7500 (2020)

7500 (2020)

Directed by: Paul Vollrath. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Aylin Tezel.  Runtime: 1h 33 min. Released: June 18, 2020.

Paul Vollrath’s 7500 starts with soundless footage from an airport’s security camera at the Berlin Tegel Airport – showing people going about their days. There’s a disconnect watching these people and that disconnect lingered throughout the film. This is because we are confined to the cockpit of a Berlin to Paris flight for the entirety of the film with co-pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the plane is hijacked.

Thrillers set on airplanes are one of my favourite sub-genres – like Red Eye, Flightplan or Snakes on a Plane, I love those kinds of films. 7500 is more in the speed of something like true story United 93, where there are only some bursts of action. Of course, the lack of consistent action is expected in 93. In 7500, I was expecting more action and was just bored throughout the film.

The film’s innovative in concept as a hijacking told in real-time from the point-of-view of the co-pilot told from the cockpit, and that’s fine if you want a film that looks like it’s filmed in a flight simulator. The sense of claustrophobia is strong here as is the anxiety – especially as the hijackers consistently pound on the cockpit door – and Vollrath’s script would be strong as a stage play, but as a film there are so many boring stretches. Still, there are some pros. The intensity of the terrorists’ first charge at the cockpit is excellently staged, as leading up to it the curtain between the cockpit and the plane’s cabin shifts as the terrorists listen for the cockpit door opening to let a flight attendant inside.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has some powerful moments as Tobias, especially when the hijackers try to get into the cockpit by taking hostages and threatening to kill them. The only way they survive is if Tobias opens the door. Tobias is helpless because opening the door would break protocol, and all he can do is watch on a small TV attached to a surveillance camera that shows the action in the cabin. This is how we watch most of the action unfold. He can’t really do much to help the passengers, other than suggesting they charge the terrorists because their weapons are just knives made from glass.

Tobias is our only connection to any other character, and honestly, he’s just boring as a father trying to survive the situation. If we’re going to be confined to a cockpit (that word gets funnier every time I write it) with him for 90 minutes, it shouldn’t be too big of an ask that he be a compelling character.

The only other characters besides the terrorists that we interact with are the captain, Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger), as well as Tobias’ flight attendant girlfriend, Gökce (Aylin Tezel). The terrorists themselves don’t seem to have a lot of motivation. One of them, Kenan (Murathan Muslu), gives a monologue of their intentions but this feels basic and vague. The youngest hijacker, Vedat (Omid Memar), seems pressured into this whole situation by his brothers. He also forges a connection with Tobias, but it’s still very boring.

There’s also such a disconnect from the passengers as we only see them being greeted by the flight attendants as they get on the plane. This disconnect is what hurts the film greatly. We don’t know their names or stories, and we are told there are 85 souls on board, but these passengers and crew might as well just be a number or names on a ledger. That could be director/writer Patrick Vollrath’s intention, as Tobias trying to save them isn’t a personal thing, it’s a duty because they’ve trusted him to fly the plane. Regardless, not knowing any of the passengers just made this feel cold.

I’m simple and I guess I like to explore the plane before the action and see the hijacking unfold among the passengers, feeling the panic that way. Instead of knowing the passengers during take-off, we actually see the plane take-off. That’s kind-of interesting – and there is a lot of technical dialogue about flying a plane and the procedures, so the research that went into this screenplay is there. The concept of this film is interesting, as it’s different being put in the shoes of a co-pilot as in so many of these films the captain and co-pilot is dead by the mid-way point.

This film feels more like a human drama, but I expected way more action. It’s not like I was expecting JGL to kick ass like Liam Neeson in Non-Stop or say one-liners like Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes on a Plane, but memorable action still could have happened. This just isn’t that type of film. I also just didn’t feel the stakes of the film consistently, as since I didn’t know the passengers or care much for Tobias, I simply wasn’t invested throughout or interested in the final outcome.

Score: 50/100

Can You Keep a Secret? (2019)

Can You Keep a Secret? (2019)

Directed by: Elise Duran. Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Tyler Hoechlin, Kimiko Glenn. Runtime: 1h 34 min. Released: September 13, 2019.

This will be a spoiler review so I talk about many plot points. I don’t think it’s worth watching anyway, but consider yourselves warned.

