Tuesday, December 09, 2008

DVD Review: Isle of the Damned

I don't care how you do it, you have to see Isle of the Damned! Simply put, I pissed myself laughing watching this movie. This is a true work of art.

Wigs, fake mustaches, seventies porn music, exaggerated dubbing, overblown violence and mutilation never looked so good as it does in this hilarious send up of classic Italian cannibal films. Written by Mark Leake and directed by Mark Colegrove, Isle of the Damned had me laughing from the opening credits all the way through the final scene. I can't say that of any other movie.

Two standout performances are that of Keith Tveit Langsdorf and Larry Gamber. Langsdorf's portrayal of Alexis Kincaid is truly memorable, especially the scene on the log when he reaches out to his fallen comrade and his hat flies off his head to reveal a huge, Don King-like wig. And when Gambler's Jack Steele tells young Billy, "We're gonna try, Billy. We're gonna try." you just can't help it but roll in laughter.

If you haven't guessed it by now, I loved Isle of the Damned, penis mutilations, torn up babies and all. This may just be my favorite film of the year. Look for it to be showing in some limited engagements in the early part of 2009. I give Isle of the Damned ***** out of *****!!

DVD Review: Bikini Bloodbath Carwash

Hmmm...bikinis, carwashes and bloodbaths? YES! The gang over at Bloodbath Pictures once again set out to titilate their audience with a second helping of boobs, bad words and blood and I, for one, couldn't be happier for it! In BBB2, Chef Death is accidentally raised from the dead to once again wreak havoc on a group of rather old-looking teens. The makers of this film really took on their sequel with vigor -- twice as many boobs in the opening sequence, twice as much Debbie Rochon and twice as much dancing!

Let's be honest, the dancing could have been cut down a bit, but I have to admit that the image of a blond-wig-wearing Russ Russo doing a frenetic breakdancing routine is forever etched on my retinas. And the homage to Michael Jackson's "Beat it!" was simply genius!

With more references to classic horror films (Aliens, Jaws and more) than you can shake a cleaver at, Bikini Bloodbath Carwash is just plain fun to watch. And Debbie Rochon rocks! Gather up a few friends, grab a few kegs and enjoy this film. In the words of Ms. Rochon, "Get me a beer, bitch!" BBB2 carves up **** out of *****.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CD Review: Not Everybody Gets a Happy Ending by Die So Fluid

When you first lay your eyes on Grog, the lead singer of Die So Fluid, you'll be mesmerized. Then, when you hear her voice, you'll have your ass handed to you bloody and beaten. How in the world a girl who looks like that can sound the way she does is beyond me but I'll tell you one thing -- I'm glad she does, because I've just found a favorite new band!

Hailing from London, England, this trio is as powerful a band as you'll ever hear. Every note is absolute perfection on this, their sophomore disc. Here, Grog and her bandmates, Mr. Drew and Al Fletcher, bring rock and roll to an entirely new level. I know I may be gushing, but it's not often one hears something utterly new and remarkable. From the crunching opening track, "Gang of One" to the final, title track, the listener is taken on an audio journey of pounding rythyms, driving guitars and awe-inspiring vocals. My personal faves are the epic "Vorvolaka" and the brilliant track, "The Kiss and Then The Kick." I can't say it enough, listen to this band, get this CD and welcome to the beginning of something special. What's even better? Die So Fluid is currently on tour in the U.S., so check them out live if you possibly can. I give Not Everybody Gets a Happy Ending ***** out of *****. If you need more pursuasion to check them out, their video for the single, "Existential Baby" is below.

DVD Review: Stalking Hand

With its hokey special effects, overzealous acting and Scooby-Doo sound effects, Stalking Hand: A Scary Movie! is an independent gem of a horror comedy! I have to admit, when I first glanced the trailer online, I had my misgivings. But as I watched the film, I discovered that even though the budget had to have been less than what's in the change compartment in my van, director Lou Vocknell and his cronies (not to be confused with Obama's or McCain's) had to have put a tremendous amount of love and attention in this baby.

One of the things I was immediately impressed with was the quality of the audio on this disc. There's nothing I hate more than a bad sound recording, and it is one of the most common fatalities in low budget films, but the audio track on Stalking Hand is quite clean, clear and crisp. The acting, as I said, is ham city, but with this type of film, it fits perfectly. All in all, I have to say that Stalking Hand was one of the better films I've watched as of late. Even though the film is filled with death, dismemberment and a rotting, disembodied hand, Stalking Hand is like a breath of fresh air. I give Stalking Hand ****1/2 out of *****.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

DVD Review: Home Sick

With Bill Moseley and Tom Towles, two Devil's Rejects veterans, how can Home Sick be bad, right? Ugh, if only it wasn't true! This film is the ultimate love/hate relationship. There were certain things I loved and a ton of things I hated, and oddly enough, sometimes they were the same things!

Home Sick follows a group of druggie slackers who happen to have an unexpected visitor crash their party(?). This group is supposed to be friends, but with friends like these... Anyway, Mr. Suitcase, as he's called, asks everybody at the party to name someone they hate. After they mention the name, he takes a razor blade and cuts his forearm. The last guy he asks says, "I don't know...everybody in this room, man!" Gee, thanks pal! Needless to say, everyone who was mentioned starts getting killed off in some wonderfully gruesome ways (these parts were impressive). Sadly, this is the only scene with Bill Moseley. The film never goes into why he does what he does. Now, it's up to the slackers, who include a group of comatose poop heads and a girl who smokes two cigarettes at once (does she know how much they cost?) to figure out how to stop the demon on their trail.

The highlight of this film is definitely Tom Towles' performance and the scene at his kitchen table, which was hilarious. Other than that, this film was dismal, with a weird cast of characters who at times were fun to watch and other times, excruciating to watch. Home Sick vomits ** out of *****.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

DVD Review: Side Sho

Oh, those damn carnies! Can't they ever catch a break? Why is it that roadside attractions are always the setting for murder, mayhem and monstrosities in the movies? No wonder they no longer decorate the landscape any more. We've been hoodwinked and hornswaggled into believing we'll die if we visit one!

Anyway, here we have the latest side show horror film called creatively enough, Side Sho. For a minute there, I thought this was another one of Full Moon's "urban horror movies." But nothing of the like! I admit that as the film started, I had my doubts. But after about a half an hour, I was glad that I stuck around for the ride. Side Sho actually wound up being a decent little film. Not perfect and not great by no stretch of the imagination, but more than entertaining enough. The story follows a family, led by a photobug father who just has to take pictures of every roadside attraction he can find. Unfortunately, when he stops by this side show, he gets more than he bargained for, including a forest full of inbred ex-cons, a dog-boy and a handful of freaks. Oh yeah, and I did chuckle at the Evil Dead homage. Darn tootin', this here Side Sho wasn't half bad! I give it *** out of *****, fo sho!

DVD Review: The Lodge

Now, I don't know about you, but when I rent a gorgeous lodge for the weekend in a remote area, the last thing I feel comfortable with is having the lodge's owner hanging around the entire time. And I certainly wouldn't share a smoke with him and tell him how I just got some "afternoon delight" from my hottie girlfriend a mere 25 minutes after meeting him. Not only that, but the duchebag in question here also goes on to tell the creepy caretaker how his girl is an animal in bed. Hmmm, do you see anything wrong with that picture?

Despite the ridiculous dialogue and contrived attempts at creating an atmosphere of dread, The Lodge is not ALL that bad. Hell, I at least finished it! Although that may have more to do with the gorgeous scenery that was interspersed throughout the movie than with actually being interested in the plot. You know it's a tough sell when you turn to your wife and say, "Look at that beautiful brook," in the middle of a horror movie. As a matter of fact, regardless of how bad things got for the two main characters in the film, I kept saying to myself, "I would love to live there!" I guess that goes to show just how scary The Lodge is. The Lodge opens its doors to ** out of *****.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

10 Questions for...Stolis Hadjicharalambous

Don't even try to pronounce it! Really, you don't have to worry about his last name, just call him Stolis. While his last name may be challenging, what isn't a challenge is seeing just how much talent this young guy has. Barely into his twenties, Stolis has numerous film credits to his name, including the brilliant editing job he did on Alan Rowe Kelly's The Blood Shed! And now, with his directorial debut for the feature film Crossed upcoming, it's my supreme pleasure to get a chance to ask 10 Questions for… Stolis Hadjicharalambous!

