Wednesday, May 9, 2012
It would take nothing less than festival season to awaken me from my current blogging slumber – and here we are. Sydney Film Festival is the first out the gate, scooping up some of the hits from Sundance, a few that are about to play at Cannes, plenty of Australian content, and just enough films that seem to come out of nowhere to keep things interesting.
Before we get to the list, let me quickly point out that ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, one of my favourites from last year’s Melbourne Film Festival is screening. Highly recommend you see it on the big screen, this may be your final chance. Hell, I’d even be tempted to go again.
In alphabetical order:
Director Yorgos Lanthimos returns with his follow-up to the twisted, black comedy DOGTOOTH. In terms of Weird Greek cinema, last year’s ATTENBERG (which Lanthimos co-produced) was merely a placeholder. This film – about people paid to replace deceased loved ones – will be the genuine article.
A Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance, Benh Zeitlin’s feature film debut promises to be one of the most memorable of the festival. The trailer alone is so beautiful and lyrical that I can’t wait to see 90 more minutes worth of footage! Set in a bayou community cut off from the rest of the world, a six year-old learns about global warming and natural selection, becoming aware of the fragility of her home.
Another Sundance film, THE COMEDY stars Tim Heidecker as a privileged, aimless hipster who passes the days by playing pranks on other people with his similarly privileged and aimless friends (played by a slew of indie musicians by the looks of it, including LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy (see below)). This film looks set to be one of the most divisive of the festival, and I’m fairly certain the title is ironic.
As both a William Friedkin- and Matthew McConaughy-apologist, this film has been on my radar for some time. McConaughy stars as the eponymous Joe, a police officer who works part time as a hitman. He’s hired by Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) to kill his mother so he can collect life insurance. Until he’s paid his fee in full (i.e. after the insurance money comes through), Joe takes Chris’ young sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a retainer. Promising to be a dark and depraved comedy, this is probably my most anticipated of the lot.
Maybe I’m alone on this one, but I really loved Josh Radnor’s directorial debut HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE. It was a very warm film with plenty of humour and great performances. I expect this to be much of the same, but I must admit that when the poster was unveiled and it featured the tagline “Sometimes students make the best teachers,” my enthusiasm took a sharp fall. Radnor plays a teacher who falls in love with a young student (Elizabeth Olsen). Paper-thin plot, but that seems to work for him.
This film might play well as a double with THE COMEDY. Two weirdoes drive through Iran humiliating people before throwing a big sack of cash at them for their troubles. It apparently starts as a comedy but becomes increasingly dark as the im/morality of what they’re doing raises more and more questions.
This feels like I’m padding out my list. Of course, you’re going to go see it! You’re a rabid Wes Anderson fanatic, I can tell from here! I’m not, of course. In the past I’ve made it no secret that his films annoy the hell out of me, and yet, I have to admit I’m warming to them. I even found his last two quite enjoyable – particularly FANTASTIC MR. FOX. I’m also keen to see what he does with Bruce Willis.
“Sound of Silver” was the last album I fell in love with. With the exception of the titular track (weird how that happens) every song is a winner and though I don’t have the musical vocabulary to express why, I’ve reached the point where I’m through trying to justify my love for it anyway. If you’re like me and love LCD Soundsystem, I recommend you go see this concert documentary of their last ever show. Simple as that.
Japan’s oldest film studio is turning 100 this year and to mark the occasion, SFF has programmed four of their films. Recently, I’ve been saying that Nikkatsu studio films have the best titles. Earlier this year I watched TAKE AIM AT THE POLICE VAN!, CRUEL GUN STORY, BRANDED TO KILL and A COLT IS MY PASSPORT (also screening). This title, however, blows them all out of the water. What’s it about? I dunno, who cares? Just read the title back to yourself and tell me you don’t want to be a part of it!
It feels to me as though this list has been aggressively divisive. Here we end with another “either you love him or you hate him” pick. Personally, I love Woody Allen and there are still so many of his films I’m yet to see. CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS is sitting next me, unwatched. I hope to change that soon. Whether this film can provide any fresh insight into the man remains to be seen, but we’ll at least get an idea of how he’s viewed by the many people in his life.
Hopefully this list can help influence what you decide to see at the festival, but there’s still so much more on offer. I didn’t even get a chance to mention the Bertolucci retrospective, which although it isn’t showing my favourite film, has plenty else on offer (including the epic, sprawling 5+ hour, 1900).
Enjoy the festival. Might see you there.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
All good things must come to an end. Here’s the final batch of short films to bring the month to a close.
