Psychic Murder (2017): Faustian Twist (Review)

All images courtesy of Timothy J. Cox

Directed and written by Brandon Block (taken from the short story “Ghost” by Maxwell Gontarek) Psychic Murder has a distinct Faustian twist that leaves the viewer convinced that this will all end in tears. Ruthless agent Mickey Goldsmith (played coldly, and somewhat nastily, by Timothy J. Cox) zeroes in on the comic with three fingers on each hand; Billy (Will Bernish) and offers to represent him.

While there is that Faust flavour to the proceeds, the feeling is one of impending disaster. Billy, who is bombing when he first appears on stage, does somewhat better when he references his “defect.” This approach garners the young man more laughs but one feels that the cold audience is laughing at the novice stand-up and not with him.

Block and his cinematographer Bethany Michalski, along with production designer Danielle Naassana, opt to make the proceedings feel shady and slightly unpleasant. Mixing the sound (Corey Johnson) with an overblown decibel level and a somewhat sinister sounding crowd track combines with the seedy appearance and increases the unease factor exponentially.

Taking Billy’s rather inept attempt at comedy and showing us a crowd who clearly are not entertained or amused until Mickey’s table begin to react puts the agent in as devil’s advocate as well as, perhaps, an interlude to Billy’s journey to join the damned.

Cox kills it with those snide and cutting remarks about his previous client and that cold yet penetrating stare he uses to pin the new comic down like a bug on a bit of cardboard. There is clearly no mercy to be had here and Mickey tells his potential client that, in reality, he will do nothing to advance his career.

Despite this, and Puma (Tatiana Ford in her first role) trying her best to warn the lad off, Billy seems determined to take the menacing, and downright unpleasant, agent on as his representation. 

This is after Mickey tells Billy about his previous client Adrian Mann (Matt Moores) – an equally unfunny comic that Puma took a fancy to. Goldsmith tells Billy that he destroyed Mann’s career because his lady opted to love the hapless performer. However, one gets the feeling that Puma was just the bait used for Goldsmith’s trap. He clearly goes after the less talented stand-up artists.

There are things that jar with this short drama. The hands of Billy, for example, look cartoonish. (So much so that one expects some reference to it.) This could well be an allegory for the whole scenario, however, with the fake looking three-fingered hands representing the falseness of Goldsmith’s offer.

All images courtesy of Timothy J. Cox
Billy, wannabe stand-up comic

The sound, which is overly loud in several places, intrudes at the beginning but, once again, this appears to be on purpose. Block opts to allow the background music to drown out Mickey’s first few words to Billy. The emphasizes the bewilderment of the novice performer and his nervousness after his stressful set.

Psychic Murder is lit with a bit of soft, yet harsh, saturation that also adds to the allusion that Billy is not just desperate to be a stand-up comic but he also sees this as his salvation, no matter how unrealistic it feels.

Clearly Block and Gontarek have had some shared experience with the hard to please crowd of the stand-up set. It is a harsh world where the comic has to be good, or at least have the audience on his or her side, to survive. If the performer is off, or not up to the task, the comedy crowd audience can be brutal.

Regardless of whether the writers and the director have personally experienced this world, they have given us a dour, and somewhat unsettling, look at the world of live entertainment. Mickey and his right-hand lady represent all that is wrong with this world and the film gives us a vision of decadence and cruel that is upsetting.

Psychic Murder is a solid 4 star film. It entertains and, despite those cartoon hands, gives up pause for thought. This one is worth a look, or two, if for no other reason than to see Timothy J. Cox playing the devil incarnate.

All images courtesy of Timothy J. Cox

Night Job (2017): The Freaks Come Out at Night (Review)

IMG_5082

Written and directed by J. Antonio, Night Job is an ambitious first effort by the new “auteur.” Taking the 1984 Whodini song “The Freaks Come Out at Night” as his template, Antonio tells the story of James (Jason Torres) a neophyte night doorman in New York.

As anyone who works, or has worked, the night shift knows the setting of the sun brings out the weird and wonderful denizens of any city. James is treated to a bizarre evening of eccentric tenants (He is the doorman to a high-rise apartment building.) street vendors and more.

