Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Two Reviews: Reminiscence: The Beginning; Memory Lane

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

I am putting both these reviews together because they both deal with the distortion of time in various forms. The trailers for both films are at the bottom of the blog.

Reminiscence: The Beginning
Written cinematography, music, makeup and effects, and directed by Akcay Karaazmak
SGL Entertainment
107 minutes, 2014 / 2015

It’s nice to see a new twist on the whole Based on the True Story framework, as the opening of this arthouse style film states that it is “Based on true physics events and black hole theories.” Starting off with a Slovakian couple on their way to set up camp on a stone beach in Cesme, on the west coast of Turkey, this indie comes from that country, though the dialog is in English.

Miska (Michaela Rexova) seems to be some kind of theoretical physicist who studies other dimensions, and her companion (husband? boyfriend?), Akcay (played by the director, pronounced Ak-chai), start having strange experiences. They keep running into each other, but it appears not to be the same person, as if there were more than one of each of them. Plus, time occasionally stops, or goes backwards, or they see strange people – referred in the credits as The Others – such as a mysterious version of Akcay’s mom (Yasar Karaazmak, who I am assuming is the director’s real mother).

All this is happening while the same musical theme plays throughout most of the film, with strikingly sharp piano chords; the director is also a musician. With quick editing, little dialog (the most commonly used words are “darling” and “baby”) that tends to be lower than the soundtrack and arty shots, sometimes I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. Ironically and probably purposefully, it’s hard to follow a linear storyline with people popping in and out with regular occurrence.

It seems not just that “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time,” but here it’s rather unstuck in dimension as well. One minute someone/-thing is lifting a rock to crush a head, the next, with head intact, the person is sitting on a beach. Another person is half face-half skull (really nice effect, by the way), but the explanation? Well…

The visuals are stunning and beautiful. The natural rocks and beach of Cesme become a character unto themselves, as the camera tends to look like selfie-style angles with either long shots or very close-ups of people accompanied by the images being shaky. While it tends to be way more artsy than (in my opinion) needs to be, i.e., it feels more like showing off than anything else, I will also add there are moments that are creepy as all hell, but would be more so if I understood what I was looking at. I found the best way for me to address it was to take it scene by scene, rather than a whole zeitgeist.

At times, it seems like it’s the same people, but the consciousness of our two protagonists jump from dimension to dimension in sharp jump cuts, which of course doesn’t explain the malevolence or body distortions (scars, whited out eyes, missing eyes, and the like). Is it a dream? A premonition? Hell? I’m not sure, but I will say that “World are colliding, Jerry; world are colliding!”

There is also a meta-story happening as we watch Akcay observing himself on the video playback on his camera. He kind of figures out what is happening, even if it remains somewhat unclear to the viewer (well, this viewer anyway). I’m also glad that I saw this on a small screen, because if I saw it at a theater, I can imagine it inducing the same kind of motion sickness inspired by the likes of Cloverfield (2008).

The effects and make-up are really well done, both digitally and appliance, giving some parts an effectively creepy overlay, even with the jumpy edits. Also, some of the scenarios, especially those in a not-so vacant house are especially unnerving.

Included extras are two trailers for this film and something called a “Full Motion Menu,” but I’m not sure what that is (perhaps an Easter egg, something I’ve always been miserable at finding?). My one wish would be for captions.

Memory Lane
Directed by Shawn Holmes
553AM Creative Group / Wild Eye Releasing
71 minutes, 2012 / 2015

Poor Nick Boxer (as in fighter; Michael Guy Allen) is a returning war veteran with a hard case of PTSD, as do so many others (thank you George W. Bush for spiritually raping a generation by putting them into an unnecessary war to feed your daddy and Dickie’s wallets, and you sit around and paint; but I digress…). As we meet Nick and his sister Hannah (unconventional cutie Anna Szyszkiewicz), we are only given hints early on as to why the stress for this particular GI. What does the snail-mail letter he receives mean? What does a finger on a tube mean? Relax; it’s all in the first 3 minutes so I’m not giving away anything.

Nick needs to find a way to get past the psychological pain, and his way is certainly unorthodox: it involves a bathtub and a plugged in radio. There is actually is a high level of suicide among returning GIs after the things they have needed to do, and the sights before them. It is not an easy life coming back traumatized. But what is the cause? Ahhh, in there waits Memory Lane.

