Saturday, October 08, 2011

Six Shooter

Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh, Ireland, 2005, 27 Minutes
2005 Academy Award Winner-Best Live Action Short Film
Previously Covered on The Short Films Blog by Ashley Joyce (Post Found Here)

If you click on the link to Ms. Joyce's previous posting on "Six Shooter," you will find a wonderful summary and critique on the film's theme of death, which she eloquently and accurately tackles.  However, in following with this week's theme of award winning shorts, I'd instead like to focus on how unorthodox styles within the shorts category seem to have greater success during award season.

"Six Shooter" stars Brendan Gleason as Donnelly, a grieving widower returning home on a train from the hospital after his wife has passed away.  There he runs into a delinquent without a filter and a couple grieving the loss of their child, and Donnelly faces a sardonically funny conflict that turns tragic.  The film functions with a true dramatist's magic, infused with the dark absurdity that is trademark McDonagh; an Irish playwright behind works such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman, and would go onto write and direct 2008's In Bruges.

What I find fascinating is that this movie would go onto earn an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film, yet if its style were taken and transposed onto a feature, it's unlikely to have even earned a nomination for Best Picture.  It isn't that McDonagh's style on display here couldn't be done as a feature (hence In Bruges.)  But take 2005's Best Picture winner, the painfully preachy melodrama Crash.  Nominees in the Best Picture category included that year's upset favorite, Brokeback MountainCapote, Good Night and Good Luck, and Munich.  The latter three were all based off of historical events, and all dramatic, lacking humor, and avoiding the label of "genre film."

Then take the films up against "Six Shooter:" "Cashback," "The Runaway," "The Last Farm," and "Our Time is Up."  Admittedly, I have not seen "The Last Farm" or "The Runaway," but "Cashback" falls in the indie dramedy category while "Our Time is Up" is a suicide comedy.  This trend of unconventional genre films winning the Best Live Action Short Film category is apparent when looking over winners from the last decade: Last year's "God of Love," or 2009's "The New Tenants," a sort of homage to Tarantino and David Lynch.  Now albeit, we do see films and directors that are not traditionally "dramatic" get nominated.  However, I think it is obvious that there is a lack of seriousness (or rather, suffocating pretentiousness) absent in these nominees and winners, as opposed to the Best Picture category, which has a tendency to picking tepid, slow moving dramas over bolder, stylistic films; notable upsets include Ordinary People over Raging Bull, Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction, or last year's The King's Speech over The Social Network.

There is almost a suggestion that the Academy views the short film as a gimmicky product; where clever situations and stylized dialogue over 10-25 minutes is rewarded.  "Six Shooter" does not have a particularly strong dramatic arc.  After spending about 22 minutes entertainingly watching some foul mouthed kid insult a mourning mother and give an anecdote about how he witnessed a cow explode, McDonagh does a good job using characterization as a means of illustrating the meaning of death, but in terms of entertainment value, of being engaging, it does so through vulgar pulpiness.  This sort of style has made, what I think, some of the best films of the last 25 years: Any of Tarantino's films, Fight Club, Drive.  But to the award givers?  They might tolerate 20 minutes of such, but not 120 apparently.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Fight For Your Right (Revisited)

Directed by Adam Yauch, USA, 2011, 30 minutes.
Source: Youtube

"Fight for Your Right (Revisited)" is all at once a comedy, a tribute to the Beastie Boys, a music video and a commercial for "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two," the rapping trio's latest album. The film picks up right where the iconic video "Fight for Your Right" leaves off, with Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride starring as the Beastie Boys. Released the day after a normal-length music video for their single "Make Some Noise," this short follows the group as they steal beer, do drugs, cause havoc in the streets of NYC and eventually face off against the "future Beastie Boys" (Will Ferrel, John C. Reilly and Jack Black) only to be arrested by the real-life Beastie Boys. All of this happens while we are being introduce to the Beastie Boys newest beats.

What is most impressive about this short is the star power. Almost as entertaining as watching Frodo chugging beer and being a belligerent youth is watching the famous cast unfold. There are an almost overwhelming number of cameos in the film, it is impossible to guess what actor/comedian/musician/Steve Buscemi will appear next. Some of my favorite roles include Chloe Sevigny as a 80's hair-band chick, Orlando Bloom as a street car-window washer and Ted Danson as a flustered restaurant host. This video will require multiple viewings to catch and appreciate all the appearances, but in my mind it is fully worth your time if only just to inspire day-dreams about the hilarious chaos that must have taken reign on set.