Antonio also tries hard to make this film a visual melting pot of foreigners who have flocked to the big city for whatever reasons. James comes in contact with a number of oddball characters, including his lazy co-worker, Romeo (Greg Kritikos).

Shot almost entirely in black and white and taking place, for the most part, inside an apartment building foyer, Night Job could almost be called a comedy noir film. Torres could be seen as the “Sam Spade” of doormen.

(The only colour sequence is when James dreams of meeting a woman at a rooftop party. Antonio does this, presumably, to go against tradition where dreams are filmed in black and white, or at the very least, sepia.)

While the acting is, in a number of cases, lacking; there are performances that stand out head and shoulders above the majority of the cast.  A lot of the “European” characters sound right while some of the local parts sound disconnected and wooden. It is understandable that films with low/no budgets have little choice in the performers they use.

The truly outstanding bits of acting on offer includes:

Timothy J. Cox, as usual, provides a huge amount of truth in his performance as Mr. Jones, the man whose girlfriend has his apartment keys. 

IMG_5081
Timothy J. Cox as Mr. Jones

Stacey Weckstein, in her first role in a feature length film, nails it as the girl who has had too much of everything. The wide eyed, slow and careful delivery is spot on. As any actor will tell you, playing an intoxicated or stoned  character is damned difficult and this young lady killed it. 

Monikha Reyes, in her first role ever, plays her part with an ease that is scary, natural and spot on.

Jason Torres does an adequate job as the keystone that all the other players must gravitate around. He has the unenviable task of creating a character who mainly reacts to the insanity that unfolds in front of him as the night shift goes on.

Other players who manage to smoothly create characters seen for a matter of moments includes Shanae Christine Harris, as Josephine, Kutcha as Julio, Lester Greene as the DVD street vendor, Brandon J. Shaw as “Apartment 718,” Steven L. Coard as Mark and Bettina Skye as Stella.

Cinematographer Valentin Farkasch does a brilliant job keeping the camera out of the frame in an environment full of mirrors and reflective glass. The only complaint about the film would be the tendency of too many close ups during a conversation. The movie could have used a few more “medium shots” but the urge to “zoom” could have been dictated by the set’s many reflective surfaces.

At 85 minutes, the film is a tad too long for the subject matter, however, the slow pacing and the overall length could well be J. Antonio’s way of putting the audience in James’ shoes. Any nightshift is long, but the first one, in any job, is excruciatingly long.

All in all, Night Job is amusing and gives the audience a wide range of quirky characters. Torres gives his role a “nice guy” flavor that keeps the viewer on his side throughout his first night as a “temp.”

Night Job is a 3.5 star film. It is a solid enough first attempt that, in places, feels a bit too improvisational. This could well be the reason that some of the characters and their lines felt a bit wooden.

J. Antonio has gotten off to a good start and it will be interesting to see what his next project will be. The film is due out in 2017.

Gary From Accounting (2016): I Is for Intervention (Review)

Timothy J. Cox and Mark Grenier

As a last ditch effort to help Nathan stop drinking, his sister and wife stage an intervention session. They call in Gary to help make their point. Unfortunately Nathan’s wife Hannah sends her email to the wrong Gary; not his best friend but the one from accounting at his firm.

Written by Phoebe Torres and directed by Daniel Lofaso (his first time directing) this short short-film, something that feels like a flash-fiction film, is a comedy in one very short act.  It stars Timothy J. Cox as Nathan and  Mark Grenier as Gary.

The film starts with Gary arriving and finding the house empty. He sits down, removes his shoes and begins reading a magazine. Nathan’s wife Hannah (Thea McCartan) and sister Belle (Jake Lipman) enter the room and realize that Hannah emailed the wrong Gary.

Just as he starts to leave a drunken Nathan returns home and the intervention begins.

Gary from Accounting almost feels like an improvisational effort. Which makes the comedy in this short piece work very well.  As the awkward intervention continues, Nathan’s family, including his children relate what his drinking problem does to them personally.

Gary, who should not be there at all, mentions an occasional late report that makes him late for a television program. Amusingly it is this bit of information that gets through to Nathan.