Through a series of sometimes disjointed events, he meets Kayla M. (Meg Barrick, who would soon go on to be a regular in the Cinemax series, “The Girl’s Guide to Depravity,” with the name change of Meg Braden) who is (possibly) about to jump off a bridge. Nick is hard to resist with his Ryan Reynolds vibe, and Kayla is trouble(d), sexy and a touch dangerous, making her irresistible as well.

After a brief (?) relationship, he buys her a house (from what money, I wonder) and then a ring, flashing back to an earlier subtle reference. As he brings it to her, he finds her deceased in their bathtub. He freaks out, of course, and through a further series of fragmented events, finds that if he electrocutes himself and has his two best buds (Julian Curi and Zac Snyder) bring him back through a second shock, he can retrace some of his steps and see things he hadn’t noticed the first time, which leads him to believe she was done in by another than herself.

Well, you can find most of that out from reading the box, IMDB, or even Wikipedia, so I’m not giving anything away, I promise. This is all in the first 10-15 minutes of expository, so the story really starts to take off from this moment.

What Nick is doing is obviously dangerous, but his two loyal pals stand by him as he is shocked to and from what they call Memory Lane, break into Hannah’s veterinary (he’s a vet and she’s a vet; coincidence?) lab for equipment, and other acts that could put them all in jail. After all, the dudes are literally killing their friend on purpose; think the police are really going to say, “Oh, it’s okay, you were just helping yer bud talk to his dead girlfriend”?

Self-considered more sci-fi than horror, this was shot for a reported $300 (mostly spent on food) in Wheeling, WV and across in Ohio, the film definitely has a good look to it, with muted colors to represent the moodiness and angst. Shot on a Cannon T2i and edited on a MacBook Pro, director Shawn Holmes makes the most of what he has, such as talented acting roommates and friends who were willing to devote their time and efforts into a project of which they could definitely be proud. It’s no surprise it’s played at a number of festival, and even won some prizes (including Best Director).

Honestly, I watched the film three times, and I recommend that as well for the following reasons: the first time through, I had a bit of trouble following the story here and there, such as, how did he know she was murdered by the events he saw? And how did he come to know who the murderer was? Perhaps I’m thick, but I seemed to have missed these imperative pieces of information. Because of questions and what felt like some holes in the story, I found myself getting a tad antsy.

The story and editing jumps a bit here and there, the latter being on purpose for a reason that I came to understand through the second sit-through. The rerun was with the director’s commentary turned on; Holmes does it solo (thank you) and manages to do a magnificent job of it. He tells anecdotes, motives, and explains some things about the plotline that I totally did not get the first time through. It cleared up a lot for me, to the point where it made me happy (and no longer antsy).

With this knowledge in hand, I sat through it again, and a lot of pieces fell into place that I had missed the first time (e.g., the ring I mentioned earlier). The third time was actually more enjoyable than the first, even with the same computer program created music droning through the whole film.

What we learn through it all it that by whatever means necessary (realistically; I would not recommend through self-electro-death therapy), it’s important to face what you have done, even if it’s hard (such as Hawkeye did with the Vietnamese baby on the bus during the last episode of M*A*S*H).

Lots of extras abound, including the fact-filled commentary track. There is a take-it-or-leave-it “Deleted Scenes,” “Memory Lane Short Films” that is a series of kind of “Making Ofs,” “Promotional Videos,” and a couple of interesting “Screen Tests.” Being a Wild Eye Releasing product, there’s also a few fun trailers of their other releases.

The film has been compared to Pi and a couple of others that play with some aspect of time, but this is actually a nice, mostly original piece that is well-written as a premise (even with some problem areas). The cast is suburb, especially Allen and Curi, and I can see a possible future for much of the top of the crew, such as the director and co-writer Hari Sathappan, though this is his only IMDB credit so far.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: Throwback

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Written and directed by Travis Bain
Multi Visionnaire Films / Sapphire Pictures
93 minutes, 2013 / 2014

It has been a while since I saw a beastie film, let alone a Bigfoot one. This one is from northern Australia, so the great hairy one is known as Yowie (as opposed to Yeti), as in what you say when it steps on your foot. Sorry, didn’t mean to start off with a bad joke, but there ya go. After all, the film actually says “Filmed in Yowiescope,” so I think my gag is okay.

