Friday, November 6, 2009

"Loma Lynda: The Red Door" Review

While many indie filmmakers try to blur the line between their creations and studio pics, it’s refreshing to see a film that hearkens back to the indie spirits of rabid experimentation and pure emotional evocation. “Loma Lynda: The Red Door” does this, but refuses to sacrifice quality. It displays the kind of stunning visual imagery one would expect from a big budget film but can only get now a days from art created where not too many people can get their hands on it.

This was a fascinating movie to watch. Its dreamlike movement from scene to scene was captivating. The film moved image to image like a series of still photos, each one worth the proverbial thousand words. For all this film expressed, however, there really wasn’t any discernible plot to speak of. There were two young girls, or maybe just one, and an older woman (she might have been the only one who was really real). Then there was the father. He was nuts but then he died, so he got what was coming to him. Or was it he who killed the young girl(s)? Maybe it was the older woman he killed, but only on the inside. And what was up with the puppets? Were they symbolic of innocence corrupted?

On an intellectual level, the film can get pretty confusing. However, if one just tells the mind to shut up and allows the heart to feel its through “Loma Lynda: The Red Door,” one quickly realizes why making sense can be overrated. In abandoning plot, time line continuity, and the laws of nature and common decency, only one thing remained: the reality of the psyche. It was like taking a tour through human thought. Images and the sensations they created blurred together, emotions rose and fell, sadness, fear, sensuality, perversion. Quick glimpses of a dejected future broke through the dreams and abuse like the very embodiment of self-doubt.

Make sense? It shouldn’t. That’s “Loma Lynda: The Red Door.” It was sexy, dark, and disturbing in a way something can only be when you suspect that parts of it, probably the worst parts, are true. I am without criticism in this sense if no other: when it’s well done and deeply moving, art endures no criticism. That is the sole duty of art, to be good and to move us. And, like it or lump it, this film was art.

One last brass tacks note: The acting in this piece was impeccable. The two young women in the film (Estefania Iglesias and Becky Altringer), though vague and detached, were lovely to watch. They seemed to yearn for connection and yet be incapable of achieving it. They were beautiful and damaged. David Fine, who played the father in this film, was tremendous. His violent fits of temper, homicidal threats, and disturbing sexual fixations were disconcerting in how believable he made them. Thumbs up to director, Jason Bognacki. Another SHOCKFEST must see!

Check it out at SHOCKFEST 2009, November 7 at Cinespace in Hollywood.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Family Recipes" Review

The danger of living in some else's shadow is, what if you never get out? That’s a question young chef Hanna (Amy Bloom), has to answer once and for all. Her performance as head chef of her father’s restaurant has been beyond disappointing. Her attempt to forge her own way in the culinary world has backfired. Critics are breaking out the fifty-cent words to come up with new ways to insult her food. Her boss, the new restaurant owner, has had enough. She’s fired. Hanna has one chance to save her career. One dish to turn it all around. To find her inspiration, Hanna has to dig deep, back to the lessons of the man who’s shadow she can’t seem to get out from under, her father. Sometimes finding one’s self means going back to the beginning, remembering some long forgotten “Family Recipes.”

Based on the summary alone, one might expect to find “Family Recipes” sharing a Netflix queue with The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood and Under the Tuscan Sun. But this is SHOCKFEST, baby, so you know there’s more to the story than meets the eye. Hanna’s daddy issues run deep. She needs to be a great chef, she is passionate about food, but she just doesn’t have the talent of her old man. And she never will until she lets go of herself and gets in touch with her roots. And what roots!

Now, this film is filled to the top with spoilers. The reaction of the little girl in the opening scene, the boss saying that Hanna needs to give her customers something they can’t get anywhere else, even the film’s title, for heaven’s sake! Spoilers all. So it was wise of director Cosmos Kiindarius to install several plot twist redundancy systems in “Family Recipes.” I was so busy waiting for the surprises I knew were coming, it left me vulnerable to plot sneak attacks, and there were a few.

The script of “Family Recipes” was well crafted (though the dialogue got a little heavy handed in places) and largely well executed (struggles could have been more realistic). Very film-like quality to the shots. Even the lead actress, Amy Bloom, had that charming vulnerability that romantic comedy fans love so much in their heroines. She was never cold, always emotionally available, pretty, and sweet. When she smiles, no matter what the circumstances, she radiates a warmth that makes a person believe, truly believe, that everything is going to be just fine.

“Family Recipes” is a film for anyone who’s ever wondered if they really have what it takes to become great. It has a lovely mix of shock value and sentimentality that was, in the end, deeply satisfying.

Check out “Family Recipes” this Saturday at SHOCKFEST! 11/7/9 at Cinespace in Hollywood. Go to for tickets.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"The Embalmer" Review

Films like “The Embalmer” are better with the lights out. Most of the action in this short film takes place in a dimly lit basement. Watching in the dark makes it easier to see every gory detail, enhancing each creepy second.

The scene opens on one man hanging upside down while another selects grisly tools with which to torture him. The tools are arranged on the kind of tray one might expect a doctor to use, or perhaps a butcher. The torturer is just about to get back to work on his victim. The amount of blood makes it clear he’s been working for a while. How bloody must that torturer’s hands be that he washes them in water that’s more realistically crimson than the blood in most low budget slasher films?

“The Embalmer” has a great cast. Tom Martin and Kevin Will managed to do justice to extreme characters in extreme situations without becoming caricatures. Though the film opens with a scene of senseless violence, Martin and Will built these two men in such a way that in the end it all made so much sense. The emotional arcs were so well developed that by the time the credits started rolling I felt like I’d watched a full length film.

In the first few seconds of any film, expectations are established. The film makes promises. A promise broken is trust lost between the film and the audience. “The Embalmer” set the bar high (high quality, highly stylized), and it never deviated. In that way, this film feels a lot like a Hollywood film, effortless to watch. The acting, plot, and pacing worked together to keep the film’s initial promises. That’s a credit to Michael Regalbuto, who’s careful directing never let the audience down.

Though there is charm in the almost unified divergence of most indie film from the main stream, I believe directors like Michael Regalbuto are the future of indie filmmaking. He and others like him will produce well-written, well-acted, well shot, and well-edited pieces that, though outside the mainstream, somehow transcend it. Due to limited resources either in funding or talent, indie films can easily and irreparably drop the ball in at least one of these areas, forcing audiences to lower their expectations in an attempt to salvage the experience. Getting a film right can be tough even for studio pics, but “The Embalmer” doesn’t ask that of its audience. We didn’t have to suspend our belief in order to forgive Regalbuto’s mistakes because, by and large, he didn’t make any.

I have just one small criticism. I felt the flashback ended too soon. It was rather abrupt. Perhaps the torturer grabbing the closest heavy object, indicating a coming blow to the victim’s head, might have done loads to explain not only the short duration of the initial struggle between them but also the victim’s disorientation in the beginning of the film. I almost feel like a longer version of the flashback exist somewhere, like it was shot but was, I don’t know, cut for time or something? Bring it back, please, if it’s out there. I promise we won’t mind if this film is a little (or a lot) longer. To be honest, I could even see it as a feature.