Day 23. HARVIE KRUMPET (Adam Elliot, 2004)
Elliot has made five stop-motion films to date: UNCLE, COUSIN, BROTHER, HARVIE KRUMPET, and MARY AND MAX (the last being his feature debut). If you weren’t already aware, those titles surely give away that his focus is entirely on character. He creates fascinating and unique individuals and lets us share a slice of their life. His fourth film was a loving character-study of a man with terrible luck and it picked up an Academy Award in 2003.
Day 24. RAY’S MALE HETEROSEXUAL DANCE HALL (Bryan Gordon, 1987)
The business world is such a dance. I’ve often wondered how some people seem to get great jobs really easily, while I struggle with want ads. I’ve always assumed there was some kind of vast conspiracy going on and this film finally exposes it! This charming satire with a fantastic title was another Academy Award-winner. The oddly invasive voice-over is a bit off-putting at first but the film soon finds its rhythm once we get into the titular dance hall and meet some of its regulars (Fred Willard being one!). Gordon has gone on to direct some great episodes of TV including some of the best CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM eps, for which he has received two Emmy noms.
Day 25. PEEL (Jane Campion, 1982)
I love this film almost entirely because of its ending; the stubbornness of our adult leads taking a turn for the surreal. It’s a beautiful image. As a child, I endured many car trips that had strange domestic politics that sometimes failed to make sense to me. Nonetheless, rules are rules and if your father says they’re not moving until you pick up all the orange peel you threw out the window, you best get to it! Campion’s first ever short and an early indicator of her talent for capturing complicated familial relations.
Day 26. HOW THEY GET THERE (Spike Jonze, 1997)
It’s the music. Every time I watch this film I have the tune stuck in my head for days. A catchy version of the old Doris Day hit “Sentimental Journey” that escalates at exactly the right moments. Jonze has always been a playful filmmaker – from his classic early skateboarding videos, to his fantastic feature films. In between he has made many shorts, music videos and television commercials, most collected in Volume 1 of the Directors Label (which includes this short). The beauty of this film comes from the over-the-top climax that feels even more so due to the svelte 2 minute runtime.
Day 27. THE UMBRELLA MAN (Errol Morris, 2011)
If you follow that link, the introduction by Morris himself is a better set-up for the film than anything I could write. The man has been my favourite documentarian for a long time and last year TABLOID was my #3 film. Morris has an animated interviewee in Josiah “Tink” Thompson whose enthusiasm for the subject matter is rather infectious. I love how he says, “Can anyone come up with a non-sinister explanation for this? Hmn? Hmn?” It cracks me up, but he’s also right – it’s so odd and mysterious that a single man would be standing with an open umbrella right where and when President Kennedy was shot. The “logical” explanation is definitely beyond anything I could have thought up – which is of course is the point of the short.
Day 28. IN GOD WE TRUST (Jason Reitman, 2000)
Ivan Reitman’s son has certainly proven himself as a filmmaker to the point where referring to him as Ivan Reitman’s son seems completely unnecessary (and maybe even a little mean). He made half a dozen short films before his feature debut THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and this may be the best one. Turns out heaven and hell are based on a point system and our protagonist finds himself in the red. There are some dated pop culture references but I guess we’ve come to expect that from the man who directed JUNO. Otherwise, it’s a very light, fun short film.
Day 29. DUCK AMUCK (Chuck Jones, 1953)
I know that WHAT’S OPERA, DOC? is often referred to as Jones’ masterpiece, but for me, nothing beats the gleefully anarchic DUCK AMUCK. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been a Daffy fan over a Bugs one? It’s easier to relate to the eternally frustrated duck who never seems to get his way over the wise-cracking bunny who simply cannot fail. There are many interpretations to the short, but I like to think it acknowledges that Daffy’s tormentors are not his co-stars, but ultimately the creative team that designs these horrible situations he finds himself in. Whatever you feel the film is trying to say, there’s no denying that it’s an immensely entertaining piece that’s hilariously self-referential. One of the greatest shorts ever made (animated or otherwise).
That brings us to the end of Short Film Month. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m sure I’ll do it again next year with a fresh batch of 28 shorts (it won't be a leap year). Don’t forget to check out DEATH TO THE TINMAN, Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3. If you have any favourite short films that I didn’t include, be sure to let me know. I always love discovering new ones and revisiting old favourites!
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
An eclectic mix this week – one that showcases some of the various reasons short films get made in the first place. As always, the titles link to the films. Enjoy!
Day 16. THE ABSENT-MINDED WAITER (Carl Gottlieb, 1977)
This short was written by Steve Martin and stars himself, Buck Henry and Teri Garr. Martin used to play it before stand-up gigs and it was even nominated for an Academy Award. By this point in his career he had already won an Emmy for writing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and had been touring for years, but his popularity was about to explode. He’d win two Grammys before the decade was out and in 1979, Martin, Gottlieb, and producer William E. McEuen would re-team for THE JERK. This performance as the titular waiter by Martin on the cusp of super-stardom is a real delight.
