Sunday, May 24, 2015

Winning Formula Review

It's been nearly four years that I've been reviewing movies -- three and a half years on this blog and a few additional months on a friend's blog. After all that time and all those reviews I have now been a very unique opportunity for me. One that I've not been given before. That opportunity is to review a movie that has not yet been released into theaters. The director of the movie Winning Formula came to me asking me to watch and review his latest movie that has recently been finished and selected to premier at the Temecula Independent Film Festival this June. This director is named Tyler Farr and he is actually a good friend of mine who is a fairly recent graduate of the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, California. Winning Formula is his second feature length film that he has directed, the first being The Good, The Bad, and The Coyote.

In addition to this being a great opportunity for me, it's also a challenging one. It's one thing to write a review for a movie where you don't know anyone involved in the making of the film and you're pretty sure that none of them are going to actually be reading your review. It's another to write a review for a movie where you know and respect the director of the film and you know that he will be reading every word you write. There's a lot more pressure with that because what if you are asked by a friend to review a movie and you absolutely hate it? What do you say? That's why it would be really easy to just a write a positive review praising everything that was done in the film, that way everyone would be happy. But is that the right thing to do? If you praise something that's not deserving of praise, that helps no one. It's much better to be honest and say what you didn't like. That way there's room for improvement and progression. This is why I'll never sugar coat things. I like being honest. In this situation, before I watched the movie I thought to myself that if I ended up hating the movie, I would have the unique opportunity of giving my advice to a young director and thus I could be an instrument in actually helping this director improve in the future. Thus I became excited regardless of my experience with the movie.

After this introduction, Tyler is probably really nervous. "Oh no! I spent all this time and effort making this movie and Adam didn't even like it." Not the case actually. I've learned to really like independent films. Oftentimes there's a lot more heart and raw emotion that is put into them because the people who make them have no guarantee that it'll be recognized by anyone. They also often don't have large budgets with access to huge special effects or fancy CGI, so they have to rely a lot more on acting and story-telling, which is something that I wish large blockbusters would spend a little more time on with their movies. That said, when an independent film misses the mark, it has the potential to be unwatchably bad and unfortunately I've ran across a few of those in my days and it's not my favorite experience. Luckily, in terms of independent films, Winning Formula is actually pretty decent. I did have my issues with it that I will get into, but I honestly think it's a fun little film that is worth watching.

For those of you who haven't seen this film, which at this point is pretty much everyone that wasn't involved in making it, Winning Formula is a comedy that follows a couple of Australian sisters that are on a vacation touring around the United States. While in Vegas, or near Vegas anyways, they find themselves in quite a predicament. Being that they're not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed, they make a string of bad decisions, one of which is betting on a turtle race which causes them to be $10,000 in debt to a notorious gangster. They have three weeks to pay off the debt or else they may actually get killed by this guy. No pressure. Being that I was one of the first to watch this movie and probably the first to right a review on it, I had absolutely no expectations. No trailer. No other opinions on the movie. Nothing. Just a brief description of the movie on their facebook and IMDb page. This makes for a fun experience. I don't often get the experience of going in knowing nothing about the movie given how closely I follow movie news, trailers, etc. So I enjoyed the opportunity. In this situation, however, it did take me a bit to get used to the movie. For the first 20 or 30 minutes of the movie, I wasn't enjoying myself at all. Things felt more annoying and confusing instead of being funny and clever. But once I got used to the style and the characters, they slowly grew on me and by the end I was enjoying myself.

