Tag Archives: indie

The Independents need to Fly by Kent Hill

Well I’ve been working on this one for a while now. A collection, a tribute to the wondrous array of talents out there doing exactly what they want to do. Godard famously once said: “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.” That may have been the case for him, but I like my movies with a few more ingredients. Werewolves, giant snakes, sharks – it’s all part of my complete breakfast so, I endeavored to get in contact with those few, those happy few, this band of indie auteurs who don’t need permission or studio backing to do what they love to do – which is make movies.

Perhaps it is fortuitous regarding the timing of the release of this piece that all of the films here mentioned are now out there and available for your enjoyment. Mr. Bonk’s ‘Jaws Indoors’ sharksploitation offering, House Shark, Mr. Braxtan’s urban anaconda comedic actioner, Snake Outta Compton, Mr. Sheets Werewolf O’ glorious Werewolf killing by night picture, Bonehill Road and finally, Mr. Dean brings us his second installment of justice wreaking havoc by the full moon with his part man, part wolf, all cop, Another WolfCop.

We need these independents now more than ever ladies and gentlemen. Hollywood at large has become a cookie-cutter industry were everything is either a remake, a sequel or an adaptation. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something boring. It is and has degenerated into a vicious cycle that sees the movie business in the safest place it has been in decades. And why? Because dear reader, there is no gambling on a property that doesn’t already carry a built-in audience. No risk versus reward. It’s the same old shit – just in a different box.

So thank God for the Independents. Robert Rodriguez once said, “Don’t give me any money, don’t give me any people, but give me freedom, and I’ll give you a movie that looks gigantic.” Hollywood has long forgotten that the size of the budget does not equal the size of a film’s success. It is the films that defy convention, that resist formula, that are at play in the fields of freedom and creativity and not those designed and dictated via a committee in some corporate office that are still exciting audiences.

The studios may have the guns, but we got the numbers. We have the power now to embrace these magnificent artists. Together we can bring them in from the fringes and with all the social media tools at our command, we can use our influence to elevate these men and their glorious pictures to ever greater heights, instead of perpetuating the norm which sees us elevating fools into rich heroes.

Yes dear reader, today is the day. The day on which we can declare in one voice, “We will not go quietly into the night – we will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive. Today, we celebrate, The Independent’s Day.

RON BONK

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(DUE TO A BAD CONNECTION, SOME OF MY INTERVIEW WITH RON WAS LOST - BUT PLENTY REMAINS - I TRUST YOU'LL STILL ENJOY)

Ron Bonk is a producer and writer, known for Clay (2007), Night of Something Strange (2016) Strawberry Estates (2001) and She Kills 2016. He was born in Cicero N.Y. and attended Cicero, North Syracuse H.S. Then he graduated from M.V.C.C. , and Utica College. He is the president of S.R.S. Cinema L.L.C. in Central New York.

HANK BRAXTAN

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Hank was born and raised in Grand Junction, Colorado; this would be his greatest accomplishment until dropping out of film school at age 26. Even from a very early age, Hank showed a genuine interest in being entertained. In 1998, he put his lack of ambition on hold and joined the US Army as an Intelligence Analyst. After his discharge for honorable behavior in 2004, Hank attended film school for a short while, and made a bunch of nonsense about Ghostbusters fighting Freddy Krueger and other copyrighted materials. In the days before YouTube, that was kind of a big deal.

Hank has since gone on to work in the same town as many famous filmmakers. He currently has several projects in several stages of development, etc.

TODD SHEETS

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Todd Sheets is a writer and director, known for Bonehill Road (2017), Dreaming Purple Neon (2016) and Grindsploitation (2016).

LOWELL DEAN

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Lowell Dean was born on January 17, 1979. He is a director and writer, known for WolfCop (2014), Another WolfCop (2017) and 13 Eerie (2013).

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the Nicest Dudes: An Interview with Daniel Roebuck by Kent Hill

DR

Daniel Roebuck made me cry. That’s tough to do. There are certain films that have achieved this but they are few and far between. With Getting Grace, Roebuck has constructed a tale that is about that good thing, maybe the best of things. He has made a film about hope.

The story is that of a girl dying. Some might argue that such a plot easily accommodates the tear-jerking factor, but I don’t think that’s true. Field of Dreams is a movie that gets me every time, but I wouldn’t say that it sets itself up as a tear-jerker. In that movie’s case, the plot is more about listening to the voices inside us all and not allowing the inherent cynical nature of humanity to sidetrack us. It is also a story of redemption in the respect that a ghost, a former baseball player, helps the protagonist make peace with his father via love a of the game they both once shared.

In the case of Getting Grace, much like Disney’s Polyanna prior, it falls to a quirky yet luminous spirit of a young girl, staring at the end of her mortality and the optimism she evokes to cope with her fate to inspire, and in many ways redeem the broken characters that encircle her throughout the story. Both films deal with death, but reinforce that death is far from the end.

