To Be Alone (2017): Cold Grief (Review)

Timothy J CoxWritten and directed by Matthew Mahler, To Be Alone charts William (played by Timothy J. Cox) as he deals with grief in a cold environment. Mahler takes the audience through a short journey with the disturbed, and recent, widower, and uses a number of settings to show just what has happened here.

William’s wife is upstairs in the bedroom, lifeless under the bedsheets, and he spends his time watching television evangelical programs when he is not constructing something in the back garden. Clearly the man is grieving but struggling to deal with the reality of the situation.

Mahler plants a number of messages in is film. To Be Alone works on a number of levels. Its imagery implies suicide, check out the line on the woman’s arm and the noose at the end of William’s rope, and the opulence of the kitchen.

His theme seems to suggest that material things cannot make us happy or give us the ability to cope. The voice over preaching of the church lady, who really does sound like Dana Carvey’s SNL creation, implies that grasping at conventional religion is not the answer.  William does take some of the “gospel” in but he alters it to fit his needs.

Timothy J. Cox makes the most of his silent portrayal of a man attempting to cope with unexpected death and the devastating time spent alone  after the event.  Watching TV and eating, almost automatically, is only part of the emotional response and Cox manages to snap out of his robotic trance in a manner that convinces.

There are many questions generated by Mahler’s coldly shot film. Why did Mary kill herself?  Did she, in fact, commit suicide?  William is clearly upset about the death, but did he orchestrate it? Is this the reason behind the “ornate” cross in the back garden?

To Be Alone is a 4 star film that looks at death, survivors and the grieving process without a lot of dialogue. The film moves forward with external inputs: the church lady, the sheriff’s phone calls, and William’s silent journey to complete his ceremony.

Repeated viewing of the film reveals more details and raises more questions. It is an interesting offering that prompts the viewer to think about the events unfolding.


Dark Romance (2013): Love Hurts (Review)

Timothy J. Cox

Directed and co-written by Matthew Mahler (What Jack Built) Dark Romance is a quirky horror film with elements that disturb. The main plot deals with an office manager who has a secret admirer. What starts out as an amusing event soon turns nasty and then deadly.

Timothy J. Cox is  the “nice guy” manager of a small office team of three. Cameron Rankin is Cam, Tim’s low key co-worker and Tiffany Browne-Tavares is the office secretary Tiffany.  She has eyes only for Tim, bringing him coffee and ignoring Cam’s request for  a bagel. 

Tim’s secret admirer escalates things. At first it is a letter professing love, the second item; flowers with an odd note and finally a severed finger. The secretary calls the police. Tiffany then brings Tim a coffee, “Just the way you like it.”

While the office manager may be a nice chap, he is not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to his colleagues. Clearly Tiffany is the one with a secret crush. Tim and Cam discuss the notes and the flowers and Tim believes that  they come from a blonde in the building.

Things do not end well and perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the entire film is Cam’s reaction at the end.  Without giving anything away, his attitude is “tres blasé” to say the least.

Mahler, who did such a brilliant job on his 2015 short film “What Jack Built” tells a good story here. Sadly the film is let down with sound issues. There is a lot of “white noise” in the dialogue sequences between Cam, Tim and Tiffany.

Timothy J. Cox

This interferes with the storyline and makes it difficult to hear the actors. It is also intrusive. Despite this issue the film is enjoyable. The mix of characters makes everything work. Cam’s laissez faire attitude; first evidenced in  the “parcel” scene,  provides great signposting for his reaction later.

Tiffany’s over attention to Tim also makes for a good payoff to the tale. Cox and Rankin interact very well and Browne-Tavares does well in her role as the obsessed secretary.

The camera work on Dark Romance looks crisp  where it needs to be and the editing is spot on. Mahler is another “cottage industry” filmmaker who does his own camerawork and edits the final product.  This was Mahler’s first short film and it shows the promise evidenced in his later effort with Mr. Cox in 2015.

At just under eight minutes the film manages to fit quite a lot into the time frame allotted.  Dark Romance entertains and tells its story very well despite a somewhat  rushed feeling. The sound issues hamper the film a bit as it detracts from dialogue meant to move things along.

