Meet the Author: Steve Blackwood Nails It

Meet the Author: Steve Blackwood Nails It

Written, directed by and starring Steve Blackwood (Days of Our Lives, Beyond the Mask) Meet the Author is a laugh out loud funny multi-layered offering based on a stage play by David Susman. Blackwood  is Marvin, a writer whose first book reached dizzying heights of popularity. Personal tragedy interceded to force an extended hiatus and he is now trying to break back into the best seller charts with his second effort.

Marty Smith is Jennifer, the fan who nails the returning author and she brings as much to the table as Blackwood. These two bounce well off one another and their interaction paces well with the opening scene of the short film. In what feels like a sly poke at the Mel Gibson vehicle “What Women Want” Marvin is met by a group of adoring female fans at his book signing.

With one telling Marvin to  “call me” and others declaring their utter devotion, the writer becomes increasingly uncomfortable with all this attention. Meet The Author then shifts gears and loses nothing in the transition. Blackwood has, in his second effort as writer/director, knocked this one out of the park.

(It is interesting to note that his first film I Feel also featured Marty Smith.) The cinematography, by Evan Schneider, is spot on. Crisp and on point in terms of contrast and lighting, it really sets the scenes for the buildup of both the comedy and eventual revelation.

The film is funny, no doubt about that, but it also reveals a underlying theme. At one point Marvin states that he is a writer. It is, he says, the only thing he knows how to do. Interestingly, the long time between his breakout book and the sequel, proves that regardless of his “inactivity” his creative bent is still there.

There are a number of underlying points made in this film.  While the comedy works brilliantly, the repartee between Jennifer and Marvin is witty, clever and, amazingly enough, natural, the real magic in Meet the Author lies in its hidden introspection.

This award winning film (winning Best Narrative Short at the Ri Sene Film Festival and getting special recognition at The London Short Comedy Festival as well as The Boston International Film Festival) proves that Independent Short Film is a genre that can entertain and make the viewer think.

Blackwood may be well known for his long stint on Days of Our Lives but he has shown a flair for writing and directing that matches his skill at comedy. Kudos also go to Smith for her portrayal of a fan with a difference and to Pamela Jayne Morgan as Marnie; the Public Relations gal with a fixation on Momma from Gypsy.

In fact, the entire cast, especially the adoring females at the start of the film, all go above and beyond the call. Everything about Meet the Author works, from start to finish.  This is a full 5 star effort that makes the viewer laugh out loud repeatedly while simultaneously enjoying the deeper meaning behind the comedy.

Watch this one as Blackwood really nails it across the board (Pun intended.)

Meet the Author: Steve Blackwood Nails It
Steve Blackwood as Marvin

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Old Fashioned Tales That Satisfy – Review

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, based on the books of the same name, is the latest offering to come from Guillermo del Toro. He shares credits of both producing and co-writing the screenplay and the story is as old fashioned as it is satisfying. It is, in short, a visual treat.

Directed by André Øvredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) the film looks brilliant. If one is of a certain age, the tones, hues, and overall colour of the film looks like all those old photographs from childhood. Every frame reeks of nostalgic melancholy that feels at home with bell bottom jeans and cars that all came from Detroit.

The film offers nothing new. It does, however, take one right back to their childhood. Tales told breathlessly around campfires or, in some instances, around Ouija boards, that invoked disbelief, at first, and then, at last, a sense of dread and acceptance. It is not the tales themselves that impress so much as they way that they are presented.

Each vignette offers a sort of variation on original tales that have been updated or altered to fit this particular theme. Not having read the books, which is now on my list of things that must be done, it is not clear how well the filmmakers managed to capture the spirit of the source material.

Regardless of whether the film manages to capture the intent of author Alvin Schwartz or not is not up for discussion. It should be noted that the first iteration of these books caused an outcry amongst concerned parents. (Apparently the illustrations of Stephen Grimmell were considered quite unsuitable for the targeted age group.)

Gore factor aside, which the film manages to control rather admirably, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark entertains without offending anyone. Deftly mixing urban myths with some original myth making, the movie does produce a few jump scares. Sadly, most of the “scares” rely on the rather tired device of cranking up the sound to Boeing 767 level, but some do work without the volumetric control used too often.