1.) Dave: Did you have one of those famous "a-ha" moments where you realized that you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Stolis: I don’t think there was one “a-ha” moment in my life that made me realize that I wanted to be a filmmaker, but it was a series of moments that kept leading me down that path. It started from when I was a child obsessed with movies and that passion never changed. As I kid I never really played sports or studied cars, but I was extremely fascinated with movies. I would watch movies like Robocop, Ghostbusters and Jaws on replay, over an over again. I never got tired of watching films. I would always escape into films. In school I would always try to con my teachers to letting me make short films or plays for the class instead of writing reports. Most of the time they let me make them. They too saw how I was hooked on films.

I can say that the time period where I deeply considered and decided to make it a career was when I was in high school. I had joined a film club that my English teacher ran, who now is coincidentally my cinematographer, Bart Mastronardi. It was here that I learned to examine films not just for entertainment, but also as piece of art and storytelling. I learned screenwriting by studying the opening to Friday the 13th: Jason Lives (laughs). In fact because Bart is such a fan of horror films he made us appreciate the cinematic value that horror films hold.

We started off as six guys and a VCR and as the years went on we started expanding and getting equipment. I discovered my love for directing and editing in the club, and soon I was doing research on how one would make a living with filmmaking and discovered that it was possible. So I think all the moments that I have had in film club all lead up to me deciding to pursue a career in filmmaking.

2.) Dave: How did your family react when you announced you were going to be a filmmaker?

Stolis: Great question! I consider myself extremely lucky and proud to have such a supportive family. When I told them that I wanted to make films they weren’t so shocked about it because growing up they saw how obsessed I was about movies. My parents were completely responsible for raising me on film. They would always take me to the movies to see the big blockbusters and rent movies all the time from Ultra Video down the street from my house. And when I made my short films in high school they were my number one fans. They encouraged me to express myself through film. My mother cried the first time I showed her my first short film, she was so proud of me. Unfortunately she passed away during the filming of Crossed, but I knew how much she loved that I found my passion and that I was working so hard on accomplishing my goals as a filmmaker. So I honored her by going out and making the best film I could with Crossed.

It’s funny, I consider her my assistant director now because when I find myself in jam on set I always take a moment out of the day and ask her to help me out and somehow it always works out. She gives me a bit of peace of mind on set. My father, Harry, helped me invest in camera equipment and an editing studio. He felt it was just as important to invest in the equipment, as it was to invest in college. Some kids beg the parents for a new car, I begged them for a Final Cut Pro studios and a Mac computer. Whenever I needed a hand in anything with making films he has never said no.

I learned so much from him about being a director from working weekends in his deli. He showed me how to deal with deadlines, reliable and unreliable people and how to run your own business. I took the name of my production company Hilltop Studios to honor him and his first deli Hilltop Deli. I think I got my entrepreneurial gene from my father. My dad went off to successfully start his own business, and I as an independent filmmaker, which essentially I’m going off to make my own career path. My father always brags to his friends that I am the next big thing and is always busting my chops about when the money is coming in. I always laugh because I call him the studio head, always asking about the money. But he has been super supportive. My brother Christo, got me my first directing chair, I got choked up over it because it was the nicest thing anyone has gotten me. He basically showed me that he was behind me on my career choice and I love him for that. So I am very blessed to have the support from my family and friends. Their support pushed me to go further with my career and to be as successful in my field.

3.) Dave: Your upcoming film, Crossed, is highly anticipated by those of us who love independent movies. How did the idea for Crossed come to fruition?

Stolis: The idea of Crossed was originally conceived as a short black and white movie that I was going to shoot on super 16 mm film to cut my teeth with working with film. But it spawned into an intense action thriller. My co-creator and writer/actor Christopher Otis was a fellow film student with me in high school. And we became good friends and bonded over our love of action films. After high school we wanted to make an action film that was a throwback to the grittier, intense action flicks that we grew up with. We were sick of these watered down action films that were coming out. So we developed this idea of a young assassin on one of his first hits. But as we started to develop the film we couldn’t stop the flood of ideas from coming in. So eventually we decided that we could expand the idea and take it to many different and exciting levels. Crossed is the story of a young hit man named Frank Archer (Christopher J. Otis), who is on this quest to find out who murdered his father (The Blood Shed’s Jerry Murdock). Archer searches for the truth about his haunted past, eventually crossing him with a sadistic assassin known only as ‘The Ripper’ (Javier Rodriguez). Archer is also trying to find his place in the world but the only way to move on with his future he must learn about his past.

Once we had a solid grasp on the material, I began to pitch the film to Bart Mastronardi, the DP of Crossed and all my short films. He was my film teacher at the time, and he loved the idea and he too was trying to expand his way into the film world, so we both said if we want filmmaking to be our career then we need to step it up and go full force. I then decided to take the leap and develop Crossed into my first feature. Bart agreed that he would invest in the Panasonic DVX 100A camera, the best Mini DV camera at the time. And I agreed to invest into Final Cut Pro and become the editor. Now we had a studio in the palm of our hands. We had the best equipment at our disposal. But most of all we had a great concept and different story to tell. So we had all the ingredients to make a spectacular film expect of course the money! Finally another one of my former classmates and actor Javier Rodriguez loved the script. Otis and I created the character “The Ripper” for him.

After hearing our goals and plans for the film and the potential it had he decided to become the producer of the film. He saw how everyone was investing themselves into the project and he felt he should invest as well into it. Crossed then began to evolve into a massive monster with a talented and dedicated cast and crew. Besides Christopher Otis and Javier Rodriguez, I was able to work with talented actor Henry Borriello, who is a force to be reckoned with; Keith Frasier (Vindication) steals the show as Wilhelm; I got to work with the talented Miguel Lopez; Talia Morreno and Ashley Bernardes, Jessie May Lauhman are the female beauties of Crossed; and most recently we signed Andrew Roth (FrightWorld) to play a pivotal role in the film, he was a blast to work with. Also after working with director Alan Rowe Kelly (who stars as Ed) on The Blood Shed, my first feature film that I edited, I was able to meet some amazing talented actors. Alan Rowe Kelly lent us his amazing talents as well as Jerry Murdock, who plays Frank’s father, Murdock is going to be the next action hero, just wait and see. Both of these guys I admire and respect so much. They always give 120 percent every time. I always pinch myself because I still can’t believe how far CROSSED has come from just a little idea. It was an idea, a seed, which blossomed into something I hope audiences will enjoy.

4.) Dave: You co-wrote Crossed with Christopher Otis. What was your writing routine like and what was the process of writing Crossed?

Stolis: Crossed was born from Chris and me and our love of action films. I loved films like El Mariachi, Escape from New York, and Robocop where the story centers on one main character who interacts with other colorful characters. So Otis and I came up with a cool character that was a hit man who would become our strong anti-hero. We would watch the films that inspired us and shared similar themes. We studied what made these characters like Snake Plisskin or Indiana Jones interesting. We studied the characters and made sure that our characters were not flat but had the depth and life that our favorite characters had.

Otis & I developed the story for two years. We would have long conversations about where we wanted to take the characters and ho w the plot should evolve. I become the idea man, coming up with the ideas, concepts, character ideas and Otis was the man who put the dialogue on the paper. So he did most of the main writing. My influences came into play when creating The Ripper character because he was the most fun to create for me. He was the strong silent type. He was brutal and nasty. He is a mix of Snake Plisskin from Escape from New York and Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs. Otis loved writing for Borriello and Wilhelm. So he took over those scenes. But the character I most identified with was Frank Archer. He is this young kid not sure what path to take in life and dealing with the grief over losing his father. In my case I was going through the same thing with my mother’s passing. So I would try and take my experiences and my personal feelings and put them into Archer’s world. For me as a filmmaker, I needed to feel as if I putting myself on the screen. If I can see my personal values or qualities within the story and character then I feel more invested in the story. Archer was my canvas that I projected my thoughts onto, but at the same time Otis put himself in there too. It’s a mix of all these creative forces at once that make great stories.

The best trait that I admire about Otis as a writer is his attention to detail. He is always trying to close up any holes in the plot and keep the story consistent and in control. He is a writer that is always thinking of what could happen down the road for a character. One change in the scene could ripple through to the rest of film and affect the other characters. I love that he was always aware of that. Otis is a very hands on and collaborative writer. We would meet up and have lengthy conversations and sometimes argue for hours about the scenes or the edits to make sure we were on the same page. And since I was the editor I was able to make certain calls in cutting down the script before filming.

