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MAR 17 - MAR 24, 2015

Local Movie Struggles to Find Audience An Update on Crimson, the Motion Picture

By Frank Parlato

March 17, 2015

The DVD cover of Crimson

Readers may recall "Crimson: The Motion Picture," a movie shot in Niagara Falls.

Three and a half years have passed since its producer, James Ventry and director, Ken Cosentino completed filming; it was shot primarily at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center (NACC), with the assistance of more than 100 volunteers - 65 in front of the camera - including extras - and several dozen more behind - as members of the crew.

It was a genuine local film. And it is out there - available to be purchased and seen.

"Crimson: the Motion Picture" has gotten reviews - mixed reviews - some lauding the film as an outburst of glory in the independent film world - a low budget action film that surprises and will find its niche among low budget cult classics- and other reviews were impatient, and fault finding, judging the film as one would a fully budgeted multimillion dollar motion picture; instead of what it is - a $27,000 production.

According to Director Cosentino, Crimson has sold about 1500 units - about 900 DVD's and 600 downloads for video on demand, which suggests Crimson has grossed in the $12-$15,000 range - with much of that being split by the retailer and the distributor of the film, Pop Cinema.

Crimson got considerable local attention around June 2011.

At the time, the project was stalled. The filming had been completed. The editing was almost finished. But work was needed to address a serious sound glitch picked up during editing. And more money for marketing the film.

At this point, Mayor Paul A. Dyster, a friend of the NACC, and a number of volunteers who worked on Crimson at the NACC, warmly welcomed the filmmakers to get a cash handout from the NFC, an agency of the city, with its own separate board, which he guided.

The Mayor put Crimson on the NFC's agenda - for a $10,000 grant.

In announcing the importance of the grant and how his administration was a patron of the movie industry, he said he judged the film as having genuine artistic merit.

He told the Niagara Gazette that he watched the two minute trailer and it appeared to be of "very high, professional quality."

Adding to the allure of the production, there was promise that if the film were to be completed - something that Mayor Dyster had all but ensured with his endowment of the of $10,000 of the people's money.

Cosentino and Ventry told the Gazette they had "a meeting scheduled with representatives from Paramount Pictures," and "intend(ed) to show the film to audiences during upcoming film festivals".

"What better than to have some young people from right here in the city of Niagara Falls growing the film industry here?", Dyster told the Gazette.

The Niagara Falls Reporter, writing in opposition to the grant, wrote that the beleaguered taxpayers of Niagara Falls should not be taxed to fund movies - especially ones such as Crimson which were not likely to create permanent jobs. Additionally however fine the film might be, it was not a family oriented picture.

Were it to be rated by the Motion Picture Association of America - which it was not - Crimson: The Motion Picture - about a comic book cartoonist who suffers a brain injury, thinks he is one of the super heroes he created, and turns vigilante, trying to clean up Niagara Falls - and its Irish Mafia - would likely get an "R" rating since graphic violence, nudity and profanity decorate the film. The word F-ck is used "an estimated 152 times in the movie," according to Cosentino.

At the time of the grant, the Reporter pegged it as another chapter of the Dyster "friends and family" program, and the timing a little too propitious.

Dyster was running for reelection.

Mike Leszczynski as CRIMSON


The Reporter suggested that the 100 plus locals who contributed their talents - while working out of the NACC, the not for profit Dyster is most closely associated with - would be grateful to the mayor - who was facing John Accardo in a September primary - for funding their movie in July.

In September, Dyster won the primary.

In November he won reelection.

Ventry took only $6,000 not the $10,000 when he found out that the grant was not really a grant - but a loan with no fixed repayment but a lien on his home to ensure, ultimately, repayment.

But the movie was finished.

The Paramount deal did not come through, and Crimson: the Motion Picture made its world premiere on March 23, 2013, at the Evening Star, a local bar and concert hall on Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Now it was ready to be sprung upon the world.

After the premiere, a distribution deal with a company called Pop Cinema made the movie available at retail and online outlets, prompting the attention of motley critics.

Fangoria, a fan magazine specializing in violent films, and Sci-Fi magazine wrote about the film. Norm Breyfogle, who drew Batman for DC comics, described Crimson as a "blood-colored violence fest." Marvel Comics' Paul Gulacy said, "Great offbeat story line. Really good camera movement and lighting. The fight at the end was sick. Awesome."

The Colorado Springs Independent wrote, Crimson, "an ultra-low-budget feature", "is actually a smart, impressive and, best of all, clever take on the typical superhero tropes that eschew the forced mythologies and, instead, focus on the spine it takes to be a dispenser of justice. … If it sounds like Kick-Ass, well, it kind of is, but in a street-wise, take-no-prisoners way that a corporate franchise like Kick-Ass could only hope to achieve."

