“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? www.wix.com/abandonthemovie/officialsite— 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” — 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.
Doe-eyed 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” — Rounding 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” — The 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