March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Reviews of '4 Pictures,' 'Abandon,' 'Happy the Clown' and more

Made in Michigan Showcase

5:30 p.m. Friday, April 15

The Lansing Center, 333 E. Michigan Ave.

$8 adults, $6 students

Reviews by Allan I. Ross and Paul Wozniak

“4 Pictures” — A
muddled mess of a film. Unemployed Kaitlin (Dawn Bartley) is pluckily chugging
through her self-made rut in life. She hangs out everyday at the Somerset
Collection, lounges by her friend’s pool, and is content with her aloof
boyfriend because he does the dishes. Then one day her daffy roommate blurts
out that she’s having a virtual affair with Kaitlin’s boyfriend and all hell breaks
loose. Oh, wait, no, it doesn’t. Kaitlin continues with her routine, only more, you know, navel-gazier.

“4 Pictures” was
written with absolutely no ear for human dialogue (or even inner monologue) and
ham-fistedly directed — unless it was Michigan-based filmmaker Mike Madigan’s
intent for nearly everyone to sound wooden. Ostensibly about the dangers of
being afraid of change, the only thing we really learn is that Google considers
online sex cheating. Who knew? — A.R.

“Abandon” — A must-see only for potential
movie investors or film students looking for examples of effectively capturing
tension. Maddeningly, “Abandon” isn’t a complete movie, but simply a teaser for
what could one day be an engaging thriller. Is our heroine an abuse victim on
the run? A sociopath? A vampire? Who knows? All we’re given at the end of 14
intriguing minutes of spooky set-up, haunting music and one good seat-jumper is
a postscript that essentially tries to get someone to cough up some money to
get the full-length film made: “The producers are looking for talented
professionals to help them continue the story of ‘Abandon’…” So…it’s a
commercial? — A.R.

“Happy the Clown” A sharp, fun piece that benefits from a
vibrant color palate, fine acting, and a theme song written by Michigan’s
Golden Boy Jeff Daniels. Happy (Lawton Paseka) is a crying-on-the-inside kind
of clown who finds himself trapped in a seedy underworld life that’s costing
him his relationship and, quite possibly, his sanity. When his girlfriend shows
up at his trailer to make amends at the same time some mafia goons arrive to
give him his next assignment, things quickly devolve into the stuff dark comedy
gold is made from. Coulrophobes have nothing to fear, but there is a scary
midget. — A.R.

“The Spirit of
— Isabel (Aphrodite Nikolovski) is a Hooker with a Heart of Gold —and a
dangerous beat in Detroit’s Greektown district. She doesn’t appear to be a drug
addict, she feels duly ashamed after banging a couple of guys for her rent
money, and she is at least offhandedly seeking gainful employment. But
writer/director Robert Joseph Butler implies that the bad economy is to blame
for Isabel’s career; that’s just oversimplifying a horrific life choice.

Nikolovski is an engaging actress, but cinematographer Mike Cody unfortunately
(yet correctly) depicts downtown Detroit as bright and bustling, visually
negating the hopelessness of Isabel’s situation. It would have been interesting
to see what this 17-minute short would have been like as a feature, seeing what
caused Isabel to fall so low and how she’s going to get out of this. — A.R.
“Waiter From Hell”
out the short trilogy of depravity in the dining room, “Waiter From Hell”
follows the title character (Michael McCallum) through his final day at a
generic family restaurant. Co-starring David M. Foster, Christine Therrian and
Jeffry Wilson, this is mainly a showcase for McCallum, who explores new comic
depths of his sexist, lazy caricature of likely real-life personalities.

Like the Ricky Gervais character David Brent in “The Office,” McCallum’s waiter
is a particular breed of comic demon who shocks laugher out of the audience
while they squirm. Production values from shaky hand-held cameras to
microphones directed at the actor’s backs cheapen the quality of the finished
product but thankfully not the performances, which feel spontaneous and
organic. — P.W.

“What I’ve Taken”
time and budget constraints of the 48/5 competition for the East Lansing Film
Festival explain some of the detail discrepancies and cliched story elements in
“What I’ve Taken,” but they do not excuse them. At its best, this is a strong
exercise in editing and placing flashbacks into a story. A goateed man spies on
a young girl at her apartment and in the park. Is he a pedophile, or an
estranged paternal father? Flashbacks fill in the story, like the Christian
Bale indie film “The Machinist.” Sadly, when the solution is revealed — hinted
by the title — little impact is made, because the character feels so
underdeveloped. — P.W