The best thing about working closely to a writer is that I am not limiting the story to one point of view, but by collaborating with someone who will help make a better film. Working with Otis has been a dream because we both knew what kind of film to make. We loved and respected the genre, we loved the characters and we always tried to make the film better. We pushed ourselves back and forth to get the best ideas possible.

5.) Dave: Many aspiring independent filmmakers out there get deadlocked when it comes to finding financing for their movies. What was your strategy for financing Crossed and was there ever a time when you felt like it wasn't going to happen?

Stolis: I don’t think I had a moment where I felt the film would never happen because of money issues because going into production, my producer Javier Rodriguez and I decided that we would do this on the lowest possibly budget. We felt the more money we spent the harder it would be to make our money back and turn a profit. We would just save our pennies every week and then when we had enough money to shoot, we would shoot.

Since Crossed was a learning experience as well we wanted to limit the risk of losing money as much as we could. Also I am a firm believer in utilizing every single resource you have available to you. We never wrote something into the script that we either couldn’t afford or we didn’t have free and immediate access to. All the locations in the film were location that we had instant access to. Either a close family relative or friend, if they had an interesting location or prop, we simply ask them and about 95% of the time they would say yes. We shot a huge torture scene in the basement of my father's deli that I worked in over the summer. The basement looked like a mini crypt so we wrote a scene knowing what we could do in the space provided. Also since my father owns his own deli (Hilltop Delicatessen – Shameless plug!!) I would be able to save tons of money on feeding the cast and crew because my father would donate all the food. Javier works in his family run Spanish restaurant, so we get free delicious food for his restaurant, and his basement was used as the hide out for his character, The Ripper. The cast and crew loved it. Since we couldn’t pay them anything, we made sure we feed them as well as we could. A fed crew is a happy crew. Also most of my cast and crew take on double jobs on set to cut down on the number of people involved, because sometimes the more people the more headaches arise on set. So a lot of them are pulling double duty.

I learned a lot from reading Robert Rodriguez book Rebel Without a Crew that book has become my filmmaking bible. The book described Robert Rodriguez’ journey in making his first low budget action feature El Mariachi. I modeled a lot of CROSSED shooting and financial methods around his strategies of not spending a lot of money but using your creativity to make the film. The limits that low budget films have are great catalyst for your most creative moments. As a filmmaker you have to be open mined and see the possibilities all around you and utilize them to the fullest.

6.) Dave: What is the most difficult job you have ever had while working in film and how did you manage to get through it?

Stolis: That’s a tough question because I don’t really find any job working in film difficult because I have so much fun trying to do all of the different types of jobs. I direct, edit, write, sometimes grip, help light the set, and even work the catering table. I find all those jobs so satisfying and enjoyable. It’s hard to say that film is difficult; I find it more challenging and engaging then anything. I would say the most difficult aspect of working in film is to always making sure that your pushing yourself to better every single day.

I think the idea of growing and expanding and never becoming stale is a tough thing. It’s easy to feel comfortable in a story or genre. It’s hard to push the envelope because you feel you need to reach to everyone. I feel we took a lot of chances with some of the action and violence in CROSSED. There is some stuff in this film that I feel I have never seen done before. And it excites me that I am able to do those things and not feel restricted. I like challenging myself and not knowing everything. I like taking risks and doing things the most people wont do or find taboo or too intense. I like to think that after a day of shooting I feel I have grown from the experience and the next day of filming I have become better and stronger storyteller.

I love the directing process and working with different actors because every actor is a different challenge. To get into there mindset and figure out there process. What makes them react and give the best performance? How they interrupt their characters. If there was one thing I can say I don’t like doing on a film is to be in front of the camera (laughs) I am so uncomfortable as an actor. I love doing theatre acting but I can’t do film acting. I give actors a lot of credit and respect because film acting is very intimidating. The camera is right in front of your face and captures everything. As long as I don’t say anything and stand in the back I am fine (laughs). It’s a good thing I work with top-notch actors. Some say casting is 80% of the job, I agree.

7.) Dave: What sparks your creativity?

Stolis: I have so many tools I use to get the creative juices flowing. I love going for walks with my headphones blasting music. Music is a big motivator for me. I love movie scores the most. John Williams, Michael Giacchino Hans Zimmer & John Powell’s scores are amazing. Since I am an editor I like to use music to create certain rhythms and beats in my mind when I sit to edit a scene. Editing is not much different then conduction an orchestra. You have to be aware of creating rhythms and moments. And to be able to give your film's story its peaks and valleys. So music helps to stimulate those ideas. Watching great films is always a good motivator. Movies by Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and Martin Scorsese are great motivators because they remind me of why I fell in love with movies and that movies can stand the test of time. Jaws is probably the most perfect film ever made. It has everything you want in a great film. Also watching bad films can really motivate me because it shows that other people out there are doing the same thing your trying to do and they are bad but somehow are in theaters and DVD and people are watching them. It shows you there is no such thing as failure. Someone out there will dig your film. Plus it helps you to not make the same mistakes they did. I also love to walk. Walking helps to clear my head and to give myself some alone time to my thoughts. If I get stuck on an idea, I’ll usually take a walk because it keeps my minds racing and allows me to absorb the world. Subway rides help me write. There is something about the movement and the energy that subways have which helps me to focus. I’ll take a notebook on the train and start writing it’s very weird, but I find so many story possibilities just riding the subway. If you ever get stuck on an idea, go on the subway look around and spot someone on the train. Absorb what he or she is wearing and what they are doing try to guess what their story is. You will be surprised how far you imagination will take you.

Funny, but I also do a lot of writing when bored in class (laughs). I hate when boredom sets in so the only way to keep my mind going is to keep thinking and using my imagination. So I get bored the majority in class and I would start doodling and those doodles some how emerge into something creative. Sometimes going out with friends and having dinner inspires me. Just listing to their stories or certain things they say or do will spark an idea. I have one diner that I go there religiously called Mark Twain dinner, ill grab a cup of coffee and a notebook and I do my notes. I’ll go there with my friends after a shoot or just to kill time and we discuss everything and anything. Most of my friends are actors so by hanging out with them all the time I am able to craft my stories and characters to their strengths and qualities. It helps them to put themselves into the work.

Whenever making movies becomes stressful, I usually try and take a day off and head into the city. There I just walk for hours, grab some food and try to get in a double feature at the multiplex. It just relaxes me. A trip to New York City is my jumpstart after a rough few days.
I also find myself more creative at night. I will get my ideas while I am lying restlessly in bed then ill bolt up and jot them down. And since I have more creative flow at night, I started switching my schedule to nighttime. I edit my films at night. No one calls to bother you. Its really quiet and I can focus on the film. I get into a safe zone when I work at night. So for the last few weeks CROSSED and I have shared several sunrises after long editing sessions. But I am a firm believer that life experience will help you expand as an artist. Some film school kids get so caught up with studying movies and spend all their time watching films that they forget to go out and experience the world. That’s where the stories are. Go out and live life, have adventures. Do something your were always afraid of doing and then document it then come home and write what you know. I guess filmmakers need to find what inspires them and when they feel the need a creative boost they need to embrace that.

8.) Dave: You have a solid working relationship with fellow independent icons Alan Rowe Kelly, Bart Mastronardi and others. How has working with them benefited your filmmaking capabilities?

Stolis: I find that people become successful when they surround themselves with great company and others who strive to be the best they can be. Both Alan Rowe Kelly and my mentor from day one Bart Mastronardi, are some of the best company anybody can ask for. Alan gave me my first big editing job on his film THE BLOOD SHED. He took a huge risk trusting me with his baby in the editing room. I was 18 at the time and I hadn’t edited a feature before. But I had edited countless shorts, commercials and music videos and Bart recommended me to Alan and showed him a bunch of my work and the next day Alan emailed me with the offer and its been non-stop from there.

Alan helped open my eyes to what its like to run a set on a big independent film like THE BLOOD SHED. It was my first experience in film where I was working with people outside my circle. So I got to meet professional actors and crewmembers like Jerry Murdock, Zoe Dahlmen Chalanda, Tom Burns, Don Money and Andrew Roth just so many nice people. Alan helped open a lot of doors for me in this business, I was extremely proud and honored to meet Fangoria editor Michael Gingold who then let us grace the pages of FANGORIA MAGAZINE. That was a trip. I never thought I be a part of Fangoria and share it with people I respect and admire like Alan and Bart. Alan has given me a lot of crucial advice and knowledge and despite my age he treated me like a professional. Bart has actually been my best friend since high school, like I said he was my English teacher then he ran the film club and soon because we both love movies so much we became good friends.

