May 2008

Around

After a surprisingly long pre-credits sequence, Doyle Simms (Ron Evans) travels to New York where he has been accepted onto a film studies course. The film then follows Doyles life as he follows - or attempts to follow - his four year course.

Doyles student years turn out to be quite eventful - to say the least - but the events are less important here than the characters. What writer/director David Spaltro is really interested in is the character of Doyle, the people he meets, the impact he has on them and how they affect him. And this is all brought to life beautifully.

Not only is Doyle a very well drawn and thoroughly rounded individual, but so are all of the characters he encounters. This gives the film a very real sense of lives being lived from which both humour and pathos naturally emerge. And there are some genuinely funny scenes in here, as well as some deeply moving ones, all of which work because the characters are so engaging.

Of course, a film that is as focussed on the characters as this one is heavily dependent on the performances of the cast and here they deliver in spades. Ron Evans is superb here and really does manage to convey the cynical bewilderment of Doyle as things fall apart around him. So much so that even when Doyle reaches his most self-centred and incompetent, Evans still manages to generate a huge amount of empathy for his character.

But far from carrying the film alone, Evans is superbly supported by the rest of the cast. There isnt a single jarring performance and even the most minor of characters feel very real. That said, two people that do deserve a special mention here are Molly Ryman, who plays Allyson, the young woman who Doyle spends much of the film cautiously pursuing and Ron Brice who as Saul – both homeless and philosophical – brings some real depth to both the film and, eventually, to Doyle.

Its not just the people that make this such an effective film, though, but also its sense of place. The film is shot on location in New York and Spaltro does have a feel for the city and its imagery. Beyond this, though, he also manages to bring together the locations, the characters and the cinematography in a manner that makes this story one that could only be told in – and about – New York.

At the end of the day, though Around is a film about optimism, about taking chances and about dealing with the hand youre given. Its about the people you meet and the effect they have on your life – and the effect you have on theirs. Its also one of the most powerfully moving and genuinely uplifting films Ive seen in a very long time.

Pea vs. Carrot

Ben Hicks second short film, Pea vs. Carrot is a dialogue-free look at the life of a young urban couple as they embark on a relationship with each other. As with Square Pegs, the film is beautifully shot and manages – even with the films short running time – to give you a real sense of the characters.

On the face of it, this is a thoroughly normal couple enjoying the initial excitement, the highs and the lows of a new relationship. But something darker is also hinted at, with a fight between them which both opens and closes the film.

Although there is no dialogue, the film does have an incredibly atmospheric score which, when combined with the performances of Ben Hicks and Carmen Navis as the boy and the girl respectively, really does capture the emotions involved. And this is why the film works so well, we really do connect with these characters.

Both of them manage to be both ordinary and engaging, and both familiar but slightly unexpected. In short, these are people in whom you will have no problem believing but who will keep you interested all the same.

Pea vs. Carrot is a excerpt from is an excerpt from the writer/directors first feature length script, Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which is due to start shooting in 2009. This is a feature that I really will be watching out for because the characters in this short film are two people that I would happily spend a lot more time with.

Square Pegs

Square Pegs is Ben Hicks first film and a very solid start indeed. The film centres on a family – two sisters and their hopelessly immature mother – who stop at a roadside restaurant for lunch. Its immediately apparent, however, that this is no ordinary restaurant.

The elderly waiter appears to have an endless supply of dope – for his own use, of course – and as the girls watch the guests float by, the family is watched by one of the strangest chefs to find his way into a film. Visually, Square Pegs is a stunning film in which darkly oppressive set design and impressively gritty cinematography combine to capture the surreal fairy tale mood of the film.

The narrative centres on Alison (Brianna Weaver), the elder of the two sisters, who comes to understand what this restaurant really is as her family falls to pieces around her. The acting is solid throughout, and suitably over the top when it needs to be, but Weaver does a great job of both carrying the film and grounding it with enough humanity to keep the audience engaged.

The score also deserves a mention because, as the film starts to approach its climax, this takes on a creepily minimalistic edge that really is unnerving.

Square Pegs is very much an adult fairy tale and really does demonstrate what this surprisingly small genre is capable of. Its a film, rich in atmosphere, that has something to say about making choices and about understanding the consequences of those choices. As such, the film manages to be both thoughtful and disturbing, and well worth seeing.

Waiting for Dawn

There are some films that are so mindbendingly good that they leave you buzzing. And Waiting for Dawn is one of these films.

As the film opens Carl (Rob Leetham) has proposed to his girlfriend, Vicky (Iona Thonger). And immediately regretted it. Its not that theres anything wrong with Vicky – far from it – and Carl is undeniably happy with her. But he cant help feeling that, by getting married, he might be making a mistake and he might be tying himself down sooner than he is ready.

All of these are pretty usual concerns but things take a turn for the distinctly unusual when Carl wanders into a pub. The pub in question, The Waiting Room has been closed for years but is a useful landmark and a convenient place for Vicky to pick him up after shes been visiting her sister. On the day that he proposes, however, The Waiting Room happens to be open so Carl decides to wait inside for Vicky, rather than standing outside it.

This is where things start to become very strange indeed

Waiting for Dawn is a film that hinges on the character of Carl as he begins to discover, and slowly accept, that reality isnt quite as reliable as hed always thought. The Waiting Room really is a waiting room – and much more besides.

Rob Leetham does an incredible job of holding things together as the bewildered Carl slowly begins to understand, and then to accept, just what this place is and what this means for him. And this realisation brings home to Carl just what really is important to him and what he is going to need to do if he wants to see Vicky again.

Although the plot centres in Carl and, therefore, leaves it up to Leetham to carry the film, he does so with the help of a large and very solid supporting cast and an exceptional script.

It is very easy to identify with Carl and to stay with him as things become progressively stranger. Writer/director James .T. Williams does a great job here of slowly revealing the nature of The Waiting Room so that we keep up with Carl, but dont get too far ahead of him. Williams also manages to engender a real sense of dislocation in the film, which aligns perfectly with the plot.

This is very much a character based film and one that succeeds, not only because all of the characters are so well written but also because the cast as a whole really bring these people to life. There isnt a single jarring performance and everything slots together in such a way as to keep you thoroughly engrossed right the way to the end of the film.

Waiting for Dawn is a rarity. Its a science fiction film that deals with ideas rather than special effects. The film relies – successfully – on well realised and fully rounded characters rather than familiar stereotypes and draws you in with a genuinely unnerving atmosphere rather than relying on easy shocks.

This is a thoughtful, intelligent and downright engrossing film and one that is well worth watching out for.