Thursday, June 16, 2011

Short Film Review: Madeleine Zabel

Mad-dy World, Mad-dy World

      The world, beginning with the aughts, has been indoctrinated into the far-reaching tentacles of a seismic cultural realignment, byproducts of an impertinent mass consciousness. The ripple effects have decimated doctrines of normalcy, replaced conventions with hysteria, and necessitated an oversaturated media whose lifeblood is celebrity mania. No short film has ever conveyed this sense of, what I'll call, the madness of the media, better than director Chris Shimojima's Madeleine Zabel. 
      Chris Shimojima, like your's truly, is an NYU graduate, which renders the lion's share of his exploits infinitely cool. This past weekend, Chris sent me an email. In it, he politely inquired if I'd be interested in watching his aforementioned short film. I obliged, and because I was so impressed by his efforts, I felt compelled to author a review.  
      Maddy Z (Jenna D'Angelo) is a young twenty-something by design, but a heiress/socialite (Paris Hilton style) by DNA. Like every enormously entitled faux celebrity, Maddy's the star performer of her own "leaked" sex tape (Kim Kardashian style). She's not the owner of a squeaky clean image. It's quite simple: If a character wants to be interesting, they have to be idiosyncratic, irregardless of their depths of filth. And her leaked affair is no casual Wham! Bam! Thank! You Ma'am! Her partner is none other than her sister's ex-lover; talk about a sordid affair. As is so often the case with extremely wealthy, ostentatious celebutantes, Maddy has a publicist (Kelly Walters), whose job is to purge the socialite's scandalous image. She arranges Maddy a phone call with freelance reporter Elliot Snow (Chris Henry Coffey). And thus begins the tragedy of modern celebrity entanglements...or, is it the antithesis? In other words, does Maddy and Elliot's conversation iterate a tenable solution for our maniacal media?   

      Madeleine Zabel is dialogue-heavy but its language is distinct, and the conversations are essential, engaging, and above all else, entertaining. I'm assuming Chris has witnessed his fair share of Tarantino. While his dialogue is not as cunning or as colorful as Mr. Pulp Fiction, Chris does illustrate a knack for cinematic conversation. Ultimately, what aides the captivating back-and-forth dialogue exchanges are the two lead performances. Jenna inhabits the eponymous Maddy Z with a fiery intensity. She unearths subtle hints as to her denouement without revealing too much too soon; an accomplishing feat given the minimal running time. In essence, her character's journey unfolds organically. And Chris's portrayal of the stern, opportunistic reporter is subsidized with exquisite charm. His disposition is deliberate and his arc is beset by an almost perpetual paranoia. Together, Jenna and Chris may not share any physical screen time, but their collective energies buttress their motivations. Like Lebron James, we are all witnesses.
      From a more definitive breeding ground of inspiration, Chris has intimated to me that Mr. Martin Scorsese (the man, the myth, the legend) is one of his favorite directors. We're talking about the King of film, and compellingly enough, Scorsese's signature oeuvre is evidenced in the narrative soul of Chris's film. I have conferred with others (really just myself on this one) and what I've resolved is quite luminary: that which distinguishes Marty from other auteurs is his ingeniously obsessive assault on the human condition. Every character in a Scorsese film is memorable. The reason stems from his ability to undress his characters; intricately explore the depths of their motivations. Well, Chris actually incorporates this quintessential Scorsese touch (more of a touchDOWN, any chance football season starts on time?). And for that reason, I am left with a titanic-size appreciation (conjure up memories of Scorsese and I'm in like Nicky Santoro on a Casino skimming scheme). By centering the brunt of his mise en scène on the conversation between two characters, Chris is turning the key on his Scorsese motor. His dramatic focal point—the dual phone conversation—reflects his artistic aesthetic. Chris is aiming for a voyeuristic understanding, an understanding that is predicated upon the hysterical inanity of our gluttonous celebrity culture. The lasting impression is one of illumination and obligation. Ultimately, Maddy Z is imbibed with studious direction, pacing-by-osmosis, seamless editing, brilliant visual acuity, distinctive character formation, and terrifically nuanced acting from both Jenna and Chris.
      With countless hacks draining the vast resources of La-La Land's gigantic studio network (I'll refrain from naming names), how can distinct talents like Chris go unnoticed? My personal message to Hollywood: Hand Chris a movie script or give him the requisite money to translate this short into a feature film. It's really a hidden gem.
      In order to, I suppose, flawlessly evaluate Maddy and Elliot's conversational proceedings; we'll have to delve right into the horse's mouth. According to Shimojima, "even though they're talking to each other, neither of them can see what the other's doing, while we see it all. In scenes like this, it's no longer about just the two characters, but about a feeling." Chris is illustrating a primordial curiosity. Cue Jack Nicholson's voice (Col. Jessep), mainly his authoritative tone, from A Few Good Men: "You want them to connect, you want them to know what we know, and maybe you think they do know in some metaphysical way." 
     Chris' intention is to inject humanity into our persistent, celebritized culture; more broadly, our entire media consumption. His tonal design was inspired, partially he says, from a scene in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream. The scene in question surrounds a telephone exchange between Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly's characters. They engage in an impassioned conversation, but it's marred by heartbreaking revelations. And to complicate matters, they can't see each other. Only the audience is privy to their precise emotions, manifested by their facial mannerisms and histrionics. Thus, the vital character reveal comes from a shared feeling; not a visual awareness, but a psychosomatic contrivance. We see what they feel while they undergo this painful metaphysical experience. Their shared feelings are borne from the deep recesses of their most fragile emotions. That is the take-away point from Shimojima's short film. Through a more intimate and more sincere conversational exchange, genuine emotions can be transplanted across time and space. If all journalists, bloggers, fanboys, and anyone with a platform to broadcast an opinion—in today's culture, that's everybody—follows sincere emotive responses, our consumption of news events, however mundane or inane, could engender a more earnest populace. We will never supplant the knowledge society's exorbitant appetite for information, but we can caress it and massage it to a point of reasonable understanding.   

