Short Film Saturday: Andy (2017)

It’s been a fairly long hiatus for posts on here (more on why that has been to follow). Today I happened to see a short I enjoyed and it’s Saturday, so I may as well bring back the Short Film Saturday theme.

It’s unrated but definitely NSFW, but tells a good tale of a vicious cycle of bullying. It also features Brendan Meyer whom I featured in my O, Canada! contribution this year.

 

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O Canada Blogathon: Brendan Meyer, Part Three (In Search of Other Dimensions)

Another thing that seems to be happening with younger actors these days is increased career longevity. This is not just due to changes in training and surplus of media, but also the myriad approaches that exist to extending a career, and transitioning to more mature roles.

Some actors who go through dramatic growth spurts go on hiatus due to it, others take their time to pursue educational opportunities. For a fortunate few they can work continuously, toe the line while playing teenage characters with a high degree of believability, finding increasingly complex parts all while being of age and not constraining the production with the need to adhere to child labor laws.

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Brendan has found a good balance in this regard as of late. Typically the subject matter and the depths he’s asked to plunge are vaster and more varied than he was previously allowed.

That chronological flexibility he possesses and geography are two things he’s used to great advantage.

 

Garage Sale Mystery (2013)Garage Sale Mystery: All That Glitters (2014) and Garage Sale Mystery: The Secret Room (2015)

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A lot of fare on either Hallmark or Lifetime is produced in Canada. Brendan has frequently been the “leading Canadian” in a number of these project, which I’ll go through more. So, if you’re ever watching something and say to yourself “Hey, they’re good, who are they?” that’s likely one of the Canadians in the cast.

Lori Loughlin (Full HouseSummerland) decided to bring the Garage Sale Mystery books to the screen as the lead and Executive producer. Brendan played her son in the first three installments, he was usually an unwilling but tech-savvy assistant to mom’s research. His scenes were few and had but one he could really sink his teeth into, and naturally he delivered. The series continues but his part has been recast.

The Christmas Ornament (2013)

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Naturally, Hallmark’s Christmas fare finds itself in Canada quite a bit. In this one Brendan plays an enthusiastic and knowledgable tree salesman whose facts on disparate species of trees helped me sort my own preferences in trees (science comes back again). The good thing about the holiday movies for actors is that they re-air and go into production yearly, so it’s a bit like a mini-addition to pilot season.

The Virginian (2014)

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Lest you think Canada’s utility as a filming location only shows itself in the metropolitan malleability of Vancouver and Toronto, here is Brendan Meyer (facing Ron Perlman) in a 2014 straight-to-video remake of The Virginian. This image being all I could find is indicative of the size of his role in this film.

Starving in Suburbia (2014)

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Perhaps most impressive in terms of his performance and the film itself is Starving in Suburbia. He seems secondary to the tale but his involvement grows as things progress. In examining the mental illness that anorexia is it plays the story like psychological horror and features quite a few moments for Brendan, but is actually worth watching as a whole for sure.

Offering glimmers in smaller parts is great but there have been some recent roles where Brendan has gotten a chance to shine front and center. The depth and complexity of these parts leads to this question…

The Movie Rat: How do you approach a role?

Brendan Meyer: I read the script to learn what my character’s motivations are and how other people react to my character. Then I try to get an overall sense of the character and then take it day by day on set.

Two parts of that statement are huge. Firstly, considering how other characters react to one’s character is not something I’d consciously considered, but it is very important, so I learned something there. Even if an actor is working inside-out the perceptions others have of you can influence self-perception and it’s an important factor to consider for a character. This allows him to consider both motives and ulterior motives. Secondly, “then take it day by day on set” implies openness to collaboration and an innate understanding of the nature of physical production wherein things are bound to change.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Fallen (2014) and Motive: Fallen (2015)

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I watched both the episode of CSI and Motive close together, and if you’re willing to be put through the ringer for 86 minutes I’d suggest you watch them back-to-back. You certainly can as they share much in common, even the titles of the episodes are similar. Should you do so you’d witness Meyer deliver tour-de-force performances where he is angry, confused, vulnerable, seemingly malicious, at other times innocent, fractured, and hurt.

Both these episodes are award-nominated. He won a Joey Award for both and was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Motive, which is just cited to show that others recognized his work in these episodes as well.

It is in these shows that you see best exemplified his process as not only does he make the characters identifiable and interesting but how he feels he is perceived factors into to decisions he makes.

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A still from Motive (USA) 

The Guest (2014)

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The Movie Rat: In 2014, I nominated you for Best Supporting Actor in the BAM Awards (my year-end bests) for The Guest. What was that production like?
Brendan Meyer: It was a great production. The entire cast and crew was terrific and I loved filming in New Mexico.

Here is what I wrote about The Guest at the end of 2014 with regard to Meyer’s nomination…

With the young actor categories there was parity not only in the categories but I did not single out any fields for the six-nominee maximum. With the open categories I only went with one. In terms of the nominations threshold there was an unbreakable flatfooted tie. Ultimately, I couldn’t penalize any actor for the size of their supporting turn. Similarly, Brendan Meyer who was playing quite a few years younger than his actual age is so spot-on in The Guest that that fact could not be used against him.

The Guest is a film that plays with many action and thriller tropes with tongue planted firmly in cheek. As such most of the characters need to play their parts with a high degree of straightness even as things get odd. Brendan’s second only to Dan Stevens in how close to the vest he has to be with regard to his thoughts and intentions. Furthermore, his character Luke in many ways plays our eyes into the world of this story. He sees and learns things about the guest as we do, but his thoughts on him are a bit different.

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(L-R) BRENDAN MEYER and MAIKA MONROE star in the action thriller THE GUEST, opening in September.

He also plays a tremendous amount of subtext in this film such that his opinions and decisions may catch us off-guard but they always make sense, and they do because of the way Brendan is able to convey thoughts an emotions visually, he only later confirms his thoughts in a sincere confessional scene that still leaves some things unsaid but says enough.

His arc is deft and he is pivotal to bringing the emotion to the audience at the start.

Another theme of some of his recent works have been post-apocalyptic titles. We will look at a few of those now.

Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462 and Fear the Walking Dead (2015-2016)

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If you’re like me then you watch The Walking Dead and gave Fear the Walking Dead a chance. If you did that and didn’t scan past this interstitial series embedded in commercial breaks you caught a treat. This series of webisodes is tantamount to a short film, and a reminder that fractional storytelling as Ridley Scott discusses regarding his commercial work, is a great stepping stone.

Brendan here plays a lead in perhaps the most straightest horror work he’s done and it’s a great set-up that ties into the main series later on.

It may not give you the answer you awaited, that comes in the episode of the main show pictured below, which streams on Netflix and Hulu.

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Prior to that he featured in two episodes of the first season of The 100. Here he played the eager to tag along guy who is looking to make friends and tell his story but not necessarily cut out for this world.

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The 100 (The CW)

He also had a guest appearance one a show, which by chance I had just binged-to-get-current-on…

Falling Skies: Respite (2015)

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In this episode again was a thwarted promise of his finishing the final season as a recurring player, however, there was good material for him to work with in terms of being sheltered, and scared, yet knowledgeable, angry about being in the dark and wanting to fight the alien invaders when he learned about them. Really good character stuff aside from the affectations of underage (the character is 15) drinking and smoking.

The Movie Rat: Can you briefly describe the experience of writing and directing your short film A Job?

Brendan Meyer: It was tremendously fun and educational. A lot of the professional crew from Mr. Young helped out so it really felt like I had a ton of support. They were amazing and made sure we had a great finished product. Also, my actor friends all worked in the show and they are super talented so that helped.

A Job (2015)

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Note: Should either A Job or Wolff’s Law become readily available online, I’ll feature them here.

The Movie Rat: Do you feel that directing and writing have had an affect on your acting work. How so?

Brendan Meyer: Definitely. I feel I’m better able to understand character development and even blocking by having to think those things out for the projects I create.

