Greenpoint Film Festival 2013 Wrap Up


After a successful opening night on Thursday, September 19, the third annual Greenpoint Film Festival wrapped on Sunday. Just as she has done in the previous two years, Festival Director Rosa Valado was able to tap into the creativity of our neighborhood as well as bring together a diverse group of films and filmmakers from around the world. In addition to screening a number of amazing films, the Greenpoint Film Festival played host to a number of spirited discussions and panels.

The festival had the prerequisite narrative and documentary categories in addition to highlighting micro-budget/DIY films, experimental films, and offered a music video screening and discussion. The closing day, Sunday, featured an extensive environmental film and discussion series in addition to animated and performance films.

In short, the Greenpoint Film Festival delivered a broad selection of films and discussions that provided something for all the varying interests in our nabe.

In full disclosure, I should point out that I was a judge for the long and short form narrative films. On the one hand, I was honored to have been asked and considered it a privilege to participate. On the other hand, it’s somewhat of a curse to sit in judgment of anyone’s creative work. I’m not the type of person who derives pleasure from crapping all over someone else’s creativity endeavors?

When you judge or critique films, you are doing so based on your own knowledge, tastes and, in all fairness, mood at that moment. The process is almost exclusively subjective and anyone who argues to the contrary is not being honest with themselves. Taking the time and energy to realize and complete a creative vision and submit it to festivals puts that individual miles away from the arm chair filmmaker, so who the hell am I to sit in judgment?

Nonetheless, I was a judge and promised myself I would be as objective as humanly possible. With this in mind, in July, I jumped head first into the submissions.

The four long form submissions were all strong. They had well defined characters, solid stories and each filmmaker knew how to weave a cinematic yarn. This is to say these films would in no way benefit from a car chase, car crash sequence or a ridiculously loud thumping soundtrack. I believe this is a good thing.

My least favorite of the long form submissions was still a decent film, if a little too immature and self involved. But completing a feature length movie that is structurally adept and technically proficient is certainly worth noting.

But as I pointed out in my Flux Fest review a couple of months ago, the nature of these things is to single out a couple that rise above the rest.

GFF Official Narrative Feature selection was Jason Jeffrey’s Your Side of the Bed. About a middle aged journalist coping with the untimely death of his wife. Thoughtful and real, the film’s pacing gives a certain sense of realism that lends the film its gravitas.

The GFF Best Narrative Feature was Maryanne Zehil’s La Vallee des Larmes (The Valley of Tears). Zehil’s film tackles the never endingly complex and drama filled issues in the Middle East by way of Montreal. The film provides amazing performances and a story that focuses on the atrocity of genocide and its survivor’s decade’s long quest for justice and vengeance.

The narrative short form category offered a more diverse and competitive landscape, from insufferable to superb. To be fair, only one short landed in the insufferable category – all the other shorts I screened were very well done. One, in particular, was only knocked out of contention because the acting was so bad it derailed the clever story.

The GFF Best Narrative Short was Peter Sasowsky’s Mojave. Loosely based on the life of Dutch artist Cecile Bouchier, Mojave is an engaging and very smart short that smolders with Oona Mekas’ sublime performance. Ronnie Clark’s everyman approach and Sons of Anarchy aesthetic lend an extra layer of charm and conflict to the story. While the whole film is amazing it was the very last shot that resonated with me and you’ll just have to seek it out if you want to understand what I mean.

Dylan Allen’s Epilogue was clever but not overly clever and not ironically clever. What happens to our everyday hero once the mission is complete? Allen makes an effort to include the viewers in on the joke and with Epilogue he totally nails it. In fact, just typing this and thinking about the film makes me smile.

Greg Slagle’s The Windmere Guest was probably the most technically complex of the narrative shorts. Weaving stock footage in, to tell a classic mob double cross story, The Windmere Guest captures the genre well and Slagle’s attention to detail pays off.

The last of the Official Selection Narrative Shorts is Oona Mekas’ The Sleepy Man. The film is based on Brooklyn native Jonathan Letham’s short story “The Sleepy People,” a metaphorically nebulous short story with an empowered female lead, which can make for a challenging cinematic translation, especially as a first film. But Oona Mekas, as writer, director and actor pulls it off with supreme coolness. As an actor, Miss Mekas, along with Academy Award nominated actor John Hawkes as the sleepy man, captures the alienation and loneliness of a dystopian existence. As a writer/director she shows off a smooth storytelling capability. As a debut short, it would be hard to find one better than The Sleepy Man.

Hindsight emphasizes the challenge of judging the short form narratives because on a different day, it could have been any one of these that could have been my favorite. On the day I screened them it was Peter Sasowsky’s Mojave.

The hallmark of any good film festival is its ability to bring together filmmakers and creatives to talk about their craft and their passions. Let’s face it, anyone can slap some films together and call it a film festival but the line up of films, panels, and talent that this year’s Greenpoint Film Festival offered, showcased its growing relevance to the film community.

If the Brooklyn Film Festival is our area’s Sundance Film Festival, then the Greenpoint Film Festival is our Telluride Film Festival.


Dick Doblin: Privateye—a new web series


by Keith R. Higgons

Web series are a dime a dozen. Every flunky with an idea, an iPhone or digital camera now feels they’re qualified to shoot a web series. “Technical prowess and the syntax of English be damned,” they scream as they upload their dreck to the web. And with powerful distribution tools like YouTube and Vimeo making it as simple as an upload and click to reach an audience…God, or whatever, help us.

But before I spiral down that rabbit hole and I receive a tersely worded email from my editor accompanying a heavily redacted version of this article, I want tell you about one of the better web series, Tyler G. Hall’s Dick Doblin: Privateye.

Hall, a North Carolina native living in East Williamsburg (that’s Bushwick to us old timers), created Dick Doblin: Privateye with his roommate, and lead, Lucas Whitehead. The character came about as Whitehead donned the private dick’s signature brown old-timey fedora. Said Hall, “Lucas immediately looked like an old fashioned PI with his brier patch mustache and classic good looks.”  The two started riffing at home and soon took Dick Doblin: Privateye to the people capitalizing on their Upright Citizens Brigade improvisational skills on the streets of East BushWilliburg.

Tyler and Whitehead pitched the idea to producer, Ross Brunetti (who also handled sound, editing and camera). Brunetti helped them hone the idea and thus Dick Doblin: Privateye, the web series, was born!

