February 2007

Apocalypse Oz

Apocalypse Oz It’s strange how the smallest of things can not only set the tone of a film but also tell you exactly what to expect. Apocalypse Oz opens – brilliantly – with the music of Pearl Dean which transported me straight back to the late 1970s and early 80s when this short snatch of sound announced that the main feature would be along right after the dodgy commercials.

It was a nice touch that really put me in the mood to appreciate the sheer brilliance that followed.

And then onto the film, which tells of Dorothy (Alexandra Gizela), a delinquent Vietnamese-American teenager who flees the black-and-white home of her abusive Auntie Em (Amy Lyndon) and Uncle Henry (Don Deforest Paul). After a knock to the head she finds herself… still in Kansas.

But this is a bright and colourful Kansas and Dorothy is looking for a mission. Then, as if summoned by the pink bubble of gum, Glinda (Tammy Garrett) arrives and she has a mission for Dorothy: Find and terminate The Wizard.

Dorothy accepts the mission and, after staling a bright red car (licence RUBY), she sets off along the Yellow Road to find The Wizard.

Apocalypse Oz is not a spoof or a parody and certainly isn’t a remake. What writer/director Ewan Telford has done is pull together the scripts of Apocalypse Now and The Wizard of Oz to create something new and original – a strange and colourfully surreal road-trip of a film which cheerfully acknowledges its source material.

The film moves along at a cracking pace and is never less than gripping and even if you weren’t familiar with either – or both – of the parent films, you could probably appreciate it as a slightly strange road movie.

But the real strength of this film lies in its recognition and reworking of the themes common to both films. Telford takes characters, scenes and musical clues with which we are so familiar that they need no explanation and remixes them to tell a new story that comfortably incorporates themes from both of the parent films.

The result is completely familiar and utterly different.

Oil Water

Oil & Water Veteran, and slightly slimy, news anchor, Dan Lake (Peter LaVilla) is on his way down. Although he’s trying to make the best of a bad deal, he’s been moved out of news and into light entertainment. Ms Gabby (Rosemary Gore) is a popular newspaper gossip columnist and she’s on her way up and looking for a break into TV.

When the two of them meet each other as co-hosts of a new chat show, Movie Celebrities, sparks fly.

Dan Lake may be on the way out, but he has an ego the size of a studio and is grimly determined to assert his seniority in any and every way he can. This ranges from demanding more time with the guests to insisting on his own make-up artist. Ms Gabby, who is far from a shrinking violet herself, is understandably more than a little aggrieved at the favouritism Dan is able to lever out of the studio and starts pushing for the equal treatment she’d initially expected.

This leads to an increasingly spiky relationship between the two and a series of – often petty – attempts at one-upmanship which steadily escalate and which, inevitably, overflow into the show itself.

There is a lot of set-up in this film and this does lead to it taking quite a while to get going. So much so that once the main characters had been established I did find that the film started to drag a little.

However, all this changed at about the 40 minute mark when Dan Lake and Ms Gabby start rehearsing for Movie Celebrities. Everything clicked; the characters rapidly settled into their roles, the film’s observation all came sharply into focus and I found myself laughing out loud.

From here on in, I found myself laughing, chortling and sniggering all the way to the credits.

The characters are well drawn and largely likeable. Rather than depend on stereotypes, writer/director Peter LaVilla has pulled together a talented cast and allowed them to develop the humour that emerges from their situation and the way they interact.

Although it could do with being about 10 minutes shorter, Oil Water is an entertaining and well observed romantic comedy about the politics, and vanity, behind the production of a TV series.

The film had me laughing out loud increasingly as it progressed and left me, by the end, with a huge smile.

Walking The Walk

Walking the Walk Troy B. Evins (Jeff Schubert) wants to make a movie – and he’s been talking about it for quite some time. But with a four-figure budget and no ideas, he isn’t getting very far, to say the least. Then his 8 year old son, Danny (Makaz Herrera) comes up with the inspired idea of making a movie about making a movie for only $7,000. So we have a film about a film about making a low budget film.

All that it takes now is for him to pull together an eclectic ensemble of friends, write a script, and find an actress who is both attractive and willing to share a love scene with him for no pay.

The result is an engaging, effective and very funny satire of the movie industry and the people on its edges. After an outrageously comical opening sequence, the film proceeds to parody every aspect of filmmaking – both independent and mainstream – with increasingly comical results.

The film is packed with sharply observed one-liners and jokes – both visual and verbal – many of which had me laughing out loud. But the real strength of Walking the Walk lies in its characterisation.

Writer/director Jeff Schubert has created a set of essentially ordinary, but very well-observed individuals and then shared out the screen time among them to allow a great deal of the humour in the film to emerge naturally from their interactions. There were, admittedly, a few slow moments as the characters were established, but once things got going, the film really was consistently hilarious.

The dialogue is very natural and believable and superbly brought to life by the cast, all of whom not only put in very solid performances throughout. They also look like they’re having as much fun with the film as the rest of us. What is impressive here – and what really makes this film work well - is that, although many of the characters feel familiar, none of them are stereotypical. The result is a set of characters that remain believable without becoming predictable.

More importantly, for all their flaws, pretensions and faults, you do find yourself becoming involved in the ups and downs of these characters. You may be laughing at them, but you are rooting for them at the same time.

Comedy is probably the hardest of genres to write. If you are not naturally funny, the results will feel forced, awkward, or worse. Fortunately, Jeff Schubert is a very funny man indeed and Walking the Walk is ample testimony to this fact. It’s a well acted dialogue driven comedy that takes many of the clichés of filmmaking and mercilessly skewers them to hugely funny effect.

Daños del amor

Da??os del amor One of the great things about reviewing films for a site like this is that I am able to occasionally use phrases like “kung-fu romantic action comedy.” Which brings us neatly to Steve Kahn’s excellent Daños del amor (Love Hurts).

The film starts romantically enough with scenes of Bender (Steve Kahn) and Mia (America Young), a young and obviously happy couple. And then Bender makes the inevitable mistake of becoming unusually animated in the presence of a Columbian woman who happens to be dancing in the street. And everything comes screeching to a halt.

Some time later, Bender and Mia bump into each other again.

I really don’t want to say any more about the plot because what comes next is pure comedy gold, heightened by the sheer outlandishness of the concept.

Kahn has pulled together all of the stereotypes of the romantic genre and subverts them brilliantly. It’s tightly scripted, well acted, superbly choreographed and had me laughing out loud several times.

As with many short films, Daños del amor takes a single idea and runs with it. There is no padding and the film moves along at a cracking pace. But the real strength of the film, for me, comes from the fact that Kahn has managed to draw several genres together rather than leaping from one to another.

Whatever else is happening on the screen, and however bizarre the film becomes, Kahn never loses sight of the fact that this is a love story. In doing so, he has made a love story like no other.

Daños del amor is a very funny film that deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible, and I will be very interested in seeing what Steve Kahn does next.