Indie Films Archive

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What is Noobcamp and Why Does it Want Your Money?

The creators of Noobcamp have taken an interesting tack in presenting their web series’ kickstarter campaign. Therein, they acknowledge the novelty of web television as an emerging concept. At the same time, they pull no punches in suggesting that the web series, as a whole, is trying to find its way as a vehicle for telling an effective story.

…many web shows just follow actors around with cameras while the actors discuss their backstory.

It is in this fashion that the Mayview production team declared their goal of crafting a web series that takes full advantage of established cinematic techniques in conveying a narrative. An outside observer might be tempted to suggest that the production is inviting a special kind of hubris with their generalizations about the state of web media. I certainly don’t think any of the web series I’ve reviewed are burdened by an abundance of world building. Then again, it is a big internet out there. To borrow a phrase from Roy Batty, perhaps they’ve seen things I wouldn’t believe.

This aside, the six minute pitch video, the one minute trailer – which incidentally does a fantastic job of showing rather than telling – and a mission statement citing games and film as life affirming experiences, were enough to pique my interest in this project. Using David Mamet’s quote about illiterates inventing “backstory” may have also helped seal the deal.

So rather than summarizing, I’ll let the series speak for itself.

Noobcamp is a story about an ex-professional gamer who is forced to teach a video game camp for kids. Johnny7, as he was once known, was among the top pro gamers in the world and made millions in endorsements. The show picks up several years after his downfall. Johnny, now mid-20s, reckless and jaded from his fame and fortune, is probably the worst person for the job, but he may be exactly what they need.

Even if Noobcamp doesn’t revolutionize the medium, which would be rather challenging to do without going into art house territory, it does seem like something I would gladly watch. In fact, I may kick in four dollars if only for the executive producer credit.

As of the time of this post, Noobcamp is about 81% of the way to its $25,000 goal with 52 hours remaining on the campaign. Would you like to know more? Click here to head over to their kickstarter page for all the details.


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Monster Roll Releases the Kraken upon Un-suspecting Sushi Chefs

Written and directed by Dan Blank, Monster Roll is a six minute proof of concept short, channeling  the best conceptual elements of classic Japanese monster movies and the fantastic gusto of 80s screen gems like Ghostbusters. But where something like Godzilla worked with 1950s nuclear anxiety, Monster Roll resonates with the very real twenty-first century problem of over-fishing and resource scarcity.

The film’s opening narration frames the central conflict as nature’s reaction to a broken promise on the part of humanity. Therein, a Japanese legend speaks of a bond between man and the sea. For our part, man promised to only kill what he would eat, and eat all that he killed. The movie then opens on a quintessential North American douche bag stuffing himself with sushi, utterly disrespecting the chef’s efforts as well as the traditional accoutrement of the meal.

For that scene alone, Monster Roll seems to be as much a cultural commentary on the worst sort of sushi restaurant patrons, which perhaps reflects on the Western appropriation of an Eastern culinary practice, as much as it is the hook for a monster movie. All of this happens before a giant tentacle emerges from the restaurant’s sink and starts strangling the sushi chef.

During its short run time Monster Roll establishes a conflict, creates a sense of empathy for the sushi chefs turned last line of defense against sea monsters, and scores some very well placed laughs amid the chaos. Moreover, the computer generated monsters are quite convincing in their ability to interact with flesh and blood actors.

Even though the short looks to be set in California, I’ll admit that I’m quite pleased to see Asian actors speaking Japanese within the movie. If Ben Kingsley being cast as The Mandarin in Iron Man 3 teaches us anything, it’s that some elements within mainstream Hollywood do not really understand race. It’s the same phenomenon which brought us an almost entirely white principal cast in The Last Airbender – though race was the least of that movie’s problems. Granted it’s a sad state of affairs when sub-titles threaten to hurt a movie’s appeal, but I’m glad to see this film demonstrating the courage to keep a culturally appropriate cast and language track.

So let’s review:

A classic man versus nature story as told through giant sea monsters.

Unlikely heroes rising from their humble origins to do great things.

Adept injections of comedy as a means of bringing the audience into the story without imposing too much on their suspension of disbelief.

Also, approbation from the likes of Moon and Source Code director Duncan Jones.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s hoping that Dan Blank and team can quickly secure funding to shoot the feature length version of this film.