After catching wind of the Dick Doblin: Privateye’s successful screening at Nite Hawk Cinema of all five webisodes (yes, it’s a word now) cut together for a 25 minute Directors Cut, I decided to sit down and watch both that and each of the five “pro tip” episodes separately.

Filmed primarily in Park Slope and Williamsburg, Dick Doblin: Privateye is a sort of local road web series that centers around transplanted Pittsburgh PI Dick Doblin and his “pro tip videos on how to become a professional private eye.” The only problem is that his camera is stolen during the first episode, while he is shooting his first “pro-tip.”

The always thinking Dick Doblin: Privateye enlists the help of his old Pittsburgh buddy, Randy, played by writer/director Hall, to put his “pro tip series” into action, and production. Randy films each of the five tips as Dick Doblin: Privateye utilizes them to catch this “punk kid with a hooligan haircut and a drop out attitude” who stole his camera.

Taken as a long form 25-minute show, the premise and jokes in Dick Doblin: Privateye wear thin and fall flat pretty quickly. It seems as though this long form version was an after thought and the webisodes were cut together to meet a standard sitcom format. For me, it didn’t work. Fortunately, the editing works well enough that it’s coherent and it flows evenly enough so one doesn’t loose interest.

As a web series, it truly shines. It’s in these shorter versions where the jokes seem stronger and less one-dimensional. The writing and cinema vérité filmmaking have more impact when the webisodes are screened individually. I won’t spoil some of the funnier parts, but the saxophone shout out in episode 5 was a particular favorite. It genuinely left me wanting more. As a web series, it’s very effective and seriously funny.

What holds both the long and short form versions of Dick Doblin: Privateye is the sincerity of Lucas Whitehead. His Dick Doblin: Privateye comes across as an unfrozen film noir private dick crossed with the looks of “Bass-o-Matic” era SNL Dan Akroyd and the lanky cluelessness of Whitest Kid U’ Know Trevor Moore. The bonus music video on the Dick Doblin: Privateye website of Whitehead’s Trick Trodlin character singing an absolutely aborted and ridiculous version of “Old Man River” solidifies his connection to Moore and Akroyd.

When I reached out to Hall for a couple of follow up questions, it would seem that Dick Doblin: Privateye was still around. Commandeering Hall’s computer he fired off what can only be described as “whiskey soaked tips from a private dick.” Among them:

  • You can never be sure if food in Brooklyn will be “vegan” so bring some bacon bits just in case.
  • Look both ways before crossing Dick Doblin.
  • Did you know it’s illegal to smell bad on the subway? Oh it isn’t? Well it should be.
  • A good Privateye never reveals his clients…unless that client is Steve Buscemi and he still owes you money.
  • Being a Privateye isn’t all meeting women next to steamy sewer grates on dark nights. But sometimes it is and sometimes that woman is named Lucille Marlow and she’ll break your heart because she doesn’t know what’s good for—I’m sorry, what was your question?

Luckily, Hall was eventually able to subdue the intoxicated Doblin and reply to my questions. He told me that Dick Doblin: Privateye, while taking a needed rest, will be back for a more polished second series. He also told me that he and Whitehead have kicked around a spin-off show for Trick Trodlin and that both he and Whitehead will remain active with their improv team, Power Nap.

Dick Doblin: Privateye reminds me of what is good about both the web and web series. The web is the home where developing artists can explore their creativity and receive quantifiable feedback by views, comments and likes. Much like CBGB’s was home to a burgeoning punk rock movement and bands could receive quantifiable feedback by filling the place. And web series like Dick Doblin: Privateye represent the artists of that scene, like the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie.

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of bands played at CBGB’s and yet we still only talk about 20 artists, give or take, from those golden years of CBGB. Similarly, here we are in the golden era of web video where millions of videos and web series are uploaded and watched every day on the web. That’s a lot of noise to overcome for the Dick Doblin: Privateye crew of Tyler G. Hall, Lucas Whitehead and Ross Brunetti.

One thing is for certain, I’d like to see some more Dick Doblin: Privateye. So should you.

Winners of Flux Fest Short Form Narratives Based on Time Travel

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Movie poster for Flux Fest Best in Show winner: “The Misadventures of Incredible Dr. Wonderfoot,” Tiny Baby Bad Boys.

By Keith R. Higgons

Flux Fest 2013, equal parts short film festival, creative gathering and party, took place last night at Sandbox Studios in Bushwick. The festival theme was time travel and Flux Fest is the third in the ongoing “Fest” series. Flux Fest follows Spooky Fest and Love Fest. The goal of each “Fest” is to challenge a group of young filmmaking collectives to create short films inspired by creative prompts chosen at random. Flux Fest yielded ten interesting shorts created by ten different creative teams.

Technological advances have blown the doors open on visual storytelling and made the technology and distribution more accessible to the proletariat (how’s that for an SAT word). This is a good thing. Last night’s Flux Fest merged the concepts of “film” and “festival” quite well. This is also a good thing because I am not convinced that we need another high brow film festival in the area.

Flux Fest sponsors Mythic Bridge, Big Vision Empty Wallet, Royal Wine Corp and Sandbox Studios created an excellent creative and fun vibe last night. With doors opening at 6pm and the promise of a six-hour open bar, I had some reservations about what to expect. In my head, I had envisioned a drunken cinematic hootenanny.

Fortunately, it was nowhere near that. Sure, the lighting may have been an epileptic’s nightmare and the DJ certainly gave it that true “festival” vibe but by the time I arrived at Sandbox Studios, I had little time to mingle. I grabbed a soda and made my way back to the screening room to try and secure a good seat.

Now, my cynicism can sometimes overshadow my objectivity when it comes to covering things like this (a favorite game of mine is count the beards, starting with mine). And admittedly, I can tend to be hyper critical of some of the changes our neighborhood has seen over the past few years, but one thing I am never too critical of is the amount of creativity that thrives and continues to grow in our community. Last night’s Flux Fest is continued proof of a pulsating creative hive. For all the facial hair, it’s the creativity we should all be proud of.

Important to note is what Flux Fest filmmakers accomplished. Each filmmaking collective had eight weeks, from concept to completion, to create a compelling short form narrative based on time travel and randomly chosen creative prompts. The fact that all ten did so with such aplomb is a testament to their skills and the best of what our community offers.

While the Flux Fest vibe at Sandbox Studios was certainly cool enough, I’m not entirely sure this is the best venue to screen shorts. The acoustics are awful and made more awful by the incessant chatting of a lubricated crowd which bounced around the room like a rubber ball in a prison cell.

Acoustics aside, the projection of the shorts was spot on, aside from the absolute failure of The Misadventures of Incredible Dr. Wonderfoot. If you were seated anywhere behind the first six rows, you were completely blind to the subtitles and missed the short entirely. Which is a drag because based on the laughter of the first few rows, I suspect it was quite good. Sandbox Studios works for the DJ’ing and festival vibe, I’m just not sure it is best for the film part. Fortunately, the Flux Fest shorts usurped some of those challenges and ultimately, it is about the work.

And the work was good, really good. All ten shorts had something about them that resonated with me and I thought they all showed some of the best things about this hive of creativity most of us call home.

As is the nature of these things, there can only be a few “winners” and here are the Flux Fest 2013 winners:

Best in Show: The Misadventures of Incredible Dr. Wonderfoot, Tiny Baby Bad Boys

Runner Up: Hippocampus, Jarrod and Tessa Productions

Big Vision Award: Primogenesis, Present Day Productions

Audience Choice Award: Russell Curtis, Pocket Storm Productions


I am not surprised that The Misadventures of Incredible Dr. Wonderfoot got Best in Show because from what I saw, it looked great. Apparently, I really did miss out on the whole Wonderfoot experience by not being able to read the subtitles.

For the record, my audience vote went for Old Timers which I thought nailed the comedic parts perfectly and it was just clever enough without being too clever. It was really a perfect short. Very well done Prash NYC!

Big ups to the founders, organizers, sponsors and creative partners of Flux Fest 2013, it appeared to be a huge success. It was the perfect coupling of quality visual storytelling and a festival environment. I’m not sure what “Fest” is around the corner but I look forward to what it is.

Brooklyn Film Festival – Review # 4: Dragon Girls

brooklyn film festival 2013 dragon girls

By Keith R. Higgons

According to Inigo Westmeier’s bio, the director of Dragon Girls, he has some serious cinematic chops. He studied at the Film Academy in Moscow, did his graduate studies at Baden-Wuttemberg Film Academy and even had a scholarship to study at the UCLA Extension Entertainment Studies Department. That’s not too shabby of a background in film studies.

Dragon Girls is his first feature film. Here is the synopsis of Dragon Girls:

Dragon Girls’ tells the story of three Chinese Girls, training to become Kung Fu Fighters, far away from their families at the Shaolin Kung Fu School, located right next to the Shaolin Monastery in Central-China, place of origin of Kung Fu. Three girls in a crowd of 26,000 children, under pressure to conform to the norms and structures: they are turned into fighting robots and yet, if you look behind the curtain, you see children with dreams and aspirations.

OK, seems interesting enough. I mean, I like documentaries and the idea of 26,000 students studying Kung Fu was moderately interesting. Right?

Wrong. From a purely narrative point of view, the idea was the only interesting thing.

After 65 minutes of Dragon Girls, about 60 if you count the two times I nodded off, I had a critical decision to make. The Clash said it best, “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” I sat there for a good five minutes wrestling with that. Certainly, I have an obligation to acknowledge the work of Westmeier and be respectful of it. There’s a responsibility to readers to provide a fairly objective review of the film. What to do, what to do. I finally decided I had been respectful enough and had enough information and decided to walk out.

In full disclosure, I did not pay to see Dragon Girls, so I walked out of a free movie. However, I can assure if I had, the result would have been the same. And to put this into perspective, the last movie I walked out of was Yentl, in 1983.

Over the past 30 years, I have seen tens of thousands of films, some painfully horrible, but I’ve always managed to push through them to find something worth watching. Not so with Dragon Girls. Simply put, I just didn’t care about the girls or anything that was happening on screen.

Making a documentary about paint drying would have more narrative structure than Dragon Girls. Apply the paint, watch it dry, and see the results. BAM, three acts.

Now, I am not going to say everything is bad with this film because that is not true. Westmeier was both the director and cinematographer and there are some stunning images and some fantastic wide shots of the students practicing. There are some terrific choreographed shots of the students as well. And if I had to judge Dragon Girls solely on aesthetics, it is above average.

Unfortunately for Westmeier, I have to consider narrative and this movie doesn’t have one. I found none of the students that were interviewed engaging enough to stick around to find out what happened. In short, I didn’t care.

Documentaries, as a genre, are not supposed to provide a thrill a minute. But, by and large, there is always a structure and some sort of narrative. In documentaries, almost more than in a narrative film; you need to care about someone or something. The filmmaker has to engage the viewer somehow. Regrettably, with Dragon Girls there is a serious lack of engagement and nothing to care about.

Westmeier, and his crew, should be applauded for the accomplishment of Dragon Girls. I can’t begin to imagine the logistical and political headaches that accompanied the shoot. China’s reputation as a militantly insular country and extremely confrontational with foreigners could not have made this feat easy. In fact, I’d bet that story would be infinitely more interesting than what I saw in Dragon Girls.

Unlike most people, I hate being too critical of someone’s creative work. Aside from some nice shooting, I just couldn’t find anything interesting about the story. Well, I found no story from what I saw.

Dragon Girls clocks in at 90 minutes and is about 75 minutes too long.

Dragon Girls completed its run at the Brooklyn Film Festival on Thursday.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes: Brooklyn Film Festival

brooklyn film festival 2013 emanuel

By Keith R Higgons

Movies are about suspension of reality, well the best ones are. I can’t say that Francesca Gregorini’s film Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is one of the best ones, but it is pretty damn good.

Here’s the synopsis:

Emanuel, a troubled girl, becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her neighbor’s newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world and becomes its gatekeeper.

Yep, it is your standard indie fare. Writer/Director Francesca Gregorini and Cinematographer Polly Morgan have created a deft ambiance that embraces the viewers like a well worm blanket. From the beginning, despite what happens, we know it’s going to eventually be OK.

