Paid in Full

What to do when you feel that you do not have anything to live for anymore? And when you feel that the world has let you down? How in earth should you continue your life, when the world has hit you with an awful tragedy that sucks faith and hope out of you?

Australian filmmaker John Hopper (Victorious, Gone, Sovereign) takes a look in such situation by telling a Christian story about restoration of faith in times of distress. The story of his short film “Paid in Full” is also about finding the power to continue further and restore your will to live, which expands the film’s thoroughly Christian motifs to a more universal level in which the importance of reaching out to the ones who urgently and evidently need support and help is valued. And this universally human message in our globally uncertain and conflict filled times seems urgent as well as appreciated.

John Hopper as the director and writer of “Paid in Full” materializes and dramatizes these themes by focusing on two main characters, Joseph (Cantona Stewart) and Evan (Shaun Ridley), who are both handsome young men in their prime. Joseph has lost his beloved girlfriend in a natural disaster and feels utterly lost because of it. While walking around the park he gets confronted by a violent gang of criminals. Evan, who has complex background as well, happens to stroll around the park too with a bible in his hand. As a brave God’s messenger he helps Joseph out of the dramatic situation, which leads to the core dialogue of the film between Joseph and Evan and explores the topics of the “Paid in Full” in depth.

Hopper’s way of storytelling utilizes splendidly the audiovisual dramatic elements that film as genre offers by visualizing motifs, creating a compelling emotional atmosphere, and mixing the storyline by playing with time. Although the film drags a little with its long preachy dialogue part in the middle, the storytelling is well paced and forms a coherent tone. Here a special praise goes both to the bold and vigorous score by Petteri Sainio and emotionally lead editing by Michael D. Head and John Hopper. Caleb Trevatt’s attentive cinematography shines in the more dramatic scenes, while being solid in others.

However, all this wouldn’t work without the emotional and grounded performances by the two lead actors. Deeply affecting and nuanced performances by the young and upcoming Cantona Stewart and Shaun Ridley carry the weight of the traumas of the characters as well as the psychologically and religiously complex subject matters. They are the gems of this little movie.

As a Christian drama with a clear moral compass and backbone, “Paid in Full” succeeds. But as a drama in a wider sense, the film often slips into sentimentality, whereas its secondary characters are too stereotypical and the story is too naive and forcefully dramatic. However, these aspects might be rather irrelevant for a Christian viewer, who can appreciate the motifs and the religious traditions from where the narrative stems. And for them, the film might give quite clear answers to the abovementioned questions.

Sombra City

Sombra City, a short film by the Greek American filmmaker Elias Plagianos, is a great demonstration of the power of bringing two awesome genres together. By setting up its thematic and narrative rhythm within the tradition of neo-noir and placing the story to the scenery of a minimalistic sci-fi, the critically acclaimed author of the thriller The Crimson Mask mixes in Sombra City together a gripping and atmospheric experience that is charming and immersively cinematic.

Sombra City tells a story of two old lovers meeting again under complex circumstances. Namely, we are introduced to Ellis (Josh Burrow), who is a charming corporate assassin, and to seductive Ariadne (Mariela Garriga). They meet in an aesthetically timeless city to which Ellis has returned to carry out his work. The tense and utterly elegant story explores the vignettes of their past, while presenting their intensely sexy noirish reunion. Whose intentions will prevail? Will their love bloom again? How and who will pull the Chekov’s gun towards whom?

Although the premise is bold and simple, the multilayered and multitemporal storytelling is constructed eloquently and tensely. The atmospheric film does not contain anything unnecessary. Every detail of the romantic, charming and gripping story works harmoniously together, creating a unique atmosphere, which is both sexy and immersive. These genre specific properties are furthered by beautifully and thickly written dialogue, which creates an awesomely seductive dynamic between the two lead performers. And the performances by Josh Burrow and Mariela Garriga are truly polished as they complement the captivatingly coherent tone of the film. The actors allure you to this world full of unfulfilled desires, suspicious motifs, conflicting pasts, and dark endless nights.

Looking forward to the elements that construct the visually familiar but atmospherically unique film world, the refined vision of the director-writer is confirmed further. The visual elements of the film serve a common goal as well. The broken but suggestive tones (of the sets, color grading, and timeless costume design) build up the atmosphere, while the well-composed and smooth cinematography by Javier Labrador Deulofeu creates beautiful visual continuity and the core material for the expressive, bold, and unique editing. Furthermore, the mysterious and tone setting score adds layers to the perfectly tuned atmosphere of the film.

When you reach the end of Sombra City, you can feel nothing else but crave for more. No, not because of the well-structured and for the short film form created story. No, the craving arises from something entirely else. It builds up on the cinematic competence of the authors that introduce a gripping film world full of possibilities, charming characters, and fascinating milieus full of rich details that fill you with need to know more. Sombra City does the most important things that the genres that it is inspired by ideally do – create tension in story, introduce morally complex characters, blur the lines between right and wrong, create (sexual) tension between characters, and introduce a complex world with its own rules and possibilities. And because of that, Sombra City is both beautifully traditional and grippingly modern piece of filmmaking.

