Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Short Film: Plot Device (USA, 2011)

Plot Device from Red Giant on Vimeo.

Here we have a relatively recent short film that was actually made to hawk the wares of the software firm Red Giant. Red Giant likes to claim that they "understand the challenges of creating a high quality film at an affordable price" and to prove their point they hired the young and (to-date) unknown filmmaker Seth Worley to make a video short utilizing their software (specifically, Red Giant's Magic Bullet Suite of video tools). Worley and Red Giant executive Aharon Rabinowitz supposedly worked hand-in-hand on the project, from the screenplay to the actual production. The end result is a short movie that is less a commercial than simply an entertaining little gem that functions very well as a stand-alone short film — and which, in this way, does more to show what one can do with Red Giant's software than a real commercial ever could have.
As Wikipedia says, "A plot device is an object or character in a story whose only purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot. A contrived or arbitrary plot device may annoy or confuse the reader, causing a loss of the suspension of disbelief. However a well-crafted plot device, or one that emerges naturally from the setting or characters of the story, may be entirely accepted, or may even be unnoticed by the audience." In Plot Device, the plot is fantastic and requires the total suspension of belief, but it is also effectively simple, as is evident by Red Giant's own plot description of the film as found on their webpage: "A young filmmaker obtains a mysterious device that unleashes the full force of cinema on his front lawn." And as simple as the plot is, the execution is also just as effective, professional, intriguing and fun. So enjoy Plot Device and runaway brides, cops and killers, zombies, femme fatales, hipsters and aliens... 
Director Seth Byron Worley (born April 26, 1984), by the way, has been active in films since the end of the 1990s, working on the kind of projects that might be expected of a happily married Nashville, Tennessee, resident with a wife and two children who works for LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the largest providers of religious and Christian resources in the world. (LifeWay, founded in 1891 under a different name by J.M. Frost, a 43-year-old pastor, was dubbed one of the "Best Employers in Tennessee" in the May 2007 issue of the magazine Business Tennessee. According to LifeWay, "As God works through us ... we will help people and churches know Jesus Christ and seek His Kingdom by providing biblical solutions that spiritually transform people and cultures.") Plot Device proved so successful that Worley now has signed away his soul in that city of sin known as Hollywood and, as of August 2011, is represented by ICM.
And to give some other credit where credit is due, the dorky young filmmaker that is the central figure of identification in Plot Device is no less than the brother of the director, Ben Worley, who is also credited as having co-written the film's extremely appropriate music.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Alien Prey (Great Britain, 1978)

Released in Germany as The Destructor
Though no longer active as a feature film director, beginning in 1968 with his B&W debut sexplotation flick Her Private Hell (trailer) English director Norman J. Warren was a regular regurgitator of low budget British feculence, including such instant non-classics as the Bloody New Year (1987 / trailer), Terror (1978 / trailer) and Spaced Out (1979 / trailer). Today, he is primarily remembered for his notorious and still divisive sci-fi exploiter Inseminoid aka Horror Planet (1981 / trailer), one of the more disturbing cheap-and-sleazy Alien knock-offs ever made. But for awhile, alongside the much more productive English sleazemeister Peter Walker, Warren was a modernizer of the English film scene, a purveyor of (for their day) explicit, grim and bloody modern-day horror films, most of which have aged less gracefully than the Gothic period pieces offered by Hammer at that same time. But graceless or not, Warren's films do tend to offer a certain level of psychotronic entertainment alongside their oddly pleasing English accents – and in this regard, Alien Prey is no different.
According to imdb, Alien Prey was shot over ten days and, for the most part, written as it was shot. While both trivial tidbits are conceivable, the latter seems almost obvious, for the narrative often appears oddly spontaneous and under-developed, though neither of these "flaws" is quiet as evident as the lowliness of the film's probable budget. Nevertheless, the film has occasional exploitive interjections – the death of two policeman, a totally gratuitous topless sunbathing scene, the whole slow-motion drowning scene – that make one think that the given event or scene pictured was less planned or thought-out than simply added due to the scriptwriter's sudden realization that after a certain amount of dialogue some spice was needed again.
Featuring a core cast of three – supplemented by three other faces that are on screen mere minutes before they die – Alien Prey is basically a mildly bloody science fiction version of Mark Rydell's feature-film debut, The Fox (1967), which in turn is based on a novella by D. H. Lawrence. In The Fox, as in Alien Prey, the life of a lesbian couple living in seclusion is shaken by the arrival of a good-looking stranger. But whereas the stranger in The Fox is both earthly and earthy, the oddly distant stranger in Alien Prey is an alien in search of a reliable food source for his home planet. (That aspect of the plot could well have been inspired by the far more arty Nicolas Roeg flick, The Man Who Fell to Earth [1976 / trailer], in which the alien, played by David Bowie, comes to earth in search of water for his dehydrated home planet.)
Alien Prey was made in a day and age in which it was still daring if not totally mod to have a lesbian couple, but also a day and age in which the filmmakers were still not trendsetting enough to not make at least one of the scissor sisters a murdering psycho. In this case here, we have the innocent fem Jessica (Glory Annen of Felicity [1978 / trailer]), who gets to show her pert breasts occasionally, and her controlling lover Josephine (Sally Faulkner of The Body Stealers [1969] and the unjustly under-appreciated Vampyres [1974 / trailer]), whom we learn over the course of the film is a nut-house escapee, confronted by a lightly somnambulant but not unattractive man named Anders (Barry Stokes of La corrupción de Chris Miller [1973 / scene]), who pukes whenever he eats greens, doesn't know what water is, and is quiet willing to both dress in drag and play hide-n-seek to celebrate the death of the fox supposedly responsible for killing chickens. His appearance drives Josephine to not only play with a huge switchblade – which really gave us switchblade envy, to say the least – but also to become all the more controlling, which is turn gives Jessica an itch that she thinks only Anders can scratch...
Disaster, of course, is inevitable, especially if you take into account that Anders sporadically changes into a fanged, doggie-nosed man that rips apart and eats the innards of animals and an occasional policeman. (One wonders why they didn't write in an Avon Lady or Jehovah's Witness to up the body count – but maybe they don't have them in England.)
Alien Prey is really not all that good of a film, but be that as it may it is also oddly mesmerizing. The cheapness of the production is apparent everywhere from the presentation of Anders' arrival to his final radio report, from the extremely limited location and number of actors to the cheesiness of the "gore" scenes. The acting itself cannot really be faulted, seeing that everyone is more or less a one-dimensional character, and the camerawork is functional if occasionally weak (the slow-motion drowning scene is a hilarious fiasco). The pace of the movie is positively languid, the occasional money shots – in a figurative sense, as this is not a porn movie – are far between and usually come across like an after-thought, and the ending is far less shocking than it is funny.
So why watch Alien Prey? Well, it's often rather amusing and everyone – including the aliens – all have nice English accents. And even if you are often left with the feeling that the filmmakers are trying too hard to be shockingly trendsetting – lesbianism, big phallic knife, alien in drag, the scene of kicking dead chickens and, of course, the heterosexual sex and meal scene and final ironic death – the oddities that the filmmakers throw in, as well as the low budget gleam, are strangely entertaining and endearing.
Still, considering all the film's pacing, be forewarned that despite all the engaging flaws of Alien Prey, if you watch the film too late at night it could well put you to sleep.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wheels / Tockovi (Republic of Yugoslavia / Serbia, 1999)

