It’s been approximately a year and six months since I’ve written a review of a Trinbagonian film. In 2013, I reviewed 4 local films: the Trinidadian-Jamaican-Canadian co-production “Home Again”, the action thriller *COUGH*existential cop film *COUGH* from director Nicholas Attin by the name of “Escape from Babylon” (which resulted in my most talked-about movie review on this blog to date), the music video-esque ghetto drama “God Loves the Fighter” and the incomprehensible mess of a direct-to-video horror flick “Satan’s Daughter”. added as part of a half-assed attempt at a double feature along with the first episode of the CAPTIVATING WWII documentary series “Trinidad and Tobago World War II Diaries” (the rest of which I’d probably see on television when Trinidad & Tobago reaches its 100th year of independence) which I also reviewed. There were a few local films that I saw in 2014, like the crudely-made, yet cult-classic-destined (And in a good way too. Yes, I said it. I know a cult classic when I see one!), ghetto crime drama “Welcome to Warlock” (which I may or may not have bought an official DVD copy of), the surrealistic love letter to post-2010-earthquake-affected Haiti in director Yao Ramesar’s “Haiti Bride”, and the tedious chore of a viewing experience thinly disguised as a made-for-TV female buddy comedy called “Girlfriends’ Getaway” (which, for some inexplicable reason, ran for approximately TWO MONTHS in theaters alongside “Guardians of the Galaxy”). Apart from those three features, I really haven’t seen anything else – or should I say, haven’t seen anything that genuinely interested me – in regards to Trinbagonian films.
And then, within the course of a few weeks leading up to the date of this post, my attention was brought to two local films, each of which I received separate requests to review. The first is “Smallman: The World My Father Made”, a documentary short from Mariel Brown (documentary filmmaker and director of the production company Savant Ltd.) that skipped past my radar when it was screened at the 2013 Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival. The other is the upcoming third feature film from Nicholas Attin (the first being the supernatural thriller “Little Boy Blue” and the second being the aformentioned “action thriller” “Escape from Babylon”), a locally-made science-fiction thriller (yes, ladies and gents, LOCALLY-MADE SCIENCE FICTION…..thriller (there’s that damn word again)): “Tomb”.
Luckily for me, the “Smallman” documentary short and the first official teaser trailer for “Tomb” are available on YouTube (links for both are provided at the end of this write-up), which made it easier for me to watch them multiple times – since they’re short and all. And as they’re both primarily ‘short films’, I really don’t see the need to give each of them a star rating, like I normally do with my movie and music reviews – since they’re short and all. Simply put, I’ve seen both films and after this paragraph (I promise), I’ll provide you with my honest opinion of what I saw. So sit back, relax and check out my first-ever documentary short film and movie trailer review, respectively, of “Smallman: The World My Father Made” and “Tomb” (Cue Hans Zimmer’s horn sound effect used in movie trailers since “Inception” came out in 2010: *BRAAAAAAAAAAAMMMM!!!*)
“SMALLMAN: THE WORLD MY FATHER MADE” (2013)
In the old days of my youth, I always looked forward to getting a toy for Christmas (whether it be an action figure, Hot Wheels, water gun or whatever male-oriented kid’s toy was big at the time). My parents never bought me the Hot Wheels though, and usually, they’d get a “made in China” water gun or action figure for me (y’see, they just didn’t understand the meaning behind the sacred words “Made in U.S.A” at that time), the durability of which lasted for about a few weeks. But I did own a small collection of LEGO sets, and I loved creating houses, vehicles, helicopters and so forth using these colour-coded plastic building blocks. Once I got older, arcade games, comics, drawing, TV shows and the local cinema replaced my affinity for these LEGO sets, but the creative aspect – the ability to create something based on memory or imagination – stayed with me. As adults, we instinctively associate toys with children, but we think little of the adults who create them on a yearly basis. We think more of the function and expected enjoyment of the toy and not the craft, science and most importantly, the passion that went into creating it.
“Smallman: The World my Father Made”, based on the original e-book of the same name (which you can download for free at http://www.artzpub.com) by Trinidadian artist Richard Mark Rawlins, explores this passion in the form of its subject, Richard’s late father Kenwyn Rawlins. Born to a Anglo-Catholic family in the early 1940s, during the early years of World War II, Kenwyn’s dreams of becoming a soldier in the Army (which carried on into his adulthood) led him to join the British West Indian Regiment (then posted in Jamaica) as a private in training. Eventually, he was accepted for office training in England, but regrettably his acceptance was later rescinded. This was a crushing blow for Kenwyn, and one that would resonate with him until his untimely passing in 2006. However, in his later years, he got married, had two boys and invested his time into creating hand-built items like model battleships, miniatures, toys and doll’s houses.
