The relevance of short films grows in the structure of what they represent. Usually they function as a business card but more and more, if it can show an inherent basis for an ongoing story, it has the possibility of becoming a series. The Palm Springs Shortfest highlights this art form in an area which is known for its Hollywood ties.
Opening Night percolated through with “Laughing Matters”. The short with the most visceral impact was “The Pledge For Mr. Bunny” which functioned more as a Terry Zwigoff ode than anything else where the inherent dialogue because a kid egregiously wants to go through a car wash (even on his bike) spells the answers for the medical prayers of his young sister’s plush toy. “Penny Dreadful” brings to mind if Wednesday Adams was raised by a normal family and then was kidnapped for ransom. There is a bit of “Raising Arizona” in the mix as the bumbling husband trying to make his wife happy is not unlike Nicolas Cage’s Hi. While “Killing Vivian” tries with interest (especially with the always creepy Missi Pyle) as well as “Chopper” (with a little too much wanton CG), they never quite live up to their possibilities.
“Amazing Animation” takes more of an international approach but its wares actually dictate the differences which refer and motivate traditional values. “The Banquet Of The Concubine”, oddly enough made in Canada, is an interesting progression of Chinese etiquette from the form of a mistress. The fluidity and texture (like it was drawn on a panel) is quite indicative. “Cicada Princess” shows the romantic cycle of life and death through a type of beetle. The imagery is quite scaled in a wonderful sort of way while the sense of depth really gives a feeling of elegance. “Kiki Of Montparnasse” is the most ambitious by far incorporating all sorts of different animation processes to create a triptych of this woman’s life with a distinct amount of lurid poignancy. “Waterwheel”, dark in its intonations and hailing from Mexico, shows an inherent reflection of death in a father’s eyes but the resolution that betrays him very much reflects in the puppet’s watery eyes.
“After Hours” tries certain penchants for shock that sometimes work, though at other times, is seen as trying too hard. “The Cyclist” starring a nearly unrecognizable Shannon Sossamon (looking more like Mary Elizabeth Winstead in “Scott Pilgrim” than herself) plays a girl searching for a bike. It plays a little bit too fable-based despite its obvious tongue-in-cheek quality. “Follow” definitely works in its “Twin Peaks” imagery, even down to the red curtains. What sells it is the lead actress who takes on a kind of succubus role without ever quite explaining its full meaning. “Likeness”, by the cinematographer behind “Babel” and “Argo”, is a little too self indulgent in reflecting its portent about the beauty myth even if it does feature metaphorical posing of models against what they represent. Elle Fanning speaks volumes with her face but it comes out superficial which likely is part of the point. “Honk If You’re Horny” is just a jolt of pure fun despite moving to the lowest common denominator with a cabby who just doesn’t quite know when to quit.
“Seven Deadly Sins” hits many aspects on all cylinders. “ The Finnish entry “Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything” (which also played Opening Night) is just a farce of many things going wrong with a family on one day, mostly due to a mother who is overcompensating in the most loving way. The slapstick banality of how everything goes wrong from the kids party outfits to her broken shoes to the wedding gift just percolates back to an essence of love (and the audience loved it too). “Hotel” takes its progression from “Beetlejuice” in many ways (as does “Sweet Mosquito”). Both have been seen at past film fests but do not lose their pertinence or hilarity. “Hotel” attacks the form of gluttony with a man supposedly in a desert who is actually a pest in an insect household being dealt with accordingly. “Mosquito” reflects a sloth with a man , who being neglectful in his past life, when he is reincarnated, becomes that of a mosquito.
“Crimes & Misdemeanors” closes out on a decided structure because the incidents they extract should either require point blank honesty or a mask that must be hidden behind. While “The Cleaner”, utilizing an interesting protagonist rebelling against its expected norms, has its strengths, it is “Junkyard”, using a conceptional anime principle, about two friends that grow apart in a town littered by trash, that really hits a nerve with its dark colors and manipulating tone. “The Charlatan” is an interesting play on the con man function though it tends to overplay its hand while “Red Velvet” creates a dexterous set up but the follow-through is a little too over-dramatic.
