Wednesday, May 25, 2011

FILM REVIEW: "Decomposing Tony Maslow," by Crosby Tatum

Crosby Tatum
FILM REVIEW: "Decomposing Tony Maslow," by Crosby Tatum

A couple of weeks ago, the 2011 edition of the Boston International Film Festival showcased a number of unique and memorable films and stories that had tremendous quality and unique depth during the weeklong festival. For my money, and for what I’ve seen, I don’t think there was a film that caught my attention quicker than
the psychological thriller/horror flick, Decomposing Tony Maslow.

Decomposing Tony Maslow is about a broke, high-strung, yet talented ghostwriter by the name of – Tony Maslow (you guessed it), whose recent breakup with his girlfriend Lia, and his troubles with Leon, a loan shark, are seemingly affecting his ability to finish his latest book.  Through the guise of his agent, Phil, Tony is set up in a quiet house, with Arthur, the housekeeper, far away from his problems to finish writing his book.  At the house, Tony’s personal problems continuously conflict his ability to write.  One night while intoxicated, Tony is greeted with an unexpected visit from a call-girl named Sasha, who satisfies Tony to no end for a night.  Tony wakes up in the morning to find Sasha dead on the bathroom floor.

This death starts a chain of events that sees Tony’s world turned upside down.  From pages of his book mysteriously typed up without his knowing, to seeing the death of Sasha covered up, thanks in part to Arthur, who tells Tony to not leave the house under any circumstances, to not be implicated in the murder.  Tony is seemingly thrust into a mind-bending fight where not just his book, but his life is on the line with forces that seek to make Tony not just a visiting resident but “permanent resident” inside this house.

Maslow was a well structured story with mysterious, sometimes, creepy characters that made you feel like you was looking at a more eclectic, suspenseful, almost Stephen King-like thriller in a sense.   I found that the music and sound designing truly set an eerie and dark mood that really helped us understand the situation better, and even, spook out the audience at times with this film.

At first, the film began with a humorous tone that would make you believe we was about to watch an offbeat comedy.  But, no, was I way off the mark with that.  Tony Maslow really drove me into the mind of the character and his problems, and the life or death battle he’s in as this house “decomposes” his life force, so to speak.

I can do without the video-ish looks and the transitioning in between phone conversations at the beginning of the film, but overall, Maslow did more to surprise me than many other films have done with a film-like look and a Hollywood budget.
Decomposing Tony Maslow is a wild and twisted ride of emotions that will twist even the smartest mind.  And I consider my mind to be the smartest out of them all (insert funny here). But check out Tony Maslow wherever it may play and enjoy it.   

Film: "Decomposing of Tony Maslow"
Director: Sacha Parisot
Film's website:

Review written by Crosby Tatum
Editor: Rod Webber
Published by Reel Zine
© Reel Zine 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

FILM REVIEW: "Cast Me If You Can," by Mark Donovan

Mark Donovan

 FILM REVIEW: "Cast Me If You Can," by Mark Donovan

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a cinematic figure that has existed for about five decades, though it has never been used as frequently as it has in the past 7 years.  
For those that do not know, the MPDG is a bit of cinematic wish fulfillment; a girl/woman who was put on this Earth to selflessly nurture the broken hearts of lonely men. The biggest surprise of Cast Me if You Can, a new romantic comedy from Japan, is finding out that the MPDG exists in other cultures, too.

Ah, but there is a difference. The MPDG in this case is almost an actual person. Her name is Aya, played by Hiromi Nagasaku, and she has problems of her own. She may be a master thespian, and very handy when it comes to disarming a thief using only a mop handle, and she may have an unflappable cheerfulness about her, but her love life isn’t going well. Her boyfriend/husband is seen walking out on her very early on, because he just can’t take her “energy”. She also works a dead end job at a convenience store, and, later in the film, gets evicted because her ex-boyfriend/ex-husband blows all of the rent money at a casino. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be an MPDG.