The film is almost devoid of all modern appliances like smart phones, computers, and televisions. The only real signs of modernity are mass transit and one lone car, an old Volvo 240. Without the modern distractions, it lets us now that Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is about characters and story, there’s a novel idea.

One Sunday three or four years ago, I went on a Netflix binge of the British drama “Skins” and was floored by all of the performances. As I poked around to find out who the hell this Kaya Scodelario, who plays Emanuel, was. I quickly discovered she was one of the leads on the British “Skins.” Turns out, the show was a breeding ground for extraordinary young talent, Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, the Mad Max reboot, the upcoming X-Men, and yes, the kid from About a Boy), Joe Dempsie (HBO’s Game of Thrones), Dev Patel (HBO’s The Newsroom, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) are some of that cast that have since made the transition to Hollywood. I suspect we will soon be adding Scoldelario to that list.

In Gregorini’s Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, Kaya Scodelario delivers a simply stunning performance as the 17-year-old Emanuel. Here the British actress dons an American accent to play the snarky teen who struggles with her life because her mother died during her birth. While we’re introduced to her in voice over and this is a little silly. However, once we get by that, we can’t help but immediately be taken in by Emanuel’s charm. The voice over simply lets us know that we’re about to encounter a brash and snarky lead character.

As Emanuel, Scodelario plays her with empathy well beyond the characters 17 years, but it works. Again, it’s a movie, so we must suspend reality. Some of her laser sharp one liners are unbelievable, but her delivery allows us to shrug that off. The fact that we can ignore some of Emanuel’s aplomb is a compliment to both the performance and direction. As the namesake of the movie, she is in almost every scene and carries the story flawlessly. A story driven movie like this demands an exceptional performance and Kaya Scodelario does just that.

The cast of “Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes” is photographed on the red carpet for the premiere at the Park City Library Center during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City on January 18, 2013. Photo by Kim Raff/The Salt Lake Tribune

Jessica Biel is in the throes of a Hollywood trajectory that, unless she manages it well, could very easily erase the talent she has. Earning her wings (pardon the pun), and tabloid star, on the extremely under appreciated WB series “7th Heaven” she has gone on to star in a number of big Hollywood movies; the types of which punch lines and car explosions are more important than dialog. Like Ulee’s Gold and Elizabethtown before, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is the type of character driven movie where Jessica Biel shines. Her performance here as Linda, the neighbor with the secret, shows exactly why she is in that Hollywood trajectory (I just hope it doesn’t land her on “Dancing with the Stars”).

When Linda first shows up, before she even utters a line, you notice her wardrobe. Biel is attractive to begin with but here the loose, flowing, beautiful and bohemian (apparently, the one product placement is Free People clothing…that’s a joke) clothes add to her natural beauty and add an element of ethereal quality to the character of Linda. Biel plays Linda like she wears the clothes, loose, earthy, real and beautifully.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes also stars Alfred Molina as Dennis, Emanuel’s father. Alfred Molina is Alfred Molina, he could read YouTube comments and I would pay attention. He’s brilliant. Always.

Perpetual scene stealer and all around go to guy for any genre, Jimmi Simpson plays Arthur, Emanuel’s dorky friend at her medical supply/pharmacy job. Here Simpson has shed his Liam Mcpoyle robe (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and is wearing his big boy clothes and his drama cap, along with his Warby Parkers. As Arthur, it is his job to play the lone “bad” guy in the movie. And he is anything but a “bad guy.” Arthur eventually goes on a date with Linda. At the end of this date, with Emanuel downstairs listening to the baby monitor, it is Arthur who tasked with informing Linda of just how crazy she is.

It’s a scene that works so well you’ll get cranky about how it emotionally disrupts you. In just a short time, you’re emotions will be righted again. It’s that warm blanket that Gregorini sets up early in the film coming to cover you. That little emotional pinball game is not easy to pull off and is evidence that everyone involved in this film brought their A game.

So, what is the truth about fishes? I honestly do not know. I’m flummoxed as to the metaphorical significance of the title. I’ll leave that for the smarter folks.

So what makes Emanuel so protective over Linda’s craziness? I’m not telling.

I will tell you Emanuel refuses to bond with her stepmother but has such a longing for a mother figure that she embraces Linda, who resembles her own mother. I will tell you Linda’s crazy is revealed fairly early as Emanuel and she are developing their friendship. Emanuel first ignores the crazy and then teeters on embracing it, completely cognizant that she is jeopardizing her own sanity.

The ending is exceptionally beautiful as both Emanuel and Linda are able to bury their respective pain and crazy. Indeed, the scenes leading to that beautiful moment once again require that suspension of reality, but if you can do that, you will be rewarded.

There is a scene shortly after the “crazy” reveal, and before the ending, between Emanuel and Dennis where he firmly says to her “Emanuel, you don’t know what is in other people’s hearts!” She quickly replies “No I don’t but I know what is in mine.” I know it sounds cheesy and in lesser hands than Molina and Scodelario’s it wouldn’t work. But Emanuel’s simple retort is so truly moving. It makes you wonder if only more people stopped trying to think about what others may think and may do and were focused on, and motivated by, what is in their own hearts, how much better off we would be.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is one of those films that no major studio would make. And that is sad. It’s one of those movies that movie buffs and saps, like me, tend to enjoy. It’s also one of those movies the re-charges me and makes me realize that there are really talented film makers like Francesca Gregorini out there creating. It’s one of those movies that force you to forget the dreck that some of these performers have been in and reminds you that they are where they are because they are talented (and not necessarily who they are married to). It’s one of those movies that, if you can, you should see.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes concluded its Brooklyn Film Festival run last night.

A Series of Shorts: Brooklyn Film Festival—A different lens through which to see the world

brooklyn film festival 2013

Chaser (Short Film, 2012) directed by Sal Bardo / Photo courtesy of S. Bardo

By Keith R. Higgons

Now more than ever, we must look to artists to see the world through their eyes because it is often the artists who hold the mirror up to society and provide us with a different lens through which to see the world. And for those artists who choose to work in the short film or video genre, their vision is crucial for us to gain a better understanding of the human condition.

The short film genre gives artists a truly unencumbered opportunity to tell their story and sometimes, they even do. It may make viewers bored or even angry, or in some cases, both.

Sitting through ninety minutes of short films last night, I got seven very different perspectives and I was seldom bored or angry. I’m not sure they all hit the mark but more did than didn’t. Nonetheless, whatever my opinion is, or anyone else’s for that matter, one must recognize the determination and efforts of the seven artists whose films I watched.

So here are the seven films I saw last night in the order they were shown:

Superf*ckers: Burger Brothers

Director: Fran Krause

I have to say this was a huge disappointment for a variety of reasons. One, this is part of a funded YouTube Channel series. Two, it is egregiously unfunny. Three, excessive use of coarse language; as anyone who knows me can attest, I actually enjoy that kind of language…when it serves the story or plays to a joke. Here it does not. At all. Four, I’m not even sure what the f*ck Superf*ckers was all about…other than sucking 240,000 milliseconds from my life.

Crappy content aside, I’m a little unclear why a short that already has a distribution channel in place (a funded YouTube Channel) would be part of the festival. I had it in my head that film festivals, especially short films, were about recognizing talent and not building brands.


Director: Yianni Warnock

With hardly any dialog at all, this Australian short pokes fun at the vacuous nature and emotional immaturity that is often attributed to men. In just 11 minutes, we get pretty much the story of what men like to do: walk around without pants, masturbate, be bored, ignore dishes and hygiene, fight, watch TV and have a singing fish on a wall. The only thing missing was a picture of Dogs Playing Poker, but perhaps that isn’t as popular in Australia.

Of course, the two guys watching TV devolves into a slap fight and wrestling match, not in any sort of homoerotic sense, just two guys who punch each other to see who can hit the hardest. It’s silly, fun and completely pointless.

Aesthetically, this short was spot on. The look, the characters, the setting, the feel and almost complete lack of dialog reminded me of a Wes Anderson film, in all the best ways. The two actors, Shane Gregory Gardiner and Peter Flaherty, resembled a chubby bearded Jason Lee and Zach Galifianakis respectively, played the roles perfectly and without their girth, I don’t think this short would have been as effective.

PlayPals captures the loneliness that often accompanies such infantile behavior and it’s that loneliness that adds a much needed depth and overall sadness to the short.


Director: Moritz Krämer

Annnnnd, this is the German art house short of the group. That is to say it was kind of funny, looked brilliant but was pretty odd overall. Less narrative-driven than the other films in the group, but that actually works in favor of the film.

Skinny model gets a break from a photo shoot, retreats to her dressing room to find that everything in the room is edible, from the lipstick to the wall. Skinny model then pulls her lower lip over her entire body and retreats into some sort of cocoon.

Eat just left me scratching my head wondering what the point was. Admittedly, this is not the first time I’ve been left befuddled by a German film so I can’t say for certain whether my reaction would have been different if it was shown with a group of like-minded shorts. It could easily just be German films in general.

The Places Where We Lived

Director: Bernardo Britto

Opening on a Japanese man reciting some sort of diary entry and then leading into a montage of demolition footage was certainly interesting. Once the animation took over and the actual narrative began to take shape, The Places Where We Lived really began to shine.

I just re-read the synopsis “A man wakes up with a terrible feeling. His parents are selling his childhood home.” I have to say, that point was lost on me. Nonetheless, there were some laugh out loud moments here because it was so often awkward and funny. In both style and substance, it reminded me of the animated series “Dr. Katz,” and that is a good thing.

 Are We Not Cats

Director: Xander Robin

Imagine if David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch decided to collaborate on a short film. I think you’d find they would create something like Are We Not Cats. You don’t believe me? Read the synopsis “A welder discovers his eccentric girlfriend eating his hair subconsciously as they take a truck drive to an abandoned resort.

Only it’s not so subconscious when, post coital, she coughs up a giant hair ball.

In the hands of writer/director Xander Robin, (seriously, if Lynch and Jarmusch had a kid, I’ve no doubt it would be named Xander) actors Michael Patrick and Kelsea Dakota shine in this quirky little story.

The Amateurs

Director: Kai Gero Lenke

For me, this was both a missed opportunity and a messy short. I think the subject matter, two adolescent boys who know sex only through internet porn, is one ripe for satire, drama or comedy but unfortunately, The Amateurs is none of those.

Writer/Director Kai Gero Lenke clearly has something to say, and reminds me of Todd Solondz, and it could be interesting. Unfortunately, the performances are so bad here that whatever the point is it is completely lost. Lenke, and cinematographer Markus Englmair, certainly capture the barren look Solondz has mastered, but sadly, it’s the actors that dragged this piece down.

I don’t want to say this short is appropriately titled, but it is.

Having said that, something tells me we will hear more from Kai Gero Lenke and I look forward to that.


Director: Sal Bardo

In high school I got sick and was out of school for a month. My mother would drive me to the video store every few days to pick up movies to watch. On one of these trips I picked up William Friedkin’s 1980 thriller Cruising with Al Pacino. I had no idea what that movie was about until I started to watch it. It’s a pretty tough film to watch in many ways.

Sal Bardo’s Chaser is equally as tough to watch, and in the wrong hands, the subject matter would seem just gratuitous. Thankfully, writer/director Bardo and actor Max Rhyser, as Zach, are so incredibly talented it is anything but gratuitous.

Look, I could easily write an entire article on this film alone, but I won’t.

I will say this is the film in this series that holds that mirror up to society.

The synopsis reads “Alienated from his conservative Jewish family and culture, a promising, young, gay schoolteacher seeks solace in the barebacking community.” Now, that sense of alienation from his family came across, in this context, as sort of self imposed. Does Zach have a sense of self loathing? It would seem so.

In one telling scene Zach is teaching his class and engaging one of his students to explain to him why the character in his homework is a “cutter”. The student’s explanation foreshadows what Zach subjects himself to in that “barebacking community.”

OK, on that note, it seems absolutely unfathomable to me that in this day and age there would actually be such a thing as a “barebacking community”. But it is portrayed so incredibly benignly and believably that I have no doubt it exists. In less adept hands this portrayal of that community would have overshadowed the more powerful component. And that is what Zach subjects himself to.

Despite the brutal depiction of Zach’s self hatred, this short ends on an optimistic note. Which seems counterintuitive to what you just witnessed, but both Bardo and Rhyser have the skills to really make it believable.

Chaser is the best of what short films should be; thought-provoking, eye-opening and reflective of the community we live in.

Watching short films is a hit or miss endeavor and, for the most part, this particular line up hits more than it misses.

This line up screens again tomorrow Wednesday June 5 at 10:30pm at indieScreen.

I would encourage you to go. All of these filmmakers have something to say and a couple of them, notably Sal Bardo, are actually keeping the short film genre relevant.

Brooklyn Film Festival in Full Swing – Three-pack screening of Bye, Freckle, and Hank and Asha at Windmill Studios

brooklyn film festival 2013

Short film “Hank and Asha” star Mahira Kakkar. Photo by Bianca Butti


By Keith R. Higgons

The Brooklyn Film Festival is in full swing at indieScreen Cinema and Windmill Studios, both on Kent Avenue. With over 106 films from 24 countries spanning every genre, you are certain to find something you will enjoy.

Saturday, I went to the three-pack screening of Bye, Freckle, and Hank and Asha at Windmill Studios.

Bye is a three-minute short from Canadian filmmaker Chris Muir that straddles the line between sketch and experimental film. Bye follows the arc of a relationship with only one camera set up and only one line of dialog, the word “Bye.”

It’s rare that three minutes and one word can pack such an emotional punch, but Muir manages to pull it off with the aid of actors Richard Charles and Celine LePage. Bye embodies the chief element needed for a good film, regardless of length, intelligence.

This short film is the perfect visualization of Longfellow’s famous saying: “In all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”

Oakland based visual artist Mike Cantor is the creative force behind the experimental short, Freckle. The synopsis describes it as “19,000 velcro dots. 18 months. Two Velcro dot suits. 20 volunteer ‘Velcro pushers.’ A girl. A guy. Space. Skin. Atoms…Freckle!”

Yea, I am not really sure what any of that means either.

A song by New Haven based musician, Brandon Patton, accompanies the experimental Freckle. The style of animation Cantor employs, paired with the music, appears to be a direct nod to Michel Gondry’s video for The White Stripes “Fell in Love with a Girl.” Unfortunately, in this case, neither the song nor the technique quite hit the mark. I found Freckle to be disjointed and difficult to follow and only marginally interesting.

Of the three, I was most apprehensive about the feature film Hank and Asha, by husband and wife directing and editing team James E. Duff and Julia Morrison. The synopsis sounded contrived: “In this modern love story, an Indian woman studying in Prague and a young New York filmmaker begin an unconventional correspondence—two strangers searching for human connection in a hyper-connected world.” UGH! I honestly did NOT want to like this film.

I didn’t either … I loved it.

L to R: Bianca Butti, Tim Spreng, Mimi Violette, Mahira Kakkar, James E. Duff (Director Hank and Asha) / Photo by James E. Duff

Yes, the story is super hokey, but that fact is very quickly erased by the talents of everyone involved. In particular, director Duff, the cinematographer Bianca Buti, editor Morrison and the performers, this film is a true testament to the definition of collaboration.

Andrew Pastides plays Hank, a marginally privileged millennial living in New York, who receives a video message from Asha, played by Mahira Kakkar. She saw a film of his and they begin a back and forth courtship dance, via video messages.

Even though Asha is in Prague and Hank is in New York, their video courtship unfolds like any other, full of flirting and innocence. It reminded me of what that dance is like before the complexity of sex creeps in. Both Pastides and Kakkar completely embody their characters and truly shine.

Mahira Kakkar is a real gem to watch as she grows more and more interested in Hank. She plays cute and coy perfectly, as almost every girl does in those early stages of courting. Kakkar also has that truly rare acting gift of being able to express so much by saying so little.

Andrew Pastides quickly makes you realize that Hank is not just another marginally privileged millennial, he’s just another young guy trying to figure it all out. He exceptionally charming and particularly shines in a Bollywood tribute to Risky Business, it’s a moment in the film that every guy watching could easily picture himself doing.

Perhaps that is what makes the Hank and Asha so likable, the simple way it charms the viewer into so easily identifying with both characters.

Sadly though, cultural differences ultimately prevent the two from meeting up in Paris. And speaking of Paris, Hank and Asha is a wonderful millennial tribute to the Generation X story of unrequited love, Before Sunrise. As that movie begat a trilogy, is the same in store for Hank and Asha?

It’s the simplicity of Hank and Asha that makes it so damn delightful to watch. Making something appear that simple is a true testament to the entire creative team involved because making any film is never simple.

While I remain unclear where the cockles of any one person reside, Hank and Asha is sure to find them and warm them.

Bye, Freckle and Hank and Asha will be shown again Saturday June 8th at 8pm at indieScreen, 289 Kent Avenue. You should go.

The Lowdown on an Upright Citizen: Comedian Anthony Apruzzese

Williamsburg resident Comedian Anthony Apruzzese performs
a weekly "live late-night show... on stage" at Upright
Citizens Brigade Theater

By Keith R. Higgons

Comedy is as much a part of the DNA of Brooklyn as country music is of Nashville. The list of comedians who have called Brooklyn home reads like a history lesson of the hysterical: Mel Brooks, Larry David, Woody Allen, Jackie Gleason, and current late night warriors Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, among countless others. Hoping to one day count himself among those names is Williamsburg resident Anthony Apruzzese. He is currently blazing a trail in the super competitive world of comedy with his improvisation/theater/sketch late night talk show at the Upright Citizens Brigade East Theater called “Showtime with Anthony Apruzzese”.

I first met Apruzzese a few years ago in prison. Not a real prison, mind you; we worked in the same office. He was always quick with the clever retort or with sharing a skewed point of view, which made me realize his humor was slightly beyond his years. I was relieved to have finally found a kindred spirit to help ease the mind-numbing pain of white-collar work. At the very least, it curtailed my budding Xanax addiction.

At least twice a day, this package of post-adolescent energy would come barreling into my office spouting various comedy ideas or ruminations, or doing some bit in a strange New Jersey Italian dialect. In the banal existence of our world, they were always a welcome intrusion. After a couple months of serving as his sounding board, and knowing his desire to actually perform, I finally said to him, “Look, you can be the funny guy at the barbecue or you can actually have a go at it.”

Fast-forward to today. He’s now got Showtime with Anthony Apruzzese, a nationally competitive improv team named Curtains, and its improv/sketch, power trio spin-off, Greasy Lake. When I think back to those sessions in my office, and then up to everything he’s doing today, culminating with Showtime, I’m reminded of the creative leap the Beastie Boys made from “License to Ill” to “Paul’s Boutique.”

