Smoking & Masochism (Critique)

Short Film Critique
Smoking & Masochism

Smoking & Masochism CoverDirector: Pablo Lewin
Genre: Dramedy
Running Time: 12 minutes
Budget: $20.00 USD
Distribution: None
Expected Rating: R for Language
Release Date: TBA
Official Website: Click Here
Digital Version: Click Here
Review Issue: #81 (11/12)
Critic: Jeremy T. Hanke
Final Score: 4.4

Editor’s Note: Smoking and Masochism is the first film to receive both an MFM Film Critique (designed for filmmakers) and an MFM Straight Shooter Review (designed for film watchers). To read the SS Review, click here. -JH

When John (Juan Amador) picks up Mimi (Angeline Prendergast) for a date, he’s excited to see hear that she wants to see a porno. However, when she lights up an electronic cigarette in his car, he finds himself unable to stop trying to guess what sort of abuse or childhood trauma led her to be a smoker.

When she retaliates, threatening to burn him with her cigarette if he doesn’t shut up, she uncovers the fact that he’s into pain and would actually be turned on by that. She then proceeds to make assumptions about him as they drive.

Content

The concept behind Smoking & Masochism (S&M)–that we all have our hidden demons and that we feel compelled to see our demons in others–is a universal one. Unfortunately, the way it is explored in S&M is painful in the extreme. This is because the writing, acting, and editorial pacing all feel rushed and awkward.

While this is undoubtedly what a real conversation might feel like, the goal of a filmmaking is to boil down the pertinent points of reality and deliver those in a salient and structured way. Just because conversations in real life ramble, get awkward, and have nonsensical endings doesn’t mean that’s what a film should represent to be effective.

There was also a lot of commentary about hipsterism and the assumption of where Mimi lived was why she was presumed to be a hipster. However, this is so regional and cryptic as to be completely confusing to audiences not in LA proper. It would be better to distill these concepts in a way that are more understandable to larger audiences. (Take the intro to Swingers, in which Jon Favreau’s” character, Mike, explains about how everyone “in [Los Angeles] keeps wearing little “backpacks” to be trendy. He explains a regional concept in a way that viewers from anywhere in the country—or the world—could easily understand and commiserate with.)

Additionally, there were some logic issues that need to be mentioned. For example, the electronic cigarette supposedly shows that he’s S&M due to the possibility of him getting burned by cigarette tip. Electronic cigarettes use an atomizer that heats up in the center of the device to vaporize the nicotine solution, but which cool down by the external tip. Someone like Mimi, who smokes these regularly, wouldn’t make that sort of threat and someone like John, who’s into S&M, would definitely point that fact out.

John's insecurities start an awkward night.

John's insecurities start an awkward night.

Visual Style

Captured with a Canon 5D Mark II at night, the visuals in Smoking and Masochism were interesting, although a bit overly blown out. They made use of external mounts to get interesting camera angles and pretty useful angles within the car itself.

While the general editing was rough and interfered with the storytelling, the color grading was pretty well done.

John finds himself unable to stop assuming he knows why Mimi started smoking.

John finds himself unable to stop assuming he knows why Mimi started smoking.

Audio

Currently, there’s quite a bit of difference in audio quality in the lines recorded, both due to distance from the mic and the background noises recorded by the H4N in the enclosed car.

Other than the credits and a brief sequence at the end, there was almost no music. While this can work in some films, it becomes a problem when dialogue has quite a variety of background noise that changes regularly.

To fix the audio problem, extending the audio for single takes as long as possible is needed (especially when cutting to outside shots, where there’s no reason to change audio feeds). Further, using bridging sounds in the background to blend two different takes is highly suggested, as is the inclusion of soft music.

Finally, as I saw in my film, Depleted: Day 419, cleaning the audio with the $40 program, Music & Speech Cleaner, from iZotope is a great way to get highly improved audio, without having to drop hundreds of dollars for the likes Sony’s Noise Reduction or iZotope RX2.

Lasting Appeal

Honestly, this isn’t a film I would rewatch. I did rewatch it because I did both a Straight Shooter review (in which only 66% of it was watched) and this critique (in which 100% of it was watched), but it’s not one I would recommend to others in its current state.

Use of Budget

There’s no question that $20 isn’t very much money. But the final film showed the low amount of time and money that was invested in it. It would be better to invest both more time and money in order to make a higher quality production.

Closing Thoughts:

The concept behind Smoking & Cigarettes is good. Unfortunately, a number of story and production issues hamper it from becoming a cult classic. With that said, I look forward to what Mr. Lewin can do in the future as he continues to grow as a filmmaker.

Breakdown
Content
3.0
Visual Style
8.0
Audio
7.0
Use of Budget
2.0
Lasting Appeal
2.0

Overall Score

4.4

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About Jeremy T. Hanke

The director of two feature length films and half a dozen short films, Jeremy Hanke founded MicroFilmmaker Magazine to help all no-budget filmmakers make better films. His first book on low-budget special effects techniques, GreenScreen Made Easy, (which he co-wrote with Michele Yamazaki) was released by MWP to very favorable reviews. He's curently working on the sci-fi collaborative community, World of Depleted, and has recently released the short action film in this series, Depleted: Day 419 .

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