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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A guilty viewing pleasure of mine is "Perry Mason." I love the black
and white photography. I love the clothes and the men's suits, the
women's jewelry, dresses, handbags and shoes. In every episode you get
a few outdoor shots of old Los Angeles, and you're guaranteed to see a
cool car or two. Ominous music plays. Somebody ends up dead, and out of
a few twists and turns, not to mention a group of suspects, the killer
and motive emerge. Of course, I love film noir as well, but somehow I
thought more of "Perry Mason" than noir while I watched a wonderful new
film, Nero Bloom: Private Eye. A clock tick-tocks, an elevator door
opens and a lady screams when she sees what's inside. Yep, there's a
stiff in the elevator and it is up to Nero Bloom to figure out who the
killer is. Nero Bloom: Private Eye plunges us into an old school world
of dames and detectives and serves it all up with tremendous flair and
What I hate to reveal, but what makes Nero Bloom such a remarkable accomplishment, is that this is a student film made on a shoestring budget (under $5,000). The two Huntington University students behind this project are Jason Eberly and Nathan Hartman, though it is clear from the credits that many people joined in the fun.
And it is fun. The filmmakers have a real affection for crime-solving noir. They've done their homework, and it shows. They've also watched a lot of movies. There isn't an element of the film that hits a false note. It is perfectly pitched. Eberly serves as director and producer, while Hartman is writer and producer. This film should be a great calling card for both gentlemen as they attempt to find future work in film.
Let me start with how great the film looks. It is pretty easy to dial down the color these days and turn a film into black and white, but the black and white of this film is rich and inviting, especially the interior scenes. The cinematography of Jordan Steetle and Eberly is full of shadows and silhouettes, with the kinds of wipes and scene cuts found in any good crime movie.
Through this work they have captured a true period feel. The black and white helps hide the newness of some set dressing, but there are plenty of vintage cars and older buildings that convince us we are somewhere back in time. Shot in Zionsville, Huntington, Fort Wayne and Coldwater, Michigan, the film features a few places local audiences will recognize. Nero Bloom's office (in the Lincoln Tower, which isn't shown from the exterior at all and I kept hoping to see it) looks out on the Allen County Courthouse. Club Soda makes a very effective appearance as itself.
Underneath the great look of the film is a script with a good ear for snappy dialogue. When Bloom comes back to his office to find the chief of police at his desk, he asks, "How did you get in here?" "I'm police chief. I've got the key to the city," is the reply.
The dead guy in the elevator is Charlie Lomax, a professional poker player. Bloom had been hired by Lomax's wife to get to the bottom of what was ailing her husband. Back in the day he was the best poker player around, but just prior to his murder he'd been on a months-long losing streak. When Lomax turns up dead, Bloom's job description changes. He must now find Lomax's killer to salvage the card player's reputation. The grieving widow, who doesn't want to pay now that her husband is dead, says, "Why should I pay you to look in the mirror." Now the question is, "Did she do it?" Also effective and entertaining is the score composed by Rich Douglas. A moody mix of plaintive horns that follows Nero Bloom everywhere, the music made me feel like I was in Chinatown.
Bloom is played by Phil Black, and he's a convincing, young smart-mouth. At least that's how Chief Silvestri (Mark Esch) would describe him. All the stock characters are here: the widow; the cops; a reporter; a nightclub singer; a fat man and his boys. At an efficient running time of just over 40 minutes, the film brings the killer to justice.
Both Eberly and Hartman have undeniable talent as producers. Making movies is a lot harder than it looks, but, when done well, it looks easy. It takes a lot of passion, charm and persistence to get what you need to make a project work. These two clearly have these qualities. The budget for the film was just a few thousand dollars, but it looks like it cost 50 to 100 times more. And they do somehow make it look easy.
We certainly live in a nice part of the world, but to get so many people to donate locations and time is quite a feat. Antique car owners, the City Council of Zionsville, a train platform and working steam engine are just some of who and what helped on this project. The credits are full of local names and locales, and I can't imagine any contributor not being delighted to have been a part of this project.
For those of us who have had the privilege of viewing this film one can only imagine how these young filmmakers did it on a shoestring budget of less than 5K. It's astounding! This movie truly epitomizes the best of independent film-making. The story hits all the beats and the cinematography is right on the mark. I think audiences are hungry for some straight forward gum shoe detective values and this film delivers the goods. One thing that makes this film so authentic is the quality of the cast. Several of the actors are regulars at the Pulse Opera House in Warren Indiana. I'm not sure very many of them had acted in front of the camera before but they all stepped up and really delivered. Can't wait to see the sequel.