Since Apruzzese moved to Williamsburg a little over a year ago, I decided it was time to reconnect with my old white-collar cell mate and have a chat. We met a few Sundays ago at Spike Hill, on Bedford Avenue, to talk about Showtime. It had been a while since he and I broke bread, so I figured it would be a good time to catch up and see if he had turned into a raving, egotistical maniac. Thankfully, I found out he’s still the same. A jerk (ba-dum-TSH).

I asked the self-proclaimed former “fat kid” from Bayonne, New Jersey, what made him move to Williamsburg. His reply was simple, “It reminds me of home, ya know?” Having never been to Bayonne, I didn’t know, so I asked him what he meant.

“There’s just a ton of diversity here and a real sense of ethnic and community pride, and I like that. The local businesses and stuff, I dunno, just reminds me of home.”

Even though Williamsburg, not Bayonne, has become the epicenter of global hipsterdom, there’s a grounded quality that allows Apruzzese to see past all the hipster hoopla and derive inspiration from the more relatable aspects of the neighborhood. He loves the down-home and communal atmosphere at Carmine’s (the writing sessions caterer of choice), or when he’s relaxing with a pint at Harefield Road. It’s the local interactions that help ground him and shape his comedy, giving it a universal appeal. Apruzzese sees little value or potential humor in hipsters or “…going in a room and making fun of their mustaches and having verbose opinions on bands we’ve never heard of.”

When asked how he developed his comedy, he admits he discovered comedy pretty early. Every Friday, he and his brother would go to the local Bayonne Blockbuster video and make a beeline for the comedy section. It was through these weekly treks that he began his studies and became indoctrinated into comedy—from the Saturday Night Live “Best Ofs,” where he discovered John Belushi and Bill Murray, to the standup comedy of Eddie Murphy, and the slightly more esoteric Eddie Izzard. And as with any burgeoning skill, becoming good involved lots and lots of practice.

Monday through Friday afternoons found the “fat kid” practicing his developing comedy skills to defuse the tense and awkward moments of youth. Pretty quickly, Apruzzese discovered that comedy came relatively easy to him. His wit and timing took him through adolescence and into his college years, where he began fine-tuning his raw talent with stints on college radio and by dipping his toe in standup.

After completing college, he moved to the Upper West Side, where, relying heavily on his wits and deeply competitive spirit, Apruzzese jumped into the white-hot world of NYC improv. And with so many improv schools and classes to choose from, he had only one in his crosshairs: the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB).

An exceptionally driven and focused guy, he knew it was the only place for him to learn. So, I asked him what he learned after having matriculated through all of the UCB classes. He took a sip of water and leaned towards me, looking ready to lay down some knowledge: “I learned so much there. I learned the ‘Harold’ (Improv king Del Close’s famous improv structure) there. I learned the ‘culture of yes’ there…” At which point I interrupted him and asked what “the culture of yes” was. He said, “It’s about saying yes to everything on stage. Like, if I walk up to you during a scene and say ‘Is that a coffee cup in your hand?’ and you say ‘No,’ the scene is dead. You’ve stopped me. Whatever I had planned is now dead. But if you say ‘Yes,’ then the scene can go on.” Pleased with his analogy, he added, “It’s not just about improv, either. If someone asks for help on a project, you say yes. If someone wants to work with you, you say yes. It just works, ya know?” I understood the concept more clearly when I thought of it as the antithesis of “No means no!”

But it wasn’t just “mad skills” Apruzzese learned at UCB; he also met the lion’s share of his Showtime writers and performers there. And he met his fellow Curtains and Greasy Lake teammates there. But the biggest lesson learned was from a UCB rejection. After being denied one of the coveted spots on a UCB improv house team, Apruzzese was bummed and frustrated, but decided not to dwell on it. He turned it into positive energy. “I wanted to be in a position where I made things happen, and I didn’t have to ask someone’s permission.” So that rejection opened the door for Showtime.

Which begs the question, what exactly is Showtime with Anthony Apruzzese? According to its creator and namesake, it’s “a live late night show…on stage.” Based on the shows I’ve seen, that’s an accurate description. But it’s not just that. The immediacy of Showtime is what sets it apart from other improv or sketch shows. Like live theater itself, this show will only be this show once. That’s it. There’s no video rebroadcast of the entire show, which gives it some of its uniqueness. It has elements of sketch comedy, with the bits and fake commercials; there is the scripted monologue; and there is always music and a barker to rally the crowd. The show actively incorporates the improv philosophy throughout, and the second guest is always completely improvised. So while it has all the late-night format bells and whistles, to dismiss it as just late-night is to miss its other, more interesting elements. It’s a hyper mash-up of theater, sketch, and improv, three genres that are forever linked but almost always identified individually, until now.

Eventually, Apruzzese let the cat out of the bag and told me the thing he loves most about Showtime. “It gives me the opportunity to work with people I find funny, creative, and inspiring.” He’s not just the host, he’s also the curator. “With standup,” he explained, “it’s just you telling people what you find funny.” But with his show, he’s showing you that “These are the people I find funny and talented.”

Apruzzese admits he “prefers the comedic group dynamic,” and couldn’t find enough superlatives to describe the people he’s collaborating with. It seems like the chemistry is working; after only a couple of sold out months at the Theater Under St. Marks, Showtime outgrew the black-box environment, and, as if on cue, UCB approached Apruzzese about moving the show to the UCB East Theater, where it currently resides.

Over the past few weeks, controversy has once again erupted around late-night television. And while it may be a little too early to see how that shakes out for the up-and-coming Apruzzese, the team at Showtime is certainly making a name for itself. But even more than that, Apruzzese can now be counted as one of the comedians who have earned their mettle on the NYC comedy scene, and who call Brooklyn home.

It’s nice to know the idea of simply being the funny guy at the barbecue wasn’t enough for him. ?

Showtime with Anthony Apruzzese is performed monthly and can be seen next on Thursday, April 25, at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 153 East 3rd Street (between Avenues A and B).

Who Needs Kinko’s? We Have POB, a Full Service Print Shop on Berry

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 4.07.46 PM

Photo by Colby Blount /

By Keith R. Higgons

Located right on the corner of Berry and Broadway—389 Berry Street, to be precise—Print on Broadway (POB) is a premier new print shop that is home to some of the most state-of-the-art print machinery.

