Hello again Rogue Cinemaniacs and welcome to the 4th annual indie PS Awards! This is the yearly column when I get the chance to remind all of our readers about some sensational indie flicks that I had the pleasure of watching in 2016. This list includes everything you could possibly want from a cinematic experience including explosive action, searing family drama and outrageous sci-fi. The main purpose of the PS Awards is to remind everyone not to forget about these wonderful films that you may have initially missed. I highly recommend that you search out these cinematic wonders in order to complete the movie orbitals in your life.
Indie cinema has come of age. It’s now a thriving community that doesn’t have any limitations. It’s made up of a talented and diverse group of dreamers that burn with that intense desire to capture their dreams for the silver screen. And even though these filmmakers may not have the budgets that most Hollywood productions do, their passion to make the best movies possible is obvious to anyone who watches their cinematic endeavors. So here are eight incredible indie movies (listed alphabetically) that blew me away in 2016. They are pure motion picture joy.
1. THE DESTINED KING – WRITER/DIRECTOR: KIYUN SUNG
This flick captivated me from its opening shot. “The Destined King” is an 11 minute short film about a noble Korean warrior named Yushin (Hugh Cha) who during a time of chaos is instructed to take care of an infant who will assume the throne and become king. Complicating his journey is the confrontation Yushin has with a former student of his (Christopher Kim) who wants the throne for himself. Director Sung makes every scene memorable. From deep focus photography that captures the magic of a dense forest to a brutal sword fight that delivers bone-jarring action, this is one movie I didn’t want to end. It effortlessly sweeps you into its world and carries you away. “The Destined King” is simply magnificent!
For more information on “The Destined King”, please visit:
2. ELITE – WRITER/DIRECTOR: MARK CANTU
“Elite” is a kinetic action flick that tells the story of investigator Abbey Vaughn (Allison Gregory) who has been ordered by her superiors to find out what happened to an elite team of agents who tried to rescue a fellow agent from the grasp of an elusive drug cartel leader named Reynaldo Benetiz (Larry Garza). Abbey quickly aligns herself with the only surviving member of the team, Lt. Sam Harrigan (Jason Scarbrough) but the duo must learn to work together and trust each other before they take the drug leader down. San Antonio filmmaker Mark Cantu has been making action movies for some time and “Elite” is one of his best. He strikes a nice balance between the action scenes and the quieter character development scenes. The movie also features some energetic fight scenes (thanks to choreographer Reynaldo Rodriguez). Cantu has made a satisfying action movie that fills you up right. It’s a winner.
For more information on “Elite” or to view the trailer, please go to:
3. FIRST MAN ON MARS – WRITER/DIRECTOR: MIKE T. LYDDON
If there ever was a movie that was meant as a loving tribute to the wild and wacky drive-in movies of the 1970s, it has to be Mike T. Lyddon’s “First Man on Mars”. The plotline is similar to the old William Sachs flick “The Incredible Melting Man” (1977) and is about an astronaut (Benjamin Wood) who travels to the red planet only to return to Earth as a flesh-eating monster. But while “The Incredible Melting Man” mostly played it straight, Lyddon opts for the silly and the sly wink from the opening credits and this light touch helps the film merrily bounce along. He fills the movie with wonderful touch points to classic drive-in cinematic fodder and he even names some of his characters after actors, writers and directors from those drive-in days (including Fritz Leiber, Don Dohler, Martine Beswick and Caroline Munro). Gory and goofy, “First Man on Mars” is a pizza and six pack masterpiece!
For more information on “First Man on Mars”, please go to:
4. GIRL CLOWN – WRITER: CRYSTAL FAITH SCOTT/DIRECTOR: BETH SPITALNY
“Girl Clown” tells the story of a shy young woman named Laura (Crystal Faith Scott), who lives a quiet life all by herself. One day she mistakenly shows up at an agency that specializes in finding jobs for clowns. Before she knows what happens, she’s given an assignment for a children’s party. Laura is terrified, but as she dons her clown makeup, she begins to transform. By not being herself, Laura is liberated and her inner entertainer emerges. She also finds that being a clown frees her from her shyness and turns her into the type of person she’s always wanted to be. Writer Scott and director Spitalny successfully tap into a very primal desire that many people have in their hearts; the yearning to escape the hum drum sameness of their lives and become someone exciting and successful. This is a sweet and delightful short film (13 minutes) that is now going to be turned into a full length feature film. I can’t wait.
