but we'll send you the DVD, the poster, the shirt, and you'll get two (2) tickets to see gravida on the big screen as it premieres in Pittsburgh as part of "the body beautiful project", courtesy of Cup-a-Jo productions. (dates to be announced)

And how's this for super cool? If you're feeling way generous and can put together $250 or more, as a special thanks we will make a 2-3 minute film, shot guerilla-style using stuff we have laying around, on any topic or theme you choose. So, if you say "make me a film about aliens", expect to see paper plates spray-painted and hanging from string and a high camp factor. Other topics would probably yield higher-quality results. Regardless, we'll put the film on the webpage and, time permitting, the DVD.

08 March 2007

uber-indie: Home

Publicity Still from "Home"

starring: E. Jason Liebrecht, Nicol Zanzarella, Erin Stacey Visslailli, T. Stephen Neave, Pavol Liska, and Minerva Scelza
cinematography by: Jonathan Wolff
written and directed by: Matt Zoller Seitz[1]
91 min/Brooklyn, NY

Filmed almost entirely in his own Brooklyn brownstone, Matt Zoller Seitz's Home (2006) follows various interpersonal relationships as they unfold over the course of a party. The cast is large and diverse, from a brash salesman (T. Stephen Neave) to a writer of some acclaim (Pavol Liska) to musicians and philosophers and music aficionados, and Seitz takes us room to room, conversation to conversation, canvassing the proceedings, as if he's making sure there isn't something interesting he's ignoring.

When I'm at a party, I do the same thing.

This allows us to follow the Altmanesque web of stories Seitz has created while staying true to our two leads, Bobby (E. Jason Liebrecht) and Susan (Nicol Zanzarella), and their tenuous potential pairing. Bobby, as played by Liebrecht, is a bit of an introvert, often content to stand on the outskirts and just watch (he tells Susan that he's a great observer) when perhaps the best course of action would involve being a bit more proactive. And Susan? Well, Susan isn't over her ex, just yet. They intersect numerous times over the course of the evening, then withdraw, and each time we hope for that crucial moment where they'll really connect. So wonderfully elliptical is the dialogue that we're never quite sure when that might happen, if it will at all. Still, we hope.

When they do withdraw, Jonathan Wolff's camera floats around the room, more often that not finding the poetic images that are so often inherent in these types of situations. Some of them fall flat or seem to be the result of not having a good place to put the camera or not having fully thought out what the framing is trying to convey, but these are a minority. Likewise, with a cast this big and a budget this small, there are performances that are, let's say, less than good, but mostly those are the smaller roles. The key characters handle themselves well, their performances are largely solid.

At the end of the day, there's little that's extraordinary about Home (although there's several short stretches that are close), but a whole lot to like. Seitz displays a real talent, a grasp of the medium. Clearly, a filmmaker to watch.

[1] Matt is a fellow blogger I read on a regular basis. He contributed to the Lovesick Blog-a-Thon.

Pretty much, you can get Home all over the place. It's on Netflix, for example. Or, you can go to the Official Homepage. Matt Zoller Seitz's blog writings can be found at The House Next Door.

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 March 2007

some thoughts (but mostly a list)

as wonderful as the internet is, some things i suspect we as a film community aren't using nearly as well as we should be (unless i'm missing something):
  • MySpace
  • YouTube
  • Wikipedia (why is that we've completely ignored this? seems to me it carries a decent amount of legitimacy, despite the potential problems)
  • word of mouth (remember word of mouth?)
  • internet forums
  • (edit) other things of which i'm unaware
I just wonder if perhaps we're focusing too much of our efforts on blogs, which are wonderful, but not the only thing out there.

05 March 2007

the internets

This will mean absolutely nothing to some of you, but the website for my production company has finally joined the 21st century. Included is a sliver of information about my next film. Check it out.


uber-indie: Crooked Features

starring: Julian Lee, Pano Masti, Kate Naughton, Jacqueline Oceane, Peter Saracen, and Lee O'Driscoll
written by: Mike Peter Reed and Kevin Turrell
directed by: Mike Peter Reed
£15,000/85 min/UK

And here I thought it would take awhile for this to go international.

We begin the uber-indie project with Mike Peter Reed's Crooked Features, a mockumentary look at the efforts of legendary adult auteur Rod Shuffler (Julian Lee) to go legitimate with Attack of the Clowns, described as a "sci-fi blockbuster like Star Wars, um, Citizen Kane..." You know, films like that. The project is doomed from the start, but the determined crew adapts, looking for ways to get the film finished despite an ominous threat from the investors of having to go hardcore. To the surprise of no one, the resulting film is a broad comedy littered with moments both small and slapstick, clever and cliché.