There are some nice touches for the horror fan. One of the male characters (Auggie, played admirably by Gabriel Rush) sports a Halloween costume that could be right from the frames of the 1978 film Halloween. The “clown” outfit; “It’s a Pierrot,” argues Auggie repeatedly, feels like a deliberate homage to Michael Myers’ outfit in the original horror film. (While the two outfits are nothing alike, there is an odd resemblance. Enough of one, at least to this viewer, that it seemed glaringly obvious.) It should be said that there are other nods and winks to classic horror stories throughout.

The cast of the film; Rush along with Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn,  give it their all. Each convinces admirably and at no time does one ever doubt their character’s veracity. (Colletti will obviously go far in her chosen profession. She knocked it out of the park easily.) It was lovely to see firm favorite Dean Norris as the father. More of Norris would not have gone amiss but one obviously has to draw the line somewhere in terms of running time.

The cinematography is brilliant and the use of hues and tonal shifts in terms of colour works wonderfully to establish mood and direction. While it would have been interesting to see a much darker version of this movie, in other words if del Toro had directed the feature, Øvredal does an excellent job.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is not, overall, frightening. It delivers a great storyline reminiscent of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors or Asylum and does so with a certain juvenile panache. This is a kid’s film, after all, but it entertains very well. It earns a full 4 out of 5 stars for delivery and one should see it in the cinema.

One Voice, One Mic: The Rise of Podcasting Ben Gummery on the Importance of Me

One Voice, One Mic: The Rise of Podcasting Ben Gummery on the Importance of Me

One Voice, One Mic, a 2019 documentary by Ben Gummery is all about the rise of the podcast. Narrated by the man himself, the short film could be said to be all about the importance of me. In today’s society it is all about the big “I am.” Podcasts, as pointed out in this short feature, are all the rage. Some are more popular than others, for example, Kevin Smith’s work is beyond well known, but according to Gummery and his subjects, there is room for everyone.

This documentary will be hitting Amazon on 30 September and it is one to check out. Using clips from Smith at the start, Gummery turns the camera on a number of known and unknown Podcasters. Many of these are English and, for the most part, unheard of by this reviewer.  This is not to say that they are not significant, nor important in their own way.

Podcasting has indeed been on the rise, as aptly pointed out in this documentary, and, as also pointed out, becoming a popular way for folks with clean diction and a unique take on things to build an audience. Some of the participants in this film downplay the requirements and the time consuming edits needed to sound professional, or at the very least not sound gormless to the nth degree, but this is an interesting look at a booming industry niche.

Podcasting has been around for a while now, as pointed out by Gummery and his Podcasters. This reviewer has even guested, several times, on ChasingCinema.com, that started out on Apple iTunes and can now be found on YouTube. It is a comfortable medium that does indeed feel up close and personal. Intimate without being intrusive, the format is one that becomes almost addictive to its listeners.

It is also a means of getting one’s own opinion and voice out to the masses. In this time period of “the importance of me” it trumps YouTube, with its excessive need to regulate. Podcasting also neatly sidesteps Google with its anally retentive attention to marketing, copy-write infringement and annoying algorithms. As one caster states, “you just upload to Apple” and bang you’re a Podcaster.

This is an interesting look at the rise of Podcasting and Gummery does a good job of showcasing a varied group of folks who take this world serious enough to put their mouth where their money is (pun intended).

Gummery, whose next project will be on Kevin Smith “fan-art” is a capable craftsman. He is able to provide the viewer with a diverse arena of spokesmen for the art form of speaking into a mic. His passion for the medium shines through clearly as does the passion of the various folks who love it. (It is interesting to note that there are no female Podcasters involved with this project.)

Keep an eye out for this One Voice, One Mic September 30, 2019 on Amazon. It may just inspire you to pick up a microphone and have a go yourself. A 5 out of 5 for presentation and the inclusion of “we are not worthy” Kevin Smith.

