Saturday, September 10, 2011
*Note, I will be discussing the whole film, but the trailer is above.
Directed by Adam Hall, United States, 2010, 19 minutes.
The one line blurb for Sudden Death! in the DC Shorts Film Festival catalog sums this film almost perfectly, "finally a musical where everyone dies." Though not the best made film in Showcase 6 at the DC Shorts Film Festival, it was the most funny. The film is about a doctor, Nathan Carlson, who creates a love drug that becomes lethal by a government military sect when manipulated. He does not know he is the cause until the end of the film, but he has to come to terms with his own death, right when he finds true love. This film focuses on a disease, only affecting Los Angeles at the moment, called Sudden Death Syndrome. The only symptom of this disease is spontaneously bursting into song and dance before dropping dead. Nathan and his new love, Rachel Hughes, also a doctor, search for a cure together while falling in love and singing.
I have chosen to write about this film because it is more of an admiration towards musicals than a joke. Yes, everyone dies in the end, but (spoiler, sorry) they come back because like the musical genre, people have to live, for the most part. For example, the film spoofs West Side Story's choreography, and therefore allows the idea that main characters can be killed, like Tony, Riff, and Bernardo, to permeate in audiences heads. This idea allows audience members to sit on edge because there seems to be no hope for finding a cure--all of the doctors are either already dead or too busy singing and dancing, or, in the case of Rachel and Nathan, falling in love. Who says our protagonist can't die? We can still like them even if they fail, and are therefore not heroes.
Musicals have unfortunately been lost to our culture these days and now we are left longing for more shows like Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and Glee. If you like either of those, you would like this dark, humorous, and sing-along worthy film. It is also important to note that this film is considered as a political satire by the film's site, and that I had the honor of watching it the day Steven Soderbergh's star contagious film Contagion released in theaters. I do not plan to see Soderbergh's film because it is too close to reality, yet, I was willing, and honestly picked this particular showcase, to see a film with a similar premise. What better way to share something serious than in song and dance?
Adventure Girls III
Jon Deitcher, Canada, 2010, 1 minute
Adventure Girls III is a short film about two Japanese school girls (played by white women with sunglasses) who drive a stolen car across a flat stretch of America. After thirty-eight seconds we find out they're vampires and watch as they eat a hillbilly hitchhiker. Though the film's title states that this is the third in a series of Adventure Girl shorts, it is actually the first episode of a new web series.
Adventure Girls III is an abrasive short. The voices (taken directly from a Sailor Moon cartoon) are a little too high, the editing is a little too quick and the girls' whining screams are tough to listen to. Most damning, the film is a piece of manufactured kitsch. Bizarre, idiosyncratic films without self-awareness (The Room, Troll 2) will always be more interesting than films that wink and nudge their way to instant cult audiences (Snakes on a Plane, Piranha 3D) because the first type of film is sincerely trying to be a successful movie, while the second type of film is just trying to sneer its way to becoming weird. When Japanese school girl vampires rip up a yokel's neck, and when it's all placed under an intentionally false title, it's hard to see the film as anything but an attempt to create a meme by throwing calculated wackiness on top of calculated wackiness. This short just isn't all that exciting.
That said, I think you should watch Adventure Girls III. You should watch Adventure Girls III because it's one minute long.
I went to the E Street Cinema two days in a row this week. On Thursday I watched a package of eight shorts, the longest of which was twenty minutes long. On Friday, I watched the two hour long Bellflower, which, spoiler alert, features a scene where a man rapes a woman with a knife. Bellflower has received love it or hate it reviews; I would say I like it very much but can still recognize its flaws. I recommended the movie to a friend but noted the shocking violence that kicks in toward the end. He didn't want to watch the movie because, if he didn't like it, he would have wasted two hours of his weekend on a grating, gory, depressing flick. To have a full Bellflower experience, you need to invest two hours into something you may very well hate. To have a full Adventure Girls III experience, you need to invest one minute. The worst thing you'll be able to say is "I wasted a minute."
Adventure Girls III is not a great short, but what is great about it is that it is only boring for one minute. Anybody can spend one minute on a movie. I complained about the girls' screaming, but they only scream for 15 seconds. Sometimes it's difficult to pick up a potentially polarizing book or album, but wondering whether or not to watch a polarizing short film is never a hard decision. Anybody can have an opinion on Adventure Girls III because even the busiest person has the time to watch and analyze it fully.