I thought Nero Bloom was outstanding. While watching, I forgot it was 2009. I was transported into the setting, somewhere in the 1940's I'm guessing. I was transfixed into the plot immediately. I loved how, not only was there suspense and the puzzling twists you draw from mysteries, but there was action and humor. Another aspect, sometimes movies of this genre run a bit long, or drag a conclusion. This film had great timing, so I was able to stay interested every minute. The acting was very believable, the actors seemed very experienced and prepared. I look forward to, and hope to see this movie up for awards. Nero Bloom was a very well rounded film and I was very, very impressed.
As with many college films, "Nero Bloom" clearly fails to live up to
the mammoth expectations of extravagant Hollywood productions.
Nonetheless, few undergraduate films could ever boast the professional
lengths achieved by this marvelous piece.
"Bloom" is an inspired homage to the Film Noir genre of the 1930s and 1940s, conjuring the seedy, gritty spirit of "The Maltese Falcon," "To Have and Have Not," and "The Big Heat." The protagonist's cynical, street-smart nature may not be original, but originality is clearly not the theme of Bloom's existence. Instead, his flattering salute to Bogartesque gumshoes proves both accurate and humorous. Just a few laughs beyond satire, Nero Bloom faithfully blends self-parody and dark humor without compromising the serious, sordid nature of the plot.
The dialogue, easily misjudged as poorly written or sophomoric, is a brilliant burlesque of the wisecracking, sarcastic conversations prone to wartime mysteries. Witty, authentic, and sardonic, it successfully conveys an atmosphere of corny morbidity.
In a stylish derivation from the genre, the discourse nearly breaks the fourth wall with its understanding self-deprecation, acknowledging modern audiences' taste for realism. In a similar technique, an uncustomary amount of visual gore and violence (often left to shadows and implication in Noir) satisfies a contemporary thirst for lethal action.
Its greatest flaw, struggling, unsophisticated acting, (acting, acting, ACTING... this is impossible to overemphasize) is hardly unexpected for this level of drama. Furthermore, such shoddy work may be overlooked as characteristic (albeit accidentally) of the melodrama of Film Noir. Nonetheless, it does subtract from an otherwise stellar piece.
While this annoying fault does distort an otherwise unblemished production, it fails to disturb the refined, proficient directing, photography, and lighting. Utilizing fantastic props, courageously authentic costumes, and marvelous settings, "Nero Bloom" feels just as authentic as any of Bogart's masterpieces. Complemented by a dazzling score, these victorious accomplishments blend into a perfect cocktail of Noiresque decadence and humor (Also worth mentioning is the PERFECTIVE introductory dancing short, a romantic salute to Fred Rogers).
This collegiate production, while hampered down by provincial acting, will nonetheless hold its own against any authentic film. It is a triumph that Bogey would have applauded.
I was greatly impressed at how the film paid homage to the days gone by. It was black and white in appearance, and black and white in it's delivery. As were all the films in their day that this pays tribute to. Visually rewarding. The characterizations hit the mark as well. A fine job by all involved, and it looks like they had fun doing it as well. This would make a wonderful series, actually. I even heard a fellow audience member actually say that. The stock characters would be a joy to watch again and again. The filmmakers and cast and crew should hold their heads high for the work they did with this. I saw this film at Cinema Center 5 times, and each time it was entertaining, and did not grow stale. I liked it!Bravo!
Nero Bloom is a film that I am so proud to be involved in. As the
costume and wardrobe supervisor I was at most of the shoots and got to
see a lot of the process of this film. Yet I am still shocked when I
see the final product. I marvel at how this mega student film was
pulled off with such a small budget.
And yet, when I stop and think about all the hard work, preparation, attention to details, perseverance and positive attitudes that went into this film, I actually am not surprised at the great outcome.
I didn't quite know what I was getting into when I became involved in this project, but I can remember after my first meeting with Jason Eberly, the director and Nathan Hartman, the screenwriter...I knew I was in for a project that pushed the limits as a student film, and I was excited. Costume-wise, they had a very specific vision for each of the characters that was able to be expounded on. Each week I was informed well in advance of which characters needed to be in costumed for the weekend's shoots, and how many extras we were hoping to find. I was NEVER in doubt of what Eberly wanted in the costumes for each shoot. This constantly challenged me to find what was expected and kept me focused as the supervisor of costumes and make-up. I still do not understand to this day how Eberly managed to pay such close attention to so many details. Detail....not very many student projects I have worked with have given attention to detail... in my mind this is where the best of the best can really start to emerge.
What continues to blow my mind to this day is the amazing locations that we traveled to for this film. We had public roads shut down for us, filmed in a historic mansion, utilized 2 train stations...and yet our budget didn't sky rocket. This is because both Nathan Hartman and Jason Eberly have learned a very good skill as filmmakers...networking. They used these skills to get breaks in this film that took it to the next level without the expenses. I was ever amazed at each new location we filmed at! I was also pleased to see how the crew and the cast worked together on set and off set. I saw EVERYONE on this film both compromise with each other. I also saw great perseverance in the midst of some significant trials, like losing a lead actress 2 weeks before her first shoot... I always felt well informed as a crew member, well directed. I watched this project wrap up from a year long process at least in the months with just as much intensity as it started with. And that is saying a lot, after at least 30 shoots! Both Jason and Nathan stuck with this project until the very end, pulling all-nighters with the sound editor, Jordan Wolf, to make sure that details were done right in post, details like sound.