Head over to www.monsterroll.com for behind the scenes features and additional details about the project.


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Movie Review: LA 10101

A good film has the ability to make the viewer see something of themselves in the characters on screen. When I first watched the three short films that comprise the Los Angeles 10101 project, I found myself identifying, to some extent, with all the principal players. I don’t know if that makes me a horrible person, but it certainly speaks volumes about how in tune these shorts are with the reality of dating and romance in the digital age.

Directed by David Heinz, LA 10101 goes beyond exploring the ubiquity of technology in society, instead examining texting, internet dating, and status updates as things that enable and simultaneously hinder our ability to connect with other people. Though filmed on location in Los Angles, none of the stories hinge upon geography, or an intimate knowledge of the city. The three films, 3am, 8am, 11am, represent contemporary narratives of alienation that could happen to anybody in any place. Given the subject matter, it would be easy for LA 10101 to default into preaching the ills of technology upon society. Yet the films resist the temptation to moralize. If anything, ambiguity is an essential component to each short.

3am

3am is the first of LA 10101’s three films. This particular story explores the pitfalls of late night text messages. The camera work during the texting scene, the words of which were improvised and shot in real time, literally puts the cell phone in a rather unique perspective. As if to emphasize the impersonal nature of the text message, and the often painful amount of time required to say very little, it is a full three minutes into the film before we finally see an actor’s face. Though not my favourite LA 10101’s three films, I very much enjoyed how 3am illustrates the false confidence that comes through using technology as an intermediary.

 

8am

For my time, 8am is the strongest of the three LA 10101 films. The entirety of 8am is shot without artificial lighting. This creates some rather haunting contrasts of light and shadow as Michael (Mike Monreal), a compulsive internet dater with anxiety problems, searches the internet for love by the warm glow of his laptop. Low light shooting also forces a level of intimacy between the character and the camera. Scenes in cars, stairwells and narrow apartment corridors create a feeling of cinematography induced claustrophobia. Such strategic style accentuates the physical ticks and constant state of stress found in Mr. Monreal’s acting.

Despite everything that is meant to make Michael seem like an outsider, there’s an accessible vulnerability in his nature. Where text messaging can make a person prone to bravado, internet dating allows for the freedom to be an ideal version of one’s self. This phenomenon is known to D&D players as “minmaxing”. Therein a player minimizes a character’s negative personality/physical traits and maximises the good ones. Unfortunately, taking an online relationship into the real world requires confronting the minmaxed identity with a potentially less flattering reality. As Michael illustrates, this can often lead to an existential crisis wherein the only option is to just walk away.

 

11am

11am is perhaps the most ambitious of the three LA 10101 films. It has the longest run time, the most dialogue – all of which is improvised by the actors – and the least dependence on technology as an actual element of the story telling. In the span of ten minutes 11am chronicles how something as banal as Facebook can contribute to the absolute implosion of a relationship.

This poses an interesting question: is Facebook really that relevant to the modern relationship, or is it just an easy way to quantify the abstract? As someone who is guilty of extensive a little Schadenfreude when people open up their private issues to audience participation, I’m probably not the best person to tackle that question. If we want to make the case that the relevance of the relationship status has ebbed since the middle of last decade, the false friendships that emerge from social networking remain as troublesome in reality as they are in this film. Though the dialogue was composed on the fly, the acting and pacing make the events of 11am imminently believable, save for the fact that most of my hangovers render me prone to drink Gatorade while spooning a chuck bucket rather than inspiring a post-coitus relationship audit. The raw emotion of the scene, however, is well worth suspending disbelief.

 

LA 10101 is ultimately successful in framing the ways technology influences and infiltrates the modern relationship. The stories it weaves transcend contemporary location and time, acting as a focal point for the last ten years of digital culture. For less than half an hour’s investment in time, LA 10101 pays fantastic dividends.

