Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Four Decades...

So I went to the weight loss boot camp and actually gained weight, a hornet stung me on the elbow and it swelled up, my computer has been slowly wheezing and dying and my brakes went out, and the dash went dead in my daughter's car, and speaking of her I went to watch her cross-country meet last evening and she went into the trees destined to finish strong and after a long while came out being carried by her coach, having slipped and severely twisted her ankle, and I woke up this morning and damn but I'm forty years old.

I drove to work and just surfed the radio channels. Bob and Tom are still on and sound the same as they did when I was a kid, how old are those dudes now? They came to a big outdoor frat party at Ball State years ago when I was either still in high school or maybe first in college and too young to do more than sort of peek around the place and they were more or less starting out after camping on an outdoor billboard to get the morning FM radio job and I was just starting out learning my job by shooting Super-8 and by learning how to type instead of write longhand. I hear Loverboy and I think about my brother and I taking long summer trips in the back of my dad's Econoline van and playing that tape over and over on our little cassette player. I hear The Police and I remember my high school sweetheart giving me "Synchronicity" for my record player. It was the first album somebody gave me. A friend named Todd had given me "King Tut" on 45 because he had two copies. At home I played that and my mom's 45s like "Come and Go With Me." Later I bought for myself "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Jimi Hendryx Smash Hits" from a rummage sale across the street. My first 8 track was "Styx Crystal Ball" but I played "Wings Greatest Hits" and The Fifth Dimension and Carole King's "Tapestry" until they wore out. "Boys of Summer" plays and I remember when I met my wife on a blind date. I was wearing a Western-style shirt with bone buttons and the army coat from the Vietnam vet next door. Within ten months we were married. "Thunder Island," of all things, plays and I remember a skinny girl with straight blond hair I used to have a crush on that lived around the corner growing up. Then played "You Sexy Thing" and I remembered being a kid and going to a dance at the elementary school where my dad taught and hearing this song and "Black Betty" back to back, and thinking I was at the coolest party ever. A lot of memories crowd in so I finally pop in Michael Buble to chill out. Michael Buble! The balder, fatter me looks down that long dusty hallway to the shaggy-haired, skinnier me in that Who t-shirt and shrugs. Time marches on.

On my 34th birthday I decided I would spend one year trying to break into freelancing. It was also the year 2000, kind of an apocalyptic vibe. So that year I did okay and decided I would try one more year. And every year I stop on my birthday and evaluate if I am going to keep on. I know that sounds arbitrary but it works for me. Now six years have gone by and I have a lot to think about this year. I think I have worked on around fifteen projects in the last six years. Five or six now can be seen on festival screens or at the video stores or on cable TV. Not a bad batting average, all told. Some personal setbacks as well as a positive job change over the last twelve months caused me to be in somewhat of a self-imposed exile at times from freelancing in 2005. Despite that SEX MACHINE and THE DA VINCI CURSE came out this last year and have done pretty well, and I'm proud of my parts in both. Since Microcinema Fest I have had a bit of a recharge, and suddenly have some new projects on the horizon which are very promising and will hopefully be revealed here in the near future. I still have some thinking about where I have been and where I am going that might take longer than just this one day; but I will keep on cooking and see what happens. As I tell my daughter during basketball season, you miss all of the shots you don't take.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tombstone Head and Graveyard Mind

Me chilling out in an old, old graveyard in Salem, Massachusetts. Directly behind me is the memorial for those killed in the Witch Trials. Not fun at night. Believe me, I came back and regretted it. The next time somebody wants to interview me for a b-movie mag I'm sending them this photo of me. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Microcinema Fest 2006: Saturday Screenings

Saturday afternoon rang in with the first of Canadian director Carey Lewis' shorts, THE SPLIT. Lewis bowled the crowd over with last year's Best of Fest STREETS OF WONDERLAND, a powerful drama about junkies at Niagara Falls preying on tourists, and one addict's struggle to break free. THE SPLIT was, surprisingly, a jokey, edgy crime short about two thick-headed low-grade crooks set up to take a fall. Equally surprising was the more loose approach taken to the production, a little rougher around the edges than STREETS. But quite funny throughout, with a running gag built around a trip to the bathroom a highlight.