Friday, September 09, 2011
Thursday, September 08, 2011
Sorry I dont know how to imbed this...
Old Meal is a film that creates a story out of an unlikely subject matter - the elderly. We follow the simple but endearing routine of an elderly couple starting their day. The husband hobbles around the home, makes breakfast and talks with his wife. Their actions are painfully deliberate and slow, and they both appear not entirely there. Yet, the couple is clearly devoted and enjoys their life. The film ends when the husbands routine is halted by an unexpectedly empty bag of oatmeal and goes in search of more.
One of the things I love about many shorts films is how they convey so much with so little. Call me sentimental, but 'Old Meal' gives us the perfect combination of love, heartbreak and beauty. I also enjoy that this film (in my opinion) could never be made into a feature length film. The slice of life style makes it all the better, so that we feel we are savoring its brevity, because every moment is so rich.
What stands out in this film is the beautiful and carefully executed cinematography. The camera is the older man; we see him forgetting what he needs to do, his stilted vision, how every action is deliberate and creaky with age. The lens falls in and out of focus, highlighting the mans confusion and age. Each routine is new, and yet familiar. The most beautiful sequence is when the wife dances for her husband, and how vibrant she looks despite her age. We see the husband smile, a smile full of love, and we know that somehow this couple is still in love. Seeing this older couple still in love is touching, and yet heartbreaking. Both are clearly losing their memory, and simply going about their day is becoming difficult. The last scene where the husband goes out in search of oatmeal show a huge contrast between his world, and the busy faceless world of the real world.
The mise-en-scene should also be noted for this film. The cinematographer managed to make a dingy old apartment look like a painting in every frame. The colors depict the warmth of the scene, the faltering camera focus shows us the age, and the many close up and over the shoulder shots really let the viewer feel as if they are struggling with the same hardships the older man is.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
That was absolutely one of the aspects that Creagh hit right on the head. This film was, at its core, entertaining and when it comes to films, that is the number one thing I look for. I want to be enthralled and taken away from reality for just a little while. The Crush does just that by endearing its characters (or most of them) almost immediately to the audience, drawing them in and investing them. When I mentioned that this film was rough around the edges, I meant that in the sense of comparing it to its fellow nominees this year. This film is nothing new in terms of cinematic experiences. However, not every film needs to be the next Inception. As gratifying as watching a film such as that is, there is also an immense amount of satisfaction to be held in the simplest stories told well. This film gets straight to the point and leaves little to the imagination but those aspect don't necessarily have to be cons. In fact, I'm of the mind that with a film like this, the simpler the better.
The Lynx is a short about a depressed person whose bizarre and complex masturbation routine turns him into a crime fighting man-lynx. The man, played by and named for the short's writer-director, is hired by Doug Shoehad, also played by Harmon, to take out the Fillipino mafia family. Harmon turns into the Lynx, kills all of the Fillipinos (two men who share a plastic gun) and returns to Shoehad with the good news. He goes home and is happier.
I talk about the plot so simply for two reasons: it's really that simple, and, more importantly, it sticks to Joseph Campbell's monomyth. Harmon has written about his respect for Campbell and the monomyth and references Campbell in interviews often. The monomyth is a basic structure that nearly all stories follow, whether or not the stories' writers knew they were following said structure. Harmon outlined the monomyth in a now-deleted post on the Channel 101 forum:
"1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
2. But they want something.
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
4. Adapt to it,
5. Get what they wanted,
6. Pay a heavy price for it,
7. Then return to their familiar situation,
8. Having changed."
Not only does The Lynx follow this structure tightly (leaving out only the "heavy price" step), Harmon wants you to know that it is following it-- he places text at the bottom of the screen to let you know when every step is hit.
Dan Harmon is now famous for being the mind behind the TV show Community. Before Community, his largest artistic achievement was co-creating Channel 101, a monthly short film festival that he regularly contributed to. Harmon made a living moving between media projects (including co-creating The Sarah Silverman Programme, which he was fired from and which is referenced in The Lynx). When he wasn't making television and movies on other people's terms, he would return to Channel 101 and make insane little shorts like this. He challenged himself to both make something wild and stay within the monomyth structure.
The Lynx is a joy to watch because Harmon puts seemingly tight restraints on himself and then proves that the restraints weren't all that tight. There isn't any fat on The Lynx and none of it feels forced. There are jokes that would be clever on any budget (the exchange about the Filipino family's last name, the "dead pixel" note that pointed exactly to a dead pixel on the original theater's screen) and there are jokes that make fun of how little Harmon was able to spend on his short (the clearly fake gun, the Lynx 'costume'). The Lynx is a filmmaker proving that a complete story can be told and told well in three and a half minutes.
