HAPPY HOUR THEATER SERIES MAKES A NAME FOR ITSELF
June 3, 2014 · by Christina Sturdivant
(left to right) – Sierra Edwards as Dottie, Alexis Graves as Joceyln, Dominque Spencer as Jordan, Tia Da as Ms. V, Adiyb Muhammad as Mike, Samantha Sheahan as Jenna, Katherine Jessup as Molly, Donta Hensley as Todd, Darren Rabinowitz as Tod (Photo by Travis Riddick)
(left to right) – Sierra Edwards as Dottie, Alexis Graves as Joceyln, Dominque Spencer as Jordan, Tia Da as Ms. V, Adiyb Muhammad as Mike, Samantha Sheahan as Jenna, Katherine Jessup as Molly, Donta Hensley as Todd, Darren Rabinowitz as Tod (Photo by Travis Riddick)
What happens when you bring drinks, soulful eats, dope beats and theatrical feats together? The most gravitating after-work experience to hit the District in decades, I assure you.
Thanks to Nia N. Barge and A’Leighsha C. Butler, co-founders of Nameless, DC professionals and creatives alike can wind down or turn up after work at Nameless’ “Happy Hour Theatre” series.
Last week, I attended the first installment at Club Heaven and Hell in Adams Morgan and was pleasantly surprised. Before the show, I was greeted by a welcoming crew, catered buffet with full bar and move your feet beats blaring the sound waves to get the party started.
The feature presentation, Last Call, written by Butler and directed by Barge, was a timely depiction of the changing demographic and experiences of life in the District. With the brilliant locale of Club Heaven and Hell as the backdrop of fictional “Mike’s Place,” a talented cast of DC-based actors disputed everything from the drab appearance and health-conscious menu changes of the neighborhood’s anchor bar to the new complexities of the community it serves, where long-time residents see schools replaced by dog parks and the pros and perils of Whole Foods is a recurring topic of agitation for all involved.
Whether you’re a native DC resident or a transient itching to go fruit picking at Barry Farms, this cleverly written play on gentrification in the District allows all voices in the matter to be heard with authentic happenings and continuous comedic relief that’s light hearted yet thought provoking.
The Happy Hour Theatre series is definitely a breakthrough for unlikely theater-goers and traditional performance-lovers to experience familiar entertainment in a different way. If the quality of the atmosphere and theatrical renderings continue, Nameless is sure to be a well-known company by the end of the year.
The final performance of Last Call at Happy Hour Theatre takes place this Thursday, June 5, 2014 at Club Heaven and Hell. Doors open at 6:00pm and guests are admitted until 7:00pm. Be sure to purchase tickets and arrive early to grab a seat as last week’s show was sold out.
Tip: Bring friends and enjoy the post-performance DJ session that will likely turn into a dance party and dip into the rest of Heaven and Hell to explore what libations the spot has in store for you.
Tickets are $15, get more info and purchase HERE.
by Michael Poandl on May 30, 2014
In Washington, D.C., there is probably no more sensitive and emotionally laden topic than gentrification.
So it is refreshingly relevant that the new company Nameless chose to premiere the first show in its “Happy Hour Theatre” series, Last Call, which directly confronts gentrification in D.C., in a club in the heart of Adams Morgan. Heaven and Hell, located on 18th Street NW, is smack dab in the middle of a part of the city where gentrification is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. After all, Adams Morgan was one of the first epicenters of the Great Neighborhood Redevelopment of Washington, D.C. Since joined by Columbia Heights, H Street Northeast, Petworth, Navy Yard and so many other neighborhoods, Adams Morgan is practically a monument to what comprehensive and large-scale redevelopment looks like.
This is critical to the core of Last Call, because although the subject of gentrification has been explored before on D.C. stages (see Bruce Norris’ groundbreaking Clybourne Park) Nameless asks the audience to go a step further in actually travelling to a gentrified neighborhood to see the show. In a way, Director Nia M. Barge has made the entire neighborhood the setting of Last Call. The play itself, written by A’Leighsha C. Butler, is staged in one half of Heaven and Hell’s upper level (Heaven, presumably…) using an actual bar and a few tables and chairs as its set. This too is pertinent because the play takes place – where else? – in a bar in a rapidly changing neighborhood in Washington, D.C.
(left to right) – Sierra Edwards (Dottie), Alexis Graves (Joceyln, Dominque Spencer (Jordan), Tia Da (Ms. V), Adiyb Muhammad (Mike,) Samantha Sheahan (Jenna), Katherine Jessup (Molly), Donta Hensley (Todd), and Darren Rabinowitz (Tod). Photo by Travis Riddick.
(left to right) – Sierra Edwards (Dottie), Alexis Graves (Joceyln), Dominque Spencer (Jordan), Tia Da (Ms. V), Adiyb Muhammad (Mike,) Samantha Sheahan (Jenna), Katherine Jessup (Molly), Donta Hensley (Todd), and Darren Rabinowitz (Tod). Photo by Travis Riddick.
