The ASU Capstone films presented by the Spring 2014 Film and Media Production (FMP) class screened on Saturday, May 3, 2014 at the Galvin Playhouse on the ASU campus. Since I’ve only attended the Capstone screenings in December every year, I was glad to learn I can experience ASU student filmmaking twice a year. After two years of consistently phenomenal filmmaking, the Fall 2013 Capstones left me bewildered and disappointed, as the filmmaking bar that had rocketed consistently skyward seemed to hit the ground with a resounding thud. After a very tumultuous year at the FMP, the films screened last night did present a glimmer of optimism and a promising peek at a completely new program that is gradually getting back on track. It is also with great reluctance that I bid farewell to the ASU Film and Media Production program founder F. Miguel Valenti who has taken a new teaching position in Los Angeles. Professor Valenti was often chided (by me) for making “Ethics” the cornerstone of his film program, but after seeing the work being done at the ASU FMP, Valenti has proven that not only are ethics in film possible, they are an essential element to good filmmaking. Here are the films I saw in the order they were screened.
The Devils Toll – Andrew Sauer
An old west sheriff and his men have just passed sentence on a young man (Reyce Carrasco), and leave him tied to a tree stump to die in the snow covered wilderness. Eerie winds howl as a gunslinger (Cisco Saavedra) rushes through the forest to save the young sacrifice. His efforts are constantly confounded by a sinister outlaw (Bill Weatherill), impervious to his bullets and appearing and disappearing at will. The messenger from the underworld reminds the desperado that once a deal is struck, there is no way to renegotiate. Paying no heed to the chthonic cowpoke, he presses forward, turning the clock back to a violent and creepy confrontation with the sheriff and his deputies. Very well shot and well acted short film with a story that is steady and simple at the get go, relying on the soothing visuals and confident performances, but becomes overly complex and miry by the mid point. Great use of sound FX as the howling demon/train gets louder as it comes closer.
Final Take – It’s in the details.
Focus – Matt Chesin
Black and white introduction reveals a family escaping their burning home many years ago, and a boy (Erus Harrington) rescuing his film negatives that were safely kept in a fireproof container. Present day color catches up with an angry and odious Goth girl (Julia Anne Severance) who needs a different lens to finish her photography assignment. She goes home and discovers her drunken lout dad (Chris Bradley) has sold her lenses for some booze. She ponders audibly for a bit before venturing out to buy an old replacement lens from the camera store. Whenever she uses the antique lens, she is unwittingly teleported back in time, where she talks shop with the boy from the beginning of the film. She discovers the boy is actually the old camera store owner (Mike Rolfe) and she has the ability to photograph dead people. The store owner gives her a job, she dresses conservatively and her pops stops drinking. Bad acting and over-direction keep this film from the sharpness and definition it was shooting for, with excellent props and locations appearing as an afterthought, while much time and effort is misspent on character development as the primary ‘Focus.’
Final Take – Blurred vision.
Soiled Doves – Penny Beitel
A young couple (Jenna McKenna and Tyler Burke) buys a bed and breakfast in Tombstone and discovers that the building used to be a brothel and is now haunted to the max by the spirits of angry hookers. A snarky building inspector (Ross Gosla) advises the couple that any renovations will only anger the ghosts but the bitchy missus pshaws the advice and makes bad, prostitute disparaging jokes while redecorating at will. The couple soon learns the sordid and violent history of their haunted hostel and have second thoughts about their investment. That night hubby is tormented by an army of horrifying ho’s, eventually becoming possessed by their restless spirits, and he try’s to kill his wife. After a visit to Tombstone, it is no mystery that a person can come away from the notorious tourist trap inspired to make a film, as this is the second ASU student film I have seen that was Tombstone inspired (“Epitaph” 2011 was the first). With its somewhat bizarre place in Arizona history and an overabundance of ghosts, this storied landmark often leads to supernatural overload, as evidenced by ‘Doves’ cramming of history, mystery, spirits, specters, vengeance and vice into a very tiny space, leaving a ghost story I really wanted to enjoy buried deep beneath boxes of old junk and hidden in the shadows.
Final Take – Angry birds.
Redemption – Paul Hernandez
A suicide is resuscitated by Satan and offered a job, collecting souls for the Prince of Darkness. In this bad economy, a guy would have to be crazy to turn down a job offer, so he agrees to do it for the sake of his family. Simple film with good acting, classic story and a clever twist ending. Could easily have been a silent film, as the first half of the movie had no dialogue, only the (ill advised) ambient sounds of the man preparing his demise.
Final Take – No deposit, no return.