Next was EL REPORTE from Puerto Rico and director David Saldana. I think some of the Fest's younger hipsters did not connect with this easygoing if a shade overlong tale of a young business exec's sidetrack-filled trip across the island for a business meeting, and the lessons about cherishing life that he learns along the way. But this story warmed my aging heart, and I could overlook some soft editing and a few gaps in production value. Engaging performances also helped. Nice to see more micro from the non-English-speaking world.

Bill Kersey's PERMIAN FLOW screened 'barnside' last year, and it was generally agreed should have been in the Fest. Kersey makes thoughtful short nonfiction works with nice shooting and editing, and this was a solid addition to his body of work.

PAPER DUE, from director Daniel Vendt, was really designed to be a showcase for his interest in musical composition, and succeeded on that front; but otherwise was just a clever little sketch about a college kid who forgets to bring a paper to class.

The afternoon closed out with TRANSFORMERS, another funny outing from director Carey Lewis about the same pair of knuckle-headed crooks and their attempt to blackmail a rich guy, with surprising results. A little funnier and sharper-looking than the first short about these characters, and worth seeing more of.

After dinner, the Dastoli Brothers returned with one of their more lo-fi productions, a gangster adaptation of a Shakespeare classic called GANGSTER MOVIE. It's nice to see the brothers showing some skills on the acting/scripting side as well.

Ryan Graham took on the zombie genre next with LIVELIHOOD, about a different kind of zombie plague; where the zombies simply try to return to normal society, and face a variety of problems and prejudices. A wide-ranging social satire with a steady stream of laughs, though carries on just a shade too long. This one features another performance from Scott Graham, the director's brother and--as I said in my OCULUS review--an actor I think is a rising talent in microcinema.

THE FATHER, UNBLINKING by Ziggy Attias was a very beautifully shot, though I felt a bit emotionally distant, short about a taciturn farmer who finds his young daughter has died rather suddenly.

THE UNITED STATES OF NOOO! was a very loose-limbed, tongue-in-cheek documentary from Jay Bauman and Mike Stoklasa, riffing on that ill-fated pop culture moment in the new "Star Wars" trilogy when Darth Vader is born. Stoklasa narrates the proceedings in a likeably easygoing, self-referential way. At times there seems to be a bit of mock in this doc, but an older Russian woman who slowly edges away from Stoklasa when he imitates the birth of Vader is too priceless not to be real. I think personally that this short got the biggest laughs of the Fest.

The Fest closed with Christopher Sharpe's SEX MACHINE, of which much has been written about on this blog. Rather than offering my slanted review, I will quote from the Q&A afterward, with me taking questions from the crowd. A guy in the back raises his hand:

Q: How much was the movie made for?

A: I think about $8,000.

(Murmur of surprise)

A: And they paid me $6,000 of that, so--

(Ripple of laughter)

Q: So they actually made it for $2,000?

(Crickets chirping)

A: No, that was a joke, but see me after, you and I could work together!

And that was the end of Microcinema Fest 2006! Until next time, give me a shout at

Saturday, August 26, 2006

MIcrocinema Fest 2006: Friday, Part II

Back from dinner, and on to the short that landed several prizes in Palatine including Best of Fest: OCULUS, which I reviewed some time ago at Microcinema Scene right here. I was standing backstage shivering and one of the guys asked if I was cold. I answered, "No, this thing STILL scares the shit out of me!" Go read the review.

Next was a new one from the Dastoli Brothers, a pair of technical wizards who have been regulars in the Fest since their high school days just a few short years ago. SOUTHWESTERN ORANGE COUNTY VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS was another loony FX-laden eye candy short, and though it was visually astounding not as cohesive as some of their other work. Still, much respect for what these young auteurs have done over their brief careers.

