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.