Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Magic of Cinema (Bermuda International Film Festival)

The Bermuda International Film Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. I don't often get a chance to enjoy the movies on offer, and this year wasn't an exception, but I did make an effort to see the independent short films. Monday's lineup called itself Dead? Undead? Don't Know ...? which should give you a great big clue as to the theme.

No, it was not banana cream pies. Shame on you. Shame on us all.

So this time out I thought I'd give a short review of each so that if you come into close contact with one of these snaggle-toothed orphan children you know what to expect.

As part of the audience choice short film awards we were invited to vote for our favorites, on a score from 1 (snail vomit) to 4 (cinema gold). I present you with my votes as I remember them, and why.

Alfred J Hemlock (Australia, director Edward Lyons, who also co-wrote the screenplay). Emily (Renaye Loryman) is comprehensively dumped by the side of the road by her jackass boyfriend, and wishes she were dead. Enter Alfred J Hemlock (Tristan Mckinnon), demon and king of the road, who offers her a chance to get the death she craves.

Had I seen the trailer before seeing the film I wouldn't have been so disappointed - and I would still have been disappointed. See, I was half-hoping that, what with its name being Alfred J Hemlock, I was about to see a Hitchcock-style chiller. The man's name was Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock after all; the connection seemed obvious to me. Alas we were presented instead with someone's substandard Johnny Depp impression. Only 14 minutes long, but a substantial wasted chunk of those 14 minutes is devoted to a silly chase montage. Plus, Oh Susannah? Why? You're in Australia for God's sake; if you're going to go cheesy, you might just as well sing Waltzing Matilda. At least that has a ghost story in it.

Score: 2, and that only because the SFX are reasonable, though we don't get too many SFX moments.

A Family of Ghosts (Canada, dir Shannon Kohli). A turn of the last century tale in which a privileged young woman's ghostly grandparents frustrate her love life. The ghosts take against her music teacher suitor and do their best to force him away, but is this what's best for her? With Kacey Rohl as Abigail, Jordan Burtchett as Thomas, and Mary Black, Gwyneth Walsh, Alec Willows and Chris Button as both sets of grandparents.

Interesting, well thought-out and charmingly shot on historic location, all for about a thousand Canadian smackers according to IMDB. It rather resembles the love child of a museum and an amateur dramatics society. I enjoyed it, but I wonder how long it will stick around in my brain before it vanishes into the void. Charming yes, but there's not a lot of there there. In many ways it reminds me of those period dramas the BBC used to do, and which Canadian TV now produces excellent examples of. High production values, but nothing to really sink your teeth into. Plus, not sure why ghost dog got a screen credit; he didn't even poop on anyone's shoes.

Score: 3, as the production values are high even if the story is insubstantial.

Ernie (US, dir Hadley Hillel). Ernie (Gary Gorland), disappointed in life, resolves to commit suicide, only to find himself bonding with the neighbor's kid upstairs thanks to a hole in the ceiling of Ernie's apartment. Undoubtedly the most stylized film of the bunch, devotees of Jan Svankmajer's animation will find a lot to love in the meticulous cardboard-build set and properties. Every single thing, whatever it may be, is made either of cardboard or paper, giving the film an otherworldly quality.

Judging by the little I can see of Hillel's previous work online, I'm guessing Hillel has a mild - maybe not so mild - obsession with misfit loners, such as our protagonist Ernie. The relationship between Ernie and the child, who save each other, is perfectly realized and well thought out.

My difficulty is plot-related. We start with a heavily narrated portion, perhaps 4 out of the film's 17 minute total, describing Ernie's early life, his hatred of Swedish meatballs, his father's failing meatball business, the climactic fiery destruction of his meatball stand - and fire assumes a special significance when the entire set is cardboard and paper.

Yet after the burnt-out remains are dealt with we fast forward about sixty years to the point where Ernie's on the brink of suicide. It's a huge leap, and I felt as though I'd wasted my time paying attention to the meatball stand, the father, the narrator or anything to do with the sequence when I realized it would never be referred to again. Sure, it gave Ernie backstory, but the audience didn't need Ernie's backstory. The director could have cut that entire bit out and the film still would have made perfect sense. Hell, the director ought to have cut that entire sequence out; it just delays the start of the narrative. I note this film won a Tacoma Film Festival award. I'm guessing that's thanks to its charming set design, not its storytelling.

Score: 2, as I bitterly resent the wasted prologue.

Memento Mori (UK, dir Scott James Bassett). A young woman (Alexandra Roach) goes on a blind date, and gets a marriage proposal from someone rather like death (Joel Fry). Game of Thrones fans will recognize Fry as one of the minor recurring characters from Season 5, Hizdahr zo Loraq. Alexandra Roach hasn't quite got the same fantasy cred, but she's got a lot of UK TV appearances to her name.

