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Thursday, February 12, 2015

HOLLIDAYSBURG -- Movie Review by Porfle

During the Starz reality series "The Chair" (in which two first-time directors are given the same script to shoot) I was skeptical about the kind of film Anna Martemucci was going to come up with as opposed to her competitor, YouTube star Shane Dawson (NOT COOL). From what I could see during the documentary footage of the shoot, it appeared she was doggedly marching right through standard touchy-feely chick-flick territory and hitting all the usual stops along the way.

After watching HOLLIDAYSBURG (2014), however, I'm happy to say I couldn't have been more wrong. What didn't come across during the TV series--which, naturally, played up Martemucci's less decisive and self-confident moments for dramatic effect--is what a firm grasp she had over the visual and emotional effect she was going for during the film's sometimes difficult gestation process. Despite a few minor missteps, it's a genuinely solid and professional-looking effort.

The lead roles are well-acted by a cast of relative unknowns. Tobin Mitnick has an easygoing charm as Scott, who returns from college to his hometown for Thanksgiving only to find that his mom has moved to Florida (he stays in the almost-empty family home with his brother Phil, played by Martemucci's brother-in-law and filmmaking partner, Philip Quinaz) and that being Mr. Popular in high school doesn't mean as much when school is over.

Having just been dumped by his flighty girlfriend Heather (Claire Chapelli)--during sex, no less--Scott quickly falls for another returning classmate, Tori (Rachel Keller in another appealing performance), whom he had always ignored before. Their quickie and rather rocky romance is further complicated when Scott's friend Petroff (Tristan Erwin) falls into an improbable relationship with Heather.

None of this is exactly earth-shaking, and the film's humor is understated to say the least, but it's kind of nice to watch a low-key character comedy that isn't just a series of gags. While it takes a little time to start getting familiar with (and caring) about these characters, I found myself settling into it and enjoying it without really trying too hard.

The comedy sort of sneaks up on you at times and rarely seems forced. A highlight is the pep-talk monologue by likable loser Mitch (Brian Shoaf), who's currently romancing Heather's mom, in which he clumsily tries to cheer her up after she decides not to go to college. Other "Thanksgiving with the folks" bits of business are funny as well.

I wasn't aware that Anna Martemucci was playing a role (as Tori's sister, Courtney) since I don't remember it even being mentioned during her scenes in "The Chair" (maybe I missed it). Anyway, it's a small part and she does a good job in front of the camera. Her brother-in-law Philip is likable as Phil, who spends most of the movie in the kitchen, obsessively trying to bake pumpkin pies the way his dad used to.

Happily, after following the making of this film during "The Chair", I find that Martemucci shows a distinct flair for directing. The film looks really good for its budget, with good cinematography and great use of Pittsburgh locations. Ultimately I was very impressed with the surehanded and skillful job she has done here--her camera placement, handling of actors, and command of other filmmaking elements to create a visually pleasing and emotionally resonant comedy-drama are pretty much impeccable.

I was quite pleasantly surprised that I liked HOLLIDAYSBURG as much as I did--it goes down easy, with no unpleasant aftertaste. The ending is rather poignant, even a tad haunting, without overdoing it. In fact, nothing about the film seems overdone. Like Phil's final batch of experimental pumpkin pies, it came out just right.

See it on Amazon instant video
Read our review of NOT COOL
Read our review of THE CHAIR



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