THE QUIET ARRANGEMENT
Description (from the IMDb):
When the wife of prominent lawyer Walter Briggs is kidnapped, he decides to take matters into his own hands. But things are not really what they seem and the abduction becomes more complicated for everyone involved.
Kyle Jason as Rick Fields, Christina Simkovich as Sharon Briggs, Rob Stone as Jack Simons, Julian Hicks as Carl Masterson, Kevin M. Haynes as Walter Briggs, Joseph D. Lane as Carter Booth, and Chuck D as Captain Ambercrombie
Director’s Final Cut of the Film, Two Audio Commentary Tracks, “Always Leave Through the Front Door” Making Of, Deleted and Extended Scenes, Alternate Ending with Optional Commentary, Short Films: “Tedd’s Night Out,” “Still,” “One More Kiss,” Music Videos for Public Enemy, The Impossebulls, and Tah Phrum Duh Bush, Theatrical and Teaser Trailers
Written and Directed by David C. Snyder
Snyder knows what he is doing. This is readily apparent right from the very beginning of THE QUIET ARRANGEMENT, as it opens with a man being told that his wife has been kidnapped with no exposition, and no boring warm-up. Just jumps right in. This grabs the viewer and pulls them into the story without having to waste the time or effort to make sure they know or care who this guy is, which could be good or bad. In a lesser filmmaker’s hands, this could make for a flat character that we just don’t care about. Snyder expertly weaves the story after the hook to build that emotional resonance, break it down, and build it back up again.
This technique of lack of background (at least, lack of background before the even that hooks the viewer – we’ll find out later what the hell is going on) is one of my favorite conventions in the suspense drama. Snyder pairs this with a disjointed chronology, which makes me smile even more. TQA starts at the beginning, jumps to the end, then goes to the middle, then you realize that the beginning is really not the beginning at all and it doesn’t end at the end. Since Tarantino, the out-of-sequence plot has become a lot more passé (not like he was the first to do it, but he really did bring it to the masses like no other), and often times the technique is done for no good reason at all. Just, seemingly, for shits and giggles. TQA is a great example of how the disjointed chronology can be used to take a story that is not all that complicated (a kidnapping gone wrong with some revenge thriller thrown in on the side) and make it much more suspenseful. Like MEMENTO before it, TQA works as well as it does not because of the story itself, but because of the way in which the story is presented, though the story is twisty in its own right; TQA would be interesting presented linearly, but it would not be suspenseful. This craftsmanship that goes into the very plot of the film comes before any of the production side of the movie, and by having such a strong skeleton to work on, TQA sets itself up for a great chance for success.
On top of this base of a beautifully twisted plot comes the visual acumen and overall production quality with which TQA is presented to the viewer. The video quality is not the highest I’ve ever seen; the opening scenes and many in low light are a bit grainy and look thoroughly digital, while others look much nicer. Some of the lighting is very well done, while other scenes are seemingly shot with the lights available at hand. What is really well done is the composition of the images on screen, and the way the camera moves. This is not an Aronofsky film by far – there are no 65-cuts-a-minute shots or dizzying camera flourishes – but it is not a Kevin Smith set-the-camera-on-the-tripod-and-shoot film either. The camera moves well, the composition of images are intelligent and pleasing to the eye, and overall it is a pretty film to look at, even when what you’re looking at isn’t. The sound quality is well above average for a low-budget film as well; the dialogue is crisp and clear throughout and the sound effects work. The music didn’t pop out at me and make me take notice, but it certainly didn’t detract from TQA either.
One of the things that Snyder has really excelled at, besides the crafting of the script, is directing his actors. For a film with a low budget (there’s really only one name that most anyone will recognize in the cast list, and he’s not known for acting), Snyder has pulled top-notch performances from all of his major characters. Hayes as Briggs comes off as concerned with a distinct undertone of menacing, which plays perfectly into the story later revealed about his character, Simkovich has an air of damsel in distress with a knife behind her back, and Stone as the am-I-dirty-am-I-good cop was a fun watch. The standout was Kyle Jason however; whose conflicted thug with a big heart really steals the show. And while his appearance was very brief, Chuck D was very convincing in the minute or so he was on screen.
There were a few things about TQA that just didn’t quite hit it on the head for me. There were a few small plot holes here and there, a few too convenient wrap-ups in the twisty-ness, but this is often the case in a film with a story presented in as complicated a fashion as this one. The video quality could have been a bit crisper, the lighting could have been a bit better, and some of the supporting cast could have been a bit stronger. When it comes to the film as a whole, these are small complaints versus so many successes.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed TQA. This was a great suspense thriller, a genre that unfortunately just doesn’t get attempted enough in the low-budget world, and TQA is a shining example of the fact that it can be done really well without a big budget. The great strength of TQA was the script / plot, and all of the other elements built upon that strength, with very few detractions. TQA is a strong thriller, that does not suffer from its lack of budget, but really makes me look forward to the day that someone in Hollywood (or preferably, someone with a bunch of money that wants to make a good movie outside of the Hollywood system) takes notice to Snyder’s talents and gives him a budget to make something grand.