The fictional bar is called “Mike’s Place,” a staple of “the neighborhood” (meant, of course, to stand in for any of the numerous gentrified D.C. neighborhoods), run by Mike (Adiyb Muhammad). His restaurant has adapted in recent years, however, due to pressure from the influx of younger, wealthier, and whiter residents. Folks like Molly (Katherine Jessup), a sarcastic yoga instructor who wears the mandatory thick-rimmed glasses, and Tod (Darren Rabinowitz) and Todd (Donta Hensley), a well-educated gay couple, have convinced Mike to make certain changes to the bar, like replacing his father’s traditional fried fish sandwich with a hummus platter. Even Mike’s daughter, Jocelyn (Alexis Graves), who grew up in the neighborhood, is sympathetic to the redevelopment happening around her. But when Jordan (Dominique Antonio Spenser), a troublemaking young man who grew up with Jocelyn but only recently returned to D.C. arrives as Mike’s new employee, he objects to the changes he sees in both the neighborhood and his once-girlfriend, Jocelyn. It is clear Jordan and Jocelyn have their own personal baggage, and the chemistry between Ms. Graves and Mr. Spenser crackles from the start. Their Sam-and-Diane relationship parallels the larger story about neighborhood redevelopment. Just as Joceyln has changed, so has the neighborhood, and Jordan (like so many of the original residents) feels confused, resentful, and left behind.
If Jordan represents the disaffected neighborhood Old Guard, then the aggressive agents of change are epitomized by Jenna (Samantha Sheahan), a blaringly Caucasian new resident who storms into the bar, demanding answers about the whereabouts of her lost Chihuahua, Petunia. In short order she accuses “homeboy” Jordan of kidnapping her beloved pet, and strong-arms Mike into holding a mock trial right there in the bar, with Jordan as the indignant defendant.
But of course, it is not just Jordan who is on trial here. It is the whole huge subject of Who Owns The Neighborhood that is really at stake. As the farce of who stole Petunia unfolds, the real drama is between the old residents and the new. Dottie (Sierra Edwards) is the former Advisory Neighborhood Commission chair, ousted by Jenna in the previous election. As Jenna agitates for butterfly gardens and Whole Foods in the neighborhood, Dottie reminds her about what is lost in “redevelopment”. The so-called “empty spaces” where neighborhood residents would hang out, play chess, and get to know each other are now expensive condos and frozen yogurt shops. People like Dottie, Mike and Ms. V. (Tia Dae) are outraged that their community seems to be being invaded by people who see their neighborhood as an eyesore that needs to be torn down and renovated.
To her credit, Ms. Butler did not write Last Call as a one-sided polemic against gentrification. Jenna, Molly, and the gay Tod(d)s may be outsized caricatures of The New D.C., but they do fight back against the accusations that they are insensitive invaders. During one particularly powerful moment, Todd, who is black, eviscerates Jordan for telling him that this is not his home. Todd fires back that as a gay man, he can’t go home to West Virginia, and that this neighborhood, where he and his fiancée are building a life, is their home. Todd and Tod are not usurpers or colonialists; they are residents, and just because they are new and have a penchant for organic food and a beefed up police presence doesn’t make them evil or racist.
The layers of complexity surrounding gentrification, and the heavy emotional baggage that goes with it, is told elegantly and with great humor by Ms. Butler and Ms. Barge. I was impressed again and again by how these deeply serious issues were woven invisibly into a story that moved quickly and with razor-sharp comedy.
The entire ten person ensemble did an exemplary job of communicating both the comedy and the drama of Last Call, and they deftly avoided the trap of becoming caricatures. I was watching real people on stage, and it was this authenticity that made the show so funny and so touching. I must single out Ms. Dae (Ms. V.) and Ms. Edwards (Dottie) for their particularly endearing and hilarious performances.
I also commend the director, Ms. Barge, for her smart and creative staging choices. Although most of the action occurred on the L-shaped “stage” in front of the audience, the actors walked amongst the audience when it suited them, and often broke the fourth wall. In effect, the audience became a part of the show, and this effect was even sharper given the site-specific nature of the performance.
I must say, as a new resident of D.C. who enjoys Fro-Yo and Whole Foods, there were some uncomfortable moments of white guilt for this reporter. But, strange as it sounds, I enjoyed those self-conscious moments as much as any other in the show. At one point in the show, an “Old Resident” (James Wingfield) emerges from his covert position in the audience to launch a diatribe against gentrification. As the rest of the cast looks on in shock, Mr. Wingfield repeats again and again, “No spaces… no places” before he is escorted out of the theatre by the director herself. This bit of Brechtian staging was inspiring, depressing, and provocative all at once. Theatre should make people uncomfortable; it should make them think. I commend Nameless Theatre Company for presenting a show that is innovative, in-your-face, and funny as hell. Residents of neighborhoods all over D.C., old and new, need to hear the story that Nia Barge and A’Leighsha Butler is telling. Maybe then we can learn to get along a little bit better.
Running Time: It runs 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Last Call has its second and final performance on June 5, 2014 at Heaven and Hell -2327 18th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.
About Michael Poandl
Michael Poandl graduated American University as a Theatre: Performance major in 2013. He is currently an intern in the Grants Department at the Arts Council of Fairfax County.
ON MAY 29 | IN MOVIE REVIEWS | BY MICHAEL PARSONS | WITH NO COMMENTS
3 ½ out of 5 stars
“The only thing that ever got in crime’s way were the criminals”.
Stone-faced crime boss Theresa James (R & B artist/actress Tia Dae) delivers a lengthy allocution on criminal behavior to Marcell (Dominique Spencer), an underling who has unknowingly been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar. Her words are wise, even poetic, though it seems like an awful lot of wisdom (and creativity) to waste on someone who’s about to get waxed. “Welcome to your future,” she says as he meets his demise.
thickIt’s to be expected, I suppose. These guys never seem to pick up on insinuation, even when they know they’ve messed up (an exception would be the guy from “Lethal Weapon 2” who wanted to make sure he wasn’t standing on plastic when summoned into the boss’s office). And almost invariably, the turgid speech that precedes their punishment serves only to emphasize the unhealthy ego of the speaker – often an overblown or cartoonish villain with little substance to their words.
