REVIEW, MARCH 5, 2012
WRITER: MICHAEL CASSIDY
DIRECTOR: PAULA WOOD
Imagine one day your boss informs that a machine’s arrived to make your life easier. You have your doubts, but you appreciate a good gadget. Such is the lot of a Pharmacist named Hal, in the new, savvy and entertainment-dosing short film called THE PHARMACIST.
The opening scene finds Hal, endearingly played by Matthew James Gulbranson, and his son, portrayed by the believable Jesse Robinson, in the family car. “Buckle up!” Hal declares, starts the car, then unveils his new GPS; certainly, this will make his life better. He plugs in the destination – his son’s high school address – just in case. DOAT! Even with the GPS, he misses the turn. Apparently, he misses the turn every day. His son rolls his eyes.
Although his GPS couldn’t keep him from missing the turn, Hal knows he can just turn around. And, VOILA! Hal becomes his assistive device’s fail-safe. Still, Hal’s newbie devotion to his GPS is undeniable. So, it’s no small matter that Hal’s appreciation for assistive devices is tested, when he must work with a Pharmacy vending machine, called ‘Green Cross’.
HUMANITY and MACHINE vying for dominance in a Pharmacy is a big deal; the stakes are high for us. Indeed, few places are so dependent on the human hand and mind. We watch Pharmacists count and move their professional pill-pushing tool, the rollins. We can almost hear the TICK-TICK, CLICK, and TURN of their cerebral counters. We hope for their supernatural ability to discern one drug from another.
In the early part of the film, the machine stands dormant under an ominous curtain. We witness the Pharmacy Staff deal with humanity’s eccentricities, commonplace in a pharmacy line. Two examples in the film: The senior citizen whose bill triples but is smitten by Hal, Ms. Ringleberg – played masterfully by Mary Suib, and Mr. Rumus, the gloved and goggled obsessive/compulsive customer, portrayed movingly by John C. Bailey.
The film ponders that perhaps, a pharmacy dispensing machine would be a good thing – for Staff and customers. After all, April, the Pharmacy Tech, who’s preoccupied with her hair and cell phone – played by the hilarious Allison Howard, does shortchange Mr. Rumus one of his medications. And, Hal warns, “He’ll be back…”.
A lull in business allows Hal’s Boss, Mr. Jarvis, played by the convincing veteran actor Michael Gabel, to announce the virtues of Green Cross. Mr. Jarvis insists that the machine be put into action immediately. While Hal’s skeptical about how a machine can dispense the needs of his customers, he easily bows to the pressure of Mr. Jarvis, as if Hal were being asked to simply press a button.
In this moment, the film dives below the surface of comedy. When Hal relinquishes his power to Mr. Jarvis who’s advocating the machine, the event echoes classic experiments where subjects are asked to press a button that shocks a third party.
Mr. Rumus, the Obsessive/Compulsive customer returns. Mr. Gabel informs him that the only way to get his second medication is to use the machine. Overcoming a phobia sandwich, Mr. Rumus attempts to complete his transaction, only to find his psyche requires a human hand to delicately place the medication in his sealable plastic bag. When the machine can’t oblige, he pulls out a hammer and conveys his displeasure to Green Cross. To manage Mr. Rumus, the Staff must rely upon a Police Officer, not a machine, to escort Mr. Rumus out of the Pharmacy.
As Hal drives out of the parking lot, he unleashes the silent echo of the film. He tosses the GPS out of the car. It bumps and bounds to an asphalt wasteland, soon to be shattered by the tires of another driver: a machine destroyed by one who gave it life.
THE PHARMACIST delivers laughs, drama, and medicine for thought in a slick, tasty pill of a film. Writer/Producer Michael Cassidy and Director/Producer Paula Wood have manufactured a delightful cautionary tale that drives home the need for a visionary humanity in the mechanized world we create.
THE PHARMACIST has received significant support from the International Pharmacist Community. Premieres have occurred in the U.S., the U.K., and upcoming, Kenya.
MOTHER’S RED DRESS
REVIEW, SEPTEMBER 27, 2011
FILM PREMIERE, LOS ANGELES, CA
NO RESTRICTIONS ENTERTAINMENT
WRITER/DIRECTOR: EDGAR MICHAEL BRAVO
The buzz of mingling supporters, cast and crew created palpable anticipation: A packed house gathered for lights to dim at the Downtown Independent Theatre in Los Angeles on September 18th, to watch the premiere of the gripping drama, “Mother’s Red Dress”. The film is the most recent release by Writer/Director Edgar Michael Bravo and Producer John Paul Rice, a product of their socially conscious film partnership, No Restrictions Entertainment.
MOTHER’S RED DRESS, like its title suggests, is bold and provocative. The script weaves a fabric of vibrant but shadowed colors and textures, and its steely subject matter accentuates with taut wire.
But, where the characters begin and end in time, and where they actually exist is not clear. MOTHER’S RED DRESS is Art that begs contemplation. The film asks the viewer to step inside the mind of its main character, Paul Ullman, and experience life as he does for the entirety of the film.
In the opening minutes, we see what Paul thinks he has witnessed. Paul, his mother, and her lover vie for space, security, and control. Something very big goes down, and we watch the young man Paul, leave. His solitary drive carries him to a town, large but tranquil enough to shield and lull him from what he has left behind – at least for a while. As if longing for the comfort of linoleum and Styrofoam – reminders that life can be mundane and predictable – Paul wanders into a donut shop, and feels an immediate sense of belonging among bakery entrepreneurs, Ashley and Brenda. They have trouble – money and a lack of customers. He takes an interest in their plight, rallies to their defense, and is further ignited to action by the beautiful Ashley. Paul finds her unforgettable, and he visits again to offer assistance in saving their business.
