Nolan Canova here. Regular readers may remember that last month I took stock of the Tampa Film Review's consistency over 2008, concluding that the program was still strong despite a couple of weak months film-wise, and a preponderance of music videos and movie trailers that had crept in lately.
The good news is this month's TFR was a return to top form, with a really strong program and great films. Tampa teen wonders Rachael Lee and Austin Blay not only had films showing, but were present in the audience and I got to speak with them and their parents! These two are among the next most likely to make it big.
Due to the lateness of the hour, or restricted schedules, being able to convey my excitement to the filmmakers in person is an all-too-rare privilege. Many leave right after their films are shown, especially when very young people are involved. Understandable, of course, but it makes it difficult to get a quick interview or photo-op if everyone bolts. (I want to publicly thank Austin's mother, Robin, and Rachael's mother, Allison, for the email exchanges that address these issues---that was very thoughtful and it means a lot.) Every attending filmmaker over 21, however, should reassess their manners regarding politely staying through the entire program.
The bad news is our wonderful venue, The International Bazaar of Ybor City, is evidently finding new digs and we will have to find a new location for the TFR pretty soon. Given the situation, certain repairs, such as to the ever-exasperating air-conditioning situation, are simply being ignored or avoided. Even though the initial turn-out at showtime wasn't all that much (but increased exponentially as the night wore on, as always), it made for a sweltering night at the movies.
PCR staff artist John Miller (CANOVA, Dragoon) provided my transportation to Ybor City and will be reviewing the films with me this month.
To those new to the process of reviewing the films, all our reviews are bundled together under each movie title, and I've been using a color-coded system to help the reader differentiate when a reviewer's "voice" changes. To wit:
All movie titles and descriptions, usually written by Paul Guzzo (or myself if none is provided with advance publicity) will be in black.
Nolan Canova's reviews will be in Navy Blue
John Miller's reviews will be in Hunter Green
All reviews finish with our critic's rating which sit at the end of our review and are in boldface.
John and I are not as diligent at note-keeping as previous PCR reviewers Nuzum, Woods, and Ciurro, so these may not be in the exact order they were exhibited. Here we go....
"Welcome Home" by Yu-Ming Cheng Out-of-state entry (NY). A dead man comes back to life only to find his friends and family have moved on. His old boss doesn't even believe it's him on the phone. Depressed and disappointed, he reconsiders his fate.
Nolan Canova: Super tight little shocker dealing with a "what if?" scenario about life and death. When a risen dead man (played effectively by Joe Gorszynski) can't really fit back into his former life, he considers that going back to the grave makes the most sense. He's not a zombie, he looks the same as when he was put in the mortuary coffin, same suit and everything, just confused as hell as to what happened. The world, basically, is no longer his. Good acting by the old man. Highly Recommended.
John Miller: The lead character comes back to life and finds that everyone seems better off now that he's dead. His wife's with some dude, the kids are using his insurance money to fund their dream business and the boss tells him he's worthless. Dark, moody and shot on black and white, the director does an excellent job of capturing the city's loneliness giving the film a depressing feel throughout. Highly Recommended.
"To Have Your Cake" by Erika Rydell: A teenage student lures her married high school teacher to a motel for an illicit tryst -- will he go through with it?
Nolan Canova: Rachael Lee Stroud (aka, "Rachael Lee") stars as a high school student who succeeds in seducing her teacher and convincing him to rendezvous in a cheap motel. The dashing teacher (Enrico Marcellino) is obviously successful and married with a loving wife and daughter, and he knows this is wrong, but the temptation to stray proves too much. At the sleazy motel rendezvous and inches away from his student, he seems to reconsider his commitment---some clever editing obscures his final decision---but carnal knowledge is a powerful thing. Downbeat epilogue shows a disappointed wife and daughter.
Outstanding photography, good use of color, and smooth camerawork make this very watchable. My compliments to the production crew. The story could've and maybe should've gone on a little longer. I could've stuck with it for a while more.
With several local films under her belt, 17-year-old Rachael Lee is ready to hit the big-time. She can play good girl or bad girl with equal aplomb, which is the highest compliment I can give her. According to her mother, she is planning a move to California to pursue her acting career. It's not hard to imagine she might well find success. Highly Recommended.
