Sunday, July 27, 2008

Heeton's Glasses: Filmmakers for the MySpace Generation

With a DIY style that's as charming as it is hilarious, California-based short film makers Heeton's Glasses are producing material that rivals studio features for genuine laughs.
By R. Kurt Osenlund

In general, today's movie comedies just aren't that funny and the local-born members of the filmmaking crew Heeton's Glasses are not happy about it. Currently based out of Los Angles but comprised entirely of Council Rock graduates, the 5-man clan of twenty-somethings found a cure for their dissatisfaction with the dwindling genre: they started making comedies of their own.

Armed with equipment they bought themselves when they landed on the west coast a few years back, Bucks County's own John Basenfelder, Michael Spiegel, Ryan Neary, Mike Powell and the newly recruited Stephen Basenfelder (John's brother) have been producing film projects together as a hobby for some time. It was only recently – their first short film, “The Handkerchief,” went online in September 2007 - that the self-described “gang” began taking movie making more seriously and posting their work on MySpace -- arguably the most popular social networking site on the web.

“We're trying to get ahead of the curve,” says Neary, a 25-year-old Temple Univerity film grad who's responsible for much of Heeton's' camera operation and editing. “It seems that the internet is where entertainment is probably gonna be coming from in the future.”

Heeton's Glasses, from left: John Basenfelder, Stephen Basenfelder, Ryan Neary, Michael Spiegel and Mike Powell.

Each of the guys had different motivations for choosing L.A.'s bustling metropolis over Bucks' sleepy suburbs. Spiegel, also 25, who originally hails from California, was the first to go, following his UCLA-bound sister to be closer to family. Neary had the option to go to New York after finishing college but picked L.A. for the thrill of the risk factor. Powell, also 25, had always been interested in films and acting and jumped on board. John, 24, had dreamed of moving west since the first grade, a dream that Stephen, 23, who was the last to make the trip earlier this year, apparently shared. All of them now share a house in North Hollywood (save Spiegel, who still lives with his sister in Burbank), and all of them hold down steady jobs while nurturing their filmmaking aspirations.

“I think the consensus is that [L.A.] is a good place to be for your twenties,” says John, the most outspoken and animated of the group.

The story behind the name Heeton's Glasses sounds like it could have been lifted from a film comedy: In junior high, John and Spiegel had a classmate named Hiten who, during gym class one day, got a little roughed up, causing his glasses to go flying. Spiegel referenced the incident during the group's out-of-a-hat naming process and struck a collective funny bone.

“The fact that Spiegel brought it up so many years still had comedic resonance,” says John, “and we had no other names, so we figured, 'what the hell?'”

When asked if the real Hiten is aware of the fact that a group of his former peers are, essentially, making short movies - they average 7 minutes in length - under his name, the group laughs, saying modestly: “[We] don't think anyone knows that we're making films.”

Heeton's Glasses' short film "The Candy Bar Draft"

On the contrary, as of July 27, Heeton's' third short, “The Candy Bar Draft,” in which the gang fights it out for a bag of Butterfingers in a battle of wits and uses Werther's Original candies and even a cat to great comedic effect, has racked up 376 views on YouTube and 720 plays on their MySpace page. Their other films, “Andorra,” which has the guys – all of whom act in their films, with the exception of newcomer Stephen who has yet to make his official debut – travel to the European nation in search of long life, and “The Trial of Santa Claus,” in which they put their hilarious spin on the courtroom drama, are not far behind.

“I think our largest fan base is in Bucks County, Pennsylvania,” observes Spiegel.

His friend, John, elaborates: “I think there's a lack of good material on the internet and that can be taken advantage of. A lot more people are obviously wired in and spend more time in front of their computers. We're trying to establish a niche.”

The brainstorming processes for devising Heeton's' quirky, often charming plots are apparently not unlike the one that landed them their name.

“If everyone laughs at an idea, we'll turn it into something,” says Neary.

Similarly, the group originally favored an improvisational shooting style, a technique preferred by directors like Christopher Guest and the late Robert Altman. They have since moved on to scripting their shorts, which have been filmed in their home, Malibu, Griffith Park, and other areas across L.A. and edited using Apple's industry standard Final Cut Pro.