Which leads me to the first point of this film: It is definitely not what might be considered a comedy, but there is a very dry sense of humor that definitely runs throughout. That is if you’ll notice that over the absolutely stunning cinematography of the director, Travis Bain. It’s not just the wide(Yowie)screen, it’s the lighting, the texture of, well, everything. There is a flow in the movement, and the richest of the forest feels like it’s alive. There is almost a travelogue-ness to the way he shows leaves, water and rocks. The background is as arresting as the action happening within it.

Now, back to that action. After a really fun prologue set a century ago, we are introduced to two explorers, looking for the lost treasure of an infamous robber by the name – I kid you not – Thunderclap Newman (no, not the band who sang “There’s Something In the Air,” but it’s definitely a prescient hint of trouble; in all honesty, I am not a fan of that song, but I digress…), deep in the steamy back jungles of northern Oz. exterminators by trade Jack (Shawn Brack) and Kent (as in Nick Kent, keeping up the classic rock nods?; Anthony Ring) are joined, thanks to bad citizenship trough a campfire hazard, by short-pants’d ranger Rhiannon (Melanie Serafin, whose character is named after yet another classic rock reference).

With a nod to The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948), there are double- and triple-crosses, as if a hairy brute weren’t enough of a tension driver. Human animals can be as bad as the dangers in the forest. Especially ones that can’t seem to keep a bullet count (i.e., how many they have shot). Or that two strikes of a rock to the back of the head are probably more effective than one. Although thighs seem to be in the most danger in this film!

The beastie makes its presence felt, but it’s more a secondary character, which actually works well for this story of greed, desperation, and foliage. We rarely get to see the Yowie’s face, just close ups of hands and other furry body parts, and that’s okay too. And while the gore is kept at a minimum, there are bound to be some squeamish parts for some.

And in the middle of it all, giving a hand in a cameo, is Vernon Wells, who played the mohawk’d Wez, the most memorable character from the original Mad Max II: The Road Warrior (1981, so good it’s the only Mel Gibson movie I can still watch). However, unlike the original Mad Max (1979), this one is not dubbed over for North American audiences, thankfully, and the director trusts we’ll understand the lingo, which is not any harder than watching Masterpiece Theatre. Just more fun.

With a relatively small cast and a big jungle, this release is pretty effective in making a big ado. It’s pretty obvious that nearly   the entire film was shot in one small area from different angles (confirmed during the “Making Of…”), but it still looks amazing. After all, there is a reason it has won so many Festival awards considering its relatively low budget (listed as $200,000).

There are quite a lot of extras in this. For example, it starts with a 15-minute “alternative ending,” which of course was the original ending before test marketing. I understand taken as a whole why they made the change, but personally, I like the first half of the alt/original, and the second half of the one used, because the original plays against a stereotypical trope. However, one change I would have made is rather than throwing in a quick flashback which would make the old ending obvious, just show the action of the object being left. As it stands, though, they made the right choice of the two.

We are given a 3-minute and 15 second deleted scenes that were totally right to take out, and superfluous even for the extras as it didn’t add anything. However, there is a 44 minute Behind the Scenes featurette broken up into 6 parts to make up for it. It’s more of a shooting diary, focusing mostly on Travis, Shawn and Nick, and almost nothing with Melanie. It’s pretty interesting, especially the technical details, and probably longer than it needs to be.

Also included are a couple of trailers for this film, and some video blogs (23 minutes) of traveling to a film festival in California. Honestly, the travel part of going from Australia to California is kind of boring, but it picks up once they finally reach the Con at 14 minutes in. Travis and Anthony meet up with Vernon, who by I once met at a Chiller Theater con in New Jersey, back in the 1990s. Yes, he came across as a nice guy who let me take his picture without charging me. In one part they’re trying to convince three people to come to the screening, and I’m relatively sure, by coincidence, one of them is Ryan E. Francis, one of the stars of ThanksKilling (2009). It’s great to see them win the award for Best Foreign Film, and I’m just sorry they didn’t include the Q&A after the film screening here.