Then camed the much talked-about DESPERATION, from director Jon Clark. This pegged a number of awards at the fest, though it made everyone's skin crawl. A young woman is trapped in a car wreck with her leg pinned, and is misfortunate enough to be found by two budding serial killers out for an evening of fun. Heavy sledding at times, but nice work from the three leads, and crisp storytelling work from Clark, kept everyone in their seats.

Next was a one-joke horror short called AND THEN THERE WERE NONE that was cleverly executed over its short four-minute running time, a palate cleanser after DESPERATION.

Back came the intensity with Sean Gormley's BLACKOUT, about a drug-fueled psychologist whose excesses become his undoing. This one picked up best photography for S. Tyler Wilson, an extremely talented young auteur whose directorial work--including ABOMINATION and TOMORROW'S LULLABY, two of my favorite micro shorts--has nabbed many kudos in the last two Fests.

Wrapping up the evening was STUMP THE BAND, a tongue-in-cheek b-movie about an all-girl punk group who run afoul of a bunch of backwoods crazies, including a guy called "Coach" who collects human feet. Pretty much hits all the genre beats from skinny-dipping to spatter to a monstrous man-child who, curiously, acts like a dog. Director Bill Holmes packed the seats with an appreciative local crowd to send this night home.

Next time, even more reviews; 'til then, give me a shout at

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Microcinema Fest 2006: Friday Screenings

I MC'd this day at the Fest, and it was a good day to be introducing work, though some of them I had to watch backwards through the rear projection.

First up was LIVE ON TAPE DELAY, a sketch comedy show that played "barnside" last year and was about the funniest thing in the entire Fest, including things that were actually being shown. This year this wild show got its proper respect as part of the proceedings.

Next, Rewind veteran Jason Santo was given his due with a half-hour slot to play what he wanted, which he used to show the raunchy comedy APHRODISIAC. Santo is more well-known for his heavy drama, and I think though the raw humor sat a bit uneasily on his shoulders there was fun to be had throughout.

Then Palatine's own Marc Muszynski showed TOUGH LOVE, a noirish spy thriller that was stylishly done, but somewhat hindered by the fact that the two leads, both veteran spies and assassins, did not look old enough to order martinis (shaken, not stirred). Unfortunately this is a common problem to microcinema and rears its head again here, despite good production values.

MY IMAGINARY FRIEND LARS STEVENS from director Brian Amyot (who brought us DOUBLE DIP) was another caustic, oddball short about a guy with an imaginary friend who might not be so imaginary after all.

My pal Gary Lumpp screened THE ROAD TO next, a brief noir short with a lot of twists and turns packed into five minutes. Although not as polished as some entries, the storytelling caught the audience's attention.

Director BRIAN MCQUERY was up next with VACANT, a hard-nosed cop drama told in an energetic fashion. Interesting for its nonlinear storytelling, but the storyline felt as if it needed to expand past its roughly twenty-minute running time. We will see if McQuery grows this into a feature; it would be worth seeing.

After a break, we saw PAT GETS A CAT from director Adam Bertocci, about a lonely guy who adopts a cat, and begins imagining that it is a young woman. Some found it to be sweet, others a bit kinky, depending on one's mindset. A lot of talk about the subtext of this one at dinner later.

From New Zealand came FUTILE ATTRACTION, a winning comedy about two mismatched singles who are forced together on a reality show. A bit overlong, and hammers the same points a few times, but really nice performances from the whole cast made it enjoyable.

All that before dinner! Next time, the scariest movie I've seen in a long time. 'til then, give me a shout at

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Microcinema Fest 2006: Thursday Screenings

Here are my from-the-hip reviews of the Opening Night of Microcinema Fest 2006. Some of these will probably turn into full-length reviews on Microcinema Scene at some point.