Then again, Aya is not the focus of the movie. The main story revolves around Hiroshi, the son of a famous playwright and supporting actor extraordinaire, who dreams of becoming a lead actor. Hiroshi is played by Toru Masuoka, essentially the Japanese equivalent of Steve Buscemi, who’s been acting for roughly 30 years, but always in a supporting role. In the film, Masuoka gets his chance to play the lead in “The Woody Allen Remake”- it is never mentioned which of Woody Allen’s films is being remade, but my money is on Curse of the Jade Scorpion- but sees his hopes dashed due to a false report that he is carrying on an affair with a married woman. The obvious real life parallels are not lost on director Atsushi Ogata. It is also one of many times in which Masuoka is mistaken for someone else- a running joke which leads to a few clever gags.

While writer/director Ogata doesn’t stray too far from the Romantic Comedy Playbook, he does add in a few fun set pieces, a couple interesting characters, and a world in which, while there are a few instances of humanity gone wrong, people tend to look after one another. The world may continue to be an imperfect place, but for 90 minutes those instances of imperfection are the exception, not the rule.

Back to the beginning; Masuoka, having just been fired, meets Nagasaku at a train station where a man is accosting her under the impression that she stole his wallet. Masuoka intervenes and somehow inherits a strange, chipper tag-along, who recognizes him as supporting actor then follows him around for an undisclosed period of time. For their “meet-cute”, Masuoka gives the impression that he’d rather be anywhere else but next to this odd girl, while Nagasaku remains cheerful as ever, giving advice about grapes and seeming star struck even though Masuoka is far from a “star”. It is an odd scene, which sets the tone for their romance. It isn’t exactly what would be expected out of a romantic comedy, even though it is clearly a romantic comedy. Cast Me never truly subverts the genre clichés, but it does its best to subtly alter them.

There are certainly Woody Allen-esque touches to the film, including a prolonged, caper-style bit where Masuoka tries to clear his name through stalking the woman whom he was supposedly having an affair, but those bits don’t add up to a whole. Though it may involve a few trapping of other genres or directors, those elements are just pieces of a whole. The film belongs to the singular vision of Ogata and co-writer Akane Shiratori.

It helps that Cast Me is stacked with noted Japanese thespians. Nearly every role in the film is played by a Japanese celebrity, down to even the tiniest of supporting roles. Hell, the father is played by Masahiko Tsugawa, the Cary Grant of Japanese cinema. If this were an American release it would be on par with the average summer blockbuster.

Early screenings of the film prove that it is quite the crowd pleaser. Anyone who is a fan of Japanese cinema, or a romantic comedy fan in general, should seek out this movie. It may not be a game changer, but it still makes for a fun time while it lasts.

Film website

Written by Mark Donovan
Editor: Rod Webber

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hollywood: You Pull the Trigger on My Gun Love, by Joseph James Bellamy

Joseph Bellamy
Hollywood: You Pull the Trigger on My Gun Love, by Joseph James Bellamy

PG-13 is the second newest, next to the nearly unused NC-17 of MPAA ratings. We who are old enough to remember thought of it as “nearly R”, often pushing imagery to just short of the skin barrier. Allowing just enough violence to be fun; without a single F-bomb.

It was an innocent creation of a slightly more innocent age, intended to save the already lost innocence of a generation. After all, how many among us hadn’t sneaked a peak at our big brother’s “reading material” or Dad’s beta tape collections by 1984 when the rating was first introduced? Inevitably, time passes and all things must change. The same holds true of pop-culture, and for the PG-13 film, times have most assuredly changed.

Not long ago, my wife and I double-dated with some friends. In order to keep it light and fun for all concerned, we decided on the tween-actioner Sucker Punch. It was a fun, flashy, popcorn-fest to be sure. If you can imagine constructing a narrative from the frustrated musings of a contemporary 12-year-old boy, then you may have a sense of this film.

