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Slamdance: Shoot to Marry

“I was hoping to be married by my next colonoscopy.”

Steve Markle

Steve Markle wants to get married. After his disastrous Christmas day proposal to his longtime girlfriend ends in heartbreak, the 42 year old filmmaker goes on a journey to learn more about women, relationships and himself. Over the course of a year he interviews a variety of interesting women, either to date them or to be educated by them. These women include his elementary school crush, a lumberjack, a pilot, a heart transplant recipient, a professional cuddler, a hat designer, a sensual massage coach, a dominatrix, a tattoo artist, another filmmaker, a sex club owner, etc. Steve is willing to try new things and put himself outside of his comfort zone. In traveling to meet with these women, he finds disappointment and enlightenment along the way. Of all the women he meets it’s Erin, the serial date who blogs about only dating for the free meals, whom Steve finds a meaningful connection with. Ultimately, Steve has to learn that his desperation for marriage won’t get the final result he desires. Instead he has to be content with the present if there ever is going to be a future.

Shoot to Marry is a heartfelt documentary that is equal parts introspective, quirky, funny, sad and joyful.

Usually in a review like this I would refer to the filmmaker by his or her last name. But this is such an intimate documentary that in a weird way I felt like I really go to know Steve and through his film I made a new friend. I found myself rooting for him from the very beginning and even felt second hand embarrassment at his failures and sheer joy at his accomplishments. Steve is genuine and funny. I found myself heartily laughing at his one liners. Going for a routine colonoscopy he jokes “it’s probably just cancer.” While filming a tattoo artist named Danielle tattooing another Danielle he observes that what he’s doing is “fucked up” and quips, “I should be making a real documentary about climate change or spelling bees.”

Steve wrote, produced, starred, directed and edited Shoot to Marry. The film chronicles his year long pursuit, which is fascinating on its own, but it’s the coda that comes 5 years later that really makes the documentary something special. And I’ll admit it, I had a good cry by the end. Bring some tissues for this one.

Shoot to Marry premieres at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival. You can find out more information about this documentary at the official website.

Auggie

How do you go on living your life when you feel useless? Felix Greystone (Richard Kind), a talented architect, has just been forced into early retirement by his firm. At his going away party his coworker Hillary (Larisa Oleynik) gives him a very special present: Auggie. This pair of A/I glasses when worn conjures up the vision of a companion, someone who represents the wearer’s deepest desires and is always available and amenable. Now that Felix’s wife Anne (Susan Blackwell) is busy with her career and his grown up daughter Grace (Simone Policano) is moving in with her boyfriend, Felix is absolutely and positively alone. He puts on the glasses and there is Auggie (Christen Harper) a gorgeous young woman who tells Felix all that he wants to hear. As Anne starts to drift away and contemplates an affair with her coworker Jack (James C. Victor) and Grace is asserting more of her independence, Felix grows more and more reliant on Auggie for companionship. Complications inevitable arise and Auggie takes over Felix’s reality.

Image courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

“Guess you’re retired, life’s over, might as well die? You got a lot more to offer. Life is short. Don’t waste it.”

Auggie

Directed by Matt Kane, Auggie is a quiet, contemplative science fiction movie about what it truly means to feel valued. Not feeling wanted or desired can really strip someone of their quality of life. Through Auggie, Felix taps into an alternate reality where he doesn’t have to suffer the same fate as his fellow retirees. Also it warns us how technology can make us lose grips with reality.

It will be easy to compare this film to Spike Jonze’s Her where Joaquin Phoenix plays a greeting card writer who develops a relationship with the voice of his personal computer. Both are good on their own merits but personally I found Auggie a much more approachable story. I love how the film shows both the projected companion, beautifully played by newcomer Christen Harper, and how strange it seems from the outside looking in as Felix, a wonderfully restrained performance by Richard Best, talks to someone who isn’t there. Weaving in Anne’s story, played by Susan Blackwell, shows how we can be lead astray by real life too.

Auggie is available on VOD from Samuel Goldwyn Films.

The Narcissists

Ever watch two people in public who are deep in conversation and wish you were able to hear what they were saying? Filmmaker Quincy Rose gives us just that opportunity with his new movie The Narcissists. A meta exploration on filmmaking, romantic relationships and friendships, this film makes us the fly on the wall of two separate sets of conversations. First there is the conversation between Oliver (Quincy Rose) and Max (Zachary Tiegen). Oliver is at a crossroads in his 5 year relationship with his girlfriend Cassi (Jessica DiGiovanni). Their apartment lease is up and they must come to the decision of to either move on from each other or to continue investing in their relationship. Max is the polar opposite of Oliver and has is always on the hunt for his next fleeting sexual conquest. Through their extended conversation, Max pushes Oliver to evaluate his relationship with Cassi. At the same time, Cassi is in conversation Letty (Augie Duke). Cassi is mild-mannered and consumed with conflicting thoughts on what to do about her relationship with Oliver. She’s also feeling the guilt of having cheated on Oliver. Letty is a free spirit, the female equivalent of Max, and is constantly provoking Cassi with outrageous statements and declarations, encouraging Cassi to think differently about sexuality and monogamy. 

What makes this film meta is that Oliver is a filmmaker and the two parallel conversations are his idea for a new film he his making which is both about and not about himself. The beginning of the film is shot in black and white with Max and Oliver discussing the idea for the film. Then we see the actual film Oliver had in mind. Once we reach the end of that feature within a feature, left open-ended so the audience can decide the fate of Oliver and Cassi, we get to the interview portion of the film. The four characters become talking heads where they discuss their lives, relationships and what they think about the definition of the term narcissists. 

One of my biggest complaints about films in general is that we don’t often get to spend enough time with the characters. I love that The Narcissists lingers enough to fully develop this quartet of players. It takes its time to flesh out their conversations, to show us the confrontations, the agreements, the disagreements, and the ups and downs of long form conversations. These characters really talk and the flow of discourse feels natural. There were a couple of times, especially with Max and Letty where I felt like they pivoted too drastically to some out-of-the-blue provocation. Otherwise it felt like I was watching real people having real conversations. The characters are all unlikable but this didn’t affect my curiosity.

The film was shot in Manhattan and Brooklyn and cinematographer Jason Krangel keeps a very still camera with long lingering shots. The subjects are filmed from afar in real settings with pedestrians and cars often blocking our view. The movie was shot on a small budget over five days and with a skeleton crew. 

The Narcissists is a contemplative study on filmmaking and relationships that is not afraid to spend time with its characters. It’s inventive, quirky and oddly satisfying. In an age of quick cuts and short attention spans, The Narcissists offers something refreshingly different.

Gravitas Ventures has released The Narcissists is on VOD and the films is available on multiple platforms including iTunes.

Nothing Really Happens

“Ohhh. You’re at a crossroads.”

Behth

Dave (Adam Edwards) drifts through life just going through the motions day in and day out. He’s the face of Mattress Temple, the mattress store he inherited from his dad. When he’s not at work he’s at home having awkward interactions with his emotionally distant wife Jess (Lindsay Gustin). One day everything changes. He learns from his sole employee Miguel (Sami Ismail ) that the health department investigated a bed bug infestation and shut down the store until further notice. Someone is leaving mysterious piles of poop in his neighbor Carl’s (Joseph Graham) yard. A strange old woman is lurking behind trees. Jess seems more disconnected from Dave than ever. Dave decides to take up smoking and has an odd encounter with an angry store clerk Behth (Anna Tran). Then there are the glitches in time, mysterious globs of blood, a urinal that serves as a time portal and a deer man who appears out of nowhere. Half way through Dave’s journey everything resets and we discover that nothing really happened. Everything is back as it once was but Dave starts to question what was reality and what was a figment of his imagination. It turns out that his well-meaning but misguided friend Randy (Bobby Dornbos) has put him through subconscious coercion therapy and tries to reset the damage of the first go ‘round. Dave struggles to make sense of what has happened or hasn’t happened as he uncovers even more confusing secrets about his reality.

“Do you think people notice how unaware they are?”

Randy

Nothing Really Happens is a quirky, offbeat film that blends The Matrix with Eternal Sunshine on a Spotless Mind. This Houston-based indie is writer/director Justin Petty’s film debut. It’s part science fiction, part comedy, part horror and 100% weird. You have to be in the right head space for this film otherwise it can overwhelm you with its peculiar brand of storytelling. The film serves as a metaphysical exploration of how disconnected we are as a society. Throughout the story there are various truth bombs dropped on the audience that make us pause and wonder if we’re really present in our own realities or if we’re detached like Dave. 

Nothing Really Happens is available on Amazon Prime, Tubi, Google Play, YouTube and iTunes. Visit the official website for more information. 

Ekaj

“I don’t know how to love… If I could start all over, would I do the same thing?”

Ekaj (Jake Mestre) arrives in New York City after fleeing his emotionally abusive father. He’s a young beautiful gay teen looking for his place in the world. Unfortunately the cycle of abuse continues. He gravitates towards men who take advantage of his vulnerable state including his new boyfriend Johnny (Scooter LaForge), a narcissistic painter who exploits Ekaj for his own twisted pleasure. One day in the park, Ekaj meets Mecca (Badd Idea), a fellow hustler. In Mecca Ekaj finds a kindred spirit and the two quickly bond. Their friendship is the only truly good situation in their lives. Mecca suffers from AIDS and drug addiction. Ekaj escorts to make money which has the unfortunate affect of exposing him to more physical abuse. Can Ekaj find some semblance of stability and contentment?

“Men are very insecure. I hate men. I even hate myself.”

Ekaj is a modern day Midnight Cowboy. It’s raw, gritty, sensitive, organic and real. The camera gets right up into the faces of its subjects and we can’t help but be emotionally invested in Ekaj. The film was written, directed and produced by Cati Gonzalez and features an all-male cast. This makes for an interesting gender dynamic having a female POV on the lives of men. The two leads are of Puerto Rican descent and I love that this is an indie film by a female filmmaker with queer Latino characters. The scenes between Jake Mestre and Badd Idea are really the heart of the film. Their tender friendship is beautiful to see even in the midst of their harrowing struggles. Ekaj serves a window into the world of a marginalized community and encourages the viewer to find some empathy within themselves.

Ekaj is available on streaming from Amazon Prime (worldwide) and Tubi (US).

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