Apparently someone had been keeping Can You Keep a Secret? a secret from me as I had never heard of the film or the New York Times bestselling novel of the same name by Sophia Kinsella. Truthfully, I wish this film had just stayed a secret.

Emma Corrigan (Alexandra Daddario) is a junior marketing executive working for an organic food company called Panda. She meets Jack Harper (Tyler Hoechlin) on an airplane and when the plane hits turbulence, she spills all her personal secrets. The “comedy” ensues when Jack shows up at her work the next day because he’s the CEO of the company.

I’ll start with the somewhat good, and that’s Daddario. She’s fine, but if you put Daddario in a trash can of a film, it’s still a trash can. Okay, I guess there’s not really anything good here if I’m starting with that. Still, I smiled a couple times because I like her as an actress, and Tyler Hoechlin is okay, just boring because of the character.

The film just begins as an unfunny comedy with bad scenarios and switches into a rom-com with bad scenarios. The consistent set-up for jokes is Jack hanging around the workplace, asking Emma a question he already knows the answer to because of her secrets, and smiling as she squirms and tells a lie in front of others.

It’s not as malicious as I’m making it sound, but it isn’t funny. This rinses and repeats until she breaks up with her dull boyfriend Connor (David Ebert) – and then the romance between Daddario and Hoechlin really begins. Connor is a worthless presence here to simply postpone the romantic aspect of the film.

The most unbelievable thing about this film is how long Daddario stays with Connor. She’s unhappy but feels so average that she settles. For the film to believably sell Emma as an average girl, it was a mistake casting Daddario. Average? Not with those eyes. The film also puts Jack on a pedestal of perfection. Soon, we learn that Jack isn’t perfect because he has webbed feet. Really? That’s literally the same thing they do in the 2010 Jay Baruchel comedy She’s Out of My League when Baruchel has Alice Eve on a pedestal and learns she has webbed feet. Are we… Are we really saying Alexandra Daddario is the Jay Baruchel of this scenario?

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Alexandra Daddario and Tyler Hoechlin in Can You Keep a Secret?

The inferiority feels more like a sub-plot here when it’s the entire premise of League – it’s just not handled well here. We’re just led to believe that Emma is average as Jack goes on a live television interview and the interviewer asks him why he’s going into women’s health and Jack says they want to appeal to the average girl on the street, meaning Emma.

This is where the big conflict happens. We know the entire time Jack, at some point, would share her secrets – I honestly thought he was an author on the plane and would leak her secrets in a book – but the way it all happens feels so unnatural.

I’ll warn again, this is a spoiler review… Anyway, Jack is so in love with Emma that he starts to talk about all the things he loves about her and gets carried away and spills all her darkest secrets. This all happens as everyone at Emma’s workplace watches the interview on TV. He spills the fact that she “loves ABBA but hates jazz” (a big one because Connor loves jazz), “she scans the backs of classics and pretends that she’s read them” (a huge one because she was supposed to read Great Expectations), and the biggest one: “She cries every time she hears Demons by Imagine Dragons.”

The secrets feel mundane, a little embarrassing, sure, but since the secrets feel so small it takes away and stakes from the film. It’s also just convoluted how he goes on this tangent on live TV. Making matters worse is Emma’s workplace is the absolute worst. Everyone’s toxic, even Connor, but the only compassionate people are her friend Omar (Sam Asghari) and her boss Cybil (Laverne Cox), who’s mean for most of the film and then has a change of heart.

A co-worker named Artemis (Kate Easton) is the worst, the ringleader of the random cruelty as after the interview is over, she leads the office in a rendition of Demons by Imagine Dragons so Emma runs out crying. It’s all just terrible writing because it’s hard to believe a workplace would ever be this cruel, and the response is such a strange overreaction to make her feel awful.

I already hated this film for most of it, but romantic comedies get so much worse for me if I don’t buy into the conflict. And boy, the conflict here feels convoluted in every way. When Emma confronts Jack about the secrets spilling, Jack responds, “They asked me that question and it caught me off guard and I panicked.” The question he’s referring to? “Who’s your target market?” Yes, if someone asked me that on live television, I too would panic and spill someone’s every last secret.

I just don’t buy it. The writing’s just consistently awful as nothing really happens in the first hour and then 30 minutes of half-baked conflict is jammed in at the film’s end.

Score: 25/100

The High Note (2020)

The High Note (2020)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: May 29, 2020.

