Over Coffee (2010) / The Watchers (2010) / Gunderson’s (2011)

I was contacted by an actor, Timothy J. Cox, who asked that I review some of the short films he has appeared in.  Usually I get an email from the director or producer of a film, but I thought this might be interesting; three short films from three different directors, with the commonality of an actor.  Since they are all low-budget, I have no problem doing that.  So here we go!
Description (from imdb.com):
Andrew only comes to work for one reason, and that reason is Carla.  She may not know it, but he’s crazy about her and will do anything for her – something he might have to prove sooner than he thinks.
Major Cast:
Erik Potempa as Andrew, Jocelyn DeBoer as Carla, Michael Oberholtzer as David, Timothy J. Cox as Hamilton Rice, Mallory Portnoy as Laura
Special Features:
Written and Directed by Sean Meehan

OVER COFFEE is a sweet little story about an office romance-to-be, and what a guy will go out of his way to do for the girl he crushes on.  Carla is the office admin, and has to deal with not only the standard scheduling / prepping / running things, but also has to have hard-ass boss Mr. Rice’s complicated coffee order perfect and hot when he comes in the door.  Andrew would love to show Carla just how much he likes her, while David would just like to show Carla (and any other female) to his bedroom.  Mr. Rice comes in with little warning one day, and Carla has not had a chance to get all her other stuff done, much less get the über-complicated coffee, giving Andrew the chance to step up.

With a running time of only about 15 minutes, OC does a good job of character development in a short span of time.  The dialogue is natural and snappy; it’s no Tarantino, but it definitely has some style.  All of the actors are strong; Oberholtzer as David could have stepped right out of OFFICE SPACE (“Gonna show her my ‘o’ face” could have been one of his lines), and I loved the juxtaposition of Cox’s very controlling Mr. Rice, who is in turn controlled by his mother.

The story was fun, and I loved the thieving coffee woman.  There were a couple of logical issues that go to me though.  For example: what kind of gainfully employed person would not have a credit, or at least a debit, card?  And on the very slight off-chance that there really is a person like this, I have a hard time believing that they would not have cash in hand.  On the other hand, I realize that with any of this the central conflict of the story would not be there… but you always could have had a sign on the cash register that says “Credit Card Scanner Down, Cash Only” and then I would not have wasted all of this brain power on this!

The video quality was very good, and the composition of the images was pleasing.  There was good use of handheld video – some movement to the shots but it wasn’t THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT – and good sound quality.  The lighting was a bit spotty; in some shots it is very natural and unobtrusive, while some other shots are not as well lit and the lighting’s much more apparent.
Overall, I enjoyed OC.  It was a fun little flick that moved at a good pace and never got boring, and you’ve got to love a character that is mean to everyone because they’re mommy is mean to them at home!
Overall 7 / 10
OC on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1672176/
OC is not for sale.
OC for viewing online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpVBOQL3cLI
OC site: http://www.overcoffeemovie.com/ 

Description (from imdb.com):
After several strange encounters a man begins to question his own sanity in search of what he believes is the truth.
Major Cast:
Jeff Moffitt as John Porter, Timothy J. Cox as Dr. Orwell, Peter Francis Span as Mysterious Man, Darrin Biss as Phil
Special Features:
Written by Jeff Moffitt and Sy Cody White
Directed by Sy Cody White

THE WATCHERS delves into a genre that low-budget films often shy away from: the suspense thriller.  Doing these reviews, I watch lots of comedies, and even more horror flicks, but it is not too often that I get a suspense thriller.  This is a genre of film that does not necessarily require a large budget, so it does surprise me how infrequently independent filmmakers choose to attempt this sort of film.  On the other hand, a suspense thriller is not nearly as “easy” of a genre to do.  Not to say that making a low-budget comedy or horror is an easy task, but with a thriller every little thing must be right to achieve the overall feeling needed to make the film effective, and this perfectionist need becomes even more imperative when you add in the “psychological” element to the thriller.

TW tells the story of John, a man who is either under surveillance for something he is unaware of, or is becoming a paranoid psychotic.  Either way, he is seeing Dr. Orwell (a little heavy handed of a moniker for a “they’re watching me” kinda movie, but a nice nod nonetheless) to try and get his life straight. Between visits with the Dr. and the rest of his ever-increasingly erratic life, John continually attempts to get in touch with his estranged wife and daughter and mend some unknown past hurt.  The stress of his life compounds the stress caused by his possible stalkers, and combined his life falls apart.

The scripting for TW is tight.  When you make a psychological thriller you have to drop hints at what’s truly happening without giving up the ghost too early; TW does a decent job at this.  I figured truth out before the film came out and said it, but it was not plainly obvious, it did manage a bit of subterfuge.  TW does a good job of building the story and the suspense in a limited (just under a ½ hour) running time; the character development is not as fulfilling, but if the film gave too much about the characters it would be much easier to give away the plot.  The dialogue is well scripted and functional, nothing too snappy but this is not the kind of film that you would expect repeatable lines from.

