By Last Caress.
Today BRWC looks at three short films featuring the talents of Philadelphia-born New Yorker Timothy J. Cox, described variously as “the busiest man in indie cinema” and “the Johnny Depp of indie cinema”. I’m the Johnny Depp of independent film review, you know. Well, we’ve both played Hunter S. Thompson. Well, I say I’ve played Hunter S. Thompson, I mean I’ve done a lot of drugs. Well, I say I’ve done a lot of drugs, I mean I’ve gone through two tubes of Anusol this week already, and it’s only Monday. Chafes, it does!
Anyway, the movies:
What Jack Built (Matthew Mahler, 2015)
Jack is building, in his workshed. A cigarillo is clenched almost perpetually ‘twixt his teeth. He drills. He planes. He smokes. He welds. He grinds. He smokes. He pores over diagrams. He rummages for parts. He smokes. Wood. Screws. Hinges. Circuit boards. Motherboards. Keyboards. A mixing deck. A cassette player (remember those?). What’s he building? Pensively, he takes these bits and bobs out into the woods, where he begins to assemble them, running yards and yards of power cords from an outlet. It appears to be some manner of motion-triggered box trap, around which he places cameras through which he can monitor the trap’s success from his workshed. But what is he trying to catch?
What Jack Built has no dialogue whatsoever, no other characters apart from the titular Jack played by our man Timothy J. Cox, the ambiguous ending isn’t quite satisfying enough and, even at a lean eleven minutes, much of Jack’s construction could probably have been pared by as much as half and still maintained the film’s effect. Nevertheless, it’s a strangely intriguing piece; hypnotic almost, like a lava lamp. And Mr. Cox – along with his director Matthew Mahler – still somehow manages to disarm Jack and keep him likeable, and his antics interesting.
Check out What Jack Built HERE
Total Performance (Sean Meehan, 2015)
Cori (Tory Berner) and Tim (Steven Conroy) are on a date. A first date, and it’s going quite well. Cori is explaining to Tim what she does for a living, and he is fascinated. Mind you, he would be; what Cori does is fascinating. She works for “Total Performance”, an agency which hires out actors like Cori to clients who wish to use them, as Cori puts it, as “sparring dummies” upon whom the clients can practice difficult verbal exchanges which they obviously envisage having to tackle at some point in their immediate future: Confronting a cheating spouse perhaps, or an underperforming work colleague, or maybe telling your loving partner that you’re not feeling it anymore, and it’s over.
Anyway, the date ends, Cori and Tim kiss goodnight, and the next day Cori goes about her business, taking an appointment with a client, auditioning for a film role. Upon returning from her audition, she’s handed another client: Tim. But who does he need to confront, and why?
If I’m honest, the conclusion doesn’t quite live up to the reams of potential provided by the build-up in the rest of the movie, but on the whole Total Performance is a good-looking, flowing piece, shot and framed confidently by writer/director Sean Meehan and anchored by the natural, unfussy performances of Steven Conroy and particularly of Tory Berner, the star and standout performer in this short (our man Timothy J. Cox, also with a producer credit on Total Performance, has a cameo playing a CEO who wants to rehearse a scenario wherein he is to fire his best friend from his company).
Check out Total Performance HERE
Dirty Books (Zachary Lapierre, 2016)
High school student David Burrow (Noah Bailey) is the editor-in-chief of the Prichard Hall Gazette, the weekly high school one-sheet. However, with little to report past changes to the school cafeteria output, added to the spiralling costs of producing barely-read printed media, the inevitable has happened and school principal Dr. Bradley (Timothy J. Cox) has called David in to inform him that, regrettably, the Gazette cannot continue in its current form and will have to transition to a much more 21st century user-friendly online blog form or cease altogether. When David passes this on to the other students involved in the Gazette’s publication they’re fine with it; it makes a lot of sense to switch to online media, really. David himself however, is furious. They’re killing the printed word! But what can he do? Well, if he can manufacture some sensationalist news by anonymously committing a series of pranks and then reporting them exclusively in the Gazette as a big mystery, interest will grow as well as readership numbers, and the Gazette will be saved. Hurrah!
But why is David so angry at the Gazette’s impending demise, anyway? Well, Dirty Books isn’t really about the Gazette and neither is David’s ire. Clearly not one of the “cool” kids, David has begun to define himself by his editor-in-chief position at the newspaper, even though said newspaper is little more than a leaflet and the entire Gazette enterprise is simply an after-school club. And in committing these pranks in order to try to save his editor-in-chief self, he’s inadvertently stumbled upon a potential definition of self which is even more tantalizing: The kids are all talking about him now! Of course, they’re not quite talking about him as such because this prankster who has caught everybody’s attention is anonymous but, still! Talking! And if it all eventually falls in on him, which it is bound to at some point, he’ll be infamous and they’ll be talking about him – actually, him – for years! Of course, he’ll likely be ridiculed as a fraud rather than revered, and he’ll have done a fair bit of damage to his academic achievements too but, still! Talking! Let’s just hope his friend Owens (Isaiah Lapierre) doesn’t lose that journal of his, into which he writes everything, including all of David’s confessions of being the Blanchard Hall Prankster, eh?
David’s big scheme for saving the paper and becoming a celebrity in the process is riddled with flaws, however. The “U”-rated pranks he commits are quite lame (when they’re not entirely implausible altogether, such as his moving a bunch of furniture into the cafeteria and arranging it to resemble a living room), and this jeopardizes his conviction that these pranks will pass into school-hall legend as the years roll on, long past his time at the school. And how would these pranks save the Gazette, anyway? Wouldn’t the school just want these items reported upon in the new online school blog? The student body wouldn’t need to read about these pranks in a newsletter at the end of the week, they’d bear witness to them each day as they happened. And David has no guarantee whatsoever that any written reporting of the pranks will be exclusive to the newsletter; anybody at the school could tweet about it to the entire world, if they wanted. But this all further paints for us the picture of David, an unremarkable lad just beginning on the road to discovering exactly who he is and who he wants to be, dazzled as so many are by the bright lights atop the school-student caste system, sinking into an obsession with becoming “somebody” amongst his peers, and suffering delusions of grandeur as a result. “So, this is where I make my exit?” He proclaims, Nixon-like, at the film’s end. “Don’t be so dramatic, David. It’s just suspension,” replies the principal.
Director Zachary Lapierre has made quite a thoughtful piece underneath its gently humorous, light-hearted frippery, making keen observations about the skewed perception of status amongst school kids. Mr. Lapierre’s composition is surefooted and oftentimes Dirty Books is wonderfully evocative of simpler times in our lives. The terrific soundtrack helps greatly in this regard, giving the movie an almost Clerks-like feel here and there. The inexperience of the cast is admittedly something of an issue throughout (Timothy J. Cox excepted) but, whilst Dirty Books is nowhere near as polished as Total Performance, it’s my favourite from the three shorts.
Check out Dirty Books HERE
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