I was settled in to the story, which centers on the disturbing misadventures of a group of teen girls in a shady mental health facility in the 60’s. I began to notice certain elements of the film were setting off bells in my head. The story takes place in three worlds. The first is the institution. The second is an alternate world, some sort of hyper-cabaret gentleman’s club and brothel, where the girls are the main attraction. The third is a non-sequitor pastiche of combat missions into war-torn fantasy landscapes that rival the top gamer favorites. In this world, the girls are presented as a squad of heavily armed and scantily clad super-commandos (including a naughty-as-she-wants-to-be-looking Vanessa Hudgens, who has apparently outgrown mouse-eared musicals) pitted against endless hordes of inhuman villains. It was the second and third worlds and their sequential relation to each other, that gave me pause. I began to pay more attention as a filmmaker, to what I was seeing. The pattern became starkly, worryingly obvious.

Every time things in “Bordello World” reach the point of explicit exposure, we are moved by way of a MacGuffin device, cleverly disguised as a jailbait lap dance, to a battle sequence, a sort-of bloodless war-gasm, if you will. Interestingly enough, blood, at least as much as would be expected from so much violence, is conspicuously absent. It is made all the more conspicuous when one considers that it was the blood and gore of films such as Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins that gave rise to the rating in the first place. I doubt one would get much argument that both films would be considered tame in today’s Hollywood.

Needless to say, by the end of the picture (which I did thoroughly enjoy incidentally) my mind was on spin cycle as I tried to remember if the PG-13 films of my youth presented the same aesthetic. I couldn’t think of one, which isn’t to say that it doesn’t exist; I just couldn’t and can’t come up with one. Since that day, I have watched (observed?) a number of more recent offerings that have earned this rating and there seems to be a discernable trend. Take the obviously unstoppable franchise of the Fast and the Furious for example. Nothing against the filmmakers, they’ve just made it work so well, it’s worth referencing. Stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, both have highly-flirtatious and highly-sexualized relationships with women. As the underlying tension escalates, not only is the sex avoided by the camera, but it seems the only solution to that tension is a fist-fight, a gun-fight, an explosion, or the franchise signature race/chase. The case is similar across the board and if the gimmicks aren’t for gear heads, they’re for gamers. Ask Mila Jovovich how to make a billion dollars and she’ll say two words, “Resident Evil”, and Peter Jackson is still trying to get a Halo movie made.

I can understand keeping the sex under wraps. I can just as easily understand sanitizing the violence. What worries me is the thought that the sex = violence connection is being drilled into the minds of a very specific market: boys, age 11-14. Fusing seamlessly into an adolescent lifestyle typified, if not defined, by globe-spanning FPS video games, remote access socializing, and burgeoning sexuality, this kind of kiss-kiss, bang-bang may have further reaching effects than a mere 90 minutes of entertainment.  I won’t go so far, or be so paranoid, as to claim greater plan. That said, we live in a world where wars are fought with laser-guided missiles, drone planes, subs, and robotic weapons platforms. I’m not too comfortable with the next few generations of eligible serviceman having their trigger fingers hardwired to their private parts, a lifetime of simulator hours, and a taste for violence without consequence. Are you?      

Written by Joseph James Bellamy
Editor: Rod Webber
Published by Modern Cinema Magazine
© Modern Cinema Magazine 2011

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Great Time at the Annual SENE Festival, by Mike Ryan

A great time at the annual SENE festival.
by Mike Ryan

From April 6 through April 10th, dozens of films from all parts of the world were shown in Providence in the third annual Southeast New England Film, Music and Art Festival (SENE, as in South East New England).
Now I’m not quite sure how that spells SENE, but the festival is fast becoming one of those gems of cinema that’s perhaps better known outside our state than in RI itself.
The festival, like most festival, confronts viewers with the challenge of multiple screenings. It can be tough to choose what to see, but the festival did a great job of keeping screenings on time and smooth, and the proximity of the theatres (at RISD and the Cable Car) and after-party locations leveraged the pedestrian potential of the South Main St. area.
The combination of art forms – music before screenings and during gallery openings - may have been most evident in the opening event, a one-stop combination of party, music, art and film. The event, held at PeaceLove Studios in Pawtucket, was a party held in the gallery space, with a room set aside to screen a rolling selection of experimental shorts and a central space occupied by live performers.
“We were thrilled by how things turned out,” says Artistic Director and Co-Founder Phil Capobres. “The event is put together entirely by volunteers, and we had a great time working together to make this happen.”

