Will We Be On The Edge Of Our Seats For… “The Chair”?

Admittedly, I’ve been very busy. I now have three feature films under my belt, all of which I’m trying desperately to manage, and each of which are in different stages of production. Add to that a new (and much better!) job, becoming engaged, and moving a few times, and it should make sense why I’ve been somewhat MIA. That said, I decided to come out of my hiatus at least to make mention of a new film currently in production that caught my attention.

While I haven’t been given access to the script, I have gathered that “The Chair” is local filmmaker Mike O’D‘s ode to the Roaring 20s, complete with flappers, gangsters, speakeasies, and, of course, The Chair. What is so special about this chair? We’ll have to be patient to find out…

What is so intriguing about this project is the way that O’D has pulled from a few other Boston-based film companies to build his own ragtag crew. Dave and Tracy Sullivan of Sleight of Hand Films and Ungovernable Films are handling casting, location scouting, and several other production departments. O’D worked with the Sullivans on Gay Jesus and The Streets Run Red, Ungovernable Films’ last two productions, on which O’D was assistant director.

Starring David Afflick and Seraphim Ann D’Andrea, “The Chair” will be a short thriller shot on the Red Dragon camera and will be shot in various locations in Boston, including the lavish nightclub Savvor, and O’D’s production company Bald Dog Productions will be taking the helm with O’D himself in the Director’s Chair.

It’s no wonder this project, while being so intriguing, has been kept so hush-hush. O’D wrote it himself and has been working with the Sullivans quietly to get the ball rolling, but without releasing any information other than the bare necessities to the public. Hell, even the facebook page is just a picture of a chair with only two likes. Knowing O’D and his crew, this will be a high quality picture, but the lack of publicity and promotions has me already on the edge of my chair! Er… I mean my seat!

Thanks for reading!

Paul M McAlarney is the primary writer for and founder of Boston Independent Film Review.
Paul M McAlarney is a writer for and founder of the BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.

Paul is an alumnus of the UMASS Amherst and Boston Sociology undergraduate program. While not writing local independent film reviews, Paul is a writer of novels, theater, and the screen, as well as a film director, podcast co-host, entrepreneur, and employment coordinator at a mental health clubhouse. Paul can be reached at pmcalarn17@gmail.com.

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Not Your Typical Deadbeat Comedy

How I Dumped My Ex-Boyfriend’s Body is a 2014 film written and directed by Dennis Nadeau. This movie is pretty hilarious, and even poignant at times. Overall, it’s a deft, well-edited blend of comedy, crime and the thriller genre. The movie’s plot centers around Maxine and Shae, played by Meredith L. Phillips and Vanessa Leigh. Maxine has murdered her boyfriend and needs help getting rid of the body, so she calls her best friend Shea. The plot centers around their attempts to dispose of the corpse and the hi-jinks that ensues.FB_IMG_1434470888676

The first act of the movie exhibits a silly, nonchalant tone, and I feared this could be the its undoing. The characters don’t really show any empathy towards the dead human being in Maxine’s kitchen. They immediately start cracking jokes, while the body lies there undergoing the first stages of decomposition. What follows are their sad attempts to dispose of the body. They are not realistic solutions, such as trying to bury the corpse in the backyard, in the middle of the day. The silliness in the first half lost me a little bit. I know it’s a comedy, but with the its stark, morbid premise, I think some real stakes and urgency is to be expected. There are a couple attempts at scatological humor early on that made me squirm, but not laugh, and I feared that the movie might devolve into an overly silly, gross out film, without any real stakes. But, quite remarkably, the narrative manages to build up to a real emotional payoff at the end, and the grand finale is something funny, bizarre and totally unexpected.

The humor also ends up being much more than silliness. The dialogue is clever and feels natural, and many of the jokes push the boundaries of good taste. Later in the film there is a humorous exchange between the two leads in a bathroom. The punchline of their banter will have you feeling conflicted about laughing at it, but they say the best humor makes you laugh and think. However, some lines will come off as offensive or insensitive to people with particular social sensitivities, as the humor in this film is far from politically correct. It’s always a double-edged sword when inhabiting this edgy comedic territory, and there’s a risk that the humor will alienate some viewers.

FB_IMG_1434470846428 (2)What makes this movie work is the chemistry of the cast members, an essential ingredient for successful comedies. The two leads play off each other well and reminded me of the dynamic of the two best friends in Comedy Central’s Broad City. There’s a cat burglar scene in this movie that seems like it could have been cut and paste directly from one of that show’s scripts. The other cast members also turn in strong comedic performances, playing characters that range from a creepy pervert neighbor to a paraplegic, dwarf crime lord. Somehow all these disparate character types coexist, and their humor meshes well.

When recommending an independent production to people who aren’t into that type of thing, I’ll usually have to throw in the caveat that they should be a little forgiving of bad production, acting, and other aspects that contribute to a general sense of amateurishness. I wouldn’t say that about How I Dumped My Ex-Boyfriend’s Body. Funny is funny, and that applies here, so I highly recommend this for any fan of offbeat comedies.