Part of the comedy really arises out of both the women in Nathan’s life reacting to the interaction between Gary and Nathan.  Trying to make the most of a bad situation and taking cues from the man from accounting, the women carry on regardless.

Cox makes a very believable inebriate and Grenier could be the template for any accountant in any company. A man who might share a drink or two at work and then get upset at missing parts of his favorite television series.

The rest of the humor is derived from Nathan’s refusal to even acknowledge his family’s concerns and complaints. He does however, react to the man he had a couple of drinks with.

Grenier’s delivery as the accountant is spot on. He manages to be just the right amount of uneasy with his part in this session yet can rise to the occasion when needed. Cox follows his lead and becomes just as emotional over the bit of telly that Gary has missed.

Overall, the camera work is on form but at one point the shadow of the camera and its operator intrudes upon the scene. As Nathan steers Gary back to the couch the shadow falls across the former’s shoulders.

That is, however, the only issue with the film.  The sound is clear and the lack of a soundtrack  allows the audience to feel very much like a “fly-on-the-wall.”

A quick word of praise for the the child actors in the film. Both Christopher John and Rhea Kottakis come across as very real. The boy’s trembling tone and Rhea’s eyes speak volumes and bring much to the proceedings.

Gary from Accounting could be seen as a comedy of errors, or even a parody of the intervention  process. It is, regardless of whichever category one places it in, funny.

This is Phoebe Torres’ first script and it shows a lot of promise. It would be nice to see what else she produces. Something a tad longer perhaps but, in all honesty, this type of comedy and its length could be used as a template for, say, Marty and Mara

Gary from Accounting is a 3.5 star effort had the camera not been so intrusive (at one point there is a split second shot of what appears to be a bit of lighting equipment as well) this would have scored full marks.

Transience (2013): Silent Message (Review)

Timothy J. Cox

Written and directed by Tan See Yun, Transience is a silent film that conveys a message of cunning simplicity.  Starring Timothy J. Cox and Joshua Michael Payne the film follows George and Tom in a typical day. 

Shot in black and white, this journey in silence shows that the two men have stopped talking to one another. The lack of dialogue mimics their lack of communication. Each man has specific interests. George is the hardworking one who cooks a breakfast for his spouse.

Tom is more interested in his looks and playing the field.  He gets annoyed at the freshly prepared breakfast and avoids eye contact with George after he slips back on his wedding ring.  Later,  as the film progresses Tom prepares a meal for George and it is a TV dinner.

In essence the two men are opposites. George is the “grownup” and Tom the child. Yun uses flowers, meals and chess to tell the story of the two men and their relationship. At the start, George replaces the dead flowers with new ones. He also makes a move on the chessboard. Tom ignores the game board and concentrates on breakfast.

Later the chessboard is used to show that things have been reset. The flowers are also replaced again. Each item indicates that the relationship has survived this rocky patch and that both men have re-invested in one another. However, the microwave meal versus the properly cooked breakfast  shows that the two men are still very much opposites.

There is a scene in the short film where Tom “sees” George at the park. The other man is asleep on a park bench. A chessboard sits opposite him and an empty chair is in front of the table.  On the ground beside George is a walking cane.

This scene appears to motivate Tom. The appearance of George is a sort of vision, apparently. where an older version of his partner looks lost and alone. Tom is moved to re-invest in his relationship and makes an effort.

IMG_4356

The entire film is silent. There is no score or peripheral noise, aka Foley Effects, and not one scrap of dialogue. These two men’s world is silent as death and this reflects the vacuum they have created with their own non communication.

Transience works as a romantic cautionary tale. The message is as clear as the photography on the project. “Talk to each other.”  A lack of communication, verbal or non-verbal creates a vacuum where nothing survives. Things  may not be rotten, but they  are not growing either.

Space is a vacuum and it has no gravity. Objects float away, not held together by anything, and the two men’s relationship is also floating away at first.

Cox and Payne has a good chemistry in the film. Their interaction does feel like a truthful representation of a long term couple who are having issues.

Transience is a  cracking little silent film. It also appears to be Yun’s only short film to date.  This is a solid 4 star effort, it loses one star due to the confusion in the park scene, but is masterfully done overall.

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.