John Miller: The guy in this movie seems to have everything going for him. Beautiful wife, loving child, nice home in a safe neighborhood, etc. If that's not enough, the bastard is being pursued by an attractive high school girl who likes foolin' around in sleazy hotel rooms. Some guys just have all the luck. Highly Recommended.
"The Holy Biker" by Libby Hopkins: A biker community in Seffner, Florida embraces an unlikely new member.
Nolan Canova: I can't recall if Libby Hopkins is a first-time filmmaker or not, seems like I remember this might be her first film. If so, it's a splendid debut. Basically, we learn about a preacher who's also a biker nicknamed "Gator", his church and his circle of influence on the biker community who obviously love and respect him.
I thought there was an interesting and somewhat weird look to the video, particularly the indoor interview pieces; nearly monochromatic and strangely flat-looking with little contrast. The outdoor footage fared better with the picture, but not with the audio. You'd have to lip-read some interviewees over the sounds of motorcycles revving. It reminded me of my earliest experiments with VHS cameras years ago. When I spoke to the filmmaker afterwards, guess what she said this was shot on? VHS-C! (That is, the compact version of VHS.) Can I call 'em or what? This is still sold in stores at reasonable prices and can be an attractive camera for a first-time user.
Tech-talk completed. The basic reality is Libby Hopkins intuitively made a good little documentary, and will get better as time goes on. Recommended.
John Miller: A nice documentary about tolerance and the benefits of accepting those different from yourself. A few things could have been tweaked here and there to give the film a smoother flow, like tightening the interviews and adding more footage to show the personality of the bikers and their culture. Things that can all be improved in time. Still a fascinating story and worth a look. Recommended.
"Eternal Love" by Tamara Nemirovsky: In this stop-motion claymation short film, Earth rebels against Zeus, but at what cost?
Nolan Canova: The first of two animations from this talented filmmaker to play TFR this night. Up to now, my experience has been that animations have not really been a strong point of Tampa area filmmakers, with rare exceptions, and claymations are particularly dicey propositions. What a refreshing change viewing Tamara Nemirovsky's work was! Top-drawer stuff in content and execution. It would remind you of the classy, intellectual fare that make the rounds to theaters occasionally as Tourneys of Animation.
In this first exercise (foreign language with subtitles), we explore Creation and the relationship of men to their gods, in this case Zeus, and the tragic culmination of human subversion. The final point makes a case for the eternal presence of love, but the connection was murky to me. However, this award-winning film showed a huge amount of dedication and talent on the part of the filmmaker and is the most outstanding work exhibited this night. Highly Recommended and Film of the Night.
John Miller: This film took upwards of six-months to complete and I must say it was worth every second. Intense from start to finish. Film Of The Night.
"Baby Turtle" by Tamara Nemirovsky: An animated film about baby turtle searching for its place in the world.
Nolan Canova: Tamara's second effort was accomplished via 3-D animation rather than clay and the results are sweet and entertaining, if not particularly deep. A baby sea turtle hatchling plays on the beach while he waits for his siblings to hatch. Eventually all must return to the sea. Great soundtrack music provided by excerpts from John Barry's "Chaplin" score. Very Good.
John Miller: Cute story about a naive baby sea turtle and the adventures had on its way to the sea. Good.
"Freedom" by Jay Allan: A young boy strongly desires to fly. His parents are loving and encouraging, but much to their surprise, he literally tries to fly.
Nolan Canova: I was contacted by this filmmaker about a month ago regarding TFR and I directed him to contact Paul Guzzo. Never heard back, but when I saw this film on the program, obviously contact was made. You're welcome, Jay!
Although the film is listed as a Jay Allan film, Noble Lee Lester is listed as director (pseudonym, perhaps?). Allan is listed as the writer, producer and editor, so, OK it's his film!