Wolff’s Law (2015)

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I can’t be 100% that the short film Wolff’s Law was Brendan’s first project after writing an directing his own short film, but it is the performance that most stands up as having occurred following his writing and directing a film. In this film Brendan has to work physically, usually within tight frames with facial expressions and with subtext far more frequently than through text. Very little is said and he is typically the only character on screen. The film gets its protagonist alone, and silent and yet there is nothing that feels as if it is left unsaid. It communicates volumes due to clarity of the films vision and the singular sincerity Meyer brings to the role.

Before discussing his two most recent dramtic turns here are his two latest comedic participations that have allowed him to broaden his horizons some…

iZombie: Zombie Bro (2015) and iZombie: Reflections on the Way Liv Used to Be (2016)

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In a two disconnected episodes of the CW’s iZombie Brendan plays a frat brother. Aside from the refreshing nature of playing a college student for a change, he does get to do some varied work here like dropping his voice an octave, getting emotional saying the word “chug,” and flailing through a beer pong mime. These episodes are good to have in his repertoire as he seeks to demonstrate expansive range.

This potent comedic punch was also on display in an episode of the short-lived Fox show Backstrom, which stars Rainn Wilson. In that Meyer is back in his teen persona but his comedic timing is as impeccable as ever and got the biggest laugh out of me in the whole episode.

T@gged (2016)

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This was the first new-to-me work I watched for this blogathon. I was intrigued by its being on a new media platform (Go90 a streaming app developed by Verizon), the variable running times of the episodes, the incorporation of technology, and the mystery/thriller plot.

Typically Brendan had one scene an episode when he appeared before being heavily involved in the finale. Without giving too much away he really makes his presence known there, and despite the fact that I figured where it was going, despite some second guessing, the journey is still worth it. A little bit more on this a little later…

The OA (2016)

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The Movie Rat: The OA was written entirely by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, and directed by the former. Do auteur cinema and television hold a special appeal for you?

Brendan Meyer: Yes, I do enjoy working with writers and directors who have a lot of control over the overall direction of the show because then the vision of the show is often more clear and focussed.

I raced to finish T@gged before The OA came out, which was good because the former frequently left me drained and/or in tears and I needed recovery time. In a similar vein to T@gged this show saw Brendan part of an ensemble, and like everyone in the cast, he has his moments and an episode wherein he appears more than in others where we learn more of him and his life, but its piecemeal scenework which puts an onus on ability to absorb and interpret material and access previous moments to maintain the dramatic unity of the piece.

It’s clear that Meyer and everyone in the cast responded to the limits this show was testing and it’s exciting to see him involved in something like this. This is the kind of project you just want to be involved with regardless of the extent of your involvement.

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Most of his participation in this show hinges on physicality, especially in the multiplied mirror routines as the characters work on their “moves” (watch the show to know what that means), and that acting is reacting as his listening to Marling’s dialogue in a scene is likely his best moment of the series. Below you can view a similar scene where he and Betty (Phyllis Smith) bond.

Ones that Got Away and Ones to Come

As with any actor, or any artist for that matter, there are those projects that got away. I knew he’d been cast in Ender’s Gameand was going to be one of the recruits who gave Ender a hard time, but had to dropout because of scheduling conflicts. However, I didn’t know that he’d done some promotional appearances with his would-be castmates.

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There’s also a 2014 pilot for Fox that didn’t air and wasn’t picked up.

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The cast of Here’s Your Damn Family

But it was a project that never happened that lead to Mr. Young, so that’s an example of a proverbial door closing and window opening.

Don’t be surprised if one of those future endeavors is Shakespeare related. On his page both in his theatre experience and on the home page the Shakespeare titles are evident, including the fact that he’s written some adaptations for the stage.

The Movie Rat: How did your Shakespeare fandom begin?

Brendan Meyer: My parents took me to Shakespeare plays when I was young. Our local Shakespeare festival, the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, had an amazing group of actors and they did awesome plays.

The Movie Rat: What’s your dream role, Shakespeare or otherwise?

Brendan Meyer: Richard III definitely. There are a ton of other roles in many other plays, Shakespeare and non, too numerous to mention. I’d love to do more theatre.

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This fandom has manifested itself on Mr. Young on the episode “Mr. Shakespeare” where he plays a few variations of the of the death scene in Romeo and Juliet. Due to the awkwardness of that scenario his most Shakespearean moment on the show was probably on “Mr. Poet” when his sudden burst of inspiration gets him past his writer’s block and he improvises a poem about Echo. However, in a pleasant surprised there is a Shakespearean element in T@gged also that fits in well with its themes.

Conclusion

If you didn’t know of his work before I should hope you have a desire to see some of it now both dramatic and comedic. What I had not yet seen and discovered was illuminating and I hope there is plenty more to come.

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The Cast of The OA relaxing on set. 

Postscript

In the tradition of my exhaustive but incomplete Bergman list here are Meyer’s titles that I’ve not yet seen: For the Love of a Child (TV Movie, 2006), A Pickle (Short Film, 2009), The Assistants (TV Guest Appearance, 2009), Everyday Kid (2010, TV Movie), Closures (Short Film, 2011), Birthday Boy (Short, 2015), Code Blue: A Love Story (Short, 2015), Camp (TV Movie, 2016)

O Canada Blogathon: Brendan Meyer, Part Two (Who You Calling Kid?)

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In yesterday’s installment I introduced Brendan Meyer through his earliest roles in near complete chronological order. Now comes his breakout and what that brought.

Mr. Young (2011-13)

The Movie Rat: How did your role on Mr. Young come about?

Brendan Meyer: I was attached to a Nickelodeon pilot that didn’t go at the last minute, and so I was pulled in to audition for Mr. Young late in the process and I was lucky enough to get it.

Any artistic endeavor ends up relying a bit on luck, but with regard to the decision the producers of Mr. Young had to make, it became abundantly clear over the course of 80 episodes that they made the correct one and were fortunate the other project fell through and that he could audition.

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Mr. Young is about a young prodigy, Adam Young (Meyer), who graduates college at 14 and decides both to give back and try to capture his missed high school experience by teaching science at Finnegan High School. Creator Dan Signer started to perfect such wild notions in shifting Disney’s Suite Life franchise onto a boat, then on A.N.T. Farm simultaneous to Mr. Young, but the outlandishness to the point of absurdity necessitates a strong central figure both believable as a science whiz and also at times a goofy, shy, lovestruck teen, blending just well enough into the surrounding insanity to not stand out; in short, the actor playing Mr. Young has to sell the world being created and Brendan does.

Disney has shown a willingness to get a bit more creative and daring on its sister Disney X.D. network, but I was not surprised only the first two seasons aired here after the full three-season run was on YTV. One of the joys of this blogathon for me was not just re-watching those first two seasons, but finding season three on iTunes and watching it for the first time. When this show aired on Disney XD I watched it weekly and usually shared my favorite line on Twitter (there was much competition as the cast and writing was usually firing on all cylinders).

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At worst a sitcom becomes rote repetition; at best, especially for a young actor, it’s a laboratory for trying out new techniques an motifs, and the premise of Mr. Young gave the writers and actors the freedom to experiment allowing Meyer much growth.

On Inside the Actors Studio Mike Myers said:

“Silly is a natural state – serious is something you are forced to do till you can be silly again.”

Not only do I find that an apropos insight, but I think silly is a word I reach for to describe a comedy at times, but it is rarely fitting. Mr. Young is serious until it can find a way to be silly again, which it frequently does.

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One thing I wanted to create, in part to learn something, was a running list of scientific concepts mentioned on the show. Sometimes they were just mentioned in passing to lend credibility to Adam’s character, at other times it was the springboard to a plot like when they employed an exaggerated interpretation of pheromones in “Mr. Moth.”

The second way in which the show makes itself credible enough to be silly is adhering to the comedic precept whose importance was underscored to be in my working with actress and instructor Angela Pietropinto who said, and I paraphrase, the basis of all comedy is obsession on the character’s part. These characters, Mr. Young especially in his pursuit of Echo (Matreya Fedor), have that to ground them, and it allowed Brendan much freedom.

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Here are just some of the things the 80 episodes of Mr. Young allowed Brendan to do and work on.

