IR TV Review: PENNY DREADFUL – CITY OF ANGELS – EPISODE 1 (“Santa Muerte”) [Showtime]

Finding a new approach in a franchise is about perceiving lore. “Penny Dreadful” as a series that was based on a complete volume was its own monster in many ways to use that parlance. But with “Penny Dreadful – City Of Angels”, specifically in its introduction in Episode 1 (“Santa Muerte” ) it feels like a bit of “Black Dahlia” mixed with “The Serpent & The Rainbow” but without all the psycho-sexual background. There are some odes to exactly the myths going on behind the scenes. However it follows the archetypes while by planning a story of life and death on a ethereal level within a spark point in Los Angeles in 1938 a couple years before the US entered World War II. The main story follows Tiago Vega (played by Daniel Zovatto), a Chicano native who has mad detective in the LAPD which, at the time, was no mean feat. Creator John Logan, like most of his work, understands the approach in this city where even back in the 30s so many things were brewing below the surface, both having to do with identity on  the immigrant issue (which is an issue obviously to present day ) but also with the German population.

The episode moves towards a spark point which is inevitable and actually interrelates to the 110 Freeway from Downtown LA to Pasadena…and as the episode reaches its pinnacle it really gives a sense for local Angelenos of the history per se, despite it being in entertainment form. It is at this point that the parallel structure of what is going on and Natalie Dormer’s presence as a Magda, a supposed dark goddess of death partially comes into play. This also reflects back to the first scene of the series which again takes on certain aspects with her sister (which is where the title of the episode comes from). The metaphor of The Garden and the fall from grace through all the characters, especially Tiago, is quite textured. There are a few metaphysical and supernatural elements at play but are working subtly up a sense of foreboding. The path of darkness is no doubt specific for these characters. It is not known how this will play out but this approach like “Fargo” in a way is dynamic enough to push the story furthers. And the casting for the surrounding players like Nathan Lane and another genre favorite is outstanding and further enhances the pedigree of the proceedings.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

Beacon Personified: The 2012 LA Comedy Shorts Fest – Feature

The LA Comedy Shorts Fest functions with continued prevalence as a beacon for comedy aficionados everywhere because it understands its audience through and through. Gary Anthony Williams, front and center, always personifies that the key to great comedy is that has to be funny, no matter the cost. Circling in for only a few blocks because of impending out-of-country pullings, this quick perception allows for what continues to evolve in the festival.

Death, Destruction & D-Bags  Entering into the realm where people say what they think despite the PC structure construct can prove both edgy and hilarious. The two that most stand out within this block are “Comedy Jam” and “Runyon”. “Comedy Jam”, using the element of mute comic simply does wonders, not just for the comic but the mousy girl interpreting for him. It is dastardly, sweet at times, simple and to the point. “Runyon” is completely the other way moving from simply absurd with two juiceheads on a running trail to downright dark which is definitely where it was not expected to turn. Other entries into the block include “A Day’s Messing” which intrinsically owes its ideals to “The Artist” but doesn’t quite hit its mark while “Glue Man” functions as a mockumentary about a guy that is employed as an expert on all those random History Channel pieces. Watch for the Ken Burns cameo which certainly makes the idea click.

Nostra-Damn It’s Good To Be A Gangsta The idea of crime or a less-than-moral act as a prelude always plays to a certain unknown part of the psyche but the determination depends on how far the participants are willing to go. Within this block, the best balance rests in the texture of “Bertie Crisp“, an animated short about a half panda/half bear who is dealing with the difficulty of getting his wife pregnant, balancing both crass and poignant. It understands that the joke sometimes is simply in what is not being said. On the periphery in side this block, “The Heist” and “Swap” both approach their respective taboos of bank robbery and wife trading with a bit of brevity but not enough edge to truly give the paradoxes a sense of the absurd.

Quick and brief for this writer, the 2012 LA Comedy Shorts Fest continued to show a wide range of programming allowing gems to shine through in the City Of Angels.

Sexual Cinematic Infiltration & Vilified Redemption: The 2011 AFI Film Festival – Feature

Nestled within heavy award build-up and traveling season, the AFI Fest always revels in burgeoning world talent where the idea hovers somewhere between darkness and light.

While the premieres of many Toronto and Cannes affectations graced the perception from “The Artist” to “Melancholia” to “Shame”, all of which release in the next few weeks, sequestering out the more obscure possibilities, most of which have at least gained a limited release, a new penchant of the VOD market, plays well for all involved.

Most of the films undeniably, by design or not this year, seem to mark from sexual dysfunction of sorts which intertwine to reveal the inherent psychology of a character for good or bad.

“Attenberg” from Greece revels in its necessity to be basic but undeniably unique through the eyes of Marina, a sheltered but undeniably sexual 23-year-old who feels like the necessity of living with these disgusting habits simply belittles the point. However when her father begins to succumb to cancer, the steps she begins to take forward reflect a tendency of lacked connection. She speaks of everything she is going to do not understanding like a savant that the belief of the moment is too jump off a cliff where the redemption doesn’t await. What director Athina Rachel Tsangari paints through the dark industrial backdrops along Greece’s coast is a country both naive but also advancing through areas they still need to appropriate. Ariane Labed as Marina has a wonderful innocence and tact without being childish. She simply wants to explore the ideas in black and whie though they never reflect in this way. The “Attenberg” of the title refers to Sir David Attenborugh whose wildlife shows she and her father watch. Their interactions, whether it be through breathing or by imitating the social actions of gorillas, are quite telling of the primal sense that still integrates humans though we think too much of it.

“Once Upon A Time In Anatolia”, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year, is a sprawling character piece that wants you to engage in the perilous basic element of life in Bosnia. The piece moves slowly through its tendencies allowing the plot about the revenge killing of a man by another to take on mundane possibilities. The first 2 hours follows the perceptions of an investigation team burrowing through the countryside with their prisoner to find the wanton dead. The suspect, Kenan, provides the most structure because the crime he confessed to is not obviously his doing but his brother’s though the crime he committed is not undue to him. While the film should follow this ideal, instead it switches to the Doctor in question, Cemal (played with supressed emotion by Muhammet Uzuner). His eventual revelation of the cause of death covered up in a tissue of bureaucracy reflects a universe where life is simply chaos reigned in.

With Every Heartbeat” has reflections of the earlier “Attenberg” but with a more mainstream flourish and a tendency of melodrama overdone. Like “The Romantics”, the invention of strife happens around a wedding where the kids of the two marrying elders try to find a middle ground to know each other. The initial paradox moves back and forth with the two main characters of Mia and Frida in that one is supposedly feeling jealousy for the other’s boyfriend as would be normal in an mainstay drama. However when the time retreats to an island, emotions steam, again with a carnal neutrality that causes a girl to stray from the normal ideals of life because the emotions she feels with this new love overcome her. The rest of the movie revolves around her ideas of whether to stay with her fiance or give in to her wanton happiness with the alluring Frida, who knows exactly who she is but usually fails to offer the perception of her true self in basic conversation. The balance works because the humor shines through and the love and hurt they both feel comes off fairly genuine despite the simple and chaotic filled implications to the structure of their immediate family.

Bullhead“, unlike the previous “Attenberg” and “With Every Heartbeat”, struggles with the idea of a man who, by all accounts, isn’t really a man but longs to assume the mantra, distinctly through the use of articificality. The narrative, which is steeped as a crime noir, born out of the rural country, follows Jacky, a man whose testicles were smashed as a child because of the viciousness of a crime lord’s son. The only way to push him through puberty to a normal adult life is by injections of testosterone. However, like any addition, he overindulges while the childhood friend who failed to protect him moves into another direction but ultimately tries to redeem himself. Violence propels Jacky though he wants something normal which unfortunately is with the daughter of the said crime boss. The way Matthias Schoenaerts embodies Jacky is with a sense of sadness as he tries to assert himself as a dog-raged enforcer where his heart lies on the floor to the bitter end never quite finding a way to assertain his idea of a normal life.

Adding to the notion of time lost, the short “The Eagleman Stag” about the notion of youth lost through the perception of a scientist pursuing an elusive bug is truly transcendant because in creating a new language of animation with a bit of paper and jump cut metaphors, director Michael Please makes an interesting dissemenation on the idea of time made all the more ingenious as he flies his camera over paper-created green fields that flow and ebb in the wind.

Although brief in respite in terms of this journalist’s two days at AFI Fest, the interment of world cinema continues to reign through the specific, though similar themed progressions of this movie festival.

Indie Spirit & Commercial Predilection: Dances With Films 2011 – Feature

Within the continuing structure of everything festival, Dances With Films has carved out a nice niche not placating to any thought of what independent should be. Instead they motivate themselves behind the best films that dictate a sense of individuality.

The first intention got the instinct right in the melding of a simple story of friends who got lost along the way. Within “Ten Years Later“, while many of the cast speaks to certain idiosyncrasies of humanity along the way, two specific performances stand out. One relishes in the idea of Jake Hoffman as a man who loses his way but ultimately comes to terms with who he is. The performance has a distinct organic feeling to it, not unlike his father but also all his own. The stand out that balances his brooding timeliness is Rachel Boston who is slowly but surely building her resume with a luscious cross-section of parts. There is something undeniable and correct about her with a wisp of edginess. Her character could become a caricature but she fills it with a distinct amount of reality that allows it to flourish. Written and directed by Aaron Metchik, the film shows a steadiness which, while not overwhelming, delivers in its coming of age blending humor and nostalgia with a sense of narrative.

Playing the heavy hand sometimes can provide undeniable drama but that depends where faith lies in the equation. With “Wake” the narrative revolves around a skater trying to do that major jump to impress the sponsors. In today’s saturation, this ability seems in accordance with a pipe dream. However when a high flying stunt leaves the lead character paralyzed, the road to recovery becomes a hard one. With seemingly no family, it is his girlfriend’s grandmother that sees a notion of faith in him. Ultimately, the story wants to be a miraculous one, full of healing, but the exact structure was recently played in the same texture with “Sympathy For Delicious” against a much more lurid backdrop. Despite some surefire authenticity and great skating sequences, the breathe of the intention falls short.

The idea of the bachelor stage tries to play to fruition with “Stags“, a would-be comedy about a group of men in NY chasing their dream of maintaining their independence while finding the girl that is right for them. The cross-section of the men shown creates too much talking about the subject though many of the situations including the wedding reprisals, sitting in the bar and erstwhile but failed experiences play well but ultimately trite. The persuasion or endgame is predetermined but doesn’t offer a really necessary progression. The film itself is a rumination of what it is to be a man in the big city without anyone truly knowing or caring who you are.

Heading into the midnight slot fest “The Millenium Bug” does intentionally what it really wants to do: create that straight to video create feature with a little bit of sex. Unlike “House Of 1000 Corpses” mixed with “Nothing But Trouble”, the true star is some of flagrant special effects which, while interesting, are completely overblown compared to say “Monsters” which knew to play up its possibilities just enough. The crux at the center of this story is a couple who ends up being taken hostage by a family of crazies who want to simply breed and kill. Halfway through, one gives up with an actual story and hopes for at least a decently climax scene which eventually finds it way but with less cohesion than a box of Cheerios.

As an afternoon romp, “Sweet Little Lies” is another coming-of-age tale though this one is of a girl searching for her father while child services tracks her down. The road trip narrative of the script which is balanced with some interesting interplays shot on the odd side of Vegas works simply because the lead actor, a drifter who just happens to cross paths with this kid, has some texture and depth to him. Like “Saint John Of Las Vegas”, our anti-hero here is a man who hasn’t found his place and is struggling to get by simply by cheating and stealing. His redemption isn’t so much one of possibility as it is just being who is and allowing his heart to show through once in a while

Looking at a movie from different structure sides provides an interesting story structure. Seeing only one perspective and half of another allows the viewer to progress with what the movie is providing and not necessarily its intention. “Scalene” is a movie about tragedy and murder as approached from three different sides. The female point of view as shown provides quick a hard lined intention which is extremely dramatic, well thought out and executed for this style of independent film. Conscience and the notion of right it seems is all coerced within the eyes of the beholder but the end result here is assured with a very steady hand.

Having made one of their weird trippy make-out movies seems to be the idea behind “Night Of The Alien” but its quirkiness is too mired in its own wanna-be cleverness to truly make a mark but the impact of certain high structures makes it definitely amusing. The central character of Fran is seemingly uninteresting while the Lord Of Evil & Darkness has possibility in him but never quite attacks his character with a ferocity he so desperately needs. Lucky inside the band headquarters has the quirkiness to make some really inventive quips. However the one that seems to deserve a movie of his own as a paranoid schizophrenic is Danny. The actors seems to truly get the modulation which makes his switch between reality and a dream state both interesting and poignant. The narrative itself relies on an almost “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” motif about saving the world with a band which comes off more disparate than when the first movie introduced the idea of it.

In making a comparison of the degradation of life between the ultra rich trying to be normal and the normal wanting to be rich, there tends to be a production of cross pollination where creatives need to figure business and the money people want to be creative. While different moments of “Trophy Kids” paint a convincing argument about the race to become what you think you are, its resolution veers a little too off base. It wants to pretend that the idea of existence is simply a matter of will, while it is simply a series of luck and coincidences that either work out or don’t depending on a certain place within the universe. The use of a writer as a plot ploy to an eventual enlightenment by trying to become the person he is writing about only to fail and resurrect in making his benefactor notice what is right in front of him is novel at times but also quite formulaic.

When approaching the notions of loneliness against what might be consider bad judgment, “Days Together” takes the idea wrapped in a shade of forgiveness despite best intentions. The specific structure of modern life takes a little too much of a wistful yet comber downturn as the lead character tries to re-establish her life and become something more, until she figures out that she is who she is going to be and nothing more.

The intention of “Close Up” follows “Day Together” and its ideals from the reverse angle bringing the notion of a man who has lost everything. The plot device of being an actor as in other indie films is overused since that is the life experience of many of the creators. The progression of hitting rock bottom and not being able to breathe always balances itself in the form of a muse. While the performances reflect melodramatic, the ending climax set during the actual Times Square New Year’s Eve Event in NYC shows the inherent use of the Canon 5D at capturing great images within a very confined space and making it feel cinematic, despite showing a necessary gap in security.

Hitting the other end of the spectrum with “The Pill” which understands its subject with genuine irony but a sarcastic sensibility, Rachel Boston, seen earlier in the festival in “Ten Days Later” shows her range playing a girl who unnerves a guy she likes only to find out he is involved elsewhere. Noah Bean as the man trying to figure out how to work what he just did brings the right balance of bewilderment and honesty (as much as he can) to the role while Anna Chlumsky (best known for the 90s nostalgia piece “My Girl”) shows her grown up element bringing about comparisons to Anna Paquin with the same amount of talent resting in tandem. As the dialogue, which spikes nicely, fans the flame, all the performances keep pace without overstepping the line in one direction or becoming too schmaltzy in the other.

Establishing the horror context while balancing psychology and supernatural elements, “The Corridor” works better than other genre entries in the festival because it knows that tension needs to be built. Using a secluded space (ala “The Shining” or “Cabin Fever”) sets the pace but the strength resides in establishing the host of characters which plays closer to “Dreamcatcher” than anything else so there are stakes to be lost when everything eventually turns sideways. The resolution is nothing if not treacherous but in understanding the journey of the film, the filmmakers, who shot in their native Nova Scotia, understand the underlying primality of mankind.

Dances With Films works in many ways within a crowded festival structure because it doesn’t overdo its cause and cater to too many mouths. It simply searches for the truly independent films it likes and doesn’t compromise on its selection or distinction. It simply lets them be.