Michael W Roberts lives in Medford, MA. He is a freelance writer with a passion for independent film.
Michael W Roberts is an Associate Writer for BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.

An alumnus of the UMASS Amherst Journalism undergraduate program, Michael lives in Medford, MA and spends his time in local parks, contemplating life. Michael can be reached at mwroberts89@gmail.com

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The Convict with a Heart of Gold

The Convict is a tense and thrilling 20 minute short film directed by Mark Battle. Plot details are sparse, and the setup is simple. The titular character, a convict, has escaped from prison after being denied parole and is currently the subject of a manhunt. The setting is a quiet, snow-covered town in upper New England, and taking place in such a stark setting definitely adds a frosty, visceral touch. As a viewer you can almost feel the bitter cold, which is reflected on the weathered, gaunt face of the convict himself. The sparse soundtrack enhances this feeling.

The acting and directing are among the best I’ve seen in films discussed on this site. Dean Temple plays the convict, and he doesn’t utter a word for the first 10 minutes or so, but he doesn’t have to; you can see it all on his face…the pain, angst, and desperation above all else. He dominates the screen, but the rest of the cast is good too. There’s a particular flashback to a parole board hearing that features subtle acting rarely seen in films like this.

theconvict

I liked how the terse narrative reveals itself through a slow unfurling of juicy details. Each detail revealed propels the story forward, and most of them have big implications or are true revelations about the convict and his ilk. Thankfully, they are worked in naturally. They don’t feel shoehorned in or added simply for shock value. I didn’t find myself waiting for the next plot reveal or twist or whatever; it all comes together seamlessly, yet somehow unexpectedly, like a spiraling mountain pass.

Another cool facet of the narrative is the nature the convict himself. He is not an unsympathetic character, but he is not innocent either. My feelings of empathy towards him waxed and waned as more details were revealed and the story progressed. During my viewing I felt both disgusted and empathetic towards the man, rooting for him and then against. There were times I found myself admiring his ingenuity, while simultaneously feeling disgusted by how he employs it.

The climax comes when the convict hitches a ride from a character that’s played by an actor who resembles Louis C.K. The scene unfolds and the tensions builds, and at a certain point we realize that there’s no turning back for the convict or the audience’s feelings towards him. The tension boils over, and whatever sympathy we may have felt towards the criminal starts to plummet…at least for the time being, at least until the whole picture is painted. The movie hints at a larger story, a real chronicle about the convict and his family…and probably his victims. These 20 minutes feel more like the ending of a saga than a stand alone episode.

There aren’t any glaring weak points. The script is tight, and the technical aspects are sharp. The performance from Temple is taut and grim, and complements the filmic aspects perfectly. The only negative I can think of is a moment of deus ex machina in the first part, when the convict narrowly evades discovery by a little boy and the subsequent reality of committing maybe the most heinous crime imaginable. Overall it’s a thought provoking film, and though the themes are well-tread by this point, the filmmakers expose said themes from a new angle, an angle through the hard lens of a cold New England winter, when all hope is lost, and the only thing that could spur a person on, through the biting cold, is a chance at rediscovered love or at least a last glimpse of it.

 

Michael W Roberts lives in Medford, MA. He is a freelance writer with a passion for independent film. "Taxi Driver" is his favorite film.
Michael W Roberts is an Associate Writer for BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.

An alumnus of the UMASS Amherst Journalism undergraduate program, Michael lives in Medford, MA and spends his time in local parks, contemplating life. Michael can be reached at mwroberts89@gmail.com.

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Somehow, Purpose Was Completely Lost In This “Blood Jungle”

Jess Franco was a genius, his work a perpetual expose on the human psyche and its conspicuous yet oft-denied desires, and when I first became aware of Blood Jungle, it was submitted to me by an acquaintance who was involved in the production of the film as a Jess-Franco-esque satire of Catholicism, or something; to be honest, I haven’t the enthusiasm for the film to go digging for that initial description with which I was met when I was introduced to the film. I will go right ahead and say it, though I tried to find other ways to say it but ultimately decided that integrity is more important than kindness: Blood Jungle was very bad. Maybe that was the point, though if it was the point was lost on me. As a de facto student of the B-Movie/Grindhouse/Exploitation film genre, I am loath to condemn a film for its detours from mainstream “quality”, and I often seek out such anti-mainstream films for the exact reasons many tend to dislike them: the poor quality, the bad writing, the cliches, the impossible plots, the use of caricatures rather than characters, yet in the end, Blood Jungle was just plain bad. But before you take my word for it, maybe I’m missing something and perhaps you, the reader, ought to hear me out in case you are of the type of audience that enjoys the kind of film I dislike. Allow me to explain…

Blood Jungle (2011)

Blood Jungle was written and directed by Thomas Nöla, undoubtedly made to look like a 1970s-era Jess Franco film, and that aspect drew me in quickly, and the cinematography continued to resemble that of a Franco film throughout, complete with the overuse of the zoom lens.  The first technical disaster I noticed, however, was the audio. The audio would cut in, cut out, drop off, change in level or character drastically mid-scene, and even at its best moments would be difficult to swallow without a general taste of dread and anxiety for its disenchanting low quality; not once did I find myself lost in the story of the film, for the disastrous audio kept me at arm’s length from the film at all times. But that is not uncommon in independent film, and I often find myself plagued by the same woes in my own independent film exploits. So, had it just been poor audio, I would have given Blood Jungle a rave review.

