“Hell-Bent” – (Short Film Review)


By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ****1.2 out of *****.

“Hell-Bent” is a deliciously dark comedy from first time director Foster Vernon and writers Lorenzo Cabello and Shayne Kamat. The twenty-six minute and forty-second short film, released through MKaszuba Productions (“Inspired“) in 2016, takes full advantage of its wise-cracking demon on the loose set-up. The laughs are rapid-fire. This is thanks to the endlessly witty dialogue Cabello and Kamat have constructed. It is also courtesy of Steven Trolinger’s dead-on performance as the unholy fiend himself, Ricky. Trolinger, whose on-screen persona has a unique resemblance to Dark Horse Comics’ Hellboy, brings a smirk-inducing charisma to his unkempt, obscenity spewing demeanor. It is one which is compulsively watchable. Such is unmistakably noticeable from our initial sighting of him, as he talks into a disconnected phone, at five minutes into the work. His portrayal is one of the many elements incorporated herein that make the proceedings play like an R-rated rendition of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice from 1988. Even the way Trolinger carries himself seems modeled after Michael Keaton’s timeless enactment of the title personality from the previously mentioned feature. It can also be seen as a riotous parody of the evils of the laboring world. Moreover, the malevolent beings one would call upon to get ahead in it.

The tale follows Michael (in a tremendously realized performance by Justin Andrew Davis). He is in constant competition with Beth (a well-orchestrated depiction by Ashley Kelley) at Brimstone Magazine. Michael is desperate to find a way to prove that he is the best writer at his place of employment. His options appear to be bleak. That is until he finds out that the upbeat and unassuming Agatha (a scene stealing, continually amusing enactment by Leslie Lynn Meeker), who labors alongside Michael, happens to have a summoning circle in her basement. It is than Michael becomes a curious, but confused, bystander to the act of bringing forth Ricky from his fiery resting place. Michael’s initial fear turns into optimism. This occurs as he sees Ricky as the perfect subject for what he is certain will be the article that makes his literary capabilities widely known.

Such a premise is intriguing in its own right. Yet, the filmmakers wisely know when to take chances and when to underplay the guffaws. For instance, the best sequence in this brief endeavor is erected while Michael and Ricky stand outside a church. It is than Ricky decides to play a game called “See You in Hell”. This is where he announces the sins of those who pass by as they file out of the aforementioned building. Soon he points to the structure itself and says, “Tax evasion”. Moments such as these help fashion the piece with its constantly sharp edge.

Yet, it triumphs just as well in its smaller, more understated instances. Such can be seen in the emotionally stirring typewriter shot which opens the composition. It is also visible in one of the hilarious concluding bits. In this segment, Agatha, Michael and Rickey take a picture together. This is arranged in a way that mimics the at home quaintness such arrangements often embody. It all comes together to showcase the variety at hand.

This smoothly paced effort is elevated by Kamat’s impressive, immersive cinematography. He also incorporates wonderfully done editing. Marc DeBlasi gives a crisp, skillfully issued contribution to the sound department. Kailia Bowlby’s make-up is terrific. Likewise, Kiyun Sung’s visual effects fit the atmosphere of the exertion spectacularly well. They are also astonishingly and credibly issued. Such heightens the 1980’s style charm that ebbs and flows throughout the undertaking. Vernon’s direction is stalwart and even throughout. Cabello and Kamat’s writing is brilliant in structure and in quality. Timothy J. Cox is mesmerizing in his representation of Mr. Bowers.

All of these components comes together to create a character oriented, effectively sidesplitting and engrossing product. Such is one that is as narratively intriguing as it is technically gripping. The quips and one-liners are triumphant in punchline and in execution. Yet, the exertion has as many gentle cases as it does boundary-pushing instances. This makes the affair so much more than a string of well-delivered cracks. It provides an undercurrent of heart and unbending concern for its leads. Such makes the depiction all the more even, varied and alive. What could’ve easily turned into a bitter outing becomes a resplendent balance of joviality, proficient filmmaking and depth. In turn, the promising young talents of Vernon, Cabello and Kamat shine. Their collective strengths, along with the rest of the terrific cast and crew, help make “Hell-Bent” a winner on all fronts.

You can check out the official Facebook page for “Hell-Bent” here.

“Inspired”- (Short Film Review)

inspired pic 1

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

“Inspired”, a twenty minute Senior thesis film from first time writer and director Maggie Kaszuba, is an absolute triumph. Likewise, the 2015 release is fittingly titled. Kaszuba and her moviemaking crew put us through the emotional ringer. We feel anger, frustration, spats of teenage confusion and undeniable sorrow. Yet, it all resonates, through its sensational gym room monologues and tersely private at home instances, to uplift. It does this, especially in its concluding sequence, spellbindingly so. There is not a second of its runtime we don’t sense the drive and initiative Kaszuba has injected into every frame. It is seen in both the towering quality of Kaszuba’s material and her delicate crafting of scenes. Such is also calculable in the brilliantly honed individuals that dominate this outstanding yarn.

Kaszuba’s powerful tour de force concerns high school student Samantha Higgins (a tremendous and fantastically realized performance by Tyler Kipp). Plagued to lateness, she has developed a turbulent relationship with her basketball instructor, Coach Stafford (an unflinching depiction by Ariane M. Reinhart that is smart and courageous). The initial half of the narrative focuses to spectacular effect on the relationship between Higgins and Stafford. This is until a tragic ailment is introduced into their existence. It serves as a reminder to Higgins of the elusive balance of life and death. It also becomes a lesson in appreciating the time we have with those who stir us to better ourselves.

But, it is just as much about the path of dreams. Higgins’ seem plagued, as is the case of so many attempts to fulfill our personal ambitions, by unyielding detours of failure. In turn, the effort radiates hope beneath its mournful chain of events. It is proof of how well-rounded, tear-jerking and fulfilling this brief undertaking remains. Such is true as a relatable endeavor and a photographic experience.

Higgins, Stafford and Coach Bohn (an exceptional portrayal by Chris Viemeister) is credibly etched. Such is also the case with the chain of events Kaszuba builds around them. Because of this, the on-screen personages and the composition as a whole should prove accessible. It will likely prove personal to a widely varied group of cinematic patrons. A pre-end credits segment of this MKaszuba Productions and FDUF Films masterwork makes Kaszuba’s own intimate relation to the material glaringly apparent. Such makes the proceedings all the more impactful. This also evokes an autobiographical air. It brings about another of the many re-iterations of motivation spied in the enterprise itself.

Technically, the affair is as strong as it is in its account. The cinematography by Dan Quiyu is illustrious. It complements the accurate atmosphere of the exertion terrifically. Michael Posner’s editing fares just as well. Jalen Thompson and Foster Vernon’s sound contribution is top-notch. Matt McAndrew’s music trails the sentimental beats of the fiction wonderfully. Kaszuba’s directorial flare is impressive. Her screenplay is well-mounted and intelligent. It is filled with dialogue and situations that are as harrowing and believable as all other components we witness. This parallels beautifully all other aspects she visibly strives for throughout the venture.

Kaszuba’s labor of love begins on a note that immediately allows viewers to glimpse Higgins’ turmoil and plight. It is a riveting opener. Moreover, it is as natural, but attention-garnering, as all else that follows. The piece is just as credible in its organic pacing and sensibilities. Everything Kaszuba projects here comes from a place of authenticity and insight. This is issued meticulously and with genuine concern through the duration. Kaszuba has given us a dramatic slice of life. It is one that is character-oriented and exhilarating. This is mutually accurate as storytelling and as art. She is a tremendous talent. I look forward to seeing what future offerings she has in store.