This one impressed me, largely because of the meticulous set dressing - and yes I know that sounds like faint praise, but if you'd seen it you'd say the same I wager. There's something about that atmosphere-drenched setting that makes anything seem possible. But if I were handing out acting awards they'd all go to Fry, whose charismatic performance steals the show. There's something about him that reminds me of Toshiro Mifune; I think it's a combination of that deep voice and his scraggle beard. Give this actor larger roles, please; I'd love to see what he can do.

The ending's predictable but the journey to get there is compact, well designed and cleverly plotted. Unlike many of the other films on this list, none of its 19 minutes are wasted. Fry's alien attitude makes him feel far more like an otherworldly being than Alfred J Hemlock, and though I haven't spent much time talking about Roach's performance trust me when I say that it's very good - just not as memorable as Fry's.

Score: 4. All the 4.

Lost Souls (France/UK, dir Fabrice Pierre, who also wrote the script). A depressed taxi driver (Dean Christie) finds help from an unexpected customer (Sophie Delora Jones). Not much supernatural in this one; it is what it says on the tin. Methinks it scraped into the supernatural section on account of its title.

A whopping 26 minutes long, and unlike Memento Mori at least half of that run time is wasted. Plus the grand climax is Dean Christie telling Sophie Jones why his character's so fucked up, in a scene that lasts about a minute and a half of screen time.

As a drama it works inasmuch as I understand why the main character needs help and I can see how he gets there, but my problem with the plot is the main character does nothing. He picks people up in his cab, they chat, they leave, he goes on to the next customer. At no point does he take positive action to resolve any of his problems, until finally he's prodded into action by his last fare of the night, a prostitute who needs to go to hospital but who nevertheless has time to talk Christie down from the metaphorical window ledge.

I don't even know why Jones' character needs to go to hospital. It's suggested that a customer beat her up, but there's not much on show to demonstrate that. Frankly, she's only there to drop a few words of wisdom in Christie's ear, and to hell with any problems her character might have, whether it's a black eye or a bust appendix.

This one desperately needed a severe edit, and I can't help but notice Fabrice Pierre is listed as director, screenwriter and one of the two producers. This is someone who couldn't bear to kill his darlings, so his darlings killed him instead.

Score: 1. And may those snails puke forever and ever, amen.

Anyway, trust you enjoyed this departure from the norm. If you get a chance to see Memento Mori or A Family of Ghosts, please do. Ernie also has my begrudging recommendation, on grounds of style alone; it looks gorgeous even if the prologue annoys the hell out of me. Avoid the other two like the plague, unless you've a tolerance for time wasters.

Later this Sunday I'm going to see The Night Watchmen - the executive producer's Bermudian, which is why it's showing down here on what's called Bermovie Day - so this post may get an update, but probably not a Sunday update unless it's truly inspiring. Which it might be, I don't know.

The Night Watchmen (2017, dir Mitchell Altieri). Three inept night watchmen, aided by a young rookie and a fearless tabloid journalist - ye Gods, I'm not making this up, it's how the producers bill the wretched thing, and since when are tabloid journalists fearless? - fight an epic battle to save their lives. A mistaken warehouse delivery unleashes a horde of hungry vampires. These unlikely heroes must not only save themselves but also stop the scourge that threatens to take over the city of Baltimore.

Judging by the trailer this is one part Salem's Lot to nine parts 28 Days Later. How good is it? Well ...

It's as dumb as a dead donkey, but it's funny.

Blimpo the clown and his entire clown posse get wiped out while on a trip to Romania, in a mysterious bat-related incident. The group is shipped back home to Baltimore and most are sent to the morgue, apart from Blimpo who gets relocated because the morgue and the newspaper offices next door - on Stoker Street and yes I did see what you did there movie - have similar addresses. Someone cracks open the coffin to steal Blimpo's clown nose, and it's all downhill from there.

Not to be seen by those suffering from coulrophobia. No, no, pass, trust me.

The film gets a bit tired of itself at the midway mark, and all of the really good jokes are in the first half. There are some brilliant moments; my personal favorite is when Blimpo, as Clown King, summons his killer clowns from the morgue next door by standing at the window and blowing his little clown horn. There's a recurring gag about corpses voiding their bowels which crops up every time they stake a vampire, and believe me when I say the heroes do that a lot. But it loses its grip once the situation is established and the heroes have to decide what to do.

The acting's decent, the SFX are high quality amateur stuff, and the plot bangs along quickly for the most part. It's a tribute to the trio of amateurs who came together to make it that it works, mostly. It's never going to win an Oscar but it deserves and will probably get a distribution deal. Which is all an aspiring film maker can hope for, really.

If you get a chance, give it a go.

Have a good one!

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