 

Some Girls Wander: Geoff Woodbridge’s Ode to the Lost and Broken

Some Girls Wander: Geoff Woodbridge's Ode to the Lost and Broken

Made in 2017 and released in 2018 via the festival circuit, Some Girls Wander is an ode to all those “lost and broken” occupants of planet Earth by Geoff Woodbridge. Starring Jade Mark (Dandilicious, Last Day of Summer and Greener Pastures) and Keith Parr as Ken, the film chronicles the meeting and bonding of two disparate souls who find themselves on the streets of Liverpool.

In the beginning these two strangers have nothing in common apart from their social predicament. They start a dialogue that moves along in fits and starts until, at last, No (Mark) learns about Ken’s past. Filmed in black and white Some Girls Wander offers a bleak look at Liverpool and it manages to pull off a pretty clever parlour trick.

The film is a long and varied word-fest. Dialogue heavy with minimal action it offers a languid pace that feels like a good fit to the story. Despite feeling that this would have made one hell of a stage play, the film works well in this “format.” No’s compulsive nail biting, Ken’s rambling, yet spot on, recitation of 1970’s films, (although he does come screaming into the “present” with a nod to Tarentino’s Kill Bill films) and the odd reference to early British telly, The Sweeney, and a “Bum Fight” all work to give this tale depth and a touch, at times, of humorous pathos.

There is much to love about this film. Even if one is not from England, or lived there for far too many years, the setting and the dialogue evokes a sense of nostalgic yearning that goes beyond the odd glimpse of “Marks and Sparks” and the omnipresent seagulls and pigeons. The language is Liverpudlian, “bevvies” not withstanding, and the Jimmy Nail reference is brilliant.

What the film does best, albeit somewhat obliquely, is to show us a slice of life in a park in Liverpool. While we learn of the two very different backstories of these characters we are treated to the odd intrusion of real people in the park. St John’s Gardens, where the vast majority of the film takes place, has a number of bystanders who, in typical English fashion, merely ignore the action and carry on reading, feed the pigeons or wander by as these two interact.

Geoff does relate, however, that there were those who did interrupt proceedings. The police and real-life homeless population both came in contact with the film crew but these are not part of the story, just an interesting antidote.

Some Girls Wander (Some Men Leave) makes an effort to show us that the homeless are people at the end of the day. Their stories are varied and a combination of the tragic and the misunderstood. It is commendable that the filmmaker has taken time to show us the normalcy of the flotsam and jetsam of the world and how easy it is to relate. Even if that relation is in the terms of the films that Ken so loves.

Mark gives a splendid performance and manages to convince as the youngster finding her feet on the street. This is an actor to keep an eye on as she almost effortlessly filled the shoes of her character. The late Keith Parr (sadly the gentleman passed on before the film’s first screening) does an excellent job portraying the multifaceted Ken. Both actors  did a brilliant job interacting with one another and pulled off a believable double act that never feels forced.

The music fits like a glove and moves things along nicely. Like the cinematography and the writing it allows things to move into view with a minimum of muss and fuss. It accents the story rather well, despite the odd times it overpowers the proceedings.

This offering earns an easy four out of five stars. It is a tad too long, rambling on a bit in the middle, but, in terms of characterization and storyline, the film makes up for its meandering style of presentation. There are small irritating things about the film, such as continuity errors and a few places where the sound drowns out the actors but these things do not spoil the story.

Some Girls Wander feels like a real labour of love and we have fallen in love with the story itself and the filmmakers who put the whole thing together. Definitely worth a look this one.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: Tarantino’s Ironic Nostalgic Twist

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is Quintin Tarantino’s latest offering…

once upon a time in Hollywood: Opinion

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering. It is a slant on a nostalgic tinseltown that no longer exists, if it ever really did in the way that Tarantino depicts it, and the film’s ironic ending leaves one wondering just what his motives truly were.  Critics have complained that the movie spends too little time on the Manson family and its tragic victims but this is the purpose of the entire film, to give a “Hollywood finish” to reality.

