Brief Quips & Incessant Laughter: The 2011 LA Comedy Shorts Festival – Feature

Comedy in short form is a peril of riches. The effectiveness is a pay-or-play moment which defines a select voice and whether or not an audience can gauge and assume the intent from the get-go. Some work with intentional means while others fall by the wayside.

Entering its 3rd year, the LA Comedy Shorts Festival, which knowingly mixes the possibilities of new voices with established industry credentials, understands that the key in making new stars is by building a bridge between new ideas and the ones that came before it.

Each block made of a co-dependent theme ranges from web created on-offs to functional short tomes exploring the inherent timing of both life and bowel movements.

“Male Pattern Baldness”, which also included shorts from Atom.com featurinh a new production starring Anthony Anderson called “Matumbo Goldberg” simply misses the mark. In making many of the short films, some of the filmmakers forget that “cinematic” is different from “viral”. “Matumbo” is a comedy sketch of SNL variety extended but with a lack of comedic timing. “52” which was written and stars Scott Thompson of “Kids In The Hall” fame fares better simply because it knows its subject matter and exacts to the punchline. The best in the block was “The Future-er” which, due to its complete indie roots, seemed to embrace its inner-idiot with a sense of knowing. Problem became that in meeting the director, the apple did not fall far from the tree.

“Armageddon Hungry”, as the secondary program block, takes a more genre-based approach with mixed reactions. “A Chicken Commercial” solidifies the one note wonder but has the balls to show for it while “You Move Me” takes the buddy movie to the lesbian level with some interesting diatribes to show for it. The most egregious and cinematically engaging short of the block resided in “Zoltan: Hungarian Gangster Of Love” which like “Absinthe” in Las Vegas realizes that knowing your character and playing his reality with a sense of the absurd mixed with humor and a cameraman’s eye results in ridiculous wonder.

“Better Than Birth Control” takes its block as a procreation superlative with different possibilities in the arena of what it takes to gain a family or simply the motivation of being born. “Boffin & Boffin” approaches the act of babymaking with a little more intellectual styling while adhering to an almost Sonnenfeld melancholy. The husband and wife offer a miracle to their clients but misunderstand the readings of each other getting to their own endgame. “What Up Little Kid” is bombastic as a music video but derails as a short film simply because it becomes like “Killer Giraffes”: fun with a sense of style but no depth to speak of. “The Unborn Identity” is the stand-out in this block because it follows the aspect of unborn consciousness in the womb and the different decisions made in identity as to who the inherent idea of a person will be. The ruminations play wordy with a tongue-in-cheek motif but ultimately a sense of self.

“Shut Your Wormhole” understands its bipolar regularity with a little bit more intention because the characters are involved in situations of emotional aptitude which requires a bit more subtlety even if their ideas are a bit obvious. “The Antagonist” ranges out of a growing-up girl who feels like the odd woman out without any children but she plays it against a different motif as if she doesn’t want to let on to her true feelings. The reflection of what she really believes is what makes it work while “Sudden Death” knows its “Glee” personification to a T, even if it is wrongly placed. The four remaining shorts in the block show different sides of beauty with different resolutions. “Six Nine” features a woman who thinks that she is out of her league with the man she is dating and proceeds to tell him all the reasons they won’t work together. It shows that overthinking the situation too much backfires in perpetuity. “Douglas”, at two minutes, blazes its point with a man who oozes a good guy vibe in every way cannot speak without his flatuence mirroring his emotion. Simple but effective. “When The Wind Changes” takes a more surreal and metaphorical approach to the notion of friendship and how it changes on the wind. Combining cinematic motifs with a sense of distance, it works because it understands its characters’ weaknesses. “Time Freak” works best while not being exuberantly unique about a man who invents a form of time travel but becomes bogged down in the minutae of his personal feelings.

“Stone Cold Busted” attacks the idea of when one is caught or simply in the balance of racing against the clock. While shorts like “Winking Boy” and “Inside Out”, as seen at other festivals, recollect secrets being kept that ultimately are doomed to failure, the other two films of note use both old school methods and new thinking to propel their narratives in different directions. “Sugar”, from the Czech Republic, captures the viewer’s interest with a secret of their own which the rest of the world inside the movie doesn’t realize which, like Hitchcock, is always the basis of hooking the audience along with a tad of titilation. While funny in its irony, “Sugar” works on mutiple levels because the director understands how to modulate the tone. “Appy Ever After”, by comparison, realizes that the psyche game can run in two directions with the possibilities of misdirects to an ominous end. For inventive nature, as a footnote, “With Or Without U2” as a simple film is fairly banal but when the group U2 refused use of their song with the short, the filmmakers recruited a local chorus group in Los Angeles to sync their actual voices which changed the basic ethereal nature of the piece.

“Mo’ Money Mo’ Ninjas” works a bit against the grain using unconventional perceptions of modern day situations with a bit of digression. “Love Is Retarded” works at a snail’s pace but interweaves a sense of despondency with an aura of hope which offers a balance that plays both unnerving and tender. “Cover Me” shows that ready made visual FX software can be used in dexterious violent confrontations without causing harm to anyone involved. “Ninjas In The Shed” as a thesis project from AFI plays a little too soft despite an overarching political structure. Ninjas will, of course, be true to their nature. The final two of note within the block take aim at amoralistic perceptions of current events. “Boom Boom” ventures in on a conversation between two would-be suicide terrorists arguing over who gets to set off the bomb first to reach their harem in the afterlife while “Humane Resources” speaks of corporate greed overtaking and pandering down the human toll of business as long as those committing the crime don’t have to hear of it.

“Fish & Chicks” wants to create a sense of fun in otherwise off-putting situations. “Hold-Up”, as seen at a previous festival, offers a misdirect in correcting who actually plays the hostage in most planned heists. “Men At Work” shows the imbalance between flattery, harrassment, ego and self esteem as only work-shopped textures within sketch comedy can show featuring a sense of comeuppance on both sides of the equation. “Cataplexy” takes it one step further in adding a segment of personal knowledge to the proceedings by taking the wants and needs of two people, whatever the situation, and placing them in an emotional nexus they can’t control despite their best efforts. “The Rooster” in adhering to its Lebowski roots understands the importance of an object of affection. In that film it was a rug. Here it is a Rooster. The use of music is dexterious (from The Carpenters on – though the debate on their clearance beyond festivals is of question) but perfectly pushes the comedy and timing with undeniable speed.

“Liars & Tigers & Bears” closes the block with a different perspective of animal interaction. While “Practical” takes a joke to the random extreme with emotional consequences, “Food Chain” uses a more metaphorical approach but fails to rely on subtlety in its execution. “Bear Force One”, by comparison, is simply a trip-based nightmare with an ADD perspective that takes the basis of the 90s actioneer and turns it into a bear fueled rampage with nary a claw unturned. The most effective of the block was “Guaranteed Sex” which took a web posting and made it into a modern vision PSA where everything goes wrong, and yet right as a matter of principle.

In terms of parties and panels, the fest realized that both intimacy and the optimization of the downtown area provided innate aspects to shine. Aside from the hospitality which bathed with Pop Chips and Revel Stoke and the fizzy splendor of Izze, viewing maintained on a consistent level throughout the days. A late night party at ESPN Zone co-sponsored by Atom.com brought out the kid in all with mini-bowling and race gamew galore while the party atop the Kyoto Grand Hotel bathed with a sense of fun with a mashed potato bar inherent as shots poured. The Kyoto, literally caddycorner to the Downtown Independent Theater (where all of the screenings were held), is the easiest and coolest way to fest without having to drive or worry. Its Asian motif plays to the zen focus looking out over the landscape of Los Angeles.

The Closing Night in the Elevate Lounge above Downtown LA, reveled in a kind of cool, Blade Runner sedateness as the sun set. The awards show, emceed by Chris Garcia (of “Reno 911”) played to the idea that the host can never be as good as the honorees. Balancing that motivation out with presenters like Lynne Stewart (the original “Mrs. Yvonne” from “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”) cracked the audience silly. Earlier in the weekend at the “Rich People Talking ^&!#%” panel, Stewart literally had Jeff Garlin from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on the floor while fellow speaker Wayne Brady tried to keep a straight face. The beefcake trio that adorns the front of program performed in paradox to Bollywood dancers right before the ceremony. Another highlight post-dance was comedienne Judy Tenuta, who brought one of the would-be male models back on stage and proceeded to ride him, not unlike a horse. Wendi McLendon-Covey received the Commie Award in dexterious style while she spoke of “fierceness” in bringing new voices to comedy.