It’s a heart-warming tale that leaves you thinking about the preciousness and the fragility of our existence for a man of great faith. After all, to have endured in show business for the length of time Daniel Roebuck has – you need faith and hope in bundles.

It was an illuminating and thought-provoking discussion that I had with Daniel. He is a stalwart of the industry having worked in everything from big movies to indies, action films to animated efforts, and even mentoring other young actors as they struggle to make their ascent. Through it all he has retained a charming, positive presence that reflects in the enthusiasm with which he attacks his roles and now as he steps behind the camera to tell stories that enrich and enlighten.

It was as much a pleasure to talk with him as it is for me to present one of the nicest dudes . . . Daniel Roebuck.

 

Indie Gems: Humboldt County

There’s a ton weed comedies out there, stoner slapstick silliness at every turn, but it’s not often that someone takes a serious stab at cannabis culture and uses the phenomenon to tell a moving, character driven story. Humboldt County is a painfully unknown gem about a community of rural pot growers in a tucked away nook somewhere in California, and the fish out of water med student (Jeremy Strong) who stumbles into their midst. After meeting restless free spirit Bogart (the great Fairuza Balk), they meander back into her isolated hometown where the locals grow marijuana solely for their consumption, a place where it’s a way of life. He comes from an academic background, has a Doctor father (Peter Bogdanovich) who’s trying project his legacy onto him by supervising his path through school. This rigid curriculum is upended by the people he meets and the customs he adopts here, and is the very definitional finding oneself. Legendary Brad Dourif shows up in one of his best non horror roles as Bogart’s father Jack, a scatterbrained pothead whose airy nature is contrasted by a deep compassion and fierce love for his family, especially when tragedy strikes. It’s not all idyllic either, especially when coldhearted Feds target their land and threaten what they’ve built. It’s a wonderful little film that not only sheds light on a now thriving industry and lifestyle that was just beginning to bloom back in the mid 2000’s, but a cathartic character study, a life lesson in loosening up, master class in acting from Strong, Balk and particularly Dourif, and a story worth telling. Smoke up.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: Kevin Philip’s Super Dark Times

The title ‘Super Dark Times’ serves as a warning of sorts for the film to follow. It should be wisely taken into consideration, as this is probably the most disturbing film I’ve seen all year. In contrast, it’s also one of the most beautifully made. Bring a comfort blanket or cuddle buddy though, because these aren’t only Dark Times, they’re bleak, grim and tough to absorb without feeling grossly affected after. I like it when films explore themes of both violence and adolescence bourgeoning side by side in small town youth, everyone from Stephen King to David Lynch have been fascinated by these ideas. Violence is an unavoidable step in the learning curve for youngsters and a key element in any individual’s coming of age, no matter what we tell ourselves. First time director Kevin Philips pads those themes well by telling his story in the most realistic, blunt fashion he can, casting kids that genuinely look to be high school age, using sound design and cinematography to create a frighteningly immersive atmosphere and not neutering the stark violence in off-screen gimmicks to soften the blow of a blood-chilling story. Two normal enough high school boys (Charlie Tahan and Owen Campbell, both superbly good) are set on different yet equally dark paths following a brutal accident that scars them both, awakens a dark passenger in one and lays a blanket of dread over their small upstate New York town. That’s all I’ll say in terms of plot, it’s a scary guessing game of dangerous encounters, adolescent discoveries and tragic violence that unfurls like a jet black velvet carpet of doom. Metaphors as colourful as that are just me trying to abstractly impart to you how affecting the visual and auditory mood-scape are, but you’d be better off just watching the thing for yourself. Philips leaves certain areas of the narrative *just* vague enough until one gets the gnawing notion that what is presented to us might not be the full story, a tactic which instills the aftertaste of unease beyond the film’s bloody conclusion. Speaking of conclusions, this has to have the most suspenseful climaxes I’ve seen in a while, a breathless, literally razor sharp confrontation that feels earned and urgent because of how invested I was in the characters up until then. The film opens with violence, proceeds through a violent tale and ends with it as well, but as is often the case with films that care to do so, there’s contrast, a certain vitality to the characters and a hope that lives in lingering shots of a dying sunrise or a girlfriend (Elizabeth Cappuccino) gently comforting one of the protagonists. I read another review that called this ‘a simple story, well told’, which I partly agree with. It goes without saying it’s well told, but there’s a complexity to it, an intuitive force guiding the proceedings that one can feel like an undercurrent, and the moods it stirs are anything but simple. One of the best films this year.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: Brian Jun’s Steel City