The second thing I noticed was the writing in general. It was deplorable. At times I wondered if it was intentional, and I still think it partially was; the satire, absurdism, and nihilism that pervades the entirety of the film would be a cause for purposefully bland and cliche writing, a friendly technique that can, with little effort, be used to mock the speaker of the terrible dialogue. But it went beyond that, and I would find it hard to believe that the degree of bad writing was intentional. And, to find the proof in the pudding, one need only to watch the film and decide if the plot or even the point of the film was decipherable through the dialogue; the answer is that it is not. So, if bad writing was the intention, then the writer succeeded; but if the writer also wished to make a watchable film, the writer failed. And if nobody watches a film full of bad writing, then the writing is a complete failure. Catch my drift?

Finally, the humor. It was not until the character appeared whose head had been removed and then reattached that I understood that most of what I had thought was the result of stupidity was actually humor. It shouldn’t take that long for satire, mockery, or dark humor to become apparent, especially if it isn’t actually humorous and is just a poor attempt at humor. Then, of course, there is the question of: If the humor isn’t funny, is there something else carrying the audience along to the end of the film? The answer, of course, is no. So we’re left with an unfunny dark comedy satire of… Catholicism, maybe? (still not sure what the subject of the film was)… with no comprehensible plot, no intrigue, no worthwhile cinematography, and Blood Jungle quickly devolves into 90 minutes of noise and characters dressed in some arbitrary era in time’s wardrobe running about the screen cracking bad nihilistic jokes. And are the actors any good? No. They’re pretty bad. If they had any talent at cracking the jokes of campy, satirical dark comedy, it went unnoticed because they did so in a 90-minute plotless void. And sometimes I find myself wondering during certain especially slow scenes what the writer was thinking, if perhaps he sat in front of his computer screen, typewriter, or pad of paper, scribbling or typing away a series of unfunny jeers he jotted down over the course of several years as the manifestation of an ongoing condemnation of the Catholic Church.

Some less-terrible elements of the film: The actor playing the protagonist Agostino, Jim Ether, was half-decent and probably would do well in a better film; there was plenty of sexual humor, though none of it was particularly provocative or funny; some of the set design was impressive though minimalist, so perhaps the production team simply had access to some cool spots.

And then the biggest disappointment: in a film that features castration and is undeniably influenced by Jess Franco, there was no nudity whatsoever: no male nudity, no female nudity, only a prude attempt to convey severed testicles in a character’s hand, though only for twenty frames or so of the entire film. Oh, and the color-grading was embarrassing.

The film ends with a scene that, just maybe, is an attempt to salvage the utter crap that Blood Jungle is, with one character even going as far to say, “…they could focus on what was right in front of their faces but they couldn’t see a thing, and now they’re ashes and dirt and dust under piles of other ashes and dirt and dust, and so be it. Maybe they’ll have dreams now. I need to remind you Agostino, stop looking for the plot or how one experience matches up to another into some sort of purpose or reason, cause until you drop all that nonsense, I could show you the mysteries of the world and it wouldn’t mean a thing and your brain would still be stuck in that quicksand. There is no why, or how, or somebody arranging all the different characters and plot together to form some sort of conclusion, there is just the universe. Random dreams bouncing off one another.” If this was an apology for the preceding 90 minutes, it was certainly not accepted by me.

 

Blood Jungle
Overall Rating: D-
Admiration of Accomplishment Rating: C
“For What It Is” Rating: D+
Finest Element: lead actor
Worst Element: everything equally, especially the writing
Thanks for reading!

 

Paul M McAlarney is the primary writer for and founder of Boston Independent Film Review.
Paul M McAlarney is a writer for and founder of the BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.

Paul is an alumnus of the UMASS Amherst and Boston Sociology undergraduate program. While not writing local independent film reviews, Paul is a writer of novels, theater, and the screen, as well as a film director, podcast co-host, entrepreneur, and vacuum cleaner salesperson. Paul can be reached at pmcalarn17@gmail.com.

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An Eternity in Five Minutes

On Her Way is a short film directed by Raeshelle Cooke, and though it’s over in a flash, the character’s internal struggle seems to stretch out for an excruciating eternity. Unkempt and paranoid, afraid to leave her ratted-out apartment, the main character receives a concerned email from her mother, an invitation to discuss the poor state of her life. The remainder of the film depicts the character’s dread over leaving her hovel.