I still can’t believe that I am working side by side my English teacher from high school to make films. We started working on each other’s short films. He would shoot mine and I’ll end up editing his films. We are like the Tarantino and Rodriguez of our group. He is an artist behind the camera as a cinematographer. He approaches each scene with a unique look and paints it with wild colors. The best quality I find in Bart is that he doesn’t overcomplicate anything. He lights sets with very minimal lighting that make things more simple and efficient. Instead of lugging around heavy lights he simply uses Home Depot flood light and creates amazing shots with those. He doesn’t need big massive lights to achieve his style. He really has created some of his best work as a cinematographer on CROSSED. Much like myself he always pushes himself further each day on set. He always trying to out do his own work. That is a rare quality I find in many people these days. We are both making features at the same time, Bart’s is a horror film called Vindication, which I am editing.

There is a metaphor Bart and I say, CROSSED and Vindication are our children, like brothers. Because we are good friends we know what each of us enjoy in making a film and we are more comfortable to share our ideas and thoughts about a project. I think that being comfortable is priceless when making these films. Bart has been a mentor to me, teaching me what he knows about film and storytelling. He took me under his wing for a bit and when it was time to finally make my first feature he has been the most supportive person I know. He still guides me today. We have so much fun together editing his feature Vindication. He gives me all of freedom to go wild with my editing and that means a lot to me. It shows how much he trusts me in the editing room handling his baby. And I like to think I educate him as well since he comes from the school of film and I am as a child of digital, so I like to think I keep him young (laughs). But there is no other person whom I have shared such a profound and meaningful friendship then with Bart. And if it wasn’t for Bart running his film club in high school I seriously don’t know where I would be right now. So I thank the world that I was able to meet Bart and that we both had the opportunity to inspire each other in going for our dreams

9.) Dave: When you were in school, you won consecutive Filmmaker of the Year awards. In your opinion, what did you think your films offered that the other entries lacked?

Stolis: I don’t think it came down to the other projects lacking anything because some of the other projects were truly amazing. But I think it was a combination of energy and creativity that earned me the title of Filmmaker of the Year. My very first short film was a horror film called Schools Out, I was a junior in high school, my father at this point knew I had been bit by the film bug and on Christmas bought me my first DV camera, so I started playing around with the camera, filming my dog Nugget around the house, annoying my mother while cooking, but I was searching for a story to tell. Soon I became eager to actually make a film with a story, I made it not for a completion but just because at that moment I wanted to make a film, I wanted to uncover the veil of what it was to actually make a film, to discover what a close up was, how o cover a scene for an edit, how to talk to actors.

Before I made Schools Out, I had read book and articles, watched the making of documentary on the DVDs for the movies I loved to see how they did it, I sometime argue that DVDs have become the new film school, you can listen to an commentary from filmmakers like Scorsese or Coppola and find out how they do it, so your learning from the best. So I learned a lot just from DVDs, but once I started filming, I just kept at it. I never stopped. I would stay late at night in school editing alone in a classroom. My teachers would call it the tower, because the Mac computer was in classroom all the way up on the third floor. No one would bother me up there. Whenever someone was looking for me they just respond, “Stolis is in the tower”. At one point I got locked in well after school was done. Instead of freaking out I saw it as more time to edit. But I think because when ever I go out to make a film; no matter if it’s a short or feature, I always carry the philosophy of making a film that I as an audience member would personally want to see. And the movies I want to see are pack with style and action and have strong stories. I let my imagination go wild. So I think my short films in school really translated to the audience because I set out to make a great movie filled with those things and people saw that.

I studied what made good movies good. I applied those aspects to my shorts, and I had such great guidance from Bart Mastronardi who never let me go astray. For me making the shorts in school was a learning ground because the best way to learn how to make a film is to GO OUT AND MAKE ONE! Grab the camera and shoot till your blue in the face. Don’t stop. Make as many mistakes as you can because you will learn more from them then your successes. And till this day I still will make mistakes. Mistakes don't have to be mistakes, everything is subjective - a mistake to one person is actually a piece of art to someone else. Hide behind that, tell everyone its art, you can get away with a lot. Your mistakes, your shortcomings suddenly become artistic expression. I always try and remember that because that thinking eliminates the fear. And once you lose the fear of failure then you're unstoppable.

10.) Dave: When is Crossed set to be released, what projects are you currently working on and what can we expect from you in the upcoming months?

Stolis: Right now we are in the last stages of Post-Production. I am currently tweaking the scenes for pacing now and doing last minute trims. After that, I am going to be working closely with my good friend and talented musician, William Archiello, who has been composing all my work since day one and has been doing great work on CROSSED. During the editing process William has been creating the themes and music cues, which gives me ideas and inspires me in the editing room and in many cases before I shoot certain scenes. I always have a blast working with William on music. Also I’ll be working on the sound design with Javier Rodriguez who will divide his time with promoting the film as well as producer. When just hired a very talented PR person Gloria Borriello who will help get the word out there for us.

Once the film is done, it’s off to festivals and to show the public our little baby we have been raising. Hopefully the public will enjoy our little action flick and have a wild ride with it. Besides CROSSED, I’ll be wrapping up my editing services on Bart Mastronardi feature film debut. VINDICATION, which is one of the most disturbing and imaginative films I have been a part of. Bart has such a creative and unique vision, and I hope the fans get a kick out of it. Vindication will be a breath of fresh air in the horror world. After all this, I have been developing a great comedy idea that I will use for my thesis film at my last year as a student at School of Visual Arts. After all the blood and gore, I wanted to shift gears from the heavy horrors/drama I have been apart of. I had so much fun making a short comedy DING DONG DATE last year that I have been craving to do another one for a while now. And the idea I have for it will be so much fun to do. So stay tuned for that. And who knows what is in store for the future. I just living it day by day and enjoying every moment of this wild ride. But the ultimate goal is to always be working in this industry for the rest of my life. To always be behind the camera directing. To be working with the best cast and crew nonstop. And to tell amazing fresh stories that I want to be told and will stand the test of time. And hopefully my films will inspire someone like me growing up, a little fat movie geek from Queens, New York, to discover his dream and become a filmmaker as well.

I want to thank Stolis Hadjicharalambous for allowing me a glimpse into the mind of a talented, up and coming filmmaker. A true student of the art, Stolis has already far exceeded the norm in his short time working in film. Be sure to keep an eye out for Crossed when it is released! For more information on this filmmaking whiz, visit his Myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/hilltopstudiosproductions and for more info on Crossed, visit http://www.myspace.com/crossedmovie.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

DVD Review: Funny Games (2007)

This 2007 remake of the 1998 thriller directed by Michael Haneke is a no-holds-barred view at modern society's fascination with violence. Just as the original, this version, also directed by Haneke, keeps you on edge throughout...as long as you haven't already seen the original, that is. As it turns out, this version is a near shot-for-shot redeux ala that crappy Psycho remake with Vince Vaughn a few years ago. But what stands out here are the performances, particularly those of Naomi Watts and the two menacing teenagers, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet. I mean, Julia Roberts commands how much money per picture? And she would never have been able to pull this performance off! Tim Roth is OK in the film, unless his character was supposed to be wimpy and flat, which in that case, he excelled.

The plot follows a well-to-do married couple and their young son heading off for a nice summer vacation at their vacation home on the lake. The lake community is rather remote, yet filled with tea-toddlers. As the couple opens up their summer abode, a fresh-faced young duo come a-calling. Always polite and seemingly wanting to help, the young duo kill with kindness...literally! As the family is taken hostage, the games begin, and no, they're not fun games. As the movie is a reflection of our love for violence, brilliantly, all of the violence happens off screen. Sound and the facial expressions of the actors tell you exactly what's going on and for the meek of heart, that's probably a good thing.

I thought Funny Games to be a good movie, although I admit, I didn't see the original, so I can't say that I would have liked it as much if I did. So, if you didn't see the original, then you should like the remake of Funny Games, but, you just may not like how the movie ends. I give Funny Games ***1/2 out of *****.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

DVD Review: The Mist

It's not a usual occurance that a Stephen King story is well represented on the screen. I mean, come on, Maximum Overdrive anyone? But, then again, some turn out pretty good, like Storm of the Century and The Shining. But perhaps none have been as eagerly anticipated as The Mist. I remember having a 3-D dramatization of the novella on audio cassette when I was younger and I was utterly enthralled with it, so I was excited to finally get to watch the film version, especially when it was directed by Frank Darabont, a King disciple to say the least.

