If you read these reviews regularly, you may know by now that before I came here to San Antonio I used to be involved in the local film scene in Albuquerque. There were a few different groups of people making movies at the same time, and it was (and I assume, still is) a great place to make low and no-budget films as everyone knew, or at least knew of, each other and everyone was always ready to lend a hand to help you get your movie done. I loved that. I knew Robert Medrano because I cast him in what was SUPPOSED to be my first feature, AFTER THE END, but that fell apart due to scheduling conflicts and losing access to the equipment. Robert helped me out, and he also was involved in the films of Scott Phillips (whom I worked with), but his primary focus was Miscreant Films with his filmmaking partner Chris Dillon. I actually got a chance to see IN TROUBLE a few years ago on the semi-big screen at The Guild Cinema, in Albuquerque, a local movie theater that was also one of the hearts of the local film scene (that’s where my movie DEFECTIVE MAN! had its whopping two day theatrical run), so I was excited to go back and re-visit that film, as well as see a few I had not seen.
Description (from the IMDb):
About four friends who find themselves in more trouble than they could have ever imagined. Rampaging across the city, they attempt to salvage what they can of their pathetic lives.
Chris L. Dillon as Bishop, Robert Paul Medrano as Zero, Jaime Reynoso as Renn, Shane Witte as Steve, Josh Center as Cotton, Jeremy Owen as Tommy, Amy Baklini as Heather, Jenny Mac as Caitlin, James Hinds Martel as Stuckey, Lauren Myers as Laurie, Kurly Tlapoyawa as Liam
IN TROUBLE is the perfect title for this movie. It really says it all, in just two words, and you can’t get much more succinct than that. Medrano has crafted a modern comedy of errors, and the stakes keep getting higher as the plot goes on. Zero opens the floor with a little statutory rape, Bishop ups the stakes with an assault and possible murder, Renn comes in a bit tamer with a night of debauchery that has resulted in having a new friend – which HE has named Steve, because Steve doesn’t talk – handcuffed to his wrist, and Cotton rounds it out with a little punching-his-ex-girlfriend-in-the-face-after-wearing-her-panties (is there a word for that? panticide? Insult to injury, that’s it, wait that’s three…). And so, IN TROUBLE is off and running.
As you may have already deduced from that description, there is nothing serious about IN TROUBLE. This is your classic goofball comedy, full of over the top characters (I mean seriously, look at the character’s names!) in over the top situations. What I really like with this is that these extreme protagonists are balanced by some pretty serious (mostly) and pretty ominous antagonists, in the form of Tommy and the threat of Liam. Tommy we see from the beginning, and his description of looking like “the guy from MAD MAX” is about perfect. Jeremy Owen plays up his mean streak in the form of Tommy, the enforcer sent to seek revenge (for multiple reasons, all will be explained, just not in this review) on Bishop. This is one of the main strengths of IN TROUBLE, the characters themselves, and that balance between the protagonists and antagonists. There is serious shit going on in this movie, but not in a very serious way.
The best part of IN TROUBLE is, for sure, the script. Medrano has crafted the aforementioned characters and put them in extreme situations that illicit a laugh just from that, but on top of the plot there is just a ton of really funny dialogue as well. Medrano has a gift for keen witty dialogue and crafting an outlandish story that just might happen. It was on display in SCREAM, SCIENCE BASTARD, SCREAM (written with Chris Seaver, review here), and it was on display in the original version of WEDDING SLASHERS (called JUST BURIED), before the producers gutted the film into the version that you can see now. Dillon does a good job with the direction as well, keeping the story moving at an even clip throughout the beginning, slowing it down when it needs, and then taking off again at the end. Dillon’s biggest strength in this film is the work he has drawn out of his actors; even though the vast majority of the cast here is amateur to somewhat practiced at best (with the exception of the antagonists and a few people here and there), overall the performances are solid. This also comes from the fact that Miscreant Films is a group of friends that consistently work together, so Dillon and Medrano know the strengths and weaknesses of the people that will be filling the majority of these roles.