In Los Angeles, a personal assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), working for music superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), follows her dreams of being a producer when she meets singer David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and gives him the impression she’s an established producer with connections.

That’s the best I could come up with as far as a synopsis for this film goes, as for much of it felt kind-of plotless until Maggie met David. A lot of it is a personal assistant working for a superstar who’s struggling with her age, and then it leans into romantic drama when Maggie meets David.

Their relationship felt like the heart of the film as Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s chemistry was strong. Johnson plays the role as well as she usually does, and there’s nothing really new in her performance, but Johnson is why this worked for me at times. Harrison Jr. is good, too, there’s just nothing special about his performance, except the fact that his singing is solid and enjoyable.

About Tracee Ellis Ross, I haven’t seen enough of her to really create an opinion yet, but I wasn’t a big fan of this performance and that was mostly because I didn’t like the character – she’s a prima donna that’s too often unlikable, but her singing is fine. I liked her once we got to know her more, and a main plot point of her manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) pressuring her to take a Las Vegas residency was fine. It was interesting because Maggie wants her to take risks and encourage her not to play it safe, and safe would be the residency doing the same thing every night.

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Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson and Ice Cube in The High Note.

I did like the dynamic occasionally between Maggie and Grace, and I really liked the sub-plot of Maggie working on one of Grace’s old albums to make it have a new sound. That was the most interesting part about Maggie’s character to me – her music knowledge. She’s like an encyclopedia, as Grace calls her, and her knowledge of music and her passion for it is inspiring and Johnson plays that side well. She’s a dreamer and she’s following her ambitions; but it still feels one-note and isn’t enough to create a truly great character.

About Grace’s old music: Everyone loves her music, but they don’t want anything new. It’s explained that her last album sold poorly and that’s why her manager Jack – Ice Cube is fine but has so little to do – is adamant about the residency. The logic of no one wanting new music just doesn’t make sense to me, here. Grace Davis is still doing tours and has her billboards up all over, she still seems like a big deal, still selling out venues. Why wouldn’t these fans buy a new album? Part of the story is finding that passion to want to release new music again, but I couldn’t buy that her album wouldn’t sell well when we’re shown that she is such a big deal.

It’s interesting learning a bit more about the role of a music producer, and I enjoyed all the musical aspects of this. The drama of this is just so flat and just lifeless at times, as this just goes through the motions and never really gets going, and I couldn’t really even tell where the story was going for much of the film. That’s not to say that this is due to an unpredictably to the film – more so that it just felt so unfocused and was trying to do a lot of things at once, while also feeling like nothing of substance was happening. This is made worse by the fact that this feels overlong at 113 minutes, and if this were 90 minutes and more focused, it would be much more enjoyable.

I say that because after the classic break-up conflict, the film finally hits its stride in the last 25-30 minutes. It felt lively as it hit the emotional heart of its story, and finally found its voice. The message of fixing regrets and showing that risks are integral to following your dreams was fine. The third act finally had a couple (predictable) surprises up its sleeve and the film felt like it finally clicked. I just wasn’t emotionally invested at that point, and it’s a shame it couldn’t find its stride or voice like 45 minutes sooner, because it all felt too little too late.

Score: 50/100

Force of Nature (2020)

Force of Nature (2020)

Directed by: Michael Polish. Starring: Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson. Runtime: 1h 31 min. Released: June 30, 2020.

Force of Nature feels like the writer of the film, Cory M. Miller, watched 2018’s The Hurricane Heist and said, “Yeah, I’d like to write something like that, but worse.” At least in The Hurricane Heist there’s an aspect of it where it doesn’t take itself seriously at all and it could be fun to mock with friends, but Force of Nature is much too boring for those purposes.

The basic premise makes sense but the story feels haphazardly put together. During a hurricane in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a gang of thieves – led by John the Baptist (David Zayas) – target a building for a heist. They encounter trouble, however, when Officer Cardillo (Emile Hirsch) and his new partner Jess (Stephanie Cayo) are on evacuation duty and try to get a disgruntled ex-cop, Ray (Mel Gibson), his daughter Troy (Kate Bosworth), an elderly recluse called Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos) and Griffin (William Catlett) to leave the building and go to the storm shelter. Then, when John the Baptist and his crew come in, all hell breaks loose.