Work with Dialogue and Dialect:

  • Large amounts of dialogue at disparate rates.
  • Picking up cues
  • Delivery
  • Working against CG
  • Voice modulation
  • Intonation
  • Emphasis
  • Over-emphasis
  • Overly-descriptive dialogue
  • Wise Guy accent
  • Hypnotic regression (“listen to the sound of my voice…”)
  • Golly-gee bellhop voice
  • Quasi-Bostonian greasemonkey
  • Wizard voice
  • French accent
  • Eureka line
  • Obtuse line
  • Woozy line
  • Monologue
  • Corny joke voice, etc.

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Physicality:

  • Mirror exercise
  • Dance
  • Mime
  • Pantomime
  • Slap fighting
  • Stuntwork
  • Falls
  • Pie gags
  • Depth Perception Gag, etc. 323mrinterview

Acting Styles:

  • Soap Acting lite
  • Exaggerated commercial kid acting
  • switching characters, playing Dang

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Different Characters and Costumes:

  • Alan Young
  • Alan Small
  • Mr. Marvelous
  • Bald Cap to look like Principal Tater
  • Leprechaun
  • Cross-dressing (several instances: lunch lady, Leia gold bikini, Daisy Dukes)
  • Old man
  • Billy Bonkers (Willy Wonka parody)
  • Dark Demon
  • Bulletin board
  • Audio Speaker
  • Water fountain (these last few will make sense if you see the episodes)
  • Romeo (More on that tomorrow)
  • Beat poet
  • Jack-in-the-Box,
  • Farmer
  • Masks
  • Statue, etc.

 

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If this were a Wikia or an episode guide I’d go further in-depth, but clearly the rapport existed with the cast such that the series was a not just a hit but one I find genuinely hilarious and silly. I’m a loud ,but not usually physically expressive laugher, and some parts of this show had me stomping my feet, and the only two tiers I have above that are my face being in pain and crying and those are rare indeed.

More evidence of the great ensemble work here, which is a skill in and of itself, is an episode wherein everyone switched personas became easy enough to pull off, and when Brendan wrote and directed a short film (more on that tomorrow) he asked Raugi Yu to be involved.

The foundation of the world of Mr. Young is so well-established that the show even gets very meta in season three and is perhaps funnier for it, in part because it shows a design to the three season run as opposed to a show just trying to run out the clock. The teased romance between Adam and Echo is not as much of an obstruction to the show as it is on other sitcoms. Recurring characters reach their final moment and there is a closure for all. Everyone grows character- and performance-wise.02x05

Even before Mr. Young ended though, Brendan was getting other opportunities and he took them. Being the lead on a YTV/Disney show lead to cross-promotional appearances, which were taken advantage of by Meyer. The first of these being…

Girl vs. Monster (2012)

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Here’s some of what I wrote about this film just after its initial release:

The story does seem like it’ll take the typical routes through Disney tropes but it does throw a wrench in enough to keep it interesting and less predictable than most. The casting is also better than most recent films. Granted Disney Channel will spin-off a star from a show into most of, if not all, these films, but the choice to not only choose Olivia Holt (Kickin’ It) who is of lower-profile than most of the current Disney stable helps this film and the viewers because she’s more quickly her character in this film, and it’s less like a star vehicle. Especially when you consider she’s flanked by a great supporting cast, only some of which are frequently seen on the networks, featuring Brendan Meyer and Kurt Ostland (Mr. Young); Katherine McNamara, Adam Chambers, Jennifer Aspen and Brian Palermo.

In this film Brendan plays the male friend whom is not the love interest for the female protagonist, which is an under-written niche. I’m glad to see in this film and evidence of Disney consciously attempting to stray from its stories with Anglo-Saxon patriarchal roots. He’s the kind of guy there to help his friend (gives her a literal boost when the wants to jump, and awkwardly claps in support though thinking she’s a bit wacky) but he is frozen by fear and cowardice. His arc is well established and intersects with the overarching plot nicely.

In a found footage film he’d be nothing but the guy with the helmet cam, thankfully this has loftier designs than that. Once he snaps out of literal paralysis he makes decisions, gets more involved and less secondary, stares down the manifestation of his fear, and the star-moment of his performance is not dialogue but a look of determination in his eyes – a testament to growth as a screen actor that visuals frequently become his most memorable moments.

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The arc concludes with a moment fitting his characters journey but also allows for a comedic moment with an awkward comeback that he delivers on (fittingly with Mr. Young co-star Kurt Ostlund), Meyer here brings a lot to a rather straightforward affair.

That’s as a significant supporting player, he contributes to the betterment of a project even in a very minor role such as…

Spooky Buddies  (2011)

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This is an example of  level of dedication. Brendan is in this film to deliver one line, step on a few jack-o-lanterns, and then get shocked by a runaway specter; in short, a one day shoot, but it still required having to apply make up as such and doing this to his hair.

Life with Boys: Girl-Entines Day with Boys (2013)

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Life with Boys was another YTV show that came south, this time to Nickelodeon. It didn’t thrive down here, so this episode was one I saw on Amazon and not on the airwaves.

The  plot offers only a slight variation on the two-dates-simultaneously premise but in a handful of scenes Meyer injects quite a bit of life to it with a cry-yell, a well-told story, an awesome delivery on what ended up being the best line on the show (though the laugh track didn’t know it), the ability to convincingly be unable to get a word in edgewise, and a reaction best described as a “What the-?” face.

And he’s still gone back to Disney despite Mr. Young being over…

Best Friends Whenever: A Time to Rob and Slam (2015)

BRENDAN MEYER, LAUREN TAYLOR

I saw this episode when it aired on Disney and I was glad revisit it on Netflix. It’s one thing to ask (or allow) an actor to go over-the-top or to see them just “have fun with” a part, but what they do with it is another. Brendan plays a guy who refers to himself as “The Rob” and is the lab partner from Hell. The margin for error on this character is miniscule, slight slips can take The Rob from impossibly hilarious to just impossible.

It’s a treacherous enough part excluding the fact that Rob was a seemingly normal, unassuming guy in middle school. So the ability to change persona is needed but also to make this insane amounts of narcissism and ridiculous mannerisms work.

At different points he seemingly channels W.C. Fields and Mark McKinney’s Mississippi Gary, puts a new spin on nom-nom-nom, and adds “Rob” at the front of nearly every word and makes it work.

But here are some clips so you get a better sense of it.

The Movie Rat: You have quite an extensive resume at a young age, do you feel that diversifying the media you work in (TV, Film, Shorts, Web series, theatre, etc.) is the key to working more consistently?

Brendan Meyer: I think being open to projects that can challenge you and give you the chance to work with great people helps.

Three of Brendan’s recent projects were first released on new media platforms (YouTube, Go90 and Netflix respectively). The one on YouTube (below) is his latest Disney project, a  Free Period short-form film released in the summer of 2016.

Parker and the Crew (2016)

While playing one of many overgrown scouts in the above film, Brendan’s comedy stylings have been allowed to mature some since, but while that’s a jump it’s nothing compared to the quantum leap he’s earned in terms of showcasing his dramatic chops.

To Be Continued…

Tomorrow’s Post: In Search of Other Dimensions

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O Canada Blogathon: Brendan Meyer, Part One (Early Roles)

Introduction

I had participated in both prior editions of the O Canada Blogathon, however, after I read the parameters anew and I was glad I did. I already wanted to profile a person but the freedom to make my focus a modern figure including TV and film made the decision easy.

Picking a performer allowed me to slip into an old viewing habit anew, watching things based on an actor involved; it also gave me the chance to feature someone whose work I am quite familiar with, and who should be more well-known. And I love trying to bring films and performers to a larger audience.

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The OA (Netflix)

If you’re addicted to Netflix it’s possible you know Brendan from The OA, which just came out in November. However, I’ve been familiar with his work since Disney X.D. picked up Mr. Young from YTV. Since then he’s evolved from the lead in a sitcom aimed at young audiences, to someone whose involvement leads to a project’s ascent to automatic betterment, to a BAM Award nominee for his performance in The Guest; to a consummate performer who is ever deepening his ease, skill-set and mastery of the craft of acting. Potential is quickly becoming potency, as at the age of 22, he can still play far younger  with the commensurate ability of someone with both extensive training and experience.

As such, it seems likely we’re only witness to the tip of the iceberg and his talents will shine forth even brighter as his characters become even deeper, richer, and more complex.

Brendan was gracious enough to grant me an interview, which I’ll incorporate throughout as appropriate. As I was deciding how to tackle his precociously expansive filmography, I figured the best way to approach things would be with a pseudo-Inside the Actors Studio look at his works to date. If the first eleven-plus years of his work are any indicator he will get to be on the real deal at some point in the future. As there are already a great many credits to discuss, I will split this post into three parts.

Here goes…

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The Movie Rat: How did you get started in acting?

Brendan Meyer: I was always interested in being an actor. So, when I was young my parents took me to the theatre and let me do acting classes during my free time. It started out as a hobby, and then grew into a full time job.

The evolution from hobby to job is evident as you look at credits closely, many of his earliest screen credits were filmed in Alberta near enough to his native Edmonton making participation in those projects more convenient for he and his family. Brendan’s natural talents landed him the roles and he started amassing experience.

Waking Up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story (2005)

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When I saw that Brendan played “Goalie” in this film, I thought perhaps all he was but a pee wee goalie who flopped about as Young Wayne Gretzky scored a goal. However, I was pleasantly surprised, that even in his first film role, he was one of the featured youth players.

Wayne Gretzky’s father, Walter (Tom McCamus), on the mend from an aneurysm, is coaching a pee wee teaming having an episode, barely hearing the chatter as he’s asked by many players, Brendan included, “What’s the starting line-up?” the players debate and Brendan the goalie says “It’s Wally’s call! Right, Wally?”

In the game he has a huge moment making a spectacular edit-assisted save on a breakaway chance. Upon arriving at the bench he celebrates with a huge smile stating “That was the best save I ever made!” and punctuates an all-around feel good moment quite well.

The Secret of the Nutcracker (2007)

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If you’ve seen my Battle of the Nutcrackers post, you know I don’t tire of new versions of The Nutcracker. Learning that he’d been in a unique film version that the Alberta Ballet and Alberta Symphony Orchestra were involved in and got Brian Cox to be in, it’d have to be one of my first viewings.

It is definitely more film than ballet, however, as opposed to the ballet where Frank’s analogue (Fritz) drops out after the first act, he has to carry much of the action as part of a brother-sister team and does so effectively.

Blood Ties (2007)

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This appearance as a guest star on a TV episode aside from leaving a cliffhanger that was never fulfilled by his character recurring, but it serves as an exercise in single-camera film acting technique. He doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue but has to rely on his glances, context, and expression to convey emotions and does so.

DinoSapien (2007)

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One theme that came up based on Brendan’s works was science, and based on the anti-science climate propped up by some, I could not be happier.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I saw myself in the likes of the dinosaur-knowledgeable kids in Jurassic World and Jurassic Park, and that’s Brendan in this series with a boisterous enthusiasm for the subject matter and a natural ability. His performance plays second fiddle only to the concept of intelligent, evolved dinosaurs. It’s an idea that could’ve been further developed and explored with more seasons and budget.

Freezer Burn: The Invasion of Laxdale (2008)

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The stock phrase goes that there are no small parts only small actors. However, when a role is small and your few moments are memorable that does help. One example of that is this film wherein Brendan’s first line of three is “My dad says you’re a loser!” immediately followed by punching the protagonist (Tom Green) in the genitals.

Christmas in Canaan (2009)

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One thing that has to be acknowledged is that there is a sort of enlightenment going on both with young actors, who are persistently improving and directors and dialect coaches are more willing to work with them. Kodi Smit-McPhee mentioned how he learned the American dialect at a young age from a coach and never really forgot. Many other Australian and British actors are in the same boat. So, it really shouldn’t really have surprised me that Brendan showed up in this film with a slow Southern drawl that blends seamlessly. It certainly added impact to another brief appearance.

The Tooth Fairy (2010)

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One dichotomy of type that’s difficult play is both bully and bullied. Brendan has been able to do both successfully. His first turn at either was in The Tooth Fairy. He was bigger and more imposing than the lead, Chase Ellison, at the time but also plays the part well aside from suiting it.

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Dead Body (2010)

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I wrote of The Haunting Hour before in one of my rare to-date cinematic episode pieces. Here is something of what I said regarding this episode:

It uses a cinematic settling-in-of-fact to take the journey of discovery along with its protagonist (Brendan Meyer) and, though the audience may jump ahead of the conclusion, the impact is heightened because of the fact that for the last few minutes you’re allowed to feel the enormity of the reversal of fortune sink in for the characters involved as well as for yourself.

This is an example of a story wherein his character is typically bullied and gets a taste of bullying. Not only can he do both, but he can do both in the same work, which comes up again later.

Following up on the above quote though the end was one of the standout moment for Brendan as his moment of realization is compounded and chilling.

Note: There was a sequel to this episode in 2013.  Sadly, it has not been released on digital or physical media yet, so I couldn’t include it here. 

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: Creature Feature, Part 1 and Creature Feature, Part 2 (2011)

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Brendan’s second tour of duty on The Haunting Hour was in a two-part spectacular that kicked off season two. Perhaps the most interesting part about it structurally is that Brendan’s character,  Nathan, goes from supporting player to protagonist. This is even more fitting because his character is an average kid striving for the cool girl while also trying to appease his geeky friend (Joel Courtney).

While in the first episode his best moment is a dramatized topping exercise with Courtney, in the second episode he is properly and naturally cut-off mid-sentence (a feat more difficult than it sounds), uses effective non-verbal responses, and exceptionally conveys the bittersweetness of the closing phone call.

Segue

The Haunting Hour episodes were the first things I saw Brendan in. I am not sure I recognized him from one season to the next. At most, it would’ve been as one of those actors who came back to the show a few times over.

Soon, however, he’d be a name I knew well.

To Be Continued… 

Tomorrow’s Post: Part Two, Who You Calling Kid?

MR YOUNG

 

Cinematic Episodes: The Haunting Hour, Season 1

Introduction

When I first thought of the concept of cinematic episodes, this is one of the handful of television shows that came to mind. However, it was not the show I was intending to be my first follow-up to that post. I intended to take a more chronological approach to the question of drawing parallels between television and film.

However, seeing as how the first show I started drafting a post on is more in the suspense anthology realm rather than the horror anthology realm, and this is 61 Days of Halloween; The Haunting Hour seemed more appropriate.

Now, the reason I choose a half-hour (what really amounts to about 23 minute) show as opposed to horror anthology series that literally produce short features (e.g. Masters of Horror) is that it places the series more firmly in the realm of television; a commercial-television product is still very much a TV program no matter how much technique it borrows.

There is also the question of format and genre, there aren’t that many half-hour dramatically-inclined series’ in North America. The standard approach is hour dramas and half-hour comedies. However, those shows (as I’ve mentioned in the past) that decide to go for shorter bursts of drama, suspense, horror, or other non-comedic reactions; are typically more successful.

The reason I choose horror over a straight drama is not just so I can fit it in with my theme. Horror is not that frequently attempted on TV as compared to other genres. Yes, there’s a surge in recent years due to the success of some series, but in the overall history of the medium it’s more rare. Part of that rarity is that horror is a genre very conducive to literature and cinema. With television one of historical imperatives has been timeliness and economy.

Only since the mid-’90s, when trying to jolt viewers and win the ever faction-ing audience has the single-camera approach to dramas and comedies become more prevalent, and horror more pervasive.

However, the fact that The Haunting Hour is a horror program aimed at younger viewers also factors in to my selection, also not only because I covered another Stine film this year. It factors in because if you look at these kinds of shows a generation (or so) ago with Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? the ante is significantly increased in terms of narrative and production value. Nickelodeon finally jumped back into the contest with the far inferior Deadtime Stories this year, but The Haunting Hour not only excels in horror but for programming for children in general winning multiple Emmys thus far.

However, it is its consistently cinematic approach, ability to attract A-List caliber young actors and its not-always-happy-endings that have earned my loyalty as a viewer.

Below I will take a closer look at the cinematic DNA of this show that made itself evident through the course of the show’s first season. It was it’s largest season in number of episodes (22) which makes sense since it launched as the Hub Network did and is one of the young network’s flagship programs. I will briefly recap and react to each episode, offer thoughts on the cinematic qualities of each (usually in visual terms), list directors and cast and link to video where available legally.

Really You, Part 1 and 2 (Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Bailee Madison, Connor Price, Casey DuBois

Synopsis/Reaction

To start off a new program bearing R.L. Stine’s name. How else would be better than with a refraction of a theme that was not altogether unfamiliar to viewers and readers of his previous series of books (and TV) Goosebumps? Really You tells the tale of a doll that is more than it seems (i.e. alive) and also starts the series off in impressive fashion bringing talented young actress Bailee Madison into the mix.

Commentary

I began compiling this post with more exhaustive notes, however, in a way I still don’t quite understand; I lost those notes. It’s probably a good thing. This ought not be an exhaustive look that dissuades your viewership, but rather a closer one with a focused on eye on what makes this particular program generally more cinematic than most. Some of the motifs and movements used in this tale are: a pan-heavy montage at the beginning, afforded by double-episode status. The double-episode may be mathematically similar to the hour-long episode, however, there is an obvious difference. The difference is in the intensity allowed to build in a more easy fashion.

This fashion is not as cinematic, structuring to climactic commercial breaks and a mid-point cliffhanger leading into the next week (or episode), but depending on the story it can serve a show better. Some hour-long TV plots can meander whereas double-episodes can have a more consistent pleasurably dramatic build.

Aside from a match dissolve at the start, the use of high contrast, steadicam, dolly shots and canted angles (including panning from one cant to another) this episode also implements cinematic elements in an homage (A Paranormal Activity style scare) but also with the progressive make-up application as the protagonist becomes more tired and frazzled showing more passage of time quicker than is standard.

A Creature Will Stir (Season 1, Episode 3)

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Director Terry Ingram
Featured Cast Thomas Robinson, Stacy Grant, Kurt Evans, Rachel Pattee, Cainan Wiebe

Synopsis/Reaction

If ever there was a delicate balance for a juvenile horror series to strike it is that of the wonder of Christmas, especially through youthful eyes; and a horrific element. Now the table is well-set for the preternatural element that will find its way into this episode by the fact that a family portrait is painted of disharmony. As the story unfolds we discover that a divorce is imminent. Naturally, the creature is discovered by the youngest child, Timmy (Thomas Robinson), so doubt is natural. The horror comes to fore in the latter half of the episode and acts as a cathartic catalyst, thus it succeeds exceedingly well in both tasks: telling a horror tale and a heartwarming Christmas Story.

Commentary

To be able to strike all the aforementioned notes properly what this episode does very well is have its camerawork and edit correlate to the the intended tone. The episode commences with dollies, tracking, and other kinetic shots; that reflect the upbeat Christmas morning tone that is being set. However, as the family awakes and some of their issues come to the fore the camera and the edit as well settles a bit. Here the cinematography not only assists in characterization but also in effects-work but also changes the tone anew as things get tense.

The balancing act of family, horror and Christmas tales culminates towards the end not only with the locations (the attic and then on the street, with a skylight in one; sooty and a aglow in firelight in another) these simple decisions show it’s not always about big budgets to create a more cinematic feel even on the small(er) screen.

Some clips that illustrate what I’m talking about can be found on the Hub’s site below.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710912856001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-a-creature-will-stir-ep-3-season-1-clip-1

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710851564001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-a-creature-will-stir-ep-3-season-1-clip-2

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710912857001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-a-creature-will-stir-ep-3-season-1-clip-3

The Dead Body (Season 1, Episode 4)

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Director James Head
Featured Cast Brendan Meyer, Matt Angel, Samuel Patrick Chu, Tiera Skovbye, Bryce Hodgson

Synopsis/Reaction

Here’s the first time the series goes beyond the grave, and in doing so this is where the trademark of the series really starts to come to the fore. As I recently stated in a piece on one of Stine’s features: his brand of horror is not a substandard one, and furthermore, it is one that is not as safe as one would assume would be designed for a young audience.

Not only is a ghost a very tangible threat in this particular installment, but the living are not safe from repercussions of meddling in their lives.

Commentary

Clearly when you want to establish a more filmic feel on television one thing that needs to be done is to occasionally buck certain trends and structuring decisions that become mandates in creating the style of a show. While one can dissect the formulaic structure (as I have with this show) with any program, the building blocks that form that structure can be easily switched without hurting the integrity of the whole.

Examples of this abound in this episode. First, it has a pop-song montage start to establish its character and location, and it effectively eschews the signature “Oh-ee” cut-to-black theme ending usually reserved for episodes. Why these changes work is that they effectively create the tone they are seeking to.

While there are some visual signatures in this tale worth noting that pop up in this show for the first time: like the use of obstructions in frame, flickering light; and some repeating like smoke and firelight; it’s the edit of the end that bucks the trend. It uses a cinematic settling-in-of-fact to take the journey of discovery along with its protagonist (Brendan Meyer) and, though the audience may jump ahead of the conclusion, the impact is heightened because of the fact that for the last few minutes you’re allowed to feel the enormity of the reversal of fortune sink in for the characters involved as well as for yourself.

You can also view clips from this episode at the links below.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710842887001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-dead-body-ep-4-season-1-clip-1

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710851565001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-dead-body-ep-4-season-1-clip-2

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710865436001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-dead-body-ep-4-season-1-clip-3

The Nightmare Inn (Season 1, Episode 5)

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Director Nick Fearnley
Featured Cast Madeline Carroll, Ingrid Torrance, Jodie Balfour, Richard Harmon

Synopsis/Reaction

One of the classic shows of influence in sci-fi, the supernatural and horror is The Twilight Zone. It’s influence will be eternal and is hard to avoid. When one compares what you’re doing to that program it is the utmost compliment if you are said to be doing well at the impersonation. The set-up of this episode is not unlike an episode of The Twilight Zone.

The nuclear family at the center of this tale happen upon an inn that has been haunting the recurring dreams of Jillian, the eldest (Madeline Carroll). Her mother turns a deaf ear to concerns and they stay there regardless and begin to uncover the secrets the inn has.

Commentary

This episode is all about low-light and high-contrast. Well, two thirds of it is. To not put too fine a point on it the night-day-night structure of the three acts is crucial in the telling of the tale. Far more than the occasional POV lurking shot or the use of slight-bounce (as opposed to to jiggly-cam) to convey tension. In film (as in television) time of day is a much a part of the setting as the year and location, if not more so. These choices are influenced by the telling, and aid the impact of the story as well as various production departments.

You can see clips of this episode below.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710865435001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-nightmare-inn-ep-5-season-1-clip-1

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710865434001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-nightmare-inn-ep-5-season-1-clip-2

The Red Dress (Season 1, Episode 6)

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Director J.B. Sugar
Featured Cast Emmanuelle Vaugier, Linda Tomassoni

Synopsis/Reaction

One of the classic motifs of horror is the desired object and the maleficent salesperson who will dispense justice to those who cross them in business dealings. However, when one deals with an anthology series commonly tread ground will be found quite often. It usually comes down to how said ground is trod this time around.

With regards to comeuppance this is one of the most daring tales, and early on in the first season again sends out a reminder that not all will end well. This can be looked at as a controversial approach. However, when one considers nursery rhymes and Grimm’s Fairy Tales one realizes that kids do process the horrific rather well and come to expect it. Almost any ramification can be absorbed. It’s an overly-realisitic rendition of violence and threats that can really cause problems it seems.

Commentary

The crow breaks the visual malaise and foreshadows. The motivation is set (impress the boy) now the trap needs to come into place.

Shafts of light, shots through glass, camera movement both amped and smooth; the mood-setting of this episode definitely delivers where the conclusion may not. The production picks up for fairly standard plotting of a desirous-object tale. As does the very last shot in the shop.

