Shade of Grey (2009) & Obsolescence (2011)

Shade of Grey (2009)

Description (from cinephreakpictures.com):
Shade of Grey is woven from the intricate relationships of several characters who repeatedly find themselves in the same anonymous hotel room across several years.  The room bears witness to all the joy, heartache and pain that comes with their presence.  As their stories are laid bare within this temporary cell, the players become forever interconnected, unknowingly staking their claim as a part of the history of this seedy intersection.  It’s about family, the complicated and fractured ties that exist as people try to forge that definition.  It’s about the overwhelmingly necessary and potentially destructive power of love.  It’s about rebirth and second chances, how everyone has demons shadowing their past and the past of those before them.  It is the story of a room… and those connected to it.

Major Cast:
Scott Ganyo as Evan, Katelyn Coyne as Samantha, Ben Schmitt as Bryan, Monica Barajas as Sarah, Jennifer Berkemeier as Nicole, Leah Winkler as Ashley, Dale Toney as Pedro, Nick Brunner as Morgan, Jomar ‘Dez’ Banks as Dacx, Anthony Wentzel as Steve

Special Features:
Director’s Commentary, A Sneak Peek at The Making of Shade of Grey, Gag Reel, Alternate Scene, Teaser, Trailer, more!

Written and Directed by Jakob Bilinski

SHADE OF GREY is an interesting experiment… that just didn’t quite succeed for me.

I reviewed Jakob’s awesome short, FOXXY MADONNA VS. THE BLACK DEATH on the old Ryan’s Reviews site, and I loved that flick.  It was an awesome entry in the world of 48-hour filmmaking, a great big retro-grindhouse ball of fun.  SoG is a 100% completely different sort of film.  While FMvtBD was faced paced, campy action fun, SoG is a slow moving, introspective, dark drama / thriller that takes place almost exclusively in a sing hotel room.

I really admire the craft of SoG.  One of the bigger mistakes made in low and no budget filmmaking is to plan to make a bigger film than you can afford to actually make.  With SoG, Bilinski has created a complex story around a few key characters, and in one central location; this allows for a small cast, small crew, no location changes to be dealt with, a single location release to be signed, and overall a much smaller headache.  With the exception of the hotel lobby, the entire film takes place in Room 123, which is as much of a character as any of the people in SoG.  The movie is all about the intersecting lives and stories that all occur in this one room; the script is well-crafted, and while the stories at first seem to be either unconnected or just slightly so, as the plot evolves it becomes apparent that all of the stories are disjointed chapters in one large story: a story of love gone wrong, in many different ways.

For me however, the beauty of the craft of this film was not enough to carry it.  The acting was uneven – many of the actors put in great, getting’-paid worthy performances, while others not so much so.  The direction and editing was spot on – I loved the recurrence of the match cut, which requires planning not often seen in many low budget films – and the composition of the shots were pleasing and interesting to the eye.  However, the lighting seemed to me just to be what was available in the hotel room, and as good as Bilinski’s color correction skills are (and he’s got skills, I’d even go so far to put a “z” on it and say he’s got skillz), good color correction just can’t make up for bad lighting.  There is an entire scene that takes place in a dark room with almost no light; if I am going to watch a scene in the dark it either needs to be pitch black (see The Bride in her coffin in KILL BILL for a reference) or it needs to be lit softly so I can see what the hell is going on, but still feel like I’m in the dark.  The score by Christopher John DeMory was great, but the sound quality otherwise (dialogue recording, foley, etc.) was somewhat lacking.  This juxtaposition of good and not-so-good was kind of how I felt about all of SoG: it had some really great stuff going on, but overall it was just not great.

I think my biggest problem with SoG was that it was too long.  The entire film was too long, many scenes (the opening red-making-out scene, the hate you/love you scene, etc.) were too long, and over all the pace of the film just dragged.  Adding to that feeling was a few scenes that really seemed either completely out of place in the story (the drug deal), or should have been just hinted at rather than played out (clown sex).  There were also issues with how much time has passed; we know that these stories are taking place over the course of many years (especially the ending, which – if I understand it correctly – would have to be at least 18 years after some of the earlier scenes), but there is no real way to define that time has passed, or have any idea how much time has passed.  I got completely lost on the timeline.

Overall, I enjoyed parts of SoG.  I felt the film was beautifully built, but just did not live up to what it could have been.  Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed this movie overall, and I would recommend that anyone thinking of making a film on a much-restricted budget should seek it out and learn from the lessons it provides.  I just felt that it could have been much better than the final result was, which is the fate of many a low-budget feature.

Overall 5.5 / 10

SHADE OF GREY on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1168654/

SHADE OF GREY for sale: http://www.cvdistributes.com/cgi/shopper.cgi?preadd=action&key=DR0122

SHADE OF GREY site: http://www.cinephreakpictures.com

Obsolescence (2011)

Description (from imdb.com):
After suffering the sudden loss of his wife, Nick embarks on an obsessive, dangerous journey to uncover the truth behind her passing.

Cast:
Scott Ganyo as Nick, Jen Lilley as Annie, Rosalind Rubin as Tess, Luca Ellis as Detrick

Special Features:
None (Screener)

Written by Scott Ganyo and Jakob Bilinski
Directed by Jakob Bilinski

OBSOLESCENCE shows the definite progression of Bilinski as a filmmaker.  Where SoG was too long, not well lit, and not all together on target, OBSOLESCENCE is quick moving, well lit, and sticks to what needs to be done.

The quality of OBSOLESCENCE as a whole is well above SoG; the video quality is much better, the lighting is much better, the sound quality is higher (DeMory’s score work shines again), and the film benefits from not being longer than it needs to be, which I felt was one of the most major flaws of SoG.  Again the story/script is interesting, and I really enjoyed the fact that the movie just jumps right in and does not feel the need to spoon feed the viewer the back story… at least, not right away.  The cinematography is a step up; warm palettes highlight the past, when things were good, and cool palettes denote the darkness of Nick’s present state of affairs.  The acting is solid all around, and the directing is good.  It did feel a bit too “Mtv” for me; there were a lot of quick cuts, purposely out of focus shots, etc.… just a little too much style, to the point it was a bit distracting.

The story is a fun mind-fuck in the tradition of MEMENTO, but not a rip-off of said movie.  Once OBSOLESCENCE gets started, we know that Nick has been wronged in some unforgivable way, and that he is going to try (even though it’s pointless) to revenge that wrong.  I really enjoyed the set up of the film, and where it was going, until the Detrick scene, where it was all spelled out.  I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if OBSOLESCENCE left more for me to figure out, instead of Detrick explaining to Nick (and therefore to me) exactly what was going on.  Still, even with all info out there on the table, this was an enjoyable film.

Overall, OBSOLESCENCE was a very well written, well made film.  Sure, OBSOLESCENCE has its fair share of flaws, but it has many more pro’s than con’s going for it.  The film shows the talent Bilinski possesses, and makes me look forward anxiously to see what he’ll do next.

Overall 7 / 10

OBSOLESCENCE on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1552206/

OBSOLESCENCE is not yet for sale.

OBSOLESCENCE site: http://www.cinephreakpictures.com

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