Shorts

Indie Intros: Spike Jonze’s How They Get There

Ever see a single shoe on the side of road and wonder, “Who leaves a shoe? I mean, just one shoe? If you’re going to go gutter-stomping shoeless, why not just commit and rock both those knee-highs for everyone to see?” Well, Spike Jonze attempts to answer this in his short film “How They Get There.”

While not exactly his intro into filmmaking (Jonze was a well established music video director whose contributions include such classics as “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys), it was with this film that he began to flirt with cinematic storytelling devices that would eventually lead to his first feature Being John Malkovich.

The film stars Mark Gonzales, a legendary skateboarder, who was the first to Ollie off the Wallenberg Set, a nineteen foot long, four-foot tall series of steps. For those of you not familiar with skateboarding (like myself), it means he jumped his skateboard really far and landed at a much lower place than where he lifted off without killing himself.

It also stars Lauren Curry, who I’m convinced is one of the many Zooey Deschanel clones that have been running around Hollywood lately.

Model Number 13

Model Number 13

The film is simple enough. Two strangers spot each other from across the street and begin to flirt by imitating one another. This comes to an abrupt end when Mr. Mimic is hit by, what might be, the drunkest driver ever and absolute chaos is unleashed. The girl seems horrified at the disaster she’s caused, and yet it begs the question, how many other people have lost their lives entranced by these Deschanel Doppelgangers? What is their true motive? I’m sure a quick analysis of the amount of innocents killed while listening to “Teenage Dream” will produce some startling findings.

What “How They Get There” shows is that you don’t need to get overly complicated to make a good short. In the two minutes of this film we are given enough of what we need to know, character-wise, to understand the type of guy the main character is. Little things, like a trip off the curb, show us that he’s kind of a klutz. The haphazard way he disposes of his milk tells us that his focus is easily drawn, causing him to shirk common sense habits such as using a damn trashcan or looking both ways before crossing the street.

With what could also be considered a Micro-short film, the two-minute runtime is refreshing. It shows that length doesn’t always equal content.

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Spotlight on Shorts: Punisher: Dirty Laundry


It’s been a kind of good last few weeks for comic book fans. Last week marked the release of Daredevil on Netflix along with, what I’m sure was, a spike in people taking sick days and pizza delivery sales. Then of course there was some extra Hulkbuster footage from Avengers: Age of Ultron and the long-awaited teaser for Superman vs. Batman (along with a leaked trailer, but you didn’t hear that from me).

Going with the trend, I’ve decided that for the rest of the month I will be devoting the Spotlight on Shorts section to comic book based fan films.

We start with “Punisher: Dirty Laundry”.

This film first screened at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con and wowed audiences with the return of the best Frank Castle (sorry Dolph Lundgren fans), Thomas Jane. The film was produced by Adi Shankar who’s made a name for himself producing such films as the survival thriller The Grey and most recently the much talked about “Power/Rangers” fan film.

The film has what I assume all Punisher fans are looking for, a large dose of violence as the cure for criminality. Witnessing a gang of thugs terrorize a city block, Castle begins the film hesitant to don the skull again (for whatever reason), simply looking to hit up the local Laundromat, grab a Yoo-Hoo, and get back to watching the final season of Dawson’s Creek. But we all know it would be a pretty disappointing Punisher film if Frank didn’t reach his breaking point, and I mean “breaking” literally.

As a non-profit fan film, “Punisher: Dirty Laundry” can take a few liberties. The most obvious one is this film didn’t appear to have to be ok’d with Marvel as their name is nowhere on it. Secondly, the entire soundtrack was brought to you by Hans Zimmer and his work on The Dark Knight, which means Shankar managed to steal from Marvel and DC in one fell swoop.

I’m sure all you Punisher fans out there have already seen this and probably chimed in on whether or not this is a fitting film adaptation to the comic. I’ll leave that for you to discuss since the only experience I have reading The Punisher is when he shows up in Spiderman comics and when he steamrolled over Wolverine. From a film lover’s perspective I think I speak for most when I say that 2004’s The Punisher starring Thomas Jane is probably the franchise’s best and “Dirty Laundry” does a good job feeling like a sequel to that film.

5 Shorts That Became Feature Films

I’m at a crossroads. As gamer who still primarily plays retro games, I couldn’t be more thrilled about the recent trailer for Pixels, a mass destruction film where arcade classics from the 80’s come to wreak havoc upon Earth. On the other hand, as a film lover, I couldn’t be more worried that it’s a Happy Madison production. For those of you who don’t know, Happy Madison Productions is the company founded by Adam Sandler, whose title nostalgically reminds us that it was responsible for at least two good films.