Sometimes, the people who need the signs, are the ones holding them. Not only is this film charming, heartfelt, and beautifully upbeat, but it forces the viewer to look at the world and people differently. This film is about Ben, a "static outdoor information technician", or more simply, a sign holder, who loves is career and stands on Oxford Street in London. Ben is aware of the camera--allowing his joy for his career and coworkers to jump off of the screen. He informs us about his promotion, which he is excited for and starting the next day, and expresses his admiration for his coworkers who are displayed less enthusiastically than himself. Ben shares with us the history of Oxford Street and the origins of his job--he is a third generation sign holder and he is standing in the same spot as his grandfather and father before him. Also, we discover his crush for a non-union female worker handing out flyers across the street from him that he is too nervous to talk to.
This film is full of emotion: love, disappointment, and joy. The viewer immediately knows how Ben feels about his crush handing out flyers because he takes a flyer, even though he does not need one, stares at her longingly from across the street, and because we realize that they have on the same rainbow-striped gloves. The sames gloves not only hint to the viewer that they belong together, but that they are almost holding hands throughout the film. The viewer experiences disappointment with Ben twice throughout the film; 1) when they view the unhappiness of his fellow employees and, 2) when Ben's timer goes off signalling the end of his shift and Ben realizes that none of his comrades will give him a send off. Joy comes a few seconds after the disappointment, making it all the sweeter, when the other workers flip their signs over and tell him to go after the girl.
This film is important because it presents a person, working in what is considered a low position, but is immensely happy with his life. Ben's positive attitude reminds viewers to appreciate the little things in life and to respect everyone, no matter what their position in life. This short film, that was edited down to enter the Virgin Media Shorts film competition in 2010 (it was always a short film though), is full of life that would not have supported an hour long film, but gracefully tells a story in a 5 minute span.
Directed by Spike Jonze, United States, 1997, 2 minutes and 26 seconds
Spike Jonze's early short How They Get There is a narrative boiled down to it's simplest definition. It's completely epitomized by the titles of both the film and the song Jonze chose for his score: "Sentimental Journey" by Les Brown and Ben Homer. The film is just a story of how something happened, more specifically it's describing how shoes end up in the gutter.
The goings on are simple. Boy starts his day with a fresh carton of milk, and ends up flirting with the girl walking across the street by copycatting each other's movements. Boy gets hit by car and all hell breaks lose; his shoes land in the gutter with the other lost, lonesome sneakers.
Before getting into the meat of this analysis, I must expound upon my one issue: every time I watch this short I am disturbed by that dude's nails as he opens the carton of milk! Jonze composes such gorgeous shots. He choreographs a huge car crash. He quickly draws us into the cuteness of these strangers flirting in a way that's oddly charming, he crafts beautiful symmetry and a simple story... But these nails are long, gross and dirty, ragged and jagged, and just distracting! They haunt me, to be bluntly dramatic about it. They pull me out of the film for a brief moment when the short film really has no time to lose the audience. Or is it just me? This film taught me an important lesson in filmmaking: Even the small details count; if something is going appear on screen, particularly in an extreme close-up, whatever "it" is better have a purpose or it can't be distracting or out of the ordinary.
My disgust at nails aside, this film is pretty dang brilliant. It's disarming, charming, and I'll say it again, simple. Jonze has this uncanny ability to shoot very smooth pieces. The camera movements are never jerky; even his characters stroll smoothly through the streets and the camera seems to float with them. Even at the shocking point of the car hitting the man, those shots are beautiful. That car is lofted into the air in a surprisingly dramatic turn of events, but man, does it fly gracefully to it's sudden dusty death.
The film boils the fat off of the typical narrative, taking the viewer quickly through it's classic three-act narrative structure. In the first act we meet our main man, and scraggly finger nails aside we are intrigued by him as well as the sweet girl he falls for as she walks by. In the second act we follow the flirting couple as they mimic movements. It's silly and simple and the kind of odd manner you never expect to see in real life but always think would work because it's absurdly cute in the context of a romantic comedy on the screen. And we are slammed into the third act by the crash. So far the short has been light and cute, the car crash not only amplifies the production value, but it takes the whole story to a new place, revealing a story we didn't initially expect. It's jarring but shot gracefully. It's a damn brilliant twist. The film is bookended by the familiar image of a lost shoe.