You can see clips of this episode below.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/754415201001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-red-dress-ep-6-season-1-clip-1

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/754424254001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-red-dress-ep-6-season-1-clip-2

The Ghostly Stare (Season 1, Episode 7)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Jason Spevack, Emma Grabinsky

Synopsis/Reaction

Here we have an episode mostly dealing with events in and around a cemetery. A pair of siblings each has their own preoccupation with the dead. Lauren (Emma Grabinsky) practices the art of grave rubbings, whereas her brother, Mark (Jason Spevack) is curious to see a dead body.

This is a tale that deals with the desecration of a burial site, both in a personal and corporate way. The corporate will be that a mini-mall is soon to be built over the graveyard (thus, the ability for Mark to actually potentially see a body) and the personal comes from the children coming to close to those trying to rest at peace.

In the end this episode ends up acting as a covert zombie tale preying on fears that we all harbor about proximity to the dead will ultimately lead us to crossing over.

Commentary

The displaced corpse tale alluded to with a languid series of camera moments and shots as construction workers move about a dilapidated, torn up cemetery. Staring contest set-up siblings and leads into discussion of mortality and hobbies, grave rubbings; things that tie-in to death. The line of propriety that must not be crossed is explored in here. POV and long shots establish watchers and suspense, montage of of headstones when mark is missing, and empty graves do as well.

One of the lines of fright “I’m so cold” echoes something from Are You Afraid of the Dark? that’s handled much better here. In night time scenes very similar shots to those used in the day at the cemetery are amplified by the lighting. Claustrophobic shots on last story day of the tale lead to the visual and narrative circle closing that occurs.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/754415197001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-ghostly-stare-ep-7-season-1-clip-1

Walls (Season 1, Episode 8)

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Director Michael Scott
Featured Cast Bobby Coleman, Cameron Bancroft, Gina Holden

Synopsis/Reaction

As difficult as it is to create a wholly new tale, Walls comes about as close as this series has. The creature living behind the walls of Jeffrey’s (Bobby Coleman) new family home, who menaces him, is a parasite. He knows it’s there, his parents deny it. Does it want to hurt him or is that just perception? That’s the set-up and what will be discovered over the course of this episode.

What buoys this episode is the prosthetic work, the voice over of the creature, its conclusion and most importantly Bobby Coleman‘s performance, which may be the finest of the series to date.

Commentary

There is visual foreshadowing in abundance not just with the POV shots but with the shots that focus on the lamb-patterned wallpaper that has an oddly hypnotic quality. Many of these shots have unique wrinkles to them. The creature in this tale is treated at times like a classic movie creature being shot in pieces and under-exposed through much of the episode. There is also a prevalent use of audio allow the audience to imagine where the creature might be, what it looks like and what it’s doing.

The edit of the first physical contact between Jeffrey and the Klemit is very strong. Once the walls of the house are breached there is even more visual intrigue added to the story than before with certain frames being trifurcated.

The last shot is brilliant, as is the fact that this is perhaps one of the biggest tales of perception told; secrets inherently being frightening.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/754424250001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-walls-ep-8-season-1-clip-1

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/754411253001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-walls-ep-8-season-1-clip-2

Game Over (Season 1, Episode 9)

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Director Terry Ingram
Featured Cast Calum Worthy, AJ Lutsky

Synopsis/Reaction

While it can’t be said that this episode is wholly un-cinematic this one is much more about creating an interesting fantasy than trying to produce a scare. With a video game basis the tale is more reliant on effects than most and that is just one of the episode’s failings, which can’t escape being one of the most wholly uninteresting and unsuccessful of the series thus far.

Commentary

There is a pervasive use of Steadicam, tacking shots and shot that follow one subject and “dump” onto another in this episode which lends it an immediate visual style. The Art Direction then joins in the flair with a stylized gaming lair (Scaffolding and overhead lighting grids). As the mystery game invades world and the visual style changes accordingly more CG comes into play, jib shots, lighting affectations.

The design of the diner is artful, some lights being gelled the video game aesthetic becomes more present here. Gels representing highlighting of weapons in gaming. The framing of the climactic shots, as well as the allusion to a classic horror film are appreciated if not as gracefully handled as they could have been.

Alien Candy (Season 1, Episode 10)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Grayson Russell, Matthew Knight, Bal Nagra, Jessica Macleod

Synopsis/Reaction

One thing an anthology series, or any other series that is not dealing in strictly-linear storytelling; has to deal with that other series and films don’t run into as often is the conundrum or ordering their series. Both this and the prior episode can be considered departures from the usual tone and tenor of the series.

There is a supernatural, extra-terrestrial and menacing aspect to this installment, however, there is also quite a bit of comedy to as well. Thus, this episode and Game Over being dropped down consecutively in season one feels a bit odd.

However, aside for the two Young Artist Award nominations (and one win) that this episode garnered there is a bit going for it that makes it somewhat more enjoyable than the last.

Commentary

Aside from an early low-angle the first attempt at something non-vanilla in this episode is about 6 minutes in where the secret of the tale is being divulged. From that point forward things start to get decidedly less flat, more graded and cinematic as the story goes beyond the ordinary. Green light in night shot, singles become slightly more angled (up-shots and down-shots), underlit school at night, red gels and the like become the norm rather than the exception.

All of the above episodes are available on DVD from Shout Factory, or can stream on Amazon Instant Video (Free to Amazon Prime members).

Fear Never Knocks (Season 1, Episode 11)

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Director Peter DeLuise
Featured Cast Ariel Winter, Quinn Lord, Matthew Walker, Christopher Heyerdahl

Synopsis/Reaction

This episode starring Ariel Winter and Quinn Lord tells a rather metaphysical tale. The two children are staying at their grandfather’s house. He is a renowned psychiatrist, who struck an unusual deal to be able to physically trap the fears that haunt his patients. All hell breaks loose when the fears get out.

Commentary

This expansive house, with diffused light flowing in through its windows, looks like it would’ve been the backdrop for a Golden Age Hollywood film. Slow push-ins, one of the most effective tension-building methods, are and combined with soft-spoken fearful retelling of their phobias along with black & white flashbacks to overheard phobias; add style to the visuals. Smoke and a push-ins used on the personification of Fear (who in another old school technique has his eyes “masked” by light often) makes his first appearance. Focus filters seem to be played with a bit too, but to accentuate something very specific as opposed to some shows that just use it as a texturing device. Tracks and swish-pans abound as they run around fearfully. Another bit of lackluster effects work doesn’t hold it back.

Many tight angles, along with the situation make this an effective chamber-horror tale despite the fact that the house is massive it feels like it closes in. The tragically flawed role model makes for a more interesting tale, as does the open end.

Best Friend Forever (Season 1, Episode 12)

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Director Jason Furukawa
Featured Cast Nolan Gould, Cris Cochrane, Darren Rizzolo, Anne Openshaw

Synopsis/Reaction

Some very good and funny things have been done in the horror genre when playing with the notion of pet and master then mixing that notion with zombies. Fido being among them. Here a boy who desperately wants a dog, but is not allowed one by his mother; has a zombie as a pet.

Commentary

The tying in of several threads help this episode: the desire for a pet met by the discovery of a zombie by a child (Nolan Gould) with an aptitude for science. The set-up in the episode includes a long take walking down a school hallway. The take seems cinematic because it follows its subjects in a two-shot, doesn’t cut and is long for a TV shot; it also relies upon the actors to interact naturally without aid from the editing room, which they do. The visuals are spiced up further in a later fantasy sequence, by use of a filter, fog, in-frame depth and tracking shots. There’s also the classic hand out of grave trope, which can never really be tired if well done. Similar to a pattern already seen once this tale leaves the school the style of the episode unfurls itself.

In the final scene, the lighting belies the tone of the tale’s end at least to start. There is the use of a symbol, which the protagonist decodes and adds an exclamation point to the ending, which an invitation to visual literacy.

Black Mask (Season 1, Episode 13)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Madison Pettis, Ricardo Hoyos, Ian Crane

Synopsis/Reaction

Here is an episode that not only deals with time travel, villains, but also has quite a twisted ending. Three kids break into an old house full of mysterious artifacts. Most intriguing among them is a black mask that they believe is giving them glimpses of the past, but a past that they can change. They then set out to try and do just that.