How pleasant: a totally unknown film about which we knew nothing that turned out to be an absolute gem of a black comedy. In all truth, however, you'll probably never have a chance to see Wheels — or Tockovi, as it is entitled in its mother tongue — as it does not seem to ever have had an English-language release, not even on DVD.* 
It did, on the other hand, once have a German-language DVD release, and somehow that DVD found its way into our pile of films to watch something we were only too happy to do after getting a gander of its entertaining German trailer which, unlike the trailer above, promises an insane ten-miles-a-minute roller-coaster ride of post-modern Eastern Bloc violence. In truth, the film is more of a mile-a-minute roller-coaster ride and, for all its violence and obvious influence of the School of Tarantino, Wheels still owes a lot more to Franz Kafka and the extraordinary popular delusions and madness of crowds than to the post-modern kinetics of today's Tarantino wannabes.
Do not misunderstand our last statement above as in any way implying that Wheels is either slow or boring, for it is neither. But unlike many a film, between the violence and the absurdity of the events the film-maker — Djordje Milosavljevic, making his directorial début with a script he wrote himself — takes the time to flesh-out  the framework situation and activities of the story and characters so as to explore every aspect deeply and entertainingly. And thus, between the bullets and the falling bodies he takes the time to take a look at and reveal the secrets of each character and, in turn, reveal universal the truth that we all have something to hide. 
Made in 1999, Wheels has an almost timelessly retro look, a candy-colored version of the semi-50s Twilight Zone appearance once so prevalent in the Eastern Bloc that has mostly vanished today, with the possible exception of the backwaters of Belarus. The film tells the tale of a young man named Nemanja (Dragan Micanovic, also found somewhere in RocknRolla [2008 / trailer] and Layer Cake [2004 / trailer]) who, one dark and stormy night, drives back to his childhood home in the boondocks of the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to visit his father and borrow some money. After a brief and unnerving interlude with a hitchhiker, a scary run-in with the police and a flat tire he is forced by the rain and washed out roads to take refuge at an isolated, seedy hotel the titular "Wheels" where he is welcomed not by Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff but something worse: a group of similarly stranded guests and an unfriendly innkeeper who in no short time all mistake him for a sought-after serial killer and, for reasons of their own, would prefer to deal with him themselves instead of calling in the police. Luckily, before they can finally do away with him he manages to turn the tables and get the upper hand...
Confronted by a Kafkaesque nightmare of suspicion, innocence and guilt, fate and chance, death and survival, Nemanja's situation is comparable to that of Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett's absurdist play Waiting for Godot, for he spends most of the movie waiting for the police to finally arrive — but as is the case with Godot in Beckett's play, in Wheels the authorities never arrive. Worse, even as Nemanja tries desperately to survive the night and establish his true identity and innocence, not only do the bodies begin to fall but every corpse makes both his proclaimed innocence and identity seem all the more a lie.
Wheels is a wonderfully entertaining, low budget black comedy (if not black burlesque) with excellent film design from the hotel to cars to the outfits worn and at-times variable acting and oft-trenchant visual direction that offers a dead-on and humorous reflection of the nether regions of a former Eastern Bloc where no one has clean hands and everyone has something to sell, and where those rare few who really do have neither are forced by the irrationality of the surroundings to become as guilty and dirty as the rest. (Dare we conjecture that the film is a pre-war "Excuse me" for the insane horrors into which the region was soon to sink?) 
Tuff doggy doo on your part that you'll probably never have the chance to see the film, for Wheels is truly is one of those unknown low budget gems that deserve both being discovered and greater renown.
*Of course, in this day and age of the Internet it is easy enough to find the film online (currently three different people have uploaded the full film on YouTube, for example), but you might have to watch it in its original language and without subtitles.