“Once we started scripting, we found out it's a lot easier to make the films,” says Spiegel.

Heeton's Glasses' short film "The Trial of Santa Claus"

Heeton's is aiming to take that more organized, professional approach further this fall, when they begin releasing a series of 12 – 15 minute webisodes entitled “God Bless Snitchboro,” inspired by their former stomping grounds of Richboro. Taking advantage of the talent a town like L.A. can offer, the gang plans to bring on additional actors and cameramen for the project and tackle post-production in a studio rather than their living room. A website is also in the works to accompany the series.

“I think now we're focusing more on trying to bring what they're not doing in film to the internet,” says Neary. “There seems to be a real lack of comedy lately in films.” He continues: “Our goal is to try to build as much of a web following as possible and just come out with some really quality shorts to try to change the way people perceive internet shows and internet shorts.”

Until “God Bless Snitchboro” premieres, Heeton's will be posting brief, trailer-like previews on their MySpace Film profile, where all of their other titles can also be found. And until Hollywood starts cranking out more genuinely funny fare, the simple point-and-click trip to their website is probably more worthwhile than the trip to the theater.

Visit: for more.

This was reprinted by the author from an article published in Inter County News Group's Out & About magazine.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Midsummer (Closing) Night's Dream

The Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (PIGLFF) wrapped up its 14th year on Tuesday, July 22 with Hollywood casting agent Tom Gustafson's debut feature "Were the World Mine." A gay fantasia on Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the entry couldn't have been more of a departure from the festival's opening night selection, the sex-as-sport shock fest "Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild."

While uniformly poorly acted and a bit too familiar (a kid turns his whole town gay? smashing!), the film's rousing musical content, downright hilarious midsection, and clever take on a classic text make it a gem in the minefield of stereotypical fluff that is homosexual cinema. In addition to Philadelphia (where it won the Jury Award for Best First Feature), "Were the World Mine" has been cruising the festival circuit, from Honolulu to Rhode Island, picking up a host of accolades along the way. Go to the film's MySpace page to see the complete list, but mainly head over to hear its stellar soundtrack.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Altough The Dark Knight has only just bowed as the supreme superhero flick of our time, buzz has already moved on to the next big comic book adaptation, director Zack "300" Snyder's film version of Alan Moore's critically acclaimed graphic novel, Watchmen. The Billy Corgan-scored trailer of the March 2009 movie debuted prior to screenings of Christopher Nolan's Bat-masterpiece, and Entertainment Weekly gave it the cover of its July 25th issue (below, which previewed Watchmen's upcoming San Fran "Comic-Con" unveiling).

I hate to be the one to crash the party but, to me (especially after just experiencing The Dark Knight), this looks a little too much like geek-o kid stuff (don't murder me, fanboys). The costumes continue that god-awful trend of what looks stunning in the graphic novel cell translates into near absurdity in the film frame. I may eat my words, and it's still way too soon to tell, but given Snyder's bombastically ludicrous sword and sandals tale, I don't hold out much hope for this. Others certainly do, like the guy who posted the trailer below. At the end, he's shown on the verge of tears and admits to almost wetting his pants. Yikes.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bam! Pow! - WOW!

After three days of digestion, I still can't stop thinking about the brilliant construction of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight! Bound to be one of 2008's best, it's a crime saga of epic proportions. CLICK HERE FOR MY 5 STAR REVIEW, one of only four handed out this year.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ay, Ay, Ay, Mamma Mia!

What a MESS! The acting is good, the music is great, but someone needs to teach first time Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd (and her cinematographer, and her choreographer, for that matter) how to stage a fluid dance sequence and how to frame a shot. I wanted to love this movie so much - and it was a thrill to see La Streep break some new ground - but ultimately, it's an IRREDEEMABLY CHEESY DISASTER. Buy the soundtrack to experience Amanda Seyfried's pitch-perfect pipes, but skip the film.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Now that Mamma Meryl is back in the news promoting her big new movie "Mamma Mia!," it's a perfect time to revisit this blog's ongoing celebration of the unstoppable actress. Last time, we took a look at one of Streep's other singing roles, in Mike Nichols' "Postcards from the Edge." Since that already paved the way for her forthcoming ABBA-belting blockbuster, let's focus on one of her less acknowledged supporting performances, in Jonathan Demme's 2004 update of "The Manchurian Candidate," which has relevance of a more political nature.