The Fest kicked off with Matt Meindl's GO BAREFOOT. I think last year everybody realized that this University of Toledo filmmaker was a unique talent, so it was good to see him in the pole position at this screening. This one is another story that embraces childhood indulgences and pairs it with sophisticated storytelling. I hope he sold every DVD he had with him, his stuff needs to get out there.

Next was the rawboned comedy THE B-TEAM from the usual gang of suspects at the University of Illinois Carbondale, which seems to have a good thing going there in the media department. Like some past work from this school, it was a "throw every joke out there and see what sticks" parody, this time of "The A-Team." Some hits and misses, and loses points for naming the villian "Dalton" instead of the hero, but really nice production values and superior FX with enough laughs to carry the day.

Kaleo Quenzer's AD MAN was essentially a goofy monologue about a hapless soul who wants to go into advertising but really has no concept of how to do it. Essentially a one-joke premise, and your enjoyment of the performance and the story's central conceit will determine your mileage on this one. I enjoyed it.

Fest coordinator Steve Coulter screened FATE TWISTED SIMPLY, which I saw a preview of last year. Considering that Steve is (I believe) just a senior at the University of Iowa this is a surprisingly resonant tale of father/son relationships, with a nicely understated performance by Steve's own dad in the lead. Some of the production values were a bit more raggedy than much of the other work from this group of Palatine filmmakers, but FATE features one of my favorite scenes in all of microcinema: a crisply-edited, joyously-performed dance sequence that springs up out of a chatty party scene.

After intermission we came back to Shogo's EXILE, his third short in as many years at MCF. Shogo DP'd a project I worked on screening later in the fest, SEX MACHINE, so I'm a little biased here, but even before "SM" was a reality I admired his deadeye shooting. Although the storytelling wasn't as strong as in last year's CLOUD SYMPHONY, his videography is as good as it gets, in my opinion.

People were rolling on the floor during DOUBLE DIP: OR HOW FOUR DISCS OF PEARL HARBOR RUINED MY LIFE, a raw, raunchy short about a dude whose life falls apart when he gets hooked on the Special Edition of "Pearl Harbor." Great ideas and performances made this one of my favorite comedies in the Fest.

The night ended with the crime drama JIGSAW by Scott Staven, a thematically complex, nonlinear story with some strong performances. The story seems to be going every which way until the end, when it ties up more tightly than you might have imagined. It is a moody thriller that demands your attention, and a lot of its details were discussed (or explained) after its screening. This is one I would like to watch again to see how it all hangs together.

And that was Thursday. Next time, more micro.

Until then, give me a shout at

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Microcinema Fest: Wednesday and Thursday

My brother Eric and I rolled into Palatine late Wednesday in time to catch the traditional "barnside" screenings held during Microcinema Fest. Once this was held on the side of an actual barn on the Linn Brothers ranch in the wilds of South Dakota. Now it is set up on a nice screen in Mike Noens' roomy backyard. Filmmakers can screen things that are works in progress or otherwise not in the festival, or submissions that didn't make it are nabbed out of the big cardboard box and shown to the multitudes.

For the first time I showed two things--one, the promotional short film I worked on last year, "Postcards from Farmland," and the second "B-movie Man," the sardonic documentary short about my b-movie career cooked up by a couple of students at Ball State University, my alma mater. Both played nicely enough. We saw a nice mix of work before the rains came and cut things a bit short. Interestingly, two shorts screened barnside last year--"Live on Tape Delay" and "Permian Flow"--were both in the Fest this year.

That night we continued another more personal tradition--Game Night. This time filmmaker Jon Solita brought the board game "Puerto Rico," which he, Jay Neander, my brother, and I played late into the night. Jon would be crowned King of Puerto Rico, and all retired with visions of flickering screens dancing in our heads.

The next day dawned with more traditions; the Filmmmakers Breakfast, workshops, and then Laser Quest.

I did not get there in time Wednesday for the Roundtable, but on Thursday Jon Solita and Jay Neander led a well-informed HD workshop. I had just gotten into shooting HD before I left my last job and still had a lot to learn myself. I think some of the older guys realized that the tech was starting to move more rapidly, and equalizing the playing field quite a bit. In fact I saw a marked improvement in production value at this year's Fest than I had seen in previous ones.