Films were shown from around the globe, but there were a few local standouts too, featured in a “local artists” screening:

Bird Talk
This entertaining short focuses on real estate agents who start up an internet radio show to fill the downtime between home showings. Although they want to talk about birds, their callers have a different agenda – and the conversations have a serpentine ripple effect on the residents of this small, tightly connected Rhode Island town.
Written by Jennifer Sharpe, produced by her and Ted Marr,  and directed by Richard Griffin, the film also stars numerous faces familiar to fans of locally made film. Comfortably paced and professionally shot, the short see-saws between drama and humor and includes a number of twists. And although it effectively hits emotional notes, overall it has the feel of a  “Lake Wobegon” style introduction to a community of rambling, connected characters, rather than a plot-driven or single-character tale. 

Rhode Island: A Great Place to Get Lost
This ultra-short short is a playful few minutes spent romping around Rhode Island, lost in a state that’s bigger than you might think. Shot home-movie style, and clearly involving no budget beyond the gas needed for a road movie, this good natured piece is carried by its humor and the cute as heck performance of its young star. Created by Ryan Vemmer, this short recently took first place in the recent Why RI? contest sponsored by LeadershipRI.

The Phantom Pervert of Poquamuck
This mockumentary romp focuses on a collection of back-country Rhode Islanders, including the brawn-over-brains Tank and his uncle, a pig farmer permanently embedded in muck. Based on an urban myth from the 80’s, the story follow’s residents reactions to a spooky, unknown presence that steals womens clothing and flits about the countryside wearing it. The Phantom Pervert of Poquamuck is an entertaining short that may put you off pork for quite some time, but one in which the film’s affection for its cast of eccentric characters is obvious and heartfelt.
Rumor – and remarks during the QA session afterward – has it that the producers are planning additional adventures for these characters and for others living on the invented Rhode Island community of Poquamuck, so don’t be surprised if these folks pop up again, in an ambitious plan for interwoven stories.

Phantom was directed by Alec Asten: Website

There She Is…
It’s hard to say whether this is a mockumentary or documentary, but the entertaining short took the festival’s prize for best local film. None of the subject matter or characters are made up, but, as directed by Jenn Dlugos, “There she is…” also clearly doesn’t take things too seriously. The roughly 20 minute film moves briskly and if anything, leaves you wanting more about each odd step in comedienne Andrea Henry’s quest to become Mrs. Massachusetts.
A complete newbie to the beauty pageant circuit, Ms. Henry fits none of the height or fitness stereotypes one expects from pageant contestants, but she carries a wit and attitude that do her proud. Watching her gather advice from friends, and consultants, a dietitian, trainer and others forms the core of the piece. The encouragement and, mostly, discouragement she receives from these various oracles provides the foundation for her dry, self-deprecating wit.
Although there are uncomfortable moments, the short dodges anything approaching commentary on pageants themselves or the cultural associations. Deeper waters might be plumbed by viewers in conversation later, but for the most part this short only pokes fun at its protagonist, and is purely entertainment. While witty and engaging, Ms Henry is an odd hero, conveying an odd passivity within the weird and slightly uncomfortable situation she has created. The end result has a quirky, Christopher-Guest-like vibe which carries itself well in the world of pageants.

It’s a Bash! 
The SENE festival wrapped up at The Spot: Underground with a rousing screening of “It’s a Bash!” David Bettencourt’s latest RI-centric documentary tracks the adventures of local punk pioneers Neutral Nation, a band known for filling the Living Room with throngs of fans throughout the 80’s and early 90’s and inspiring . Fans of the band helped make for an enthusiastic and sometimes coherent Q&A session after the film, in which Mr. Bettencourt and band members took part.
The film was entertaining, amusing and generally whimsical, providing a look into the history of the group and the local punk concert scene in the 80s and 90s. There is no dramatic conflict within the band – indeed, the members come across as well adjusted and affable – a far cry from what many might expect from an aggressive musical style and scene that thrived on physical, confrontational performances.  The story of the bands successes, both deliberate and accidental, over the decades ends up as a light, feel good story that just might inspire you to pick up a base or microphone of your own.
For more information, please visit

Written by Mike Ryan
Editor: Rod Webber

Thursday, May 5, 2011

MY AMERICA Trailer Premiere in Detroit, MI 5/3/2011

Well, the bomb dropped in Detroit last Tuesday. It's a bit anti-climactic, given that our first black president has taken out the terrorist with just one different letter in his name. (Wasn't FOX News was so happy that Osama had been killed?--until they realized they weren't hitting the "B" key on the computer.)

