Amaze Films presents
"Hi...How are you? If it's you, can you please stop crawling? It's good to see you. Mom? Can you make her love me?"- Ari Gold (Kevin Abrams), to a cockroach
Stars: Fiddle Viracola, Travis Brandon Rosa, Michael O'Rourke, Kevin Abrams, David Creamer, Margie Stokley, Ari Gold, Nina Gold, Jarion Monroe, Francesca Fanti, Peter Quartaroli, Michael Sommers, Derek Delgado, Roberto Enrique
Director: Liat Dahan, Ari Gold, Carolina Vila-Ramirez, Bruno Coppola, Alejandro Gomez, Jake Davis, Phillip Donnellan, Stokes McIntyre
Manufacturer: Amaze Films
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexual references, violence, underage prostitution, brief drug use, voyeurism)
Run Time: 01h:54m:30s
Release Date: 2003-09-18
DVD ReviewThis is a most interesting and varied compilation of eight short films, many of which have been honored at Cannes, Sundance, and other film festivals, ranging in length from two to 25 minutes. Each of these shorts was created by relatively new and unheralded filmmakers. They all have in common substantial visual interest and use of noteworthy camera techniques. As to story and character, I found three particularly compelling: Climbing Miss Sophie, Helicopter, and Roam.
The first of these, by Liat Dahan, packs more unforgettable life into its short span than many full-length features I've seen. It's worth the price of the DVD just by itself. Climbing Miss Sophie is a sympathetic and moving slice of life in a fifth floor New York City walk-up. In just 25 minutes this film shows how a family can be gathered from the most unlikely people and still function in a loving and useful way. The 9-year-old hero of the play, Tomo, (Travis Brandon Rosa) is an orphan, wise beyond his years but not bitter. On the contrary, he is quite loving and giving toward his "family"—Miss Sophie (Fiddle Viracola) and Niko (Michael O'Rourke). I just loved this little film, beautifully lit and full of color. The title derives from the fact that Miss Sophie, being rather large and getting older, needs to have the boys get behind her every day at 4pm and help push her up the five flights of stairs to her tiny apartment. They do this willingly, and Tomo gets a place to sleep for the night in return. This film has great dialogue, characters, pacing, cinematography, and sound track. Practically flawless.
Another of my favorites in this collection is Helicopter. Ari Gold wrote and directed this memoir of his mother, Melissa Gold, who died in the 1991 helicopter crash that also killed the San Franciso rock n' roll impresario Bill Graham, and pilot Steve Kahn. Ari (Kevin Abrams) presents the sad tale starting with some long distance phone messages between him (Gold himself) and his mother (Nina Gold). Through her advice about a girlfriend problem Ari is having, we see her wise and loving influence, even though mother and son keep missing connections and not achieving an actual two-way conversation. We then see the memorial rock concert after the crash, and the three siblings traveling to it. Kevin Abrams is excellent as a stricken and bewildered oldest son. Right after the memorial, Ari and brother Ethan (David Creamer) and sister Nina (Margie Stokley) attempt to continue the punning and joking improvisations that their Mom would have expected of them. A scene of Ari outside a newstand is particularly impressive and moving; it brought me to tears even on the second viewing.
Roam, written and directed by Marisol Riva, is another tale of children keeping a family unit together as best they can, told with affection and energy. This film takes place entirely out of doors in LA, but there is no wise older woman figure as in Climbing Miss Sophie. There is less explicit inner emotional life of the older brother Luis (Derek Delgado) and his little brother Tito (Roberto Enrigue), but there is obviously much affection and loyalty between these two. The setting is gritty and the plot line not very substantial, but it's a touching story, and the viewer comes to care about these kids. The cinematography is gorgeous, with interesting use of artificial and found lighting.
Bird in the Wire, a brief and poetic slice of magical realism, is quite perfect at its two-minute length. Bruno Coppola's Rules of Love tells a simple love story with amazing lighting effects and gorgeous cinematography. The plot line is rather thin, but if viewed as an exercise more in photography than screenwriting, it's beautifully done. Capri (by director Stokes McIntyre) was another very nicely filmed story with a convoluted plot line. Again, seen as a student piece, and ignoring the thin characterization and story, it was very well done.
Waiting for Trains, by Alejandro Gomez, is an interesting tale of guilt and punishment. It uses flashbacks and metaphor to deal with the topic of male puberty. There is some noteworthy use of tracking in a barn scene, as the camera follows the sound of footsteps above the viewer's head.
At Low Resolution, directed by Jake Davis, was an interesting-looking, atmospheric story, but ultimately suffers from a common plot with no real story or surprises. The camera work was highly textural with plenty of switches of POV, fades, actual low resolution, angle work, etc. Nine minutes in length, the story of a twentysomething voyeuristic city boy, callow and smoking the required sophisticated cig, is repulsive and common, though it may nonetheless signify a necessary rite of passage for young male filmic wannabes. The music fit the mood well, while the camera work was interesting and well textured. Again, it appears that story development was secondary to focusing on camera technique. It was good enough as a brief short story, but because of the dark voyeurism theme, I'm just as happy that the story was not developed further.
This entire collection is quite interesting, with a diverse selection of techniques and talents, and worth owning. It's best taken in small doses, rather than the whole disc in one sitting. Given time to reflect, quite a few of them will come alive for the viewer as fully realized stories, regardless of length. The others will still provide an opportunity to see what the technical side of film can be about, with storylines that are less distracting. Recommended for those willing to take a chance on something outside the ordinary. The 124 minutes listed on the keepcase overstates the running time by about 10 minutes.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Although some of the shorts were shot on 16mm, they all are presented in a widescreen format. That apparently is consistent with the directors' intention, since I didn't notice any particular crowding or appearance of improper crowding. Picture quality is, as expected, variable, though the best have a very fine look notwithstanding the lack of anamorphic enhancement. Three of the shorts exhibit severe pixelation and blocking (Waiting for Trains the worst), but it's possible that this is not a transfer problem so much as the fragile nature of DVD-R; these discs are not professionally manufactured but are the telltale purple of a DVD-R and thus will not play in all older players. Black levels range from excellent to weak, apparently as a result of the source material, and colors generally are quite vivid and not smeared or otherwise oversaturated.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: The 48 Khz PCM audio track has sound appropriate for what these films are; don't expect demo quality, since that's not what this disc is about. Hiss and noise are quite minimal, and dialogue is generally quite clear. There's very little to complain about here.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 8 cues
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: There are absolutely no extras on this disc. There's only one chapter stop per film, which is quite insufficient considering five of them are over 14 minutes in length and one is over 35 minutes long.
Extras Grade: F
Final CommentsAmaze provides an intriguing and diverse collection of short films, though there are some issues either with the transfer or the DVD-R format itself. With those cautions, it's an interesting disc and available quite inexpensively.
Joy Howe and Mark Zimmer 2004-03-11