Streep reportedly modeled her character of twisted, power-hungry, soon-to-be White House mother-from-hell Eleanor Prentice Shaw after Hillary Clinton (the mannerisms, the hair, etc.). Now, it seems, Senator Clinton may have wanted to have modeled her own character after Ms. Streep's. For had she displayed the bloodthirsty zeal of this woman-on-a mission, there's no way some pesky senator from Illinois would have stood her way.

Apparently, Angela "Muder, She Wrote" Lansbury was a little miffed over the fact that Paramount decided to revamp the 1962 version of this movie, in which she played Streep's part. Tough noogies, Angie. Meryl is a canon in Demme's film, firing whenever crossed. I own the otherwise lackluster '04 "Candidate," simply for one 5-minute Streep-sational segment, which you're about to view right now (thanks to kimedes007 over at YouTube):

Monday, July 14, 2008

Another Gay Film Festival

The 14th Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival presents another lineup of LGBT movies and performers, like the star of its Opening Night feature, the scene-stealing Jonah Blechman.
by R. Kurt Osenlund

Jonah Blechman. It's a name not well known outside the gay film community. Within it however, the name is gaining the prominence and widespread recognition of funny men like Ben Stiller and young headliners like Zac Efron.

Though Blechman, 33, is nearly 15 years Efron's senior (and, in truth, far too individual to be compared to other actors), his hilarious, youthful performance in the envelope-pushing farce “Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild” - the 14th Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (PIGLFF)'s Opening Night selection, shown at the Prince Music Theater on Thursday, July 10 – could put him in the company of the hot “High School Musical” star, and make moviegoers of all communities remember his name.

Thanks to PIGLFF producer the Philadelphia Film Society (PFS, which has also presented the Philadelphia Film Festival every April for the past 17 years), it just might. For over a decade, the non-profit, member-supported organization has been bringing into the spotlight the best in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender cinema. PIGLFF is the largest festival of its kind on the East Coast (and the third largest in the country, trumped only by San Francisco and Los Angeles), attracting an average of 25,000 guests every July. Members of PFS expect a similar turnout this year.

“From July 10 to the 22 [the 13 days in which the 14th PIGLFF takes place], we're just gonna be festive, we're gonna have fun, and we're gonna watch films,” said PFS Development Director Thom Cardwell on Opening Night.

“Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild” (the follow-up to 2006's surprise hit “Another Gay Movie” from Philadelphia-based TLA Releasing) is the centerpiece of 2008's lineup. In the debauchery-filled comedy, Blechman reprises his role as Nico, the flamboyant, deliciously over-the-top member of a quartet of friends exploring their sexuality. As he did in the original, Blechman steals the show, displaying comedic and musical chops that look primed for Broadway (or, given Hollywood's current obsession with adapting musicals to the big screen, blockbusters). There's even a splendidly perverse dance number that probably has Fred Astaire spinning in his grave.

“We laughed a lot on set,” said Blechman, who was on hand for questions after the movie's premiere. “We laughed all the time. I mean look at that,” he said, motioning to the screen on which the film was just shown, “it was crazy.”

Also in attendance that evening were Blechman's co-stars Jake Mosser, Aaron Michael Davies and Will Wikle (TV's “Big Brother”), along with the film's producer Derek Curl and director/co-writer Todd Stephens (who also helmed “Another Gay Movie”). Noticeably absent though, was the lead cast of the original film, of which Blechman was the only member to return. In response to an audience question of why the others dropped out, Stephens acknowledged the current dilemma of Hollywood agents urging their clients not to take on too many gay parts.