If “Thick” starts off looking a touch self-important, it quickly finds its equilibrium within the stage-worthy performances and a script that has something to say. Dae’s monotone Theresa is less sinister than pragmatic, possibly a metaphor for the country’s pre-occupation with work and financial stress, among other things. She fits the bill as the steely-eyed crime boss, virtually disconnected from anything that might distract her or expose a weakness. Her position, as we see, is a precarious one, and somewhere beneath the virtually expressionless demeanor lies a deep-seated paranoia, which bubbles over when her wife Roni (Pascale Piquion) shows even the slightest hint of independence.
The film is part “The L Word”, part “King of New York”, and Dae’s character, who is both protagonist and antagonist, owes a little something to Christopher Walken’s Frank White, who occasionally liked to unload his intellectual side on a disloyal employee or two before burying them with their betrayal money. But this ain’t the ’80s, and a relatively meager $500,000 in “get out” money stashed in Theresa’s house suggests that times are tough, even for less legitimate business enterprises.
Scheming employees, dirty cops, and a deteriorating personal life are part of this nasty equation. Trusted advisor “Lefty” Eggleston (Ronald Benson-El) plots to take over the empire while assassin Nina (Chaseedaw Giles) plans to run off with Roni , with whom she’s been having an affair. And the crooked detectives in Theresa’s pocket (Caleb Jackson and Mick McGuire) are looking for an early out, and a hefty retirement package to boot.
It might sound like it’s gearing up for a finale like “True Romance”, but “Thick” is definitely more chess match than bloodbath. The characters, though, are no less cut-throat than in more violent contemporary urban crime dramas. Save a few requisite executions, which are carried out in shadowy Washington, DC area settings like a sewer tunnel or in the back seat of a car, we mostly watch our characters manipulating their way to what they want. Local writer/directors Cheryl Brown and Anthony M. Greene (“The Henchman’s War”) have crafted something that looks like a CliffsNotes for an HBO drama series, tightly cinched in a 70-minute package. The micro-budgeted “Thick” covers a lot of ground while never appearing overly ambitious, with fine editing by Omar Juarez (who is also the cinematographer) and Manuel Santos. There are many earmarks of a great crime saga here, and it will be interesting to see if Brown and Greene revisit the material.
about the author: michael parsons
Husband. Father. Ex-salesperson. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema. During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”). The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis. Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment. A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It’s been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving. Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues. (Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).
Director: Gary Ugarek
Ontario, Vince, Lucky and Littles, friends since birth, brothers till death. Coming from nothing they have begun to find themselves engaged in the ruthless Baltimore drug trade. They will stop at nothing to take control of it all, including taking out the most powerful mobster of the city – Michael Caprisci. As they systematically begin terminating the competition they have to engage a tangled yet simplistic plan to get Caprisci out of the game using of all people, his son Nicki, a slick, fast talker who prefers booze and women over his father’s lifestyle. In the end, Nicki’s drug problem will aid the group in bringing his father down. As the plan develops, Ontario finds out that some of his own rank and file are conducting business behind his back. He needs to send a message to let them know who is in charge, but when one of his closest allies ends up starting a war, he has to make a decision on what is more important, business or friendship. So as the war begins, who will win? Or in this game…is there really a winner? Thug Life is an in depth look into the world of street crime and those who rule the streets.
“Thug Life: All in the Game” is a very realistic and believable gangster film that keeps you at the edge of your seat the entire time. Most of us have no idea what it’s like to live the way these guys do and I’m sure we are grateful we don’t either but the film does a terrific job at showing us that way of life in a in your face and powerful way. The decision to shoot the film in black and white was a very good idea as it adds plenty of grit, mood and style to the story.
The story follows a “firm” on the streets of Baltimore as they attempt their way up the latter to claim more territory in a bold and brutal scheme. The film depicts these guys as relentless and without regard for human life, in some cases not even their own. Sadly what is shown is reality, it happens everyday in almost every city, it’s pretty scary to see the way some parts of society behaves.
Director, Gary Ugarek did a brilliant job in creating a believable gangster film and his cast did an amazing job playing their characters in a realistic and powerful way. There are several very memorable scenes in the film, it is a film that stays with you long after it’s over. I would like to see a sequel for this, there’s plenty of story to tell if they choose to do so. I am not a big fan of the genre but this is certainly one of the more realistic of it’s kind I have seen.
If you like the genre then I highly recommend picking this film up when it comes out on DVD October 16th, you can Pre-order it HERE
“Thug Life: All in the Game” is a brutal and honest look at life on the streets, it’s not pretty but it sure is effective. I really enjoyed it and look forward to seeing what this talented film-maker has coming out next.
Released by Open Your Eyes Films
ALL IN THE GAME TRAILER
(re) Search my Trash interview with director Gary Ugarek on his feature length Crime Thriller [All In The Game]
The good folks at (re) Search My Trash recently interviewed Filmmaker and good friend Gary Ugarek in regards to his feature length Urban Drama film [All In The Game]! Check out the interview below and a quote from the interviewer himself; Mike Habelfelner – ” Thug Life: All In The Game is beautifully filmed and wonderfully energetic movie about small fry crooks trying to make it big – in other words, exactly the kind of movie I like…
*To view the interview in its original written form PLEASE visit the site thru the link provided here at: http://www.searchmytrash.com/articles/garyugarek(7-12).shtml *
An Interview with Gary Ugarek, Director of Thug Life: All in the Game
July 2012Films directed by Gary Ugarek on (re)Search my Trash
Mike: Your new film Thug Life: All in the Game – in a few words, what is it about?