There are a lot of working parts about Force of Nature that try to come together but never mesh, and that’s with all the attempts at actually creating characters with backstories. It also makes the film feel like it takes itself way too seriously at times. Cardillo is developed as a character with a dark-ish past that everyone knows and Ray immediately doesn’t trust him because of Cardillo’s history. Cardillo has a lot of demons and we meet him sitting on the shower floor with a gun in his mouth. This type of characterization is fine in a drama, but the writing’s not strong enough to create a believable person. I get it, he has demons, but he’s a bit of a boring dickhead.

Ray is also just angry because his health is bad and Mel Gibson is just on one level the entire film – pissed off. The other attempt at serious character development is with Griffin, and his development feels relevant politically as he’s a black man who has problem with police because of run-ins with the past. He also has a killer lion or jaguar – I couldn’t tell, we only see it in a split second shot of it – whom he’s trained to attack cops in uniform. There’s also a layer with Bergkamp who’s a German who must learn to be tolerate others. This all just feels out-of-place for a dumb action movie with a hurricane and a heist. It is a dumb action movie and the attempt at characterization is fine, but the writing is so flat they don’t really ever come alive. It also just feels too serious, and the dialogue is wooden and any attempts at emotional scenes come off as laughable.

The heist is boring as hell, too, and the twist for it is dumb. Major spoilers, but basically John the Baptist is a criminal but also an art enthusiast who has caught wind of an art collection in the building owned by Bergkamp, whose father was a Nazi so he has a bunch of paintings from his Nazi days. This film really feels like if The Hurricane Heist, any action movie with an apartment building as the main setting (it’s too bad to compare this specifically to The Raid: Redemption) and The Monuments Men had a weird baby and this is the product that no one wants. And, while John is an art enthusiast and knows the value of these paintings, he doesn’t mind shooting someone in the back of the head so their brains fly all over a priceless painting. End spoilers.

He gets very little characterization – other than that these people are big into heists in Puerto Rico – and he’s supposed to be threatening just because he doesn’t mind killing his own men if they’re expendable, half the time for no reason. Seriously, I’m pretty sure he killed as many of his own guys as our heroes killed.

The hurricane itself feels inconsequential to the story, really just a framing device designed to get the cops to the same building where the gang is stealing from, and the hurricane also cuts off communication between Cardillo and Jess and their precinct. The hurricane also looks super ugly, and not much of a factor other than some flooding and filming in the pouring rain. In The Hurricane Heist the hurricane was because it was just a stupidly fun mix and at least there were action scenes in the hurricane, and in Crawl at least the hurricane served a purpose in getting the gators to the house. I mean, I guess the hurricane does get the cops to the building, but it never feels like an important factor. The same bad film could be made without the presence of a hurricane, and that could allow more action with more tenants in the building.

Score: 25/100

PODCAST – The DCOM Team, Episode 3: The Even Stevens Movie (2003)

PODCAST – The DCOM Team, Episode 3: The Even Stevens Movie (2003)

I’m back with a new episode of my Disney Channel Original Movie podcast with my friend Bobby newly named The DCOM Team (changed from Popcorn Flicks). I’m going to try to post these episodes every couple of weeks or so, but it’s been more like a month between episodes to start… Anyway, on this episode we review The Even Stevens Movie because today is Shia LaBeouf’s birthday.

Also, we were originally going to have discussions of The Even Stevens Movie and one of his other DCOM’s, Tru Confessions, on the same episode but both conversations were long enough on their own so I’m just separating the episodes. To let you know, as well, there will be spoilers!

I’ve added the podcast to the bottom, and to download it, just go here.

Justice League Dark (2017)

Justice League Dark (2017)

Directed by: Jay Oliva. Starring: Matt Ryan, Camilla Luddington, Jason O’Mara. Runtime: 1h 15 min. Released: February 7, 2017.

Beings with supernatural powers join together to fight supernatural villains. This supernatural team includes John Constantine (Matt Ryan), Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), and Jason Blood, also known as the demon Etrigan (Ray Chase).

The film opens with average people committing acts of violence because they see other people as demons, starting with a woman who runs over a bunch of them in the middle of a street, and my main question was why so many people were in the middle of the street. The Justice League don’t know what to make of it and Batman (Jason O’Mara), who is the only original JL member prominent throughout the film, is led to Constantine because whatever villainous plot is afoot deals with dark magic.

I don’t really love these DC Animated Movies (this film is a part of the DC Animated Movie Universe), but I think they’re always fine for their fans. I liked the premise of this one, though, because I think it gives something different than just the standard Justice League bit with the introduction of demons, but it still never got going for me.

Constantine’s introduction at a poker game in Vegas was a high point as Etrigan came out to save the day when Constantine forced Jason to summon him, as the situation escalated. Constantine never really left much of an impression after that because I didn’t think he ever did anything that interesting, but I like the character in the live-action film Constantine. I was way more interested in the world this film created, with the mythical House of Mystery and all that.

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Constantine, Boston Brand, Zatanna and Batman in Justice League Dark. (IMDb)

I found the side characters more interesting, too, like Zatanna who is a powerful magician and has something they call true magic (which Constantine also has), as well as Jason Blood and the backstory of how he got tethered to Etrigan and how that comes into the story. I also liked the ghost character Boston Brand (Nicholas Turturro), and the background of his death, though he’s described as a womanizer but we don’t get much of that when he’s actually dead. Also, I thought Boston’s “background” scene felt was too heavy-handed for an exposition scene and Jason Blood’s exposition scene for his background was handled way better.

Swamp Thing (Roger Cross) was also fun for a performance that was too brief for my liking. I liked this world because of the dark magic, and it’s well-animated, but I never had that much fun with it because it all still feels so standard even if it’s more unique than the regular Justice League. The villain, however, when (s)he was actually revealed was pretty good. I did like the whole premise about why average citizens are randomly seeing demons everywhere, too.

However, there’s just nothing memorable about this action and one scene in particular just feels like filler for the sake of it, but it’s needed because this is only 75 minutes long. I thought the finale was best when some of the other actual Justice League members came into play, like Superman (Jerry O’Connell) and Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson). The writing’s fine, it’s not remarkable in any way but there are some good one-liners (“your ass is grass Constantine, and we’re the mower”).

The only memorable thing about any of the action is when someone anonymously summons a demon in a bathroom and all the toilets explode and a huge shit demon comes out. “Shit really hits the fan, eh?” asks Boston when he sees it, and this is Boston’s only good zinger. The demon’s gross, but the visual and idea of it won’t leave my mind anytime soon.

Score: 50/100

Scoob! (2020)

Scoob! (2020)

Directed by: Tony Cervone. Starring: Will Forte, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs. Runtime: 1h 34 min. Released: May 15, 2020.

In Scoob!, we see how Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby (Frank Welker) meet when they’re kids. Then they meet the rest of the gang – Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and Velma (Gina Rodriguez). It’s not much of a prequel story as this happens for about 10 minutes, but they investigate a local haunted house and this is when it feels like classic Scooby-Doo. Enjoy this while it lasts, as 10 years pass and Shaggy and Scooby find themselves in a generic superhero story to stop the evil Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) from unleashing a dogpocalypse onto the world.

Usually, the Mystery Gang will simply help local townsfolk with a mystery, solve their spooky problem and then get called meddling kids. Here, as the plot shows it won’t please long-time Scooby fans, the Mystery Gang join forces with superheroes, not even solve a mystery and instead try to save the world, and then get called meddling kids.

This film is intended to be the first in a shared Hanna Barbera universe as Warner Bros. shoves lesser known HB characters into a Scooby-Doo film, as they join forces with Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) from the Hanna Barbera show Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. The villain of this film is also Dick Dastardly of Wacky Races fame. I’m a ‘90s kid so I’m only vaguely familiar with Dastardly, and I don’t care about them. The voice acting is strong as these characters, though, and it could intrigue long-time Hanna Barbera fans to see these smaller characters on the supposed-to-be-big-screen.

However, this all makes Scoob! feel like a product more than something truly creative, as this shares the same mistake with 2017’s The Mummy as Warner Bros. puts a focus on jumping straight into a cinematic universe instead of first making a strong Scooby-Doo film. As a film for kids who might be seeing Scooby for the first time, this would be fine, but it would be a shame to make them think that this captures any of the spirit of Scooby-Doo because it does not. It’s just a film with colourful (and great) animation with non-stop action so their attention span never wanders.

It’s also strange that Fred, Daphne and Velma are turned into side characters. They get little to do and Fred never once tells anyone to split up, and Velma never says “jinkies” and she never loses her glasses. Okay, that’s false, she loses them in an image during the credits as director Tony Cervone and writers tease a real Scooby-Doo mystery, but we don’t get to enjoy it. To tease us like that after the nonsense of this film is honestly a cruel joke.