The Mitten Movie Festival is a monthly gathering of indie shorts, held in pleasant, affluent Royal Oak, Michigan. It actually had been held for some months in Detroit proper--the ACTUAL scary city that seemingly only black drug dealers and hip white artists seem to thrive in.

Unfortunately, the Detroit venue has been closed due to a rent dispute.

And wouldn't you know--the last time the Mitten was held at that Detroit venue, a racial issue broke out? I will post the details of it elsewhere. Suffice it to say, it's not pretty when a black boy cries "White Wolf!" when the white wolf has honestly been trying to help him out.

But I've digressed. The response to the MY AMERICA trailer was muted...I don't think they knew what they were getting...but they did laugh at the "tea-bagging WAY before Glenn Beck" line--which just goes to show that gay panic jokes play everywhere from Pawtucket to Peoria.

I decided to go with the "Joe Bellamy Going Crazy" trailer rather than the "Honest White Racist" trailer--because 1) I wanted to get something shown without being censored and 2) you have to ease into tough territory. I think Joe's monologue in fact gets to the heart of the movie much better (or much quicker) than the rant captured from the "90% of blacks are ruining it for the rest." There's very little context in the rant trailer, and I want people to give MY AMERICA a chance, rather than dismiss it outright.

The audience was polite. Mostly white. We didn't have time for Q & A that night but I hope everyone left a little disturbed and a little more thoughtful.

You know what I'd like? I'd love for a white audience and a black audience to watch the film in separate rooms and then come together afterward to compare notes. That would be a hell of a science experiment. Anyone interested in funding that?


Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Ali Bell
FILM REVIEW: Dirty Old Town, by Ali Bell

Dirty Old Town has its NYC Premiere at The Quad Cinema as part of NYIIFVF, May 5th, 2011.

Filmmakers to be in attendance.
Event Page 

Co-directors Jenner Furst and Daniel B. Levin who first collaborated on Captured, (the 2008 documentary about New York’s Lower East Side) have come together once again to bring us Dirty Old Town. Dirty, which shares many of the same themes with the earlier film, is a triumph of cinema verité, comparable to Cassavetes’ Shadows or A Woman Under The Influence. Like Cassavetes, it is the thin line of distinction between real life and art that makes this a truly worthy film-going experience. 

I was admittedly drawn in by my past; a teen fraught with the boredom of a suburban upbringing, as a youth, I was always enticed to wander beyond my culturally bankrupt beginnings and head out in search of culture, and at the very least, adventure. For me, more often than not, that meant the dirty old streets of New York City. 

I often found myself ditching school to witness the City’s nocturnal transformation into a carnivalesque landscape of surreal beauty, cool people and crazy freaks. It was a place full of mysterious characters, and ones which I should have perhaps steered clear of, but it was the New York City that I know and love. Dirty Old Town is a loving portrait of the disappearing landscape of this New York City, giving us a longing glimpse into a magical world that once was. 

Dirty Old Town opens to Billy, (William Leroy) decked out in biker-leather, and a gray-blonde ponytail rumbling down a New York City overpass on a chopper en route to pay his landlord for two months back-rent on his Antiques Tent. The gruff-looking Houston Street antique vendor has got seventy-two hours to pay it all down, or a Starbucks is moving in, or so threatens the landlord. 

The shop is the location on which the film revolves, and Billy the tough, streetwise single dad of a soon-to-be college-going daughter, struggles with financial and moral temptations while managing some great authentic comedic one-liners in the face of adversity. 

At the Antiques Tent, the circus-of-regulars filter in. Billy commiserates with Nicky, (Nicholas De Cegli,) who delivers a compelling performance, as the wisecracking tough-guy with the neurotic, seven-note mutter of “nu-nu-nu-nu-nu-nu-nu.” 