Gary: Drugs, Violence, and Sex.
(You said a few words,)
Mike: With Thug Life: All in the Game being a gangster film, is that a genre at all dear to you, and some of your genre favourites?
Gary: I am a fan of many genres, zombie horror, action films, modern day gangster films and the gangster flicks of the 30’s and 40’s. I am actually more of a fan of the original 1930’s Scarface than the Pacino remake.
I can’t say it is my all time fave because my tastes and likes in film change based on my mood and many other factors, but it is a genre I do enjoy.
Mike: With the majority of your cast being Afro-American, did the blaxploitation films of the 1970’s at all serve as a template for your movie?
Gary: No, I know about them and enjoy them, but that was not a route I wanted to take.
Mike: (Other) sources of inspiration for Thug Life: All in the Game?
Gary: There are only 3 sources of inspiration for All in the Game, HBO’s The Wire (3 of my cast members were cast members on The Wire), Pulp Fiction (for the violence and torture carried out by Lucky). Reservoir Dogs was the final because of the consistent and quality wide shots, something we did try to emulate on All in the Game.
The inspiration that came from Pulp Fiction in regards to the character of Lucky was this simple question: What would Marsellus Wallace do?
Mike: You’ve shot your movie entirely in black and white – would you like to elaborate on this and other stylistic decisions?
Gary: I wanted to do and urban gangster film and a black and white film as part of my film career, and since money is very hard to come by, even for us indie guys, and trying to pull off a full movie on $1,700 (budget for All in the Game), I said I might as well make it in B&W, so I kill two birds with one stone.
I filtered some test footage before I made the final decision, and of course all the B&W is done in post with filtering, but the main reason was to get another check-off on my film career. I am not sure how many films I will be able to make in the future, and with each movie my next one is further and further out, so I try to wrap what I want to do all in one project if I can. But I will admit after doing the test footage in B&W I fell in love with it, so you could say it was an artistic choice if you want.
Mike: How would you describe your directorial approach to your subject at hand?
Gary: I have grown quite a bit as a filmmaker, so when directing my actors I try to find real world scenarios to describe what I am looking for, or use a movie they may have seen for reference. However, these are folks who act for a living, so I tell them some information when I give them the script and expect them to carry it out the best they can. On set I will tweak their performance within a take or two.
Mike: I think one of the aspects that make Thug Life: All in the Game so very much alive is its choice of wonderfully run-down locations. So what can you tell us about your locations?
Gary: The warehouse is the Street Light warehouse and was in use many years ago. It is Baltimore City property. That location makes numerous appearances onThe Wire as well. The bar the gang hangs out in is an actual bar owned by one of the castmembers. It is a very popular East Baltimore hang-out, and one of the first places in Maryland to assist African Americans with voting when they were allowed to vote. So the building has a lot of history behind it.
Mike: What can you tell us about your principal cast, and how did you find them?
Gary: Lucky and Vince are Micaiah Jones and Chris Clanton. They played Little Man and Savino Bratton on The Wire. I met Micaiah through Nelson Irizarry who plays the leader – Ontario Banks. I met Nelson and Kelvin (who plays Littles) on the set of a 100% improv zombie film called Zombie Doomsday, in which I have a small cameo. After working with them I said one day I would sit down and write something they could appear in… All in the Game was that film. Nelson introduced me to a lot of the actors, and since I knew them from watchingThe Wire, it was a no-brainer to cast them in the film.
The great thing about indie filmmaking, there is always someone who knows someone who worked on a popular TV show, had a decent role people remember, and they just love to act. Plus we all had a blast making the film.
Mike: You also play a small role in Thug Life: All in the Game. A few words about Gary Ugarek, the actor?
Gary: No comment… I just wanted to set someone on fire.
Mike: A few words about the actual shoot and the on-set atmosphere?
Gary: The film took 12 days to shoot. We re-shot day one footage on Day 12. The actors hadn’t quite gel’d yet so I said I will see how days 2-11 go, and if they get better we will reshoot all of day 1. We did and it works much better. On the self-DVD/Blu-Ray-release I actually include a lot of the Day One-footage that was scrapped, and you also get to see it in color. Once you see the film and re-watch the Day One-scenes you can see the differences.
The on-set atmosphere was a lot of dick jokes. We took the work seriously, but it was just day-in day-out of smart-assery, and someone always claiming they had a bigger dick than the next guy. Even race jokes flew around the set. We all became great friends and everyone knew where we stood as individuals, but it never stopped anyone from being called OUT ON THEIR HERITAGE. I didn’t care if I was called a Cracker, DP #1 Habib Awan probably got the worst of it. Habib, who was born in the USA, sounds every bit American as the rest of us, just was constantly being bombarded with jokes about him not possibly liking the film and plotting to blow us up at the premiere. (To note: this was in 2011, so way before The Dark Knight Rises-shooting.) To us saying and talking about race and origin takes the stigma off of it.
Mike: What can you tell us about critical and audience reception of your film so far?
Gary: Critical has been good, I haven’t read any horrible reviews yet. Audience – it is definitely a crowd type film. I know at the Baltimore Screening when Nicky Caprisci makes his big announcement, a lot of folks got pretty emotional about it and cheered at his come-uppance. The film toes a fine line of PC and P-UC. This was not done for shock-and-awe factor, this is just how the real world is, even in 2011/2012, and when you shoot a film on this subject matter, you better expect anything and everything to come flying out.
Mike: Should need arise, will there ever be a Thug Life II?
Gary: There is a script for a spin-off film based on the character of Lucky, titledLucky, but it is still in early development. I also have a screenplay for All in the Game II that picks up right after the end of All in the Game 1. While they think they won the battle and won Caprisci’s territory, little did they know his only daughter has more balls than her bother and is 5 times more ruthless than her father. So the story picks up with the daughter getting wind and exacting revenge. When you’re in the drug trade. there is no end to the game. As it has been said, the game is rigged to get you to fail.
Also, the film is just titled ALL in the GAME, that is how I wrote it and directed it. The distributor changed the title and added Thug Life… I wasn’t crazy about it, but I said whatever, as long as All in the Game stays as a subtitle – so you will never here myself or a cast member call it Thug Life: All in the Game, we just call it All in the Game.
Gary: Go buy them… They are aweomse.
I was, but pushed it back until 2013. The film just needs a lot of money to be made, more than the normal budgets I work with. I actually discuss it in a YouTube video. It starts by me discussing the ending of Deadlands 2: Trapped, which is also on You Tube for free to watch, and a debate started up among viewers about the ending. I thought the ending was pretty obvious, but to some it was not so I ended up explaining it, then I touch upon Deadlands 3.
Mike: Why zombie movies, and your genre favourites?
Gary: Zombies are the only horror monster that scares the living shit out of me. Even at 41, I could have a terrifying-as-hell nightmare about zombies and still wake up in a sweat breathing heavy. I have some very vivid dreams. Deadlands 2: Trapped was based on a dream I had the combined Demons and The Return of the Living Dead, so that is how Deadlands 2: Trapped was born.
Plus I also look at it like, every zombie filmmaker is making their own survivalist training video based on the zombie apocalypse through their eyes. Mine is just another training film.
Mike: Any other films of yours you’d like to talk about, any other future projects?
Gary: Not really but thanks for asking. I just ask your readers check out my films and they can even leave comments on the IMDb page for the film or email me directly (through the official websites) to let me know their thoughts and opinions. I like reading feedback, especially those who have true feedback that can help me improve. What they like and didn’t like. I strive to make each film better, but how you do that is through feedback.
Mike: Directors who inspire you?
Gary: So many to list, but I do respect Tony Scott, he knows action. Richard Donner, Shane Black, George Romero for his contributions to zombie cinema. Sam Raimi, Dan O’ Bannon. And Luc Besson.
Mike: Your favourite movies?
Gary: Die Hard, Dawn of the Dead, The Return of the Living Dead, True Romance, Leon (aka The Professional),Pulp Fiction, Saturday Night Fever, Boogie Nights, Shooter, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood,Goodfellas, and many others.
Mike: … and of course, films you really deplored?
Gary: I have never really walked out of any movies except one. Collateral Damage with Arnold Schwarzenegger, that was bad, I just looked at my wife at the time and said I don’t know about you but I think this sucks and I am ready to head out. So we got up and left. I won’t say I deplored it, but I don’t care for The Dark Knight. When Heath Ledger was on screen the movie was dark sinister fun and entertaining, when he wasn’t it just seemed to meander looking for a purpose. I do deplore Avatar, not because it is a bad film, but because everyone thinks it is great film. It is really just a live action version of Ferngully, and while it looks great, it is only eye candy. Cameron has made better (Terminator 2, True Lies) and should be making even better films than those, not so-so flicks likeAvatar.
Mike: Your/your movie’s website, Facebook, whatever else?
Gary: Deadlands trilogy – www.playingwithdeadthings.com
All in the Game – www.allinthegamemovie.net
Myself – IMDb, Twitter @GaryUgarek, FBwww.facebook.com/DjfunkmasterG
Mike: Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Gary: I like Wonton soup.
Mike: Thanks for the interview!
Gary: Thanks for having me on, and glad you enjoyed the film.
Below is a review for Gary Ugarek’s Independent feature length crime thriller [All In The Game]starring Nelson Irizarry, Chris Clanton, Micaiah Jones, and Kelvin Page. Along with Mike McMullin, Daniel Ross, Joseph Durbin, myself, and Vonn Harris as well. A great review and its just a blessing to have had the opportunity to work alongside such a taleneted cast and crew! As always #StayTuned and enjoy!
All in the Game
By: Will Santana, Posted: April 09, 2012
The Movie itself:
Independent director Gary Ugarek has pleased zombie fans not once, but twice since his directorial debut. Now Gary attempts to please fans in his second favored genre, urban gangster films. Not ever viewing Gary’s previous two films due to my lack of interest in zombies, I actually was ecstatic win he made an official announcement with his third movie All in the Game. I’m a sucker for the urban genre. Whether it’s a high budget production, an independent one or even a rapper attempting to make a motion picture. Now, I’m sure Gary doesn’t have any attentions of being compared to a rapper wanting to have an impact in Hollywood (cough! Master P), and intends to hit viewers hard and correct. Now that’s gangsta.
The streets of B-More (Baltimore) trafficking groups are under the radar battling for territory. Ontario Banks (Nelson Irizarry) leads his gang but wants more than the average thug life. He preaches to his crew to have more expectations than just money, clothes and hoes. His crew is supported by the tactical, Vince (Chris Clanton), the enforcer, Lucky (Micaiah Jones) and trigger happy, Littles (Kelvin Page). Ontario wants nothing but his crew to be low profile, but on the other hand wants to move in on B-More rival, Michael Caprisi’s territory. With his crew and some help from the streets, Ontario must be smart, tactical, and daring in order to make his new move. Now that the plan is in effect, the streets of B-More are now at war and no one is safe.
For Gary’s debut into the gangster genre, I was really impressed how well the storyline was developed, and for a small independent film, the acting was superb. The movie had a bit of a slow start and was similar to many films I’ve seen in the past, but if you just hang in there, the suspense tends to build up with the violence and strategic moves. I did like that it didn’t take long for the characters to develop, and it was pretty easy to identify which kind of role each actor would have. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad at all that they developed so fast as the movie’s actual plot was somewhat unpredictable. Outside the main actors, the acting was quite poor, too stereotypical or a few scenes seemed to be exaggerated.
I was really impressed how speeches of growth were entertaining, even though these scenes slowed the pace of the movie, it didn’t impact the flow at all. I also like the split screen shots instead of the usual cross cutting that Alfred Hitchcock perfected. I did think at times the split screen method was unnecessary when the two cameras were in the same exact location and were probably 2 feet away from each other. Nelson, Chris and Micaiah had great chemistry and it worked with them being on the same crew. Kelvin Page’s character was the least convincing to me even though I understood his role. I felt a little should have been added to Kelvin’s character progression.
As the story unfolds in All in the Game, the movie comes pretty hard. The torture scenes may lack the special effects of a major Hollywood blockbuster but still can make you cringe. Gary truly got his money worth from Micaiah Jones as the enforcer, he was 100% convincing in his role as Lucky. Micaiah brings fear, power, humor, and a grimey presence to the screen. Chris Clanton had a smooth swag I wish Gary would have captured more. He played my favorite personality but was very limited to screen time. Chris’ portrayal of Vince is the one you can see making something more of his life than trafficking and living the violent life.
All in the Game wasn’t a letdown one bit. The gangster torture film has a slow start, but if you give it a chance and hang around long enough, you will witness an independent movie that can entertain just as much as any major blockbuster. The special effects are lacking due to the budget but the storyline and acting are so up to par. I have yet to see Ugarek’s zombie films, but I hope to see more from the urban genre. A fun hip-hop soundtrack and a tour of B-More added some more spice to a movie that’s already fun to enjoy. I wish I could loan my copy out to friends but I know they will bootleg this movie in a heartbeat and I can’t take any part of that as I support the independent film movies.
Movie Rating: 7/10
All in the Game is presented in full 1080p via Mpeg-2 encode and framed at 2.35:1. The black and white film from Ugarek’s looks really damn good on Blu-ray. Although the film was shot in color, the post conversion to black and white was done extremely well. For a small budget, damn, the contrast and black levels were top notch in high-def. Man, if you ever wonder how to set your contrast up, this is the movie to tweak it around with. White levels tend to bleed a bit on daylight shots while in the neighborhood. Facial detail is fairly impressive as moles, scars and other blemishes are easy to detect. The movie has a bit of depth to it adding an extended dimension. Grain seems to come and go, on a few night shots grain was a tad heavier and bothered a little. The transition to new scenes went pretty smooth for the most part.
I love, love, love the opening shots of Baltimore. With most movie’s settings taking place in New York, Atlanta or California, it was quite a treat to get a quick tour around a different environment. I also enjoyed the shots in Ontario’s crew base with the window. The camera focuses on dialogue from Kelvin and Chris but they’re in the background of the glass and you can still catch a glimpse of Nelson. My favorite shot was of Micaiah coming out of a hallway hitting a light bulb and all the shadows flashing, which also illustrates the greatness of the black levels.
Even with a killer score and soundtrack, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track was the most disappointing section of the disc. The first minute of the movie audio has a glitch that really doesn’t affect the rest of the movie. Dialogue for the most part is clean and crisp but suffers with echoing at times, wind blowing and random street cars driving by. Inside of buildings the dynamic range really impressed and the musical soundtrack provided a fun lifting moment. I personally will need to contact Gary with a few of the hip-hop tracks that were in the movie. Rear speakers are used quite often and with a few background noises but were also disturbing on occasions. The hip-hop track uplifts the bass usage for sub-woofer fans. I’m sure the budget could have had an impact with the audio track, so it was still good enough for me overall.
Video Rating: 7/10, Audio Rating: 5/10
All in the Game has a lot to offer in the way of extras. You won’t be disappointed with these High-def features.
- Audio Commentary
- Saint Anger’s-You Heard Me: Music Video (HD 4 min)
- Teaser Trailer (HD 1 min)
- Original Day 1 Footage (with Deleted Scene) (HD 1 min)
- More Day 1 Footage (Deleted/Reshoots) (HD 4 min)
- Original Cut-The Three Amigos Torture Scene (HD 4 min)
- Fund Raising Promo (HD 2 min)
- In the Hot Seat (Cast Interviews) (HD 12 min)
- Bloopers- By the Balls (HD 2 min)
Extras Rating: 8/10
For his first film in the gangster genre, director Gary Ugarek has an extra base hit if you ask me. For the price I paid for my disc and the budget of the film, I feel I came out dead even. All in the Game will find a nice spot in my Blu-ray collection with my urban movie cases. Will Gary go back to his true passion of zombies or stay here? I hope he stays here as I will purchase his next film without any hesitation. A solid video transfer and blasting hip-hop soundtrack makes this a bonus from what I was expecting. Chris Clanton and Micaiah Jones were absolutely entertaining to watch and hope the two can team up some more on screen.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Below is the High Def Digest Film Review for Gary Ugarek’s Crime Thriller [All In The Game] starring Nelson Irizarry, Chris Clanton, Micaiah Jones, Kelvin Drama, Mike McMullin, Daniel Ross, and along with yours truly in the role of “Flash”. As always #StayTuned and #Enjoy
All in the Game (2011) (Blu-ray)
Self distributed disc / 2011 / Unrated
Street Date: December 27, 2011
List Price: $25.00 (Order direct from director Gary Ugarek!)
(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
|The Movie Itself|
|HD Video Quality|
|HD Audio Quality|
|Bottom Line||Worth a Look|
Reviewed by Nate Boss
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
After two ‘Deadlands’ films, writer/director Gary Ugarek takes a stab at a different genre with the crime drama ‘All in the Game.’ Made on a micro-budget of under two grand, this black and white flick feature is another noticeable step forward in terms of final product from the up and comer. While growing pains may still be visible from time to time, this first step away from flesh-eating fare is a tightly spun yarn that picks up plenty of steam as it barrels towards its finale.
Set on the streets of Baltimore, ‘All in the Game’ captures the the workings of a tightly nit group of drug dealers (Micaiah Jones and Chris Clanton from HBO’s ‘The Wire,’ Nelson Irizarry and Kelvin Page) as they begin their ascent to the big time. As they eliminate the competition, they soon find themselves up against Michael Caprisci (Mike McMullin), the top dog who isn’t quite ready to relinquish his crown. The bloody little war being waged behind closed doors is about to reach its apex, and there’s no telling who will be standing when the last bullet is fired.
For about the first thirty minutes of this 73 minute flick, I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely impressed or fully hooked. The characters weren’t quite clicking, nor did they do much to differentiate themselves from each other, and I started to wonder if the film would be like a zombie survival tale, in that we really don’t need much characterization, just a setup in which to tell the story. While some of the longer scenes, centered around a speech or two, were really well written and fun to listen to, they dragged the film’s pace down to a crawl, and needless to say, some of the acting proved to be a little uneven, especially in moments where one performer would sell the character and scene, while the other seemed to have a little trouble getting the right words out. A few mis-framed shots drew the eye, while the use of split-screen seemed a little excessive in its repetitiveness.
The thing about “All in the Game’ is that it ultimately overcomes these obstacles and provides a pretty darned fulfilling, enjoyable movie experience. It’s not like a switch is suddenly flipped, and we’re on to a new experience, but the bugs seem to work themselves out, the characters start to stand out better, and once we get to some torture scenes, we get to the real grit and grime that sells the game being played. The dialogue, which is always very natural feeling, starts to sound less forced, the action starts to feel like it matters, and the events that unfold start to connect the dots in a way that wasn’t all too clear in the beginning.
‘All in the Game’ operates at peak performance when we see the crew (led by Irizarry’s Ontario character) take it straight to the Caprisci family. When the former associates turned rivals face off, the stakes are raised significantly, and so is the drama and the brutality, with a number of memorable little sequences that pack a fun punch. The violence isn’t quite cartoonish (even with the budget limiting the possible effects, making for some very soft gun pops and cutaways to the recently departed), but it also isn’t quite brutal enough to make viewers uncomfortable with the content. The language on the other hand may not make many friends, as the racial tensions do lead to some words being said that may offend.
This third effort from Ugarek definitely impressed me, even with the aforementioned shortcomings. There is more change from his previous works here than just the lack of zombies and color, as this is his first film without a proper score, instead featuring a soundtrack. This is also the first Ugarek didn’t personally edit. On top of that, it’s also the first to feature recognizable faces. What is captured here for less money than I spend annually on Blu-rays definitely provides a solid payoff. I can only imagine if this film had a slightly bigger budget the small things that would have helped it be a little less noticeably independent…those little quirks that remind you that you’re watching someone putting his all into a film and letting the end result speak for itself.
‘All in the Game’ isn’t as viable as, say, the found footage features that took similar budgets and made hundreds of millions, but really…aren’t we tired of those damn films, anyways? This original crime story is definitely one that will grow on you…if you have the patience to get past the first act.
The Disc: Vital Stats
‘All in the Game’ is not found in any stores. Ugarek is currently selling the title on his website (www.wetnwildradio.com) on Blu-ray, DVD, and HD DVD for $25.00, shipped in the United States, and also has listings on eBay for the Blu-ray and DVD editions. The Blu-ray release is a limited edition of 100 copies, signed and numbered, and features cover art designed by HDD forum member Torrente! Like the pressings of the ‘Deadlands’ films, this title is highly likely to sell out fairly fast!
The disc itself is a Region A/B/C BD25 (BD-R), that has no-pre-menu content. The menu itself features a tab for extras, and a tab for the movie itself, though loading the extras page makes it function slow like a DVD. While there are three audio options, pressing the play button instructs you that you can access them through the alternate audio buttons on your Blu-ray remote. The packaging features information that was relevant to the HD DVD disc, concerning a second disc which wasn’t quite necessary on this Blu-ray to get all the content, so ignore the portion that states there is a second disc, as Ugarek has confirmed this is a typo.
Be sure to stay through the trailers for one extra scene. It’s a little bit of an anti-climax. Also, some of the images for this review were taken from the press kit for the film. There is not a single color scene in the film.
‘All in the Game’ comes to Blu-ray in 1080p using the MPEG-2 encode. The black and white film (made in color, with no obvious off colors to create b&w contrast, though some tweaking was admittedly done in post) honestly looks pretty damn good. I was fighting for a while between the score featured in this review, and a half star higher, and only aimed low because some of the nagging problems ultimately added up.
This disc defines inky black. I mean, spill a jar of ink all over your screen, rub against it like some kind of pervert, and you still won’t come close to the level of deep, obsidian awesomeness that this disc boasts. Detail levels fluctuate, but in may shots, there’s a wealth of detail in the characters, their skin and hair. It’s a little hit or miss, but when it’s on, it’s really something! Midrange shots can also look pretty damned solid.
Yes, this disc has some artifacting visible, including a few shots with a really bad banding effect (view the skies when the soundtrack gets a credit in the opening for an example). Sure, there’s some jaggies in diagonals here and there, like a sharp rail or a zipper, but for the most part, this issue is kept to a minimum. Grain levels jump back and forth a little bit, including times inside scenes with no lighting change, which is a little frustrating. The two biggest issues are the whites that are so bright that they’re borderline blown out, and the obvious fact that some shots, even after the tweaking to make the film look better in black and white, really don’t lend themselves to the two tone color palette. Trees and brick walls should not fuse, but this is not the fault of the disc. Another small issue I had was the sometimes shaky camera work that made it tougher to focus on some shots, but, again, not the disc’s fault.
‘All in the Game’ is a marked improvement over the previous two discs released by Ugarek on Blu-ray. Taking all things into consideration, it’s really an appreciable disc!
The audio for ‘All in the Game’ is the one area in which I was dissatisfied. There are two audio options, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track being the default for the disc. I’ll admit, there’s some nice separation at times, and pretty darn good dynamics, but that’s about all the niceties I can offer. For one, the disc is amazingly quiet, requiring me to crank up the levels on my receiver to get much volume coming out of the speakers. Dialogue and other elements sometimes blend, creating prioritization issues, while words can be a little difficult already. There are some audio sync issues, like the end of the three amigos torture scene, as his dialogue was way off in a number of shots, probably ones used from other takes to make a back and forth conversation using a single take’s verbal performance. There’s a good amount of breath on mics, and an entire scene that sounds like there’s not only a geiger counter nearby, but also some serious radiation to set it off. I’d say going into this release with no expectations for the sound may be the best thing.
Discs pressed after the copy I’m reviewing include an extra bonus teaser trailer, introducing the Littles character, similar to the teaser found here that spotlights the Lucky character.
Not every extra found here is also on the HD DVD disc, and said additions are noted.
- Audio Commentary – With director Gary Ugarek. This track is found by pressing the alternate audio button. G-Man discusses the change of pace, his casting coups, the N word and the discomfort of it all, legalities, projectile bats, and more. Ugarek is pretty open and honest about criticizing his own work. One of my complaints, the split screen, Ugarek doesn’t take credit for, so that helps me think higher of his work on the film! An informative track that doesn’t miss a beat, with a mix of anecdote and depth delving.
- Music Video (HD, 4 min) – Saint Anger’s You Heard Me. I’m proud that I was able to make it a minute into this one. HD DVD buyers did not get this extra. Tragedy, that.
- Teaser Trailer (HD, 1 min) – A redband trailer that sells Lucky in a Bear Jew kind of way.
- Original Day 1 Footage (with deleted scene) (HD, 1 min) – As Ugarek explains in the commentary, this footage was axed due to the actors not quite clicking with each other yet, reshot at the end of the shoot. This color footage makes for an interesting glimpse on what the film could have looked like sans filtering.
- More Day 1 Footage (deleted/reshoots) (HD, 4 min) – Four more minutes worth of axed first day footage, this portion not available on the HD DVD release. This is more alternate footage than anything else, but, again, color.
- The Three Amigo’s Torture Scene – Original Cut (HD, 4 min) – A different take on a scene in the film.
- Fund Raising Promo (HD, 2 min) – A promo explaining the film, obviously to raise some green.
- In the Hot Seat (Cast Interviews) (HD, 12 min) – Cast and crew talk about the film. Actors butcher Ugarek’s name and talk up the typecasting they’re stuck in before we get into the nitty gritty. We hear the origins of this film (some repetition from the commentary), comments about the shoot and shooting environment. Some non-PC stuff.
- Bloopers – By the Balls (HD, 2 min) – One scene, fucked up many times, in many different ways. Pretty funny at one point before it falls into “laugh inappropriately” territory.
If any content above is not found on the DVD release, it will be moved here.
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Gary Ugarek’s third film, and first outside the zombie sub-genre, is his best to date. It starts slow, but gathers plenty of steam to provide a solid payoff. Fans of urban power struggle dramas should definitely check this one out. It’s not overly violent due to budget obvious constraints, and isn’t a glossy, perfect little film, but it has enough going for it to get at least one thumb up. This self-made Blu-ray release has good but occasionally problematic video, though the audio left much to be desired. A fun oddity or obscurity to have, which supports a great cause in helping the director make more films. As such, it’s worth a look.
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