As far as low-budget films go - "Moscow Chill" - is a stunner.
Hollywood should sit up and take notice.
For a cool million, the producers have turned out a delightful little popcorn movie.
A lot of the credit goes to the charismatic young lead actor, Norman Reedus (co-star American Gangster).
But, there are three stars in the film - shot in Russia - Reedus, the cinematographer, and a circus bear.
At a Q & A in Beverly Hills - director Chris Solimine held the audience in his thrall - with a couple of hilarious production tidbits.
For example, he laughingly recalled that when the circus bear first signed on the dotted line, the wranglers assured the crew that "Misha" would behave.
For good measure, they were promised a security detail would be on hand, to ensure a smooth lensing of the scenes without mishap.
"Empty promises. They lied," blurted out the good-hearted auteur.
In fact, one day the bear escaped from the cage and trotted down an old country road, with distressed crew members in hot pursuit.
The end result?
There were a few costly shooting delays and a migraine headache or two to boot.
To make matters worse, Mr. Solimine was bitten by a dog (featured in the film); subsequently, the filmmaker was in constant fear he'd wake up one fine morning with a nasty bout of rabies and foaming at the mouth.
Lead actor - Reedus - did not manage to stay out of harm's way either.
One wild and crazy night - when he sauntered out on-the-town to take in some local color - he got more than he bargained for, too.
After a gang of corrupt police officers caught Reedus pi**ing in the street - they proceeded to "toss him" in a Datsun - and relieve him of the meager twelve bucks in his wallet.
"It was worth it. 'Cause, I filmed the whole thing on my cell," he chortled to amused theatre-goers out to support the film.
Heh, has that precious footage ever been aired on YouTube?
Perhaps the funniest incident occurred when the prop master was forced to admit a gun to be used in a key scene was not brought to the location that day.
When the production teamed approached an on-duty police officer about offering up his firearm as a substitute to bag the shot - an official started to argue point-blank that it was illegal for a Russian to surrender his gun.
A fellow officer standing nearby - shrugged - and handed over his gun without any qualms.
Yup, it appears that folks are enamored of the movie biz in Russia, too.
In fact, "Moscow Chill" was financed by the Russian Government.
No doubt - they'll realize a tidy return on the savvy investment - Studio Moguls willing!
If so, it was not without some sweat and tears, though.
After all - post-production was a real b**** - according to Solimine.
On the heels of the nightmare, he had words of advice for young filmmakers, too.
"Never shoot a scene with four smokers. The shot is not only difficult to match, but negatively impacts the lighting," he warned the rapt audience.
When asked how the project came into fruition, he noted that the original script was slated for a big-budget release. But - as it wallowed in pre-production blues - the first handlers grew weary.
Film 101 stuff, eh?
When Solomine got on board, he thought a creative avenue of thought, might nudge the production forward, to green light status.
Can you make it less commercial, he queried the DP.
"I'll make it so no one comes to see it," he cackled in response.
Well, it's doubtful that will be the film's demise; after all, the cinematography is worth the price of admission, alone.
In fact, the scenes are breathtaking.
Each frame is artfully painted with a lush palette; at times rich - but gritty and down 'n dirty - when it needed to be.
There was a lot of thoughtful attention to visual detail which impressed me thoroughly, too.
And, I am a tough critic!
The set-ups were outstanding. No pedestrian shots here.
In fact, I was constantly amazed at their variety, as scenes flowed from one to the next seamlessly.
Solomine has a keen eye, is quite talented, and shows a lot of potential ripe with possibilities.
Also, Norman Reedus gave a stand-out performance.
Tough - yet vulnerable, at times - his characterization resonated in every fiber of his being.
Indeed, he has a captivating screen presence, waiting to bust out.
This kid is going places!
The plot for "Moscow Chill" is charming and believable, too.
An altruistic computer whiz uncovers the tale of Prometheus.
According to legend, the Titan - known for his wily intelligence (who stole fire from Zeus) - gave the precious gift to mortals for their daily use.
On the heels of this history lesson, the lad decides to become a modern-day version of the Ancient Greek. But, chooses a path along the lines of the Robin Hood character, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
In the side-splitting scene opening scene - we first encounter the naive lad manipulating keys on a computer in the back of a taxi - which causes scads of bills to fly out this way 'n that from local ATM machines around the city.
Startled passers-by - who can not believe their good fortune - rush in to snatch up the ubiquitous cash no questions asked.
Unfortunately, the Reedus character gets caught.
However - his unique skills do not escape the attention of a master criminal overseas - who hatches a plot to rescue the fresh felon with the express intention of corralling his hacking skills.
In a nutshell, he's contracted to run an embezzlement scam on a grand scale.
But, there is a lot of mayhem along the way!
Although Moscow Chill is not earth-shattering or original in concept - the independent feature does have a heart - which beats to a different drummer.
However, the film is flawed.
The script itself is a tad loose and needs to be tighter.
I expect that some judicious editing may resolve that problem if the producers are capable of standing back and giving "Moscow Chill" a realistic once-over with a discriminating eye.
There are a couple of minor production snafus, as well
In one key scene - there appeared to be some powder or chalk on the shoulder of one of the lead players - which was also distracting.
Where the heck was wardrobe?
In a turn-around shot - the offensive blotch - was nowhere to be seen.
I giggled when I noticed a subtitle error, too.
In one prison shot, a guard makes a curious announcement over the loud speaker.
"Prisoners return to their cells."
Well - since he was addressing the prisoners directly - the commands should have read "to your cells" instead.
Picky, I know.
But if a filmmaker wants to go "Hollywood" - and play in the big leagues - he's got to get it right.
There is no distributor yet, but I expect Solomine will land one in the near future.
Until then, rely on bootleg copies, selling straight from the streets of Moscow.
Or, tune in to Moscow TV via satellite, where the little flawed gem has been broadcasting in the local market in recent months.
Theatre-goer recalled Reedus in earlier film...