Nicky is the figurative mayor of their dirty old world who follows dirty old rules, without regard to what anyone thinks or has to say. So, when dirty cop Bobby, (Scott Dillin) approaches Billy’s Antique Tent and informs Billy, “I’m gonna fuck you right where you stand,” Nicky decides to take matters into his own hands. (Not that Billy can’t take care of himself, but because that’s just what Nicky does.) 

Enter gypsy-junky, Rachel (Jannel Shirtcliff) an impish ethereal beauty, who moves seductively through the lens and is strongest when she takes pause to reflect. Shirtcliff’s allegorical muse gracefully drifts through the sideshow freaks and back-alley drug deals while fending off the likes of Clayton Patterson (of Captured) who tauntingly inquires whether she’s  “still hookin’ and crookin’?”  

It is Rachel’s self-serving actions, which unwittingly force the other characters to come to terms with their own questionable morality; a labyrinth of uncertainty, which becomes increasingly difficult to traverse as their collective escapades spiral out of control. 

It is the same sense of boredom or adventure, which lead me to the New York streets as a teen, which leads Rachel around the streets and eventually to Hans, (played by real-life nightlife impresario and Club Guru Paul Sevigny.)  In his hot-red pants, Sevigny plays his character as cavalier, dismissive, and dissonant with an almost American Psycho demeanor. Hans’ haughty personality collides with Rachel’s as she enters Hans’ immaculate, lavish apartment uninvited.  

Behind his fetching blonde-hair, blue-eyes, and a storm of dissociative mannerisms are some deftly-held secrets. These are secrets, which are bound to get Rachel into trouble if she keeps digging. But, Hans is among the elite of Rachel’s men and one she can easily steal from.  So when Rachel shows up at Billy’s with an unusual stolen relic formerly belonging to Hans, Billy is not entirely surprised, yet somewhat freaked out and more than a little apprehensive about taking possession of it. 

But, needing the money, Billy negotiates on a promise that Rachel won’t spend the money on drugs. Of course, this is a promise Rachel has no intention of keeping, and she is off to the pad of the uber-insane deviant creep-show which is Ronnie Sunshine, (who is played by Ronnie Sunshine, himself.) A drug and sex-fest ensues, complete with leather whips swinging, sex-toys bouncing, porn playing on TV, and Ronnie chanting cheerfully incoherent nonsense. Naturally, the festivities conclude when Rachel blinks out like a broken light after attempting to outdo Al Pacino’s level of cocaine consumption in Scarface. 

Meanwhile, Nicky meanders around Little Italy chatting it up with locals and tourists, and pouring on the charm and streetwise folly which he is known for. He’s embraced by the people around him, even strangers want to chat it up. Nicky is fiercely loyal and loves his friends without equivocation. His pathos is palpable and his acting is dead-on natural. 

(Where has this guy been? Oh yes, a ton of award-winning movies like Bad Lieutenant and many others-- as well as actually being a longtime NYC nightlife legend.) 

Soon, Nicky’s attention switches focus to tailing Bobby the cop, at which point he overhears a conversation between Bobby and Vic, (Sergio Valentin) the drug dealer. And, after witnessing some altogether too hairy and particularly illegal street activities, Nicky handles it as only Nicky can. Suffice to say, I can’t say any more without spoiling the plot, but Nicky’s discovery will change everyone’s life if they don’t change it for themselves. 

Dirty Old Town is a loving portrait of the once vibrant and viscerally engaging New York City which now seems to be slowly vanishing under the corporate Disneyfication of this proud city’s rich past. The cast brings a tangible pulse to the characters, which lesser performers may have painted as caricatures. But, this gifted and agile ensemble delivers a rock-solid performance in this compelling film, which was shot over a few sweltering August weeks in Little Italy, and The Bowery. 

What this film gets, which so many New York City films miss is the true pulse of the streets. Its fresh portrayal of this quirky, miscreant gaggle of kooks brings me back to my youth in this tribute to the soul of the neighborhood; a cogitating meditation on the streets. With the help of resourceful producers Marc Levin, Mark Benjamin and Stephanie Porto, Dirty Old Town brings to life an intimate study of peculiar variety, with subtle, well-placed New York style comedic jabs. Not only is the colorful mosaic well-filled by the cast, but the writing team of  Daniel B. Levin, Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason weave together a narrative structure which will keep the audience on the edge of their sticky New York seats, wishing they had brought some sanitary napkins to wipe themselves clean when the lights turn down. 

Go to the city, walk the streets of the Dirty Old Town and meet these people (don’t let anyone hear you ask for a Starbucks though). Billy, Nicky, Rachel, Bobby, Hans and Vic are all there. If not in the flesh, then embodied by others you’ll run into. Just heed my warning-- do not enter Ronnie Sunshine’s pad… unless you’re into that sort of thing!

Review written by Ali Bell
Editor: Rod Webber
Published by Reel Zine © Reel Zine 2011

Todd Rohal of Catechism Cataclysm interviewed by Joseph James Bellamy

Joseph James Bellamy interviews Todd Rohal, Director of Catechism Cataclysm

Catechism Cataclysm Website

Sunday, May 1, 2011

‘Applebox’ Stands Tall, ‘Directors Cut’ Is Sharp Filmmaking - by Joseph James Bellamy

I recently had the opportunity to take in two selections at the Boston International Film Festival, at the Lowes Multiplex on Boston Common. It was an evening well spent, to say the least.

The first offering was a short about being, well, short. In Rick Page’s Applebox, starring James Radone, we see just how much of who we are depends on how we are perceived. Radone gives a hilarious, and ultimately touching performance as James Bronson, 5’3” of A-list Leading Man chasing the elusive golden figurine. We soon see the key to Bronson’s success is a 2’X1’ wooden box that allows the sample sized star to rise to any challenge. Page summarizes Bronson’s career in a hysterical stream of riffs on well known, low-rise actors, each ending with him stepping off of the titular box, while staying in frame. Hoffman, Pesci, and Pacino all get the treatment, and Radone brings a genuine humor to each in turn. It made me wish that Tom Cruise had gotten the Academy nod, just to see him get skewered in this top-flight comedy sequence. The off camera Bronson is a pampered, self absorbed egotist, fully immersed in his own larger than life public image.

When the box is stolen, Bronson finds his world falling apart. His trophy wife leaves him, his lucrative book and lecture tour falls through and all seems well and truly lost. It is at this point that Radone steps things up a notch, or two. Where his portrayal of the pompous Bronson is tongue in cheek at the outset, the misery, rage, confusion and desperation of the characters fall are the height of poignancy. We learn how far out of reach not only success, but simple acceptance can be, when you’re ‘Just not the right type, physically’. With the inclusion of misses from Radone’s own audition reel, the phrase ‘Sorry, we’re looking for a leading man.’ becomes a heartbreaking mantra of rejection in a world where he no longer measures up.

Bronson deserves his misfortune, but his situation raises a question. What are we without our self-embellishments? Sure, we’re not all standing on boxes, but how many of us dye our hair, wear specific brands, endure body modifications, or engage some other deliberate affectation in our appearance? Now, how many of us can say we do these things for reasons other than to be taken seriously by those who’s approval we desire? It’s a visual culture, and the clothes (or the box) make the man.

The film closes with a monolog, performed half by a nearly raving Bronson as he wanders the streets of L.A., and completed in what appears to be a turn as Napoleon, sans-box. He cries out for the love, the respect, and the glory he feels he has earned, echoing the sense of frustration shared by so many. It is this deeply moving recitation that ultimately wins Bronson his heart’s desire.

It’s clear that with Applebox, Page has created a short film that stands tall on big laughs and an even bigger heart, with a legitimate leading man, in Radone, who is head and shoulders above the crowd.

The second film, Director’s Cut, the latest feature length effort from Writer/Director/ Producer Elana Mugdan, and Shivnath productions spoke not only to a dear place in my heart, but to the humor centers of my brain.

The film chronicles the tragedies, triumphs, mistakes and miracles that befall Cassie (the sweetly spunky Hallie York) a hapless intern with a heart of digital video tape. Cassie’s life is spinning out of what little control she has had over it since leaving school. Her job sucks, her parents vacillate between oblivion and cold disapproval. She is frustrated by what seems like, “no way to accomplish something before I die,” as she puts it. Worse still, there is no silver lining in sight. It is only when her uber-geek, and coincidentally brilliant friend Eugene (a hysterically spot-on Brian Cheng) puts his latest fantasy opus in her hands, and demands that she make it a film, that she sees a way out of her quarter-life rut.

To any major studio, Eugene’s out there fiction, centering on a teleporting alien vampire pirate queens attempts to take over the world (No, really…) would be a poison apple, with worms. Cassie, however, possesses the trait most needed and common to those committed to independent film: She believes that a good film is about telling a good story, and Eugene’s story is good. Armed with that belief, she recruits her slacker friend, Gary (a preternaturally serene Jonathan Fernandez) as her first crew member and sets out to make a movie. A brush off at the reception desk of a production company sets the bad-to-worse tone of the story early.

In spite of this setback, and fueled by a chance meeting with a famous producer, Cassie’s commitment and tenacity are re-doubled. A little elbow grease and a trip to the print shop later, she has collected a beautifully comic array of cast and crew. And what a crew! There’s Cal, a photographer famous for out of focus images as Director of Photography (Eric J. Eastman, channeling at least one real life DP I’ve known), the hopelessly under-qualified Assistant Director, Ariel (Jessica Coals), who’s laughable ignorance keeps her star-struck on a set without any stars, Tom the air-headed pretty boy leading man (The truly talented Jack Kropac), a homeless boom operator, and Zeke, the videogame junkie turned post production wiz-kid.

From leading-lady walk-outs, to prima-donna technical-experts, to uncooperative weather, the project runs the entire gauntlet of obstacles. They are even mistaken for a porn outfit and nearly arrested. Scenes are dropped, dialog is changed and tempers flair all around. There are sound and lighting issues of all kinds, with all of the solutions being heaped on Zeke, (the hacker,) and his digital manipulations. (It’s a method which is frighteningly popular in the world of big-budget film making-- Just ask James Cameron or Steven Spielberg.) Hell, there are even puppets.

The entire bullet-train-wreck is nearly derailed by the utter destruction of the production’s only camera, complete with a bittersweet funeral for the gadget. If all of this sounds like crossing a bridge too far to tilt at windmills, welcome to independent film making. Not only is this sort of mayhem common to the form, but, as Cassie and company discover, it’s the best part. All movies have problems and adjustments in the course of production. The beauty of the independent effort is the rigors and the rushes of solving these problems are experienced hands-on by all who are involved. It doesn’t matter if you are the director or the person getting coffee, since more often than not these two positions are one and the same. Among the many narrative and stylistic beauties of Director’s Cut, is that it is an independent film about independent film, that manages to avoid most, if not all of the technical gaffes and giveaways that are the less-than-flattering hallmark of the form.

In Directors Cut, Mugdan paints a heart-warming, and hilariously accurate portrait of the artistry, camaraderie, and lunacy that is independent film. The humor and humanity of the film come from the truth of the experience. Having been part of more than a few such projects, I know the real deal when I see it, and this is it. In fact, I felt as though I had known, worked and hung out with the entire cast, and shared their bond.

The character of Cassie reminds me of a certain all-or-nothing director I know quite well. Both are strung tight between the need for creativity that drives them, and the lives they must make fit between and around those goals. Neither will give up on what they are, filmmakers, just because the world around them is slow to share their vision. It is this kind of love, and there is no other word for it, that inspires those around them (my self included) to leap headlong into the seemingly impossible. They, and Mugdan, believe that it is the act of making the film that matters, and the film itself, though permanent, is merely a recorded echo of the fearless roar within creative spirits. We who join the charge, in front of or behind the camera, believe because they do. After seeing this film, you’ll believe too. You may even find yourself re-editing the scenes, characters and plot of your life to make your own Directors Cut.

Written by Joseph James Bellamy
Editor: Rod Webber