Saturday, September 10, 2011


*Note, I will be discussing the whole film, but the trailer is above.

Sudden Death!
Directed by Adam Hall, United States, 2010, 19 minutes.
Source: Vimeo

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


Directed by Spike Jonze, USA, 2010, 32 minutes
Source: YouTube

The film begins with Sheldon, a young robot voiced by actor Andrew Garfield, on a bus. We see what he sees: a robot doing road construction, robot fixing a car--blue collar jobs--and a car accident. Sheldon leans into the window, visibly concerned about the fragmented robot lying like roadkill in the middle of the cross walk, a mangled car offset, and an officer calling it in, tripping over robot fragments. Immediately the viewer is thrust into the world of the coexisting struggle between robot and human, yet is it really that different? At 3:33 an older woman yells from a bus stop at a female robot in her car, "You can't drive a car. You're not supposed to." The muscling continues when the young, female robot Francesca cranks up her music (Sleigh Bells) and drives off. The next day, Francesca returns to the same bus stop with her friends, robots and human, where Sheldon is waiting. From there, it's a story of boy meets girl. It takes an unusual turn when Francesca and Sheldon go to a concert and Francesca loses her arm in a mosh pit, which Sheldon then replaces with his own. Their courtship continues, as do Francesca's mishaps, escalating to a point where Sheldon must make the ultimate sacrifice lying on an operating table next to Francesca.

Narrative, simply put, is the telling of a story with the use of characterization, time, place, and setting. Important to narrative is the subtext. In the case of, I'm Here the protagonists are robots. Nothing appears untimely-- their are no flying cars or busses. Pop culture references like Francesca listening to, Sleigh Bells, a fairly recent band indicate that it's the present. In, Sheldon we have a sort of longing for excitement, things are happening around him, not to him. Francesca represents an attitude of anti- establishment, she's driving a car, listening to loud music, carefree and living in the moment. The attraction is natural, which is part of the stirring of the plot: boy meets girl who is everything that he isn't, boy is willing to give up everything for said girl. While the plot is cliche, the originality of Jonze's vision is not--a world where humans and robots coexist. Jonze shows us that there are few differences between being a robot and human in the real world: you get hit by a car-- you get hurt, when we sleep-- we recharge, which was rather entertaining and only increased my ability to empathize with these characters. I liked that in this particular telling of boy meets girl that the stakes were much higher--I've never had to sacrifice a limb for a lover, but the subtext is there: sometimes love requires us to give up everything for that other person.

It's not that this is an important story to tell, but it's relevance outweighs its importance. Jonze made the mundane entertaining, lacing his story with juxtaposition, high stakes, good music, and visual art-- I'm thinking of the intimate scene at the end when they're both lying on hospital beds next to each other and we have sparks spitting at the screen, blurred imagery, and the sound of grinding and the sudden, "Reboot!" from the operating physician. I think that this could work as a feature length film, but here it works perfectly as a short film. Particularly as a piece of narrative filmmaking or fiction. The film is significant for its vision-- Jonze has set himself apart as a visionary. He spins the cliche into experiment, walking a fine line between reality and surreality, yet maintaining the audiences ability to connect with the protagonists, robot or human. I think that it serves the short film industry to have visionaries like Jonze contributing to the narrative.

The Short Films Blog: HOW THEY GET THERE


I found this film very humorous. First thing I thought was grandpa shoes, and that made me laugh. I like the twists in the story. When I first clicked this short I was like " ok mildly funny guy trying to pickup a girl using tactics from GREASE " but then when he got hit by a car I knew it was wrong to laugh but couldn't help it! I love the explanation at the end of how " they " get there.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Old Meal - Directed by Britni(?) West
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.


Helicopter by Ari Gold from ari gold on Vimeo.

Written and Directed by Ari Gold
USA, 2001, 20 Minutes

Helicopter is easily one of the most emotionally engaging and universally appealing short films I’ve ever seen. The film follows a college-aged boy named Ari as he deals with his mother’s sudden death in a helicopter crash. The grieving becomes complicated as this is overshadowed by the death of famous club promoter Bill Graham, who was her lover and also died in the crash. As the city of San Francisco throws a massive benefit concert in his honor, Ari and his two siblings are shepherded around the festivities in a limo while they deal with the insensitivity of a clueless public. Directed by Ari Gold (unaffiliated with the fictional Entourage character of the same name), the events are autobiographical, and reflect a deeply personal story that manifests itself beautifully through Gold’s innovative filmmaking techniques.