Thinking about the number of things this film accomplishes could give a person whiplash. The Beastie Boys are memorializing their own legacy while advertising their newest product, and got every big name in Hollywood to sign on. This short embodies the variety of intentions a single film on the internet can have, but you would never notice because it is just that funny.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Crazy For You

Directed by Drew Barrymore, United States, 2011, 11 Minutes
Actors: Chloë Moretz, Tyler Posey, Alia Shawkat,Miranda Cosgrove, Shailene Woodley

This film is a modern day retailing of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (R&J), or more specifically, its successor, West Side Story. This film follows two gangs. One is dressed in neon colors and called the Day Trotters, and one is dressed in black leather and called the Night Creepers. Within these two gangs, there is a boy, Lucky, from the Day Trotters and a girl, Veronica, from the Night Creepers who inevitably fall in love and want different peaceful lives. The two young lovers have a secret affair for a few days and only communicate through writing on their hands, and the tragic instance of graffiti on the wall. After a misunderstanding, their teen love affair comes to an end. When a gang fight erupts between the two gangs due to a brutal beating of the Night Creeper's
female leader's sister, Veronica pushes Lucky accidentally off the roof, and learns of his true answer to her palm question too late.

I have never been a fan of Romeo and Juliet, but this film does do a modern adaptation of the play--and amazingly does it without dialogue. The only dialogue we get is from Night Creeper's gang leader, played by Alia Shawkat, and it is one of anger and hate, a very important and sad emotion that is exists in R&J. In addition to Alia Shawkat, this film is full of young up-and-coming stars:
Chloë Moretz as Veronica, Tyler Posey as Lucky, Miranda Cosgrove as the beat up gang member, and many more. I am not sure this film would have been made if Drew Barrymore, a well-known actress herself, had not directed it. This film is characteristic of a Drew Barrymore piece. From Charlie's Angels to Whip It, Barrymore has a distinct 1980's clothing cut and colors styling. As far as quality, this film, partnered with MTV, is of high quality--high quality as both a short and a music video for the band Best Coast and their song "Our Deal". Also, I really enjoy how Lucky is a combination of both Tony and Bernardo from West Side Story, two males that greatly affect Maria and her view on society.

This film is a successful modern retelling of a classic play for the MTV/Reality TV age. It also follows the frustration of the play elegantly. In the play, you always want to yell at Romeo to stop taking the poison as Juliet awakes. This film evokes the same frustration when we watch Lucky, who is not lucky, write "I can't" and then disappear to the other side of the wall. Of course, Veronica does not notice the rest of the answer until Lucky is already on the pavement dying. Why does he have to be so dimwitted and write the two most disappointing and most misleading words to answer her question on the wall she is standing closest too? Also, playing on the similarities of its predecessor West Side Story, the fight at the end of the film is dance fighting, which also goes with the music. Furthermore, this film is effective because it promotes love, not violence--something every generation needs to remember. I think, though, that this film is ineffective because it deals with two gangs that control the same streets different times of day, so why is it necessary for them to fight? In West Side Story there is racial discrimination as well as youths trying to control the same streets the same time of day. Also, this is meant to be a music video. I did not realize this fact until I watched it for the second time. The film plays to the music, but the music gets lost in the film at the same time.

One last note: I am really happy to see Chloë Moretz in another film. She is great in both Kick-Ass and (500) Days of Summer. Also, without looking, does anyone recognize the actor who plays Lucky? That's right. He plays Jennifer Lopez's son in Maid in Manhattan. Crazy.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Prop 8 - The Musical

Directed and Staged by: Adam Shankman
Conceived and Written by-Marc Shaiman
Stars: Jack Black, John C. Reilly, Craig Robinson, Sarah Chalke

This short satirical musical colloquially discusses the battle about gay marriage between liberals and conservatives; specifically the issue of Proposition 8. In a time when liberals could see their social agenda potentially being fulfilled (the election of President Obama), conservatives fought and continue to fight tooth and nail to block any gay rights laws from passing. This film humorously outlines this battle by depicting liberals as colorful "hippies" and conservatives as tight wads in suits.

While the musical is quite humorous, with such conservative one liners as "Obamanation" instead of "abomination", it in fact does an excellent job of outlining the main components of the conservative argument against gay marriage. One such component is the religious view in which the conservatives cite the Bible as saying gay marriage is "damnable." At this point in the film, Jesus (Jack Black) makes an appearance and stipulates that the Bible in fact says a lot of things that modern society, including the conservatives, ignore such as stoning ones wife if she is adulterous or that it is acceptable to sell ones daughter into slavery.

