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Case Number 09281: Small Claims Court

Upressplay Volume 2

uPressplay // 2006 // 120 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 18th, 2006

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All Rise...

According to Judge Bill Gibron, because of the efforts of director Daniel J. Pico, this second go-around for the Upressplay series of shorts is far more enjoyable.

The Charge

Much better than the first time around.

The Case

Upressplay, a Chicago based online entertainment endeavor, was founded by Matthew M. Jones to bolster the efforts of both 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 its participants' films on DVD.

Reviewed elsewhere on the site, Volume 1 clearly indicated that the level of talent onboard had a ways to go to match the mandates of the company. Thankfully, Volume 2 is much better. Instead of obvious amateur antics, these short films strive for realism, authenticity, and complexity. Let's begin with:

• Two Days in Limbo (29 minutes)
Score: 78
A young medic meets up with a war-weary company during the last days of World War II. Epic in its ideas but limited in its production scope, Two Days in Limbo is a fairly effective effort. While rural Illinois looks nothing like the battlefields of Europe, director Daniel J. Pico makes the most of the terrain. There is a real war-torn feel to the production, a true sense of being on the brink of death at any given moment. In addition, the narrative structure is such that we constantly connect with the characters. Sadly, where this film comes up short is in overall thematic resonance. Basically, Two Days in Limbo tells a tale we've seen a million times before. To rely on cliché to make the point, according to this film, war is Hell, making otherwise sane individuals act like mindless murderers. Had he given us something original rather than the standard story of men facing their own internal darkness, Limbo would be a much better movie. As it stands, it is a decent attempt at a subject that is much deeper.

• Roscoe Village—"Episode 1: Retreadamon" (22 minutes)
Score: 55
A group of young adults discuss football, friendship and urine in this serio-comic sitcom. Take an episode of Friends, remove all the wit and professionalism, add incessant chatter about piss and the Detroit Lions, and pour it into a pathetic attempt at a Rashamon-style narrative and you have the basic gist of Roscoe Village. This aggravating ensemble piece, an attempt at casting the current generation of post-college adults into an ironic commentary on reality, is difficult to endure. The filmmakers fail to recognize the difference between characteristics and characterization. The entire cast feels made up of individual quirks, idiosyncrasies and eccentricities that never come together as a portrait of a person. Instead of letting such personality peculiarities derive naturally from the performance, the creative forces behind this flop simply impose personas onto their actors. The result is aggravating and uninteresting. When you're relying on pee to carry your comedy, you know you're devoid of real humor or wit.

• Back to Reality (8 minutes)
Score: 78
A brash homeboy with a penchant for inappropriate anger won't stop bugging his ex-girlfriend. Daniel J. Pico is back again, this time delivering a serio-comic slice of urban angst as our dumped-on dude tries to get over his one-time lover. The dialogue is crisp and concrete, the monochrome design of the compositions clever and arty. The actors do a wonderful job of creating recognizable types, while the narrative breezes by with barely a stumble. Why the low score, you ask? Well, at eight minutes, this is a minor effort at best. We sense the story is skimming over the surface of this relationship and long to learn the truth behind the troubles. Also, the nature of the conflict is rather formulaic: goony guy can't let go, while good-hearted honey can't find the proper words to sever their ties. This leads to a frustrating sense of stasis, a cinematic situation that seems to constantly repeat itself. Pico has some excellent material here. Fleshed out, it would make a fine film. As a short, however, it's a bit too minor to matter.

• Solider (10 minutes)
Score: 74
Slam poetry as war protest
Perhaps the first example of a slam poetry music video, Soldier is solid, if uninvolving. David Bianchi may be a wonderful artist, but his is lesser verse at best. The metaphors are painfully obvious and the word choice runs from revelatory to incredibly immature. When you see slam poets delivering their material, the oral and aural aspects meld together to create a kind of sonic spaciness. You fall into their words and wait for the next volley to strike. Here, Bianchi can't deliver the literary knockout punch, and no amount of cinematic stylization (by the ever-present Mr. Pico) can save its shortcomings. The use of blood begs the symbolism in the sonnet, and overall, the material appears arrogant and humorless. True, there is nothing really fun about battle, but we expect more from this urban genre than obvious opinions. Such settled views are all that Soldier has to offer.