Ultimately what is immediately interesting about this Oscar-award-winning-short is how Gold seamlessly merges different styles and types of film and animation without compromising its emotional heaviness. The film effortlessly blends black-and-white animation, personal photographs, montages, miniature toy re-enactments, and real festival footage with traditional 35mm film and grainy Super 8mm film. And while this could have been jarring or non-cohesive, Gold uses the mixed styles to his advantage by capturing his character’s tension, confusion, and grief through each of these mediums. And what’s more: the short is aesthetically beautiful. Even when character Ari becomes convinced that the spirit of his mother is embodied in a roach, what would be a bit disgusting is actually fairly peaceful and serene, as the glossy roach glides through each frame.

Beyond the visuals though is a deeply personal narrative that is deals not only with the loss of a loved one, but the loss of innocence. Gold brilliantly captures the confusion and grief of death for someone not yet fully grown not only with his mixed-media style approach, but through the use of voicemail messages as part narration, part dialogue that gives unique insight into the closeness of their relationship.

There is certainly nothing new about death and grief in film. However, Gold manages to take this relatively traditional narrative and turn it on its head with his unique filmmaking style and non linear approach.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Crush

Directed and written by Michael Creagh
Ireland, 2010, 15 minutes

I first saw this film earlier this year at E Street Cinema when they showed all five live-action and all five animated Oscar nominated shorts. This was one of the live-action shorts that left a big impact on me in terms of how much I enjoyed it. This film tells the story of eight year-old Ardal who presents a toy engagement ring to his teacher to show his affection for her. Later, he learns that Ms. Purdy has just gotten engaged for real to her boyfriend, Pierce. However, Pierce won't even take her out to celebrate and so Ardal challenges him to a duel. Pierce mockingly accepts. The next day, Ardal meets Pierce after school and pulls out the gun he got from his dad's closet. Ms. Purdy tries to intervene but Ardal won't let her and as he keeps insisting that the gun isn't a toy, Pierce is driven to a crying mess and finally admits that he only proposed to shut Ms. Purdy up. Ardal shoots him, revealing that the gun was only a toy and Ms. Purdy break up with him, taking Ardal's hand to walk him home. Ardal then reveals he doesn't have a crush on her any longer but that she deserves someone who can give her everything.

This film is very rough around the edges but in all the ways that it endears itself towards the audience, it easily makes up for that. It does not have the class of other short films, perhaps, but it does have the heart which is what made me enjoy it so much. Ardal is a protagonist that the audience can easily root for. What left the impression on me was how, at first, simplistic the story was and easy to relate to, and then suddenly it took a turn for the dramatic! Films are always able to get away with the absurd simply by the fact that they aren't real. While this isn't an absurd film in the sense that it's "out of this world" necessarily, the relative quickness with which the plot progresses makes the audience gasp in entertainment.

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, Dan Harmon, 2006, 3:30

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.



Directed by Oscar Sharp, United Kingdom, 2010, 5 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
Source: youtube

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

Source: YouTube

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.

BMW's The Hire series-Ticker

BMW's The Hire-"Ticker"
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.

"Ticker," directed by Narc and Smokin' Aces helmer Joe Carnahan, most successfully combines the dramatic and bombastic characteristics of the BMW Films series.  It doesn't shamelessly promote BMW, like Scott's car race-centered "Beat the Devil," nor try too hard in attaining dramatic depth, a la Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu's "Powder Keg," but instead provides a captivating, fast paced plot that keeps both your mind and emotions engaged, packaged into a car chase worthy of Frankenheimer (who directed the first film in the series.)  

Featuring Don Cheadle as a mysterious passenger with a brief case and handcuffs, the film drops us right in the action, where an unnamed South American helicopter fires down onto The Driver's silver beamer convertible.  The chase (and thus the film) is excellently crafted, opening with just a brief six-second sample of action before intercutting to a B-story providing an ambiguous explanation of the case.  Call it generic, but it works magically, giving the audience a perfect balance of action and storyline all in one fell swoop.  It stops action when we want it to keep going, and expertly crafts the B story so that it leads into an epic continuation of the car chase.  Without even knowing what is happening, it plants us into the shoes of The Driver, moving he and us from suspicion to sympathy for Cheadle's character.  