It’s apparent from just about the first shot that she hasn’t left her place in a while–a long while. She’s a prisoner in her own home, thanks to her shadowy tormentor, who wears a big-ass Pharrell hat, and prowls openly outside her house, like a predator that vastly overpowers its intended prey. She paces around her cramped apartment. At one point she picks up a clarinet and looks at it longingly, and then a guitar. Could she have had a brilliant career? The film doesn’t offer enough specifics to clue the viewer into the character’s major affliction. Drugs? Mental illness? Certainly some dark personal demons…

Although brief, the film has a beginning, middle, and end, all whilst balancing a sense of tension. If the film has any weak point, I’d have to say the score. The music is tense and eerie and well-performed, but it never veers into sinister or tormenting. The actions of the main character and the soundtrack underneath didn’t necessarily jive at all times. If we’re witnessing someone’s personal hell, shouldn’t the music be a little more menacing? But other than that, it’s pretty cohesive front-to-back. And like many of the films that find their way onto this blog, this one is only like 5 minutes, so just shut-up and watch it.

 

Michael W Roberts lives in Medford, MA. He is a freelance writer with a passion for independent film. "Taxi Driver" is his favorite film.
Michael W Roberts is an Associate Writer for BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.

An alumnus of the UMASS Amherst Journalism undergraduate program, Michael lives in Medford, MA and spends his time in local parks, contemplating life. Michael can be reached at mwroberts89@gmail.com.

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This Little Piggy Saw “TEN”

Ten is an ambitious movie, and it deserves credit for that. That said, its ambition might also be its greatest flaw. About halfway through my viewing, I got the sense that the filmmakers might be trying to incorporate too many genres and tones into the narrative. The movie begins with a brilliant scene in washed-out blue, in which a terrified young woman flees from a maniacally gleeful and murderous butcher. Based on the exhilarating and stark opening, I was expecting a moody, straight-forward horror/slasher movie. Instead, Ten also contains elements of comedy, noir, arthouse and others. Frankly, I felt that these distinct genres and tones tripped over themselves a bit and ultimately sacrificed a sustained and successful build-up of tension.

Of course, there is much to praise about the movie as well. Albeit out of place at times, the dialogue is generally clever or poignant, and the acting is solid. The aspects that impressed me the most, however, reside on the technical side. The cinematography (by a first-timer I’m told) is excellent. The editing is great, and the soundtrack (though not entirely consistent) provides some excellent tone-setting.

As for the actual plot, Ten is confined to the setting of an old mansion on Spektor Island, Massachusetts in the year 1971. Ten strange women meet at the mansion. At first, these characters appear to be nothing more than a wide-range of various caricatures. There is a representative for the ditzy, sexy, nerdy, quirky, religiously fervent, etc. As one might guess, the women are gruesomely murdered in unexpected and mysterious ways and drop off one by one.

That’s all fine and good, and there’s a particular scene about a third of the way in that really ramps up the tension–a truly frightening reveal in an upstairs bathroom. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t really build upon this briefly established tension. As far as the horror element is concerned, said bathroom scene is its high point, and unfortunately this occurs pretty early on. Returning to my initial narrative critique, the characters reactions to these gruesome murders don’t do much to establish tension. Some of the characters seem to take the horror with humor, and most of them seem to forget about each one within 10 minutes or so. Frankly, I had trouble telling if the characters were more amused or terrified. The body count just didn’t seem to be amounting to anything. In other words, the middle third is the weakest. A lot of stuff was happening, but I didn’t get the feeling that it mattered. The narrative almost seemed to be repeating and resetting itself. It felt as if there were some dead ends that didn’t add to the narrative or contribute to the sense of tension. To the movie’s credit, however, the ending ties things up pretty nicely. And all things considered, it’s a pretty satisfying finale, full of twists.

As mentioned in the intro, the cinematography and editing are Ten’s greatest strength, and the opening scene is probably the best example of this. The quality camera-work holds steady throughout the whole movie, though at times I felt it was at odds with the action unfolding on screen–a mismatch of tense camera work and relatively silly dialogue and character interactions. However, I must say that there is a party scene early on that successfully combines humorous one-liners and hypnotic, captivating camera work–very well done. During this particular scene, as the camera rotates around the room, it pauses on individual conversations between characters that often contain funny one-liners.

Ultimately, I think, the filmmakers’ reach sort of exceeded their grasp by attempting to pull off such a multi-faceted narrative. I wish that the filmmakers would have zoned in on enhancing and building tension and the horror element, rather than incorporate a hodgepodge of different tones or funny dialogue. That said it would be unfair to expect, from burgeoning filmmakers, the genre and tone blending skills of Tarantino. The scene of horror and murder are the most effective, due to in large part to the camera work and editing. This movie is really worth seeing for a handful of powerful, tense scenes. I think if the movie was re-edited to something half the length, it could be a tense, hypnotic nightmare that’s very cool to look at. But that’s not my call, and definitely kudos to all involved for completing a challenging project. Well worth seeing, I recommend it.

 

Michael W Roberts lives in Medford, MA. He is a freelance writer with a passion for independent film. "Taxi Driver" is his favorite film.
Michael W Roberts is an Associate Writer for BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.

An alumnus of the UMASS Amherst Journalism undergraduate program, Michael lives in Medford, MA and spends his time in local parks, contemplating life. Michael can be reached at mwroberts89@gmail.com.

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Maybe I’m A Johnboy?

