Thursday, 9 January 2014

Standards Of Living - Review and Q & A

So, sometime in October I started following this dude on the Twitter called Aaron Mento because his name sounded like fresh mints and he had lionised the greasy sax guy from The Lost Boys (which amused me because I thought I was the only person who felt he was more detrimental to the youth of Santa Carla than the fucking vampires).


After bullshitting about this horn section abomination for a while, Aaron revealed to me that he is the director of a movie called 'Standards Of Living' and he'd be pretty happy if I were to review it for him. Typically, I accepted and then took three months to write about it because I'm an asshole.

Still, true to my word, I put something together.

I've got to admit, when he first asked me to have a look at his movie, I was concerned. A lot of indie flicks are out and out bullshit and while I've got to hand it to those guys for trying to make a flick because it's obviously something that they love doing, a lot of the time, indie movies just fucking suck. I've seen 'Camp Blood' and it was dogshit, man. Just no good. So, when I was asked to have a look at Aaron's movie, I was expecting another half-assed, badly edited, badly acted piece of shit directed by a dude who seemed like a nice guy and who's heart was in the right place but who I would then have to lie to about liking his diabolical fucking holocaust of a movie. Mercifully, I haven't had to do that because this film is the tits. 

I know in my usual column, I do nothing but give you major plot points and spoilers and gleefully pick through the detritus of cult cinema whilst saying 'Oh man, have you SEEN this shit?!' but I'm not doing that here. I ran through a couple of drafts for this review and found that in 90% of them, I was giving away too much. You NEED to watch it for yourself because, ultimately, it's an indie feature that needs your support but more importantly, giving you anything resembling the tiniest preconception about this movie will render it almost powerless. Sure, it warrants repeat viewings and that's down to the strength of the material but your first, that's something different entirely.

This is as spoiler free as I can get it;

Peter is an aspiring comedian/magician but he's not so great at either of those things. After another un-inspired performance in front of a hostile crowd, Peter receives a phone call from a mysterious sponsor who offers him the chance to better himself. But it comes at a price.

Anymore than that and I'd have to kill you, your family, everyone you've ever met and then turn the gun on myself (I'd use a gun. Is that cool?).

'Standards Of Living' manages to be all kinds of special all in one go. It will give you; Allegories! Black humour! Romance! Mystery! Suspense! Gut churning violence! Peanuts! (more specifically, one peanut) but best of all it will give you an exceptionally well written, well acted, well directed independent feature which beggars the question 'Shit...if this guy had a budget of, say, a couple of mil...what the fuck could he do with that?!'

Below, you'll find a link to the movie on YouTube and I'd strongly suggest watching this movie before going any further (I did a quick Q&A with Aaron and while it doesn't contain *many* spoilers, it will infer certain turns of events within the film which you don't need ruining). There's a little summary coming up below the link and I'd pretty much stay away from that, too.

So, are you interested in watching the movie? (please click the link below);

Yes! I trust you implicitly and want to watch 'Standards Of Living' immediately because it sounds fuckin' tits!

Not interested in watching the movie? (please click the link below);

No! I'm not interested in watching an original production which has been lovingly and passionately crafted by a talented individual!

So, how do I define 'Standards Of Living'? Is it horror or is it sci-fi? Actually, it's a bit of both. To me, I can think of no greater bug bear to a director/actor/musician than to have their work compared to something else. Everyone wants to stand head and shoulders above the rest, right? But what the fuck do I know? I'm just an asshole with a laptop. 'Standards Of Living' wears it's influences on its sleeve and runs down the street naked, screaming them at you (the sleeve is metaphorical, obviously. You can't be naked and have sleeves. Unless you're an autonomous shirt that wears clothes). It's not ashamed to look and feel like the best 'Twilight Zone' episode you've never seen because it IS the best 'Twilight Zone' episode you've never seen. Earlier, I alluded to the movie warranting repeat viewings and I stand by that if only to fully absorb all the subtleties and quirks which you'll register on your first viewing but will probably want to explore further once the credits roll. 

One of the most interesting things about this movie is that I'd almost completely forgotten what minimal exposition and well rounded characterisation looked and sounded like. 'Standards' (I got bored typing it all out) has that rare commodity we once called 'originality'. It'll stick with you long after you've seen it and rightly so because the guys and gals behind this feature deserve your attention.

