The Babadook

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Five Favorite Indie Films of 2014

The Skeleton Twins

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When The Skeleton Twins was first announced, I knew it was the type of film I just had to see. I’ve already written about how I feel this new era of comedians are knocking it out of the park in their indie film roles. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are probably the best thing to come out SNL’s last generation of comedians, so I didn’t see how this film could disappoint. Thankfully I was right.

The Skeleton Twins manages to be light-hearted yet emotion heavy at he same time. Both Wiig and Hader manage to bring levity to roles that also demand them to be deeply troubled. What results is a truly entertaining film that also manages to tackle serious themes like depression and sexual abuse.

The film is about two twins (go figure) whose crippling depression has them feeling trapped. Both attempt to seek happiness in what they believe are ideal relationships with others. The film is heavy on irony as the two estranged twins must connect again to heal, but are the most critical of each others’ plights.

 

Frank

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Frank is not only a fantastic film, but also has one of the best performances of all time from an actor in full headgear.

Frank is a film about a mysterious bandleader who refuses to be seen unless he is wearing a giant plastic head. Despite the lack of facial expressions, Michael Fassbender still manages to produce one of the best performances of the year in my opinion.

At face value, Frank seems to be one of those indie films that are heavy on the quirk. But unlike films from Wes Anderson or Tim Burton, Frank’s quirkiness doesn’t come off as affected. In fact, only the title character and his band really ever come off as eccentric. The rest of the world around along with the people they encounter couldn’t be any more average.

Underneath the mask, Frank is a film that explores the origins of creativity; asking the audience if true talent is learned or inherent within a select few lucky individuals.

 

Snowpiercer

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Snowpiercer is one of those films that seemed misleading based on the poster. It was easy to assume that this film was going to be a big budget action film. Chris Evans just came off the success of Captain America: Winter Soldier and the poster, an image of Evans looking all heroic-like in a top coat and holding an axe, looked like it was your common action fare. Even the title of the film, Snowpiercer, hints to images of a warrior crashing through an iceberg armed only with a spear.

The truth is, Snowpiercer was probably one of the most original sci-fi concepts since The Matrix. In it, Evans plays a passenger on an eternally running locomotive which happens to be the last safe haven for humanity in a world torn apart by climate change. The passengers have been placed into an oppressive caste system where the stowaways are forced into barely livable conditions, constantly under surveillance, while the rest of the passengers are given the four star treatment. Evans is a member of this lowest caste and leads a rebellion to infiltrate the front of the train.

Snowpiecer plays like the combination of a George Orwell novel and a twisted version of Thomas the Tank Engine. The cinematography is very similar films like 12 Monkeys and The City of Lost Children. But unlike those other films set in apocalyptic settings, Snowpiercer combines a tongue in cheek aspects to its dark atmosphere. For instance, Tilda Swindon fantastically plays a cold-hearted official with such over the top oppressive idealism its hard to take the film too seriously.

 

Obvious Child

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It was tough for me to decide whether this or my next choice would take the number one spot.

Obvious Child takes a modern and honest look at abortion, one that differs from how film has dealt with the subject in the past. Obvious Child discusses the difficulties faced with choosing to have an abortion (eg. how to break it to your parents, whether to discuss it with a one night stand, etc.) rather than assume every woman becomes riddled with guilt or must face huge social backlash.

I’ve already gushed on Jenny Slate in the past and I suppose there’s no reason to stop now. Although Obvious Child is a rom-com at heart, she brings a complexity that you rarely see from a main character within the genre. I’ve always felt that the conflicts in most rom-coms oftentimes feel fabricated, but Slate’s character tackles her problems in an honest way that I feel many can relate to.

 

The Babadook

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The Babadook takes top prize as my favorite indie film of 2014. The plot isn’t that different from your common family tormented by a supernatural force, but how it uses it to address issues of depression and resentment is truly unique.

The Babadook is a film out of Australia, I suppose you could put his in the foreign film category, but the filmmakers went out of their way to make the suburbs that the film takes place in look like Anywhereville. No Koalas or Kangaroos. Even some of the characters in the film lack Aussie accents.

The cinematography and special effects are purposely lo-fi but well done, giving the film a look that can only be described as an incredibly dark version of Maurice Sendak children’s book. The film is also similar to one of my favorite films of this year, Oculus, in that it doesn’t rely on gore or jump out of your seat effects, but true suspense to produce scares much like The Shining did years ago.

If you’re a fan of horror, you should love The Babadook for its fresh and smart take on the classic haunted house film.

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Tusk

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This almost got an honorable mention because truthfully I found it to be a hard watch. I’ve never been a huge fan of horror films like Human Centipede that are heavy on the mutilation factor, but I feel I had to include Tusk because I believe Kevin Smith did something truly remarkable in marketing the film. It’s my personal belief that filmmaking doesn’t end with the final cut. In my opinion, the marketing of a film is just as important as shooting or editing. If a filmmaker truly has something he wishes to share with the world, then he’s not going to get very far if he doesn’t have an audience.

Smith got the idea from an ad he found and discussed on one of his podcasts. From there he took to social media and marketed the shit out of Tusk, first starting by asking his audience if Tusk was something they even had an interest in seeing by voting on Twitter. Rather than spending money on more traditional methods of marketing, he trusted his audience to spread the word over social media. Furthermore, the ad he originally got the idea from turned out to be a hoax. As a result, Smith gave the hoaxer an Associate Producer credit for giving him the idea.

In the end, Tusk is a film that was given life from an audience clamoring to see a horror film from the director that brought you Chasing Amy and Clerks. At an estimated $3 million budget, the film wasn’t exactly a success, credit has to be given to Smith for taking to social media and marketing the film from start to finish. Whether you like the film or not, Smith’s trust in his audience allowed him to make the film he wanted without any outside influence. I don’t know if you can get any more independent than that.