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Review–All My Presidents


All My Presidents (2012)
Genre: Dramatic ShortLength: 15 min.Director: Connor Hair

Writers: Alder Sherwood, Lisa Coronado, Sarah Mackay

Stars: Nathan Gamble, Riley Donahue, David Hogan

Producer: Corwood Productions

When Franklin’s father goes off to war he gives young Franklin the two things that every father wishes to leave his son: a collection of presidential coins, and intractable daddy issues. The coin collection sparks an obsession with politics–presidents in particular–that follows Franklin into adulthood.

The film begins with narration by the adult Franklin, played by Riley Donahue. Franklin must make a choice, to let others continue to decide what kind of man he is, or decide for himself.

Young Franklin, played by the easily recognizable Nathan Gamble from A Dolphin’s Tale, is royally obsessed with presidents. He has a presentation to give on President Lincoln in class and despairs when he can’t get the costume perfect. His mother, played by a supportive and loving Lisa Coronado tells him, “You know who my favorite president is? You.” Bleh. Just kidding, it was sweet.

His class stages a mock election which Franklin takes way too seriously. When a couple of classmates mock his choice of president, Franklin waffles, then hastily changes his vote. It’s a show of personal weakness that appears to haunt Franklin.

The adult Franklin becomes an accountant. His political obsession leads him to apply for a job with the re-election campaign for the governor Ted Tyler, played by the egregiously sleazy David Hogan. Franklin thinks Tyler could be president one day. I have no idea why. Tyler spends the majority of his considerable energy sleazing on any female that comes within his field of vision, regardless of her relative attractiveness or state of dress. Tyler hires him on the spot, not because Franklin is talented or upstanding, but because Franklin’s grandfather was James Polk, a governor with a “good name” that can be leveraged for the campaign. How it could possibly help Tyler to have a campaign accountant with a famous grandfather, I cannot for the life of me guess.

Franklin’s conscience gets tweaked almost immediately. The incumbent governor cares only for drumming up campaign contributions. So much for making a difference. Franklin is roped into a couple of mildly unsavory situations: taking campaign contributions that are too large for individual contributors, and targeting old folks homes for contributions. Each time Franklin displays reticence, Tyler simply says “Don’t question Franklin, just do,” barely refraining from patting Franklin on the head like an obedient dog. Things come to a head for Franklin when he realizes that despite his success, he hates his job.

As the short wraps up, Tyler has a radio interview and bends Franklin’s arm to fake a call-in as a supporter of the governor. Will Franklin do it? Or will he finally stand up for what he knows is right?

***Spoiler Alert***

After a bit more sleaziness, smarmy self-assuredness, and taking a moment to hit on the station manager ( played by a petulant Trin Miller in an appropriately Farrah Faucet-ish coif), Tyler sits down for his interview and takes the call from “Frankie Boy.” Rather than playing his prescribed role, Franklin uses the opportunity to deride Tyler for his single-minded devotion to marketing and fundraising to the exclusion of making a difference. Franklin resigns on the air saying, “I would rather be my own president.”

And now, because you knew it was coming, the douchey criticism.

All My Presidents is gorgeous. The cinematography is excellent and the art direction is a pleasure. The music and sound design are lovely and do much to immerse me in the world. It’s a good story, and there are some good performances worth noting. Some people have a problem with narration in a film; I think it works well here, giving a warm, storytelling feel to the piece.

However, the direction given to the actors is simply not as good or on the same level as the cinematography. The director seems indifferent to the actor’s choices, or even accepting or encouraging of weaker choices. There is a lack of discernment as to what constitutes a natural feel when it comes to human emotion or behavior. With a couple of exceptions, there are spotty performances throughout.

Nathan Gamble gives an utterly competent performance as young (teenage) Franklin. He doesn’t have a lot to work with here, but I’m buying what this kid is selling. I’m a little disappointed when I lose him halfway through the story. Nathan’s professionalism gives a lot of legitimacy to the proceedings. The actor who plays the youngest version of Franklin was very convincing to me as well. The other child actors can also be proud of the work they did.

All My Presidents starts off well, but it gradually loses steam. It’s not a bad story, and unlike many indie shorts has a definite conclusion and punchline, but it is told in such a superficial way that it loses any power it could have had. For example, as soon as Franklin’s father is gone from the scene, the ground-shaking consequences of Franklin becoming fatherless and his mom a widowed single mother simply evaporate.

Also, why is Franklin obsessed with politics and presidents? Is he trying to gain his father’s posthumous approval? Franklin’s father is a numismatist, not a president worshipper, so it’s hard for me to make that connection, if that is the intent. Does Franklin identify with the presidents and wish to emulate their integrity? I don’t see Franklin obsessed with integrity as a child, I only see a couple kids mocking his choice of president.

The villain governor Ted Tyler is written as such a stereotypical, one-dimensional politician that it’s impossible for me to hate him, I can only feel sorry for David Hogan, who does everything in his power to bring a bit of depth to role. David, you poor bastard! Frankly, I like Ted Tyler, I want to party with him.

Anyway, the story is there, but the shallowness accumulates bit by bit so that when Franklin finally says, “I’m going to be my own president” it feels weak because there’s no deeper tie-in. What does that mean? Does he plan on running for president? Is he living up to his mom’s comment about him being her favorite president? I’m simply not invested enough at this point to give the whoop of triumph I know is expected of me by the film makers. (And another thing–am I the only one that noticed that the only coin that appears in the film has Benjamin Franklin on the face, and he is obviously not a former president? Ok, someone else pointed that out to me, but the point stands.)

The dialog isn’t great, and in many places it is horrid. In fact, the actors do a better job across the board when they are not speaking. Take for example the early scene when Franklin’s father, played by Brian Sutherland, leaves for the war. The moment Brian Sutherland is done with the clunky dialog he is free to do his job and act, giving the best performance of the film. And he doesn’t say a word. There is more honesty and truth in the way Franklin’s father looks at Franklin, and the way he walks down the sidewalk, than in the rest of the film. I thought I was watching an episode of Band Of Brothers for a moment.

Riley Donahue, who plays the adult Franklin, is also more convincing when he is free of the dialog. I learn more about the story and how he is feeling when he is not speaking. Contrast the great scenes where we simply focus on Riley’s face with the not-so-great scene where Franklin and his wife discuss his job. It’s the least effective scene of the film. Riley’s big revelation to his wife?

I hate my job.

No shit? Join the rest of us. But how is it worse than being an accountant? What could possibly be worse than being an accountant? I’d rather work for Ted Tyler–at least he’d be fun at the office parties and you could catch some of his shrapnel with the ladies. Franklin’s wife goes on to console him that everything will be alright whatever he decides, so he should simply do what he loves. Meh. Low stakes, anyone? So when Franklin finally lowers the boom on Tyler my reaction was simply, “Well, good for you, you got that off your chest. Have fun being an accountant.”

The art direction is lovely to look at, and did a good job of immersing me in a certain feel, but there are enough anachronisms that the literal part of my mind was jarred. In the two scenes with young Franklin, just before his father leaves for the war we have an “I Like Ike” sticker, which would place the film in 1952, since the Korean war ended in ’53. But there is what appears to be a mid to late ’50′s Chevy across the street, Franklin is wearing a paisley shirt from the early sixties, and the canvasser is wearing a style of facial hair and glasses generally associated with the sixties. Franklin looks about eight in the scene where his father leaves for the war, so if we generously add thirty years to Franklin’s age (Riley Donahue does not look 38) we end up in 1982, but much of the modern scenes looks early nineties to me. The cars and cell phones would not have existed in the early ‘80’s. The very earliest the cell phone could have existed is ’86, and the cars are newer as well. And the walk signal is an entirely modern one. It’s not that any of those things are wrong in and of themselves, but together they make Franklin look wrong. There’s no way Riley Donahue looks mid to late forties. In any case, I was confused throughout the entire film as to where I was in the stream of time. The anachronisms registered, even if only unconsciously at first.

Despite its flaws, All My Presidents is one of the best shorts to come out of the Seattle indie scene, primarily because of the high production value. The majority of shit-water Seattle production companies struggle to produce even one finished product, ever. Not Corwood Productions. Corwood is tearing up the Seattle indie scene by ramrodding multiple productions through to completion in a relatively short time frame. They do not get hung up in the stereotypical “black hole” of indie post-production. Imagine what they could do if they got a hold of a rock-solid script. I think it’s only a matter of time. Go Corwood! You are an example worth imitating.

My douchey rating:


 

 

Do you have the balls to be reviewed by the Dilettante Douchebag? Send me an email with a link to your film. I’ll rip you a new one shortly.

 

 


16 Comments

  1. Well that was a pat on the back with spikes in the palm. Do I read a hint of jealousy? It also reads, your night will be filled with a picture of Brian, bottle vasaline and you going bannanas on yourself. Have a great night your douchyness.

  2. All this spittin’ over “one of the best shorts to come out of the indie Seattle film scene?” The mind boggles about your reviews of the “bad” ones. A bit of advice: If you, DD, want to be taken seriously, you may want to consider taking the focus off the writer and refocusing on the subject. Stuff like “okay, here comes my doucheyness!” kill the intent of what I assume you’re trying to do here – creating critical self-awareness within the local indie film community. Relax, get a bit of self confidence and self awareness, lose the Douche. It can be done, your work and you’re goal will each benefit.

  3. What on god’s green earth makes you think I want to be taken seriously?

  4. I heart you Ben James. I’ll bring the vasaline. Sweet dreams.

  5. Wait a second… Benjamin Franklin wasn’t a president?!?!? Fuck you 48th and 59th Florida school districts, you failed me once again.

    Just to add to the douchery myself, as I push my nerd glasses up on my nose, mehheh, the Korean War never actually officially ended, we just declared a cease fire in ’53, so it’s technically still going on….. so maybe that’s why there’s a weird timewarp thing going on with this film, like he was sent by political cyborgs from the future hellbent on finally ending the Korean conflict but there was a flux in the time continuum which displaced the history of events, ramping up the unprecedented advancement of technology and stunting Franklin’s aging process. Now that would be an awesome movie.

    Wow, I really didn’t contribute anything at all. Sorry.

  6. I would watch the shit out of a Korean time warp cyborg movie!

  7. Hell yeah! Korean time warp douche cyborgs with spikes on their palms..

  8. I must say, you guys fuckin rock.

  9. No! You rock! (Nice catch on the Korean war thing. See, I’m not the only judgmental cunt out there.)

  10. If c***s were an ethnicity, would it be wrong to want to cleanse them?

  11. The Judgmental ones of course.

  12. Only if you are a douche.

  13. Wow you really put a lot of time into this thoughtful piece! Filmmakers got to appreciate that! Excited to see the film at SIFF – it looks really pretty and the story sounds original. I think the Corwood people are really getting things together and are really cool folks too. And Connor is a bright young talent who is doing a heck of a lot of work and getting some chops. Excited for his and Corwood’s future.

    • How can you misspell your own name? That’s a first!

      • That comment is in response to my own misspelling of my name in a previous post, but the post somehow disappeared… sorry for the confusion!

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