Directed by: David Heinz

Starring: Abigale Eiland, Barak Hardley, Nicky Hawthorne, Mike Monreal, Elizabeth Tyson, Sam Child, and Cristen Irene

Additional details available at la10101.com


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Movie Review: Another Earth

When Another Earth debuted in January 2011 it quickly became the darling of the 27th Sundance Film Festival. Therein, it won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, a Special Jury Prize, and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Since then the film has found praise from the Chicago Film Critics Association and the American Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. But like many independent science fiction films, Another Earth has cobbled surprisingly little traction within the entertainment mainstream. Perhaps this tragic neglect is due to the film being pigeon holed as a science fiction story – not that there is anything wrong with that. While there are some obvious sci-fi elements to the plot, at its core Another Earth is a contemporary story about loss and redemption.

Another Earth uses tragedy to weave together the lives of two people. Rhoda Williams, played by the film’s co-writer Brit Marling, is a brilliant high school student bound for MIT to study astrophysics. John Burroughs, played by William Mapother, is a composer and professor of music at Yale University. On the night that a second Earth appears in the sky, Rhoda is driving home drunk from a party where her friends had been feting her good fortune. During the trip Rhoda’s attention gradually shifts from the road toward the stars until her vehicle smashes into Burroughs’ parked car, killing Burroughs’ toddler son and pregnant wife. After serving a four year prison sentence, Rhoda returns to her childhood home and struggles with finding a way to carry on after committing an unforgivable act.

With a description like that, it would be all too easy for Another Earth to descend into maudlin banalities: hissy fits, wailing, cursing the universe for its unfair machinations, and an eventual forgive-and-forget happy ending. Yet even when John and Rhoda are at their lowest, their agony comes with a certain stoicism. Rhoda’s early in the film attempt at suicide is that of a person who wants nothing more than to lay down and go to sleep, forever. Burroughs’ inner anguish is manifested through the ruin that is his home. This particular metaphor is made all the more acute when Rhoda’s first contact with Burroughs transforms from a planned admission of guilt into an offer to clean his home. As she gradually pushes back the dirty dishes, mouldy take out, and perennially dirty laundry so too does Burroughs true nature begin to emerge from his self-imposed exile. It’s not the most subtle of character shifts, but at the very least it’s an honest display of heartbreak, contrition, and recovery – perhaps more honest than the audience would be willing to admit given the pretensions of sadness that propriety demands people wear in such situations.

The film also resists the temptation to make the other Earth a focal point for endless philosophical discussion. There are no scenes where characters wax poetic on which planet is the real Earth. Neither is there the sort of existential crisis that one might expect from the sudden appearance of a second earth, apparently populated by a parallel civilization. Instead, the other Earth acts as a point for inner reflection. The central question to that mediation, point in fact, is deceptively simple: “If you met another version of yourself, what would you say?” In that, Another Earth makes explicit the sort of judgmental conversations that we have with ourselves on a daily basis. The second Earth is a beautiful metaphor, as well as a stunning special effect, for humanity’s collective doubts, anxieties, hubris, vanity, hopes, and fears. Throughout the film the second Earth looms omnipresent in the sky as something infinitely more tangible than the alternate realities promised by multiverse theory. It is a constant reminder of that which is and that which might be, but it’s never so intrusive as to steal a scene or undermine the inner conflicts of the central players.

Arguably Another Earth is a perfect example of what science fiction can do as a means of relating a sophisticated yet universal story. If only to appease the pedants, there are snippets of audio throughout the film that attempt to offer a plausible explanation for the sudden appearance of a second Earth within our solar system. However, the core story draws upon this single fantastic event to reflect upon some of the most common elements to the human condition. There are no dogmas, political systems, or easy answers within Another Earth’s runtime. Instead, there are only questions, best guesses, and flawed ventures into negotiating impossible situations. The combination of outstanding acting from Marling and Mapother pairs with the rarest sort of honest writing wherein the script does not follow the usual path of inviting the viewer’s sympathy. Instead the story creates an environment where the audience is free (maybe even encouraged) to react with the entire spectrum of their emotions. All the while, the dialogue poses questions that will inspire self-reflection well after the credits have rolled such that the narrative is never a litany of base appeals to emotion. Thus the movie is no simple tragedy; rather Another Earth is best understood as a slice of contemporary realism.

Another Earth is elegant, honest, and thoughtful but never condescending or pretentious. The film is catalyzed by an event that is traditionally within the realm of science fiction, but the story is, perhaps purposefully, conventional and terrestrial. If Moon was the hidden sci-fi gem of 2009, then Another Earth is certainly such a film from 2011.

