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It's Valentines Day, sweets are currency, and New Yorkers can't seem to get enough of their favorite Moses Donuts. Unfortunately, Stan Moses, the donut creator extraordinaire, is having a crisis of his own. As his agent pushes him to be bigger, and Valerie, the bakery owner, adds a surprise of her own, Stan begins to strain under the pressures of mass production while simultaneously trying to create hand painted masterpieces... one donut at a time. In his manic search for answers to life and love we discover that the solution to his problems may be closer than he realizes. Max, a self-declared sugarholic, might be just what Stan needs, and he, the answer to her addictions. Written by
I attended the first ever showing of Wholey Moses on February 6th in NYC. Even before seeing it, I knew this short would be interesting, as it mixes three thoroughly A List stars with three relative unknowns. I say relative because, in their own right, each has already made a name for themselves. Annabelle Dexter-Jones is from a privileged New York family, giving her a name from birth. Todd Heyman has already written and directed Prodigy(2001). Stephan Paternot, who plays Stan Moses, was an internet whiz-kid and has since then starred in another short, the critically acclaimed Shutter(2001). Shannyn Sossamon and Linda Hamilton, both seasoned veterans of film, round off this interesting line-up. The third A-Lister is the head of cinematography, Dave Phillips, notably the cinematographer for The Basketball Diaries(1995). This set-up alone endears the film to me, but has the potential to be either catastrophic or marvellous. 20 minutes is not a long amount of time, especially when compared to the increasingly lengthy films being released. If you subtract from those twenty minutes the lead-in to the film, Todd Heyman has very little time in which to unfurl an entire story arc, develop characters, and reach a satisfying conclusion. Heyman makes perfect usage of these twenty minutes. The lead, Stan Moses, comes over as a surprisingly full character. The close up shot of his bruised eye, interspersed with Ren and Stimpy Valentine's clips, reveals a kind warmth that has, as the bruise and almost tearful eye show, been beaten by life. Moses' character is further elaborated upon in the bicycling scenes, portraying a frantic determination, and the contrast between the cynical scenes with Dexter-Jones and the romantic ones shared with Sossamon. The camera and sound in all of these scenes is perfect, especially during the bicycling scenes as the flight-of-the-bumblebee effect is replicated in both sound and vibrating fisheye lens. However, Heyman's fine direction would be worth nothing without matching acting. Paternot, as mentioned above, embodies Moses perfectly. He plays a polar opposite to his character in Shutter, demonstrating not only range but also the ability to learn: his acting has noticeably improved since his last outing. The character of Stan is perfected in Paternot, without exception. If there was one problem I had with Wholey Moses, it would be Hamilton's lack of screen time. On the flip side of that coin, however, Hamilton proves herself yet again by flawlessly revealing her character in what limited time she has. The true new-blood of this film, Dexter-Jones, has obvious talent. The prospective danger of giving a role like Matti to a green actor is that the character will feel contrived and, although this would likely fit the story, saccharine. Dexter-Jones, however, neither under nor over acts, instead choosing a middle-route which captures Matti entirely. Aside from Moses himself, Max, the character played by Sossamon is the most interesting in the film, and Sossamon fits it to a T. The classic Shannyn movements; the biting of the lip, crinkling of the nose, and squinting all work perfectly to get over the quirks of Max, a sugar (and specifically Moses-Donut) addict. Again, however, the film profits massively from Heyman's shooting. In Shannyn's first scene, we find out, through drips and drabs of Alcoholics Anonymous-like monologue, that she's a sugar addict. The camera keeps Shannyn's face in frame, but cuts between her talking and her nigh-twitching, which is highly affective as it mimics the disjointed, sporadic sugar buzz whilst contrasting it with the dark room, representative of the depths of addiction. In fact, the entire film has this sugar buzz about it, from the flight of the bumble-bee bike scenes to the honey-yellow or sugar-white lens filters. And that's what really makes this film outstanding: the atmosphere. Yes, the parts that are employed to build up this atmosphere, the characters, the director, the filters and the story, are individually superb, but it's the overall atmosphere that really amazes. Wholey Moses is the ultimate art film because it has an art atmosphere. The part that really comes across, thanks to Paternot's acting, in Stan is how much of an artist he is. The instinctual measuring/mixing/painting scenes, lacking any form of formality, the unforgettable look in his eyes, his hunch, the absolute nihilism shown in his messy, scarred overalls, all add up to this fantastic portrayal of a man who is, at core and centre, an artist. And this is his story, a story about an artist, and it feels absolutely like it should, from the scrawled names in the lead-in to the 'Valentine's' cards sent by Danny King, from the sudden, sporadic leap into the Hudson to the naïve attempts at finding Max, this is the story of an artist breaking free, breaking loose, and breaking in big. The key to this film is the atmosphere, an atmosphere so real, so Village, so artistic, that it is undeniable and instantly loveable. And that's why Wholey Moses matters.
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