The production side of IN TROUBLE is a bit less favorable. Dillon did tell me that the DVD I received, which had both IN TROUBLE and DESOLATION on one disc, is unfortunately a lesser quality version of the films. The originals are gone to the sands of time and old hard drives, and the only version he has is the reduced quality version that it takes to fit both movies on one DVD. This results in some artifacting, some reduced image quality, and some tracers on the images. However, what I am talking about is not from the DVD (which, don’t get me wrong, is not a VERY bad version of these films, it just could be a bit crisper), it’s from the production in the first place. The lighting is a big issue, with the indoor scenes being very bright and harshly shadowed in one shot, and much less so in another, almost like someone forgot to turn a light on. They also suffer from not correcting the white balance on the camera, so some shots are very blue, while a following shot in the same location will be much more orange. Also lacking is the sound quality, as there are many shots where the dialogue is a bit muffled or low, and others where it is much more crisp; I found myself having to adjust the volume a bit while watching the movie. Additionally, the editing had some issues. For the most part it is competent, and moves the story along without really doing anything special, but in some areas there are black frames between shots (where an edit is usually not quite lined up right on the software, so it inserts a blank frame or two), which really caught my eye and threw me off.
So, with all of the above being said, do these issues make IN TROUBLE a bad movie? Wholeheartedly not. Dillon and Medrano and crew have crafted a very funny (as in, laugh out loud at points) film that is a throwback to those goofball trouble comedies, like ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, but a lot more mature in the subject matter. Is it obvious that this is a no-budget production by a group of friends? Assuredly so, but if you don’t have to have a slick Hollywood polish on your comedies, you will find IN TROUBLE a worthwhile use of an hour of your time, and one of the funnier very-independent screwball comedies made in a while. Overall, just a fun film that is dragged down a bit by its production values, but when you are making a film for no money you work with what you can and make the best of it. IN TROUBLE makes the best of it.
Overall 7.5 / 10
IT on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1753946/
IT for sale: for purchases, contact Dillon on his Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/chris.dillon.73700
IT does not have a site.
Description (from Facebook.com/DesolationMovie):
The infection only took weeks to ravage the planet, and the undead have taken over. After months of hiding, two unlikely survivors set out on a personal journey of redemption. But what impact could it possibly have when it’s becoming clear that everyone else is dead?
Chris L. Dillon as Sam, Jaime Reynoso as Jacob, Kate Timmermans as Amy, Shane Witte as John, Jenny Ramsey as Allison
Written by Robert Paul Medrano
Directed by Chris L. Dillon
DESOLATION is a lot of the same cast and crew from IN TROUBLE, but with a completely different modus operandi. This time around, we’ve got a much more serious (though, at times, light hearted) zombie movie, dealing with two brothers trying to get back home to Albuquerque from Santa Fe after the outbreak. They have just each other to rely on, and Sam is paranoid about losing Jacob, as he’s the only remaining family he’s got left. So Sam is the ass-kicker, and protects his brother Jacob from all the awfulness that is now everyday life.
DESOLATION has a lot of the same pros and cons as IN TROUBLE. This time around I’ll start with the cons. Again the lighting has some major issues, even outdoors. There are some scenes where a reflector could have been put to great use, as there are harsh shadows from the sun that are blotting out the actors expressions, and in other shots there is obviously a reflector in use but it is looking more like a spotlight than a mild bounce to remove some shadow. The sound quality is again hit or miss, as some scenes are fine and others required me to mess with the volume on my TV to understand what the hell is going on. The image composition was a bit stronger overall on DESOLATION in comparison to its predecessor, but there’s still not a whole lot of great camera work to be on the look out for; mostly it’s competent at best with a few interesting shots here and there. And again, those black frames! They appear in the edit again, which is very similar to IN TROUBLE in the fact that it gets the job done but doesn’t really add anything to the film, and in the case of the missing frames it distracts the viewer with little flashes of black for no particular reason.
On the pro side, in DESOLATION Dillon again draws rather strong performances from his cast. This time there’s really no one that anyone outside of Albuquerque would know (Jeremy Owen and Kurly Tlapoyawa from IN TROUBLE both have some more famous work under their belts), so it’s 100% your friends and neighbors casing. Dillon himself is good as Sam, and Reynoso is pretty strong overall as Jacob, though he does have moments where the emotion and whatnot felt contrived and not really all that believable. The major strength DESOLATION has on the cast aspect is that it’s pretty much a one to two-man show, with just a few minor characters to deal with, and some zombies. Also, New Mexico is just an amazing place to make zombie movies. The landscape, and the things you can find just laying around the desert add instant production value to any post-apocalyptic film. In the end though, much like IN TROUBLE, the strongest part of DESOLATION is the written word. Medrano really shines with the comedic, so the script for DESOLATION is not as good as the one before it, but overall the plot, the dialogue, and the general mood evoked are definite positives for this film. There is even a little plot twist towards the end that I have to say, I did not see coming, so good for you Miscreant Films for pulling that one over on me.