Goodbye Mondays

“Goodbye Mondays”: Contemporary wittiness meets traditional filmmaking!

In its core Michael Salmon’s “Goodbye Mondays” is at the same time both nostalgically traditional and eccentrically modern genre film, which employs the specifics of short film as a format splendidly. While most of the tonally retrospective films of today lack of content, style and character, “Goodbye Mondays” has it all and much more in its short 13-minute runtime.

“Goodbye Mondays” is a suspense drama that progresses with a Hitchcockian tension and culminates in a witty twist. The film follows the first day of a hardworking but a little gullible newly-hired maid Lucy (Gillian Saker), employed in a upper class residence by a sexually active housewife (Eloise Juryeff). The femme fatale archetype – seductive, mysterious, self-confident and -centered – of the housewife works as a great opposite for the humble and down-to-earth servant, creating a motivating dynamic for the plot.

Trying to the best out her first day, Lucy tries to please her employer’s requests, but soon is driven to witness glimpses of the housewife’s private life. And so, with a few incoming phone calls – made with a black, old and allusively cinematic phone – Lucy is pulled into a love triangle, or so she and the viewer are guided to assume.

This fun and utterly traditional plot forms the backbone of the narrative, which relies on finely composed dialogue and strategically introduced information. Thus, the director and writer Micheal Salmon’s screenplay’s structure is beautifully organized to play with the viewer’s assumptions, while advancing the story eloquently. The structure then is in perfect harmony with the setting, built with minimalistically luxurious set design that feels timeless, mirroring the characters and the atmosphere. The milieu indeed tells a lot about the dynamics of the relations of the maid and the housewife, as well as about the economic and social status of both. It helps to contextualize the story, emphasize the tension, and establish the atmosphere for the dramatically progressive events to occur.

The events are followed by perfectly composed cinematography by Beatriz Sastre. The aesthetic framing and motivated movements suit the story beautifully, adding up to the cinematically traditional ambience of the film. The visuals of “Goodbye Mondays” in general, from classy location to stylish tone, are refined, as they work hand in hand with the storytelling. Both Gillian as the maid and Eloise as the housewife give strong performances with their detailed facial expressions and well paced dialogues.

Many aspects of the film provoke to draw parallels to film history, especially to the films of the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to numerous pieces by Alfred Hitchock, the motifs and style of “Goodbye Mondays” evoke recollections from Buñuel’s “Belle de Jour” to film noir classics, creating hunger for more contemporary takes on the genre. These creative provocations of such connotations make “Goodbye Mondays”, as a perfectly flawless film, special. Special in both style and ambitions. And indeed, the narratively and stylistically immersive “Goodbye Mondays” makes you forget Mondays and every other mundane day of the everyday.

Kissy Cousins Monster Babies and Morphing Elvis

Filled to the brim with retro nostalgia, Kissy Cousins is a 90s smack in the face. From the Star Wars opening to the costumes and set decor it’s beautifully constructed yet completely contained.

Kissy Cousins only just counts as a short, with its 40 minute running time its more of a medium, and this at times causes a drop in interest. It could potentially benefit from cutting the length by ten minutes or so. That said, the dialogue is excellent. Written to fit in with the aesthetic of the piece and embrace itself for what it is, rather than pretend to be something it isn’t.

The cinematography and production design are flawless. The film is almost completely contained in one room yet the designers have done an outstanding job creating the perfect 90’s set. The same can be said for costume and make-up.

The story itself may not break any moulds, but it is so well presented and paced (aside from the odd lull) that it doesn’t matter. It’s there for pure entertainment and that is exactly what it provides. AS I stated, it embraces what it sets out to be and that fun and self awareness shines through to provide the audience with something that is pure popcorn endulgence.

A well made, cleverly constructed and designed and overall utterly entertaining piece of film that will make anyone born in the late 80s swoon with memories.

UndercoverUp

How many agents are too many agents?

Within the diverse film landscape of today, there seems to be annoyingly many action comedies that follow the same narrative structures, tones, and character motives. Many of them usually fail to find balance between the action and the comedy. That is, fail to make us laugh and entertain us with creative action scenes. For this reason Eric Player’s crime farce “UndercoverUP” feels like a fresh breeze in the pool of action comedy flops. A story that follows an undercover agent to the dark and raw world of international crime to solve a shady deal plays with crime movie conventions more creatively than many contemporary action comedies.