Commentary

The first episode to go title sequence first and not have a teaser lead-in to it, this helps to establish a greater immediacy and legitimacy to the narrative. Start with a jib over a for sale sign to establish the central location of the story.

Many things stand out visually in this episode: Eyeball-shaped orange vistas through the mask on black backdrop with a sort of 16 fps flicker to them; the canted steedicam shot with slightly up-glancing angles to start; flashlights; diffused sunlight through dank, dark basement.

It’s a tale of twisted antiquity with a lurking man whose status is unknown. The cutting pace near the end is exceptional as is the sense of false victory leading to the chilling conclusion.

Afraid of Clowns (Season 1, Episode 14)

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Synopsis/Reaction

Director Peter DeLuise
Featured Cast Jake Cherry, James Alan Hartley, Sean Mathieson, Samantha Page

Synopsis/Reaction

I was never afraid of clowns growing up. In fact, pretty much the only thing with clowns in it that did ever scare me was Stephen King’s It. However, I can appreciate their treatment in the horror genre, especially taking into account how it is likely to affect those who are afraid.

Not to mention the fact that this episode in particular has a very unique take on clowns one that can be described as treating them like a species.

Commentary

Wobbly POV tracks to start the episode. As with many tales about clowns in horror: start with the childhood trauma and tell a story later at the apex of this fear. The spin on clowns here is quite an interesting one and quite different.

The introduction of the protagonist (Jake Cherry) and his family with allusions to “the talk” is great. Then there’s the potential love interest, which adds intimations of a coming-of-age subplot and subtext. There’s a great series of shots and cuts set-up around the rock-throwing scene at poster. A scene where our lead is followed by a car finishes with a great punch after being constructed by smooth camerawork.

All horror can be boiled down into two categories: fear of what you’re becoming or fear of what’s coming after you; this episode manages to combine both these things deftly.

Many canted and slightly moving shots when our lead goes to the circus and is confronted by clowns non-stop. Shots in the box with the spinning lights is style in spades.

My Sister The Witch (Season 1, Episode 15)

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Director Michael Scott
Featured Cast Uriah Shelton, Jodelle Ferland, Mitchell Duffield, Julian LeBlanc

Synopsis/Reaction

When you’re dealing with horror and kids there are going to be many tales that deal with siblings. Usually what is going to be a focus is that one sibling notices a change in the other that their parents are oblivious too. Here Alice (Jodelle Ferland) has returned from boarding school and Pete (Uriah Shelton) starts to suspect that she is a witch dabbling in black magic. However, here it is the misunderstanding, and lack of communication, that leads to tragic circumstances.

Commentary

Sibling rivalry, and differences between sexes, obfuscate realities here. Night falls three minutes in and shots gain contrast, look up, fog abounds outside. Discussion of next day: sneaking, hiding and black cat (plus score) aid fear. Another situation with a symbol; at first misinterpreted.

Conflict rises and hits a volatile, game-chaging midpoint where the characters part and understanding becomes impossible, then one tragic turn compounds itself atop another, then another. When communications open up properly it’s all about trying to right wrongs.

Situation heavily overrides affectations and surprising visual turns abound because of it. Suspicions turns outward. A better effect than most episodes were afforded. Just when you think you got the last wrinkle, you haven’t. Two other notes is that naming the cat Baba Yaga, is a much more effective use of folklore. Also, scouting versus witchcraft, plus the inclusion of the grimoire, add to a textured narrative of accepted fraternity.

Wrong Number (Season 1, Episode 16)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Debby Ryan, Sarah Dugdale, Stacy Kohl, Karin Konoval

Commentary

In an unusual turn for this, in fact, for most series; this episode features two mean girls. They are, of course, the most popular girls in school, Steffani (Debbi Ryan) and Tarah (Sarah Dugdale). Sarah is good at her core but has built a coarse uncaring exterior to survive and fit in. In a classical horror trope they cross the wrong woman, an old gypsy, and start to face severe consequences following her demise.

Synopsis/Reaction

Great job establishing characters right off the bat through voice-over and music. The use of text-message-subtitles is also a nice touch. Perhaps what’s best here is seeing one of the central figures be an un-likeable character because of how it can instruct on different narratives and sets up a better morality play.

Shortly after stasis and the mean girls’ doormat is introduced another “nemesis” incites the plot. Wonderful shot to sell initial effect scene. Effective use of diffused light down hallway on next pivotal scenes. Cell phones come in to play more as the episode progresses to great effect. A strand of lights adorning the wall a simple art direction choice that adds texture. Reading of Shakespeare in school is old hat but the kind of detail that adds some texture to the tale also.

Catching Cold (Season 1, Episode 17)

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Director Peter DeLuise
Featured Cast Robert Capron, Ty Olsson, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Laine MacNeil, Nicholas Elia

Synopsis/Reaction

As much as it can be a central focus in comedic tale, so can obsession factor significantly in horror. Here the tale is a very simple one: Marty (Robert Capron) loves ice cream. This obsession makes him the target of a mysterious ice cream truck that only he can see.

One could draw a parallel between this episode and We All Scream for Ice Cream on Masters of Horror. While a majority of the episodes on The Haunting Hour are original teleplays, this one is based on a short story by Neal Shusterman.

Commentary
This is a classic set-up that any kid can relate to on some level: an obsession with ice cream. A Maximum Overdrive approach to shooting the truck as a driver cannot be seen. “Pop Goes the Weasel” plays frequently (as per usual taking a childhood song and rendering it scary). One particularly cinematic affectation in the lighting is the exaggerated headlights at night, freezer in the truck.

In fact, most of the special shots and lighting saved for the mystical like the frozen makeup, and shot through frozen window at the end.

Pool Shark (Season 1, Episode 18)

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Director Jason Furukawa

Featured Cast Booboo Stewart, Patrick Gallagher, Mackenzie Porter, Anthony Kocheny, Kai Donily

Synopsis/Reaction

If there’s one thing I can’t handle very well it’s when a very cool bit of folklore is brushed off only to be used in a very subpar narrative. First and foremost among those would be the werewolf myths in Native American folklore being bastardized in Twilight. However, this bit of Hawaiian culture the Nanaue (a human which turns into a shark when it goes into the water) is a close second as this episode is fairly obvious throughout, fairly ineffectual and lacking in style.

Commentary

Another childhood trauma scene early here: water/swimming, that portion while short is well-shot and edited. And there is a contradiction, our lead is a lifeguard but little works here. Neil Shuster, who wrote Catching Cold is back, but there is a very broad drawing of love interest and antagonist. The score has some very odd notes to it that muddle the tone.

This episode is part of the reason most of the commentary is technique-based. While I do enjoy a lot of these episodes quite a bit on a narrative level, even when they fail greatly in that regard the techniques are still usually very cinematic (like some lurking shots of swimming legs similar to Jaws) and worth breaking down.

The retelling of the legend allows for hope in a saving grace but there ultimately never is one here and its highly anticlimactic and ineffectual. And that complaint isn’t about the premise of how does one have a pool-shark (Old-SNL jokes aside), but rather how it’s handled.

Lights Out (Season 1, Episode 19)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Gabriel Basso, Jeff C. Ballard, Madison Desjarlais

Synopsis/Reaction

This episode features one of the most perfect narrative circles in the series to date. A group of friends watching a ghost hunting show on TV doubt its veracity go out in search of their own local haunt to see what they can find. The bet being that they can fake a better show than the “pros.” Here again there are very strong performances spearheaded by Gabriel Basso who stands amongst the most impressive turns in the series to date.

Commentary

This is an episode written by Melody Fox, her name is on most of the better episodes of this first season. Visually there is a lot of night vision in this one and much high contrast as well as a great arc for the characters here. As history of the locale builds so does the ambiance and what it attempts to throw at its intruders. Flashlights are used again, but in much lower light thanks to the locale.

Sound design and routine (time) come into play greatly in the plotting of this episode. The chase sequences are highly effective. In most episodes there is usually a very cinematic push of the score, here especially.

