These days there are more options than ever to get your fifteen minutes of fame, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s easy to make fun of the idea — fame is so fleeting and yet still so tempting — but it can also lead to good things. If you can inspire just a few other people with your passion for Kashubian embroidery, you might create friendships, even an online community. Or more seriously, you might also find ways to help yourself and others heal after a tragic event. That’s what Emma (Ewurakua Dawson-Amoah) tries to do in the short film Just Scream, though unfortunately in her case it’s particularly difficult.
Emma is appearing on a talk show to discuss the abuse she suffered as a child, ten years ago, at the hands of a popular and well-respected teacher. It’s depressing how often it’s the popular and well-respected teachers who do the most awful things, but I suppose the worst offenders would develop that sort of protective camouflage. It’s an impressively brave thing she’s doing, and the show’s host, Carl Peterson (Timothy J. Cox), repeatedly says this along with other encouraging things, but the atmosphere of the show still isn’t what you’d call supportive. And when Emma is asked an incredibly tone-deaf question, she’s driven to speak her mind in powerful, moving fashion.
Dawson-Amoah, who also wrote and directed, packs a great deal into this film while still keeping it simple and real. Everything is shown through the unchanging lens of a single fixed camera. Emma’s experiences — both the abuse itself and the way others approach the subject — are all too common, but the film faces both head on in a way that’s still not common enough. Cox’s portrayal of the fussy Carl, focusing on all the wrong things, creates the perfect foil for the overwhelmed but determined Emma, leading to a memorable and deeply affecting ending. In times when anything can and will be reduced to a hashtag, films like this are needed more than ever to remind us of the people behind the stories.
There’s no stress quite like holiday stress. Familiar routines are broken, journeys undertaken, and you have to try to coordinate plans with a lot of other people who are just as stressed as you are. That isn’t even getting into the worries about what gifts to buy and how to keep everyone happy with the food selection. With all this going on and more, it’s no surprise that there can be a lot of tension mixed in with the joy of seeing loved ones again, as evidenced by the short film The Maids Will Come on Monday.
This is the latest from (writer-director) Harley Chamandy, the filmmaker behind The Last Act of Joey Jumbler. Here the focus is on a well-to-do family gathering together to celebrate the spirit of the season, though from the very first something about that spirit is more than a little frayed around the edges. Julianne (Anana Rydvald) can’t seem to say anything right to her expectant daughter Chloe (Charlotte Legault), while the hosts of the party (Julianne’s sister Christine and her husband Henry) are apparently trying to get through the evening as quickly and quietly as possible. Julianne’s husband Craig (Charlie Ebbs) just seems to be trying to drink everything quickly and quietly.
When the tension finally breaks, it explodes, and more of the truth than anyone’s really comfortable with comes spilling out. As in Joey Jumbler, Chamandy shows us a realistic glimpse of vulnerable families — the backdrop is different, but the heart of this story is something we can all relate to. Like life, the film offers no easy solutions. We can’t be sure which direction any of the characters will go or whether things will ever quite be the same for any of them, but the film creates a masterful portrait of a family at a crossroads, with a chance to either change things for the better — or fall right back into the same comfortable yet destructive habits.
It isn’t uncommon to stop now and then and realize that you’re not as happy with your life as you’d like to be. Maybe your job isn’t what you’d hoped, or an important relationship has been neglected for too long, or you just have the vague feeling that something’s lacking. Often that missing thing is excitement, though many times that’s something best left for fiction anyway. Real life excitement can often lead directly to real life panic, or possibly a new life that you like even less than the old one. In the short film Miss Freelance, one young woman goes to unusual lengths in search of a more fulfilling life, only to find herself in the strangest of places.
The Miss Freelance in question is Carly (Maddy Murphy). She’s apparently advertising on Craigslist or some such to find work helping men out for the night, to put it delicately. And these jobs aren’t confined to the usual, either. Maurice (Ivan Greene), for instance, asks Carly to take advantage of him — which she does, though not exactly in the way he intended. I won’t even mention what Randy (Zach Abraham) is after. It’s set in New York City, so there are plenty of strange inclinations to choose from out there.
Ben (Timothy J. Cox) is the sympathetic, patient boyfriend Carly has left behind, probably the one man in the city she can’t look in the face anymore. He can’t understand what else it is that she needs out of life, but of course the real tragedy here is that neither can Carly.
This is a story of a woman trying to find herself at any cost, and perhaps not even entirely realizing what she’s losing along the way. The film and the performances are both subtle and realistic, telling the story of a life through the microcosm of a few days when everything changes in that life. Murphy’s impressive debut performance as Carly is understated and desperate as she runs from the world she knows into the unknown, while the broken-hearted Ben can do nothing but let her go. It’s a quiet, remarkably nuanced look at what can happen when life leads us astray, from writer / director Matthew Kyle Levine, brought touchingly to life.
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.
On a warm June day in the 1970’s, a young couple drives along isolated, wooded roads en route to the small town of Willow, Maine, where they’ve rented a house for the summer. It’s a quiet, sleepy sort of place, but that’s what they want, since John Graham (Brian Ashton Smith) is a writer and wants time to work on his craft. It’s less clear how wife Elise (Anne-Marie Kennedy) will occupy herself, however. The premise is somewhat like The Shining — not surprising since both plots sprang from the dark corners of Stephen King’s mind — but in this case there’s neither a large hotel nor a small boy to look after.
But Elise is certainly troubled, and perhaps hopes that this time away from it all will be therapeutic even though the locals are a bit odd. Henry (Kermit Rolison), for example, is sometimes friendly and sometimes a master of the awkward stare. Laura (Jan Mary Nelson), on the other hand, is somewhere between friendly and panicked, telling them it’s the rainy season and urging them to spend the night at a motel instead of the perfectly good house they’ve already paid for. It’s a strange welcome, to say the least, and Elise and John hardly know what to say.
They’re determined to stay in their house, though, and it’s hard to blame them. Certainly it seems like a nice house, if badly lit, but that’s standard for horror movies. The poor kids have barely started to settle in when the movie suddenly starts rushing towards its ending, dragging them headlong with it. It’s a good ending — as wry and laconic as the most grizzled New Englander, but still excellently, quietly creepy. The problem is that the ending was a little too close to the beginning, and it might have worked better as at least a half-hour short instead of twenty minutes.
The good news is that the film is well-acted and has a solid sense of atmosphere. It also doesn’t attempt to show much of the horrors that the characters see, instead letting the unlimited budget of the viewer’s imagination take over, which is always better. Mostly I’m wishing there could be a director’s cut version that might expand a little more on the build of tension, not to mention Elise’s issues and their effect on her marriage. But it was still an enjoyable watch, giving an entertaining glimpse of a little-known King short story that’s almost biblical.