Writing for Rogue Cinema continues to open up new worlds for me. I am constantly amazed at the incredibly talented film makers I have had the honor of meeting over the last five years. It’s a privilege to watch and review movies that are made by people who are intelligent, passionate and fiercely determined to complete their cinematic visions. But as wonderful as these movies are, there are always a few that rise above the rest. It boggles my mind that that these wonderful films get made. Indie filmmakers do it all. They overcome incredible obstacles during filming and conquer unbelievable time constraints. They do this all without the support structure of a major studio production. They are a shining example of the “can do” philosophy of this great country we live in. Indie cinema rules!
So here are my PS award winners for 2014 (in alphabetical order). All of them are awesome and ambitious productions.
1. CONVERGENCE (WRITER/DIRECTOR – DREW HALL) ( http://www.roguecinema.com/convergence-2014-by-philip-smolen.html )
Drew Hall’s wonderful mystery/horror film takes a detective (Clayne Crawford) who’s investigating a series of bombings and places him in a halfway house of insanity and evil. Crawford struggles to understand where he is and we go along for the ride with him as he uncovers horror after horror. Hall creates an incredible bizarre world that’s a ton of fun to discover. He throws in a great twist about halfway through the movie that is initially jarring but ultimately very satisfying. “Convergence” has killer hooks and style to spare. It’s a brilliant movie that delivers on what it promises.
For more information on “Convergence”, please visit: http://www.frame29films.com
2. DAVIS FARM (WRITER/DIRECTOR – VERNON SMITH) ( http://www.roguecinema.com/davis-farm-2014-by-philip-smolen.html )
“Davis Farm” is a gripping and well written indie drama from writer/director Vernon Smith. It’s a fascinating look at two well meaning but naïve siblings who try to do the right thing, but only succeed in bringing dark forces down upon them. The brother and sister (Joseph Rene and Marci Journey) need to come up with a large sum of cash to save their family farm, but their innocence in trying to procure the money only makes the situation worse. “Davis Farm” is a great indie film that’s as potent as any Hollywood movie that’s playing at the multiplex. Writer/director Smith has made a masterful and first rate thriller that’s sure to please anyone who loves good film.
3. THE FAY (DIRECTOR – MARC BONOCORE) ( http://www.roguecinema.com/the-fay-2014-by-philip-smolen.html )
In the year 1194 a brave English knight (Tyler Oakley) fights for his life against superior French forces. Wounded, the knight stumbles deeper into the forest in an attempt to flee his pursuers. He is spotted by a fay (Sarah von Ouhl), a forest sprite. The fay tends to the knight’s wounds and gives him the kiss of life. She falls in love with him, but the knight’s rejection of the fay dooms her. “The Fay” is an exceptionally beautiful fairly tale told entirely without dialogue. Filmed by producer/director Marc Bonocore and producer Leon Sanginiti, the 26 minute short is a fantasy film of the first order. This touching tale swept me into its magical world almost immediately. It’s pure fantasy and that’s really hard to pull off.
For more information on “The Fay”, please visit: http://www.thefaymovie.com
4. HAVING FUN UP THERE (DIRECTOR: FRANKIE FRAIN) ( http://www.roguecinema.com/having-fun-up-there-2014-by-philip-smolen.html )
Mark Kessel (Jon Ryan) is a late 30ish musician who had a taste of some success when he was a young man. Twenty years later, Mark’s still playing and writing music and trying to at least reach the level of achievement that he initially attained. Unfortunately, adulthood is quickly pushing his music into the background. “Having Fun Up There” is a brutally honest and funny movie about struggling musicians entering the adult world while still trying to feed their creative soul long after success has left them behind. Wonderfully directed by Frankie Frain and featuring an exceptional screenplay from Geof Tarulli, this is a candid and sharp comedy-drama. “Having Fun Up There” holds up a mirror to the struggling artist in all of us and tells us how not to live.
For more information on “Having Fun up There”, please visit: http://www.havingfunupthere.com
5. THE LAST DAY (WRITER/DIRECTOR: JOE ATKINSON)
“The Last Day” is a touching and melancholy short from writer/director Joe Atkinson about euthanasia. It tells the painful story of a man (David Ross) whose country now thinks that he’s nothing more than a burden. Atkinson’s short touches on similar topics that were raised in several 1970’s sci-fi movies including “Soylent Green” (1973) and “Logan’s Run” (1976). But here, Atkinson takes the horror of euthanasia and reduces it down to a very distinct, measurable quantity. Both David Ross and Cindy Maples deliver powerhouse performances in this potent drama.