For more information on “Girl Clown”, please go to:
5. OUR FATHER – WRITER/DIRECTOR: LINDA PALMER
This is a searing, haunting family drama about a son named Jared (Michael Worth) trying to take care of his cantankerous, violent, elderly father (Michael Gross) who is suffering from end stage dementia and the film is riveting from its opening frame until its final fadeout. Director Palmer jumps right in to the daily problems Jared has with his dad. There is no gradual buildup. There’s just the agonizing tension between the two and the chance that the old man could suddenly have a violent outburst. Jared is determined but is tired of the constant battles, while his father is ornery and belligerent and much of the time doesn’t even know who Jared is. But the father is still haunted by his demons and his dementia gives him the opportunity to tell a story to his son that he has kept to himself for nearly half a century. “Our Father” is a tense and emotionally shattering tale. It is also an indie cinematic experience of the highest order.
For more information on “Our Father”, please visit:
6. OUT OF MY MIND – WRITERS: JOHN COSPER, NEIL KELLEN, CINDY MAPLES/DIRECTOR: CINDY MAPLES
This is one of the finest “Twilight Zone”-like movie shorts I’ve seen in a long time. Rusty James plays a mystery writer named Carter who catches the eye of a mysterious blonde (Mina Fedora) at a mystery writer’s event. Haunted by the woman, Carter incorporates her into his latest novel. However, when Carter stops writing for the night, he can’t forget about the ravishing beauty he created. Slowly, he begins to feel her presence in his apartment. Unable to sleep, Carter is certain that the woman is right there with him. Director Maples deftly blurs the lines between fantasy and reality and plunges Carter into a crazed world of murder and madness. She also has an innate understanding of what’s creepy and what’s not. She knows that what you don’t show can sometimes be scarier than what you do. “Out of My Mind” is a superior cinematic short that breathes new life into the psychological thriller genre. It’s a stunning and suspenseful film that’s sure to raise the hairs on your arms.
For more information on “Out of My Mind”, please visit:
7. SMILE AGAIN JENNY LEE – WRITER/DIRECTOR: CARLO CALDANA
This is a wonderful tale of a woman’s journey of self-discovery. Monique Hafen plays Jenny Lee, a tennis pro who is down on her luck. She was recently assaulted and her manager has run off with her winnings. Lost and bewildered, Jenny Lee decides to try and find her father to see if he will help her. The only problem is that she hasn’t seen him since she was three. But then a mysterious stranger (Carlo Caldana) appears and he offers to help Jenny with her quest. She goes on to discover things she never knew about herself and these discoveries challenge what she has always believed in. One of this film’s great accomplishments is that it takes a completely unlikable main character like Jenny Lee and generates sympathy for her. This is a solid indie drama that is very captivating and charmed me from its opening frame. Featuring a fierce lead performance by Monique Hafen, “Smile Again Jenny Lee” is a very satisfying adult drama.
For more information on “Smile Again Jenny Lee”, please visit:
8. S0.CI3.TY – WRITER/DIRECTOR: KHRIS BURTON
“S0.CI3.TY” (pronounced “Society”) tells the story of a young man named J0.hn (Vincent Vermignon) who wakes up on the beach of a deserted island. It is the year 3050 and all people have an artificial intelligence device known as a Reg implanted in their wrist. One day J0.hn falls off a ledge and his Reg is ripped off his wrist by the underbrush. Without the device, J0.hn immediately goes into convulsions. His body then calms down several minutes later and he begins to truly experience all of his senses for the first time. J0.hn is initially overwhelmed by the power of these sensations, but he quickly adjusts to them and decides that life is better without his Reg. Complications ensue when he finds a young woman (Catherine Denecy) on the beach who still has her Reg on her wrist. Writer/director Burton has made a thought-provoking and absorbing cinematic short. The film is both clever and intelligent and gives the viewer something to think about. “S0.CI3.TY” is a provocative, fascinating and riveting sci-fi experience.
For more information on “S0.CI3.TY”, please visit: