Sunday, January 9, 2011


Have you ever felt like somebody was watching you, but when you looked around, you didn't see anyone?  If you are still alive, congratulations, Rockwell --- it wasn't a ninja you sensed.  No, it might be the other-dimensional characters found in the world of Ink.  Now, before I begin, I have to admit that the synopsis for this movie might sound a little lame.  This movie is better than its plot, though, so keep reading.

It's a little known fact that all good dreams are gifts from New York hipsters in their twenties.  It's true; they are called Storytellers, are invisible to living humans, and they want to see us happy.  On the other end of the spectrum are the Incubi, middle-aged men with baggy leather suits and a bizarre monitor in front of their faces.  Incubi give you nightmares and self-doubt.  There are also Drifters, people who are in denial over their living status (as in, "no longer"), and they don't influence dreams or the living at all.  Well, unless they want to align themselves with one side or the other, that is.  Ink is a scarred and ugly Drifter who wants to stop feeling pain and guilt.  His solution is to become an Incubus, because all they feel is pride.  The Incubi will accept him only if he brings them the soul of a particular girl.  Ink kidnaps the girl, fights off about a dozen hipsters, and leaves this plane of existence.  But his little dimensional transporter drum or whatever got damaged in the fight, so the hipsters have a chance to save the girl, but how?

Meanwhile, in the real world, John (Chris Kelly) is an uber-successful businessman who has been boffo at business (but empty with emotions) since his wife died.  In fact, John has been so focused on his career (and his drinking) that the courts have given custody of their young daughter, Emma (Quinn Hunchar), to his wife's parents.  On the day of John's most fantastic and dramatic career victory, he learns from his in-laws that Emma has fallen into a coma and her life hangs in the balance.  But he has to close his billion-dollar deal right now, in person.  You would assume that there would be a major conflict here, but it's not what you might think.  John has an Incubus following him at all times, so his life is full of pride and self-doubt; Emma is the girl whose soul Ink has taken.  The Storytellers are doing their best to bring John into the light and fight off the Incubi, but they really need his help.  Who is Ink and what role does he play in all this?  Well, he's the title character, so let's just assume he plays a key role.

I have a few quick complaints about the movie before I can go on.  Why are all the heroes twenty-somethings?  What, if you've been good, when you die you get to revert back to your college years?  Do you need to look like an Urban Outfitters model to give good dreams?  And why were all the Incubi male?  Shouldn't a group known for their pride be more physically attractive than their opposition?  And why does the camera bob around so much on dry land?  Okay, Brian...exhale.  That's better.

Looking at the movie poster, you might assume that this film is either animated or Japanese.  Actually, it's a regular live action movie that never actually shows that particular scene.  It does manipulate color frequently, though, which is how the poster comes up with such a stylized image.  The real world looks like normal movies, but whenever the Storytellers or Ink are the active characters in a scene, the world becomes washed out, with only certain colors retaining their brilliance.  While I know enough about film style to spot several inconsistencies in this movie (that is, if the filmmakers were aiming for specific symbolism), this is still a visually entertaining film.  To be honest, the dialogue and characters are, for the most part, nothing special.  However, large chunks of this movie are told with little to no dialogue, and those are the film's most interesting moments.  The look and feel of this movie was just plain cool.

For that, we have to thank writer/director Jamin Winans.  He might not have a soft touch with the actors or with writing dialogue, but he knows how to convey emotion on the screen and make a beautiful picture on what was, no doubt (since Ink never got a distribution deal), a shoestring budget.  It's odd that I disliked so much of the dialogue, and yet teared up at the film's emotional climax.  No, I take it back; that's not odd, that is a miraculous come-from-behind victory.  As far as the acting went, most of it was mediocre, including the stars, Chris Kelly, Jessica Duffy, and Jennifer Batter.  They were all functional, but that was about it.  I thought Quinn Hunchar was very believable as the little girl; of course, she spent a good portion of the movie quiet and frightened, but her character's climax got my wife to cry (after seeing only ten minutes of the movie, to boot!).  My favorite character was also one of the most obnoxious, Jeremy Make, who played a loud-mouthed blind quasi-Storyteller; he was kind of funny (he physically reminded me of Zach Cregger) and his character had a moment that reminded me of that awful, awful board game, Mousetrap.  In a good way, though.

This is a film with imagination, for good and bad.  The visuals are pretty awesome, and this is one of the more unique-looking films I have seen in the past year.  The story makes interesting use of time and space; time loops around several times in the movie, and I think that story mechanic was used well.  On the downside, this movie sometimes feels like the ideas implied by the visuals and inventive plotting over-promise and the actual script under-delivers.  A lot of the dialogue is trite and repetitive, some themes are hammered home with absolutely no subtlety, and the story, when you explain it, loses a lot of its charm.  Happily, the movie still turns out pretty good, at least in part because there is absolutely zero exposition until the film is nearly half over, a fantastic example of showing, rather than telling, in storytelling.  Personally, I think this was a pretty great amateur effort from this writer/director, but I would rather see him adapt somebody else's work, since scripting is probably not his strong point.

If this sounds interesting at all, check it out through digital download services like iTunes and Netflix or through the director's web page.  It's fun to support small budget stuff sometimes.  Here's a short from the director and principal cast of Ink:

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