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Case Number 09243: Small Claims Court

Upressplay Volume 1

uPressplay // 2006 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // May 12th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Bill Gibron offers the following warning—if "upressplay" on this collection of uninspired short films, you'll definitely find yourself on the short end of the entertainment shtick.

The Charge

A shoddy short film fest.

The Case

Upressplay, a Chicago-based online entertainment endeavor, was founded by Matthew M. Jones to bolster the efforts of independent and established filmmakers and artists. Moving beyond a mere repository for content, the site has a stated purpose to provide networking opportunities, portfolio help, and resume building while creating an atmosphere and community based on celebrating the outsider auteur. Over the years, the site has seen incredible growth and a lot of interest from the industry. More than an iFilms or a You Tube, there is a real push to appear professional, to have Upressplay become the premiere place for unheralded talent to find a forum—and eventually financial payoff—for their efforts. As part of this approach, the collective is starting to release several of their participants' films on DVD. If Volume 1 is any indication, the level of talent onboard has a ways to go to match the mandates of the company. Nothing here is groundbreaking. Much of it is rather routine. Addressing each segment individually, we can start to gain some insight into the short movies that "made the cut." Let's begin with:

Stay Dead (29 minutes)
Score: 65
A group of city slickers ends up in the middle of the Bible Belt, where a chemical plant is turning the neighboring inbred hicks into zombies. To lament the state of undead horror is a screed for another time, another review. Zombies are quickly becoming the Washington Generals of the indie film scene. Still, there is nothing wrong with attempting to inject humor into the old cannibal corpse routine. Peter Jackson did it with Brain Dead and Dead Alive and the results were terrific. Sadly, Stay Dead can't even stand side-by-side with other non-Hollywood attempts at the genre. Examples like Scott Phillip's fascinating Stink of Flesh and George Bonilla's flawed epic Zombie Planet contain infinitely more invention and entertainment than this minor bit of splatter satire. The setup takes far too long in establishing a threat, the dialogue is overloaded with class cracks and cynicism as comic cleverness, and the closing carnage breezes by without much impact. Granted, this is a shoestring-budgeted affair meant to make a small but substantive impact, a mini-movie which even has the audacity to end with a "to be continued" promise of a sequel. Since nothing we saw inspired confidence—or interest for that matter—another dip into this failed flesh feasting is unwarranted.

Behind the Werewolf (22 minutes)
Score: 79
A mysterious supernatural journalist joins with a mercenary, and the pair trace a recent rash of animal attacks to a canine cult lost in their own world of lupine lunacy. Similar to the approach taken by Stay Dead, Behind the Werewolf wants to use standard horror iconography (in this case, the moon-baying lycanthrope) and turn it on its pointed paranormal ear. Thankfully, filmmaker Tyler Clapp goes for spoof over satire, even if the result is something that is far more fascinating than funny. Playing the role of a supernatural reporter/ghostbuster looking to whip some werewolf butt, Clapp cuts a decidedly comic swath in his long coat and hat. Like a ghoul-grasping gumshoe with a special spiel all his own, the writer/director/actor does a nice job of centering the film. The elements around him range from impressive (the punked-out actress playing the lead lupus is excellent) to interesting (our macho mercenary is merely average). Since financial limits allowed for little effects money, Clapp decides to use crappy CG blood sprays and gun blasts to pepper his finale. It's campy and kitschy, but still belies a "best we could do" ideal. Though the title is never explained and the random images of cartoon animal porn are just juvenile, there is lots of promise in this presentation. Clapp could actually find himself working within the legitimate end of independent comedy if he fleshes out his ideas better and works to make his humor more iconic and less idiotic (Sorry, but Star Wars riffs are old hat, dude!).

Caleb's Cube (12 minutes)
Score: 75
A young man with agoraphobia tries to overcome his fears, aided by less-than-helpful theories on time and space from his roommate. As the only semi-serious piece of the presentation (and the only one not founded in the macabre), Caleb's Cube marks a kind of critical enigma for this reviewer. The performances are passable, the situation set up with style and invention, and the resolution is not as half-assed as it initially appears to be. Yet there are also reasons to reject this attempted character study, many having to do with what actually happens onscreen. As a premise, agoraphobia is a little more complicated than a couple of comic quips. The roommate character, who more or less arrives out of left field, does a lot of forced shtick regarding some time cube theory, and the explanation for how this is supposed to cure our main character is left sounding a lot like telling a terminal case to play bubble boy. Still, there is an atmosphere of urgency and a real attempt to create tension. Things play out so swiftly we can almost forgive the other floundering facets. Indeed, the best way to describe a viewing of Caleb's Cube is that it's a lot like saddling up for a ride at the local carnival midway. It has the appearance of being exciting and engaging, but it actually ends up being a rather underwhelming experience overall.