I was pretty happy with how this film was made. The mist itself was ominous, the beasties were nasty and I really liked how the massive monsters were kept just out of sight in the dense mist. Once again, King allows us to realize just how fragile the human psyche is and how religious fervor can quickly get out of control in a tense situation. I thought the acting was pretty good, the cinematography well done and the effects effective. The scene with the small group making their way to the pharmacy was great!

While a horror movie at heart, the morale of The Mist makes it much larger in scope. The ending, as the cover says, is shocking and will probably leave many people upset, but hey, that's life. I give The Mist a clear **** out of *****.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

DVD Review: Cruel World

Well, if nothing else, they got the title right! Oh, what a cruel world it is that we have to have movies like Cruel World somehow make it onto DVD. Remember way back when Terminator 2 came out, how everyone was touting Edward Furlong as the next big thing in acting? Oh how the mighty have fallen! Eddie now hams it up on the direct-to-DVD circuit and let's face it, he makes Corbin Bernsen look like a top-notch thespian. Cruel World is based on an emotionally messed-up reject from a dating reality show ala The Bachelor. He in turn starts his own reality-based television show, where contestants start to drop like flies, including a cameo by Jaime Pressly. Does she really need this gig? Anyway, the movie sucks. The only thing I wish is that this do-or-die premise would be adapted in today's reality shows. Imagine two women battling to the death to win Flavor Flav's heart. YEAH BOIIIIII!!!!! Otherwise, Cruel World plays more like a cruel joke...on the viewer! 0 out of *****.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

DVD Review: Borderland

Inspired by true events, Borderland plays much like Hostel in Mexico. Having served in San Diego many moons ago, I can attest that warnings about about traveling into Mexico are unceasing. I even had a friend end up in jail there for three days, with a broken neck! So when I watched Borderland, I could truly believe that this was based on reality.

The film is about three Texas friends, about to go off to college, who venture across the border into Mexico for a night of munching shrooms and general rabble-rousing. Problems arise when one falls for a hooker, the other falls for a bar maid and the last one thinks he's invincible. Needless to say, these guys get caught up in some serious shitake!! You see, there's a cartel doing business that also happens to dabble in some Mexican voodoo, and it seems that they use the screams of terrified Americans to feed their god. So, when one of the friends stupidly accepts a ride from the most dangerous dudes in town, it's up to the other two, the bar maid and an ex-cop, who already had one run-in with the baddies, to try and save the kid.

For all intent and purposes Borderland was a good movie. It kept me interested and a little creeped out that this stuff really does happen in this goofy world. The Hollywood artistic freedom however, always seems to ruin it though. SPOILER ALERT -- In a compound of about fifty cultists, how come only about four or five come out to take on the three good guys? Does that make sense? Plus, the biggest baddie in the movie (the bald dude) gets taken out in a really weak way, nothing like the revenge you would have loved to see. But other than that, Borderland is pretty decent, at least better than a lot of the other After Dark Horrorfest films out there. It gets *** out of ***** chalupas.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

DVD Review: The Rage

From the mind of Robert Kurtzman comes The Rage. Oh man, where do I begin? This movie pretty much has it all - tons of gore, man-eating vultures, cannabalized children, a mutant gimp, Erin Brown (Misty Mundae) and even Reggie Bannister as...Uncle Ben! The plot follows the disaster that ensues after Dr. Viktor Vasilienko's (Andrew Divoff) secret experiments go awry. He has his own reasons for wanting to exact his revenge on the world, and I really don't blame him, but when the vultures got involved, this tale turned directly into Sci-Fi Channel Saturday night. However, this is one that will probably become an instant cult classic, or at least a great drinking game movie! Oh yeah, and how can a movie that features music from Midnight Syndicate be all that bad? The Rage gets ** out of *****.

DVD Review: April Fool's Day

The original 1986 version of April Fool's Day holds a special place in my heart. I don't know why, maybe because I was a year away from graduating high school and it resonated with me on some level, but I'll watch it whenever I happen to come across it on cable even still. That being said, when I saw that there was a remake in the works, I was at least a little interested...and concerned. This modern incarnation of April Fool's Day follows another group of young, sexy guys and gals except this time, they're rich debutantes instead of college co-eds. The story revolves around socialite Desiree Cartier and her habit of playing particularly nasty pranks on her friends(?). Unfortunately, during a posh party thrown for one of the Cartier's friends(?) a former friend(?) falls over a balcony and dies. A year passes and then, one by one, the core group of friends(again, ?) begin to get knocked off.

While I still have no idea why this group of people were friends in the first place, I have to say that I kind of liked this movie. Although it was a direct-to-DVD release, it was much better than the remakes that have recently disgraced the box office. While not exceptional, it was well made and well acted. Even though the movie wasn't scary in the least, or thrilling for that matter, I still wanted to see how the thing would play out, even though you sort of have an idea if you already saw the original. One of the best things about the movie, in fact, was the ending. I didn't see it coming, ha ha they got me! April Fool's Day pranks ***1/2 out of *****.

Monday, March 31, 2008

10 Questions for... Bart Mastronardi

When he's not teaching, the inimitable Bart Mastronardi can usually be found behind the camera on some of the most recognized independent horror films currently hitting the scene. From Alan Rowe Kelly's The Blood Shed to his upcoming masterpiece, Vindication, Bart's talent is evident in every scene. I was recently granted an interview with this up-and-coming multi-talent so without further ado, here is 10 Questions for…Bart Mastronardi!

1.) Dave: You have quite an impressive cinematographer's resume with numerous credits working on independent horror films to the Bravo TV Network. How did you get your start behind the camera?

Bart: Thank you Dave for giving me this opportunity. I really appreciate it.

To start, my dad always brought my brother and me to the movies when he was off from work: the Elmwood movie theater on Queens blvd. in Queens, NY was my favorite movie theater unfortunately, it is now some bingo hall/religious church. However, I grew up loving the movies: Jaws, Star Wars, Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter and James Whales’ Frankenstein are the major movies that influenced me. I grew up reading Fangoria magazine, more than I read my school books, I still collect Fangoria. I always did small theater shows with my friends and re-enacted scenes with my Star Wars figures, too as a kid. As I got older I worked and acted for the Spotlight Players Community Theater in Ozone Park as I was studying for my B.A. in Film Studies at Hunter College in NYC, but college was so boring to me I would always cut to go see a movie or explore the city (laughs). I then worked for an eye glass magazine; after I had enough of the cubicle farm job for a year, I put my head back on straight and became a teacher.

Teaching changed my life because it pointed me in all the right directions, plus I give share with students what I have learned. I teach English, film, photography and drama for HS students and I also teach at New York Film Academy. Along the way I taught a great bunch of students who wanted to be a part of this business too, so they worked hard and they are in their twenties now. They have gone on to become a part of the film business with me, which helps ease the nerves at times. We all work along side each other on different projects while working with other professionals. I studied with Horacio Marquinez a great DP and mentor. However, the best thing I did was I attended a whole summer at the Maine Film/Photographic Institute in Rockport, Maine where I studied with some of the best cinematographers in Hollywood: Michael Goi, ASC; Mark Raker; and Jaskus Laskus, ASC to name a few. Rockport was a far better education than my uneventful college years.

I also met director Alan Rowe Kelly who gave me my first break as a cinematographer on his movies The Blood Shed and Far Cry From Home. I have worked with Bravo TV for Shear Genius (NYC Casting), I shot a documentary for Vidal Sasson and Behind the Chair.com to help raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims and the list is endless. Now I shoot lots of independent horror movies with the best team of crew guys assembled, I just wrapped up my own first feature horror movie, Vindication, shot Stolis Hadjicharalambous’ action thriller Crossed and numerous shorts for Stolis, and I have appeared in Fangoria magazine issue 267 (laughs). I still pinch myself. I am very fortunate for what I have and there is more to come now that editing Vindication will be complete by this summer. Knowing I can continue to work as a filmmaker while teaching is what keeps me going. We all have to start somewhere but how we keep going is up to us.

2.) Dave: For those readers who don't understand what the art of cinematography is, can you explain what it is you do?