With the assistance of director of photographer Sean Edghill, Mariel Brown allows the camera to go deep into Kenwyn’s lilliputian world of miniatures and models with extensive usage of macro photography. I really got a sense of the meticulous detail placed on these creations, which made my truly appreciate the time, care and effort put into creating them. These items, displayed in the source material in black-and-white photos, are transposed on-screen with vibrant colours and excellent shot composition.
“Smallman” places the viewer in the perspective of Richard Rawlins himself, who delivers the film’s voice-over narration. Periodically, he’s shown looking at an item that meant something to his father in some shape or form, whether it be a toy, a photo, a Birth Certificate or even a letter of bad news (like in one of the film’s best shots, a still of which I provided below). Though these items are obviously familiar to Richard, it oftentimes feels as if (along with the viewer who is only now learning about Kenwyn’s life) Richard is looking at them with new eyes – or should I say grown-up eyes – as if he’s trying to understand the thoughts, actions and motivations of his father. In one scene, for example, where we see a younger Kenwyn in his military uniform, Richard says via narration, “When I look at those pictures with him in Jamaica, I get the sense that he felt he’d found his place in the world”.
The piano melodies provided by Chantal Esdelle add a warm, homely feel to the overall project, and the editing by Mariel Brown regularly, and perfectly, matches the piano’s rhythm. But the film offers a lot more than great music and greater photography. At its core, it tells a simple yet powerful story (and one that I can personally relate to) about how one man was able to find joy in a certain activity (in this case, making things) after having his lifelong dream unexpectedly snatched from his fingers. We all aspire to live out our dreams and achieve our goals, but unfortunately, not all of us will see them become reality. And it sucks when you feel yourself getting closer to that dream or goal, only to have the rug pulled out from under your feet. But most times (if not all of the time), out of that defeat and failure comes that unexpected opportunity to achieve something greater than you ever expected. Such is life, hope, the power of the human spirit, and in the case of this film, the power of creativity.
In the end, “Smallman: The World my Father Made” is a short (DURRRHH!!) but very sweet and heartfelt documentary film that is definitely worth checking out. It may not inspire you to create your own toys or miniatures, or collect them for that matter, but it is guaranteed to spark that creativity we all possess inside of us. Yes, even you.
“TOMB” (Teaser Trailer Review)
“Tomb” stars Kearn Samuel as Commander Nelson Obatala, one of two astronauts representing Trinidad and Tobago (the second being Commander Charles Mercer played by Gregory Pollonais) in a space expedition organized by a world corporate entity known as Proselyte Global. Nelson and Charles individually pilot two human-inclusive deep space probes: the “TTSS Humming Bird” and the “TTSS Scarlet Ibis”. During their six-month period of hyper sleep, Nelson’s vessel was ordered to change course and respond to a distress signal sent out by Charles’ vessel, whose course was mysteriously altered. Separated from his wife Kara and daughter Yemaya for longer than he anticipated, Nelson must brave ‘gigantic rogue (???) meteors’, the ‘awesome unknown of a wormhole’ (the other side of which will eventually lead to his destiny) and……loneliness…….in order to rescue his friend and countryman, Charles Mercer.
The trailer begins with an aight-looking satellite view of a revolving planet Earth, with the text “September 2025” (a reference to the September 10th date of the expedition) superimposed on the top right of the screen. In the next shot, we see Nelson’s wife Kara and baby daughter Yemaya in what is clearly one of Nelson’s memories. A female voice-over narrator (who I assume is the character of Kara) starts off a poem-like narration that permeates throughout the trailer: “For your memories only…..for what only remains as your reality”. The following shot shows us the rocky shore of a beach and a small, forested island on the horizon, which segues into a medium shot of actor Conrad Parris (rocking a white shirt and what looks to be prayer beads around his neck) on said beach, peering out at the unknown. We then see a bit of space travel stock footage (which instantly reminded me of how similar stock footage was used in the first teaser trailer for Christopher Nolan’s 2014 sci-fi epic “Interstellar”), followed by the first shot of the interior of Proselyte Global.
In this shot, a well-dressed Proselyte Global representative (I think) is speaking to his off-screen audience. Now while I like the idea of the live recording playing on the TV screen behind him, and the admittedly clever 868 logo (with the icon of a hummingbird added for good measure) underneath the Proselyte Global logo (“868” being the area code within the North American Numbering Plan), the visual elements within the frame appear flat and slapped together in this particular shot. From the border of the TV screen to the……ummmm….. futuristic-runway-looking-whatchamacallit (I’m really not sure what the hell that’s supposed to be) behind the guy, there’s so little depth or detail in this frame that it easily takes you out of the illusion that this man is indeed in a real-life, ultramodern room. In the next two shots, we see Commander Charles Mercer in the middle of an interview of a televised news programme called “The Real Story News Show”. Now honestly, I have no idea what got Charles all spooked out at the end of the second shot…..