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Frank Welker and Will Forte as Scooby and Shaggy in Scoob!

As for the voice casting, Frank Welker reprises the role of Scooby-Doo and he’s great, but it’s strange that Scooby talks in complete sentences and is able to have conversations with Shaggy. Will Forte is fine as Shaggy and I like him as an actor, but he isn’t Shaggy. Matthew Lillard is my Shaggy. He started playing the character in the 2002 live-action film Scooby-Doo and has been voicing Shaggy in the television shows and films since 2010, so hearing Forte give it the old college try is kind-of a bummer.

The rest of the core cast is good in their own right in other films, but Zac Efron feels flat as Fred as he’s just playing himself and he’s such a big star that it kind-of distracts. Amanda Seyfried, though, feels like she actually fits Daphne but she has little to do. My biggest issue is Gina Rodriguez as Velma and that’s because she doesn’t even make an effort to make Velma sound like Velma. She doesn’t sound nerdy and she just showed up, did her regular voice and it just does not fit the character at all. This trio also barely has any laughs, but most of the humour in the film doesn’t work.

It feels so dated to the mid-2000’s, strange since Shaggy and Scooby sing a rendition of “Shallow” from A Star is Born to Simon Cowell (yep) that shows this is at least 2018. The music choices are kind-of odd as the film opens to Tupac’s “California Love” and then Shaggy shuffles through five songs about loneliness to show he needs a friend. That loneliness bit feels forced, but Shaggy and Scooby’s friendship is the core of this film and that’s played okay.

However, since this does not feel like my Shaggy and Scooby (the only time I really had fun with them is when they pretend to be restaurant workers at the bowling alley), I couldn’t love their friendship. I cared more about Dastardly’s super cute robots (reminiscent of the minions from Despicable Me and just for the merchandise) who have replaced Dastardly’s usual sidekick Muttley.

While this film surely ups the ante of a normal Scooby-Doo story to make it feel cinematic, it totally forgets that the Mystery Gang is simply a group of twenty-somethings who solve goofy and creepy mysteries that have no implications on the fate of the world. I’ve highlighted the good parts but this film is more frustrating when it flashes its clever side because there’s so much here that is uninspired.

Score: 38/100

Filmcraziest Interviews – Jess Bartlett and Elise Martin on their short film, Dearly Departed (2018)

Filmcraziest Interviews – Jess Bartlett and Elise Martin on their short film, Dearly Departed (2018)

I was able to chat with a couple filmmakers from the United Kingdom about their haunted house musical comedy Dearly Departed, which has just wrapped up its festival circuit and is available to watch on Vimeo. My review of the film can be found here.

I talked with them separately but I think both interviews are equally fun! First, I talked with Jess Bartlett who co-wrote, produced and is credited hairstylist on the short film. Second, I talked with Elise Martin who is the director and co-writer of the film and the interview with Elise starts around the 38:50 mark.

You can listen directly below or follow this link to download the audio file/podcast with the two interviews. I’m also hoping to make these interviews a regular thing on my site, so if any independent filmmakers are reading and would like an interview, e-mail me at danielprinn@msn.com.

Anyway, enjoy the interviews and thanks for listening!

Burn (2019)

Burn (2019)

Directed by: Mike Gan. Starring: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Josh Hutcherson, Suki Waterhouse. Runtime: 1h 28 min. Released: August 23, 2019.

I really enjoy hostage situation movies but Burn is truly one of the strangest ones that I’ve seen. When a desperate man, Billy (Josh Hutcherson), in need of cash holds a gas station at gun point, a lonely and unstable gas station attendant, Melinda (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), tired of being overshadowed by her prettier co-worker Sheila (Suki Waterhouse), sees this as an opportunity to make a connection with the robber.

The best thing about Burn is that it has a unique premise. It just doesn’t know what to do with it as Melinda comes across as way too unstable. She’ll make many audience members uncomfortable and that’s the point so Cobham-Hervey plays it well. You just know when a woman wants to go with the robber when he’s holding the place at gunpoint, something’s not right there.

There’s sympathy for her there, too, because she doesn’t know when someone legitimately likes her or if they’re just pretending. A lot of the time, though, the character’s just awkward. Her fascination with fire and burning herself to feel something is kind-of interesting. Edgy, but interesting.