The crime comedy starts with a too familiar crime series montage of a busy urban city only to gradually reveal its true intensions. However, this clever build-up sets the tone of beginning and provides a structure for the views expectations. Namely, the genre- and topic-based assumptions the movie starts to play with in order to establish comedy and satire. We see a professional looking agent entering a shady warehouse, where he meets his criminal acquaintances. As he walks in, the suspicious looking company monitors his every step. A scene that you probably have witnessed too many times. Will he blow his cover? Who will shoot whom? What are the stakes? Will the Russian criminal, who will soon bring in the merchandise, speak with an awfully stereotypical accent? And so on. The misleadingly arranged storyline brings these assumptions to the surface to employ them into a plot twist that will transform the whole register of the film to a much more funnier and interesting one. What is that twist? You need to see it by yourself.

In addition to the well-structured narrative, the short film succeeds in simple but effective character building. Within the limits of the short runtime, the film manages to introduce enough details of the characters for them to live and breathe. The characters are fun, quirky and idiosyncratic, while the great chemistry between them provides a lucrative base for comedy. Although the dialogue lacks rhythm a bit, its silliness creates a suitable vibe for the story. But what is important, the actors seem to have fun with their roles.

The keyword “simple but effective” is also relevant for the rather traditional cinematography and editing, which leaves room for the fun screenplay and uncommon characters to shine. The visuals create this quite typical, but still fitting urban milieu in which the events. Shadowy night, industrial warehouse, a lot of greenish and bluish tones – familiar, but effective, as the “UndercoverUP” twists the conventions with humor and wit in order to achieve something surprising and fresh.

Despite some technological errors across the film, “UndercoverUP” manages to entertain as well as execute its farcical intentions. The film mocks many tired tropes of comedy action movies and crime dramas, while giving an absurdly unreal or maybe ridiculously palpable take on the work of covert agents. We will never know unless we “UndercoverUP” ourselves.

My Little Life

Mockumentary style film and TV has always had an audience, especially since the critical success of films such as Spinal Tap and TV shows like The Office. Here we see this style recreated within the world of miniature house/furniture making. On the surface it may not sound all that appealing, but the film is actually charming, funny and well produced.

The humour is subtle yet well formed, and enhanced by fantastic performances from both leads, but especially the female lead. The natural style and delivery adds to the documentary style of the film, creating something that is hard to turn away from. Aside from the dialogue, the physical and plot humour are exceptional.

Despite following a specific style of filmmaking, there is a definite sense of originality to this piece and it doesn’t feel like it is following the tropes of the genre. The production quality is high and direction is strong. Cinematography is simple, as you would expect in a documentary style, yet it is incredibly effective.

Overall a funny, cheering film that is well made and well executed.

Papercut

It’s a long road to finding and being your true self. It is even longer for those in front of whom the society throws repressive obstacles. Obstacles that sidetrack, manipulate, and prevent an individual from being true to oneself and to the ones they love.

The writer-director Damian Overton’s short film “Papercut” takes us to a brief Uber ride in which two actors are traveling to a high profile awards ceremony in a hope that it will boost their sparking carriers. But as we soon discover, their common journey is a lot more than just a shared commute.

By presenting a character study of two young and aspiring actors – Kane and Gabriel –, Damian Overton tackles the dynamics of a relationship that is constantly being manipulated by the social structures within which it exists. Overton’s tense, organic and utterly charming screenplay puts the conservative and reserved Kane and open and impulsive Gabriel in an enclosed environment – the back seat of a car – to confront their relationship, just before an event that could possibly change their life and their carrier. In that little space, where emotions are unable to escape and every word reaches the listener with full power, Kane and Gabriel need to make decisions about each other. About their feelings, expectations, and more importantly, about their relationship that has been hidden from the public thus far.

Overton crystallizes the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of this process beautifully and engagingly. The witty and honest dialogue both deepens the characters piece by piece and binds their relationship to a wider context without being too heavy or artificial. Kane’s and Gabriel’s motivations are drawn sensitively, while every little detail of the narrative builds their nature. The delicate and conscious direction sparks Josh Kieser and Kieton Beibly to give wonderfully sincere and nuanced performances as Kane and Gabriel. Their compelling chemistry displays the complexity of the relationship that is influenced by their expectations and the expectations they think that the social context has for them.

All of above collides within a closed space – i.e. the car – that both symbolize Kane’s and Gabriel’s closeted state and the relationship between them and the world. The emotionally unbiased and intimate camerawork displays the encounter with patience, giving the actors the power to enchant the audience. The camerawork is accompanied by the well-paced editing that highlights the undercurrents of the characters. Although the score is occasionally blandly sentimental, the beautiful work of the actors makes sure that you are not bothered by it.

By exploring the intimate and complex relationship between two closeted actors, “Papercut” deals with socially relevant issues in a relatable, understanding, and delicate way. Kane’s and Gabriel’s Uber ride makes us reflect on how social structures force individuals to act in ways that restrict them from being, who they really are. Restrict them from feeling and loving, i.e. from the fundamental rights that everyone should have. Therefore the message of “Papercut” is rather universal.

Thus, “Papercut” creates an intimate, wonderfully acted, and gently directed space for self-reflection, while being an honest and thematically polished character piece.