Overall, DESOLATION is a decent film, but it is just not quite as entertaining as it’s predecessor. With IN TROUBLE, it was much easier for me to look past the negatives because the positives were just so good; it’s not often that a no-budget movie makes me laugh out loud, especially more than once! DESOLATION definitely suffers more from its cons, as the script and story just don’t make up for them like IN TROUBLE did. It is not a bad movie, and it has some truly fine moments, but overall it is dragged down by its production values and it is not brought back up nearly as high by the good things it has going for it.
Overall 5.5 / 10
DESOLATION is not on the IMDb.
DESOLATION for sale: for purchases, contact Dillon on his Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/chris.dillon.73700
DESOLATION site: http://www.facebook.com/DesolationMovie
I Love Molly McGrath
Description (from YouTube):
Miscreant Films’ entry to the 2013 Albuquerque 48 Hour Film Horror project.
Robert Paul Medrano as Jared Dalton, William C. Bolt as Dave French, Megan Whittaker as Jaime McGrath, Kurly Tlapoyawa as Frank Ayala, Shane White as Anthony Miller, Betzy Sara Miesen as Danielle Ayala, Megan Pribyl as Molly McGrath
None (Online Screener)
Written by Robert Paul Medrano and Chris L. Dillon
Directed by Chris L. Dillon
I LOVE MOLLY MCGRATH is that step up I’ve been waiting for from Miscreant. This was a film made in 48 hours, as a part of one of the 48 Film Festivals around the country, and Dillon told me that he has no plans to go back and re-edit it or add anything else like many filmmakers choose to. The film that is up on YouTube is what they created in 2 days of work, and it will not be altered, and I have to give him some major credit for that. Firstly, for not giving in to the urge to go back and try and spruce it up or add things that could not be done in that two day window, and secondly for what they were able to accomplish in the first place.
This is finally the first Miscreant film, or really any film I’ve seen penned by Medrano, that did not have a comedic element. In seven minutes of running time, there’s no point for relief, and I was glad to see that Medrano did not feel the need to add any in. This is a serious film all around, no witty dialogue here. The dialogue that is in the film is a bit reserved, and with the subject matter it makes perfect sense for it to be. I’m not too much of a fan of the “found footage” genre, but in a seven minute film it works fine, and I really like that they introduced the movie as such by starting it off with a shot of the camera man holding his digital SLR camera that the film was shot on. I LOVE MOLLY MCGRATH takes place from his point of view, as he has been tasked to document what Jared is about to attempt, for better or for worse.
So, no surprise that the script and the plot were good, I’d expect nothing less from Medrano by now. He does a great job with this one of telling us just enough to know what we need to know to get the story and move it along, without wasting too much time with needless exposition, the only part that even felt a bit too much was Jared’s explanation to the camera. The part of ILMM that really ups Miscreant’s game is the production values. The lighting is much more adept than any of the previous films, and this may be a consequence of the camera used, or just paying more attention to the lighting situation, but the indoor scenes look natural and the outdoor scenes are not bathed in heavy shadow. The cinematography is a step above the previous films as well, and this I assume is from Tim McClelland (I reviewed his film FUGUE STATE, here) running the camera. The lighting and composition are especially important as this film was shot in HD, and this is a less forgiving medium if you don’t do the video justice. The audio is much higher quality overall, with the dialogue all being adeptly recorded, and the additional sounds added really making the film (especially Molly).
There were bits of ILMM that could still use some work. The makeup was ok, but nothing special, and for what Molly had been through / goes through I would have liked to see a bit more of that reflected in what she looks like. The editing is much stronger on ILMM, but there are bits and pieces here and there that could use a bit more of a shave, and it might make the film move at a bit better pace, and really I felt it could have used a little slowing down in the moments leading up to Molly’s return. And Robert, get a new shirt. That’s the same one you were wearing for IN TROUBLE, and a little costuming could go a ways!
Overall, ILMM gives me great hope to see what Dillon et. al. will come up with in the future. I enjoyed the Miscreant films before it, but the big letdown was the production quality – the video, the lighting, the sound, and the editing. ILMM bumps all of these up in a very positive fashion, and if Dillon can keep working with the view that he put together for this short, I have no reservations in saying that the next Miscreant film is going to rock.
Overall 8 / 10
ILMM is not on the IMDb
ILMM is not for sale, but you can watch it on YouTube. Embedded below.
ILMM does not have a site.