Jonze tells us with that last shot that his film is an explanation for a common phenomenon of lost shoes. It all helps to tell the tale of how lonely shoes end up in the gutter. This wasn't the first time this kind a crash like this had happened, and it surely wouldn't be the last. Thanks for the life lesson, Mr. Jonze. I'm never going to flirt on the streets again!
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Directed by Kurt Kuenne, United States, 2006, 16 minutes
Validation is a short film that follows Hugh Newman, a parking assistant in charge of validating parking tickets, and his quest to get Victoria, a DMV photographer, to smile. The films starts out with a depressed driver walking to the validation stand with his ticket, as he arrived Hugh Newman begins to complement the driver and ends up making him smile. Soon everyone from George Bush to Saddam Hussein is smiling because of Hugh Newman’s ability to make people smile. However, when Hugh goes to the DMV to get his drivers license renewed, he runs into Victoria who simply won’t smile. This sets Hugh off on a quest to get Victoria to smile and this short follows the adventure that eventually changes Hugh and Victoria.
I stumbled across this film while searching for short films and fell in love with it very quickly due to its ability to blend the unbelievable with the believable. For instance this ability shows up in the beginning of the film as Hugh begins to talk to his first client about how amazing he is. I thought at first that Hugh was making fun of the man because of the way he expressed his complements however he was being completely serious. Then there are other details that stand out as unbelievable but yet the director is able to make them believable. One example of this is where the validation stand is located, it appears to be in a living room with a fireplace on the right. If you also looked at the DMV photo room, there are chandeliers and it appears to be filmed in a large ballroom. However, throughout the entire short, you never second-guess the fact that some of these things don’t add up or that some of them are simply ridiculous. While some people will claim that the film works hard to suspend belief from the beginning through crazy musical routines and just the insanity of it, all films must contain some believability. Without this believability, people won’t sincerely look at the video and will loose interest in it quickly. By perfecting this balance between the believable and unbelievable, Kurt Kuenne creates a unique and compelling story even if some elements don’t come close to lining up.
This ability to mix the believable and unbelievable is something that if mastered and correctly applied to a film adds a comedic and fun experience that cannot easily be obtained through other means. However, as a post production fanatic, I find it odd that in production or post production the chandeliers in the DMV photo room were not removed or covered up. While it may not bother most people, as a man who loves post production, keeping these elements in the film seems sloppy. However, this isn’t a issue to really get upset about, the film is a masterpiece that I truly enjoyed.
Dir: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Clive Owen, Don Cheadle, F. Murray Abraham
10 minutes, 2002
For those who are unaware, the BMW Films was a series of nine shorts showcasing the different models of BMW's high performance vehicles. Starring a pre-US movie star Clive Owen as "The Driver," this character is as no nonsense as his name suggests and is planted into a diverse array of situations and interacts with different characters featuring high-profile actors (Such include Gary Oldman, Madonna, and Forest Whitaker.) Each film varies greatly in style, depending on which famed auteur is directing the piece: Be it the moody, music driven style of Wong Kar-Wai, to the no-holds bar approach of blockbuster (and commercial) director Tony Scott, the films do not always prominently place the vehicles and their capabilities at the forefront of the story.
Monday, September 05, 2011
One of the benefits of short film is being able to use brevity to your comedic advantage. One trick-pony jokes that would become played out and tear-jerkingly boring in a long film often work perfectly in a short film. There is just enough time to flesh out a joke until it goes as far as it can. Hands Solo: the Porn Star With the Midas Touch, is such a short film. It centers around a porn star who has used his deafness to his advantage by developing patented sex moves (the spider, the 'wristler', etc.) based on the manual dexterity years of sign language have given him. At its core though, the movie is about the love story between Hans Jane, and his estranged girlfriend.
MORGAN M MORGANSEN’S DATE WITH DESTINY
Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 2010, 6 minutes.
The premise of Morgan M Morgansen's Date with Destiny is deceivingly simple. The story follows Morgan M Morgansen, played by director Joseph Gordon-Levitt, on a big date his pin-up, animal activist love interest, Destiny, played by Lexy Hulme. Morgansen anxiously prepares for his date, which goes well until he orders the rabbit for dinner. Destiny, being a vegetarian, is highly offended by his choice of dish. However, he smoothly avoids conflict by refusing to eat the meat. "Post bunny-boycott," Destiny is completely enamored by Morgansen, and, together, they run off happily ever after into the moonlight.