Overall 7.5 / 10
TQA on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1462649/
TQA for sale: http://amzn.com/B004GYKNFI
TQA site: http://quietarrangement.com/
DARK OF WINTER
Description (from darkofwintermovie.com/about):
Professional assassin John French is in the middle of a complicated new job when he finds out about the parole of Gary Kliest, the man responsible for what happened to his daughter ten years prior. When Sarah, an old friend of his daughter’s, shows up unannounced for a visit, John’s simple existence becomes a complex puzzle. He must now deal with strange, otherworldly events that are throwing his life into a chaotic mystery that he must solve before it is too late…
Kyle Jason as John French, Erica Paisley as Sarah, Kevin M. Haynes as Mike, Ashtyn Neibar as Shelly
Written and Directed by David C. Snyder
What Snyder started with TQA, he expands on with DARK OF WINTER, and instead of going in the same general direction he started, he goes way off into a psychedelic tangent that would be perfectly suited for a David Lynch film. I actually thought towards the beginning that DoW had to be influenced by LOST HIGHWAY, and when John finds himself on the other end of the phone talking back to him, I knew my hunch was right!
While TQA is a suspense thriller, DoW bills itself as “psychological horror.” Now, I’m not quite sure if I’d agree with that moniker or not; DoW is most certainly psychological, but I don’t know if I’d call it horror any more than I’d consider LOST HIGHWAY a horror film. It really hit me more as a psychological, trippy, skewed, dark crime drama. The plot revolves around John French, a hitman who has been contracted for a series of killings, and whose life is thrown a wrench when he finds out that the man who killed his daughter has been released on parole. That’s the simple part of the film. The skewed bit is that there is a whole, whole lot more going on than just that.
There is a ton of story told through reflection (sometimes even characters only appear IN reflections) to make you realize that there is a division going on inside of John’s head. There is reality, and there is fantasy, and there is no clear definition of which is which, and I love that sort of film. I had to watch LOST HIGHWAY multiple (maybe 4) times before I really felt like I had a good grasp as to really what was going on, and still I don’t know if I really do or if I’ve just convinced myself that I was smart enough to figure it out. DoW is a film that lends itself to repeated viewings; I have no doubt that the next time I watch it (and I will watch it again, probably soon) there will be a lot more clues to the story that I did not pick up on this viewing that will make me understand more of what is truly going on. If you don’t like a movie that have depth, that is not easily accessible and digestible, that is not just what it shows you, then stay far away from DoW.
While the script and plot are (again) very strong in DoW as they were in TQA, the production quality is a measurable step up. The video is much crisper, and does not suffer as much from the grainy bits that were apparent in the earlier film. The composition of the images is even stronger in DoW, and there is great use of focus (both in forced perspective and purposefully out of focus shots), beautiful plays with the color correction, a lot of very nice use of shots through mirrors and glass to show that division within John’s head, and some very nicely staged camera work. After the prologue, the first chapter starts with a very long, very impressively choreographed camera shot that again made me again think of Tarantino (this time the extended shot in KILL BILL before the battle at the House of Blue Leaves… he’s by far not the first to do long shots, but he’s one of the few that does them well today). There are also a lot of really well built scenes, as far as composition, for example when John is walking in the woods there is a scene that starts with a very wide shot of him walking, a close up, a wide shot, a close up, and then a medium shot of walking. This attention to visual detail makes the film very fun to watch while your brain is going into overdrive trying to truly understand what is going on, and kudos need to go to Christopher Michael for the job he did behind the camera with Snyder.
The acting on DoW has its ups and downs. Kyle Jason, as John, is again amazing. After TQA, it was obvious to me to see why he was given the lead role in this film, and he carries the weight of the film on his shoulders with ease. Hayes as Mike is also strong, though his part is much more limited. The only other significant role in the film is Paisley as Sarah, whom I was not as impressed with. Sometimes putting an actor that is not as talented with a much more talent actor makes the newcomer shine, and sometimes it just makes their faults more obvious in comparison, and unfortunately I felt that was more the case with her performance. Don’t get me wrong, she was not bad, but I did not find her as believable as Jason; sometimes that’s the problem with working with someone that is just so good.
Again, there are some bits that were not quite perfect, but they are very small in comparison to DoW as a whole. A few of the visuals looked a bit cheesy, some of the plot twists again felt a bit contrived (the CIA? Really?), but like before with TQA that is almost inevitable with a plot this twisted. As weird as it might sound, the biggest detractor for me: there was a cheap visual joke (“Mike Hawk”) that just seemed so incredibly out of place for the tone of the film. Do these small cons detract from the plethora of pros that DoW presents? Slightly, but not a whole lot; as a whole the film is really well made and a great mindfuck.
Overall I greatly enjoyed DoW. I am looking forward to the fact that I NEED to watch it again, and I probably will need to watch it again after that to truly understand exactly everything that is going on. I really enjoyed that the film didn’t feel the need to dumb down the story for the audience; if you get it you get it, and if you don’t well I guess you better just watch it again (and pay attention to the costumes, there’s a clue there). The acting, the production, the music, the visuals were all well above par for an independent feature with no big names attached. Like I said before, I can’t wait to see what else Snyder is going to do, especially as he can get some more backing to up his game. Highly recommended.
Overall 8.5 / 10
DoW on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2308595/
DoW is not for sale yet.
DoW site: http://darkofwintermovie.com/