At almost 6 minutes in length, there is the 1999 16mm short film directed by Travis called “Daniel’s Jack” about the internal monolog by a guy, Daniel, who gets a flat tire and doesn’t have a, well, the title says it. It’s based on an old joke, but it’s very effective here (Groucho does the same thing in 1933’s Duck Soup, for example). At just over 8 minutes, we are given the well-made “Full Moon, Dirty Laundry” from 1998, the story of two lonely people who meet in a laundromat. At nearly 5 minutes, there’s the very amusing “Parrot Ice Tours” from 2014, about two cheeky kids trying to raise money to fix a broken window by taking advantage of Asian tourists.

The next extra is a series of local Cairns, Australia radio interviews. The first three are with Shawn Brack, two with Anthony Ring, and one with Travis. All are interesting. The very last extra is a 1 minute video clip of Wells reading an excerpt of a 1916 story called “The Hairy Man.”

For his second full length feature, Travis did a great job. While this film could use a bit more tightening up, it’s an incredibly decent release deserving of the praise it’s been given at all the festivals it’s been accepted at, and worthy of checking out.




Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: Angel Maker: Serial Killer Queen

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Angel Maker: Serial Killer Queen
Directed by O.H. Krill
Reality Films / Alchemy Werks
World Wide Multi Media
57 minutes, 2014 / 2015

Next to Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614), Britain’s Amelia Dyer (1837-1896) is considered the most prolific serial killer known, with an estimated 400 infant deaths by her hands during the last quarter of the 19th century (an average of 20 per year). Living in poverty, this matronly granny started taking care of babies – mostly illegitimate – and either starved or strangled (via a cloth cord) them to get more, dumping the bodies in the Thames.
You see, there was a process called Baby Farming, where you gave up your infant by paying someone to be sure that the child was taken care of (we now call that having a full-time nanny as many celebrities and those very rich are known to do), or adopted out. A flat fee was paid, so if more money was to be found, there had to be a turnover (aka free market capitalism). The more children, the more money.
This extremely slow moving documentary tells us a bit about the culture that led to this practice as a whole, and Dyer individually. A narrator tells the story in bits and pieces over mostly black and white public domain film clips, or over vintage photos, mostly of dead babies; taking pictures of dead children either alone or as a whole family was a “thing” early in photography to help remember those who passed on. Many of these images are used over and over and over and over again.
While I found the information itself interesting, as I knew a smattering about her and it was good to learn more, this is not a very good documentary as a whole. After all if the discussion is about a serial killer I really shouldn’t be bored by 15 minutes in. The problem is trifold. First, as I stated, images are used multiple times, so there really isn’t much to look at other than trying to guess the origin of the film clips (they are listed in the end credits if you want to check them off); one has Victor Mature talking to Aunt Bea (Frances Bavier), who actually is physically somewhat close to our Ms. Dyer, perhaps why they used this clip as its otherwise unconnected. Second, I can understand that the story of Dyer is dire, but the monotone clipped tone of the narrator is more drone that anything else.
But the biggest problem with the film is that it’s a two-pound potato in a 25-pound bag. In other words, the film is actually about 20 minutes long, tops, but there are so many extended and unnecessary gaps between most sentences for the purpose of lengthening, that it starts to get really annoying in short order. Imagine if this review was written with one or two sentences per page, and you knew you had to be on each page for a minute or two, that could give you some idea of what I am talking about. If the script was read at a normal pace, that would mean less repetition of images, and a quicker and more interesting pace.
The text for the story is fine; the poison in the pudding really is the pacing. In fact, you can get just about all the core info you need, including Dyer fate, from the trailer (below). That is not accomplished filmmaking, it is (owl) stretching time. Perhaps this was a telly show over the Pond and it needed to be this length? That’s the only reason I can think of other than the greed of trying to get this into theaters or festivals as a feature rather than a short. Not worth it for the viewer.
The redeeming feature of the film is pointing out the social politics of pure capitalism, with the wide divide between rich and poor and the latter getting royally screwed (pun intended). Pre-union, there was no way for people to thrive without some regulation, and a large share were literally worked to death. Baby farming became a reality because people could not financially care for their own children. And this is an aside, but this is also what the Republicans are trying to bring back. The lack of care of the mental ill under this type of social structure is also discussed, though not deeply enough. Focusing more on these as a bookend to Dyer’s story would have certainly filled up those time gaps, but this is just lazy.
The trailers for other documentaries on the DVD look equally dismal, including one explaining how the Loch Ness monster is actually a space alien, and another exposing that the United States is being run by the Masons; I almost expected it to be about the supposed Illuminati when the trailer began.
Do yourself a favor and look up the info about Dyer on a Serial Killer fan site, or even on Wikipedia, from which this film is almost rewritten point by point. You’ll definitely get the same image of her. Or, if you have the time and patience, there is this documentary.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Reviews of 5 Horror Shorts for August 2015

