Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review of "The Scenesters"

Several months back I would have told you that I expected the funniest movie I would see all year to be “Hot Tub Time Machine”. Well, when I had seen that movie it was momentarily the funniest movie I had seen. That was until last night when it was bumped down a notch on my list after I watched a little indie gem called “The Scenesters” at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Not only was it the funniest movie I have seen in quite some time, it is also the best all around film I can recall seeing as well.

Yes. You heard me. I said it was one of the best films I have seen in quite some time. Not just comedies, but all movies I have seen in 2010. I even enjoyed it more than that over produced and overrated smurf adventure, “Avatar”. The real interesting thing about “Scenesters” is that you probably have never even heard of it. Most independent films end up never even blipping on your radar. It is a shame because there are plenty of great movies out there waiting for you to discover. “The Scenesters” is an example as to why you should personally make an attempt to seek out independent movies to view. There is a lot more heart and care put into these movies and it shows with the final product.

“The Scenesters” is a dark comedy unlike anything you have seen. You might think you’ve seen it done before, but your assumptions should be dispelled after the movie gets going. Portrayed as a legitimate documentary, the movies fuses together a patchwork of video sources including a hand held camera, court room footage, newscasts, surveillance video, and even a music video (an amusing one at that). Despite the handheld shooting, there is not a shaky sense of nausea like other films have given. The clips are put together masterfully to form a cohesive narrative.

The premise of the movie is introduced when an upstart filmmaker named Wallace Cotton (Todd Berger) has to take a job video-taping murder scenes for the Los Angeles Police Department. This is because his attempts at making his own movies haven’t been that successful, which is probably because he isn’t very good at it. His friend and producer, Roger Graham (Jeff Grace), is simultaneously working on a meta-documentary about the film making process. When Roger learns of Wallace’s new job, he decides that the best idea is to have his full production crew assist Wallace at crime scenes. This is an absurd thought, but Roger convinces his good friend by pointing out that making a full production of it will make him “the Los Angeles crime scene videographer” as opposed to just “a Los Angeles crime scene videographer”.

When the premise is seemingly set, Wallace’s crew finds the protagonist for their documentary when they meet Charlie (Blaise Miller), a crime scene clean-up worker. Charlie becomes their focus when his keen observation skills come across several key clues that the police miss at a two murder scenes. The evidence he finds happens to point to the murders being connected and being the work of a serial killer. Charlie wants to inform the police, but Roger and Wallace have different ideas. They decide that their movie is now about Charlie finding a serial killer.

During the investigation Charlie comes across several interesting personalities. Heading up the police investigation is Henry Muse (Kevin Brennan) an overzealous detective who seems to be more interested in promoting his band rather than solving crimes. His partner is Carlita Travers (Monika Jolly), who is to be the hard-nosed by the book type who doesn’t want Wallace’s crew getting in the way. These two aren’t in the movie to just for the sake of being rivals to Charlie’s investigation. They actually provide their own type of comedic relief whenever they are on screen.

Complicating things for Charlie is that he keeps running into his ex-girlfriend, Jewell (Suzanne May), a local news reporter. Roger, thinking the film needs a love story, manipulates them into spending more time together. This approach conflicts with what Wallace wants to do with the movie, so we are treated to some hilarious conflict between the filmmakers.

It sounds cliché to say that a movie delivers wall to wall laughs, but when it is true it needs to be said. This is the case for “Scenesters”. Todd Berger, who is credited as the writer and director, put together a story that builds up steam as it gets going. The dialogue is sharp and enhances by the skilled comedic timing of the actors delivering the lines. Jeff Grace stands out from the rest of the cast. He could be a big star if he manages to get a role in any mainstream project. Drop him into any sitcom on television and he would improve it. However, the rest of the cast deserves just as much credit. Every one of them is funny in virtually every scene you see.

Despite being filmed with handheld cameras, “The Scenesters” looks like a major studio film, but with the sensibilities of an indie flick. It is a combination I would like to see more of with movies. To craft a great story with engaging characters while making a good looking movie is hard to come by these days. So often do we have to sit through movies that only have two of the three (or in the case of “Avatar”, just the part that looks good).

It will be a while before most of you will get a chance to see “The Scenesters”, unless you happen to come across it at your local film festival. I ultimately hope that a major studio will considering distributing it in a wide release. With the proper marketing, it could be big hit. There is no word on when the DVD will be released, so all I can suggest is that you keep your eyes peeled for this one. Needless to say, “The Scenesters” comes highly recommended by this guy.

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