Sunday, February 23, 2014

Nevermore Film Festival Recap (Day Three)

 The final day of Nevermore for the Cap'n was a bit of a light one, by comparison to Saturday, but continued the trend of quality over quantity. While I only saw one feature (admittedly one I'd seen before) and one collection of shorts, the experience was consistently entertaining and served as a nice way to close out the fifteenth anniversary of the festival. As has been the case all weekend, the main draw, other than the films themselves, was the jubilant festival atmosphere. There really is something to be said for being at an event where people really want to be there, and not just showing up at the multiplex because it's something to do. Waiting in between screenings was an opportunity to soak in the decorations, take a look at posters new and old, and to trade notes with strangers about something you wanted to see but couldn't fit in.

 And there were more than a few - 2014 may have been the hardest to schedule in the three years I've been going to Nevermore. To give you some idea, here are the movies I wanted to see at the festival but didn't: Here Comes the Devil, Almost Human, Haunt, and Malignant. I'd already seen Last Days on Mars, Big Bad Wolves and The Human Race, so I was trying to catch movies I a) wanted to see with an audience (Grand Piano) or b) wouldn't be able to see on VOD or rental any time soon (The Shower). Since at least two of the movies I didn't see at Nevermore are on VOD (maybe more - I think The Visitant might be on there, too), I'll try to watch them in the next week or so and do a "supplementary Nevermore coverage" set of reviews, as were it not for the festival I wouldn't have known about them. As it was, I don't think I would have known about some of these movies at all had it not been for Nevermore, which is the other reason it's so much fun. But let's get to talking about the movies, and on the other side I'll share a few photos I remembered to snap over the weekend.


 Grand Piano is a movie that I'm honestly surprised I hadn't heard about before Nevermore. It's a Hitchcockian thriller that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, and is also being favorably likened to Brian DePalma, in part because it's easier (and maybe safer) to invoke DePalma than to draw comparisons to The Master of Suspense. That's fair (it sets a very high bar and is almost impossible to live up to when you put it up against Hitchcock), but director Eugenio Mira draws attention to his camera work and trick shots than DePalma ever has, and in many ways Grand Piano is a feature length version of the end of The Man Who Knew Too Much. It's a solid thriller with a very good cast that makes the most out of the three main characters being largely stationary for the duration of the film.

 Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is a famed classical pianist, or, at least, he was - Selznick hasn't performed in public in five years. Following a botched performance of his mentor's composition, he withdrew from the public eye, just as his wife, Emma (Kerry Bishé)'s, star is on the rise. She's a famous actress, and uses some pull to get Tom back on stage to perform in Chicago for the first time. On top of that, Selznick will be performing on his mentor, the late Patrick Godureaux's custom Bösendorfer piano, flown in especially for the occasion. Most of the orchestra Tom's performing with is glad to see him, including conductor Reisinger (Don McManus), but someone in the audience is determined that Selznick have a perfect performance. If he doesn't, he's a dead man, and once the ground rules are in place, it's up to the pianist to figure out who is threatening his life, and why, without drawing attention while everybody is watching him.

 You can look at the poster and see that Elijah Wood isn't the only marquee name to draw in audiences: John Cusack is listed right afterwards, so it shouldn't be hard to figure out who the voice of the (mostly) unseen assailant is. At first I thought it might be a bad thing to know Cusack was in the film, since when you don't see him it's easy to work out his role in the film, but a friend of mine pointed out to me that it would be much more distracting not to know he was in the film and to suddenly hear his voice. Unlike Kiefer Sutherland in Phone Booth, it's impossible not to recognize Cusack's voice immediately, and it would pull you right out of the story at a critical point. As it is, using his name for marquee value when he's more of a audible presence than a physical one in the film is a necessary evil, but I do wonder why Grand Piano is still mostly an unknown film.

 The selling point of the film, beyond the always reliable Wood (people still content to think of him as Frodo tend to forget that he has quite a range beyond that) and a supporting cast you've seen in many other films, even if you don't recognize the names (Bishé was in Argo, for example) is Mira's direction. The camera is constantly moving, redirecting your focus and masking or revealing critical details at exactly the right moment. There's a split screen that doesn't initially look like one until one half of the screen zooms in on Selznick while the other side remains stationary, and seemingly impossible shots that swirl around the piano as Wood (or someone - Mira masks it very well) plays a series of very complicated pieces. Hitchock is famous for his use of "sound bridges," but Mira makes a great "visual bridge" by cutting to somepne playing a cello at the moment an act of violence occurs. I was impressed by the clever use of camerawork, but never distracted by it (as I sometimes am when watching DePalma).

