Indie Intros Oscar Edition

Indie Intros Oscar Edition: Ava DuVernay’s The Door

With the Oscars happening this Sunday, we’re rounding out our Indie Intros: Oscar edition with a film from Ava DuVernay, director of the MLK biopic, Selma. Selma is nominated not only for Best Motion Picture, but also Best Original Song for “Glory” performed by Common and John Legend.

DuVernay is no stranger to Hollywood. As a publicist for over ten years, she helped promote such films as I’Robot, Man on Fire, Spider-man 2, and Spy Kids. She also has the honor of being the first African-American female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe as well as win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival.

“The Door” is a short film that tells the story of a woman who is struggling with a failed marriage or a marriage that never was or a jilting at the altar or one of a hundred other scenarios that have been covered in countless romantic comedies. The reason is never given and honestly, who cares. Truth be told, it really doesn’t matter. “The Door” is a film that focuses on how friends and family can come together to help a loved one cope with the pain, rather than spend time to tell a back story that really isn’t that uncommon. Each of her friends and family has different methods of bringing her out of her funk, my favorite being her second friend who suggests the tried and true method of going out and dancing your ass off. Each method essentially heals a different part of her, picking up the pieces of who she once was.

“The Door” doesn’t rely of dialogue to tell the story, but rather uses visuals and music to reveal the plot. Much of the film seems to borrow a lot of its look and feel from music videos, so much so that I was fully expecting Mary J. Blige to come into frame and drop the hottest single of 2002. Instead what we get are visuals that tell us just what we need to know to construct a story blended with carefully selected music that helps the audience connect with the mood of the character. One scene in particular shows us exactly how important music is to the main character and her healing process, when a friend takes her to a concert.

What “The Door” ultimately accomplishes is telling a story much like the old silent films of the 20’s, but modernizing it to great effectiveness. One look at the film will tell you that production value wasn’t a problem. DuVernay clearly makes a conscious choice to tell this story via other means than words, proving something I’ve always believed, that dialogue in film is not nearly as important as many give it credit for.

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Indie Intros Oscar Edition: Joris Oprins’ Mute

When we think of the Academy Awards, it’s often the nominations for Best Film, Actor/Actress, Director, etc. that occupies most of the media surrounding the event. It’s important to remember sometimes that among the big names like Clint Eastwood and Wes Anderson, there are other directors of foreign and short film categories that worked just as hard to produce an Oscar nominated film. Since I primarily cover short films, I’ve decided to add at least one director who has been nominated for Best Short Film.

This is Joris Oprins’ first Oscar nomination, but not his first film. He and his two partners, Job Roggeveen and Markieke Blaauw, have been making animated short films since 2003 with their debut film “Wad“.

I have to admit, I’ve always found it strange that the Academy has separate categories for best Feature, Foreign and Animated Films, but when it comes to shorts, live action and animated are lumped together regardless of the country of origin. I suppose it’s because the Academy gives shorts the same kind of attention the rest of the public does.

“Mute” is Oprins’ second short film and his first foray into using CG. The story takes place in a world without mouths. This doesn’t stop people from attempting many of the activities that we orally-blessed take for granted. This all changes when a happy accident with a knife allows the populace to speak for the first time. What results is one of the most adorably gory films you’re likely to see.

Artistically, “Mute” feels like a combination of Despicable Me and Wallace and Gromit. The male character models are reminiscent of Grimace from McDonalds, while the female characters have the addition of breast mechanics straight out of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Furthermore, I could swear they lifted Maggie’s pacifier sound from The Simpsons.

It’s impressive to see a film be able to find humor in a concept so gory. I would be hard-pressed to call this short a dark comedy simply because, absent of the blood, the humor is rather uplifting and cheeky. This is a good example of the type of storytelling power animated films are capable of that live action can’t possibly produce. Unless you have a way to make slicing yourself a new mouth produce the same audience reaction often reserved for kitten videos.

Indie Intros Oscar Edition: Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket

Continuing our look at the short works of this year’s Oscar Nominees, we turn our attention to Wes Anderson. Anderson’s film The Grand Budapest Hotel has garnered nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Here we take a look at his first film offering, “Bottle Rocket”.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the feature-length version of Bottle Rocket that this short helped launch (forgive me, I couldn’t help myself). As such, many of you already know the basic plot of the film. Two brothers infatuated with criminality attempt to start their careers by putting together a crew to pull off a robbery. The brothers, who seem naturally inept at everything, discover crime isn’t exactly easy and hilarity ensues.

This short is naturally just a parsed down version, with much of the same plot point that would later make it into the feature. Much of the dialogue remains intact, along with many of the jokes. Also, that typical quirky wit that Anderson is known for is shown in full force. Most importantly though, the short has the cool, soothing voices of not one, but two Wilson brothers, effectively making it not only a cinematic experience, but a Zen-like one as well.