The cleverness peaks with the sudden decision to turn Attack of the Clowns into a DVDA, which Wikipedia tells me is not a video format, but a fictional sex act cribbed from Trey Parker's Orgazmo (1997). For Shuffler, though, it's something of a trump card, the thing he uses to quiet the investors and bring cast members back to work for free, since no one's actually seen DVDA done successfully. The cast and crew speak of it in hushed, almost reverential terms, and after a while you realize that it ain't gonna happen, that Reed is using it as a MacGuffin to liven up the threadbare story. It's a good spot for a MacGuffin too, as you don't often expect one in a film like this, so the trick isn't as easily apparent as it normally is (especially if, like me, you don't really know very many porn terms, so for all you know, it may very well be a real thing.).

But for all the inspired moments in Crooked Features, there are an equal number that fall flat. Several jokes, like the bit about product placement, feel like filler, stuff we've all seen numerous times before and, worse, there are glimpses that the cast knows it.

My biggest complaint is that Crooked Features lacks the improvisational feel the mockumentary genre relies on. It takes little time at all to realize that what you're seeing is, in fact, scripted. It's not that the script is bad, it's just clearly a script. Combine this with a camera that's sometimes on a tripod where it should probably be handheld, and the film struggles where it plays like someone's representation of a documentary rather than an actual one.

Of course, it takes specific kinds of actors to be able to do this effectively, so part of it may be something that's not practical considering the size of Reed's cast and the realities of some of his locations. It's entirely likely that improving would have pushed the production beyond the time constraints, so consider it a qualified criticism.

Either way, all that is forgotten when we get to see the delightfully horrific footage from Attack of the Clowns, especially the paper moon being held up by a grip. Oh so hideous and oh so wonderful.

All sorts of Crooked Features info can be found on the official webpage, where you can purchase the DVD, download it to your ipod, or just watch the trailer.

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.

03 March 2007

the uber-indie project

"brilliant...a love letter to independent cinema which is progressively becoming a crucial resource for makers and lovers of low-budget films." -- Matt Riviera, Last Night With Riviera

"... so much more important than anything I do or will probably ever do on my blog." -- Pat Piper, LAZY EYE THEATRE

Curious about what's going on? Read the dialogue here and here. I'll add an archive in a bit, but for now this should suffice.

Some guidelines, which may come off as mean-spirited or otherwise, but are mostly so everyone's on the same page and I hopefully don't have to answer the same questions multiple times. Most of this is pretty obvious. It's also subject to change.

+ I don't care how long (or short) the film is. I don't care what genre. I don't care what format you shot it on. If you can get it to me, I'll try to review it. I don't even care what language the film is in, but I only understand English and what little I've picked up from watching other films. So, I probably won't understand your Polish dialogue without subtitles.

+ Don't expect this to be a rubber stamp where I say nice things about your film just to be encouraging (like some critics who we won't talk about here). If I think your film is good, I'll say so. If I think your film is rubbish, I won't hesitate for one second to say so. I will, however, make every effort to be constructive. Why am I such a mean bastard? Lots of reasons, really, but suffice to say that I believe any short-term damage done by a negative review doesn't compare to the long-term benefits provided by constructive criticism, such as the opportunity it provides for a filmmaker to improve things they may not have been aware of. I'll write something longer about it in the future.

+ Remember, this is business, not personal. If you get a bad review, don't be a petulant child. Learn from it and move on. I do not have a grudge against you or the type of film you've made or whatever.

+ As a fellow uber-indie filmmaker, I understand the limitations your project likely faced. Chances are I can spot them just from watching the film. Therefore, I'll be lenient...up to a point, as I can also spot things you could have easily fixed or avoided.

+ Pretty much I'll review anything, but keep in mind that I have a weak stomach when it comes to things like excessive violence and what I assume populates much of the Saw franchise. So, I'll try, but it's probably best to remember that past a certain point I'll be watching through my fingers. This is more of a problem for features than shorts.

+ The nature of this project may mean I end up with more stuff to review than I have time to review it. So, there may be some gaps and delays and whatnot as I try to fit this into my normal workload. I will probably also pick and choose on occasion, based on my moods, etc. I may, should the workload get too big, recruit some help among the people who's opinions I trust.

+ Every so often, I'll review a film done by an actor I've worked with, or a director I've drank with, or some other potential affiliation. I'll be sure to note any connections and will do everything in my power to critique the film objectively.

+ If at all possible, please give me some easy way, either via email or even a sticky note attached to the DVD, to figure out the following bits of information: actors, director, writer, music, cinematography, editor, budget, length of the film, and any other helpful piece of trivia you'd want me to know. Like, for example, if you shot it on a camera you stole from Wal-Mart, or the whole film cost you $1.50, or anything else of interest. Please don't make me go looking for the information just because you forgot to write it elsewhere.

+ Also, access to a still image or two that's at least 400 pixels wide would be a big help and almost guarantees the review will show up quicker.

+ The whole thing is free. You get someone writing about your film who isn't related to you and hundred (thousands?) of people will read about it worldwide. All you have to do is send the thing to me (or, convince me to watch it online).

+ If it's possible to purchase your film or you have a website you want to pimp, don't be a damned fool. Tell me how to tell people about it.

+ Still interested? email me.