The short film was a calling card for director Carnahan, who had just come off his hit independent cop drama Narc (this film features a cameo of that film's star, Ray Liotta.)  While Narc showcased Carnahan's pension for mysterious supporting characters and third-act twists, it couldn't showcase his ability at directing action like this.  "Ticker" showed what is now Carnahan's trademark directing style (for better or worse) of combining hyperbolic melodrama with hyperbolic action, and would help earn him the opportunity to direct Mission Impossible III (which he later dropped from) and Smokin' Aces (which he did complete.) And while his style may have had diffculty sustaining itself over the course of 90 minutes like it does in Aces, it works perfectly in the short film format.  It is just enough substance to grab us at the most superficial of emotional levels while be entertaining enough to keep our attention entirely through ten minutes.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Hands Solo: The Porn Star With the Midas Touch

Hands Solo: The Porn Star With the Midas Touch, William Mager, 2011. 14:55.

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.

This film works from a narrative perspective because of the densely imagined histories and motivations of all the characters. Though we first see hokey/porny images of Hans on set, within the next minute as the narration explains his biography, we see candidly filmed press conferences, childhood photos, a behind the scenes tour, and cast interviews. The effect of mixed media that travels such a large gap of time gives Hans's narrative a compelling foundation. The narration gains further depth when the film interviews neurological experts who use diagrams and statistics to explain the scientific basis for the impact of Hans's patented moves.

The story reveals further layers when Jane Tilden, Hans's pre-porn girlfriend of seven years, talks about the happy history the two shared. Jane is given her own characterizing details: she's the youngest ever executive of a deaf charity, and was there when Hans initially discovered his unique talents. Through cuts with interviews with Hans and Jane, it's revealed that a misunderstanding broke the two up. When Hans finds out, he resolves to fix it, lending the narrative the neat, concise conclusion befitting of a short film.

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 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

Ursa Minor Blue
Directed by Tamura Shigeru, Japan, 1993, 23 Minutes.
Source: (link to film)

Ursa Minor Blue tells the story of a young boy named Uri who discovers an extra star in the constellation Ursa Minor.  That night, his grandfather observes the constellation and finds that the bear (the animal that the constellation represents) becomes a giant, monstrous fish due to the extra star.  The fish dives into the sea of stars and eats all the stars that lay in its path.  Yuri and his grandfather then boat through the sea to visit a wizard who has crafted a magic harpoon with which Yuri destroys the evil fish.  Side note: Shigeru is credited with the adaptation, however for the life of me I could not find what the film was adapted from.

            First off, Shigeru is a brilliant animator, not only aesthetically but also in how he subtly moves the diegesis from a realistic setting into a surreal atmosphere where space and stars meet with the characters and the river they traverse in their boat.  The film begins with Uri and his grandfather harpoon fishing in a large lake before returning home to cook their dinner.  After Uri's discovery, he and his grandfather sail to the cave where the wizard is crafting the magic harpoon, and the grandfather tells Uri to look overboard.  He sees a whole town with house windows alit and a train speeding along the tracks.  Stars float by the boat as they paddle along.  At this point Shigeru fully shifts into a setting of magical realism in which the sky is a river in which the two paddle along and the earth sits below them.  It is this mystical quality, as well as Shigeru's visaul style, that engrossed me in what is a rather simple story. 

            Ursa Minor Blue is one of the earlier surreal films in contemporary Japanese animated features.  Of course the first comparison(s) that come to mind are the works of Miyazaki and his production company Studio Ghibli.  I would argue, however, that it was not until Spirited Away that Miyazaki truly entered the realm of surreal magical atmospherics.  Many of his films predate Ursa Minor Blue, from NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind (1984) all the way through Porco Rosso (1992), which immediately proceded Ursa Minor Blue.  Many of the films of this period, including My Neighbor Totoro and Porco Rosso contain magical elements, but they do not have the surrealist qualities of Ursa.  Spirited Away, for many his master work, combines the magical and surreal at moments; the three disembodied heads at Yubaba's disposal, the ghostly No Face, and Chihiro's journey to Yubaba's sister's home go beyond the regular bounds of the fantastic in children's animated films.  However, Spirited Away's principal characters and overall diegesis follow the "conventions" of the supernatural in animated film.  Ursa Minor Blue, on the other hand, presents Uri's collection of starlight on telescope slides and unexplained robots amongst the meteoric wreckage of a star eaten by the monster fish are unexplained and thus are presented as normative in this world.  What appears to be far away planet when Uri first ascends to the observatory above his home floats by him like a firefly.  Uri and his grandfather's boat is pulled into the tide pool that is actually a galaxy, sending them splashing into the celestial river of stars.  Their reaction is one of excitement, rather then surprise or disbelief.  It is truly a shame Shigeru has produced so little work in film–his only other film is The Glass Ocean.  Nonetheless, Ursa Minor Blue is such a beautiful work,  he needs nothing else to be deserving of high praise.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Movie Trailer
Film Directed by David Fincher, 2008, 1 min. and 44 seconds.