In this highly stylized narrative short film, the narration is exactly what is most impressive. The story is told in almost a surreal version of English. The language used is purposely verbose and the effect is equally hilarious and hypnotizing. For example, instead of calling Morgansen's chair a "chair," the narrator would call it a "person-holder." In this short, a smile is referred to as a "lip lift"and a waiter is a "food bringer." When Morgansen wants to tell Destiny she is sexy, he says "You look verily procreational." Its almost as if the creators established a rule at the beginning of production that no word they wanted to use in the script could actually be used. Consequently, basic words are replaced by descriptions. Combined with alliteration and much more word play, this short is a treat for all lovers of rhetoric.
Each time you watch "Morgan M Morgansen's Date with Destiny," you will hear or see something you didn't the last time. I've watched it countless times and with each viewing I hear a new turn of phrase I didn't catch before. My only criticism of the piece is that it tries to accomplish too much at once. Such a witty narration could easily carry a short in my opinion. However, the visuals of the film almost compete with its story. The film is, visually, a combination of Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge," the very first black and white motion pictures, and a very random selection of collage and dark illustrations. Combined with the narration, the style of the film can be too much. But this is nothing that a few viewings cannot solve.
I find this short to be extremely entertaining, and like I said before, a gift to anyone who loves word play. However, I think it will be remembered for more than just it's entertainment value. While researching the short, I found that its unique creation is what sets it apart from all other short films discussed on this blog. Morgan M Morgansen is one the first widely released projects created by HitRECord. HitRECord, founded by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (surprise!), is a production company of sorts that revolves around the online collaboration that is done on the website hitRECord.org. Members of the site can either suggest or rank ideas for a creative project, with numerous members of the website working on a single project at a time. Therefore, there were countless contributors to "Morgan M Morgansen's Date with Destiny," which I believe justifies it's tendency to slightly overwhelming. HitRECord is an exciting new approach to creation in the age where internet rules. We have all seen how the world wide web can play a vital role in the sharing of shorts, now it can play a role in the production of shorts. "Morgan M Morgansen's Date with Destiny" beautifully places form over content, and despite audience over-stimulation, shows great promise for HitRECord.
Ursa Minor Blue
Directed by Tamura Shigeru, Japan, 1993, 23 Minutes.
Source: www.veoh.com (link to film)
The Cat Piano
Directed by Eddie White and
The Cat Piano is about a city inhabited by singing cats. The main character falls for a beautiful singer who is later kidnapped by a dark figure snatching up singing cats for a twisted musical instrument of torture. He must save her to end the screams that threaten his city.
This short film is an excellent and dark story that has a very stylistic animation. Its simplicity is what really drew me into the story. The subjects are always either bathed in darkness or given very little backdrop. The blackness is perfect in setting that eerie and dark mood. The color palette also contributes to the setting with dark blues and purples and occasionally ominous reds and greens.
The story is also told in the form of a poem, written by the director, to match the character’s voice and style as a beat poet. It’s an interesting way of moving the story along that really captured my attention. The director did a great job of creating visuals that would match the poem yet not distract the viewer from it.
Sunday, September 04, 2011
Now, for the narrative! The film begins with NPH playing Dr. Horrible himself, a supervillian with a "PhD in horribleness". We quickly learn the three relationships that will propell the plot of the movie:
- Penny, played by Felicia Day, knows Dr. Horrible better as Billy. Billy goes to the same laundromat as Penny (in fact, he has memorized her laundromat schedule "Wednesdays and Saturdays except last month when you skipped a week...") and goes week after week with the intent of finally talking to the girl of his dreams. If you're not going to watch the whole movie, here's a song (just 2 mins!) illustrating the relationship: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDD-SP2iaa8
- Captain Hammer, played by Nathan Fillion (Firefly, anybody?) is Dr. Horrible's arch-nemesis. As the audience, we have the unique experience of thinking he, the "superhero" is sort of a jerk, which makes it all the more unfortunate when Penny falls for him, further tormenting Billy. Here's an explanatory song for this love triangle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN3eBvZvUXk&feature=related
- Finally, Bad Horse, (the thoroughbred of evil) is an undeveloped character who runs the Evil League of Evil, an organization Billy keeps applying to in an effort to validate himself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN2U5wkhRWc
*Oscar Award Rules