Bart: Simply look at life through your eyes and then change it up. Every movie I film is very different from the last one, so I have to go into each movie with a different frame of mind. Basically, a cinematographer (A.K.A. Director of Photography or DP) writes or paints with lights through particular lenses to set a visual mood for the story. You must train your eye to see light and re-shape it to reflect the image you desire. Look at great paintings like Rembrandt, watch great movies with brilliant cinematography, like Taxi Driver, Blade Runner or Half Nelson, even Robert Rodriguez’ El Mariachi is brilliant. Watch how light is playing in the movie. Look how light comes through a window or how a small candle in a dark room makes a huge statement.

Cinematographers use light to create a space, which molds the world of the movie visually. We set the mood to the story through the lighting and choice of lenses selected and our film stocks then put that all together and we get to play all day. Not a bad gig (laughs). It’s the best job to have on set next to the director. You do have to work along side the director to capture their vision and tell the story as visually as possible. Knowing when to move a camera or just hold still. You have to read the script, make notes and ask questions. It is not simply putting a camera on a tripod for no reason. There is an art to the craft. Cinematography helps the audience understand why the camera is doing what it is doing for the sake of the story without being to obtrusive to the audience. Making a movie is collaboration and with a great talented crew it worth everything. Let go of the ego; surrounding yourself with great, and yes, fun talent which makes the process much easier. With the crew we laugh all day while working hard.

Two great documentaries to watch are Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography and Cinematographer’s Style. These are the visual bibles of cinematography about movies and cinematographers. Also, I listed some of my personal favorite cinematography for horror movies: The Devil’s Rejects (Phil Parmet); The Universal classics of the 1930’s; John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing (both by Dean Cundy, ASC); The Exorcist (Owen Roizman, ASC); Seven (Darius Khondji, ASC); Friday the 13th VI-Jason Lives (Jon Kranhouse); and of course my personal favorite, the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Daniel Pearl, ASC).

Some of my great cinematographers: Ellen Kuras, ASC; Vittorio Storarro, ASC; Daniel Pearl, ASC; Rodrigo Prietro, ASC; Dion Beebe, ASC; Greg Toland, ASC, Matthew Libatique, ASC. Janus Kaminski, ASC. My list is endless as they are great craftspeople in capturing light. ASC stands for American Society of Cinematographers.

3.) Dave: Many films claim to hearken a return to "old school horror," but the cinematography in Alan Rowe Kelly's The Blood Shed (especially the shots from and around the property) invoke memories of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Did you try for that effect or is that just the way it turned out?

Bart: The Blood Shed is a combination of “effect” and “the way it turned out.” I am very much inspired by Daniel Pearl’s work on TCM, but I of course as a DP I really wanted to add my own look and style into The Blood Shed. When I read the script it had that Chainsaw feel to it and Alan had stated this before hand, too. But as I read the script I felt The Blood Shed has much more of a twisted sense of humor, almost like a crazy carnival, but TCM is a much more serious movie with hidden dark humor to it. As I photographed The Blood Shed I purposely created three distinct looks for it: using color temperature, certain lenses and of course the great acting, costumes and sets to work within. It is over the top and that is how I saw best to film it. One look for the camera was for the Bullion family, the camera was always handheld or on a steddie-pod. It was never really static. I put Dutch angles to it and used a very wide lens to distort character expressions so I could create certain moods at times. This was important in conveying who these characters are, crazy backwoods folks. The Bullion family’s lighting was always very warm in color temperature with a colorful palette and a soft look to it with lots of Christmas lights for the disturbing horror of what the family does.

The second look was the model agency, which to me was a grid-like structure always on tripod and very straight on like models on a photo shoot. I also put a touch of blue for coldness. The last section was the suburban neighbors which combined the other two looks when necessary. On The Blood Shed I needed to tell the story in the most visual distinctive way possible while using the budget we had for it, so the audience can feel what it is like to live within the world of The Blood Shed. When you watch Stolis’ Crossed it is filmed as an independent gritty action thriller, deeper colors, more of an objective point of view, which looks nothing like The Blood Shed. Crossed has a unique visceral style that accompanies the action of the story, and then there is my own work on Vindication, which has separate look from all the movies I have shot. Vindication is the point of view of its main character, which means the audience experiences only what Nicolas Bertram (the protagonist) experiences at the moment; it is very subjective in storytelling. Nicolas is in every scene because it is his story and his experience, just like the way we each live life. The cinematographer’s role basically is to ensure the movie’s visuals have a particular look and feel, which reflects the elements of the story.

4.) Dave: Your current project is the psychological horror film, Vindication. As the film's writer, director, producer, cinematographer and co-star, what was the most difficult process in the film's creation and how did you overcome it?

Bart: Vindication is a huge labor of love. The primary knowing is that the cast and crew make Vindication what it is because without them this horror movie is nothing more than all crazy ideas inside my head. It’s my first born child and the cast and crew is the surrogate family. Raising an actual child is much more difficult, but making a movie is never easy especially one on such a low budget. Yes, things do get tedious, but I am usually a person who never sees a problem, I’d rather look at things and say, “OK. Just deal with it and go for it.” I have a team of people who don’t bullshit me either. They tell me what I need to hear for the movie, not what I want to hear to stroke my ego. I trust them as they do me. Perhaps the most difficult process in the film’s creation has actually been just coordinating everyone’s schedules together. Scheduling is more cumbersome than anything else, or even worse having a location cancel at the last minute. The way to handle it is to go take a deep breathe and go to plan B, C, D, or E in case plan A falls. Money has also been a matter, but I would schedule the film shoot around my paycheck days, so I can spend more for Henry Borriello who does an amazing job with the makeup or get more breakaway glass. SAG was interesting because it is the actor’s union but that was just a lot of paper work for actor Patrick Cronen and Patrick delivers a fine performance. What always concerned me was feeding the cast and crew. They must be feed. I’m Italian so food is necessary (laughs).

Living upstate for a week with a cast and crew of six can be expensive, but so many people have given so much to Vindication that it has made the process of making this movie much easier. Rich Wenzel and his family gave me the cabin upstate for nothing, Alan Rowe Kelly and so many cast members opened up there homes to us. Stolis’ dad owns a deli, Hilltop Deli, in Long Island so he catered for us when I had huge cast and crew days. But my God I am blessed with Henry Borriello and his involvement with C W Post College for the use of their theaters and their lights. Now, Billy Archiello is doing an amazing score for the movie late May/early June, Javier Rodriguez is mixing my sound, Stolis is editing, Chris Otis plays a mean Time Keeper; and Dominic Sivilli is the best assistant I can have. Keith Fraser, the lead actor, god bless him, he is very dedicated and willing to go beyond the means of the movie. He has always been there since the short movie. Alan Rowe has introduced me to his company of talent: SAG actor Patrick Cronen, Jerry Murdock and ZoĆ« Daelman-Chlanda. Henry Borriello and C W Post introduced me the talented Jessie May Laumann and Talia Morrero; also Vindication’s talented costume designer Brittany R. Jones-Pugh. And Dom introduced me Miguel Lopez. I wish I could pay them all more than they get. I can name all of them, but the way I have overcome any problem is simple, if you haven’t already figured it out: I have surrounded myself with the most dedicated, generous and talented group of individual people who trust and believe in Vindication and my vision for it.

Kind of funny but Vindication is a horror movie, but it has been made with so much fun you never would guess it is horror movie when we are on set. You know 4,000 of our American troops were killed in Iraq, so for me there are much bigger problems in the world than making a movie like Vindication. During the filming of this movie I have seen parents and friends die, so if the key light isn’t working or someone is late just fix the issue and move on. Laughter is key to overcome many problems when making a movie!

5.) Dave: Can you give us a glimpse into what your writing process was like while you were writing Vindication?

Bart: Vindication writes itself, I am just the stenographer to the movie (laughs). Writing for me is a lot like method acting. From the setting, to the mood, to creating certain characters, Vindication tells me what to write. For example, Nicolas roommate, Michel, is an UN-stereo typical gay character, played genuinely by Miguel Lopez. I never set out to write a gay character, but Michel was there. I do research for the story by reading books, plays, essay, monologues; I also have tons of images from paintings, photography and commercial shoots, I dive into my own private life, and just looking at life in general. All of this helps me to understand the world I am writing about, thus creating Vindication.