Bay area teen heart-throb Austin Blay stars as "Chance", a boy who's always wanted to fly. This story, told in flashbacks, also stars producer/writer Jay Allan as his dad and Kristen Samuelson as mom. As a precocious and adorable 7-year-old (Sevan McBride), Chance started wearing capes and running around with his arms out, pretending to fly (presumably influenced by Superman, but this is never specified. Boy can I identify anyway!). His doting parents, in their rather hippy-esque way both play along and encourage him to dream at the same time. Several scenes show the family interaction, with frequent cutaways to seagulls and private planes (the obsession with flight) and some weird yoga type thing that looks like standing meditation with arms out as if flying.
In a pivotal moment, the now teenage Chance asks his father if wanting to fly means freedom for the wrong reasons, like a secret desire to leave the family. Dad successfully nixes the notion, reassuring Chance that flying is basically freedom from gravity. (Austin Blay's very genuine youthful vulnerability makes this scene work wonderfully.)
In a final do-or-die moment, Chance acts out his fantasy (and parent's worst nightmare) by leaping, cape and all, from the second storie of their house. I hate to give away anything, but suffice it to say, there is no tragic ending here, but there is a satisfying moral about belief in one's abilities.
All acting is quite good. I might've cut a few repetitive flashback scenes out that seemed to belabor the main points, but altogether I really liked this film. Very Highly Recommended.
John Miller: My main complaint with this film was that it could have been edited down a few minutes. The constant flashbacks were a bit of a patience-tester in that Int'l Bazaar heat. Other than that, the acting was fairly strong and the story of following one's dreams was inspiring. Good.
"Pelican Rescue on the Water" by John Matheny and Jerry Allen: Documentary on the founder of the Seabert Sanctuary’s rescue of an injured pelican and nursing it back to health.
Nolan Canova: John Matheny's recent rocky road regarding rancid reviews (king of aliteration, thank you, thank you) in these pages, came to an end this night with a splendid documentary about the Seabird Sanctuary. The case in spotlight is of a single pelican whose wing had become ensnared in fishing line, its treatment and eventual release. Step by step procedures are explained from start to finish. Fascinating stuff. I was glad to be able to personally tell John he was getting a good review from me after all this time.
Note: I didn't hear John's introduction to this film as I was trying to catch Austin Blay and his family before they left. But John Miller believes he heard that this was actually a segment of a longer documentary. If so, that's great news. Highly Recommended.
John Miller: Anyone who fishes on a regular basis has probably snagged a pelican by mistake a time or two. This film shows what happens to those birds after you bang them up and the people who work to give them a second chance. If I understood correctly this was just a 10-minute segment from a larger documentary. Definitely worth a look if you're into the outdoors. Recommended.
"Uncle" by Vivek Tiwari: An out-of-town entry (NY). A grumpy old homeless man befriends a free-spirited young girl who reinstills joy in his life, only to leave him alone again.
Nolan Canova: Joe Gorszynski of "Welcome Home" again stars here as a disenfranchised old curmudgeon (well, he does it well) on the streets of New York. He walks around, grabs a free bagel from a sympathetic shopkeep, maybe hangs out at the park. All he has to distract him is his flute which he plays occasionally for pleasure.
One day the annoying sound of a basketball bouncing distracts his reverie and he asks the attractive young woman (Samantha Sherman) doing the dribbling to stop. She does not. In fact, she comes over to ask what his problem is. He just wants peace and quiet. Something about the old man amuses her, so over a period of weeks, they form a friendship. She finds out his family died in a car accident. She also learns that he used to be a concert violinist and asks him to play for her. This young lady inspires and strengthens him. Unfortunately, the day comes when she announces she's going to go off to college and will be leaving soon. Heartbroken, the old man realizes he is losing his only friend, possibly forever. In a depressing, but realistic coda, one year later, the lady returns to the area with a friend, but doesn't see him as she walks by storefronts. He comes over to greet her only to get the most casual acknowledgement. He walks off, likely even more embittered than before.
I really liked this film even though it had a downbeat ending. But hey, it's one I can identify with. Highly Recommended.
John Miller: The lead actor who was also in "Welcome Home" plays a pretty convincing hobo in this short. Nice story with a depressing ending that I'm sure anyone who's ever had friends can relate to. Recommended.
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"The Tampa Film Review for May" is ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova and John Miller.
All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.