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10/6/08

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I have a ton of respect for independent filmmakers. I'm talking about real indie-filmmakers, the ones that go out completely on their own, and spend their own money. It takes real balls to put yourself on the line for your art. I especially respect those that try something new, something a little ambitious, something that isn't a couple of dudes sitting around a coffee shop talking about their dicks. I saw three such movies pretty close together, each only similar in their budgets, their sci-fi themes and their lack of recognizable actors.

The Call of Cthulhu

My very first film eRATicate, was a B&W, silent film. So I was very interested when I heard that somebody had taken the famous H.P. Lovecraft story, and made an authentic silent film out of it. The
filmmakers really went the extra mile to make it feel like an authentic early 1900's film. The actors over-emote, really trying to sell their feelings with just their facial expressions and eyes. The over-done make-up, the costumes and props are well done, with nothing jumping out as anachronistic. The only problem I had with the film on the technical side, was that they shot it on video; although I must admit it's pretty well lit. But it's obvious that it's been roughed up in post, and it still looks too sharp and not grainy enough. I would have appreciated the film much more if they'd shot it on actual film, expense be damned.

The Call of Cthulhu moves along a little slowly. Being used to dialog and all, it's tough to
watch a film with nobody speaking, having the film come to a stop, and being forced to read dialog cards every minute or so. I think that alone will turn most viewers away. But once I got used to the old-timey style, I began to forget the style and fell into the story. It follows a man as he comes under the spell of Cthulhu; he travels the world, meeting many strange people, all in search of this elusive monster. By far the highlight of the film, is when he actually finds the beast, in all it's stop-motion glory. It climbs from the depths, as big as a building, with a face full of nasty tentacles, knocking poor sailors to their tiny deaths.

The Call of Cthulhu is only 45 minutes long, so what starts out as a sort of slow moving film, ends up being well worth seeing, with the monster taking up the last 10 minutes of the film. Watching the making-of, I was truly impressed by how this film came together.
The film is completely homemade, put together by a couple of friends and fellow Lovecraft nuts. They built all the sets themselves, came up with cheap, creative ways to do the ambitious effects, got their friends to star, and other friends to lend a hand behind the scenes. The film is admittedly not for most, but for those who dig something different, it's well worth checking out. - Grade: B+ (Seen on 7/9/08)


The 4th Dimension

I kept running across t
his was a film on Myspace, and it looked fairly intriguing. I knew it was a low-budget affair, with minimal professional marketing, since I was doing the same thing with my film The Turning Point. (Blatant self promotion.) When I saw that the DVD was available on Netflix, I was curious to see it for myself. I didn't know anything about it, except that it was filmed in B&W, supposedly trippy, and it was about The 4th Dimension. Unlike Cthulhu, the makers of 4th, went the extra mile to shoot on film, although esthetically, I didn't think it was as important with this film. But it sure looks good, the film is absolutely gorgeous to watch, with great compositions and lighting throughout the film.

Unfortunately the film moves forward like molasses. It seems weird only for weird's sake, never really going anywhere until th
e last few minutes. It's a nearly silent film, with hardly any dialog. (Although you wouldn't guess that from the trailer below, I swear they use every line in the film.) With most of the dialog being throwaway lines, not really moving the plot forward. Early on I made a guess as too what was happening, which turned to be correct in the end. The film wraps up far too neatly for such an abstract film. It goes weird scene, strange scene, boring scene, trippy scene, weird scene, now let's wrap it all up scene.

But I applaud the filmmakers for making the film at all. The photography is pure beauty. They found great locations, most notably the last one, which I won't say, as it gives away the ending. The set design is really well done, you can tell they put a lot of thought and time into what's going on around the characters. Louis Morabito, who plays the lead role of Jack, is a great find, he has a unique look and an intense screen presence. It's too bad the story does
n't live up to the rest of the film. If they'd had a great script, with more depth and development, the film could have been pure magic. Unfortunately it puts a damper on most of the work that went into it. - Grade: C+ (Seen on 8/7/08)





The Man From Earth

Being fairly disappointed by The 4th Dimension, when Netflix got my DVD back, they suggested another movie that I wasn't familiar with. I read through some of the customer reviews, and it sounded like a well made head-trip of a film. It turned out to be the least ambitious of the three, at least scale wise, with 97% of the film taking place in one room, the other 3%, just outside that room. But it had the most recognizable actors, including Tony (Candyman) Todd,
William Katt, David Lee Smith, John Billingsley, & Ellen Crawford - All veteran character actors. Their acting is decent, it doesn't take anything away from the film, but it isn't really that impressive either. The whole thing feels like a three-camera version of an off-Broadway production of a Twilight Zone episode. Written by Twilight Zone and Star Trek writer Jerome Bixby, that's pretty much what it boils down too.

The film concerns a man named John Oldman, a college professor who's moving; he invites his friends, all fellow professors, over for a going-away party. Talking with them over take-out, amongst a roomful of packed boxes, he decides to drop a serious mind-bender, telling them he's 14,000 years old, born a caveman, living through most of human history until today. At first they all think he's joking, putting on an elaborate show of his knowledge. But as they dig deeper and deeper into his story, it starts to make some sense.

The entire film is this group sitting around an talking about whether John's story is true or not. He goes through most of history, talking about all the famous people he befriended or influenced. Even getting a bit controversial, when he claims to be one of Christianity's most influential figures. He's so convincing that they start to believe him. In the end, the film doesn't really leave you much choice, it spells it all out, but it does the story justice.
As a film, it's not that exciting, it's shot and edited like a TV movie, with no real style. But if you appreciate a good sci-fi story, something to wrap your brain around, The Man From Earth has a lot of wonderful ideas to ponder. - Grade: B (Seen on 8/12/08)

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