Comedy

Spike Jones Directs The Late Show Intro

 

Spike Jones hasn’t made a film in a few years, so in a way, this guest intro to The Late Show with Steven Colbert acts as the first piece of work we’ve seen since 2013’s Her.

Entitled A Short Film by Spike Jones, the intro does have some similarities to Her. We find a man, lost in the world, in search of himself. Along the way he meets a muse in Sesame Street alum, Grover. Although Grover and Colbert never enter into a relationship that could be considered romantic, Grover still helps Colbert find the man he needs to be by showing him that his strength lies in the very thing that has been plaguing him, his ability to make people laugh.

Colbert eventually finds his way home to the stage where he belongs. It’s here where he can finally be himself… or wait, is he himself? What’s with all the political guests? Is this still satire? Does he even know anymore? Who is the real Steven Colbert? Did he ever even exist in the first place? Who knows? All I know is that even after three long years out of the game, Spike Jones still can take audiences on a journey that blurs the line between fantasy and reality.

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Spotlight on Shorts: The Fly

No, not that Fly, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous.

On the surface, ‘The Fly’ is a British gangster flick in the vein of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but with a twist. Directed by Ollie Williams, it won Best Comedy at the Plymouth Film Festival and garnered a Best Actor nomination for Jack Doolan at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival.

The plot of ‘The Fly’ is easy enough to recognize from the very first line of dialogue. A group of bank robbers are attempting a heist while the lonely getaway driver awaits their return so they can make off with their score. Simple enough, but he finds an obstacle in the most insignificant of creatures.

We get that this particular fly is going to be a problem from the dire way the title of the film is introduced. Loud and in big, bold, seizure inducing red letters, the four-second title sequence might as well be introducing  fire breathing King Kong. At first the insect is but a mere nuisance, but as the film goes on it becomes much more; an antagonizing force hell bent on ruining this heist.

Jack Doolan’s performance is done well, but it’s the camera work that really stands out. Many of the shots gives us an almost voyeuristic view of the action, with some shots taking place outside of the car looking in and some that make you feel as if you’re sitting in the back seat. The cuts between these angles come frequently. As the driver becomes more irritated with the fly’s presence, the cuts come more and more rapidly giving the film a chaotic feel to accompany the mayhem going on inside the car.

It’s a one joke movie to be sure, but at a little under five minutes, it never overstays it’s welcome; a byproduct of keeping your shorts, you know, short. ‘The Fly’ shows what you can do with a short if you keep the idea simple and the running time low.

Indie Intros: Tim Miller’s ‘Rockfish’

Before the recent success of Fox’s Deadpool, Tim Miller had only directed two animated short films. His debut ‘Aunt Luisa’ won him and co director Paul Taylor a Jury Award at the Ojai Film Festival. His second film, ‘Rockfish,’ won an honorable mention also at the Ojai Film Festival for Best Animation and came in second for Best Animation at the Palm Springs International Shortfest.

Since then, Miller worked his way into Hollywood, namely for visual effects, as an Assistant Director for Thor: The Dark World’s opening sequence and as a Creative Supervisor for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Miller’s career proves that just because you specialize in other areas of entertainment, such as animation, doesn’t mean you can’t transition those skills into live action film as well.

In ‘Rockfish,’ we follow what appears to a miner and the first incarnation of Puppy Monkey Baby from this year’s incredibly disturbing Super Bowl commercials. All of this takes place on Tatooine or maybe whatever world the video game Borderlands is set on.

Miner and Monkey-Alien are blue collar guys doing their blue collar thing, digging a large hole and running a long metal wire down it as space miners do. Everything seems to be going according to plan until the wire hits a snag and the entire crane contraption attached to it goes for an incredibly destructive ride.

‘Rockfish’ attracts audiences with this vagueness; luring audiences by their curiosity and slowly answering their questions through visuals rather than exposition. As we hope for our heroes to survive this dangerous predicament, we are also hoping the outcome will reveal a little more about their characters. In this case, we find that the miners aren’t actually miners at all, but hunters of a different sort. I won’t give away the ending, but all is made clear in the end.

Although the animation probably looks dated by today’s standards, the low-res shouldn’t undermine the way the story is revealed. For any of you that have seen Deadpool, this might have actually worked out in his favor, as the kind of bare bones animation used to make Colossus kind of works to reinforce the tongue in cheek feel the movie manages to create so well.