In much the same way that Drunk History Vol. 5 (previously posted on this blog) accurately portrays history in an incredibly humorous way, "Prop 8 - The Musical" accurately portrays the gay rights battle. While not only being very informative at its roots, it also shows the almost ludicrousness of many of the conservatives arguments. Choosing to ignore much of what the Bible says and acknowledging only the parts that help ones argument is hypocrisy at its finest. This film does an excellent job of making its viewers laugh while at the same time informing them of the situation. Though it may take several views as ones own laughter make stop the message from getting through.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

"Are You The Favorite Person of Anybody"
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Written by Miranda July
Stars: John C. Reilly, Miranda July, Mike White, and Chuy Chavez
4:04; USA

The film opens with John C. Reilly standing in an open walkway close to a street. He's holding a notebook and he polls three different people, "Are you the favorite person of anybody?" He doesn't stop there. He goes on, "Are you certain of this? How certain are you: Very certain, confident, you think so, not so sure, could be?"

Take a moment and think about the question. Ask yourself?

The film is an experiment in human psychology and characterization. It's an intense question. If you really think about it. And the setting. Something can be said for asking a stranger such a personal question on a side street. It doesn't lend its way to intimacy or privacy. In psychology one might say that Reilly's character lacks boundaries. Before we turn the heavy-handed finger on the three main characters, take a look at Reilly's character. He possesses a certain character pathology. He not only asks the initial question. He also asks the characters if they are sure of their answers? It appears as if he's judging their initial response. Who is he? He's really just someone out on a side street asking people a terribly personal question and trying to pawn off oranges that his wife has sent him to get rid of. A lot of details emerge from these people's lives in only four minutes. Additionally, when Mike White is certain that he's nobody's favorite person, Reilly's character seemingly feels bad for him. We see this when he offers him the oranges. He doesn't offer oranges to the July's character-- he doesn't feel bad for her. She's sure that she's somebody's favorite person.

Three different characters emerge. July's character appears confident, but introspective. She's optimistic of her fondness. White's character isn't contemplative at all, he knows that he's not anybody's favorite person. He's confident in that. And finally, Chavez's character is most people, someone who would see a guy like Reilly and do whatever it took to get around talking to him and as quickly as possible. We could guess that when he heard the question he didn't want to take the time to think about the reality of the question, but we don't know that.

The great thing about the writing here is that this one question reveals character depth in each of the actors. How might their reaction and answer to this one question translate into other aspects of these characters lives? All within such a short amount of time. July's writing is tight and concise. This is what writing in the short form is all about-- getting the most detail out of the shortest amount of space and time. Particularly for the short story writer. The same goes for the short filmmaker. When you break these stars down by their characterization it's easy to get past who they are and to dive into who they represent in the film.

Monday, October 03, 2011

We Were Once a Fairy Tale, Spike Jonze, 2011

We Were Once a Fairy Tale
Spike Jonze, 2011. 11 minutes.

The whimsical surrealism of Spike Jonze and the megalomania of Kanye West combine forces in We Were Once a Fairy Tale to create a drunken fever dream of a short film.

The opening shot sets us in a dark club with flashing lights. The camera moves like a hand-held camcorder, ducking and weaving into different frames and constantly moving in and out of focus. The sloppy, hazy nature of the cinematography matches the drunken slump West finds himself in. Dapperly dressed in a white tuxedo jacket, he slurs his words as he tries to strike up conversations with women. West stumbles around and becomes overly excited when he hears one of his songs playing over the sound system. "It's my song!" he tells a pair of unimpressed women. "I made all the notes!" Proclamations like these play off the stereotype of West as a puerile, out of control egomaniac. It would seem West is in on the joke, and the tension the self-consciousness creates is a great example of star power importing extra meaning to a film. West's celebrity makes the film something of an inside joke we all feel privy to.

Things take a turn for the surreal after West has an encounter with a mysterious woman waiting for him in his hotel room. However, when he wakes up, he finds himself alone on a couch in the club, disoriented as ever. Visually, the film underscores his confusion by pairing the grinding drone of the club's music with blinking, multicolored lights that glow in eerie ways off of West's white jacket. West enters the bathroom to collect his thoughts, only to vomit (pieces of paper), and then stab himself to remove a tiny, rat-like creature from his belly. West then hands the tiny creature a miniature sword, and the creature sighs, then kills itself.

It's a superficial reading, but it seems like the tiny monster West pulls from his belly is meant to be a representation of his "demons," or whatever restlessness is in him that caused him to get belligerently drunk (perhaps the lingering memory of the mystery woman?). West's music often traffics in purple dramatics that would seem to support this idea, too.