Get the snare drum ready as first-time filmmaker Mark K. Sullivan offers up a reasonable rimshot of a short film. Well, at least Judge Bill Gibron chuckled.
Short film…or illustrated joke? You be the judge.
Poor George Hackett. He is plagued by a recurring dream that is driving him crazy. It involves a phone call, a briefcase, and an eight-hour round-trip car ride to Cleveland and back. Problem is, after all his imaginary driving, George is absolutely exhausted when he wakes up in the morning. His psychiatrist is no help. He can barely remember the dream, let alone cure him. When circumstances force George to find another shrink, he ends up in the office of Dr. Krull. Oddly enough, this therapist has an answer for him, and soon, George feels like a million bucks. When our recently-cured character runs into a friend with a similar problem, he decides to offer the same sage advice. The results, however, may not be exactly as George envisioned.
Based on the famous short story by Lawrence Block (author of many crime novels and thrillers) and created by first-time filmmaker Mark K. Sullivan, Cleveland in My Dreams is a genial little diversion that shows some slight cinematic promise and a lot of literary legerdemain. While it comes off like an overlong joke (the twist ending is nothing more than an overblown punchline, down to the delivery) and contains more than a few narrative miscues, the results are still enjoyable and engaging. Sullivan understands the finer points of pacing and performance, and never seems to have his camera out of place. Some of the actors amble over into amateur status once in a while (lead Rodney Lewis is perhaps the worst offender of all), and the shot selection can be a little point-and-shoot with dialogue-driven editing. Still, the level of energy here is high, and the attention to dramatic and comedic detail is exceptional.
However, this all feels like much ado about nothing. The Block basis is fine, but flimsy. Even this short story probably couldn't have made a convincing mini-movie. It is too light, too one note, never offering us anything other than the mechanics of the jocular setup to get us interested. Certainly we want to see how this all pans out, but we really never care for George or his lonely life. It seems like an illustrated anecdote, the kind that stand-up comics championed in the '40s and '50s. Sullivan's inability to bring depth or a real sense of emotion to the piece is obvious. As a first-time filmmaker, he is too busy with the surface to dig down beneath it. Perhaps with some better actors, or another 10 minutes of outright character development, Cleveland in My Dreams would be something more than just a delightful digital resume. As it stands, this film is entertaining but empty.
Offered by Spark Digital Media in a 1.33:1 full-frame transfer, the visual element of Cleveland in My Dreams is pretty good. There is nothing aesthetically amazing here, and the imagery will not fire up your imagination, but it is professionally accomplished and optically crisp. Lighting is handled with honors and the entire production feels polished and poised (even if some obvious green-screen driving makes an odd appearance). On the sound side, there is nothing extraordinary or faulty with the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix. Conversations are clear and the Indie-scene music score is nicely modulated.
For a 25-minute experiment among friends, this DVD is fleshed out with a wealth of bonus features. We are treated to a full-length filmmaker's commentary with director Mark K. Sullivan and his screenwriter/wife Olive. It explores, in minute detail, the making of this movie, and both individuals here are very engaging. From how to get a free psychiatrist's couch (key—offer up roles in the film) to the pitfalls of having perfectly healthy actors (no matter how hard he tried, Sullivan couldn't get his leads to look properly disheveled), their comments make a very interesting extra. Olive indicates where she parted ways with Block's basic narrative, and the whole enterprise appears to be one of those long-vaunted "labor of love" clichés.
Elsewhere on the disc, the "Behind the Dreams" featurette is a nearly four-minute music-based montage of backstage footage, while "The Doctors Meet" is a minor improv piece in which George's therapists meet up to discuss clients. There are two trailers, production stills, photos from the world premiere, a director's biography, and notes on the film. We even get to see the doodles made by George's doctors during his "sessions." All in all, it's an amazingly layered look at the creation of this plain, simple film.
There is nothing wrong with starting small when making your first foray into film. So many newbies to the medium like to think epic and broad, substituting scope for talent and ideas for ability. In Cleveland in My Dreams, the size of the story matches perfectly with the skill of the filmmaker. Mark K. Sullivan shows signs of actual aptitude with this initial attempt at moviemaking. Too bad Lawrence Block has little more than a rimshot of narrative to offer up for his sadly superficial "dream."
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