Dark Romance is a solid 3 star effort. It tells its story and even manages to add layers to its conclusion. One does wonder, at the end, whether Cam played more of a role in the proceedings or not. This subtle suspicion  alludes to a depth that is admirable in such a short film.  Keep an eye on Matthew  Mahler  and specifically notice the strength of his latter films.

What Jack Built (2015): A Man and His Box (Review)

Directed and co-written by Matthew Mahler (the other scribe on the project was Ross Mahler) and starring Timothy J. Cox What Jack Built is a one man show. This could have been called “A Man and His Box” as it really does feel that this silent protagonist is alone in this world except for his “box.”

Timothy J.Cox as Jack in What jack Built

Directed and co-written by Matthew Mahler (the other scribe on the project was Ross Mahler) and starring Timothy J. Cox What Jack Built is a one man show.  This could have been called  “A Man and His Box” as it really does feel that this silent protagonist is alone in this world except for his “creation.” It could also be classed as a silent film, in as much as Cox’s character Jack, never really says anything.

There are the odd murmurings as he builds his project and a few satisfied sighs of containment when things go right, but not one word of dialogue, narration or any type of voice-over (as in allowing the audience to “hear” Jack’s thoughts) exists. There is a sound track, with aptly fitting music and sound effects.

Jack (Cox) is building something. At first glance, he seems to be a live version of Wallace sans Gromit. An inventor of some sort,  he even keeps his outside coat on hanger which he can pull on a slide, and his workshop (Home?) is chock a block with equipment, tools and and cigars.

The music seems to indicate a science fiction feel to the proceedings, as though this were set in the future.  Once the builder leaves his lair, the music changes to a different theme as thought the sic-fi element has been left behind and Jack enjoys the outdoors.

As Jack manufactures his “box,” going over his blueprints and excitedly putting everything together it appears that this trap he is building is not a survival thing at all.   When he has put the finishing touches on his box, he sets the bait (a tape recording that has been turned on inside the box) and head back to his shop to watch the proceedings. He seems more excited at the outcome, not like a hunter at all.

Lighting another cigar and popping open a tin of drink, Jack sits on a wheel chair and waits.

What Jack Built feels like a homage to both I am Legend  (faintly) and The Evil Dead. With a  feel of “the last man standing,” or in this case building, and the slower “evil dead” touch, this is a fascinating short film to watch.

Timothy J. Cox plays Jack as a man consumed with one task and while he is focussed on the matter at hand, he still loves a good cigar. Cox keeps the viewer’s interest throughout as they wonder why he is so intent on building this thing and what he hopes to snare.

The end result of this character’s labors return an unexpected result and by the time the film ends, we fear that Jack may have gotten much more than he expected. At under 12 minutes the time flies by and it can be watched repeatedly allowing new things to be discovered in the movie.

Like any great work of fiction, and stand-up comedians, at the end the viewer wants more.  Mahler has edited the film tightly and his storyline almost mesmerizes. Mahler also shot his own film, as well as edited it, and this Rodriguez approach works perfectly.

There are great touches in the film. For instance the vice that Jack grabs the partly-smoked cigar from is blackened on top. This vice has been the character’s cigar holder for some time. There are other touches like this in the film and this is obviously down to John Heerlein.

Perhaps the only complaint focusses around the cigars. Whether by accident or on purpose, as Jack smokes through a succession of stogies they change in diameter. The first one is quite fat compared to the later ones he smokes. As the film progresses these cigars get thinner and thinner.

Is this a message? It feels like is should be although the meaning is not clear.

This is a cracking bit of short cinema. The lighting is spot on and the set dressing is perfect.  The viewer believes in this verse almost effortlessly.  Cox proves that he can single handedly carry a film with ease. His “Jack” is fascinating and the viewer wants to see what he is building,  early in the movie, and then wants to know what happens after the end.

What Jack Built is Mahler’s fifth short film and it impresses, entertains and leaves the viewer asking questions after it finishes . This is a five star effort and well worth the time spent watching.  A compelling bit of film.  Catch it if you can.

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