“It's really sad,” said Stephens (below, right). “You'd think in this day and age of actors coming out, etcetera, agents wouldn't be so afraid of typecasting their actors. [Recasting the roles] was an exhaustive audition process for me and my casting director, but I' m thrilled with the result. These actors came up with things that you'd never expect and just brought it to the next level. That [was] the joy of making this film.”

The openly gay Blechman (above, left), who executive produced the picture and hand-picked many of Nico's exuberant outfits, confessed later that the adjustment of being the only returning star was tough, but ultimately rewarding.

“The most important thing was getting [the new cast] comfortable,” he said. “And as you see from the film, it worked.”

When asked if the sexual antics on screen were a reflection of what took place backstage, Blechman gave a devilish smile.

“It's just research,” he said, laughing. “I'm a method actor.”

“You could make another movie out of the backstage drama that took place making this film,” interrupted Stephens.

While Opening Night - which also featured an after party at Penn's Landing's Hyatt Regency, themed after “Another Gay Sequel”'s Ft. Lauderdale setting – has ended, the drama of PIGLFF 2008 has just begun. In addition to 176 films from 29 countries, there are plenty of events to come in the next week, including a live concert at the Trocadero Theatre from queer punk band Pansy Division and a dance party at Chancellor Street's Club Stir with 2008's Entertainer of the Year honoree Alec Mapa.

It all culminates with a “Closing Night Fantasy” celebration on Tuesday, July 22, when director Tom Gustafson's “Were the World Mine” - a gay take on Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream” - will be shown, followed by a lavish bash at the Bell Atlantic Building's Top of the Tower. The night will top off another year of PFS bringing rising stars like Blechman to the forefront.

“Diversity, freshness, and excellence have been our watchwords this year,” said Associate Festival Programmer Scott Cranin in a written statement. “We've been scouring the globe for the finest in LGBT cinema, assembling one of our best programs ever.”

Echoes Cardwell, “Somehow each year...we seem to have enough support to offer all of you, the ticket buyers, an exciting, festive, and fun summer-in-the-city experience.”

For more information on tickets and showtimes for the 14th Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, visit

This is reprinted by the author from an article written for Inter-County News Group's OUT & ABOUT magazine.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

And the award for MOST FABULOUS CAST goes to...

...Elegy, directed by Isabel Coixet (she did the "Bastille" segment of last year's blissfully romantic Paris Je T'aime). You know that feeling you get when you hear about a new film coming out and the talent involved makes you wonder if they made it just for you? Elegy is the latest example of that feeling bubbling up inside Your Movie Buddy. Just take a look at this lineup:

Okay, so I can't account for the random inclusion of Dennis Hopper. But Kingsley, Clarkson and Sarsgaard are three of my favorite actors in the business and ever since Volver, Cruz's Hollywood cred has been increasingly gaining strength (look out for Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona in August - she's reportedly stellar).

Still, a golden cast doesn't always equal a golden result (see last year's Evening...or acually, don't). And the trailer below looks a little generic to me. But put this many great performers in the same room, and I get giddy. I'd love to see this movie perform well, and perhaps put Coixet on the short list of female filmmakers to watch (you know we just don't have enough - Sofia Coppola is mighty lonely). Take a peek. What do you think?:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is There an Echo in Here?

I don't want to make any "waves," but here's an open letter to Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers:

Hey Pete,
I like you man, and I'm certainly no Pauline Kael, but you might want to think about keeping your archives handy when writing your next review. Did you not notice your word-for-word self plagiarism in your recent critique of Wall-E?

"It's a landmark in modern moviemaking that lifts you up on waves of humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance."
- excerpt from your review of Wall-E (2008)

"Atonement sweeps you up on waves of humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance."
- excerpt from your review of
Atonement (2007)

Tsk, tsk Mr. Travers. Every writer struggles to stay fresh, but recycling quotes verbatim? A reviewer as established as yourself should know better. It's not like you were saying "two thumbs up." As a new voice in the business, I'm constantly trying to think up new phrases and avoid redundancy. What am I to think if a colleague I look up to can't form distinctive opinions? Is it not your job to weed out generic texts?