Palm Springs Shortfest continues to percolate with a sense of knowing within different genres as its creative functionality, especially on an international level, continues to blossom.
Finding different textures of independent cinema has always been the balance of the Los Angeles Film Festival equating this in equilibrium with its studio galas that permeate the middle of summer. While genre structures do play constructive, the influx of real impact documentaries continues to intersperse notions of social consciousness within the confab.
Late night always begets horror. “Saturday Morning Massacre” takes into account the notions of those friends and a dog who find themselves in trouble that might not work out. Using the “Scooby” satire mode without truly saying the inspiration seems to suggest an idea of over-the-top comedy and some good scares moving into a more “Evil Dead” arena. Instead the inflection plays at times more psychological with “Blair Witch” and the more recent “Citadel” [SxSW 2012] considered which includes the overdone texture of feral children. While the stoner mentality (especially with the happenstance structure of ectasy thrown into the mix) has a bit of fun, the eventual dismemberment sends the tone into a slightly different realm that is in-between at best.
Doing a movie on the notion of promoting a movie (and the ego that goes along with it) plays a tad lazy. From there, the idea of making a film about a film tends to become self fulfilling if one works in the business. The resulting genre tends to know itself a little too well because one simply takes experiences from real life and applies it. Here, in the example of “Red Flag”, the director (played by the director in question) experiences a breakup right before a tour. While on tour, he is approached by a seemingly obsessed fan who he quickly has sex with. His friend, a children’s book writer (in real life as well) falls in love with said girl as the director in question shirks her. While the film does express some of the interesting verite elements possible with the 5D, it still doesn’t offset that some movies just shouldn’t be made simply because they can. While some of the psychology can ring true, the dialogue itself was improvised from an outline which points to a lack of structure hoping for lightning in a bottle.
In contrast, taking a documentary where life simply reflects the drama that comes with it can seem almost as effortless. “Drought” however wills it to be and, by contrast, wants it to be (though it is by no means the absolute truth). This examination here of families in Northeastern Mexico points to the beauty of a cowboy existence when electricity, internet and such luxuries are not givens in life. The ideas of morality and survival interplayed by myths (at many times spoken by children on their own accord) give the progression a weight, especially when the entire clans have to pack up everything on their trucks and move away from barely completed shacks when the water dries up. The animals who interplay with their lives feed into this completely. While the brutality against the horses and cows can be unrelenting at certain points, it functions as a fact of life which paints the humans simply as functional animals continuing on their way to protect their young and fight another day.
The advent of the zombie movie may have run its course but the aspect of using Cuba from the inside out as a springboard creates a slightly different dynamic. While missed at the Miami International Film Festival, the buzz “Juan Of The Dead” created points to an interesting play on politics within the movie. While the comedy functions with inherent charm and the team that Juan, a father who doesn’t want to leave his country, puts together rocks, there is a thread of dread just hanging below the surface. Whether it treads on the basis of a juicehead that is afraid of blood, a transvestite with more cahones than half the guys in the bunch or a Romeo & Juliet coupling involving Juan’s daughter that he definitely doesn’t want happening, the movie knows it balance. While the storyline itself is wobbly at best, this haphazard crew figures itself out time and again creating a strong backbone. While the ending of the film points to a more cinematic finale than eventually plays out, it is still by all means entertaining. Like “Black Lightning” [Fantasia 2010], it takes mainstream US movie tropes and does its best with their abilities to fulfill them (though the CG is comparatively primitive) but this is without a studio involved and flying under the radar (though it is uncertain whether local or government help was offered with this production). In doing the Q&A, the director, whose wife and co-producer couldn’t get her visa to come to the US from Cuba in time, expressed interesting sentiments (albeit after a couple drinks) of what specifically the film can represent.
Using this aspect of politically charged motivation, the arena progresses from Cuba to the US/Mexico border with “Reportero”, a documentary backed by PBS’ POV program series. This specific inlay focuses on the history of the newspaper “Zuma”, a below-the-border periodical which, in attacking the notions of corruption and narco trafficking through the vista of Tijuana, pulls no punches. Like “Page One”, which examined the less life-threatening but still engaging plight of The New York Times, “Reportero” understands, even in making the film, that the battle continues on. The assassination of different journalists, who exposed traffickers and their organizations lived and died by their principles, definitely shows the stakes involved. Using older news footage and interviews of journalists since killed (sometimes on VHS quality), the intensity shows an issue, especially with the recent increase in violent killings on the border, that the problem is yet without balance or solution.
Intently, this notion of identity continues with the intersection of “P-047”. Unlike a film like “Mystery” [Cannes 2012] or even some of the documentaries showcased at LAFF 2012, this narrative, built in Thailand, points to a story of ambitious people who have no idea what they want to be or where they want to go. Following the notion of a locksmith who becomes a home invader who takes nothing, the idea explores the idea of ignoring the world while still wanting to be part of it. While the disjointed structure (probably interrelating to different parts of the lead character’s mind) plays with a certain kind of focus, the only true element of the film that works is within a hospital sequence. Here, the character in question meets up with a girl committed who under lock and key, simply likes to engage in the scents of the world wherever they may be, whether from a trashcan or a dilapidated building) providing a portal of senses. The resolution points to lives changing right around the corner but one that requires an action of some sort.
Moving simply to a more promotional structure, “The History Of Future Folk” as a basis of origin story for the NY based folk duo uses some interesting ideas of sci-fi while not needing to really push the boundaries as far as effects too far. What supremely helps along the entire process (which I would think is their doing) is the great aspect of scoring which gives the progression a needed sense of pacing. What is undeniably strong is using this as an inter-cutting mechanism between a fight on a roof and a tango with the two main characters. While distinctly a homage to “True Lies” in a way, the intention of what the film shows and the way it is presented makes it stick in your mind. Not to be discounted is the marketing hook of the red bucketheads of “Future Folk” which repeat with dexterous frequency through the entire film make sure that the point is not missed.
LAFF decided also with more frequency this year to include shorts as precursors to films, especially when the subject matter proved very continuous. Four specific shorts stood out for various reasons. The best in terms of overall function because of its grand chemistry both dramatically and with bouts of humor was “92 Skybox Alonzo Mourning Rookie Card” which follows the incessant story of two brothers trying to outdo each and ruining a family gathering. Its balance works in figuring out the humor and physical timing with genuine moments of heart which is not the easiest angle to accomplish.
Both “3113” and “Thumbsnatchers From The Moon Cocoon” show a dexterity of creativity from both the CG and stop motion textures respective simply because of the ambition of what was attempted. While “Cocoon” was more done in jest closer to a music video perception of say Alice In Chains’ “I Stay Away“, “3113” was purveyed more as a teaser, hinting at a larger meaning.
“Once It’s Started, It Could Not End Otherwise” as a short, by comparison is all about mood and mixed media. While the texture of its overall tendency for narrative is unexplained, its paradoxical placement of images was intense visually and, overall, affecting.
Examining different ideas of life and politics through less than conventional methods always sparks interesting conversation. Whether through the bleak but aspirational “Drought”, the political bloodletting of “Juan Of The Dead” or the real life war of words of “Reportero”, the Los Angeles Film Festival continues to program with a texture of thought and creation.
The continuing element of Dances With Films relates to show a diversity of independent films both intrinsically on their own but also with an interesting penchant for showcasing new talent vetted for entry into bigger world movie-making. By restricting the amount of films shown and heavily supporting filmmaker attendance, the registry of this film festival continues to grow and hopefully will become a beacon for buyers, despite a slightly lower quality in this year’s films.
Interestingly, the most anticipated film also was the most divisive in terms of requisite personality. “The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X” pulls hard from everything from Ed Wood to the greaser odes of the 50s to cheesy science fiction to Rock Hudson musicals. The beauty of the film overall rests in its photography using some of the last Plus X film stock (which was slightly overhyped at the premiere screening). The music progression recalls last year’s festival musical “The Dead Inside” [deadCenter 2011] but with less musical expansion. The relatability here in terms of the music is less 50s cool then Broadway sweet in terms of the songs while the score is undeniably rich and vivid. Will Keenan as Johnny X anchors the film for the first half skewing between camp and vicious cool but as soon as the long lost father-undead subplot ventures forth, the movie retreats to pure B territory. Now granted this is the angle from which the homage is based but there was a possibility for more.
“3 Days Of Normal” functions from a similar capacity on the romantic comedy front with great performances, especially from the lead actress, but with a story that closes itself in, in regards to its end progression. The narrative follows a police officer, clumsy by nature but loyal and good-hearted, who doesn’t seem to be interested in the girls in town throwing themselves at him. Enter a gossip-clung celebrity debutante who happens to pass out in her car in rural New Hampshire. What follows is a comedy of situations (including paparazzi pursuit) that plays worn but because of the grounded element of said actress resounds with distinctive charm.
“Fray” works in a similar capacity with an applicable construct in terms of its progression but with a relatable angle that makes it all the more heartbreaking as its progresses. It follows a well meaning Marine back from Afghanistan after an injury leaves him with a gimp leg. This impairs the possibility of him getting work in an already squeezed economy. Slowly but surely, despite his continued perseverance, he can’t seem to get ahead. He is helped along by his teacher-turned-lover (Marisa Costa), who slowly falls in love with him. Costa undeniably anchors the film with such a luminescence which balances the brooding but powerful functionality of Bryan Kaplan’s performance as Justin. The key within here is structure and making sure these relationships pay off in the end without conceding the need to spoon-feed. “Fray” does this beautifully contrasting the dark but brilliantly forest backdrop with a sense of foreboding.
“Into The Wake” tries to approach the scenario “Fray” succeeds in with a bit more of a thriller scenario which is not untoward but plays with a little more ploy that others. A quiet-living biker type with a tattoo-covered exotic girlfriend seems to have everything in play except for some unexplained rage issues which becomes obvious in an abandoned steel mill location that was used more for its cool beauty against the Chicago skyline than anything else. A mysterious phone call draws this would be man away from an idealic (in some circles) life. After sleeping on forest canopies after driving his bike to the middle of nowhere, the progression seems a little lost, like he is looking for trouble without knowing where it is.
“Liars, Fire & Bears” tries to interact within notions of coincidence and morality depending which way the house crumbles. Built as a Las Vegas production, the degradation of sub-urban reality reflects in the functionality of the lead character who is just trying to make ends meet (a continuing subject base this year) but ends up in a compromising position involving kidnapping, home robbery and extortion, among other things. The eventual breakdown of communication functions well in some instances with most situations eventually extending beyond belief to a more well-toned ending.
“Disorientation” takes on the Midnight slot in good order while moving away from the more “bad cinema” horror integrations which, while creative, were the stalwart of last year’s intentions. This entry combines the wantonness of “Van Wilder” with a “Waiting” progression: two early entries into the Ryan Reynolds universe. The movie tries warily with varying results but distinctly knows what it is despite a tongue-in-cheek overplay which is more dexterously capture by the resident geek in the picture who ultimately wins over in the “academics win out” category. Eventually, heavy drinking notwithstanding, the lead character finds his true energy (and girl) though, for a movie which bills itself on its extremeness, comes out with a distinct amount of sugar coating.
The key within shorts as opposed to features is provide a texture of broad film-making in a short time blending style and acting with a sense of story. Some of these are meant as simple reels while others are built as a primer to a feature depending on the people involved.
Within Competition Shorts #2, “Crescendo“, follows to reveal the early life of Beethoven and what built him as a person, functioning with a degree of overwrought deniability, especially in the abuse of his mother to rightfully create stakes but the necessary end result feels a little empty. “Ten Dollar Cover” uses a ludicrous premise (with an interesting narrator) to identify the moment of a young person in existential crisis. While funny, ultimately it is a tad dark against the actual reality it justifies. “Breadcrumbs”, which was shot over a weekend up in Monterey, is probably the most functional entry in this block using a backwards “Memento” progression to show the life of a man in reverse but delivers acutely on its premise.
Fusion Shorts #1, by comparison, plays in many ways more conventional in its structure but with better results. “Empty” approaches the minimalist, almost stage approach with little fanfare while “Elegy For A Revolutionary” approaches high production values with an element of social consciousness but, oddly enough, not much tension. “The Lift” using a gangster construct masked as a social comedy, wins in many respects because its characters are right on cue yet struck in a paradox backed by great production design standards. However, in terms of simple performance, “Interview Date” works the best because of its wit and personification of double standards while using very simple innuendo that is both innocent and dirty at the same time.
Continuing on, Fusion Shorts #2, moves between incomplete vision and simple but specifically crafted odes on oddity. “Crows” tries to be a metaphorical angle on the notion of protecting one’s own but becomes more of a tribulation on personal structure while “Perceptio“, while beautiful to look at, lacks the structure of a soul despite some interesting skin. “Far” begins the beguine with exceptional directorial strength. While fashioned as a romantic comedy mixed with some science fiction, it takes a little bit to get going but when it materializes towards the end of the dinner scene, its cheesy demeanor takes on an endearing charm that just seems to grow. “Losing Ferguson“, in a similar sort of way, owing much to “Being John Malkovich” understands the oddity of its world while giving it also some grounded reality. With “Ferguson”, it paints the way to a more vivid conclusion with a penchant for thought while still creating a lighthearted, playful and ultimately touching romp.
Dances With Films continues to find interesting and intrinsic films to populate its annual confab. With a new move to the Mann Chinese 6, the action and interaction with the filmmakers is more instantaneous than the previous venue: the closed Sunset 5. While the films were not as intensive as the previous year, the diversity, as compared to other film festivals of its like, is still way above the standard and deserving of praise.
The intonation of Orlando as a film destination has long revolved around its proximity to Disney and Universal, a paradox not unlike Hollywood. In recent years with the advent of film schools and a rise in the filmmaker quotient surrounded by UCF, Valencia and FSU, the city has evolved. With the continued implementation of the Orlando Film Festival which functions itself as “Cinema For Free” but is more encapsulated in the idea of a festival “For Filmmakers, By Filmmakers”, its continued creation shows an event in transition working towards a common goal which is reflected in an idealism of diversity and cinematic voices.
Not Even The Devil, a bare-bones action film made in Puerto Rico by uber-passionate filmmaker Andres Ramirez, harks from the “El Mariachi” school of filmmaking but, unlike Robert Rodriguez in his early years, the aspect of easy-to-access Final Cut, Pro Tools, Royalty Free Music and the like has made it realistic to make an in-your-face action pic that has, at times, studio-level quality. Granted, there is a progression of formulaic genre bases that stretch belief as well as some underwhelming acting at times which is to be expected. However, certain sequences like the storming of a compound where a man unloads a Mac-10 against an invading sniper force rachets high despite the fact that not even one shot was fired.
Montana Amazon easily captured the most star power of the festival with Oscar Nominee Olympia Dukakis as well as the long- missing Haley Joel Osmont playing backwards country folks that take to the road on their way to Canada after circumstances result in a quick escape from their hometown. The comparative hijinks don’t play too seriously instead opting for more eccentric laughs. The same intensity that marked Osmont’s early work is still prevalent. Currently finishing an Experimental Theater degree at NYU, Osmont’s star, depending on his own goals, should again be on the rise having smartly skipped the awkward years. Also of interesting caliber is Alison Brie, now starring on NBC’s “Community”, who plays sister to Osmont’s lost soul using her considerable timing with a degree of off-structured sexuality which tends to hark to an almost “Pushing Daisies” quality straddling the essence of black humor with a tinge of conscience.
Mozart In China approaches the personification from another way. With China making its way into the perspective of global film financing but also seeking to improve (or at least spotlight) its cultural relevance without overcoming with its party politic, this specific film takes the family angle to its logical end create this distinction. Using an Austrian boy as a guest coming with his Chinese friend back to a small fishing village in the South China Sea provides the basis. The Mozart element comes from a stop-motion puppet element that forms the magical basis within the story where Mozart (as a puppet) comes to life after everyone is asleep. This magical figure stows away with his piano in the boy’s luggage and meets a beautiful Chinese shadow puppet whom he writes a vignette for. The resolution reflects in with the live action story of a grandfather, whom the kids are staying with, owing money to a local gangster. This consideration seems resolutely thrown together to reflect a bridging of cultures but its ultimate intention seems uncertain.
Of special note, within the Shorts Program entitled “Love”, the film “Children” stood out. Its strength revolved in its ability of its director, Jon Strong (himself a UCF Film Student) to get his young actors to affect a naturalism that jumped off the screen and reflected in the audience with their own life through simple truisms.
Empire Of Silver, a boon in its anamorphic film presentation, in comparison to alot of the other films which were shown in pure digital formats, is vivid in its sheer pedigree buoyed by the involvement of Jeremy Thomas, who produced “The Last Emperor”. The overarching narrative of the piece resides in the Boxer Rebellion and the importance of silver in the overall trade at that time in China. The ideals become a struggle for power between a family searching for an heir, a son betraying his love for a woman that can never become his wife and a country fighting to find its footing between the upper class strutting their wares and a lower working class simply trying to keep their heads above water . An interesting inclusion, which ultimately pulls one out of the movie despite its novelty, is the casting of Jennifer Tilly (“Bound”) as a confidant of the betrayed woman in question. Ultimately like the similar “Sheltering Sky”, the vision of what is being portrayed is not an immersive as the actual story itself. Comparing the progression to Hong Kong’s recent “Bodyguard & Assassins” (which effected a similar rebellion) shows both its strengths and weakness. However its inclusion speaks volumes about the openness of the festival to the cross-cultural possibilities of these kinds of Asian foreign films.
In My Sleep, an LA noir film taking its lead from Hitchcock films, looks to be made on a budget with its almost straight-to-DVD production value. However, that said, there are moments of tension in the film that actually play quite true with a confidence. Adding in the use of some very recognizable character actors gives the project a brevity it might not have had along with a musical score that underplays, almost to a fault, its intention. “Not Even The Devil” followed a similar music based track to its ultimate advantage. The resolution here within “Sleep” intuits itself in soap opera-style to be sure but it at least has the presence of mind to experiment with the idea of a creative ode.
Lunopolis, easily the best film of the festival, sheerly for its originality, perhaps goes a little far in its dense diatribe of mythology, religion, science and sheer fiction but it is a great farce for what it is. The cracks show at different parts but the set-up involving a hidden warehouse below the Louisiana swamp is wonderfully realized. The mockumentary style does not wink at all giving the film a sense of solidity despite the incessant amount of technobabble placed upon the shoulders of the audience member. The great aspect is that it does not speak down to its consumer but truly makes you work to keep up. The eventual resolution perhaps is a little light but the journey moving towards it is quite cool. In an age where everyone is pushing for the next “Paranormal Activity”, the fact that a gem like this can meander unabated though the festival circuit is a great boon for independent filmmaking because it shows the creatives are thinking.
The Orlando Film Festival shows that with a great program, a burgeoning VIP membership, participating local venues and, above all, an audience wanting to see movies (shown by packed hallways and theaters) point to a growing festival with a want for more.