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Written, edited and directed by Christopher Wells
Kaleidoscope Pictures Inc.
10:35 minutes, 2014
Early morning and nothing is going right for our central character (Christopher Wells). Food has spoiled, and the apartment is in as much disarray as it seems is his emotional state. It’s not long before we know why, as he starts talking with his obviously passed wife, the titular Cynthia (Katie Issel Pitre). Meanwhile, a mysterious white faced person is peaking in on the whole she-bang (Matt Perfetuo). It’s a slow build to the finale, but worth the wait, even if you figure out what the end result is going to be for our protagonist. Wells’ acting is naturalistic and Pitre a bit wooden (well, she is a ghost or whatever, after all), but the emotion is there, and the ending is just the right measure. A well-made showcase for which Wells can be proud.


Apartment 41
Directed and produced by Veemsen Lama
Javiya Films
6:38 minutes, 2014
As this British film opens, we watch a woman (Grace Rowe) enter her new apartment and walk around. The camera follows very closely, giving a claustrophobic feel, even though the apartment itself seems quite huge. In a similar theme to the film above, there is obviously a presence there (Harriet Feeny). In a story of guilt and/or revenge, we learn the reason for the spirit being there. Or is it there? A nice, moody piece, it doesn’t feed on the fear of the audience, but gives us enough information to both be unnerved and understanding. Well lit (even the dark bits) and worked through, it’s an effective piece of short cinema. The ending is actually quite satisfactory to the story (no, I won’t give it away).

3 Doors of Horror: DELETE
Directed by Sidney Chan
Doghouse 73 Pictures
14:10, 2014
One of my favorite things is when a film can use a well-worn trope, give it a new spin, and make it exciting. Chan does all of this in a short-but-sweet horror tale based somewhat around the tendency for selfies (does anyone else find it interesting that the English word “selfie” is used in nearly all languages?). This Asian release (with subtitles) revolves around a group of four teenage girls who trespass into a mysterious and abandoned factory, and take a group selfie on a camera found in bathroom stall (?!). It’s filled with pictures of the empty bathroom, which is eventually explained. There is also, I am assuming, a cultural in-joke about a security guard, that I didn’t get, but that’s just a blip. Well and clearly filmed in HD with medium shots, and more than one scare. Extremely effective for such a short piece.  


The Babysitting
Written and directed by Jan Nanne
Bad Ass Films
9:59, 2009
Oh, those Dutch! Filmed in English, this is a cautionary tale of what happens when you let your kids watch too many horror films before they’re able to process it. Well, in theory anyway; or if they’re a tad psychotic.  Vicky (lovey and wide-eyed Nadine Stephan, who has amazingly long, cascading hair) is hired as a babysitter by a creepy mom (Angela Zandbergen) who’s last comment before heading out the door is, with eyebrows raised, “Have fun.” It’s a family Vicky hasn’t met, and doesn’t know what to expect. Neither will the viewer. Made as an entry for a short film contest (hence the English), it’s effectively creepy on a few different levels. Being (relatively) older, it’s a bit on the grainy side during the dark scenes, but the story holds up.  After the credits is a decent albeit short gag reel.


The Flying Man
Directed by Marcus Alqueres
9:20, 2013
Much like a zombie apocalypse, some are holding fast that maybe a true super man will someday arrive, much like the Samuel Jackson character from 2000’s Unbreakable, but in a case of being careful what you wish for, in this short, such a person has arrived. The question it brings, however, is whether it’s a positive or negative. This Flying Man is certainly not out of Marvel or DC, as he has no second thoughts about throwing people under trains or dropping them from dizzying heights. This is a vigilante, and the questions this film asks – be it directly or indirectly – are good ones, such as does one have the right to take the law into one’s own hands if it’s for the better good, and who is the judge of that “good”? It’s not a new question, but one that was brought up before in the slogan, “Who will watch the Watchmen?” Supposedly in the works to be made into a full length film.

BONUS (because it made me smile):