I will be honest, though, there are a lot of elements to this story that don't necessarily make a lot of sense. I think there are a lot of parts that probably sounded a lot better and funnier on paper but didn't quite work out as well when they were executed on film. The definite goal here was to be a comedy and I think a there were certain elements that were sacrificed in the name of comedy that almost worked, but could've been better had things made a bit more sense. First off, the idea of betting on a turtle race is a clever one, but at the same time who would ever bet on a turtle race? And what type of gangster would would use turtle racing as a lure? Speaking of the gangsters, they didn't feel menacing enough. These two girls were essentially given three weeks to live if they didn't get $10,000, but I never felt like they were in real danger. In fact, I don't remember them giving this gangster their names, numbers, or any information, so I was thinking to myself, what if they just left town? How would this guy catch them? The whole situation didn't feel like it was explained well enough or developed well enough. Then the girls are walking in their shiny clothes and get attacked by a hawk, so they take off all their clothes (no R-rated content, don't worry), leave their clothes behind on the road, and get a ride from a random girl and end up naked for like a day. I this this was supposed to be comedic, but it just didn't make logical sense. They're on a road trip and they didn't bring extra clothes? Would a hawk really attack two girls with shiny clothes like that? Why didn't they grab their outfits and just put them on later when the hawk is gone?

Those instances were just a few examples, but throughout the movie there's a lot of sequences like that that don't make a lot of sense. They're supposed to be funny, but I wasn't laughing. I was just confused. I feel like the story could've been polished up quite a bit and it would've been really good. Also, there were a lot of characters in this movie. Many of them were great. But a few of them were just really annoying. I didn't like the two police officers. I didn't like the angry Asian lady. I didn't like the owner of the restaurant that they kept going to despite the fact that they obviously hated it. Once again, the writing with these characters could've been polished up a bit. A lot of great ideas that for whatever reason didn't translate well on camera.

So now that I've spent the last two paragraphs getting my gripes out, let me talk about the good aspects of this movie. First and foremost, the best part of the movie in my opinion was the cinematography and the editing. Even when a lot of other parts of the movie felt like they needed to be polished up a bit, these two aspects felt consistently professional throughout, so I'm going to name drop and give a round of applause to the director of photography, Colby Oliver, and the editor, Tim O'Neill. Great job guys. Due to a few classes I've taken in school recently, these are elements of film that I've been paying very close attention to of late and I was super impressed. It was a well shot film with a lot of great camera angles, perfect lighting, and smooth cuts. It definitely gave the movie a very profession feel which is a huge plus for an indie like this.

I also liked the acting in this movie, especially by our two main girls played by Claudia Pickering and Prudence Vindin. They had great chemistry throughout and both did a great acting job, which was especially impressive when the movie went away from comedy and became serious. There were some heartfelt and emotional moments that worked really well and I give credit to these two for their performances. Also, I noticed when the credits showed that Claudia had a lot more influence on the movie than just starring in it. She was writer, producer, and art director in addition to star. That's a lot to balance. Props. Speaking of drama, perhaps Tyler should consider doing a serious drama with his next film because I did like the movie a lot more in the serious moments as opposed to the comedy. Don't get wrong, there were several moments that were really funny that were even better when I watched it the second time (which I did, by the way). The Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings musical performance was one of them -- I could see that scene being a YouTube hit if they were to single out that performance and upload it. But the movie was better when it was serious. At least for me. I could potentially see others laughing a lot in some scenes that I didn't laugh, so I'm going to be really curious as to the reaction that others have to this film. I'll be closely monitoring that.

Now that I have talked your ear off, or rather burned your eyes out for having to read this whole review, I'll conclude by saying that I did in fact have a positive feeling towards this movie in the end. They have their first film festival coming up and I really hope there is a good reaction to that so that they can carry that momentum into whatever their eventual plans are with the movie. That said, I hope everyone involved in this project can look at this and realize that this isn't a perfect movie. There's a lot of things that could've been polished up to make this better, so I hope that Tyler Farr and his crew can look at this project, learn from it and come back with an even better film next time around. Anywho, I would recommend checking this film out. How can you do that? I have no idea. I suggest liking their facebook page,, and closely following that because they are sure to post updates as opportunities to view the film become available. I'll be sure to keep you updated, too, when I find out so you make sure you like my facebook page for this blog as well, My grade for Winning Formula is a 7/10.

1 comment:

  1. Hello! I just nominated you for a Creative Blogger Award! Check it out here: