“The Convict” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

“The Convict” (2014), the third short film from writer-director Mark Battle, deftly moves through its taut, claustrophobic man on the loose set-up to an undoubtedly human and incredibly satisfying conclusion. Such makes the closing instants of the twenty minute composition all the more intimate, poetic and resonant. This potent resolve makes our cinematic expedition with the lead of the narrative, David Eller (in a presentation by Dean Temple that fantastically conveys the commanding, yet broken, presence of so many genre heroes in a largely wordless portrayal), all the more triumphant and tear-jerking. The overall outcome is the structure of a filling novel or epic photoplay condensed to showcase the most important events in the fiction as playing one after another. In such a brief span, Battle tells a complete yarn. It is one made all the more varied by the wide range of sentiments it musters. This is true both in what is projected in the tale and within the hearts of its astonished spectators.

Battle heightens the intrigue by smartly only feeding us small details of David’s past. This is while keeping larger attributes, such as why he was incarcerated in the first place, an enigma. Such wise decisions keep us studying what transpires inside the affair. This is while searching what Battle gives us for answers to the many questions about this particular individual we are following. Such only keeps our interest piqued to ever-accruing levels throughout. An example of the strength of these attributes can be found at a sequence at nine minutes in. The scenario here finds David a passenger in a vehicle with a believed stranger named Buddy (in an enactment by Travis Mitchell which is just as watchable, gritty and impressive as Temple’s depiction). He seems to know much more about the title escapee than David could’ve ever imagined. Such cranks the ever-piquing interest and intensity on-screen, propelled by a rocket-like pace that never wavers, to increasingly unbearable levels.

When many of the pieces come together late in the last act, the journey is looked back upon as all more harrowing and personal. Though the personalities unveiled herein are purposefully more straight-forward and less banter driven than those perceived in Battle’s later masterpiece, “Here Lies Joe” (2016), it lacks none of the visual or emotional impact. Moreover, Battle paints the canvas of the screen with the same arresting, proficient and visceral style which has made his entire catalogue so incredible. Battle’s script share many of the same high-caliber attributes. It is also backed with an always reality based edge. This is in both characterizations, with David being himself being terrifically developed and alternately mysterious enough to add to the suspense, and situations. The Sweven Films release and winner for Best Short Drama in the Somewhat North of Boston Film Festival for 2014, is a perpetually athletic sprint of moviemaking muscle. It is one built with sheer craft and intelligence.

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Battle commences this riveting tale with a well-executed and attention-garnering arrangement. This concerns David breaking into an apparently random home. His intentions, whether they are villainous or heroic, remain secluded. With this pivotal bit kept deliberately cryptic, Battle travels as a silent partner alongside our protagonist during the runtime. We learn that he has escaped prison due to a parole denial. Yet, as he travels the wintry New England roads in hiding from the authority figures who are aiming to haul him back from where he once came, there are tender moments which come unexpectedly. They suggest David is aiming for more than a taste of freedom from reformatory bars with his dangerous travels. Such is evident in an interesting, and well-done, scene at six minutes in. In this section, David risks being seen. This happens as he walks into a local store to do a seemingly simple deed. This is to buy flowers for an unknown recipient. We are left wondering who these are for. Such is an inquiry we are not provided until the rousing final minutes unveil.

Such a brilliantly conceived modus to tell an intentionally thin chronicle such as this is made all the more remarkable by the amazing, starkly life mirroring performances and technical components all around. For example, Kieran Battle as Cameron, Suzanne Bryan as Mary and Michael Anthony Coppola as The Parole Board Chairman are all exceptional. Kevin Haverty as Store Clerk and Robin Ann Rapoport as Wife are equally spectacular. They all make a shining impression. This is in the small flash of screen time they are given. Additionally, Michael Beal III creates an impeccable atmosphere with the soundtrack he has conjured. All the tunes herein compliment the seamless genre shifts of this dramatic thriller magnificently. Correspondingly, “On My Knees”, written and performed by Dave Munro, sets the ambient tone for the essential segments it is played in beautifully. This is organized to wrenching consequence. Battle’s editing, visual effects, cinematography, art and set decoration are also top notch. His camera department work is just as striking. Similarly, Nicole Celso does a wonderful job with her make-up contribution.

The result is the raw, yet easy to look at and ponder, veneer of a multi-million dollar action production. The undertaking is all the more notable upon realizing that it was conceived with financially far less. Such is just one of the many jaw-dropping elements this ingenious endeavor radiates admirably through its every frame. Battle has issued an account that more than satisfies in all of its genre aspects. “The Convict” is a well-rounded, heart-pounding and heart-breaking opus. It is one which is as much about getting the pulse racing as it is in exposing the lengths one would go for a few fleeting seconds of love. Both are time honored fundamentals of storytelling. Rarely do they both combine so well. Battle has erected a tour de force. This is a masterful example of a white knuckle odyssey that stupendously elucidates genuine bite and soul. Fellow cinephiles take note: this is mandatory viewing.

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“Here Lies Joe”- (Short Film Review)

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By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****

From the opening moments of director Mark Battle and Sweven Films’ hauntingly beautiful twenty-three minute short, “Here Lies Joe”, a riveting tonal balance of melancholy, peppered with effective humor and an ebbing sense of optimism, is brilliantly established. We watch our lead, whose name is referenced in the title of the piece (rivetingly played by Dean Temple in a performance that is always watchable, absolutely perfect for the material and showcases his incredible abilities by speaking volumes through frequently sorrowful facial gestures) taping up the windows of his beat-up car, full of books and family photographs, in an attempt at ending his life. This sequence lasts but a minute. Regardless, it immediately pulls us into Joe’s world. This early bit is so triumphant at doing so that we instantly care for and desperately want to learn more about this lonely soul.

This segment is just the first of many such smart moves on Battle’s behalf. Such decisions result in a towering achievement. It is one which reaches its sentimental zeniths through the lens of credibility and realism. Such is presented through its continued emphasis on sheer subtlety. This occurs in both characterization and in the way the entire endeavor is crafted. These factors, thanks to the gorgeous and perfectly suited for the overall atmosphere attributes of Battle’s superb cinematography, ravishingly compliment the atmosphere and the narrative impeccably well.

The story, dazzlingly constructed by both Pamela Conway and Battle, concerns Joe meeting an unpredictable young woman known as ‘Z’ (in a portrayal by Andi Morrow that is every bit as intriguing, well-honed and fantastic as Temple’s) at a Suicide Anonymous meeting. This is one headed by Bill (Timothy J. Cox in another of the many magnificent enactments herein). He is a self-proclaimed “suicide addict”. In this same sequence we also meet several other immediately gripping personalities. For instance, Joe is confronted by Carol (a presentation by Mary Hronicek that is both exceptional and charismatic) who believes her fish is clinically depressed. Even with the brief screen time Hronicek is given she makes Carol just as absorbing as the forerunners of the account. It proves the high-caliber of both the writing and the acting talent at hand.

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Though Joe is quiet and introverted, and Z is more than happy to make her presence known to the entire group upon introduction, they inexplicably find a common bond with one another. The rest of the saga focuses sharply on this relationship. The friendship between Joe and Z demonstrates their unspoken dependence upon one another. Because of this the interest initially garnered when we first see each of these characters becomes unwavering. It also increases in its stalwart nature. Such is especially true with each new breathtaking scene.

Battle and Conway’s bold screenplay takes full advantage of the differences in personality between Joe and Z. This is largely evident up until the seventeen minute mark in the composition. It is utilized as a chance to provide phenomenal discussions between the two. These often relate these differences in either a direct or ancillary fashion. This works as entertaining character development. Yet, these instances are so well-written and immersive that we find ourselves even more captivated by these opposite personalities. What is just as mesmerizing is their semi-unlikely attachment and the strange fate which has pulled them together. This prior focus only makes the last six minutes, complete with elegiac and instantly memorable lines such as Z’s: “I am an ugly thing in a beautiful world”, all the more of an emotional knockout. It all comes together to create a certainly well-rounded and touching dramatic portrait as the endeavor becomes more sentimental and heart-wrenching in this conclusive stretch.

This attribute is punctuated by a final bit of dialogue, a reference between a shared interest among Joe and Z, which, in its context, calls back to mind all of the mournful, hilarious and poignant instances which came beforehand. It makes the endeavor all the more masterful as it finds the perfect climax for such a touching, intimate and relatable effort. This is done simply in its last touch of underplayed, but smirk-inducing, dialogue. Yet, the imprint it leaves lingers, much like the sum of the material itself, long afterwards.

From a technical standpoint this often unexpectedly exuberant affair is just as impressive. Battle’s editing is seamless. It is also spectacularly orchestrated. Robert Beal III and Sean Meehan’s sound is crisp, alive and continuously striking. Hair stylist and makeup artist Nicole Celso evokes a great contribution to the overall quality of the piece in her respective arenas. This makes this short picture all the more of deft and alive.

“Here Lies Joe” is an example of how much can be done, stated, examined, as well as the lasting impact conducted, in a brief span. Battle has an incredible aptitude in his respective fields. The same is true for the rest of his moviemaking crew. The proof of such a statement is illuminated in every second of this wonderful and often unexpectedly life- affirming tour de force. This is an intelligent, meditative affair. It is one with just the right balance of heart and laughter. Furthermore, every on-screen personage herein is highly likable. Every individual we encounter throughout seems deserving of being the principal of their own cinematic endeavor. This is an exhibition of moving art that audiences can grow with as the years pass and age and accruing wisdom inevitably takes further hold. This is a visual treasure trove. One destined to bring about new pearls of insight and continue to enthrall and move moviegoers with each viewing. Because of this, Battle’s latest demands to be seen.

You can check out the website for the short here.

You can check out Sweven Films’ Facebook page here.

You can check out Timothy J. Cox’s web site here.

You can check out the IMDB page for “Here Lies Joe” here.

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