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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