With writing it is also the only time I have alone with these characters, so I have to be very intimate with them. Afterwards the actors get them, then production, and then Stolis (the editor) has his fair share, too. While I write I act out the scenes to listen to the characters playing off one another. Nicolas was difficult to write because Nicolas represents many people who feel alone or lost in the world, so there is this responsibility to ensure Nicolas is believable. Also, Nicolas never spoke much. His actions and visuals speak for him. The characters around him help guide him with their spoken words. I do get attached to my characters too. I remember writing Nicolas’ suicide attempt and it was very painful to write. I really felt bad for this kid. Here is a twenty-year old kid, lonely, guilty of so much who then strips down to bare himself; he has all these cuts on his naked body, he is a cutter, and then he grabs a razor while he gets into the tub. The hardest part was where it was leading up to. Why is that so hard to write? Because Nicolas is in such emotional pain and he truly believes if he escape the pain of life through death all will be better. However, personally, asking the actor, Keith, to go nude for the scene was a bit odd (laughs), but Keith is a total professional of an actor and he believed in who Nicolas represents; Keith trusted my direction, so Keith did the scene nude. I am in debt to him.

Now, I knew Nicolas was going to attempt suicide but I just can’t sit down and write that scene from beginning to end. It doesn’t work that way for me. It is a process. Scenes come to me and I write them down: napkins, pizza box, paper, in a coffee shop, at home, the shower is the best place oddly, and NYC subways, wherever. When I sit to write it in script form I have a dictionary, a thesaurus, and all the material that are inspiring to the story. I just write Vindication as it is told to me. Then I put the scenes together the way Vindication tells me to. It sounds crazy but writing Vindication, as hard as it is to write at times, was as truthful I have ever been as a filmmaker. If writing, visually or verbally, is the communication of ideas and expressing those ideas was very scary then all filmmakers must expose themselves in their work somehow; otherwise, the audience does not believe it. Vindication is a simple story: a young man dealing with who he really is in life, just within the horror genre.

6.)Dave: Along with Alan Rowe Kelly, Joshua Nelson and Stolis Hadjicharalambous, you were recently featured in Fangoria Magazine about independent filmmakers. How has your life changed since that fantastic article hit the newsstands?

Bart: I am still on cloud nine still after Fangoria issue 267 hit newsstands. I have been reading Fangoria since I was six years old and have every issue since 1987. To be a part of the Fangoria history is a dream come true. I remember the night I got the issue, it was at The Blood Shed premiere and all four of us were like kids in a candy shop. Joshua Nelson and I more so as we are the same age growing up with the magazine. My knees were shaking as I looked through the magazine. My friends and family were all there to share in that magazine, so I am very grateful and blessed for Alan Rowe Kelly and Michael Gingold for believing in my work. I can say the issue has solidified me as a filmmaker so it has helped me to talk to people who are like me trying to get a break in the film business. I get some recognition and work has stemmed out of it, so I am not complaining. But since I have been in Fangoria I now know I am responsible for working hard to deliver a great horror piece; not just simple blood and guts storytelling.

Vindication has been given a chance within the horror community, so the responsibility to deliver a movie that does more than just slice and dice characters for celluloid is important to me. It’s like the new Friday the 13th movie coming out in ’09. I know some people are moaning, but I will be first in line for this one. Jason is my favorite villain. Yes, Marcus Niespal and his team have a responsibility to make not just another Jason movie, but a great movie in general. Marcus is a great director so I am hoping this Jason will blow me out of the water. If not give me the money I know exactly what to do for a Jason story. Fangoria magazine has high expectations for filmmakers in the horror genre and just like audiences there are expectations when watching Vindication. If not Fangoria suffers and so does the genre. Look at the westerns, dead. Since Fangoria gave me a nod I now have to acknowledge back by ensuring Vindication is done right. So pressure is how Fangoria changed my life. Thanks Fangoria (laughs)!

7.) Dave: What sparks your creativity?

Bart: Oh, man, so many things spark my creativity. There is a great mystic from India his name is Pantajali, he lived around the third century B.C. and he talks about inspiration. Pantajali says when a person is inspired by some great purpose the mind begins to break boundaries and the consciousness expands and that person can then begin to discover he or she is a greater person than they ever dreamed themselves to be. So for me it may be a single image I see or a piece of music I hear that could start off my creative juices. I am very much inspired by life itself, even when tragedy is happening. When I am on a set I can start to see what the actors are bringing to the movie and it’s like the creative flow is racing through my system. The cast and crew laugh because I get all excited about what they are bringing to the project. Also, anything from a sunset, to museums, to sensuality, to even go whale watching off the coat of Long Island is all inspiring to me for creativity.

I love going to the theater, Off-Broadway has such talent, even photo galleries, just to see what the photographer is saying through visuals images. Dancers spark energy in me. They way they move and use dance to express themselves. It’s about the visual image; filmmakers have to be aware of it in the world around them; it is life that we are telling stories about. Now what I also feel helps me to continue to be creative is I love to physically work out and be try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but a great cheeseburger from Paul’s Burger Joint on 2nd Ave. and St. Mark’s Place is inspiring, too (laughs). Staying physically fit just keeps me fresh and wanting to do more. It’s sad when I see people so tired and sleepy and negative all the time. Like many people, I too have seen and experienced a lot of unfortunate happenings in my life; I buried my dad after a two year battle with brain cancer. After his death I understood I have no time to wait around for things to come my way. Life really is too short. I put myself out there to experience life, take risks, which helps me to be creative in my work. Plus, I am a lucky S.O.B. I live in NYC the greatest city for all creative energy!

8.) Dave: What projects are you currently working on and what can we expect from you in the upcoming months?

Bart: I am finishing up cinematography work on Stolis’ Crossed, which I have seen a rough cut of the movie and I am blown away by how it is coming out as an action thriller. Then Stolis, the crew and I are then filming his thesis film for SVA this fall. Alan Rowe Kelly and I are working on a new short titled Down the Drain for a trilogy series he has worked on with Anthony Sumner (By Her Hands.). This would be the final piece to an anthology movie: By Her Hands and Far Cry from Home are the other two pieces. We all get started this June on Down the Drain so it will nice be working with Alan and Anthony again.

Besides all of that I am currently with Vindication in post production as Stolis is editing, Billy Archiello begins scoring for the movie in late May/early June and I have already heard some of it. Billy is creating a dramatic piece of music which uses horror, drama, and all these other emotions to add to the mood of the movie. Javier Rodriguez is going to soon be working on sound and then it is off to final sound mix with Tom Burns, who does Alan Rowe Kelly’s movies. Needless to say I am a very happy filmmaker right now. After post I then promote Vindication into film festivals and other venues plus distribution. Besides teaching high school seniors, I’m also teaching at the New York Film Academy in NYC where I teach camera and lighting to film students, which I am very excited about. I get to spread the good word of filmmaking even more (laughs), but I enjoy just helping and teaching people about helping them to study their craft. I seriously have to put myself out in the film world because I enjoy the work. Your work and your work ethics will define you, so just keep setting up goals and making sure you accomplish them. As for my own next big project, I just want to ensure that Vindication gets out there to find its audience.

9.) Dave: With online streaming video becoming such a hot commodity, do you think that the future of independent cinema is going to be online-based and if so, how do you feel about that?

Bart: I just came home from watching Jaws and Back to the Future at the Zeigfeld movie theater in Manhattan. I can’t begin to explain how big the screen is and how amazing it is to watch a movie up on the big screen. It is an event. I am in awe by the theater for motion pictures. How the lights dim the theater, to the projector emitting this huge source of light that flickers onto the screen and at 24 frames per second (normal speed) these images move an audience. That is church for me.

I am also of the generation between the movie theater and the on-line streaming, so both are a great way for filmmakers to get their work out there. Just watch Jaws, Star Wars, or Friday the 13th on the big screen and you will know why I love movies. I am not a fan of people capturing fifteen minutes of fame or watching movies on screens the size of my palm, that is ridiculous, but this new type of venue is the where the film community is also heading, so I have become a part of this new process. That doesn’t mean my work should suffer. If anything this knowledge now forces me to realize I can now promote my own work easier and still show it to mass audiences, right from the comfort of my own home. With online streaming there is much more competition so the market will flood making it even harder for not only independent filmmakers, but Hollywood, too. The world is changing radically through technology so are the audiences. If independent filmmakers want to thrive then they must become a part of this process. There will always be venues to get our work out there: Film festivals, conventions, midnight screenings, your own web site, even setting up your own makeshift theater to promote your movie. Plain and simple, we have to learn how to play the business game. Right now, Hollywood and even the music industry is learning like many of us are. They may have more money, but that doesn’t mean they have better stories to tell. I think Francis Ford Coppola said when he was making Apocalypse Now the future of filmmaking will be strapped onto a kid’s back. He was so right. If anything on-line streaming is just another outlet for independent filmmakers to showcase their work, BUT the artist must still maintain artistic integrity when creating work for all venues, including on-line streaming.