• Terrorvision (8 minutes)
Score: 70
The War on Terror meets Cheaters in this semi-serious spoof of reality television. Here's an interesting idea, badly bungled in the execution. Using the current war-on-terror tactics to get cheating spouses to 'fess up may seem like a novel idea, but with actual reality shows doing more or less the same thing (read: scaring people into confession) there is nothing really unique about this piece. Had the filmmakers found a way to deliver a more devastating social commentary, removed the smarmy ending, and kept everything as deadly serious as the first five minutes, we might have been able to forgive the forced humor in the finale. The acting is effective, the camera work clever and creative. Still, it doesn't add up to anything serious or satiric. This is a major missed opportunity, one that underscores Upressplay's amateur status.

• Marazene—"Execute" (5 minutes)
Score: 25
Ever wonder what it would be like if Marilyn Manson and Korn had quadruplets? Marazene makes Slipknot look like Led Zeppelin. Their music is a mindless drone. They dress like a leather man's worst nightmare and play in a head-swaying, dreads-dangling manner that makes for a dull, derivative performance piece. The narrative inserts (involving a man with magical goggles) are pointless and the whole effort reeks of unsigned act failure. Nothing here is worth enduring, unless you like to see skinny idiots in cataract contact lens spouting to the Devil.

• Roni vs. Lincoln (9 minutes)
Score: 84
A couple of crazy mobster-wannabes take on the assignment of whacking the reanimated corpse of Abraham Lincoln. Hi-jinx ensue. The best short film here is actually part of the bonus features, but it deserves to be mentioned with the rest of the ensemble. Using the old-fashioned idea of Keystone Kops comedy and updating it with post-modern references to mobster and zombies works incredibly well for the creative team behind this effort. The combination of satire and slapstick is wonderful, and even the obvious gags (a character named Freddy No Pants has—you guessed it—no pants!) are playful and fun. With a little more technical tweaking here and there (and maybe another pass through the word processor), we'd have a mini-masterpiece on our hands. Instead, this is an original and inventive effort from individuals who understand both comedy and classic film.

It is important to note that Jack-of-all-cinematic-trades Daniel J. Pico directs four of the entries here (Limbo, Roscoe Village, Reality, and Soldier) and his imprint really improves Volume 2. Granted, this presentation is still far away from something like the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, but the improvement over the initial offering is impressive. Pico understands the camera and uses it to his advantage. The homemade movie ideal of point and shoot is nowhere to be found here and even in efforts like the retarded Roscoe Village, there is a real desire to be cinematic as well as skillful. Even when mired by poor scripting or performances, these shorts still look like mini-movies, not some incompetent camcorder crap. The music video, on the other hand, is nothing more than an example of style over substance (and in this case, there is a dearth of both present). 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 Two Days in Limbo, the extras include a trailer, a serious stab at an informative audio commentary, a chance to review the songs on the soundtrack, a gallery, cast and crew bios, a selection of festivals and awards, and an insightful behind-the-scenes featurette. Roscoe Village offers another overview of its soundtrack, more cast and crew bios, an image gallery, and a selection of trailers. Back to Reality, Solider, and Terrorvision collect some brief bios as well as a gallery, while the music video and Roni vs. Lincoln have nothing in the way of supplemental material. Even the DVD itself has some additional features, including trailers and some concert clips from the group Audiobon.

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. Yet as this second volume of releases indicates, a few of the artists participating in Upressplay's creative commune have a real future in filmmaking. The rest should perhaps consider keeping their day jobs.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: uPressplay
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Drama
• Horror
• Performance

Distinguishing Marks

• Two Days in Limbo Audio Commentary
• Two Days in Limbo Trailer
• Two Days in Limbo Soundtrack Listing
• Two Days in Limbo Gallery
• Two Days in Limbo Cast and Crew Bios
• Two Days in Limbo Festival and Awards Information
• Two Days in Limbo Behind the Scenes Featurette
• Roscoe Village Soundtrack Listing
• Roscoe Village Cast and Crew Bios
• Roscoe Village Trailer
• Roscoe Village Gallery
• Back to Reality Cast and Crew Bios
• Back to Reality Gallery
• Soldier Cast and Crew Bios
• Soldier Gallery
• Terrorvision Cast and Crew Bios
• Terrorvision Gallery
• Trailers








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