 My fear is that the fact that Grand Piano is still something no one seems to know about will result in it being released on home video and being treated like a "DTV dump" to sit on shelves with any number of other movies with recognizable names that just aren't very good. Like, oh for example, The Frozen Ground, another movie with Cusack and Nicolas Cage you probably didn't know existed. It's not very good, and certainly nowhere near as interesting visually or structurally as Grand Piano. I don't feel like it would be fair for such a solid, consistently entertaining thriller to be thought of as "just another paycheck" for a few actors whose best days are behind them, which is often what the "DTV dump" implies. Wood was similarly great in the recent remake of Maniac, another movie that went largely unnoticed outside of hardcore horror fans when it drifted through a limited release last year. I'd hate to think that Grand Piano might not get a fair shot with audiences when I think many of them would enjoy it, and it's much better than a lot of so-called "thrillers" that do get wide release. But I'm glad I had the chance to see it again at Nevermore, and it benefits from multiple viewings, as the second time around you can see how much of the main narrative is set up in the first twenty minutes. Oh, and Alex Winter (Bill S. Preston, esquire) takes a break from his Excellent Adventures and Bogus Journeys to play a supporting role in the film, if that helps sway you.


 After Grand Piano, we walked upstairs from Fletcher Hall to Cinema Two for They're Coming to Get You, Barbra!, the collection of U.S. shorts, which tends to be a highlight of every Nevermore. Generally speaking, it's difficult to see these short films outside of a festival atmosphere, even in a world where you can find nearly every short ever made online somewhere. Of the entries this year, I'd only seen one, and that was because it was an entry made for the forthcoming The ABCs of Death 2, where "M" is the letter up for voting this year.

 There was a bit of a wait outside of Cinema Two as a Q&A from the previous showing was running over, so after talking to a few other attendees and Jim, Nevermore's programmer, I caught up with some friends and had a brief chat with the cast and crew of The Shower who came all the way across the country with the film (seriously, if you can see it, do so. I'm looking forward to a release on DVD or Blu-Ray so I can show it to everybody I know, but in the meantime, keep an eye out to see if it's playing at a festival near you). Once Cinema Two finally opened up, it was time for my last screening of Nevermore, and it turned out to be one of the hardest ballots to choose a winner from.

 Like yesterday's shorts collection, I'll provide a brief synopsis and try to link to the trailer, site, or an IMDB page, because other than one entry, I couldn't find any of the full versions online.

 The Root of the Problem - starting things off on a high note is the story of a woman visiting the dentist in the 1950s(ish), only to discover her fears of dental work may not be unfounded. Are her dentist and his assistant really monsters, or is it just the gas causing her to see something horrible behind their pearly whites?

 Call Me Crazy - A mental institution may not seem like the best place to find love, but when a vampire who murdered her boyfriend meets a cannibal who ate his girlfriend, sparks fly. It starts a little awkwardly but quickly picks up steam and is both funny and rather gory in a way not dissimilar to yesterday's Mr. Bear.

 Out of One's Misery - A man mourns the loss of his family, only to be visited by a stranger that may or may not be real. The premise is a solid one, and it manages to be fitfully creepy, but there's a bit too much repetition of action in the story for me to really take to it.

Songs in the Key of Death - In the world where zombies roam the Earth, it's not always easy to make a living, but FJ Ackerman found a gold mine as a piano tuner with undead accompaniment. Presented as a news piece, ala 60 Minutes, Songs in the Key of Death is at times riotously funny and then flips to a truly gonzo finale that takes the insanity of the premise to a whole new level.

Rope-a-Dope - While not horror in the slightest sense of the word, Eric Jacobus' Rope-A-Dope is an amusing and action-packed variation on Groundhog Day where the Dope (Jacobus) runs afoul of a Martial Arts Mafia and wakes up on the same morning every time they knock him out. He has to learn to fight back, and the use of slapstick and action choreography and editing makes for a very impressive and funny short film.

Christmas Carvings - A locally made film starring one of the co-stars of Out of One's Misery, this short has a Tales from the Crypt-style twist but suffers a bit from pacing issues. A husband and wife celebrate the holidays in a unique fashion, but are they really alone?