I don’t normally like to criticize a film before I’ve seen it, but this one stars not only Sandler, but Kevin James as well, two actors who are much like the two chemical components that Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson ran around New York desperately trying to keep apart in Die Hard with a Vengeance. Sure, alone the actors are harmless enough, but put them together and they create a weapon of mass destruction capable of destroying any semblance of wishful thinking from the cerebral cortex.

What may be a saving grace is that Pixels is actually based on a relatively popular French animated short from 2010. Directed by Patrick Jean, the two-minute short is an homage to retro 8-bit era video games where classic sprites run amok throughout New York City.

This got me thinking about what other shorts have made the transition to full-length feature films, but I didn’t really want to do any research so I just cut and pasted five random links to YouTube videos in an attempt to trick the eye.

Ok, I kid, but if you scrolled down to make sure, thank you for reading the whole article and not just skimming to see the videos.

 

La Jetée

A lot of art film geeks and film students know this one. I was first introduced to it in film school. The French short is comprised almost entirely of stills to tell the story of a prisoner who is forced to time travel to the past to rectify the events that led to World War III. This is actually a pretty damn good watch, especially if you’re high because, “Dude that’s not a still! It just moved, I swear!”

Those familiar with the plot might already recognize that this film would become the Terry Gilliam classic 12 Monkeys, a film that ditches the stills and instead goes in the completely opposite direction by casting a manic Brad Pitt who never stops moving for a second.

 

The Dirk Diggler Story

Much like the feature this was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Inspired by This is Spinal Tap, the story follows the tragic story of Dirk as he begins a career in pornography only to get caught up in a life of drugs.

Of course, this film would eventually become the superb classic Wonderland starring the incomparable Val Kilmer, hot off the success of Aces: Iron Eagle 3, as well as Lisa Kudrow from the US version of the BBC series Coupling.

All right, you caught me. It became Boogie Nights and if you haven’t seen it you’re missing out on a true cinema masterpiece.

 

Monster

You know The Babadook, right? If you don’t, you really should. My favorite indie film of last year, The Babadook follows the story of a single mother and her child who are tormented by a supernatural force.

“Monster” follows basically the same premise as The Babadook, with the exception of starring some guy called Trash Vaudeville who is either the lead singer of a punk infused Cole Porter cover band or a creature created from the lesser parts of John Waters’ films.

 

Peluca

“Peluca” was made for the low, low price of $500. Shot on 16m black and white film, the short also stars Jon Heder in the role of Seth, a name that would go down in history when it was changed to the titular Napoleon Dynamite.

Watching the short you can see some of the familiar character traits and plot points that would eventually make it into the quirky Napoleon Dynamite. Much like Napoleon, Seth has an infatuation with martial arts and is always there to help his friends with their follicle mishaps.

 

Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse

“Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse” is less a short film and more a super early trailer for what would become This is the End. As the title suggests, the short stars Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel who would reprise their roles for the feature.

The short acts as evidence to the amount of attention Hollywood is giving viral videos nowadays. The short apparently inspired a bidding war to eventually get it to the big screen. Garnering a budget of $30 million, This is the End would go on to make $126 million at the box office.

 

 

 

 

 

Indie Intros: Jay Duplass’s This is John

I’m back after a bit of time away from the keyboard. I apologize for my lack of posts over the last few weeks. I had to take a bit of time to devote to some other projects of mine that should be just over the horizon. This includes a new short film from yours truly as well as a foray into some audio entertainment.

With that, back to some discussion on short film.

I’ve been recently addicted to HBO’s Togetherness which just finished its first season and was created by filmmaking siblings Jay and Mark Duplass. If you haven’t seen this series, I would highly recommend it, especially if you’re in a relationship or marriage and want to simultaneously laugh and cry at the idea of long-term monogamy.

Jay and Mark have both directed such indie fare as Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Mark you may have seen from such film and TV as The One I Love, The Mindy Project, The League and this year’s The Lazarus Effect. Many of their films deal in similar territory as Togetherness, focusing on the hazards and roadblocks found within relationships and the neurosis that stems from them.

“This is John” really caught my eye for the clear lack of production value. It really looks like this film could have been shot on a Sony Handicam using only its in-cam mic and ambient lighting. Still, a simple plot combined with good acting manages to make this a smart comedy despite its low budget. In fact, Mark Duplass said some great things at SXSW about getting out there and shooting your ideas, budget be damned.

“This is John” starts off simple enough. A guy gets home and decides to record a greeting on his answering machine. He goes on erasing and re-recording, seemingly never pleased with the message, a still a relatable thing to everyone who has had to set up a greeting on a new cell phone. As the film goes on, it becomes clear that this message isn’t as simple of a task as one would think, as it becomes clear that John has some very deep-rooted issues that are now deciding to surface.

