We figured that these two films were so short, Judge Kerry Birmingham couldn't find anything to complain about. We were wrong.
"I swim in your gash-volcano/Boiled into oblivion/Barbecued in your love"
It's often said that creators in any medium, should they want to get noticed in their hopeful field, need to do one thing above all else with their work, and that is to get it seen by as many people as possible by any means necessary. In that guerilla spirit of independent filmmaking comes this no-frills DVD showcasing the work of writer-director James Mirarchi.
"Beer and Art" (2000) is the story of two co-workers, timid, paranoid Sylvia (Radha Lorca) and her new friend, Arlene (Kerry Gudjohnsen) as Arlene attempts to break through Sylvia's distrust by getting her to share her poetry. When Arlene is less than kind, "Violence ensues!" (as the back cover of the DVD cheerfully points out). 2002's "Cave People" is somehow stranger, as white trash exhibitionist Tammy (Gudjohnsen again, apparently the Patty Hearst to Mirarchi's John Waters) and her depressed, gay brother, Josh (Matthew Gardner) play sexual mind games with each other as Tammy brings home a parade of lovers to taunt her brother. Things change, however, when Josh makes friends with the girl next door, Gina (Caridad Francisca), who just happens to be a witch with the power to make all of Josh's dreams come true.
Both of these movies are terrible. Neither film is particularly funny (the poetry quoted above not withstanding), nor are either of them well made. Shot on what is apparently home video with broad scripts made broader by hammy, amateurish acting, there's not much here to interest any viewer beyond independent film buffs and those with unflappably campy sensibilities. Obviously a pair of short movies with a sadistic poetry teacher and a magically-induced blowjob played for laughs aren't expected to have the production values of Bridge on the River Kwai, but general levels of competency are virtually unrecognizable here; both pieces have the basic quality of a student film (which they likely were). There's an admirable spirit of DIY pluck to these movies, though that's little consolation in the face of poor acting, dubious dialogue, flat humor, and what's clearly on-the-fly location shooting. It would have been nice to be able to applaud Mirarchi for anything other than his willingness to put his work out there (IMDb lists these as his only credits), but the fact is the strength of the material is simply not there, and ascribing it to an intentionally winking cheesiness doesn't really cover up the fact that these films, well, suck. (For those of you used to the more formal framework of DVD Verdict's longer review format, that means "Guilty," by the way). As an exercise in getting no-budget films out there, it's a success; as a calling card, it's an embarrassment to all involved.
[Editor's Note: After posting Kerry's review, we were approached by writer-director James Mirarchi who took offense to the critique. It is our policy to offer filmmakers a chance to rebutt the review. As such, here is Mr. Mirarchi's unedited response.]
While every critic has the right to embrace or reject a film, I think it should always be done in the most constructive way possible. Mr. Birmingham, however, has denounced my films in a gratuitously close-minded and obnoxious manner. Also, there's some troubling ambivalence in his review, which further takes away from his credibility. The following are a few quotes which exemplify his mainstream and technical snobbery:
1. "Shot on what is apparently home video with broad scripts made broader by hammy, amateurish acting, there's not much here to interest any viewer beyond independent film buffs and those with unflappably campy sensibilities." This is a backhanded insult that reveals the reviewer's conservative mindset and contempt for the tastes of certain niche audiences—even broad ones.
2. "As an exercise in getting no-budget films out there, it's a success; as a calling card, it's an embarrassment to all involved." Again, a backhanded insult; this time, he assumes my films are "calling cards," which they are not. I never even proclaimed they were—they were always meant for a specialized audience. Mr. Birmingham is being presumptious—and banefully projecting his commercial standards (and aspirations) onto me.
In his short, clueless review, Mr. Birmingham takes GLIB pot shots at my films (deliberately unpretentious) "production values" and, what he calls, their lack of "competency." He does not, however, elaborate AT ALL about the foundations of the films: the stories and the characters. He just barely summarizes what they are about, and says they "suck." No analysis at all. Toward the end of the review, he repeats himself about the "poor acting," "student film quality," etc. This is filler to pad out an already short critique because Mr. Birmingham doesn't really understand the films and, therefore, doesn't know what to say about them, but state the OBVIOUS: Yikes! They were shot on video! Yikes! They are camp, so they must lack substance! Hopefully, most people will see through his articulate (though not intelligent) review.
Thank you all for hearing me out!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Other Reviews You Might Enjoy
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2008 Kerry Birmingham; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.