Those of you only familiar with Anderson’s later works like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, will note the “Bottle Rocket” differs in style. Much of the cinematography in Anderson’s work borrows heavily from the style of different eras, yet strangely, no specific time all at once. The feel of “Bottle Rocket” is pure 90’s. “Bottle Rocket” appears to be shot on 16mm black and white film stock that made a reemergence in the 90’s. Also the clothing seems, at times, inspired by the Los Angeles Neo-swing revival popular during the time. What results is a film that feels a little like a cross between Clerks and Swingers. Really the only thing that harkens back to eras past is the soundtrack, which features popular Jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Sonny Rollins.

With respect to Anderson’s film career, “Bottle Rocket” serves as an interesting watch. When viewed in conjunction with the rest of Anderson’s filmography, it tells the tale of a highly stylistic director, as he looks to find his voice. For those filmmakers struggling to find their own, it can be comforting to see that not all directors have it fully established on their first attempt.

Indie Intros Oscar Edition: Alejandro González-Iñárritu’s Powder Keg

Since my last Indie Intros post chronicled the work of Richard Linklater, a response to Boyhood being nominated for six Academy Awards, I thought I might just cover other nominees till the awards kick off in February. Up until the week of the 22nd I’ll be dedicating the Indie Intros section to filmmakers nominated for the 2015 Academy Awards. We’ll look at some of their humble beginnings before we witness all the bad jokes and musical numbers the Academy is so known for. Then we’ll all go to work the next morning and complain about who should have won.

Before we begin, I’d like to preface something for the sake of controversy. Ideally, I wanted to focus on all of the Best Picture nominees, but the fact is not every filmmaker in this category have short films to view. Short films from James Marsh or Morton Tyldum were nowhere to be found on the Internet. When I searched for a site showing Damien Chazzelle’s “Whiplash”, the short film that is now an Oscar Nominated feature of the same name, I was directed here which just screams to me, “If you dare show this film we’ll sue you back into the Stone Age!” Finally, Clint Eastwood hasn’t had to make a short film to show off has talents, most likely because there has never been a time in his life where he hasn’t been goddamn Clint Eastwood.

With the recent commentary over the amount of nominations given to American Sniper and the lack of nominations given to Selma, I don’t want any additions or omissions to be viewed as political or social commentary (that’s for a different section of my blog).

With that, Birdman director Alejandro González-Iñárritu is no stranger to the Academy. His debut feature film Amores Perros was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001 and Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, was nominated for Best Picture in 2007. “Powder Keg” isn’t exactly his first short, yet it’s still relatively early in his career. Before ever shooting Perros, he had shot “El Timbre”, a Spanish film that I couldn’t seem to find anywhere. Worry not though, as soon as I do I plan to cover it on my future Spanish sister site, El Barrio de Los Cineastas Amistosos.

“Powder Keg” comes right off the heels of Amores Perros and as a result has some significant star power behind it. It stars Clive Owen, the king of gruff deliveries, and Stellan Skarsgård who shouldn’t to be confused with Alexander Skarsgård, or Peter Sarsgaard, that smug bastard who thinks he can just jam as many A’s into his name as he wants. Skarsgård plays a war photographer who captures local terrorists murder a group of innocent civilians. Embedded in Columbia, the UN sends Owen in to extract him, but things go awry. Basically, it’s a faster paced, less elaborate Argo.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have the same sense of urgency that makes Argo so good. As Owen drives through the Colombian town of Nuevo Colon, you really get a sense that this is a place going through a giant upheaval. Armed soldiers and terrorists alike litter the streets and pose a constant threat to the two protagonists.

Much like Amores Perros, “Powder Keg” gives us a look at the everyday lives of those who live south of the border of the U.S. Here in “Powder Keg” we witness how U.S. demand for cocaine has affected those living in Cartel controlled Columbia. This ties into the overall message of the film; that as we watch the horrors that the drug war wreaks on South America, there is more we could be doing to stop it. Anyone who has seen Amores Perros or 21 Grams might be seeing a pattern in Alejandro González-Iñárritu’s work, to address that the actions of one person can create a Butterfly Effect that can influence the lives of others. In “Powder Keg” he explores this theme on a much grander scale; pointing out that many of us here in the U.S. are content with condemning the atrocities witnessed abroad, yet fail to address our role in them. This is conveyed through Skarsgård’s Harvey Jacobs, a photographer who regrets his lack of involvement for the sake of getting the perfect picture.

Finally, the cinematography works to further stress Iñárritu’s message. Many of his shots give the impression that they come from the POV of an onlooker lurking in the shadows, watching everything unfold but refusing to get involved in fear of the repercussions. Also, the graininess of his shots will remind you of old 8mm war footage, implying that we are content simply being a horrified viewer, but never an active participant.