Brian Jun’s Steel City is a fantastic, little heard of indie rust belt drama that deals in choices, consequences, regrets and what it takes to heal, if possible. In the heartlands, a young working class man (Tom Guiry) struggles with pretty much every aspect of his life. His father (an understated John Heard) has been recently incarcerated, and it’s tearing him apart, as well as his family. His older brother (Clayne Crawford) is a hotheaded mess. He finds solace when his uncle Vic (Raymond J. Barry, superb) offers him work and sobering life advice in equal doses. He meets a wonderful girl played by America Ferrera, and gradually, bit by bit, his story hits an upswing. This is a small story, revolving around a minuscule faction of the big picture, but that’s all it is anyways, thousands of lives unfolding on personal scale, adding up to this mosaic we call humanity. Life goes on for him, and the film is but a small window into one transitionary chapter of his life. Guiry is great, but Ferrera is magic as the kind of girl anyone could only hope to end up with. Barry gives one of the most soulful turns of his storied career as the kind of no nonsense mentor who cares a lot more than is visible behind all that gruff. The kind of life affirming story that finds hope in the oddest of places.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: 13 Moons


It’s anybody’s guess how ones like 13 Moons slip through the cracks, but in this case it was probably a case of nonexistent marketing and no effort put into a proper release. Despite having a cast that’s speckled with all kinds of big names, character actors and cameos, it has the appearance of barest of bones indie digs, and looks suspiciously like it was filmed bootleg/guerrilla style. I’ve not a clue what the story behind it’s conception is, but it’s a brilliant little flick that you won’t find anywhere these days, but deserves a look. It’s one of those moody, nocturnal L.A. set ensemble pieces in which a group of eclectic characters wander about, intersecting in various subplots until it finally comes together in the third act. This motif is overdone these days, and I just have to throw a jab at Paul Haggis’s Crash, which has aged like Kraft Dinner left for a week in the Florida sun, but my point is that they either work or topple over like a jenga tower buckling under the weight of each character and scenario. This one is so low budget it looks like it was shot on an etch a sketch, but thankfully the story is powerful, emotional, hilarious and strange enough to make a lasting impression. Steve Buscemi and Peter Dinklage are two sad-sack clowns who wander the nightscape, and in fact the image of absurdly out of place clowns roaming the lonely streets of NYC, getting caught up in a raucous night out involving a man (David Proval, an underused talent in the industry) and his young son who is dying of cancer and desperately seeks an organ doner, while his mom (Jennifer Beals) looks for them. Meanwhile there’s an insane clown played by Peter Stormare who’s running about, and when I say insane I do mean it. Stormare is always a little zany and flamboyant, but his work here takes the cake and whips it at the wall. It’s easy for actors to be uninhibited in indie fare like this, free from the prudence of studio chaperones, and he knows this, his character eventually playing a key role but most of the time careening around like a bat out of hell set loose in New York. The cameos are fleeting and fascinating, and one wonders who was buddies with who and pulled what favours to swing their appearances, but it’s nice to see them irregardless. Sam Rockwell and Michael Parks are fun as two bartenders, real life ex-hoodlums Danny Trejo and Edward Bunker show up briefly as.. hoodlums, and watch for quick turns from Pruitt Taylor Vince, Michael Badalucco and others. The film is thoroughly indie that no one has, or probably will ever see it, and my review probably adds to the scant half dozen or so write ups that are out there. Sadly many little treasures like this exist, unbeknownst to most. 13 Moons is a sweet, scrappy, somewhat star studded little piece that is well worth anyone’s time, if they love a good story in an oddball of a package. 

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: Traveller


Films about con men can go a lot of ways. They can be intelligent with a worthwhile and earned payoff (2004’s Criminal), they can be hollow, nonsensical, all flourish and no gravity (2003’s Confidence) or deviate any which way from these examples. Traveller takes the quaint indie route, meaning I’m probably the sole person on the planet who has even heard of it, despite Marky Mark Whalberg appearing on one of the starring roles. It’s a shame because this is a bona fide gem, a low key little charmer with a roguish lead performance from Bill Paxton, a plot that gets cleverer the more you ruminate on it afterwards, and an easygoing style to it. Marky Mark plays Pat, a young man descended from Irish ‘travellers’, who are essentially gypsy hustlers and live as such in a sleepy North Carolina community. Pat wants to reconnect with his roots, but his kinfolk are a tribal bunch who don’t really fancy outsiders, however distantly related they may be. Cousin Bokky (Paxton) is the only one to take him under his wing, showing the ropes of a very specific, time honoured idiosyncratic lifestyle. Pat is young, cocky and sticks out like a sore thumb in Bokky’s world, who himself is weathered and moves about with ease and experience, slowed down by the dynamic which his young prodigy presents, and also looking for a way out of this life, and even romance with gorgeous Julianna Margulies. As light as these proceedings are, the film doesn’t fail to show the give dangers that being a con man puts them face to face with. It’s all fun and games until… well until it isn’t, and we get to see some of that ugliness rear it’s head, for without it there would be no stakes. Joining them is grizzled and now deceased character actor James Gammon, playing a salty veteran grifter who crosses their paths more than a few times, causing as much trouble in the process. I’ve not a clue how close to real life fact and tradition this film gets, but I imagine fairly on the nose, as it just has that notion that it knows what it’s doing, it’s researched, capable, and does it all with ease and enjoyment. 
-Nate Hill