On the technical side, there were a lot of things TW did well.  The direction by White is solid in both the visual aspects and in the direction of the talent.  Moffitt is very believable as the disheartened protagonist, carrying the suffering of an unknown loss in his eyes.  Cox is also strong as Orwell, as he projects caring and warmth into his character, the one shoulder John has to rest his troubles.  The video quality and sound recording was also above par for this budget level, and it’s always great when you can feature a recognizable big city (NYC) in your film. 

However, there were some things that TW did falter on.  The biggest sore spot for me was the visual effects.  If you are going to make a low-budget film, you need to know your limitations.  If you cannot afford to film an explosion, or if you do not have access to someone that can make a believable explosion, don’t feature an explosion.  TW has an explosion that came across so fake to me, that it completely pulled me out of the story and ruined my suspension of disbelief.  Normally I wouldn’t make such a big deal out of something like this, but the fact that TW did everything else SO WELL made this shortcoming much more readily apparent to me.  There are ways to get around a scene like this without going cheesy – put it in the background, put it off-screen, make is something that we learn about from a bystander but we do not see – any of these options would have kept my interest in the film from be wrenched away and kept my attention on the plot instead of being diverted to the effects.  There were also a few minor characters that did not have the acting chops of the major players; this is to be expected in a low-budget film, but again the disparity in the quality between the key actors and the back-up also made that lowered quality stand out so much more.

Overall, TW is a strong film that delves into a less oft portrayed genre in the low-budget world, and does it pretty well.  The quality of much of the film is well above par for the budget level it is created within, and for the most part TW gets things really right.  Normally such high quality would be a boon for a film with a low budget, but with TW that high quality makes the few low points seem so much lower.  TW was a good low-budget psychological thriller, and with just a little more planning, a little more restraint, a little more design, it would have been great.  I look forward to seeing what these talented filmmakers can do in the future, and definitely hope to see more from them.
Overall 6.5 / 10
TW on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1729237/
TW is not for sale.
TW site: http://twomancrewproductions.weebly.com/


Description (from imdb.com):
Max, about to start his first week of teaching health at a middle school, finds out he has a rare venereal disease with only one symptom.
Major Cast:
Max Azulay as Max, Dan Azulay as Dr. Grossman, Jeremy Fernandez as Ray, Eoin Cahill as Simon, Mike DeGasperi as Carl, Timothy J. Cox as Principal Cox
Special Features:
Written by Max Azulay, Matt Porter, Phil Primason and Mallory Westfall
Directed by Matt Porter 

Wow, what a sucky doctor’s office visit.  Max, getting a routine check-up required to be a teacher, finds out that he has “one of the newest STDs on the market:” Gunderson’s.  The only symptom: The Gunderson Twitch.  Now, he has to start teaching a bunch of middle-schoolers about health, and part of his curriculum is VDs… including Gunderson’s.

GUNDERSON’S is a movie with very, very little action but it moves at a quick pace regardless.  It reminds me of the early films of Kevin Smith; lots of talking and not much doing, but the talking is so well-written and funny that it draws you in anyway.  I love the fact that one of Max’s close friends – he sits around with his buds, drinking beer in the woods, and going over his newly discovered ailment – is also a student in his class.  The dialogue is very witty and very naturally delivered, and overall the acting is strong.

The video is obviously HD, and looks really good, and the shots are well-planned and look good.  Like Smith, there is not a whole lot of camera movement, but there is enough to keep things visually interesting.  The sound is not as good as the visual aspects; the music is often too loud, and the dialogue seems to have been recorded with an on-camera mic, so it is not as crisp or as loud as it should be.  Don’t get me wrong; G’S sound is not so bad as to make the film unwatchable, not even close, it just does not stand up to the quality of the other aspects of the film.

G’S does a lot of good things for a low-budget film.  Especially finding not only a bunch of kids to be in a movie all about a STD, but also finding a talented child actor that can hang with the big boys.  The filmmakers were able to secure good locations and good participation by a class full of young extras.  The acting quality is also very good on this film, well about the average low-budget.  Azulay carries the weight of the film easily as the lead, but all of the supporting actors are also strong.  I especially enjoyed the young man, and Cox’s rendition of the middle-school principal that so desperately wants to be cool (but is so obviously not) is also a standout.

Overall, I really enjoyed G’S.  It was a well-scripted, well produced dialogue driven comedy that was a lot of fun to watch.  I am interested in seeing other things made by this group of talented filmmakers.
Overall 7.5 / 10
G’S on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2007390/
G’S is not for sale.
G’S for viewing online: http://player.vimeo.com/video/25697122
G’S site: http://dialtonepictures.com/

2 thoughts on “Over Coffee (2010) / The Watchers (2010) / Gunderson’s (2011)

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