Indie Intros: Tim Burton’s ‘Doctor of Doom’

Tim Burton is one of those directors whose talents were immediately recognized, yet difficultly placed. After studying at the California Institute of Arts, he was immediately given fellowship by Disney where he worked for a short time. This led to the short “Frankenweenie,” which was never released by Disney, but was nonetheless still seen by Paul Reubens who wanted him to direct the cult hit Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. From there Burton’s story is fairly well-known, going on to direct Beetlejuice and becoming one of the most unique and in demand directors of the 90’s.

“Doctor of Doom” is one of Burton’s early shorts which he directed along with partner Jerry Rees. Burton also stars in the film as Don Carlo along with a variable who’s who from the Disney roster. Brad Bird, who won two Oscars for Disney/Pixar first for The Incredibles and another for Ratatouille, provides the voice of Don Carlo. Another Disney Oscar winner, Chris Buck, is most recently famous for directing the animated hit Frozen and plays the character of Pepe in “DoD.”

If you’re expecting some cross between the Burton style of filmmaking and Disney’s signature style like A Nightmare Before Christmas, you’ll be disappointed. “DoD” is more like something Burton’s hero Ed Wood would have devised. “DoD” is an homage to old B movies, possibly influenced by the 1963 Mexican horror film of the same name.

In it, a mad doctor is invited to dinner by a group of people who have clearly never eaten tacos before. He is shunned and decides to get his revenge by creating a creature that is a cross between an elephant and Greedo from Star Wars. The group manages to stop the creature, mainly because it’s worthless at terrorizing and because they’ve studying the fighting art of the WWE.

At first viewing the short appears to be plagued with problems. The dialogue, recorded separately, is almost incoherent. Everything is spoken as if a chipmunk on speed was called in to do ADR. There is even a moment when the cameraman attempts to shoot through a mirror, but is clearly visible for a good two-seconds. But now knowing Burton’s influences, it’s clear that many of these “mistakes” most likely done on purpose.

“DoD” does give us a sense of the filmmaker that Burton would become. The title font alone screams Burton, with that “it’s always Halloween” feel to his films. The film also combines horror elements presented as comedy which has become Burton’s signature.

Spotlight on Shorts: Somebody

This week I really wanted to do a genre focus leading up to my first interview. Since the filmmaker I’ll be interviewing specializes primarily on comedy, we’ll be spotlighting a rather ingenious little comedy short entitled “Somebody“, which premiered last month at the Venice Film Festival.

Directed by filmmaker Miranda July, this film is rather unique in that it promotes a real life app called Somebody. The app allows one user to text another user within the vicinity of somebody they wish to tell something to, but don’t have the courage to say to them face to face. It works not unlike Tinder, but rather than searching for booty calls, it searches for brave individuals who can approach complete strangers and relay messages of a personal nature without the emotional disconnection associated with mere texting.

The film is not exactly a commercial, but an actual comedic short that shows the app in action. It’s seems pretty clear from the tone of the film that July is focused less on promoting the app than she is with pointing out the direction society is headed in a world where social interactions are becoming more and more digitized. This appears to be more of a mock social experiment, exploring a world where communication via social media is becoming increasingly dominant over the old school method of personal interaction.

As a film, “Somebody really shines in the area of casting. The actors really do look like anyone you’d find off the streets; complete with the type of diversity we’ve come to expect walking the streets of a big city. This is used to a comedic effect as users of the app selectively choose the most unlikely participants to relay their heartfelt and/or heartbreaking messages to their recipients. This is very apparent in the first scene where we see a small, lanky hipster being “broken up” with a large, bearded man wearing a tracksuit complete with consoling hug.

The film also uses a familiar technique from films like Timecode by showing actors from the previous scene walk past or show up in later scenes to show that each experience is connected. This has a different effect in “Somebody”, as it introduces us to a world where this app has become a standard communication tool that everybody is using. This is also apparent in the way the rest of the world reacts to the app’s users, oftentimes without any surprise, as if usage of the app has become an everyday occurrence.

July’s method of promoting this film as a package deal of sorts is rather creative. It’s possible that she’s making yet another comment of modern day society by suggesting that promoting a short film requires more than just old fashion word of mouth. In an age where new technology is just as highly looked forward to and hyped up as summer blockbuster films, perhaps July is suggesting that in this day in age media and art need to be a combined to have any chance at getting noticed in a culture that has become oversaturated. Either way, it’s an interesting approach to advertising and I look forward to see its effects.