When I think of short films, movie trailers first come to my mind. I have seen several film trailers that I think could be treated like short films, and the trailer for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is no exception.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who ages backwards. The trailer chronicles his life by featuring short clips from each scene of the movie. Each scene shows Button gradually getting younger while the other characters get older, and features important moments in Button's life (being orphaned, walking for the first time, leaving home, his first romance, etc.).

I chose this trailer for the narrative theme because I think it is just that: a story. With barely any dialogue (at least any that indicates what's going on), the viewer sees an entire story, or in Button's case his entire life, unfold in less than two minutes. The lack of dialogue is just one aspect that makes the trailer alluring to me. I especially love the whimsical music that plays beneath the video ("Aquarium" by composer Camille Saint Saens), which gives the entire story a sense of magic and wonder. But I also love that through editing, you see just enough of the film that you can gage what the story is, but not too much to discourage you from seeing the full-length film. That there is the key to a great movie trailer, in my opinion.

The Cat Piano

The Cat Piano

Directed by Eddie White and Ari Gibson, Australia, 2009, 8 minutes.


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.


Directors: Arnold Mathieu & Laurent Riboulet, France, 2007, 7 Minutes

The film has no dialogue, only sounds, its about a guy driving on the highway. As he speeds along the highway he needs to tale a number 2, he sees a rest areas and parks. While gong to the bathroom an alien crashes into the hood of the car in a craft the size of a small grill. The alien says something in alien and puts a spell on the guy and flicks the rest of his toilet paper roll over a mountain.  After he gets the toilet paper he throws it and chases it again. The ending credit has him in outer space capturing and re- releasing to the toilet paper again.

I really like the animations in this short.  I thought the story started out very ordinary and took a complete detour as far as where I thought the storyline was going. They main issue is the character needs to use the bathroom, then he becomes only concerned with chasing the toilet paper not even having it. It’s a weird film but I like how its left open to interpretation. My favorite cinematic scenes are the part where he is chasing the toilet paper and jumps in slow motion to get that paper, I thought it looked cool, and I liked how the directors played with time. Although the storyline was very puzzling the studio showed they could make a funny animation, it kind of reminded me of the show Roadrunner because of the desert setting. I think the main moral of the story is to chase what you want in life, go far and never stop desiring.

(written by Jeff Liao)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog

Just so no one is confused, this is my narrative post. I joined the class late, hence the awkwardly delayed post.

The above is part one of Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog, which I highly recommend watching now if you haven't already, because there are spoilers galore to come. According to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, this isn't a short film, as they define "short film" as under 40 minutes counting credits, and this film is 42.* But I happen to respectfully disagree with this arbitrary numerical assignment. Dr. Horrible was designed and created to refute the necessity of major motion picture, blockbuster, box office hits that cost tons of money. For more on how and why Dr. Horrible came to be, check out this post by Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed the third act (as well as a million other things). It's really amusing, and provides a great description of the writers strike two years ago:

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:
  • 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:
  • 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.
This character driven narrative ends rather surprisingly, making it both unsatisfying and awesome, a hard balance to maintain. If the story weren't so carefully thought out, it would be easy to feel like the narrative was underdeveloped, but instead it all feels very intentional. Dr. Horrible isn't likable just because he's NPH, but because he's supposed to be likable. Captain Hammer isn't a jerk because he's the bad guy, but because he's the good guy. The story doesn't end the way it does because they ran out of film or shooting time, but because they were trying to create an anti-movie: something different, something with loose ends, something outside the box. 

-Fiona Erickson

*Oscar Award Rules