      What could provoke positive change in the way our frenzied media behaves? I submit to the journalistic jury, what I perceive as a mildly transformative change of tactics: foster discussions/interviews that hinge upon an empathetic line of questioning. In other words, improve the often shallow dynamic in which reporting is callously done. If heeded, journalists can drastically undermine, from an intuitive standpoint, citizens' voracious appetites for nonsensical news streams and constant updates, necessitating a shift in how we actually receive and require news. But I must caution: I do not expect any remarkable change in methodology to occur. These designs are lofty. And, big change, even if it is merely a course correction, is routinely rejected. We live in an era of digital immediacy; citizens incessantly ferret out updates on whatever stories interests them from anywhere in the world. Such a universal predisposition to the appropriation of information is, at this point of evolution, innate to the human condition.
      Despite my skepticism for some kind of marginal resolution, there still exists the provocative work of Chris Shimojima. His examination posits a platform for discussion. Arrange a phone interview between two strangers with the goal of establishing, if humanely possible, an empathetic connection. As products of a hyper-sensitive media culture, can two people, with ulterior motives, strike up a genuine bond? Chris' thoughts are illuminating. Set aside 17 minutes of your time to gleam an answer. When people run in circles, it's a very, very mad world, mad world.

9 out of 10 

Madeleine Zabel from Chris Shimojima on Vimeo.

written, directed, and produced by CHRIS SHIMOJIMA 

director of photography CORY DROSS 

original music THOMAS VANOOSTING 





KELLY WALTERS as Janet Laverty


  1. after reading the first few passages of your post, Matty, I shall pray every night never to get any of your writing work for translation :PP It would be extremely difficult.

    The film sounds nice.

  2. The culture of the new celebrity confounds me. I don't understand the fascination with people famous just because they have money.

    I liked the performances, the dialogue was bit a meh and the camera work was interesting; an intimate reality show feel. Shimojima definitely shows promise as do his actors. He should have a great career ahead of him.

    That being said, the Paris Hiltons of the world have all the depth of character of fruit roll-ups. Jenna tried, but I still was abundantly uninterested in her character. I was more into the reporter and his problems.

  3. Never heard about this before but it's so cool that I could be acquainted with Madeleine through your review :)

  4. Far too over my head man. This post made me feel poorly educated.

  5. @ Dezmond

    Touche. I don't know whether to interpret that as a compliment or a complaint. But, since it comes from you, I'll assume the former. I shall never subject you, with your diverse translating abilities, to my writing.

    @ Melissa

    Exactly my point. The fervent celebrity idolatry is driven by superfluous motives. I'll never understand its intensity, but I also don't imagine it will subside.

    The two central performances were excellent. I liked the brunt of the dialogue, but some it was bland/formulaic/contrived. Overall, I thought it was solid. Plus, I always give more clemency to short film dialogue given the inherent constraints of time, substance and depth. Also, the intense pacing/tension and fine acting helped to elevate my absorption into the story.

    It's a sterling exhibition from Shimojima. Based on my impression as well, he should "have a great career ahead of him." Well-said, Melissa.

    And I completely agree with your abhorrence to Paris Hilton type celebrities. They're dull, superficial, and predominantly irrelevant. But I actually thought Jenna, while uninteresting and despicable in nature (I can't defend a classless socialite), was quite riveting in performance. It seemed to me that she underwent a careful and subtle arc, which I really enjoyed. It seemed organic. But I could understand why you were a bit turned off by her character.

    And Chris was superb. He provided much of the tension/stress that really fueled the proceedings and aided my immersion into the story.

  6. @ Jaccstev

    Good stuff. That's what I like to hear. If you get a chance, watch it. Its only cost is 17 minutes of your time. I embedded the video below my review :)

    @ MOMY

    I think you are being a bit facetious, But I must say thanks because you're insinuating that I am "educated," lol.

    And I read many of your posts. You are a fine writer and come across as very intelligent. Never undersell your abilities. And keep up the great work. I'll be visiting your blog routinely.

  7. Wow! That is some movie. So pathetic in a way, but it brought tears to my eyes.

  8. WOW! I'm genuinely happy that you've experienced such a strong visceral response.