Johnboy is a short film that I watched on Youtube the other day. Its plot is pretty mundane, and the theme of needing money fast has been well-tread in both film and television over the years, so I can’t really say any of that stuff is original. However, what is original, and what ultimately intrigued and repulsed me throughout was the depths that the 20-something, titular character Johnboy would sink to; the total scumbag that he is. Even worse, he almost seemed proud of the fact that he’s a derelict. If the creator was going for a flawed, but sympathetic character, he failed. Instead, the character of Johnboy is the pure manifestation of “flaw”, and it’s both the film’s greatest strength and weakness. It’s almost like that “someone you love to hate” cliche.

Johnboy needs money for child support, and the 20 plus minute film depicts his journey in search of said cash money. During which he learns nothing about hard work and responsibility. He begins by first asking his friend’s dad for the money he needs straight-up, and when he is refused (and somewhat surprised by it), he continues on his quest, ends up in a variety of comical situations where he refuses to put in even minimal effort, and all-the-while holds on to the hope that the money will somehow materialize out of nothing. I think I found the character of Johnboy to be more annoyingly pathetic than funny, and the best lines came from the people he interacted with, people you might consider his victims.

Though overall, I laughed. An early scene where he tries to trade in junk for money at a pawn shop is pretty hilarious, as is the scene when he meets a professional scam-artist. The humor is consistent throughout, and I think there could be a future for this character, as long as there’s a humanizing sidekick with him. Someone to tamper my urge to somehow punch Johnboy in the face, through my computer screen…I don’t care if my hand gets bloody; I don’t have an anger problem. Furthermore, it became obvious shortly into the film that the character is supposed to represent our entire, lazy generation…or something. So maybe the anger and annoyance I felt towards Johnboy is really just a reflection and ultimately recognition of the Johnboy inside me. I certainly put off writing this review for as long as I could.

Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWLN58Qcc0E

Michael W Roberts lives in Medford, MA. He is a freelance writer with a passion for independent film. "Taxi Driver" is his favorite film.
Michael W Roberts is an Associate Writer for BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.

An alumnus of the UMASS Amherst Journalism undergraduate program, Michael lives in Medford, MA and spends his time in local parks, contemplating life. Michael can be reached at mwroberts89@gmail.com.

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What DO They Teach In Film School?

Recently I got back on track with my Boston Independent Film Review writing and looked for a project to write about. I remembered that one of the other BIFR writers had been contacted to write a review of a documentary filmed in western MA and had never gotten around to it, so he sent me all the information on it and before I knew it, I had sitting in my inbox the press screening passes to Help Wanted and Some Assembly Required, a Kevin Smith-esque ultra-low-budget independent film about a down-and-out couple desperate for money and a documentary that the filmmakers behind Help Wanted filmed and produced about how poorly they executed the film, respectively. Excited to watch the documentary, I proceeded to watch it in large chunks over the next few days and I was actually quite impressed. It was shot well, edited well, and was engaging and intriguing, and, most importantly for a documentary targeting the filmmakers themselves, it did not hold back. From the documentary’s tagline, “They Don’t Teach Failure In Film School”, one ought to focus on the word directly in the center: “FAILURE”. Their feature film, Help Wantedlooked and sounded like utter shit, and what is a film but a sequence of visual and auditory stimuli? So their first feature film was a failure, but only relatively speaking; after all, they finished the film, didn’t they? And most wannabe and novice filmmakers cannot say that they actually finish a feature film; most go on to settle down into complete and utter obscurity with their 9-5 jobs that having nothing to do with film or making. So what these guys really failed at was making their first feature film well. The headaches, disasters, and embarrassments that they endured was normal for any feature film production, so it was really just the end result that resembled anything near failure.

I haven’t always been a huge fan of documentaries, primarily because I’m a fiction fanatic and I find the pretentious hyper-zealousness regarding documentaries among some cliques to be obnoxious and their constant insistence that I see this documentary or that documentary summons a fear in me that I’ll concede to their demands and waste two hours of my life on something shitty. So, when I hear that somebody made a documentary and they want me to watch it, I find myself pissing and moaning silently as I prepare to watch it. That being said, I do love most documentaries that I finally end up watching, because I’m very picky with them and I do find new knowledge of all kinds to be fascinating, so when I started Some Assembly Required, I had mixed feelings. However, those mixed feelings soon vanished and were replaced by complete and utter confusion almost as soon as the first scene of the documentary began.

How in the hell, I asked myself, could the creators of this documentary have been responsible for something that is so completely and totally, albeit allegedly, terrible? The documentary was, in fact, fantastic. It was extremely well-done, cohesive, entertaining, intriguing, hilarious, informative, and its production value was of relatively high caliber. The most redeeming quality of the film, though, was the absolutely shameless and uncensored self-criticism that the filmmakers behind Help Wanted and Some Assembly Required bestow ruthlessly upon themselves. Needless to say, I had to see what was so bad about Help Wanted.