Your Movie Buddy

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bond is Back...Again

The trailer for the latest James Bond flick (entitled "Quantum of Solace," whatever that means) is now online. Daniel Craig is back as 007, and it looks Jeffrey Wright is too as...oh, I forget. I really do like the new gritty, no-frills take on the action franchise, just apparently not as much as everyone else (Really, Entertainment Weekly - "Casino Royale" as #19 on the list of the Top 100 films of the last 25 years? Really?!? And "Mulholland Dr." didn't even make the list? I know I'm biased, but come on). To me, this trailer just looks like more of the same: more bombs, more guns, more interrogation rooms, more Judi Dench. Oh, and another title with just enough O's to conveniently work in that special number.


Joel and Clementine. Noah and Allie. Ennis and Jack. Wall-E and Eve.
Disney/Pixar's newest creation, Wall-E (which made me happier than any other film I've seen this year), is many things at once but first and foremost, it joins Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Notebook and Brokeback Mountain as one of the few instantly classic cinematic love stories of the new millenium.

The courtship that takes place between Wall-E (a droid left to clean up Earth after humans are forced to leave in the 2100's due to fatal toxicity levels - ahem, ahem) and Eve (a sleek, egg-like beauty who shows up 700 years later to seek out organic life) is as old-fashioned as they come. Apart from a couple of still-running, looped video ads that fill you in on bits of mankind's backstory, nary a word is spoken through at least the entire first third of this film. Before Eve arrives, we get a good taste of Wall-E's personality (thanks to the wizards at Pixar having mastered the art of making the most non-human of creatures as expressive as Steve Carrell) as we watch him decorate a city with centuries of cubed-up trash, buzz around with his lone cockroach friend, and fill his loading dock of a home with found treasures (where to put the spork?!) When she gets there (assuming she's a she and he's a he), he woos her with charms pulled right out of an old silent picture. Like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, Wall-E is a bumbling idiot in front of his love; and it's not what he says but what he does that wins her - and the audience - over. He adorably shows his affections by making love notes out of junk, and caring for her even when she puts her nonexistent nose in the air. She - an we - soon find him irresistable. Who'da thought that the movie to most beautifully take its time to present one of the most believable and natural on-screen relationships in years would be animated?

Wall-E (directed by Andrew Stanton) doesn't feel animated at all. Earth looks like the wasteland it would if global warming took over and everyone up and left. Wall-E looks like a real, worn-out android, and everything he touches looks like real, worn-out garbage. In fact, once the gelatinous, bone-mass deprived humans living on Eve's mothership light years away are revealed, it's a shock: "what are these cartoons doing in this movie?" Pixar is now scarily close to being able to effectively re-create just about anything that isn't two-legged and carbon-based. A working Zippo lighter and a small plant are a working Zippo lighter and a small plant. String lights and sandstorms are string lights and sandstorms. The only thing left for this revolutionary art studio to conquer is people. Once they can render them with such flawless believability, will there still be a need for actors?

Because, from here, it looks like Wall-E the robot (played by Pixar's production team) - and his movie, for that matter - is the best performance of 2008. He's the most lovable character of his kind since Ellen Degeneres's Dory from Finding Nemo in 2003. Hell, I can do better than that: since E.T. DreamWorks is pushing Jack Black's line "Skadoosh" from Kung Fu Panda as the word of the summer. Forget that. Listen to this little guy say his name once or twice in buzzing, beeping, robotic tongue. It's the word (or name, if you're picky) of the year.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mid-Year Oscar Buzz: The Performances

It's just about 6 months until we wrap up 2008, and at this point, there are only a handful of performances earning rave reviews and gaining Oscar buzz. Here are the batch of actors and roles that have everyone talking: a Joker, a Visitor, a smuggler, a double threat, Woody's latest muse and a little animated robot.

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor

Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Julianne Moore, Savage Grace
Julianne Moore, Blindness

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona

Oh yeah, and did I mention this guy? :

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Happy 4th of July! To celebrate, and to make up for lost time, I've dedicated my latest review to 2 explosive current releases, the stylishly action-packed "Wanted" and the bombastic "Hancock."