Below is the Q&A I carried out with writer/director Aaron Mento. I had a great time chatting to him about this picture and I hope you find his answers as fascinating as I did.

Exploitation Movie Review: Ok, so thanks a lot for agreeing to answer a couple of questions for me. First of all, I really enjoyed this movie. How did you come up with the story?

Aaron Mento: Well, I always liked the idea of "what if a magician could really make things disappear?" and wanted to answer the question "where do those things go to?" Also, I'm a big fan of The Twilight Zone and always wanted to do a very contained "big idea" kind of horror story. But I also wanted to explore a very controversial passage in the Bible. Some people cherry pick Bible passages and use them to justify being prejudiced towards gay people. What if another Bible passage was cherry picked and followed to the letter? This was very disturbing to me, and I thought it would hold up a mirror to how some people use the Bible to spread hate.

EMR: I was going to say that the movie felt like it was shot through with a very 'Twilight Zone' feel and I could almost imagine a Rod Serling style monologue at the beginning. The religious allegories were very prevalent but subtle enough to not bog the film down. What was the significance of the sudden realisation that the picture in the bathroom was different? Does that directly link in with the religious prejudice?

AM: The picture being different was meant to show just how "behind-the-times" the other dimension was. In our dimension it's a clown, in the other dimension it's an african-american made to look like a stupid clown. This kind of racist artwork existed all over the place in our past, and the "african-american as clown" was a popular image. In the other dimension, slavery still exists, so this kind of racist imagery is normal there.

EMR: One of the things I loved the most about this film was that situations presented themselves without any sort of explanation such as Peter living in his friend's bathroom. Did you consciously kind of ignore exposition so that you could get down to the nitty gritty of the story?

AM: Glad you dug that! Yes, I really really worked on the screenplay so that there was very limited exposition and new twists and turns around every corner. To keep people's attention was my biggest challenge. It's very easy to dismiss a movie shot on an iPad, but not if the screenplay is good!

EMR: Exactly! I've mentioned in my review that independent films are easy to ignore because they're usually pretty bad although the spirit behind them is sound. In 'Standards Of Living' the writing, characterisation, acting and directing is very strong and it honestly does take away that feeling that it's an independent feature. In terms of the writing, were you trying to echo a writer or writers that you admire and if so who? And, directorially, what style did you have in mind when you went into directing the film?

AM: I really like Larry Cohen, and the craziness of "God Told Me To" was a big influence on "Standards of Living." Cohen made some really intriguing low budget horror movies that had great acting, characterization, and just wicked writing. I feel like the tone of my movie is kind of like "David Lynch meets John Landis" and both of those directors are also big influences. Shooting the movie was very challenging, because the iPad only has one lens and it's really wide. Also, I shot the whole thing hand-held. But I wrote the screenplay specifically for the iPad, so that weird "look" directly inspired the writing. 

EMR: The whole look reminded me of that story in 'The Twilight Zone Movie' about the kid who forced all the adults to indulge in his fantasy world. The Landis/Lynch comparison really shines through. I totally agree with that. Ok, so last question for you; what's next? (barring the Greasy Sax Guy movie you're obviously going to make)

AM: Yes, I must make that Greasy Sax Guy movie. Franchise? 

But besides that, my feature horror screenplay "Survival High" was named a Top Ten Finalist at Cinequest and also just won First Runner Up at PollyGrind. It's about the ghost of an evil teacher who puts her students through a curriculum of death and torture. I really want to make this movie, and I'm determined to find others with the guts to help produce it. Also, I just wrote an 80's action throwback with a buddy of mine from LMU, and we're working on getting that made. So lots of exciting stuff on the horizon!

EMR: Lastly, this film really is great and I'm not just saying that in the hope of getting a free t-shirt or something. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your productions in the future.

AM: Very glad you enjoyed the movie, and thanks again for taking the time to check it out and review it! Been a blast talking with you.

EMR: Thanks, Aaron!

Follow me on Twitter (please): @exploitmovie

Follow Aaron Mento on Twitter (now): @AaronMento