…… or, for that matter, what the cameraman on the left is attempting to do at the beginning of this shot (looks like he’s using Jedi mind tricks to scare the shit out of Charles or something) …… but hopefully, these questions will be answered when the movie comes out.
Anyhoo, the next shot shows actress Amanda McIntyre in a white dress, standing in a sunlit forest. Based on the colour of her attire and her similar “peering into the unknown”-type gaze, I suspect that her character shares some sort of connection with Conrad’s character (perhaps they’re related to each other, I guess). Afterwards, we get a glimpse of Commander Nelson, with his astronaut gear on, a UV light in his hand (a still shot of which you can see in the image that opens this review) and the T&T national flag displayed ever so neatly on his shoulder (yet another clever use of Trinbagonian iconography in the trailer thus far).
And then we get to the MONEY SHOT, the moment in the trailer where hearts start racing, chills crawl up spines, eyes go wide in amazement, jaws hit floors in absolute astonishment and fingers click on computer mice (mouses, meece, whatever the term is) and keyboards as the video is liked and shared throughout the far reaches of social media. We finally get a look of the TTSS Humming Bird, and……….. it looks like something out of a video game. A late-90’s video game. A late-90’s video game for PC, Nintendo 64 and/or the Playstation One! (Cue Hans Zimmer’s horn sound effect used in movie trailers since “Inception” came out in 2010: *BRAAAAAAAAAAAMMMM!!!*)
What stood out the most to me from this scene wasn’t the lack of much-needed recessed detail (i.e. areas of contrast and shadow) on the ship’s hull, or the polygonal-shaped planet behind the ship itself, but the fact that if you look closely at the front of the vessel, there AREN’T ANY WINDOWS! You can literally see a bit of the ship’s interior – from outside! Even in the oddly-lit interior scene of the ship that follows (bright in the back, shadowy in the front), there are NO windows present. Am I supposed to assume that 10 years from now, an astronaut will be able to navigate through space in a windows-free “human-inclusive deep space probe” with the beat down low and the top laid back (that’s from a 2006 song from Atlanta rapper T.I., in case you were wondering, and believe me, it STILL KNOCKS in 2015!), without losing his breath and his sense of hearing in zero gravity? Or is gravity itself non-existent in the year 2025? And if so, why are there meteors that look like something out of a late-90’s video game for PC, Nintendo 64 and/or the Playstation One floating in space? Like I wrote before, HOPEFULLY these questions will be answered when the movie comes out. And on the subjects of video games and beats, while we don’t get a carbon copy of a Hans Zimmer, “Inception”-like score at the end of the trailer, we do get that retro 16-bit video game music I’ve come to expect from a film by Nick Attin. Yaaaaaay.
But all jokes aside, “Tomb” is already shaping up to be a defining moment in Caribbean film. NOBODY, as far as I know, has ever attempted to make a sci-fi feature-length movie in the Caribbean, and I must tip my cap to Nick Attin and his team for taking that plunge and attempting the “impossible”. “Tomb” even caught the attention of the American film-based website Indiewire, thanks to Nick’s teaser trailer and a video pitch (which you can view on YouTube as well) announcing the creation an Indiegogo page for the film. This page gives users the opportunity to contribute money (in US dollars, mind you) to assist in the post-production phase of “Tomb”. Now while the trailer itself shows some promise (save for the VFX and music, which I genuinely hope are “upgraded” in time for the movie’s release), and the premise of the film is actually quite intriguing to say the least, it’s the final product that I’m most concerned about. If “Tomb” is destined to be the film that will turn the Trinbago-film haters and naysayers into believers, and elevate Caribbean film into that world-renowned level we’ve all dreamed about, then it has to be as perfect as it can possibly be. Music, VFX, acting, story, characters, entertainment value, the TTSS Humming Bird – everything has to be on-point for the rest of the world to truly take notice of what we have to offer with Caribbean film. Here’s hoping that “Tomb” exceeds my, and moviegoers looking for the next great Caribbean film, expectations in that regard.
THE LAST WORD: So yeah, those were my opinions on “Smallman” and the “Tomb” teaser. As promised, I put a link to each film below this write-up, so check them out and let me know your thoughts on either one. If you’d like to like and share this page, I’d be more than grateful. Take my criticism as you will, and feel free to discuss. Until then, I remain Legally Black.
“Smallman: The World my Father Made”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rO-aLoK4p8w
“Tomb” (First Teaser Trailer): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvabBHJyvPo