Family heirlooms can be tricky things even if they aren’t particularly valuable. There are few situations more tense than when two grieving siblings realize they’re both expecting to get custody of mom’s favorite vase or grandpa’s pocket watch. If either vase or watch turns out to be valuable besides, all bets are off. A very different sort of heirloom takes center stage in The Surreal Project, however, as one family faces the dark effects of a sinister painting that fascinates some members of the family as much as it repels other.
Mark (Dávid Fecske) runs a vlog on the supernatural called Chasing Fear, and no wonder since he’s more than a little obsessed with things that go bump in the night. Now he’s investigating a mystery that’s a little closer to home than usual: the painting called The Whispering Man. Currently languishing in the attic of his recently deceased grandmother’s home, Mike and his brother Tommy (András Korcsmáros) rescue the painting and bring it to their house. Well, Mark does; Tommy thinks it’s hideous and wants to throw it away.
Supposedly, their father bought it cheap when the hotel he worked for went bankrupt and sold off their furnishings, but I don’t believe it. Any hotel that hung paintings like that around wouldn’t have stayed in business more than a month. It’s nothing complicated, just a picture of a pale greyish face on a black background, but everything about it looks just skewed and strange enough to make the whole effect extremely creepy. Mark’s girlfriend Dora (Ágota Dunai, Spirits in the Dark) refuses to sleep in the same room as the painting, and I can’t blame her.
When unsettling events start to happen, they revolve around Mark as much as the painting, and by the time Mark and Tommy’s sister Anna (Marcsi Nagy) arrives for a visit, everyone is extremely concerned for Mark’s well-being. His best friend Abel (Dávid Kiss) speaks seriously of the need for an exorcism of the painting. But time is running out, and it may already be too late for all of them.
Director József Gallai (who also directed Spirits in the Dark) again features a disturbing abandoned building, this time in the shape of a crumbling sanitarium, scene of a terrible fire in the seventies that claimed several lives, and which also becomes part of the mystery. The found footage format works well — Mark is as concerned with documenting everything that might turn out to be supernatural as he is with the supernatural itself — and though the acting is sometimes a bit stiff there’s a good sense of camaraderie among the characters, especially between Mark and Abel. The initial buildup is perhaps a bit slow, but by the last 20 minutes I could hardly look away from the screen. All in all, this is a creditable follow-up to Gallai’s previous excellent work that will make you wonder what obsession might do to your nearest and dearest.
Even the most iconic characters of pop culture like Superman had to start somewhere. For instance, there was a time — back in the dark days before 1988 — when few people had heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Before the cartoon series began, they were known only through the comics, where they had a solid fanbase, but the leap to other media would take a little time. This is where the short Italian Turtles begins, with the turtles’ creators trying to boldly go where no reptile has gone before.
There are probably few things more terrifying than waiting to meet with a group of jaded TV execs who seem inclined to hate anything new, hoping to pitch them an idea that really isn’t anything like anything else on television. This is where we find Kevin (Nick Piacente) and Peter (Chris D’Amato), with Peter especially unable to stay calm at the thought of what might happen in the next few minutes. I hear if you don’t grab their attention inside two minutes the execs have security throw you out.
In this case, though, the execs, led by John Handy (Timothy J. Cox), seem mainly confused. Kevin mentions reptiles early on, which prompts junior executive Karl (BJ Gruber) to obsess over Komodo dragons, while the other junior exec, Pat (Janel Koloski), can’t seem to get past the idea of them living in the sewers, which always did seem pretty unpleasant to me. But there’s plenty of glorious talking at cross-purposes and zany misunderstandings as the five of them stumble on, drawing ever closer to Mr. Handy’s inevitable decision, which will shape the lives not only of Peter and Kevin but a couple of generations of fans.
It’s clearly a labor of love and there’s no one in the room who isn’t having fun with this wild what-if scenario. And face it — there are few comic book heroes who don’t seem pretty weird when looked at closely. Can you imagine trying to explain a billionaire who dresses up like a bat to fight crime to someone who hasn’t yet heard of Batman? That’s without even touching the ‘infant rocketed to safety from a doomed world’ thing. But we’re in on the joke here and it’s a hilarious one. From long, awkward pauses to strange and pointed questions, Italian Turtles is a wondrous homage to the world’s most beloved martial arts trained reptiles, showcasing their first unexpected leap to fame.
Though we know a great deal about the process of addiction, the process of getting over said addiction is unfortunately still obscure in many ways. Some people are able to quit smoking, for example, without too much difficulty, while others try to stop every other day but can never seem to stop themselves from lighting up. A relative of mine, convinced he could quit this time for sure, made the dramatic gesture of throwing his remaining cigarettes out the door one evening. His wife found him outside in his bathrobe at 3 AM pawing through a snowbank looking for those smokes. However that image makes you react, it will stick with you. The short film Jones is filled with such images as it follows one young woman’s rocky journey towards sobriety.
The Jones of the title (Marzy Hart, who also wrote and produced) considers herself a party girl, certainly not someone who actually has a problem with drinking. Her friend Manny (Michael Varamogiannis) tries to convince her otherwise, but she thinks he’s being a prude. After a bizarre incident with a bicycle one night — remember, never drink and bike — she decides that maybe she isn’t just a party girl after all. So it’s off to AA where she meets Barbie (Lisa Tharps), also trying to get her life back on track, and Jones takes the first steps — no pun intended — towards kicking the habit.
But breaking any habit isn’t easy, especially not this habit, and Jones has a long road ahead of her. Worse, like many of us, she isn’t all that great at accepting help, not even when she needs it the most. Some days it seems like every small victory only leads to a big setback, and however determined Jones is, there’s a real chance she won’t make it. You’ll be rooting for her, though, as Hart and the supporting cast bring Jones’ struggles — inspired by real events — to vivid life. The film veers from the realistic and gritty to the hallucinatory, creating scenes that are hard to forget. It takes us to a huge turning point in one woman’s life and gives us a glimpse into the harsh battles that lie behind the 12 Steps and the meetings. Neither apologizing nor romanticizing addiction, Jones is a revelation.