Drama

Barstool Cowboy

Dumped by his girlfriend, Mick (Tim Woodward) – an unemployed cowboy - resolves to remain on a barstool for the next three months while he tries to find some answers to his life at the bottom of a beer bottle. Then he meets Arcy (Rachel Lien), an aspiring artist. A friendship quickly develops between the two and, as it does so, they begin to transform each others lives. Mick, especially, finds himself becoming happier, healthier and much more motivated.

When I read back over that one paragraph summary, it doesnt sound like a lot. And, to be honest, there isnt a great deal of plot in this film – it takes place over a couple of days and Mick and Arcy limit their activities to drinking, dancing, talking and walking.

Where the film does score very strongly, however, is in its two main characters, both of whom are well rounded and genuinely sympathetic. It helps, of course, that both Tim Woodward and Rachel Lien put in such strong performances that really do bring their characters to life. So much so that you quickly develop a very real sense of who Mick is and how he gets so burned so easily. And, as the characters come to life on the screen, you do find yourself wanting to know whether, and how, things will work out between the two of them.

The other real high point of this film is the soundtrack from Natalie Illeana which is beautifully integrated into the film is such a way as to very effectively convey both the tone of the film and the mood of the characters.

Although Barstool Cowboy is a very straightforward story, its also one that is very well told. The two lead characters are both well rounded and genuinely sympathetic characters are beautifully brought to life by a cast and crew with a very evident talent for visual storytelling. Your reaction to the films central message will probably depend largely on the extent to which you identify with Mick but, whatever your reaction, this is a film well worth seeing.

Souvenir

Heres an interesting idea – an art film that takes a long and hard look at the art world, and doesnt really like what it finds.

Souvenir centres around an art gallery owned by Ivy (Rita Obermeyer) whose recently deceased father has left her a collection of African funerary posts. These posts are worth a fortune, but they are also a reminder of a hidden past that Ivy is unable to leave behind. While Ivy would like nothing more than to bury her past, the discovery of these posts – and their value – encourages the greed of those around her. So while everyone starts chasing the money, Ivys life slowly begins to unravel.

This is a film in which the atmosphere surrounding the events portrayed is as important – if not more so – than the events themselves. It it has to be said that director, Natasa Prosenc does do an excellent job of conveying the mood of the film.

This approach, however, does mean that the film gets off to a relatively slow start. But, as the story builds, it becomes both increasingly powerful, and increasingly engaging. This is down not only to the writing, in which the characters personalities, their relationships and their jealousies are allowed to emerge in a very natural fashion, but also the acting.

All of the cast put in very strong performances here and really bring their characters to life. But special mention has to go to Joel Bryant who, as the manipulative Balthazar really does dominate his scenes and drag things along marvellously.

Although there are plenty of art-house touches in here, as well as a couple of surreal nods, the visual stylings do not detract from the essentially human nature of the film. Indeed, the visual style does much to accentuate the fact that Souvenir is ultimately a film about people, the relationships between them, the effect that keeping secrets has on these and the importance of laying old ghosts to rest.

Its a well written, beautifully shot and excellently acted film and one that is well worth seeing.

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.

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