Directed by: Mike Cahill

Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother, and Matthew-Lee Erlbach


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The Unfinished Web Series Project

A wide shot of LA as seen in It Ends Today

Much like in the world of conventional television, not every web series makes it to the end of its first season. Some projects are so ambitious that they blow through their entire budget in the first few episodes. Others, particularly those that are produced piece meal, call it a day due to the cast and crew moving on to other projects. Some web series seem to quietly vanish into the ether of the internet, leaving stale youtube videos as the only proof of their unrealized potential. For your viewing pleasure, I give you four web series, two original and two fan series, that never quite, or have yet to, come to fruition.

It Ends Today


Written and directed by Aleem Hossain

Date of Release: September 2009

Number of episodes: 1

Status: Unknown, presumed dead.

Out of the four series mentioned in this post, It Ends Today is probably the one that scores the highest for unrealized excellence. In less than five minutes the story manages to frame the characters, a recovering drug addict and her boyfriend, establish a conflict, Zoë’s memory lapse which Eric interprets as her falling off the wagon, and hint at a supernatural power akin to the good parts of Lost. There’s a feeling of genuine history between the two characters, but it’s handled in a way that shows rather than tells. Though there’s some inconsistency in the sound levels, the visual quality of the production is excellent. It’s really quite a shame that It Ends Today was left as an unfinished production. I know that I would pay if it meant I could see a full season of this story.

Update: I managed to get in touch with Aleem Hossain and he informed me of a few interesting details about this series. The pilot episode’s positive critical reception led to serious talks with major financial backers for a complete first season. Unfortunately talks fell through, partly due to their timing with the meltdown of the global economy, and subsequent deals offered too little money to maintain the pilot’s production values. To quote Mr. Hossain, “I think I could have found a distributor if I had the whole series shot – but finding the money to make more?”

The only silver lining is that Aleem has not been idle since It Ends Today hit the internet – head over to his website and check out some of his other work.

Star Trek: Phoenix


Directed by Sam Akina, Gale Benning, and Leo Roberts

Number of episodes: 3

Status: Currently fundraising to make more.

Date of Release: November 2010

Star Trek: Phoenix is a very ambitious project. Set after the destruction of the Romulus, as described in the recent Star Trek reboot, Phoenix attempts to tell a rather unique story within the Trek universe. Where the Federation has always been a model of efficiency, this series shows Star Fleet as a bureaucratic agency subject to the whims of politicians. Phoenix runs into trouble when it attempts to shape that framework to suit a visual effects heavy story more in line with traditional Trek. The cerebral elements of the story end up as little more than narrative info dumps meant to bring an average Trek fan up to speed on the events of this series.

While the acting and dialogue occasionally border on cheese, the costuming, location shots, and special effects are quite impressive. If the production team does manage to make more, I’ll certainly watch them. However, I fear that they will never manage huge crowd sourcing goals telling a Trek story that is so far removed from the established canon.

Dead Patrol


Director/Series Creator: Jason Tisch

Number of episodes: 3

Status: Either dead or shambling through a one episode per year production schedule

Date of release: Feb 2008

If this series teaches would-be producers anything, it’s that there is a difference between real darkness and television darkness. Television darkness is mood lighting paired with the strategic use of shadow. Actual darkness is what happens when a person turns off all the lights, and unfortunately too much of this series is shot in said condition.

The concept, however, is great: a zombie apocalypse story where the military isn’t out to rape and pillage at the expense of the survivors. It’s the execution that really does this series in. Well, that and the painful continuity mistakes. I suppose I was also a bit put off by the shameless attempt to convince the audience that the surviving soldiers are driving a Lamborghini, rather than a Ford Focus that has been (badly) CG’d to look like a Lamborghini.

Halo: Hell Jumper

Written and Directed by Dan Wang

Number of episodes: 2

Status: Recently failed to meet a $65,000 fundraising goal for future episodes. Future unknown.

Date of release: January 2012

The props are amazing. The special effects are impressive. The costumes appear to be made by professionals. The story is maudlin, bordering on silly.