Suki Waterhouse is okay in a completely opposite kind-of personality as the confident and bubbly gas station attendant who gets hit on by men whose attention she does not want. As for the robber, I like Josh Hutcherson just fine but he doesn’t work as the robber here. Josh Hutcherson in a Canadian tuxedo robbing a gas station isn’t exactly intimidating.

To be fair, his character isn’t a career criminal or anything, he’s just a guy in need of cash to pay off some angry people. That’s where the plot tries to bring outside people to the gas station but the pacing of the film doesn’t work as it’s mainly a two-person show between Billy and Melinda. They don’t have much chemistry as neither want to be there, but that dynamic works well for this. It’s just a boring film that never really elevates past a simply sort-of interesting premise.

Score: 40/100

 

Dearly Departed (2018, Short Film)

Dearly Departed (2018, Short Film)

Directed by: Elise Martin. Starring: Betty Denville, Sean Kilty, William Paul. Runtime: 13 min. Released: May 8, 2020 (on Vimeo).

Note: Since this was a short film/indie film request, I won’t be giving this a score, as hopefully the review will just speak for itself.

The zombie horror-comedy musical Anna and the Apocalypse was one of my favourite films of 2018, so when I heard about the short film Dearly Departed, a 13-minute haunted house musical that blends comedy and romance, I knew that was right up my alley.

The film follows Vera (Betty Denville), an ordinary girl who happens to be living in a house full of spirits, and must learn to balance her relationships with her alive boyfriend, Fred (Ashton Spear), and the home’s ghosts, Billy (Sean Kilty), Kirk (William Paul) and Cara (Olivia Warren). Since it’s only 13 minutes long, I’ll avoid specific spoilers, but I enjoyed trying to guess what direction the film would go in, like if the ghosts would try to break up Vera and Fred or not. How they feel about the relationship is explored, but writers Jess Bartlett (also credited as producer and hairstylist) and Elise Martin (who also directs) take this in a fun direction.

It’s interesting watching Fred throw a wrench into this unique household dynamic by immediately suggesting Vera find a new home. He questions why she needs all this space, gesturing to empty chairs that we know are occupied by the abode’s ghosts. There’s not enough time to explain exactly why Fred, a realtor, is so insistent on getting her out of this home, but it drives the main conflict as he tries to get her out of the old and into the new.

Obviously, Vera doesn’t want to leave her friends, and the ghosts don’t want her to leave, either. “This house ain’t a home if we’re trapped here on our own,” the ghosts sing at one point. The home as a setting is perfect for the film’s vibe. Its vintage style is kind-of spooky because it could plausibly be haunted, perfect for a haunted house comedy that doesn’t flirt with horror but has a dark side.

Dearly Departed, article
Sean Kilty, Olivia Warren and William Paul in Dearly Departed.

The concept for this film is strong and it’s a delightful musical, and I haven’t even talked about the music. There are three original songs nestled into the 13-minute runtime that drive the story. The first song, “My Heart,” is a peppy and hopeful song of new love, reminiscent of fairy tales like Cinderella, complemented by lighting and birds tweeting outside. The other songs give it a run for its money, too, and while everything complements each other, from the cast to the direction, the music is the glue.

It brings it all together because a musical is only as strong as its music, and that’s what makes Dearly Departed a winner. Kudos to Robbie Cavanagh and Demi Marriner for creating these catchy tunes. I loved the riffs and the lyrics worked well, letting the story flow and there’s a nice sense of the characters from the songs. I benefitted from multiple viewings to really listen to the music when it relates specifically to the story.

Impressively, this was made as a graduate project for University (with the help of a Kickstarter campaign), but it feels like it’s made by a professional team. Elise Martin’s solid direction helps with that, as does Elliott Howarth’s cinematography. There are some great shots here and I like the aesthetic, and the VFX work (by Nicholas Bendle and Harry Clarke) is strong, too. Martin directs the musical moments well, and the dialogue here still flows well when the characters aren’t singing.

I said earlier that Anna and the Apocalypse was one of my favourite films from last year, and I go back to the “Turning My Life Around” scene quite often whenever I need a smile. I can see myself going back to this film for a similar reason. Truthfully, my third watch of this was because I just needed a smile and I’m happy to report it worked.

The film is available now to watch on Vimeo here.