It is the 2018 Sunscreen Film Festival. The credits come to an end, the lights fade up and I sit there in the audience in front of the man who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the movie we just saw.
A Catchbox, which is a foam cube with a wireless microphone inside it is thrown to me, the filmmaker eagerly awaits my question about his movie. That filmmaker is Jeffrey Johnson and the movie is Captain Black, his feature debut, and it is a bright one.
Captain Black is a comedy that progresses into a drama. It tells the tale of Mike, played by Jeffrey Johnson (The 6th Degree, Haunting Of Cell Block 11), who is a mild mannered restaurant manager who becomes fascinated by a comic book character named Captain Black, only to end up in a relationship that feels like it is torn from the pages of fiction as well.
We are quickly introduced to Mike and the people he works with at the restaurant. Mike is a very average guy, he is single, works his job and is good at it, but we sense he feels complacent, he desires change, to walk a path that does not seem like the one society has carved out for him.
When one of his servers, Joaquin Camilo (Alpha Planet, Promenade) as Junior, leaves a few Captain Black comic books at the restaurant, Mike powers through the pages and finds the inspiration he was looking for, but living dangerously comes with a price.
A life of playing it safe has led to Mike being apathetic to the domestic violence taking place right on the other side of his condo walls.
He often hears and sees that his neighbor Tracey, played with subtle, heartbreaking realism by Liesel Kopp (Am American Ghost Story, The Adventures Of Mr Clown (TV)) and her son are abused by her boyfriend Andre, portrayed by Michael Marc Friedman (The Super Man (TV), Dirty Cops (TV)).
At first you might think Andre is the main antagonist of this story, but much to our surprise it is really a girl, the woman of Mike’s dreams.
After reading the Captain Black books, Mike is taken by the character’s motto, “be your own ally,” a catch phrase which is echoed in the dialogue and throughout, serving as the theme of the story.
However, something else catches Mike’s eye in these comics, a beautiful, mysterious female superhero named Kitt Vixxen. The movie features colorful comic panels showing Kitt Vixxen in her black latex and mask, pressed up against Captain Black in mid kiss.
Kitt is clearly a love interest, some sequences of the movie actually paint her as a lust interest. In short order, the bartender at the restaurant, Jake, played by Charley Koontz (CSI: Cyber (TV), Community (TV)) as a comedic counterpart, invites Mike over to his Halloween party.
Mike accepts the challenge and knows immediately what costume he will be wearing, the good Captain of course. We are treated to a fun sequence of Mike buying the materials and fabricating a homemade Captain Black costume. Cos-players or fans of that lifestyle will especially responsed to this story element.
So then Mike, I mean Captain Black, arrives at the Halloween house party and comes face to face with a very pretty young lady, actress Georgia Norman (Criminal Minds (TV), School Of Rock (TV)) dressed as Kitt Vixxen.
It feels as if fate has brought them together at that moment, as if the planets aligned, for those of you who have fallen in love and it worked out, you must know how that feels.
The two enjoy each other’s company while they drink adult beverages, a stranger from the party makes the assumption that Mike and Kitt Vixxen must be a couple and compliments how great they look together. This is a clever bit of writing, it makes perfect sense and helps unite these two characters.
That is when this movie kicks into gear, in surprising, yet very believable and dramatic ways. I will not spoil what happens next but know this, Captain Black is a strong example of what indie film is all about, taking you to places and situations the major studio films cannot and never will take us.
This is a strong first feature for writer/director Jeffrey Johnson and a noteworthy achievement for the rest of his cast and crew.
The common single set up camera style we usually see in indie film is broken up very effectively in Captain Black. One example of this is a fantasy montage that is a well crafted, surreal representation of what Mike is going through in this most bitter sweet, turbulent point in his life.
We see the actors as if they are really Kitt Vixxen and Captain Black in their comic book settings, we also get glimpses of the real world struggles Mike faces come crashing in.
During the montage there was one shot so interesting and odd, I had to go back to it afterwards to confirm what I saw, as if I was watching a David Lynch film.
The writing of Captain Black is well paced and delivered by a sure hand. With a total run time of 85 minutes, this is also a story that does not languish or overstay its welcome.
Great writing uses subtext, symbolism, set up and pay offs, clearly a virtue not lost on Jeffrey Johnson. In Captain Black, even a simple scene when employees at a restaurant have to sing happy birthday to a guest, takes on a higher purpose.
The stylized, eye catching comic book illustrations support the narrative of the story and are integrated to great effect, much like in other movies such as Sin City.
It must also be said that all of the acting was on point, which is especially impressive in the case of Jeffrey Johnson, who had the starring role while also directing and producing the movie.
Sometimes an actor taking on these other responsibilities can cause a major dip in quality, not so with Captain Black, in fact, that seemed to elevate the production and performances.
Right now Captain Black is flying around with a victorious film festival run, so there are no release details to give at this time. When it does come out, I urge anyone who likes a unique indie film, with multi-layered characters to see Captain Black.
So, there I am, in the theater talking into this padded cube microphone that works surprisingly well but looks like a chew toy for a dog. I’m asking the filmmaker a question, little did I know in about an hour I was going to have a sit down with him and ask him all the questions I wanted!
In that interview I ask Jeffrey Johnson about the challenges of starring in a movie you also direct, about the marvelous comic book artwork that was used in the film and many other insightful things. That interview is on its way, so stay tuned kids, remember life is precious and….. floss regularly.
Curt Wiser is the Writer, Director of the Suspense movie Cam-Girl. As a filmmaker and artist he accepts the great power and responsibility to say a kind word about other movies and share them with the world.