After the workshop it was back to LQ. Wally Fong, a former Laser Quest employee who deals death with every flick of his blood-thirsty gun, had the misfortune of being born in the peaceable kingdom of Canada; but once a year, he joins his saber-rattling North American friends to the South and gets out a whole year of agression.

Much blood was spilled, but we all arrived more or less intact for the Fest kickoff. Next time: my capsule reviews of the films at the Fest.

Until then, give me a shout at

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Day Which Will Live In Infamy

I had dreamed about Billy's Pancake House since last year, but for some it turned into waking nightmare. Last year my bet that nobody could finish a Meat Skillet left many broken men in its wake (including myself). But upping the ante to a pitcher of beer led Jason Santo to be the first person in Palatine's recorded history to finish one. Note Jeff from Cutting Hall looking on in shock and awe as Jason asks for some of his wife's pancakes. The greatness of this accomplishment was only slightly tarnished when Jason revealed later that he used his ulcer to access additional space in his body cavity. Posted by Picasa

More Coffee, Please

Another shot of the Filmmaker's Breakfast on this historic morning. Later filmmaker Brian McQuery would also down one, leaving some to speculate as to whether the plutonium-heavy contents of said Skillet had changed in the last twelve months. And with the signs of apocalypse upon us, I retired this bet for well and true, as two honorable, strong-hearted Americans passed into Palatine history. Quoth Jason later, "I did it first, bitch." Posted by Picasa

Three Micro-teers

Now this was a long time coming. The three original writers for Microcinema Scene, Jason Santo, me, and Gary M. Lumpp, had never been in a room together, despite working on the site for the last three years. Perhaps there was a good reason after all. That sweat is because I came right from a LaserQuest whipping to the Opening Night. I coulda used some Right Guard. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Your Micro-Fu is Strong...

Return of the Five Deadly Venoms! I first met up with these hard-drinking, hard-shooting fest-goers three years ago in Rapid City; and they have only gotten better at both since. Me, Jon, Wally, Jeremy, Jay. Posted by Picasa

The Eighth Deadly Venom

Way at the end is Jon Clark, who followed Miguel Coyula and S. Tyler Wilson as honorary inductees into the Five Deadly Venoms, with his friendly Fest demeanor and his representin' skills on the screen. It didn't hurt that he also bought us some beer. However, I would never turn my back on this dude, as pictured by the other Venoms here, because his feature "Desperation"--about a woman trapped in a car being tormented by two teens--gave me the stone creeps. Posted by Picasa


Matt Meindl has a wholly unique filmmaking vision and has been earning much respect in the micro scene. Here he proves a renaissance man by playing his banjo outside of Cutting Hall. Posted by Picasa

Final Credits

Here I am with Masami Yano, "Sex Machine" DP Shogo's girlfriend, post-screening of the feature that closed out Microcinema Fest 2006. I was going to wear my "Sex Machine" shirt too but was afraid of causing a riot. Posted by Picasa

The Curtain Comes Down

My brother and I in the waning seconds of another Fest. What a great year. I'm already looking forward to my next trip to Palatine, where the sun always shines and the filmmakers are always welcome. Posted by Picasa

The King of Puerto Rico

On the first night of Microcinema Fest 2006 we continued our tradition of playing board games. This time Jon Solita brought "Puerto Rico," which we played on into the night. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Canadian Thunder

Calgary's Favorite Son Wally Fong shows how to kick people's ass in LaserQuest, another MCF tradition. And he wasn't all talk; playing alongside Wally was like parachuting into the caves of Tora Bora. When Wally went into the maze, the U.S. threat alert went to Orange. Posted by Picasa

Pimpin' MCF 06

Microcinema Scene founder Jason Santo checks out a MCF poster on the door of our favorite eatery, Billy's Pancake House. Posted by Picasa