And, both Jason and Nathan took care of the crew and cast in the most professional way. I know everyone involved felt valued and cared for, which makes for a great working environment. The set of Nero Bloom was like being part of a family, I can honestly say I will miss shooting this film! The detail paid to each shoot on the location was also amazing. Jason and Hartman were each so careful about perfect set dressing and Jason was sometimes relentless in how many takes we took of a scene....but again, it was a ruthlessness that only pushed both the cast and crew in a necessary and positive way. And the results show how worth it all those takes were! Eberly has an eye for the visual and each shot is visually stunning thanks to the work of cameraman Jordan Steele.
Now, as a viewer, it is hard for me to rate the film without some prejudice knowing all the toil that went into it....however, I had the opportunity to attend 3 showings of it when it premiered at the Cinema Center in Fort Wayne and I was able to witness audiences' responses. It was so neat to see people truly enjoy the film before them, both students and older viewers. Many laughs were cracked at Nero's witty dialogue. People loved being given a film that took them back to their own youth, the days of "film noir". What a reward it was to see so many positive responses to this film.
So, thank you cast and crew of Nero Bloom for allowing me to be a part of such an amazing experience. I couldn't be prouder to tag my name onto such a phenomenal student film. I can only anticipate what you all will do in the future of film.
Thank you for dreaming big with this student film and reaching for the unreachable even when it seemed like we couldn't get it! You got it!
I've developed a habit of having outlandish dreams, whether I'm awake
or asleep. In these dreams some major details seem to get left out. Not
because I'm unthoughtful, but because my head gets so flooded with
ideas it's hard to keep them all straight. In the end I'm always
satisfied with whatever zaniness ensues in my head, but it's always a
question of how I got there.
I feel honored to have seen so much of Nero come to be from the tiny, silly details of what liquids look most like alcohol in black and white to the more expansive details of how one manifests a steam train. The overall feel of life leading up to the premiere was a lot of buzz and a lot of talk that always makes me nervous.
Film noir in my experience contains a good deal of archetypes and stock characters. The femme fatale for one. So I suppose I'll start there. St. Claire was lacking as the femme fatale, in fact, fatale seems a bit generous. I'll give her femme, but Edlund lacked in any of the allure that should have been possessed in her character.
I must attribute some of this to the writing. The tragedy of a 45 minute film is that if the ensemble of characters gets to big nothing becomes established well. There's no great place to point the finger, but I think much of that falls on the writer. If one doesn't have the time to establish all the characters then it's best to leave them out. There was just something missing. How did we get from a to b? And why does her hair look less than becoming when she's in the dressing room? As any dream it was started with an idea, but it also followed the pattern of moving a little too fast when all you want is for it to move slower and moving a little too slow when all you want is to get out of this spot. The dialog was fair, but forced. Hartman has good concepts and is quite clever, but he has a ways to go before those strange little dream gaps disappear.
Visually the film was beautiful, though I question whether the '40s were really that smoky. I don't know. I wasn't there. Eberly has a good eye for what looks best, but still has some work to do on what is best as far as acting is concerned. Much credit must also be paid to Steele for his cinematography. No complaints.
As far as student films go this Nero was a big dream on a small budget that turned out better than most student films. It's visually stunning. Black was as dapper and suave as one would hope in a private eye. Some of the actors were a little less favorable, but this is one of the pains a making a student film. Free and good actors are hard to come by. Nero Bloom is, in my opinion, successful. Was it perfect? Certainly not. Was it an absolute bomb? Clearly not. Is there room for improvement? Of course, but it is a student film and as far as student films go it's still far better than most of what students are producing. It didn't have some "abstract" nor "artsy" storyline. It wasn't about whatever you want to make of it. It wasn't trying to prove a point. It stands on its own feet.
This is a hard film to judge. It is an ambitious student film, one that
asks to be judged not as such but as an "almost" film. At 45 minutes,
it is not exactly short, but nor is it feature length. And it is a
period film which makes an admirable attempt to capture the "look" of a
40s piece, something not easily done with the non-existent budget
typical of student work.
For students, this is excellent work and merits high praise. The production quality bar is set surprisingly high. The acting is passable, which in the iffy world of student films makes it well above the watermark.
Where I feel the film could have been improved was in playing with the genre. It presents a film noir plot line with little creativity. Go in with your expectations set for a plot of that era, and you will get your wish. This is good, but in order to be a truly remarkable film in and of itself, one feels it needed a little more kick to it.
That said, the film well merits 9/10 stars when viewed in context as a student film.
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