As I watched Help Wanted, I couldn’t help but feel pulled into this film as well. It was actually very well-written for something so mercilessly bashed by its own creators. The acting was subpar at best, the cinematography elementary at best, the editing a complete disaster, while the production value, set design, directing, and everything else was an abhorrent mess. Still, it wasn’t a complete waste of 90 minutes or so. Rather, the story was intriguing and entertaining enough and the acting fair enough not to ruin the writing that it actually could have been a half-decent Indie film that one might even find free on IFC’s OnDemand selection one day. So, the nature of the filmmakers’ “failure” was now apparent: they had taken a good script and made a shitty movie out of it… every screenwriter’s worst nightmare. I understood now, and it made the sympathy, pity, comedy, and tragedy of Some Assembly Required all the more real and biting.

Some Assembly Required has been making silent but noteworthy waves in the independent film scene, taking home for Luke Bittel, the co-director, and his crew a win for Best Documentary at the Silk City Flick Fest 2009, as well has receiving a four star review from Film Threat, garnering it a selection as one of the best documentaries of 2011 according to Film Threat.

So, needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed Some Assembly Required and these guys definitely learned A LOT from Help Wanted, which is evidenced in Some Assembly Required, though I suppose one would have to sift through the credits of both films to see which weak links they cut and left in the void between the two projects. Unlike many independent documentaries, where the filmmakers love themselves too much and take themselves too seriously and think every audience member will too, the characters involved in Help Wanted and featured in Some Assembly Required are actually really entertaining, unique, down-to-earth, and/or completely bizarre. Look out for this film, even if the filmmakers never go anywhere in life; it’s definitely worth a watch, especially for those of us who are involved in independent filmmaking!

Some Assembly Required
Overall Rating: A-
Admiration of Accomplishment Rating: A+
“For What It Is” Rating: A
Finest Element: pacing/consistency
Worst Element: lack of connections to filmmaking world outside of the set

Help Wanted
Overall Rating: D+
Admiration of Accomplishment Rating: A
“For What It Is” Rating: C+
Finest Element: writing
Worst Element: everything equally except writing

Thanks for reading!

Paul M McAlarney is the primary writer for and founder of Boston Independent Film Review.
Paul M McAlarney is a writer for and founder of the BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.

Paul is an alumnus of the UMASS Amherst and Boston Sociology undergraduate program. While not writing local independent film reviews, Paul is a writer of novels, theater, and the screen, as well as a film director, podcast co-host, entrepreneur, and vacuum cleaner salesperson. Paul can be reached at pmcalarn17@gmail.com.

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Serendipitous Brilliance in the Realm of Allah

Oh, how Islam seems to always be the inadvertent focal point of every topic of discussion, media story, personal or group perspective, and just about every other aspect of the Western World’s perception of this planet and its inhabitants! Can I complain? No, I’m fascinated by Islam and any other belief system, group, or trend that affects society and culture, especially when it is vilified; I’m an habitual defender of the underdog, a born rebel at heart, and only real chains will ever chain me. Therefore, where Islam seems to attract the blame for just about anything that goes on in the world, the allure of Islam for me is overwhelming and as I explore it more and more, I am increasingly enamored by the culture, as with any culture that is foreign, inherently good, and different to me. When I met a kid named Shahjehan, a Pakistani-American who practiced Islam, and he told me he had been in a punk band (The Kominas) that had gone on extensive tours several years before I met him, we started talking. When he found that I had a passion for filmmaking, and that I had been in a punk band in high school and still a punk rock enthusiast to this day, and that I was a supporter and defender of all things oppressed, he told me about the documentary that had been filmed about his band and the Muslim punk scene in general. That was two years ago and I started watching the documentary shortly after our first discussion about it. But then I got interrupted and before I knew it, two years had gone by and I had yet to watch the whole thing. But finally, yesterday, I was able to see the film from start to finish, and decided that even though it wasn’t technically a Boston-based independent film, many of the individuals featured in the documentary live in Massachusetts, much of the film was shot in Massachusetts, and the band is based in Massachusetts, so it was close enough.

The documentary Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam follows Michael Muhammad Knight, a young white man from New York with an Irish Catholic background, over a two year span during which the success and popularity of his 2003 novel The Taqwacores, influenced by a combination of both Islam and the punk subculture, sees him traveling across the United States and then to Pakistan as a core member of a tightknit group of real-life Muslim punks much like those he had invented for his novel. According to the documentary, Knight converted to Islam after exploring as a teenager the life and beliefs of Malcolm X. Always a rebellious spirit, Knight infused his passion for Islam with a defiant, take-no-shit, punk attitude and wound up in the midst of a bunch of defiant, take-no-shit, Muslim punks who identified strongly with practicing Islam yet defied the stereotype, much as Knight himself did, of the bearded, turban-topped, camel-riding, suicide-bombing, freedom-hating Muslims that supposedly litter the Middle Eastern desert waiting for a chance to kill an American or two. In fact, the documentary had more to do with Islam finding its place in the contemporary Western world and with Western world contemporary Muslims finding their places in traditional countries and communities than it did with punk rock and how punk rock related to and/or melded with Islam and Muslims. Still, with punk rock as a vehicle, the film proved to be 80 minutes of brilliance and entertainment, and I can’t imagine that a familiarity with punk music and the punk subculture is required to enjoy it; the individuals featured in the film are all very personable, outgoing, unique, and are all the black sheep in more than one community of which they are a part, elements that anybody can identify with.

After we meet the real-life characters, one of whom was my close friend Shahjehan (and I’ll admit, it was strange seeing him featured so prominently in the film, as this was a version of Shahjehan I had never really gotten to know), the film crew takes us across the country on a green bus covered in humorous phrases relating to punk and Islam, many of which mocked the stereotypes of both punk and Islam, as it traveled from Massachusetts to Chicago, where Knight and his companions visited the ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) Convention after enjoying many-a-pit-stop along the way. Fueled along the way by live punk shows (usually featuring the The Kominas or one of their typical cohort punk groups), one another’s company, and the zealous glee of forming a motley crew sort of family on the bus, the travelers arrive in Chicago and it is there that the veil is lifted, the veil that kept foreign, mysterious, and unknown the true diversity and oft-controversial debates within the global Islamic community, hopefully blowing the minds of any audience members with an ignorance toward Islam. The Kominas sign up for a talent show along with their Canadian sister Muslim punk band, Secret Trial Five, and the otherwise transparent lines dividing the Muslim American youth become glaring, some groups cheering, others laughing, and still others becoming outright offended while The Kominas and, later, Secret Trial Five take the stage. Secret Trial Five’s set is cut short due to their lead singer’s lack of a Y chromosome, and The Kominas waste no time before mocking the convention and its archaic policies.

After the road trip, Michael Muhammad Knight, Shahjehan, and Kominas frontman Basim Usmani travel to Lahore, Pakistan, where the three continue to explore the relationship between the fundamental attitudes of punk rock and the contemporary and traditional attitudes of Islam. By the end of the film, our characters are exhausted, to say the least, and have all undergone drastic personal changes, but have left none of what first bound them together behind. Rather than change their personal beliefs regarding Islam, life, and punk, they have learned more about how their beliefs relate and clash with the beliefs of those outside of the communities in which they are each involved, be it their families, their bands, the punk rock subculture, Islam, and any other microcosmic spattering of unique individuals.

While I watched Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam for a few reasons: 1) because my friend Shahjehan was in it, 2) because I am an enthusiast of punk and punk music, 3) because I am vigilant in my defense of Islam due to its constant vilification in the media, and 4) because I’m on a constant and lifelong mission to see as many films as I possibly can. What I did not consider prior to screening Taqwacore is that I might actually come out of it with a broader understanding of Muslims and Islam as a belief-based community than I had going in. But just that happened: during the film, I realized how narrow and secluded my perception of Islam was and, to a lesser but still shameful degree, still is. It blew my mind that drinking alcohol wasn’t some extraordinarily polarizing issue in the Muslim community, despite having known and met Muslims who drank prior to seeing the film; it was incredible hearing and seeing some of the Muslim characters in the film (real-life people, I repeat) crack jokes about terrorism and the stereotype that they themselves are all terrorists; the multifaceted and painfully divisive perspectives on different issues and beliefs, such as women being permitted to sing and perform; and it was astonishing to see the wide variations in how the Pakistani population react to our characters when they bring their American punk behavior and attitudes to Lahore.

All in all, Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam was incredible. Not only was it informative, well-shot, well-edited, and relevant, it was intensely entertaining and intriguing. I found myself watching it as if it were a narrative, eager to see what would happen next  – even though I already knew one of the main characters well in his days after the film was completed – and each scene saw my ass creep a little closer to the edge of my seat. It is, aside from the allure of the positive, dynamic look at Islam and the familiarity of the punk backdrop, a very high quality film in every aspect.

In a way, I felt a bit amateurish and elementary watching Taqwacore because of how eye-opening some of the relatively mundane and otherwise obvious “revelations” about the worldwide Muslim community were to me, and felt a little fraudulent because I consider myself to be an aggressive defender of Islam due to the scapegoat nature of the way the religion and culture are treated by the rest of the world, and yet I realized that I see Muslims as more of a “them” in the “us and them” paradigm than I would have liked to think – not that I consider myself as any different, inferior, superior, more civilized, less civilized, or anything of the sort, but rather that I never considered how diverse and beautifully organic the Islamic community really was and is, even though I would have told any critic of Islam that they were as diverse and beautifully organic as any other human group. Still, I felt that sting of surprise when a Muslim character in the film would do something that Fox News would never report a Muslim doing, i.e. something that any loving, unique, normal human being might do. I guess, despite my self-proclaimed “radically liberal” identity, there are still 26 years of subconscious storage in my brain holding onto those “us and them” stereotypes, and films like Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam is perhaps the best weapon the world has against prejudice and discrimination.

From one vigilant defender of all things unfairly vilified in the world to the rest of the world, my strongest recommendations go toward checking out Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam. And give a shout-out to my buddy Shahjehan when he shows up on the screen! Up the Muslim Punks!
Thanks for reading!

Paul M McAlarney is the primary writer for and founder of Boston Independent Film Review.
Paul M McAlarney is a writer for and founder of the BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.

