Thursday 27 June 2013

The Duel (2012)

Director: Robert Garcia
Stars: J P Frydrych, Herbert Steve Hernandez, Craig MacDonald, Chelsea Samuelson, Jonathan Levy Maiuri, Mike Diaz, Nicki Legge and Devon Garcia
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
This week, Jump Ship Productions celebrates its first birthday. It's been a rather successful year for them, however you want to count it. They made four short films, three for IFP film challenges. Each of those three won multiple awards and automatic inclusion in the IFP finals at the Phoenix Film Festival. In August, at the Beat the Clock challenge for 48 hour films, The Duel ranked third out of eighteen submissions; in November, Titus won Best Film at the Masterpiece Challenge and swept a number of other awards in the process; and at February's Breakout challenge, The Face of Innocence was the audience favourite, again amongst a slew of awards. That meant that Jump Ship provided no less than three out of eight IFP finalists, which is an astounding achievement period, but an especially notable one in their debut year. The Phoenix Film Critics Society voted The Duel the second best IFP film of the year, but I can't help but wonder why.

That's not because this is a bad film, because it isn't. It's a capable piece which I enjoyed and which still makes me smile even after a few viewings. In fact, Jump Ship's lead actor, J P Frydrych, was kind enough to allow me to screen it as part of a film festival I hosted at this year's LepreCon, where it got a lot of positive feedback. It's just that it feels like the least of their opening trio, and apparently their fans agree. To celebrate their birthday, Jump Ship has set up a poll on Facebook and right now, Titus is leading the way as the fan's favourite over The Face of Innocence, with The Duel in third and the new one, Mr Wallace the Great, languishing in last. Titus is certainly the most obvious, a carefully constructed science fiction story that looks great and carries a great sense of isolation. It would be my favourite too, but the ending has grated on me and tarnished its memory somewhat. In comparison, The Face of Innocence gets better with time and familiarity.
And that leaves The Duel, which isn't about what you think, even during the opening scene. It's a geek movie and it's proud of it. The duel isn't between the unnamed hero, inevitably portrayed by Frydrych, and the similarly unnamed villain, played with relish by Herbert Steve Hernandez. They are merely the pawns in the game, or perhaps to extend the metaphor of the title in a particularly geeky fashion, the pokémon hurled into play. The duellists are a couple of patrons of a comic book store, debating what went down when the hero and villain met, whenever and wherever that was. Both Craig MacDonald and Chelsea Samuelson are note perfect, even though neither has another acting credit to their name yet. MacDonald produced and Samuelson was the script supervisor, so they both had a stake in the success of the film and they do a great job. They ground proceedings wonderfully, especially as Frydrych and Hernandez are suitably over the top.

There's a subtle twist and a not-so-subtle twist on top of that, which both play very well, without necessarily making any sense. I can't really argue about it without spoiling those twists, so I need to hush. Really it would be much more appropriate for me to meet you at a comic book store over a box of Detective Comics and argue about it there; would that be meta enough as a critical note? The other flaw is that it feels rushed, as if there ought to have been twice as much footage, but it was a 48 hour film with a time limitation, so that one's understandable. The rest I like: the cast of characters and the way they were played; the sound, lighting and camera movements, even the font used for the credits, though it doesn't scroll well. I love the dialogue, which sparkles, but the connections and twists don't sit right with me from the standpoint of internal consistency. All the Jump Ship films so far have been enjoyable, but I think their signature piece hasn't arrived yet.

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