10.) Dave: What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the independent film industry?

Bart: Michelangelo said of his beautiful statue of David that David has always been in the marble, “I just had to chip away at it to get to him.” Be open-minded towards all art forms. Responsibility for making better movies is vital! Persistence! Determination! Believability within Self! Art and vision is what you will bring to the project, but remember this is an entertainment business that thrives on dollars and cents. You need to understand contracts and financial needs so don’t short change yourself in that regard. Outside of the business aspect, filmmakers have so much great equipment out there to tell stories. Making a movie can be an expensive at times and can be a tedious process, but the great independent filmmaker John Cassavetes proved that making an independent movie is very accessible. NO EXCUSES!


There is no room in this business for lazy people, especially lazy filmmakers. Sorry, but the bottom line is get UP off your ass, get the equipment to go out and shoot something special. Be creative! Think outside the box. Know your resources to learn how to utilize them. The more you keep making movies and learning about the equipment – whether animation, documentaries, shorts, avant-garde, commercials, genre pictures or even feature films - the more you will see your work improve with the next project. If you need money to make a movie – get a job, save up, sell a screenplay, and then go out and make the movie. Trust me this business thrives on talk, so shut up and make your vision a reality. Filmmakers shouldn’t get caught up in the “should I shoot it on film or video?” nonsense! It’s like great painters arguing over water color or pastels. It is up to you. Just get started. If you do great work that is all they need to see. Build YOUR reel. Filmmaker’s go out to film! Start to capture life the way you see then let that light shine through the lens of your choice. Figure it out! All the answers are out there. There are over one-hundred ways to become involved creatively. Overall, you already know you are the catalysts for your own life; therefore you are responsible for how you live and how you film. Filmmaking isn’t an easy way of making a living, but when you are involved it is great feeling.

Who knows what the future holds, but as you have read this interview it is clearly obvious the people I have surrounded myself with have helped me to get to this point, it is impossible to do it alone, but without the persistence of believing in oneself then nothing would have happened. Being a filmmaker and my love for movies has changed my life and to a major extent it has also saved it. Aristotle in his book Poetics states, “Action defines character.” Well then dear reader, take action to define you as a filmmaker! Vindication was made with a simple thought in my mind, which now has transformed reality into action, “I too am a filmmaker.”

Bart’ Favorite Thirteen Horror Movies (or creepy ass movies)
(No order and it the list changes every week)
Friday the 13th pts: 1- 4, 6, Freddy VS. Jason are the best of the series
Halloween – John Carpenter
Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein
Nightmare on Elm Street: 1, 3 and New nightmare are the best.
Psycho – Hitchcock’s of course
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1975 ( re-make was well done)
Requiem for a Dream
Grindhouse by Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino
The Last Winter – Larry Fessenden
The Mist – Frank Darabont
Taxi Driver

Thank you so much, Dave, for this opportunity to share some words with other fellow filmmakers, especially the horror crowd. I encourage all filmmakers to please let me know what they are doing. Contact me for any comments or questions. I welcome it.

I want to thank Bart Mastronardi for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions and for his extreme patience in waiting for them! A teacher, a filmmaker and a great guy on top of that, Bart's star is just beginning to fully shine and I appreciate getting to interview him before his talent turns into a supernova. Be on the lookout for this fantastic filmmaker and be sure to check out Vindication when it becomes available in the fall of ’08, but go the movie’s myspace for further details, too: http://www.myspace.com/vindicationmovie
For more information on Bart, visit his myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/mastropieceproduction.

DVD Review: Deadly End

As Deadly End begins, I start wondering is it is too late to hit the eject button. But, I bravely sit through the poor sound and not-exactly-pristine video and eventually, I am rewarded with a movie that's not too bad. The story finds us following a young couple as they move into their new home in a suspiciously barren neighborhood. But not long after Bob and Wendy Peterson move in, their overbearing and off-kilter neighbor, Adrian Trumbull begins taking his "friendly" tendencies a little too far. What ensues is sometimes funny, sometimes gross and overall kind of nonsensicle. Deadly End features decent acting, with Nick Searcy giving a truly "gut-wrenching" performance. See the film and you'll know what I mean. Deadly End is a nice little film, but I don't think a lot of people will like it as it does push the limits. I, however, am not most people, and while I thought there were a few loose ends not tied up or never explained in the first place, I thought Deadly End was rather decent. Deadly End gets *** out of *****.

CD Review: Cheat the Devil by The Young Werewolves

Philadelphia is probably best known in the music world as the birthplace of rhythym and blues, but don't let that fool you, it's also home to some of the best horror rock around, and no, I'm not talking about Richie Sambora's solo album. The Young Werewolves return with "Cheat the Devil," an album full of clawing guitars, snarling vocals and as if that weren't enough, the 'wolves grabbed Sid Haig! The legendary horror actor lends his deep baritone for the intro to "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and he also gets an executive producer credit.

The CD starts off with the rollicking "Hollywood," a guitar-driven tune guaranteed to have you howling along with the chorus. Next up is "Mischief Night," and Shewolf Dana Kain sings this one like she'll just as soon stab you in the gut as soon as give you a wink. "Devil Dancer Girl" has the 'wolves showcasing their rockabilly tendencies and "Cheatin' the Devil" kicks it up a frenetic notch. I think I actually had flames coming out of my speakers when I cranked the latter tune up! Next up is "Run Away," one of the best overall songs on the album as far as lyrics and music are concerned, simply excellent. "Fire" starts like a slow burn and steadily heats up to an inferno of hellacious goodness! Following an ominous lead in by Mr. Haig, "Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde" slowly grows into a steady rocker. The eighth track, "Gala Monster Rally," is sure to be an instant Halloween party staple as it is purely groovy. "Satan's Daughter" finds the 'wolves back in their rockabilly groove with a little Reverand Horton Heat-esque attitude thrown in for good measure. "Touched by a Demon" and "Guns,Guns,Guns" are solid rockers and "Shapeshifter" has an instantly infectious groove that's primed for gyrating with your favorite wolf on the dance floor as everybody sings --"Everybody's howling, Everybody's howling in the moonlight!." The CD's final listed track is "Tattooed Aliens," and it's an enjoyable little ditty with some out-of-this-world guitar antics. There is a bonus track on the CD, and since it's not listed on the back of the disc, I'm not going to reveal it here. All I can say is it's a fitting song for these hungry 'wolves yet not a song I would have ever imagined them covering, but it just goes to show that when it comes to the Young Werewolves, they have plenty of suprises up their sleeves. Perhaps that's how they were able to Cheat the Devil!

The Young Werewolves are back! And they've brought with them a fantastic album full of diversity. From punk to rockabilly to pure rock-n-roll, the Young Werewolves show once again why they lead the horror rock pack in Philadelphia. Cheat the Devil is a hands-down winner - ****1/2 out of ***** aces!!

Monday, March 03, 2008

DVD Review: Catacombs

From the producers of Saw, we get the new DVD release, Catacombs. Featuring Alecia Moore (Pink) in a small role, the movie takes place in the underground catacombs of Paris, where all of the all-night parties are really happening. Except, it would seem as if the party-goers aren't the only ones having fun in the dark!

The plot follows Victoria (Shannyn Sossamon) as she heads to Paris to visit her fun-loving sister Carolyn (Pink). At the urging of her sister, Victoria finds herself at an underground all-night rave. The emotionally-unbalanced-to-begin-with Victoria is in for the time of her life, or death, whichever way you look at it. There is a twist thrown in at the end, a slightly overused one, but it does work well with this story.

The acting was actually pretty good as well as the direction. The film's look was rather grainy, but maybe that was their intention. The scenes in the catacombs were often very claustrophobic and well-shot. As pitch black as it was down there, the director did a good job of effectively using the light sources the characters had.

I thought Catacombs was a decent little movie overall. There were some loose ends that were never tied unfortunately, but that didn't stop the movie from being unwatchable. Catacombs gets *** out of *****.