Blaze – Jordan Freed
A severely injured man awakens in a Montana hospital, one of only three survivors from a smoke jumper crew battling the disastrous Mann Gulch fire in 1949, a fire that took the lives of 13 firefighters. Flash backs introduce us to the crew as they assemble to battle the blaze. They engage in small talk and tease each other for a while and casually get to work. The fire explodes and traps the men on a hill, the crew struggling to survive the flames. The crew leader finds a smoke jumper dangling from a tree and desperately tries to free him before the fire approaches. A very well intentioned historical account, and an extremely relevant film to Arizona, yet a very ponderous production, consisting mostly of interaction with little action. A confusing collection of recollections from that tragic day are presented, but clumsily hewn together in an effort to explain the culmination of the film; the use of the “escape fire” technique that saved the lives of three of the smoke jumpers. Good acting and great locations.
Final Take – Smoke gets in your eyes.
Black Widow – Justin Hebert
An attractive woman (Collen Balesteri) stalks philandering men. She tracks one down to his home and fakes an injury to get invited into his tainted love shack. She turns on the charm and he plies her with wine. They yammer on for a while until they finally get to the inevitable ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ bit. His loins cry proceed! But his conscience overrides his libido. He informs his guest that he is pretty doggone sure that he is happily married, and their plans for naked Twister will have to take a cold shower. But his change of heart comes far too late for this sinister soubrette, and she ices the adulterous doofus, taking his wedding ring as a trophy. Very interesting photography with a believable story that is way more involved then it needed to be. Absurd melodramatic soundtrack.
Final Take – Tingling spidey sense.
Dog Days – Keani White
Two young men meet on a bridge and become fast friends. They spend all of their free time together drinking root beer and watching the sunset. There’s plenty of fireworks between the two men, but the fuses are never lit, as one reveals to the other that he is happy and hetero. Invited to a house party at his pal’s house, the spurned lover makes a desperate pass at the man of his affection, only to be strongly rejected. They decide they can still be friends, and go back to enjoying their platonic evenings spent watching the sunset. ‘Days’ gave all indications of a beautiful and heartfelt love story regardless of whether the love was requited or not, yet constantly reigned itself in, unnecessarily restricting itself to a diaphanous, family friendly film of two guys that fall in like. Winner of the first ever “F. Miguel Valenti Award for Cinematic Excellence.” Expertly shot with a flawless 70’s style, homoerotic/beefcake technique. Well acted.
Final Take – Brokeback South mountain.
Mr. Bluebirds – Andrea Camacho-Tiznado
After his mom dies, lonely and awkward artist Q (Shawn Collins) sketches the aerobicizing seniors at a retirement community. The old ladies do not take kindly to his interest and shoo him away. He goes home and finds his mom’s boyfriend (Don Teply) in his kitchen. Mom has left everything to her loser boyfriend and Q must vacate the premises immediately. He gets a ride from a weird space girl (Julie Van Lith) wearing a solid plastic wig and radio shack headphones. She takes him on a glittery and gaudy journey of self-discovery, where the overtly campy Mr. Bluebird warmly accepts Q into his psychedelic world, and Q finds comfort with Bluebirds misfit family of freaks. The gags are great in the beginning, as everyone identifies with poor Q. But as we delve deeper into the colorfully confusing world of Mr Bluebird, heavy dialog dominates and drags out the film. The glitter loses glamour and the acid trip terminates. Still a very fun and campy frolic that is worth a second look.
Final Take – The bird is the word.
The Cleaner – Jacob Roberts
A maintenance man for the mob is tasked with cleaning up the crime scene whenever there is a hit. His conscience begins to bother him until he stumbles upon a bungling hit-woman who has failed her mission, and must now terminate the hapless cleaner to avoid any witnesses. Fast paced and easy to watch short film that is not so much an exploration of conscience and dichotomy, but a survey of job satisfaction in a sluggish economy.
Final Take – Ready for the Biz bag.
The Movie Theater – Theodore Schmitz
A guy sits in his yard and sprays his dog with the hose. His friend comes over for coffee and they both sit and talk. About coffee. For a very long time. Suddenly, the light rail bursts forth through a pink and purple mist, a burning city in its wake. Two gypsies argue with Elvis over the moon landing while the Monopoly guy and Satan bake a pie in the shape of Idaho and descend into hell where a unicorn sings “Viva Las Vegas.” Wait. Never mind. That was the awesome dream I had while sleeping through this movie. The guy sitting next to me was kind enough to nudge me awake and inform me that for the rest of the film, the director stood up in the audience and hurled obscenities at himself on the screen. There have been a lot of crappy movie gimmicks in my time, but this one takes the cake.
Final Take – My TV dinner with Andre.
Playtime – Anamarie Johnson
An injured soldier limps through a forest, occasionally crossing paths with an irritating girl in a red polka-dot dress that throws fruit at him. This simple and potentially poignant film deliberately dodged direction, opting for a stroll down easy street, as the two characters are merely dolls in the hands of children that learn to play nice. Good costumes. Competent photography.
Final Take – School is out.