Hell Jumper literally tells the tale of an Orbital Shock Drop Trooper from the Halo-verse. I say literally because Gage, the series’ protagonist, tells the events of the series as a sequence of flashbacks while he is bleeding out on the battlefield. I say maudlin bordering on silly because at one point during his narration, Gage says that he “…can’t remember what he’s fighting for.” Forgive me for being blunt, but it’s Halo. You’re fighting to save humanity from the aliens. The concepts that drive this franchise aren’t known for being subtle.

The series’ two episodes show why Gage joins the UNSC military, how he gets tapped for the elite ODST detail, and chronicle his first taste of action against the Covenant. Yet, there’s nothing that really made me care about this character or the story. Perhaps because Halo is ten years old and I’ve filled in game’s narrative gaps on my own.

Make no mistake, the mood is convincing enough to make me want to like the story. Similarly, I want to care about Gage and his cohorts. Instead I find myself paying more attention things like run-and-gun military tactics that even a video game warrior like myself would never use in combat. The lesson here: if you’re going to go to the trouble of making a FX heavy war story, get somebody who knows a little bit about infantry tactics to consult. Or at least watch a few classic war movies.


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The Daily Shaft: Iron Sky – Blitzing Theatres Near You (If you live in Germany)

Remember when a couple of years ago when we all got really excited about Iron Sky? I mean, what wasn’t there to be excited about? It’s a party crowd sourced, semi-independent, internationally produced sci-fi comedy about a bunch of space Nazis who have spent the last seventy years building an invasion fleet on the dark side of the moon. A concept like that has to be on the top ten wish list of every green-blooded nerd on two legs. Well it’s time to get excited again because the world premiere of Iron Sky is happening this very weekend.

With its humble budget of 7.5 million Euros and a production schedule that saw four months of filming spread out over 2010 and 2011, Iron Sky is set to invade the Berlin International Film Festival. Amazing as it is that this movie actually happened within my lifetime, the story doesn’t end there. According to the Guardian, Iron Sky is drawing a little more than its fair share of box office sales at the festival.

The Finnish-German-Australian co-production proved the second most popular film the day the box office opened at the festival…It was beaten to the top spot by Don – The King is Back, the latest film from Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan.

To put a little context on that statement, more people bought tickets to Iron Sky than they did a documentary on the Fukushima disaster, Werner Herzog’s Death Row. Portraits: Linda Carty, George Rivas and Joseph Garcia, and Angelena Jolie’s Bosnian war epic, In the Land of Blood and Honey.

It’s interesting, a professor of mine taught German history from the perspective that the post-Cold War German ethos had not yet found a suitable way to frame itself against the Bismarck-Wilhelm-Hitler trifecta. That may still be true. However, if ticket sales for Iron Sky demonstrate anything, it’s that Germans are at least ready to laugh at certain absurd elements of their national past.

Iron Sky’s theatrical release happens in Finland on April 4th and Germany on April 5th. No word yet on a North American release, but Iron Sky’s website promises that the blitzkrieg will reach out to other countries shortly after it establishes a European beachhead. Iron Sky is jointly produced by German based 27 Films and Australia’s New Holland Pictures.

Do take care with the trailer as it is a bit NSFW due to a perfectly placed F-bomb. Want to know more? Head over to Iron Sky’s website.


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Movie Review: Archetype

Summary Judgement: Made on a shoestring budget, this short film edges us ever closer to a brilliant sci-fi renaissance.

Directed by: Aaron Sims

Starring: Robert Joy, Elle Newlands, and David Anders

Good sci-fi might be dead on television, or at least in a deep coma, but it abounds on the internet. Aaron Sims, whose special effects design company has worked on such movies as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 30 Days of Night, The Incredible Hulk, Sucker Punch and The Golden Compass, recently released his independently produced short film Archetype. Can we say, holy shit. Under normal circumstances I would blather on about subtexts and motifs before actually showing the movie. Not this time. Today I’m presenting the video without extensive preamble or summary; for that you can scroll down the page a bit farther.

During an interview with Film Sketcher, Sims answered two questions that always come to my mind when watching these proof of concept shorts: Is there more? How much did it cost? On point one, Sims confirmed that he is working on a feature length version of Archetype. Huzzah! As for the cost, with the help of his cast and crew, Sims reports that he made the movie for “almost no money”. It never ceases to amaze me when I see indie directors producing work of this quality without having to cow tow to the Hollywood production apparatus. And at the risk of sounding sentimental, I think that’s the real magic of movie making. Any trained chimp can turn nothing into something if you give said primate a few hundred million dollars. Telling a story that is fueled by the collective good will of a dedicated group of people, now that is something special.