This film is a really good example of the type of films that I like to cover in the Indie Intros section; one that shows that you don’t need money, fancy equipment or know some VIP to start a successful film career. Despite all the canards claiming it’s who you know and not what you know that garners success in film, it’s good to see that hard work and establishing a clear voice can open up just as many opportunities.

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.

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.

Spotlight on Shorts: From the Future With Love

Let’s be honest, economics isn’t the sexiest topic of discussion, yet if listen to the talking heads from both sides of the right/left political spectrum, you’ll find most of them spend a good amount of time dedicated to the subject. Since most films focus not only on delivering a message, but making it entertaining as well, it’s hard to find a movie that attempts to thematically present the implications economic systems have on society. K-Michel Parandi’s “From the Future With Love” is one of the few short films that manage to address this without getting bogged down with the specifics.

At first watch, you’ll notice that “From the Future With Love” is treading on familiar territory. Films like Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop are also placed in a future where corporations have invested in policing the world. Just as in Robocop, “From the Future With Love” suggests that problems will inevitably arise when the corporate priority of increasing profit margins meets the societal need for security.

In the future presented in “From the Future With Love”, there are various corporate-run policing outfits which all claim different territories. Each provide different packages, much like insurance packages, that ensure varying levels of security. Their jurisdiction stretches as far as their client base reaches similar to telecommunication providers. What we begin to witness is the negative effects this has on people’s security, as those who don’t have the financial means are only allowed a certain level of police involvement and are subject to a bevy of lesser crimes. To add to that, the inherent competitiveness of Capitalism reaches violent proportions as different police outfits begin to fight over territories.

From a filmmaking perspective, “From the Future With Love” uses some interesting storytelling techniques. Much like how Robocop integrated advertisements throughout the film to stress how every aspect of the future had become increasingly commercialized, “From the Future With Love” features its own commercial outlining the technology and packages the police now offer.

Visually “From the Future With Love” is impressive. A lot of detail went into the cosplaying of this film. The police are decked out in black and white armor, similar to a Stormtrooper, but with added red and blue flashing lights as decoration. It’s like the merging of officer and squad car, all in one. Furthermore, each unit is outfitted with their own drone sentry, foreshadowing the result of our drone programs.

The CG also pays a good amount of attention to detail. In one scene you can see an officer take aim at a mechanized dog. Through his visor, you can see a target reticule mirroring precisely where the officer is aiming. All this adds to the ever-important “cool factor” that sci-fi films are known for.

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.

Indie Intros: Richard Linklater’s Woodshock

Well, the Golden Globes are over and one of the big winners was Richard Linklater and his monumental film Boyhood. I use the word “monumental’ because Boyhood took 13 years to shoot, all of which with the same cast. In celebration to his win, I’ve decided we should take a look at one of his first forays into filmmaking with the documentary short “Woodshock”.

“Woodshock” documents the Woodshock music festival held in Dripping Springs, Texas in 1985. The film acts as a celebration of Linklater’s love of rock music, a theme that would also play a big part in films like School of Rock and Dazed and Confused. “Woodshock” is clearly a play on the famously influential Woodstock Music Festival of 1969 and the infamously violent Woodstock Music Festival of 1999. The 1985 Wookshock Music Festival had a long list of performers such as Daniel Johnston as well as huge list of bands I’ve never heard of because I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about music as I’d like to be.

The end credits list “Woodshock” as a “film attempt” by Linklater and collaborator Lee Daniel. This might be a pretty apt description. As cool as it is to see a young Daniel Johnston, a man who would later go on to influence musicians like Kurt Cobain, peddle his album to the camera, the film doesn’t have a lot of direction. Many of the good documentary films have a sort of narrative that accompanies the documentation. “Woodshock”, on the other hand, focuses purely on documenting the feel of the festival, which gives the film a kind of rebellious attitude that works well with it’s source material, but doesn’t really tell a story. What we get is a documentary that operates more like a home video or Trails commercial (a piece of advertising any Arizonan who’s stayed up till 3 am watching episodes of Cheaters is familiar with).

Still, this style of filmmaking is not unlike Linklater’s Slacker, the low budget feature that basically started his career. Just as in Slacker, the camera in “Woodshock” jumps from person to person, begging for interesting material like a dog at a barbeque. In Slacker, it was used with more storytelling application, giving the illusion of a bystander following the everyday lives of a group of young Austinites. I can’t help but think that Linklater’s experience shooting “Woodshock” allowed him to pinpoint exactly how he wanted to shoot Slacker. It acts as another example of how a director’s early films can be built upon to produce a defining piece of work.