DVD Verdict, however, thought less of the film. "(A)n atrocious film (that) tries to be a little bit like Kick Ass and Super, with a pinch of The Dark Knight ….. (o)nly it lacks the stellar acting, writing, lighting, audio, and directing all of those films possess."

Of Crimson's leading man, Michael Leszczynski, DVD Verdict wrote, "his performance is labored and hammy, with overly expressive facial features that would make a silent film star blush…. There's a lot of yelling going on from actors who deliver their lines with a lot of volume and little else. … tough guys …add more unintentional hilarity to a film that is already full of inadvertent humor. There are moments in this film that are just painful to watch."

But 10,000 Bullets wrote entirely more favorably, "Crimson proves that talent, creativity, and determination may be the most important factors in creating a motion picture that stands tall amongst the general dreck of modern independent cinema."

But HorrorTalk thought less of the film. "There was a golden opportunity here to become the no-budget indie-darling version of Kick-Ass, carefully marrying violence, satire, and humor. Unfortunately… the whole thing comes across as bleak, tired, and dreadful … (a) drab, plodding, and pretentious story…"

But of Leszczynski's acting, HorrorTalks wrote, "while at times laughable and misguided, (he) does manage to successfully propel the story forward. … James Ventry as the … crime boss' son struggles with the dialogue, but has a very imposing on-screen presence that more than makes up for any deficit in raw acting chops."

Rock! Shock! Pop! however had nothing but praise, writing that Crimson was "surprisingly well written and well thought out," and praised the actors: Leading man Leszczynski "bring(s) the right sense of pathos and unpredictability to his role. … Ventry tends to chew through the scenery and go completely over the top but it doesn't feel out of place for his character… Lizzy Bruno is equal parts sympathetic and strong as the female lead …. an appreciably subdued Michael Shimmel and a just as over the top Patrick Posey round out that cast well."

But Sex Gore Mutants' review was mixed, writing of Crimson's "truly pitiful performances, " Sex Gore admitted that "CRIMSON does have its own style….. There is occasional humour, but it's ill-judged at almost every turn…. (T)here are some endearing performances –most notably from Leszcynski and Bruno. The character of Tommy (Ventry) is too broadly overplayed but is at least sufficiently evil so as to keep the viewer watching, just to see what he's capable of doing next.

"There's no real momentum achieved though … (T)here are times when what's on the screen is unbelievably amateurish…."There's a lot of shouting, bad acting and unconvincing physical violence. … But the whole thing manages to be oddly endearing at the same time."

As critics praised and panned it, the film was accepted by the Burbank Film Festival, but because of the filmmakers continuing lack of capital, the film was not shown since they couldn't pay the entry fee.

Verizon's Redbox Instant brought excitement when they made the movie available for video on demand streaming in October 2014. Within a month Crimson was no longer available via Redbox a casualty of Redox's losing war with NetFlix.

But Pop Cinema arranged for wide distribution and Crimson was available at Transworld, Newbury Comics, goHastings, Amoeba, Vudu, Google Movies, PlayStation, Xbox, Midwest Tape, Hoopla, Blockbuster, and numerous independent stores.

Downloads of the film- currently available range in price from Google Play - $14.99, Xbox - $12.99, - $9.99

But the DVD's prices varied and have dropped precipitously in price.

When it was first released, Crimson's DVD sold for $17.99.

But the distributor sets the price and the filmmakers were none too happy to learn that for the physical product - the DVD - - admittedly overstocked because of slow sales, Pop Cinema was now discounting - selling the film low enough to recoup their investment but denying the filmmakers - at these prices - any chance of making anything.

F.Y.E. offers the DVD of Crimson for $5.99. Best Buy -$4.99. Target online -$3.49.

Meantime, the momentum that once permeated the advent of a fresh new product emerging into the fray has faded.

Crimson's Facebook page has had only one posting in the last five months.

Both "official" websites, and have been shut down.

Cosentino has moved on to another film - "Attack of the Killer Shrews" a parody of the 1959 cult classic "The Killer Shrews."

Asked if he is still proud of a limping toward no sales Crimson, Cosentino called it "a decent achievement" and that, in a day when star power and commercial support drives the film industry, he and Ventry were "fighting the odds".

"I consider it a violent opera," he said. "Everything is exaggerated just like it is in the comic book world. A lot of people got it.

"The good thing about a movie is it is out there. It will always be out there. Maybe someday it will catch fire. I feel it could catch on as a cult film."

As for Ventry and Cosentino, cult film or not, they are saving their money to pay off the "grant" and said in the nature of a vow to this writer, "I'm going to pay back every dime with interest," said Mr. Ventry, "That $6,000 isn't our money. It belongs to the public."

Both Ventry and Cosentino said they planned to veer far away from corporate welfare in the future.

"I know people around here work hard," said Cosentino, "I held a job since I was 16. If you have morals, you don't go on welfare. I'd work at MacDonald's first. We won't take public money again."

James Ventry as the villain, Tommy






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