On that note, let’s break down what we saw. On the surface, things seem pretty straight forward. A human consciousness with memories of having a wife and child wakes up inside a battle droid designated RL7STV. Mr. Jones attempts to troubleshoot the malfunctioning robot through a direct consciousness interface. That doesn’t go so well. Jones’ inquisitive lab technician all but confirms that these combat machines are in part organic, likely human brains put into machine bodies Robocop style. Fearing an outbreak of consciousness among his other robots, Jones orders memory wipes for the entire production line. Unfortunately his efforts are too little too late, and RL7 breaks out of his containment unit.

Some may say that anthropomorphized robots are a bit of a tired cliché. However, I can see two things in this movie that makes the archetype of Archetype a worthwhile gambit.

It’s the lab technician who dangles the first proverbial carrot. It’s easy to miss so I’ve blown up the frame here.  Dr. Patrick Stevens, who is likely the consciousness in RL7’s head, is or rather was an employee of Carter-Myung’s biomed division. Call me decadent for yawning at stories that see governments colonizing the bodies of their citizens, it happens too much in the news for it to impact me in fiction, but when corporations do it, such as Omni Consumer Products or the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, I pay attention. The other thing to note here is that Dr. Patrick Stevens was born in 2076 but began working for the company in 2073. I figure that’s either a typo or some really deep story telling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other issue at hand is implicit within the movie but made explicit in the credits. RL7 and his comrades are doing a sweep and destroy of a rebel encampment during the movie’s second scene. In what sort of nightmare world is this movie set where corporations fight rebels, a decidedly political association of people, using war machines that employ human minds as their organic operating systems? Also, what did Dr. Stevens do to end up fighting on the front lines of this particular battle?  In five short minutes Archetype builds a world that teems with intrigue.  Combine that with gorgeous visuals and solid acting and I am sold on this story.

Hopefully the wait won’t be too long before Mr. Sims is able to get his feature length version of Archetype off the ground. Visit Aaron Sims website for more details.


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Movie Review: Cashback

Summary Judgement: Terrible pacing, dubious sub-plots, and adolescent angst tarnish what could be an otherwise fascinating concept.

Written and Directed by: Sean Ellis

Starring: Sean Biggerstaff, Michelle Ryan, Shaun Evans and Emilia Fox

Cashback is a movie that I likely never would have watched were it not for NetFlix’s horrible recommendation algorithm classifying it as science fiction. It’s not.  In fact, Cashback is about as far from sci-fi as a movie can get. In one moment it’s an angst addled university melodrama. Wait a few minutes and it turns into a retrospective on the central character’s sexual awakening. Later, it’s a Marxist screed against the banality of the service sector. Peppered throughout these various themes is a question that explores the relationship between artist and subject.  Oh and it’s also a bit of a comedy as well.  What’s that old maxim about attempting to appeal to everybody?

For its efforts, Cashback, and the short film upon which this feature is based, collected no shortage of awards and critical acclaim. It’s also managed to score an equally impressive number of negative reviews. I’ve put nearly two weeks worth of thought into this review. I’ve tried to explore it from every angle, going so far as to even call upon a colleague in the art community for his thoughts. I recognize that some might call me a philistine for daring to dismiss what is ostensibly an indie art film, but Cashback is a bad movie.

The premise is common at best, cliché at worst.  Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff) is an impoverished student at an art college. Therein his girlfriend Suzy (Michelle Ryan) breaks up with him. Slow motion camera work paired with opera in the background of the scene that witnesses this breakup gave me hope that the movie would rise above a vision of angst and whining that I foresaw in a flash of prescience; it never did. The kind of maudlin drama that goes with being twenty-one years old accompanies everything that happens in this story. To the movie’s credit, it’s perfect in its portrayal of overwrought university romances. Unfortunately, I lived through enough of those relationships when I was a student , and I don’t care to spend my free time watching them now in cinematic form. However, I suppose that anybody whose lifeclock hasn’t gone black might look at Ben’s plight and go, “That’s so me.”

What counts for the main plot sees Ben getting a job, meeting a new girl, potentially losing that new girl, but keeping her in the end. Snore.

It’s the tangents that Cashback takes to get to the end that merit discussion. As a result of his breakup with Suzy, Ben develops a case of insomnia. Using his newfound extra time he addresses the perpetual problem of student poverty and gets a job working at a grocery store. This is when the movie flirts with Marxism before retreating back into the comfortable bosom of pratfalls and angst. The take away message is that working in the service sector isn’t “work” per se, it’s an exchange of personal time for a pittance of money.  The setup is there to probe deeper into this relationship, but it never happens as the movie needs to spend about twenty minutes making Ben not look like a pervert.

You see, as a means of coping with workplace boredom, Ben discovers that he can (maybe) freeze time. The actual nature of Ben’s “power” is the conceptual question mark of the movie.  Is Ben actually freezing time or is he just an artist who’s gone a bit off his nut?  It’s an interesting enough question. Too bad the movie wastes yet another piece of its potential in making the answer to this question a null value. How does that happen?  In his (maybe) time frozen world, Ben takes to posing and sometimes stripping the women who come into the store for the purpose of drawing them. This fixation with the female form is justified through the aforementioned twenty minute long jaunt through Ben’s sexual awakening.  Distilled down to its component parts that metamorphosis goes like this: eight year old Ben likes boobies. Twelve year old Ben sees a Hustler magazine and thinks it’s a little icky. Twenty year old Ben gets pretentious about the beauty of the female form.

Though the nudity is at all times tasteful, Ben views the frozen women with all the respect an artist gives over to his subject, the premise is just a little too questionable for me. The movie itself is what set me on this line of thought.  In the third or fourth scene, Ben is in class where a very flatulent fat man is posing nude for the group.  Ben, however, is sketching his ex from across the room. The professor then informs Ben that Mr. Naked Man has given his time to the group.

That’s what put me off the most with this movie.  None of the people in Ben’s frozen world are giving themselves up to be subjects.  Ben is just taking advantage of their vulnerability while “frozen”.  Even though he is creating works of art, it still seems like a morally questionable act, perhaps even treading into the realm of a violation.  Granted he’s not raping these women, but there’s still a question of agency at hand.  I’ll admit that I found myself a bit out of my depth on this issue so I put the question to real world artist Timothy Clinton.  Is it kosher for artists to capture a subject without said subject’s consent?  Tim answered with, “No, not so much.”

I suppose there might be some who argue that the intrinsic value of good art trumps considerations of individual agency, or more plainly that the ends justify the means.  However, I’m not sure we can look at art, or an art movie, and call it successful if the driving force behind said creation is morally dubious, to say the least.  Combine that ambiguity with no shortage of teenage angst, a weak main plot, pacing that pushes a viewer’s attention to the point of breaking and it’s hard not to look at Cashback as anything other than a trite piece of fetish realization.

For my time, Cashback, is a study in wasted potential. If Cashback curtailed the endless dick and fart jokes and instead engaged with the questions it implicitly asks about artists and their subjects, then it might have been a more naturally thoughtful piece. Instead it revels in its sophomoric ways and sees the protagonist fêted for his achievements. Despite opening the door to thoughtful inquiry, Cashback answers its own question with all the simplicity of an eight year old that refuses to justify their position beyond selfish gratification.

Hits

+1.5 for artistic nudes and artful camera work

+1.0 for making me laugh

Misses

-1.5 for essentially celebrating what I see as a violation of individual agency

-1.0 for shallow engagement with interesting issues

-1.0 for god awful pacing

-1.0 for excessive angst and melodrama

Overall Score: -2


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Podcast #13 An Interview with Jesse Griffith

Featuring the voices of Adam Shaftoe and Jesse Griffith

Topics under discussion include:  An overview of Cockpit: The Rule of Engagement and how it connects to Jesse’s award winning script Cockpit, Adam’s and Jesse’s casting choices for a would-be Robotech movie, the ins and outs of indie film making, working with green screens and set pieces in Cockpit: RoE, the future of indie film making, and how to support Cockpit if you want to see it turned into a feature length movie.

Do take a moment to head over to Jesse’s website – www.cockpitthemovie.com so you can watch Cockpit: The Rule of Engagement before listening to the podcast.  You can also watch the movie directly on io9.com