Court Jester—"Stand Up"
Score: 30
Lame bar band music video
Want proof that people will listen to just about anything when they're good and liquored up? Here's Court Jester, arguing for their place as Hell's boogie band. The song is a typical stadium rock retread with lyrics designed to instinctually launch fists into the air. Fronted by what looks like an air conditioner salesman with a leather fetish and featuring varied amalgamations of mundane music archetypes, this video violates every tenet of the genre—it's dull and badly edited (The Monkees showed more instrument sync ability) and does noting to sell the group. Court Jester may be huge in their native Northern territory, but that doesn't mean they deserve a shot at MTV glory. If this clip is any indication, there's no real fear of such fortunes coming their way anytime soon.

Dye the Sky—"Death"
Score: 55
Lame ass alterna-rock music video
Made in self-consciously snooty black and white, this droning drudgery as rockin' out is only slightly better than the beer belch bawl of Court Jester. Bart Simpson once said that making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel, but no one told this to the oddly named Dye the Sky. They insist upon pandering to the suicidal adolescent demographic with this tuneless take on guitar distortion despair. As the lead singer rasps and rails, the backing track chugs along like an asthmatic locomotive. The band seems passionate enough about their nu-metal noise, but their lack of originality really hurts them. As performance pieces go, this is perfunctory at best.

As an example of what Upressplay has to offer, this initial volume is less than impressive. Each of the five films offered are amateurish, with only the most minor of semblances to mainstream moviemaking. Of the collection, Behind the Werewolf is probably the best, if only because it's the most amusing. Stay Dead can't even deliver good gore, while Caleb's bruised psyche leads to several illogical plot points. Since music videos are nothing more than examples of style over substance (and in this case, there is a dearth of both present), they really add little to the DVD release. Even from a technical perspective, there is not much to praise here. The transfer is all faux letterboxing with several digital defects. Grain, flaring and bleeding all make appearances on these non-anamorphic entities. The Dolby Digital Stereo is also poorly presented. The menu music is so loud it almost blows out the speakers, while the camcorder conceits used in the recording of dialogue of each film means we miss some of the conversations.

About the only place this disc shines is in the bonus feature category. Each film gets its own special section and its own selection of added content. For Stay Dead, the extras are a trailer, a slightly amusing (if hyper) audio commentary, a chance to review the songs on the soundtrack, a gallery, a five minute collection of outtakes, and the chance to order a T-shirt. Behind the Werewolf offers another overview of its soundtrack, some funny character bios, an image gallery, and the animated 3-D short film Phid Takes a Walk, also directed by Clapp. Sadly, it's not very good. While Caleb's Cube and Court Jester have nothing in the way of supplemental material, Dye the Sky gives us a listening room, band info, and a gallery. Even the DVD itself has some additional features, including trailers and a couple of crappy comedy songs from some dorks named Mike and Duane.

While it's important to support the efforts of independent filmmakers, it is also clear that easily available technology has made every schmoe with an idea think he or she is the next unheralded amateur auteur. As proven throughout its first volume of releases, the artists in Upressplay's creative commune have a rather rude awakening ahead of them. No amount of networking can save them from their less-than-spectacular cinematic selves.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: uPressplay
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Drama
• Horror
• Performance

Distinguishing Marks

• Stay Dead Trailer
• Stay Dead Audio Commentary
• Stay Dead Soundtrack Information
• Stay Dead Gallery
• Stay Dead Outtakes
• Stay Dead T-shirt Information
• Behind the Werewolf Soundtrack Information
• Behind the Werewolf Character Bios
• Behind the Werewolf Gallery
• Animated 3-D short Film: Phid Takes a Walk
• Dye the Sky Listening Room
• Dye the Sky Band Information
• Dye the Sky Gallery
• Trailers
• Comedic Songs by Mike and Duane.

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