Killer Kart - FSU Film School student James Feeney  makes what I ended up selecting as my favorite of a really strong set of contenders with this story of the closing crew at a grocery store trying to survive the shopping cart that "snapped." It combines the best elements of a slasher film with genuinely likable characters, some impressive gore, and one of the most improbable monsters you're likely to see this side of The Gingerdead Man. On top of that, it's really well made an a fun ride from beginning to end.

M is for Mime - I quite enjoyed this brief story of a disrespected mime who has his revenge on a snarky hipster, but realized quickly why The ABCs of Death keeps the credits for each short at the very end of the film - the credits are almost as long as the short itself, which left much of the audience feeling antsy. Don't take that as a slight against "M" is for Mime, because you'll enjoy the short itself, but it somewhat drained the momentum immediately following the end of the action.

Welcome to Dignity Pastures -  Speaking of really short shorts, I'm not sure what to make of this. Dignity Pastures is about a funeral home that caters to families of the undead, which is something we find out after the recently deceased comes back to life in the middle of a service. The funeral director is very quickly called to switch another service to a cremation, and before you know it, Welcome to Dignity Pastures is over. I suppose there's some merit to "get in, make your point, get out" but it felt like a better premise than the execution made it out to be.


 Finally, here are some pictures I remembered to take (in my infinite wisdom) on Saturday night:

One of the many banners.

 Also known as "three I didn't see."

Forgive the glare: I tried hard to avoid it but it just wasn't happening.

 Well, gang, that about wraps it up for the 2014 Nevermore Film Festival coverage. I had a great time, made some excellent new discoveries, and am looking forward to seeing what's in store for 2015!


Unknown said...

Hi Cap'n. Thanks for the review of my film "Welcome to Dignity Pastures." The reality of why the film is so short is that it was originally an entry in the ABCs of Death 2 contest. The rule was to make a short in 3 minutes or less. So that is why the short was, well short. I do enjoy getting in, getting my point across and then getting out before I overstay my welcome. In a typical short block, there's always a mixed bunch and some tend to overstay their welcome. I am grateful that festivals program my work so I always aim to make something that has an interesting idea and get out with hopes to at least get a chuckle from the audience. I have made shorts that are only a minute that have screened at festivals. The truth is I have a lot of ideas and necessarily the time nor the money to fully flesh them out. So I consider these shorts I make to be a quick scribble with hopes to return and develop it into something bigger. I have a few shorts I made that I hope to elaborate in the future. But for now I am scribbling more ideas down for future shorts. Anyway thanks again for reviewing the short and the other shorts. It was a good block of work. My favorite was Rope a Dope.


Cap'n Howdy said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for the clarification on "Welcome to Dignity Pastures" - when I saw the short, it was the final entry in They're Coming to Get You, Barbra!, and I was just getting into the atmosphere and heightened tone (and, by the way, nice gore on Grandma) when all of a sudden it was over. Most of the audience seemed a little confused, but its relation to The ABCs of Death 2 makes a lot more sense. (There was a similar reaction to the length of the credits vs. the length of "M is for Mime," which came to be under similar circumstances) I had a difficult time finding anything when searching for the short on Google, so the review / recap was based largely on the immediate reaction as the lights came up. It's a world that certainly would be welcome to explore more of if you ever have the opportunity.


Unknown said...

I can certainly understand your reaction and I am very glad that you dug the atmosphere and tone of the short (and the gore) and I know my credits were ridiculously short compared to the previous short in the block. There isn't too much online about the short because it's just starting its festival run (it's playing at the Atlanta Film Festival at the end of March and the Florida Film Festival in April). Also it's title for the ABCs contest was "M is for Mourning." There's a small review for it here: and here:

Sorry if you felt cheated at the end. I have a few more shorts I made where I definitely want to elaborate on but funding is always a problem...and time. But I always want to create so I make a short film almost every year. If you're curious about my other work, you can check out my vimeo page:

Cap'n Howdy said...

Thanks for the link to the vimeo page - I'll definitely check that out.

I don't know that I felt cheated, necessarily, but maybe a little surprised. There was a foreign short from the day before that absolutely felt like it existed just to expand it to a feature or more shorts (all set up and a giant cliffhanger), and that felt more like a we were being strung along.

Now that I know that it was originally for The ABCs and the original title, it makes sense that it's constructed that way. I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like it (or the ending) - in fact I just watched it again via the Ain't It Cool News link and still really dig it.