HD 4 Life

Jon Solita and Jay Neander showed their mad skillz at an HD workshop at Durty Nellie's. Here, Jon Solita tries to make Jason Santo give back the camera, which Santo is holding onto with a deadly grip. Posted by Picasa

HD #2

Jon Solita tapes Wally Fong for a demo at the HD workshop during Microcinema Fest 2006. Posted by Picasa

Skillet Warz #1

Brian McQuery and Jason Santo talk in the ultra-hip lobby of the Hotel Indigo, a slight step up from the methadone clinic ambience of last year's hotel spot. Little did these two titans know they would later face off against the legendary Meat Skillet at Billy's Pancake House, and both emerge victorious. Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Sun Never Sets on Palatine

Back from Microcinema Fest 2006 and ready to go sleepy-bye. Full news and reviews later on. 'til then, you can catch a picture of me and SEX MACHINE D.P. Shogo's girlfriend post-screening at Christopher Sharpe's site, here.

More later; but you can catch me at

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

On The Road Again

I'll be at Microcinema Fest the rest of the week to eyeball the screening of SEX MACHINE firsthand, closing out the Fest Saturday night. If you are in the Windy City, give me a holler.

You can get pretty good, but not entirely sober, updates on this year's Fest from my pal Wally Fong here.

You can get a recap of what I thought of last year's fest here.

More later; until then, catch me at

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Net, A Net

Some wise, wonderful scribes at The Horror Blog think the Polonia Brothers should be selected for the next "Masters of Horror" series, here. Link snitched from the PoBros Fan Club site, natch.

You know what the number one question that I get asked on this blog is? "What are the Polonia Brothers like?" When I was in Wellsboro a week ago, sitting on John Polonia's porch across the street from the graveyard on a dark night (not making this part up) I told John and Mark this, and they fell into a surprised silence. I felt like saying, "It's called the Internet, guys, get on it once in a while," but they just don't think that way. All they think about is how much they love movies.

So when I was in Salem, Massachusetts I got plenty spooked. But I got some good ideas for stories, including one I wanted to call Witch Finder General. But John P. casually told me that no, that had been used when the Vincent Price flick "The Conqueror Worm" was retitled. And sure enough, when I got home I checked it on IMDB and he was spot-on. He knows movies, as the massive wall of VHS and DVD horror movies in his house will attest, a fanboy dream and a Blockbuster rep's nightmare.

One time Mark P. told me that when he first saw his wife, he knew he would marry her; and when he first saw a movie, he knew he would make them. How many of us can say our own lives have followed such sure-footed paths?

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I Am My Own Evil Twin

The scariest thing that happened to me in Salem was not seeing the glowing orbs a wide-eyed young woman photographed with her digital camera at one of the many haunted houses, though that was scary and I don't like to dwell on it much, but it was finding a certain book in the little shelf of tradeable books found at our inn, just like at many inns and B&Bs all across this great land.

This book was Heaven Lake by John Dalton, and once again I was reminded that I was his shadow, his Frankenstein's Monster, the Bizarro John Dalton.

Longtime readers recall that I once spent a wedding anniversary in a cabin in the woods that ended with me running through the trees to an inn to call an ambulance for my wife in the middle of the night; that the young doctor on call at that rural hospital later revealed that it was the first life or death surgery that he ever had; that in a daze I opened "Story" magazine and saw my own name looking up at me, in a strange disconnect. And the other John Dalton has haunted me since.

The other John Dalton watches the dappled sunset in North Carolina with the other members of the state's emerging literary scene, the other John Dalton got fine writing degrees from the ivied halls of higher learning and publishes in all the best literary magazines. Somewhere I fear he has a painting of me, his own Dorian Gray that shows Hellshock in the place of Heaven Lake, that shows a blistered midwestern cornfield in place of the soft rolling hills of the South, that shows critics howling for his death on b-movie message boards instead of gentle literary criticism in the finer magazines.

I fear to read it, but find I must; I will report back later, gentle reader.

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