Jovial local publisher Abraham Lebowitz opened POB to fulfill his own printing needs, and then realized he could also fill the needs of the community. Having spent the past year mastering the tricks of the printing trade, he is now eager to take his skills to the other side of Broadway—the side that wears black for an entirely different reason.

Immediately upon entering Print on Broadway I was struck but the lack of flashy banners. There’s no unnecessary signage, just a wide array of machines, some big, some not so big. Some even look like they belong at NORAD. This was a print shop as it should be, full of equipment happily purring away. It is exactly this sort of aesthetic that gives POB the air of printing professionalism.

But it’s not just the look. As employee Yitzi Younger led me on a tour, he gave me the detailed lowdown on the machinery, from the complexity of the squareback printer, to the state-of-the-art Canon color printer, and everything in between, including the in-house UV coating capability.

Lebowitz has gone to great lengths to give the neighborhood access to an up-to-date printing facility. But perhaps more importantly, he has gone one step further: he has secured a staff of printing experts.

In a particular display of deep knowledge, Younger and a local graphic designer named Isaac explained the concept of “creeping.” The idea that it was more than just a Facebook activity was news to me. As they schooled me, I soon discovered that creeping is a pretty complicated and detailed print process that, based on the examples I saw, POB has become quite adept at.

Creeping is what happens when the bulk of the paper in a saddle stitched booklet (a very common binding method) causes the inner printed pages to extend or “creep” further out than the outer pages, when folded. To keep the margins consistent, the images or text must be moved slightly. It’s a pretty intense process, done both manually and with software. It’s one we don’t think about, but we would go bonkers if it weren’t there.

Home printers, despite their technological advancement, can’t get the color detail or the stunning grayscale that the machines at Print On Broadway can. If you require a more professional look, there are certain things better left to the experts. In our neighborhood, it’s Lebowitz and his team.

When I asked Lebowitz how he could serve both the local artistic and entrepreneurial Williamsburg communities, he became animated and said he couldn’t wait. He waved his arm around the room and said his shop can meet whatever printing needs artists, architects, or entrepreneurs have.

“We’ll do anything,” he said.

Print on Broadway
389 Berry Street (corner of Broadway)
Brooklyn, NY
(718) 512-2000


Shopping Bags Filled with Receipts? No Prob for Greenpoint Accountants

Greg Austin and Ted Wozniak, accountants willing to hold your hand if you get audited by the IRS . Photos by Ben Rosenzweig

Greg Austin and Ted Wozniak, accountants willing to hold your hand if you get audited by the IRS . Photo by Ben Rosenzweig

By Keith R. Higgons

April 15th is one of the most dreaded days on the Gregorian calendar.

Embedded in Greenpoint, at 125 Nassau Avenue, in the DMZ that is currently Nassau, is A&W Tax Service. The owners, Ted Wozniak and Greg Austin, work to do the impossible: they work to “humanize taxes.”

They met working for one of the large tax firms and witnessed things they didn’t really like. They decided they could do better. It wasn’t simply a matter of charging a more reasonable fee; it was about understanding and treating clients better.

I walked into their office and was met by two attractive and friendly receptionsts. Just as I sat down, out bounded Wozniak, disarmingly dressed in jeans and a collared shirt. Not an accountant’s uniform. We shook hands and walked into the office he shares with his partner, Austin, who was dressed in khakis and a polo shirt. Wozniak’s desk was covered with papers and notes, and Austin’s was neat and orderly. I was immediately struck with an “Odd Couple” sort of vibe, but soon realized it was more than that: it’s like an accounting yin and yang.

The duo likes to break their business down to two types of people, “Those you can work with and those you can’t. It’s that simple,” says Wozniak. Between the orderly and stoic nature of Austin and less orderly and gregarious Wozniak, I’d be curious to meet the person that they couldn’t work with.

The rapid growth of our area is no surprise to the affable Wozniak, a local guy who has lived in Greenpoint for over 40 years. He loves the influx of new residents for the diversity they bring; not only the mix of personalities and cultures, but also the small business mix .

Wozniak and Austin would like to reach out to some of these new residents and businesses. In particular, those still compelled to send their taxes back to Manhattan, Westchester, or wherever. It’s not that they’re looking to disrupt a long-standing relation ship; it’s more about continuing the sense of community they believe in. They’re also genuinely curious guys and want to know what they can do.

Listening to Wozniak talk, you can see the pride has has watching his neighborhood grow. Of course there are growing pains: the construction, the traffic, the mustaches. But overall, he views all of these as good things, even the mustaches.

When I asked Wozniak some of the key things he advises his clients, he leaned back, thought about it for five seconds, and simply said, “Don’t’ be dumb.” He leaned forward and went on to explain that owning a business or being incorporated is not something you should treat as your personal bank. He used disgraced former Tyco head, and poster child for piggish corporate behavior Dennis Koslowski, as the perfect examples.

A&W Tax Services does it all: start-ups, large businesses, small businesses, partnerships, LLCs, business plan financials, personal taxes. They won’t turn you away.

Of course there are plenty of tax preparers and CPAs in the area, and both Austin and Wozniak are quick to point that out. Their goal is to walk clients through the arcane U.S. tax code to maximize its complicated avenues. Or as Wozniak said, “Anyone can enter numbers in a computer. That’s not what we do.”

Whether you file quarterly or annually, Wozniak stressed the importance of “understanding his clients’ needs,” in order to structure their filings effectively.

And should one of their clients ever find themselves being called before the IRS for an audit, these guys welcome it. They’ll go with you and hold your hand through the process. A typically stressful situation, Wozniak will disarm it and find the proper resolution for his clients.

The two men pride themselves on their deep understanding of the tax code and their ability to decipher and explain it. They invite you to meet them for a free consultation. The office offers multilingual services, with English, Russian, and Polish spoken fluently.

It’s never too early to start planning for the tax season. So if you are wondering whether that pink Izod you bought for the Come-dressed-as-your-favorite-Thirtysomething-character-BBQ is tax deductible, Ted Wozniak, Greg Austin, and the team at A&W Tax Services will help you navigate the labyrinth of our tax code and find out.