The film, starring Tarantino semi-regulars Leonardo DiCaprio (Django, and Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight, Death Proof) and Bruce Dern (in a blink and you will miss him cameo as a last minute replacement for the late Burt Reynolds) is a long, somewhat meandering affair. **It should be pointed out that along with Russell, Dern has the most credits listed under Tarantino.**

Margot Robbie is the tragic Sharon Tate and there are a number of familiar faces, some more special that others, who fill out the cast list of this odd offering. Please do not misunderstand, this is a visual treat for the viewer, it offers much in terms of interest and threatens to become a brilliant character study. Although it never really delivers in term of character but it teases in other ways and provides a few laughs along then way.

I was 11 years old when the 1960’s ended, along with the lives of Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood brought the sixties screaming back into glorious discordant life. The sounds of the radio advertisements, the television clips, the colours, the clothes and the cars all threw me right back into a pre-pubescent memory lane. This was both enthralling and somewhat, rather oddly, disturbing.

Tarantino gives us his version of ’60’s Hollywood. He also, by design, gives us the “Hollywood” ending to the entire “Helter Skelter” true story that the film is based around. (Not upon, as his tale is, to paraphrase a line from 1969’s The Wild Bunch of the event, not from it. In other words, it is the frame he hangs his work on.)

Once Upon a Time… focuses on Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth. Tate is in the periphery as a reminder of the impending tragedy. She flashes on the screen in small glimpses that are designed to show her as a sympathetic character, all the more to make the ending hit that little bit harder. This is, however, a ruse. A MacGuffin if you will. A tactic that sets us up instead for the “Hollywood ending.”

Tarantino lets fantasy intrude at the tail end of the movie and here the discussion will stop in order to keep spoilers from appearing in this review. In many ways, the ending is a disappointment until one realizes that the fantasy is what Hollywood studios would have ordered were the real life murders a movie.

Hollywood has long had a fixation with endings that allow the hero to ride off into the sunset with the girl on one arm and a fistful of money clenched in his fist. The bad guy gets his just reward, a bullet or a grave, or both, and everyone lives happily ever after.

There are enough nods are “real” Hollywood to allow this to work. Booth’s besting of Bruce Lee on the backlot is based around Lee’s time on The Green Hornet. He was also training many celebs and newcomers on martial arts for both onscreen and off. Lee trained Tate for her role in the Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie The Wrecking Crew. (Coincidentally, this was the last Matt Helm picture made, despite another being touted at the end credits.)

Dalton’s foray into Spaghetti Western territory mirrors, to an extent, Clint Eastwood’s own journey into the Leonesque world of Western Opera. While the connection is tenuous as best, unlike the Bruce Lee vignette, it is there for the film fan to notice and appreciate.

Once Upon a Time looks luscious and real, except for the odd continuity issue, as the hippies all have filthy feet, legs and hair. Dakota Fanning plays stunningly against type as the “momma bear” Squeaky Fromme and Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is all scabby legs, black feet and sexual promiscuity wrapped in a teen drugged up dream. Qualley does such a convincing job as a Manson minion that one can almost smell the scent of eu de rubbish skip that must permeate her entire essence.

The violence in the film is convincing yet, strangely, funny in the way it is presented. All except the scene at the Spahn Ranch, the blood looked as real as the Korean cinema’s blood work, which is head and shoulders above the rest of the industry.

DiCaprio’s performance as Dalton is convincing and his suffering artist makes us feel for him. I will admit to being moved to tears when the child actor – Trudi (played exquisitely by Julia Butters ) leans over and tells a teary eyed Dalton that this is “the best acting I’ve ever seen.” Truth be told, Butters comes damn close to stealing the film from the entire cast. This is one young lady to keep an eye on.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is one to watch. Perhaps not at the cinema, streaming or DVD may just suffice as despite looking brilliant and providing a magnificent nostalgic treat, it left me, at the end of the film, feeling a tad disappointed.  However, it is an excellent example of Tarantino’s skill at hiding a genius move in plain sight. Like Inglourious Basterds he gives us a fictional version of an awful reality, one that equals, to a degree, a happy Hollywood ending. This then, is the ironic twist to Tarantino’s nostalgic Hollywood tale…