For more information on “The Last Day”, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/frankslastday
6. MONKEY RAG (DIRECTOR: JOANNA DAVIDOVICH) ( http://www.roguecinema.com/monkey-rag-2014-by-philip-smolen.html )
If there’s one film that made me smile uncontrollably last year, it was this 3 and a half minute blast of cartoon high energy. “Monkey Rag” tells the whimsical story of a vivacious redhead named Mitzi who romantically pursues a tall, dapper rabbit-like creature named Spanko through a myriad of colorful cartoon landscapes all while the fantastic Dixieland flavored title song by The Asylum Street Spankers plays in the background. If you grew up on classic hand animation like me, this gem’s style will have you grinning from ear to ear as it recalls the madcap antics of great animators like Tex Avery and Bob Clampett. It’s wild, crazy and impossible to resist.
For more information on “Monkey Rag”, please visit: http://monkeyrag.cupojo.net
7. NOW HIRING (WRITER/DIRECTOR: MARK CANTU) ( http://www.roguecinema.com/now-hiring-2014-by-philip-smolen.html )
Man, I loved this movie! “Now Hiring” is a dazzling satire of the Hollywood superhero movies that have saturated movieplexes for the last decade. Writer/director Mark Cantu smartly pokes fun at the genre while embracing it all at the same time. The basic idea that a regular guy (Jason Sedillo in a very ill-fitting costume) becomes part of a superhero team and teaches them what it means to fight and win as a team is both funny and satisfying. “Now Hiring” features a crisp, witty script and some bright and efficient direction, striking just the right balance between satire and spectacle. Flame on!
For more information on “Now Hiring”, please visit: http://nowhiringthemovie.com
8. RED GOLD (WRITER/DIRECTOR: MICHAEL KELLER)
This film is amazing. It tells the incredible story of a desperate young Indian man (a wonderful Shivam Sharma) who tries to help his family survive the slums of India. He runs afoul of a local crime lord when he begins to steal his business. This thrilling movie (actually filmed in Vasai, India) hooked me from the opening scene of Sharma looking for small treasures at the local dump. Echoing Katherine Boos novel “Beyond the Beautiful Forevers”, and Danny Boyle’s flick “Slumdog Millionaire”, Keller examines the real life horror and total abject poverty of the people from a small Indian town. “Red Gold” is a knockout of an indie film. It’s powerful and fabulous and one that the entire indie community should be proud of.
For more information on “Red Gold”, please visit: http://www.redgoldthefilm.com
9. REVELATION TRAIL (DIRECTOR: JOHN GIBSON) ( http://www.roguecinema.com/revelation-trail-2013-by-philip-smolen.html )
A frontier preacher (Daniel van Thomas) is a witness to an event of biblical magnitude: dead people rising up and seeking the flesh of the living. The preacher is forced to flee his hometown with the local sheriff (grizzled Daniel Britt). The two roam the countryside destroying all the zombies they find while the preacher prays over those that he kills. How many good zombie westerns do you know? Well, you can put “Revelation Trail” in that category because it deftly blends both genres into a satisfying cinematic experience. Director John Gibson has crafted a first rate horror western that skillfully combines strong characterization and exciting scenes of horror. This is a fun film that takes the over familiar and successfully re-invents it. It’s a must see cinematic experience for horror and western film buffs alike.
For more information on “Revelation Trail”, please visit: http://www.revelationtrail.com
10. SON OF GHOSTMAN (WRITER/DIRECTOR: KURT LARSON) ( http://www.roguecinema.com/son-of-ghostman-2013-by-philip-smolen.html )
This clever and loving look at modern horror hosts is both genuine and touching. It tells the story of Denny (Devin Ordoyne) a 30-something who doesn’t want to grow up. On a lark he dresses up as his famous horror host hero, Ghostman, and films himself ranting. The film goes viral and Denny finds himself being pursued by TV producers. Writer/director Kurt Larson has a real affinity for those souls who are lost in the regular 9 to 5 world, and yet somehow are determined to fulfill their dreams. He has created some marvelous characters here that are likeable and easy to identify with. Even if you’re too young to remember the days of the horror host, I think you’ll still love “Son of Ghostman”. Featuring fabulous songs and nice off-kilter characters, this is one very cool indie flick that is both retro and new at the same time.