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The Choices of Ghosts (2008)
Tonight's Short Presentation

THE CHOICES OF GHOSTS (2008)

Starring: Ben Cunis, Ryan Sellers, Lucy Savage, Chris Dinolfo, Will Rogers, Kelsey Grouge

Written By: Ben Cunis, Peter Cuns Directed By: Clint Herring

See It Here: http://www.hamiltoncarver.com

The Story

His former girlfriend (Kelsey Grouge) has been murdered.  After considering all the angles, Private Eye Hamilton Carver (Ben Cunis) has brought together all of his prime suspects in one location for the final reveal of who did the dastardly deed… only he’s not going to be the one doing the revealing.  Why?  Because this is a séance, and the lady herself is going to spill the beans.  It seems that dead dames really do tell tales… cryptically… while playing at hidden agendas…

The Rundown

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

GRILLED CHEESE.

Something tasty on the cheap, and grilled like a flatfoot under a hot light stuck between a living dame and a dead one while the living one demands to know what made the British guy prettier.


Pairs Well With...

CAPITOL CITY AMBER WAVES ALE.

A flick made for a DC film festival, dedicated to “the dames,” with credits for a beer run.  Craft brewed beer from DC with a dame on the label.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a pairing!

“Even in the grave, dames will carry a grudge, and she was back from the dead as if she were back from the bar and still lookin’ for a fight.”


All right, people, listen up.  You and your friends have exactly 24 hours to come up with and produce a short film, from concept to script to filming to finished, ready-to-play movie.  And just like the Iron Chef, you won’t be told the secret ingredients that you have to incorporate until the clock starts, so major pre-planning is not an option.  All set?  Go.

That was the challenge faced by Ben Cunis, Clint Herring, and company for the Washington, DC Film Race in 2008.  The result was The Choices of Ghosts.

I’d say they did well.

The Choices of Ghosts is four minutes of comic noir with an extra shot and a twist.  The initial choice of genre not only allows for a single, sparse location that makes sense, but it also provides a readymade framework that lets the story feel larger than it really is.  Then our heroes spice it up with a bit of the supernatural, creating a result that’s about two steps to the left of expected and all the more fun to watch because of it.  And if you think you can guess how the story will go… guess again.

Of course, a fun, well-considered story doesn’t guarantee fun, well-scripted storytelling (why yes, there is a difference), but fortunately, The Choices of Ghosts has got things covered there, as well.  As with all properly done noir, the action in this film is driven by its dialogue, but any savvy fan knows that all noir dialogue is not created equal.  Classic noir dialogue carries with it the air of having been written with a stiletto, whereas comedic noir dialogue, done right, plays as though it were laid on with a trowel.  The trick, of course, is to lift the trowel at just the right moment to leave a smooth surface behind, and despite the major time crunch they faced putting together this script, writers Ben and Peter Cunis are deft indeed with their trowel.  The dialogue is snappy without being too sharp, hardboiled without losing its lightness, and frothy enough to be beer instead of well-aged whiskey.  It’s a neat trick – especially with no time to think about what’s normally a very complex script style to work with – and again, it makes for an enjoyable ride.

I’d have been suitably impressed to find out that just the script was finished in under 24 hours, but no; these overachievers had to go ahead and actually make the movie in that time, too!

Delivery of what the script has to offer isn’t a problem; call it one of the perks of having a cast that’s heavy with theatre people who know how to present the audience with a fully fleshed out character in seconds.  (Those characters, by the way, are not limited to noir stereotypes beyond the PI and his deceased lady.  Indeed, one looks like a goombah with a James Dean fetish, but the nonstandard cast of characters also helps to make the comedy work.  Though I do think I would have avoided calling the James Dean goombah “Harry Callahan;” the image of Eastwood and a .44 is too heavily attached to that name for its use in another capacity to be anything other than a distraction.)  Every player has at least one moment during which he or she gets to shine; I doubt that I’m spoiling much when I say that every death should bring on a grin from the audience.  The first one – you can figure out who the victim is yourself – is especially hilarious.

On the technical side, some constraints of the production show through – the set is a barely furnished basement – but the story’s already made allowances for that.  Director Clint Herring makes effective use of inserts and close-ups to avoid having the film turn into a simple point-and-shoot affair.  The glorious black and white of noir allows an easy out to replace standard “supernatural” special effects: the “ghost” is simply shown in heavy shadow.   I’ve seen stuff that took months or even years to put together that doesn’t look this good.  If you didn’t know in advance that this came out of a film race, you might never believe it.

Bottom line, you won’t need to call up any spirits to figure out that I wholeheartedly recommend The Choices of Ghosts.  It’s a quick, fun riff on comedic noir, with an ending that’s both unexpected and surprisingly satisfying.  What’s more, like most excellent short films, it works as a great demonstration advertising the talents of the people who made it.  After all, if these guys could do this in just a single day, imagine what they could do with more time…

Speaking of which…

After the Film Race was over, the gang decided that they'd had so much fun with The Choices of Ghosts that they had to take the story even further.  The result was a webseries called Hamilton Carver, Zombie PI.  Guess what I’m watching next.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2012

More From The Bar! | 30 Second Film Noir | The Big Sleep | Magnum Force |



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