The 3rd incarnation of LA Comedy Shorts recognizes that the key to an exceptional film festival is keeping the audience engaged and connected. While not all the films were stellar, some were definitely exceptional and their diversity and adherence to a certain level of dexterity provided some interesting prospects with certain ones blending cinema and comedy like “Zoltan” and “The Rooster” standing above the rest.

Moon River & Cowboy Dreams: The 2009 UNA George Lindsey Film Festival – Feature

A film festival should always be seen as a balance of education and networking. Within the auspice of the University Of Alabama, George Lindsey, best known for his role in the revered “Andy Griffith Show”, lent his name to the annual film fete to better the perspective of would-be filmmakers and students in their perception of the vision of Old Hollywood in the midstate town of Florence.

Shorts have at times become a lost art but situated within the structure of the town, the venues, rich in nostalgic history, show a diversity. “Proud Izza” has elements of David Lynch but with a hopeful and repressed anxiety as a woman searches for life. “Outsource” envisions a THX-type society that is more inundated with the isolation of an inner world where emotions can be deadly using lower grade but highly reflective and inventive effects. In the student narrative shorts, “Gaining Ground” from Germany uses subtle but effective acting to highlight the trials and tribulations of a young and conflicted couple while “The Miracle” brings into focus the dream world of a girl who is deflected by other people’s expectations.

The anticipated picture of the festival was “How To Be” starring recently fame surrounded Robert Pattinson of “Twilight”. In this film, he plays a young man conflicted on the strife of what he needs to become. He hires a famous psychologist to make him more normal but with ironic results. The narative is very didactic but shows an interesting betrayal of a youth steeped in self doubt.

The honorees at the festival definitely come with a definitive manner to their performances and a set history. For a panel discussion, Rance Howard, saddled in a white cowboy hat, talked about his initial acting days in western series such as “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza”. In the early days, he sometimes brought his young sons, Clint & Ron to the set to watch him work. Rance can be credited for writing “Andy Of Mayberry” starring his friends Andy Griffith and George Lindsey with the role of Opie, played by none other than his son Ron. As the years went on, he continued to act on such series as “The Waltons”. In the late 70s, Ron told Roger Corman that he wanted to direct a film. When told he had to make it for a budget, Ron, according to Rance, went to his father and asked him to write it with him. The film became “Grand Theft Auto”. Since then Ron has put his father in every single one of his films including the upcoming Tom Hanks’ film “Angels & Demons” which is a prequel to “The DaVinci Code”.

The other honoree Lee Majors, known to most as “The Six Million Dollar Man”, spoke at the Awards Show at UNA about the essence of filmmaking and locations in his signature style as the emcee, Steve Richarson, a local musician and filmmaker, played on.

The hangouts and haunts of the festival create a balance to the life that the area brings. Opening night was held at On The Rocks, a dual-level bar where networking and saddling up to the bar with a Bud fulfills the vision whereas Closing Night reveled in the essence of Cypress Moon Studios, a local production outfit along the Tennessee River that was formerly a recording studio where many famous musicians including Julian Lennon wrote some of their songs. This night saw The Rhythm Aces jamming out as the velvet curtains swayed and the draft of swooned the night with tales of film financing and production adventures.

The integration of the school within the structure of the festival also allowed for a centralized perception of the discussion. Serving on one of the panels deemed “The Critic’s Table” along with native Florence critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and moderated by Dr. Will Verone, film professor at UNA, the friendly volley between practical and theoretical concerns of filmmaking were debated versus the “ideal” of what should be being made. The congruence and commerce of these situated obstacles created great questions from attendees both young and old making the event a remarkably interactive public forum.

The UNA/George Lindsey Film Festival offered a balance of old and new school perceptions of filmmaking. While the shorts programs were exceptionally diverse, the feature structure, albeit with potential, has room for improvement despite a very powerful centerpiece in terms of commerce and culture in the guise of “How To Be”. Overall, the exceptional possibilities relied on within the discussions and the tributes elevated the community aspect of the event which speaks well for years to come.