What really sets the episode apart is not only a circle-closing kind of end but how the story separates the leads isolating one, leaving him alone and afraid; chillingly, realistically afraid. Gabriel Basso delivers one of the top two turns in season one (And I really can’t break that tie).

The Perfect Brother (Season 1, Episode 20)

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Director Michael Scott
Featured Cast Gregg Sulkin, Landon Liboiron

Synopsis/Reaction

A so-so episode inasmuch as the concept in the end is not a bad one but the execution is a bit lacking as there is actually some filler and an elongated sequence roundabout the middle. Josh wanders down the rabbit hole when his brother Matt, always thought to be perfect, starts to show some imperfections. The more he discovers the scarier and odder things become.

Commentary

Fairly straightforward handling of stasis and then into the initial dinner scene but it does set-up the family idyll. Similarly by design are the line-readings in the opening scene by the parents they ultimately act as foreshadowing.

On the production end here is a situation where actors of age were brought in, partially because the story allowed for it, but also to more economically produce the film. As the secrets start to come out, and things get cockeyed this episode becomes a more intriguing one visually, acting as our leads eyes as he seeks the truth and also following him through the strange environs he investigates.

Blues, yellows and smoke come into play as the factory is walked through and the truth starts to boil over.

Scary Mary, Part 1 and Part 2 (Season 1, Episodes 21 & 22)

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Director Peter DeLuise
Featured Cast Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Eva Allen, Tyler Johnston

Synopsis/Reaction

A local urban legend, one that sounds a bit like a Michigander rendition of New Jersey’s Bloody Mary, is recounted and Hannah (Eva Allan) starts to see signs all about her that there may be truth to it and soon finds herself in a world not at all like her own.

This is a two-parter that has some great world-building, cinematography and ambiance; it may be just slightly bloated to achieve double-episode status but the only true misstep is to replace the traditional, eerie “oh-eeh” musical finale with a very annoying techno song.

Commentary

This is the first episode where there is a content warning before it about how it may be too scary for children under seven. I have no doubt this is the result of the effectiveness of prior episodes and complaints received. The OTS at the head of the show, now commonplace, allows for a longer unfragmented first act, beneficial when a tale needs set-up time and can’t start on a jolt.

Once in the house the first thing you see is the mirror, which will be the most important set piece in the episodes. The characters quickly show a kind of rapport and then the idea of the fright-game is explained. Music starts in, the legend is sketched and will be filled in and consuming.

The covered mirror is also indicative of character and functional to the plot so is a nice touch. There is a tremendous myth and world built throughout augmented by lighting and locale occasionally overly-undercut by certain decisions. Attitudinal change builds towards a well-chosen midpoint.

Candlelight is all illuminating her face at the first key moment of the story.

Mirror breaking here, as well as the use of other mirrors and reflective surfaces appearing in the episode are well placed and chosen considering their importance.

Part two has a previously on The Haunting Hour intro which of course breaks pretenses of cinema. However, it is very succinctly and precisely cut together. Most of this half will deal with our lead in this other realm. There is great atmosphere built here but sluggishness in a few spots where it’s ill-afforded the opportunity and it ends in a very low key manner.

The more horrific spin on Alice Through the Looking Glass is appreciated though. It does split time well in trying to pick up the pieces in her home town and dispelling disbelief.

On occasion the formula for a show can set you up to over-anticipate the conclusion and thus ignore a lot of the good that occurs before that point is reach if the finale is dissatisfying in some way. The Moonlight Sonata masking scene is particularly effective, if the later pay-off isn’t all that special. However, that is a question of the chosen technique (CG vs. Practical) more than anything else.

The apparent defeat works well, even if one of the major failings is Scary Mary, which is an issue. As well as then end jolt whose last two beats are just so unfortunate.

Conclusion

R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour The Series (The Hub)

After all that I won’t belabor a conclusion too much. I had intended to parcel the season out but my schedule didn’t work that way.

One pattern that is apparent and fairly self-explanatory is that when the tale is mundane so is the camerawork and that follows. That’s not unusual. What is unusual for a TV show is a lot of what goes into the production of these episodes. The single-camera treatment allows for these specialized shots that we’re used to seeing on a big screen. The scoring, which I didn’t discuss much, is an integral part of producing the desired emotions whereas many TV shows don’t have noticeable scoring.

As opposed to other anthologies aimed at kids in the past this show still does, but especially in season one, bring in not only capable actors, but those their target audience would recognize. In terms of the horror genre the show is not safe, which one might think it’d be more inclined to be when being intended for younger audiences. That’s what horror can’t afford to be is safe, and in terms of going a step above it’s what television can’t be either.

Since TV came into being there’s been an aesthetic conversation between it and film, one has pushed another at certain points. The single-camera approach was an edge film had for years, for a TV show to turn its back on it there has to be a good reason. Furthermore, with growing sophistication in audiences, in some regards; kids (or anyone) won’t watch a show that’s not at least mimicking certain techniques in a short convenient format. It may not be a conscious thing, but it will be noticed.

The Haunting Hour has on the The Hub begotten a new horror-themed weekly series, Spooksville, and as mentioned Nickelodeon is back in the anthology game. It’s not necessarily reinventing the wheel but it is filling the need of a horror anthology and a smart, well-produced show geared towards younger audiences delivering short scares. With new generations come new interpretations by default. Newer isn’t always better. Better is better and this series with its cinematic, polished approach has upped the ante for its particular subgenre and added a valuable voice to the horror genre in general.

61 Days of Halloween- Girl vs. Monster

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Whenever there is a DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) that I am reviewing I always feel the need to remind people that my rating scale pertains to how well the film accomplishes its objective, as opposed to comparing it to things it is not and not trying to be. This is not to say that even in the microcosm of DCOMs that there aren’t films that have fallen flat on their face. Some have landed amongst the worst of the year.

Usually the key to success is being seasonal or based on a show, rare are the out of the blue High School Musical success stories. Getting back to the seasonal aspect of the film: it had been a few years since Disney did anything both Halloween/horror-related and released prior to the day, add to that the fact that it’s the first non-sequel (a la Halloweentown or Twitches) in a while and there was great promise here.

The talk of sequels brings us to the most glaringly unfortunate aspect of the film. There is a liberal bit of borrowing, mainly from Ghostbusters, that goes on. References to other works that are far more conscious and meta come in later, but that one never gets joked about. Thankfully, there are enough twists, differentiations and its own goofy brand of humor that it minimizes the encumbrance of that fact. In the end, these hunters are more like actual versions of the bogus ones on reality TV.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t state that the CG quality varies wildly, at time the lower-end is intentional, but the tenor of the film forgives a lot of it.

However, Girl vs. Monster is ultimately a very successful horror/comedy which targets a more innocent sensibility of Halloween that is the purview of projects designed for TV and younger audiences. It’s an effective tone that when well-executed takes me back. The film does well to focus, when appropriate, on comedy such that the film is always entertaining.

This film, like many latter-day DCOMS, also features music, but in a more organic way than most. A bonus is that the songs are pretty good and catchy and as opposed to many DCOMS not over-produced to Glee-like proportions, and allow Olivia Holt and Luke Benward to showcase their voices.

The story does seem like it’ll take the typical routes through Disney tropes but it does throw a wrench in enough to keep it interesting and less predictable than most. The casting is also better than most recent films. Granted Disney Channel will spin-off a star from a show into most of, if not all, these films, but the choice to not only choose Olivia Holt (Kickin’ It) who is of lower-profile than most of the current Disney stable helps this film and the viewers because she’s more quickly her character in this film, and it’s less like a star vehicle. Especially when you consider she’s flanked by a great supporting cast, only some of which are frequently seen on the networks, featuring Brendan Meyer and Kurt Ostland  (Mr. Young); Katherine McNamara, Adam Chambers, Jennifer Aspen and Brian Palermo.

Girl vs. Monster is a really enjoyable, funny and quick-paced film, which delving even further into microcosm falls just behind Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire in terms of best Halloween DCOM. Recommended for both fans of DCOMs and those who like variety in their Halloween-related viewings.

8/10