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Copernicus spills the INK at Santa Barbara Film Festival!

Copernicus here at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. I have an introductory piece about the festival and the opening night film coming soon, but before I could get it finished I saw INK. It blew me away, so I had to drop everything and get word about it up immediately. -------------------------------------------------------------------- Film geeks, there is a new "it" movie – INK. It is not easy to fully convey the experience of this film in words, because it is so visual, has such a complicated narrative, and looks and feels so different than anything else I've seen. You can watch the trailer, but even that doesn't do it justice. When I'm searching for films to compare it to, I think of things like the Matrix, Dark City, Donnie Darko, and Brazil. All of those films share a common thread – they are hypercreative explorations of a stylized reality wholly formed out of a fertile imagination. Some are flawed, but each was so different, so fresh, that when you first saw them you could not help but marvel at the creative genius that pulled them off. Because these movies are so different, you would be hard-pressed to describe each of them in terms of what came before, and the same is true with INK. Before I get too carried away, I should say it is wholly unfair to compare INK to any of these films because it had a lower budget, was shot on DV, and has no actors you would know. And yet, I've never seen anything quite like it. I don't want to spoil too much, because part of the charm of INK is that it comes out of left field – for at least the first half of the movie you have no idea what is going on. It seems like a series of stylized scenes without a clear connection. Slowly, a realization starts to dawn – there is a whole, self-consistent universe here, and as it is fleshed out, bit by bit you start to put the plot together. The result is a series of revelations that I won't spoil. But it isn't giving away too much to say that the basic premise is that there is a dream reality that you inhabit when you sleep. There opposing forces are at war over your soul. One force gives us good dreams, and the other gives us nightmares. When a little girl, Emma, goes to sleep, she is stolen in the dreamscape by a mysterious black-robed, hook-nosed mercenary named Ink. Forces are marshaled to rescue her, but they must battle the sinister Incubi, creepy humanoids with distorted faces projected onto plates of glass in front of their heads. Each side in this struggle can play a few notes on what looks like a mini-tom-tom and open up portals to travel between planes. Meanwhile, in our reality the girl's father is struggling with his own demons. Aspects of the dream world start to touch our reality and the fate of both the father and daughter are at stake. The creative universe these characters inhabit is remarkable, but just as innovative are the techniques used to bring this world to life. Stylistically this film has a unique look, one I'm sure we'll see copied. The whole film was shot digitally, which gives it a crisp, high-contrast kind of look. In the dream scenes the whites are blown out and the colors are desaturated. The color choices play heavily into the tone of each world and side. And creative lighting is on full display, from the use of heavy shadow, sometimes dynamically changing within a scene, to a strobe-light kind of effect during the fight sequences. I know from the question and answer session after the film that for many of these choices, the cinematographer, Jeff Pointer deserves the credit. He's a remarkable talent, and I'm sure he'll go far. But the creative tour-de-force behind INK is Jamin Winans – he wrote, directed, produced, and edited the film, and did the music. I hope from this review it is apparent that the direction of this movie is spectacular, and the creativity involved in writing it is equally as impressive. The music is also phenomenal -- it does the perfect job of setting the tone, from ominous notes of dread to propulsive battle techno. Another of his "holy shit" talents is editing. Winans should get an Academy Award for it, because it does as much as anything to sell the mood of this universe. There are whiplash cuts, freeze frames in fight scenes, dialog from one scene extended into the next, and innovative uses of silence and bursts of sound inside of edits. Most importantly, he also manages to cut together several overlapping storylines so that the revelations are parceled out in just the right order and the climax builds simultaneously as the threads are woven together. The directorial skills of Winans are just as outstanding as his other talents. From his use of shadows, to camera angles, to the integration of music, he is a master. And I can't say enough about the fight scenes. It takes a rare talent to direct action well, but an even rarer one to direct it in a way that looks fresh and surprising. The cast of INK is another high point, though you've probably never heard of any of them. The little girl, Emma, is played by Quinn Hunchar. We're sure to see more of her in the future – she's cute, but she never overdoes it, and she has an unmatchable charm. The other main character, her father, is played by Chris Kelly, and he does an outstanding job carrying the emotional weight of the movie on his shoulders. He has to span a remarkable range, playing himself in both his present high-strung, on-edge state, and his younger, more compassionate self. The movie could not have worked without him, and he not only pulled it off, he hit a home run. The rest of the cast is great, though none of the others have such dynamic roles. Most just have to look bad-ass and kick ass, and they excel at it. I don't want to oversell INK, because overheated expectations have brought down many an innovative cult hit. The budget wasn't huge. Mostly you don't notice because of the creative choices made by the filmmakers, but don't go in expecting Matrix-type effects. And the film could stand to lose about 15 minutes out of the middle where extended scenes of dialog temporarily slow the pace of revelation and action to a crawl. Finally, a few of the scenes involving one of the characters named "the storyteller" bordered on cloying where she spells out the rules of the dream world to Emma. Luckily, I was invested enough by that point that these problems felt more like minor annoyances than show-stoppers. INK doesn't have distribution yet, but I expect it will get snapped up as soon as the word of mouth starts building. I saw it in at its world premiere in a tiny theater, and about half of those present seem to be friends and family of the filmmakers, so few or so outside of that circle have seen it at this point. It is playing twice more at the fest, so if you're in Santa Barbara, or even LA, you owe it to yourself to check it out. I'd love to see it play the thousand-strong hordes at Midnight Madness in Toronto. I'm not sure if it can break through to a wide audience, because it can be hard to sell a film without big stars, but I hope so. At any rate, INK is a lock to achieve cult phenomenon status, and launch the career of Jamin Winans into the statosphere. If you want to see something you've never seen before, INK is a must-see film.

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