Paul is an alumnus of the UMASS Amherst and Boston Sociology undergraduate program. While not writing local independent film reviews, Paul is a writer of novels, theater, and the screen, as well as a film director, podcast co-host, entrepreneur, and vacuum cleaner salesperson. Paul can be reached at pmcalarn17@gmail.com.

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“Wild Girl Waltz”, Born and Bred in Western Mass

A few weeks ago I came home from work to find a large yellow envelope on my kitchen table. I knew immediately that it was Wild Girl Waltz. I was pleased because my week up to that point had been stressful and weird, and I badly needed a diversion. Since I didn’t have any psychedelic drugs myself, watching a movie about just that would have to suffice. With gusto, I tore open the envelope. I pulled out my copy of Wild Girl Waltz, somewhat in disbelief. Up to that point I had only written three posts for the blog and didn’t expect to be solicited for my (lack of) reviewing talents. The film’s director, Mark Lewis, sent me an email a week or so earlier, asking if I was interested in reviewing his movie, which was filmed in western Massachusetts–he mentioned this several times.

As for the actual film, it’s not bad…not bad for a movie shot in eight days for ten grand. The premise is simple and probably relatable to much of my generation. Two girlfriends , Tara and Angie (played by Samantha Steinmetz and Christina Shipp, respectively) decide to kill an afternoon at the former’s secluded wooded home by taking some “goofy pills”, actually just one pill each. Each girl takes something different; one is ecstasy and the other, who knows. For the movie’s sake, the pills kick in very quickly, and not long after Tara’s boyfriend Brain (Jared Stern) comes home. His character is the straight man, and thus, he is not amused by the two girls’ odd behavior. After some pestering, he soon becomes their ride around town. The crux of the movie involves the two girls goofing off and gallivanting around town, awkwardly interacting with townies they know, trying to hide their altered states. Of course, Brain loosens up along the way and goofs off a little bit himself, and all three of them learn the meaning of friendship by the end.

Christina Shipp, a.k.a. Christina Pop. See the resemblance?

Christina Shipp, a.k.a. Christina Pop. See the resemblance?

The two actresses take the comedic lead, particularly Christina Shipp, (who looks like Iggy Pop’s twin sister), and they do a good job. I think it’s safe to assume that there was a lot of improvising and going off-script. That’s when the movie is at its best, because there is chemistry between the actors. They make a good trio. There are some minor characters too, but none of them are really memorable. Moreover, there are even a few plot threads involving minor characters that are introduced but never developed, resolved or even explored. There is a scene in the beginning where Brian is asking for money he is owed from one of his townie friends. The guy doesn’t have the money, and there is some palpable tension between the characters…I kinda wanted to see what happens next. Unfortunately, we never do. This movie is purely episodic, new episodes only, no reruns, no sequels.

Movies about drug trips (possible a sub-genre of the road trip movie) like this one depend on well drawn characters and trippy visuals/raunchy, flashy sequences. Unfortunately, this movie kinda lacks both. If you read the synopsis and are expecting a wild, trippy movie, then you might be a little disappointed. I kept waiting for the Midnight Cowboy-esque party scene, or something akin to the hallucination scenes in Altered States–or anything with a psychedelic punch. But nothing happened, other than some lengthy pastoral shots of western Mass. There will be times during this movie when you’ll even question if Tara and Angie really ingested anything psychoactive at all. It seems to me like my morning cup of joe hits me harder than anything they took. If you walked in on someone watching this movie you’d probably have no idea that the two main characters are supposed to be high. I’m actually worried that unsuspecting youngsters who see this movie will take loads of pills and think it’s no big deal–I need to takes lots to feel anything.

The lack of psychedelic filmistic characteristics (you know what I mean, right dude?) could be overlooked if the comedy was a little sharper. The actors do a fine job, but maybe the material isn’t funny enough. There are several funny scenes…but none are laugh out loud funny. I guess cut them some slack because they didn’t have much time to film, but a pie to the face of someone unsuspecting and undeserving has been done many, many times before. In fact, I think it’s the first “joke” ever put on film. This movie is most effective when it’s not attempting overt comedy; the lengthy paddy cake scene comes to mind. To Wild Girl Waltz‘s credit though, the movie feels natural, and the tender, more subdued moments between characters has sweetness to it. Also, the relationships are dynamic and have nuance to them.

I want to thank filmmaker Mark Lewis for reaching out to me. One thing I’m learning about the indie movie scene is that most people involved show support for one another. So, I say check out this movie based on that fact alone. That said, I won’t say I love a film when I don’t. That said, Wild Girl Waltz is better and more interesting than a lot of comedies out of Hollywood.

Michael W Roberts lives in Medford, MA. He is a freelance writer with a passion for independent film. "Taxi Driver" is his favorite film.
Michael W Roberts is an Associate Writer for BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.

An alumnus of the UMASS Amherst Journalism undergraduate program, Michael lives in Medford, MA and spends his time in local parks, contemplating life. Michael can be reached at mwroberts89@gmail.com.

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