Paul, handsome and seemingly self-assured, seems to be who he says he is; he’s young enough for his story to be taken at face value by his new acquaintances Brenda and Ashley, his personable and caring demeanor attractive to each of the women. We watch Brenda struggle with her attraction early on, as Paul’s interest in Ashley only magnifies Brenda’s sense of self-loathing. The dynamic Amanda Reed, the actress who plays Brenda, explains she brought forth Brenda by “surrendering over to her, and giving her the respect of allowing her story to be told.” This approach works well. Amanda convinces as a young woman teetering on the edge of alcoholic self-destruction. She creates an edge of peril that churns, as the plot’s waters wait for the coming storm.
The film ignites with the energy of its talented supporting cast. The cast delivers amply with utterly believable performances by JF Davis as Paul’s Father, Tom Wade as Laura’s lover, and Jarred Kjack as the Angry Businessman. And, Ryan Michael Paolella lights as the Young Paul Ullman. His performance is entirely captivating. With scenes scattered throughout the film, Ryan’s performance directs the audience’s return to Paul’s past and present plight. Joyful moments at the beach ask viewers to somehow keep him and his mother there, to shield from what the rest of his life brings.
Emotion is the vehicle for this film. The Composers, Christine Wu and Kevin J. Doucette, create a driving and haunting backdrop to the many layers of Paul’s mind. At the Premiere, they conveyed that their goal was to support and sometimes guide the audience’s experience of Paul. The result is a musical experience of audio emotion – that merges like a stream with the visual river.
As Paul’s character experiences the plot, his inner emotional world stops and starts. So, he looks for motivation and inspiration and thinks he finds these in Ashley. Played by the utterly believable Alexandra Swarens, Ashley s emotionally open, but sustained groundedness compliments Paul’s emotional anxiety to establish the benchmarks of a fulfilling life – school, love, work. In her interview with this reviewer, Alexandra defined her approach to this role: Tapping into the intensity of life’s ups and downs, and committing to being emotionally vulnerable. Each resonate loud and clear in her performance.
Paul’s intensifying connection with Ashley seems to turn a key in Paul’s mind. It is as if his psyche begins to search for congruity and resolution among his archived memories. At the same time, Brenda pushes him to stay away from the donut shop. This lack of connection from a place that anchors him seems to begin the unraveling.
All the while, we the audience are at the mercy of Timothy Driscoll’s performance. Luckily, he secures the audience’s life preservers early on. His manner promises, like Paul’s psyche, that he will be as gentle as possible. Timothy’s acting is as understated as is his character’s dim understanding of reality, and this allows for the twists and turns of the latter part of the movie to swirl and bind convincingly around him. Timothy relays that after he became familiar with a profile of his character’s challenges, he let go on set and lived as Paul would in each scene. The result is, we are as if tied to Paul on his awakening, forever changed. Timothy’s presence, focused but eased in the beginning, allows the audience to feel safe enough to take another step – much like the character Paul does in the film. Then, we like Paul, are left to find our way as his character’s hold on reality frays and tears.
Edgar Michael Bravo as Writer and Director, leads his actors to times and places of the human mind and heart that are deeply perilous and tragic. Feelings trump plot here. After watching the climax and resolution of the film, it’s not entirely clear what has happened with, or to, Paul. One could wonder if Brenda or Ashley were ever even real. Insight comes through character statements near the end of the film: “Facing reality is the only choice if one wants to live”. This is Bravo’s own discovery from telling this story. “I write about people’s stories I’ve heard,” he said at the Premiere After-Party. “Even for me, the message of the story often emerges after the story has been told and lifts itself up to be seen.” This film’s message becomes a guide to piecing the plot together. As the viewer hears the statement about facing Reality in order to Live, flashes of the film guide back to its beginning, and allow us to arrange context for our emotions.
Bravo utilizes religious faith to demonstrate the kind of anchor life can provide a wounded mind. Paul’s character speaks the “Hail Mary” prayer at a time when the door to his mind begins to widen. He perceives that visitors later in the film also recite it. This reference lends to the perception that one of Bravo’s messages is that faith can be a rope we can latch onto, even when we are lost in our own psyches. As Paul does, we see him begin to pull himself to reality.
We, as viewers, understand that the intensity of Paul’s journey can only be understood in his connection to his mother. Layers of emotion and sensation are woven masterfully in the character of Laura, portrayed by Alisha Seaton. Having delivered her first child only six weeks before filming, Alisha says she found strong connections with Laura. The instinct to mother, she explains, is the fuel for her transformation to her character. A seasoned actress with a mass of film credits, her performance drives the role with the patina of masterful hammer and elegant grit. Laura is at once alluring and tragic, beckoning and offensive. Her expressions, determined and convicted, adrift and desperate, repel us in a way that her dresses allure. The audience ultimately must battle this sea of repulsion and attraction and the aftermath she creates, just like her son.
By its climax, the film has firmly knotted its viewers to the story via compelling acting and directing, leaving us begging for a turn of events that can ease the pain we feel. The film delivers then too, in a surprising suggestion of redemption and clarity that perhaps saves Paul from a ruined mind. We are at once moved and grateful at the possibility of this resolution.
MOTHER’S RED DRESS brings moviegoers to places of deep longing and aversion. But, the ride with its guiding cast and visionary Director makes it a ride well worth taking – along life’s river of tragedy and healing.