Day 17. DIMENSIONS OF DIALOGUE (Jan Švankmajer, 1982)
Unfortunately, I don’t have the know-how to adequately talk about surrealist master Jan Švankmajer and his career. Despite half a dozen feature films and many, many shorts, DIMENSIONS OF DIALOGUE is the only one I’ve seen – but I absolutely love it! It’s divided into three sections: “Exhaustive discussion,” “Passionate discourse,” and “Factual conversation;” each showing a negative consequence to something as mundane as conversation.
Day 18. PIXELS (Patrick Jean, 2010)
As I’ve said before, now more than ever it’s very easy to get people to see your short; especially when it’s as creative and fun as this one. On April 8th and 9th last year, PIXELS went viral, spreading across the internet. Its short length, lack of dialogue and impressive visuals combined to maximise the amount of people it would impress. When I tweeted this I was surprised there were some who hadn’t seen it. On that page alone, it has accumulated over 4.7 million views and at time of writing has had 811 views in the last day. Apparently Adam Sandler’s production company has picked up the rights to turn it into a feature. Make of that what you will.
Day 19. JUMPING (Osamu Tezuka, 1984)
Osamu Tezuka is best known for his work as a cartoonist and writer. He created the manga series Astro Boy, Kimbra the White Lion and Metropolis (known as Robotic Angel in Germany, for obvious reasons) and was extraordinary prolific, particularly in the 1950s. I’m told he was the first to give Japanese anime characters such large eyes, a style that is still rampant to this day. JUMPING is one of a handful of shorts he made that weren’t based on existing material. It’s notable for its experimental use of an unbroken first-person perspective; very rare and difficult to pull off in 2D animation.
Day 20. TELEPHONES (Christian Marclay, 1995
Marclay’s THE CLOCK hits Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art next month and I’m extremely jealous of those who will get a chance to see it. His massive 24 hour film collage issues a great challenge to cinephiles, both in terms of how long they can last, and how many films they can identify. Here you can experience something similar on a much smaller scale. This earlier piece by Marclay has collected instances of film characters dialling the phone, answering, conversing, and hanging up. It creates a narrative all of its own through a great variety of films. How many do you recognise?
Day 21. MORE (Mark Osborne, 1998)
This Academy Award-nominated film is crazy-depressing, but at least it’s mercifully short! A newspaper headline that reads “GREATEST INVENTOR EVER!!” provides a little unintentional (?) humour, but other than that it’s a dark tale about a creator losing part of himself. After its festival run, it became very popular on the now-defunct iFilm.com, which had just been launched that year. To be honest, I don’t really understand this film’s insane popularity. It was the number one ranked short film on IMDb for a very long time and still places in the top 10.
Day 22. ONLY SON (Jarred Holt, Ryan Hutching, Nigel McColloch, 2010)
One used to make a short and then enter it into as many film festivals as possible. Nowadays, it’s becoming more common for short films to be made specifically for a single festival or online competition. A couple of days ago, Alethea Jones’ film LEMONADE STAND won the grand prize at Tropfest, the largest short film competition in the world. Each film that’s entered is made specifically for the competition and uses a signature element that changes each year. A more extreme version of this is the V48Hours Filmmaking competition, which severely tightens how long you have to make a film from scratch (you can read all about the specifics on the website). ONLY SON is particularly notable for winning not just the competition, but taking out Best Short at the 2010 Qantas Film and Television Awards. Some great NZ humour on display.
I’ve saved some the best for last as Short Film Month goes out on a high for its final week!
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
This week featured some of the earliest films I’ll cover – not just entertaining in their own right, but important from a historical perspective. Most of these directors have made many short films, so if you really enjoy one, try Google to see if there are more by that artist online (or ask me and I can point you in the right direction). In case you missed them, don't forget to check out DEATH TO THE TINMAN and Week 1.
Day 9. BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA (Marv Newland, 1969)
The joke in this short film written by Marv Newland and directed by Marv Newland and choreographed by Marv Newland is pretty straight-forward. It’s remarkable how well the film has travelled, with remakes, unauthorised sequels and plenty of parodies over the last fifty years. It’s the first film Newland was (excessively) credited for making, but he’d go on to produce dozens of animated shorts and worked on TV shows such as SEASAME STREET and THE PJS.
Day 10. ABOUT A GIRL (Brian Percival, 2001)
Just your average middle-class UK girl at the turn of the millennium – right? The nameless girl in question loves hanging out with her friends, trying on perfume and Britney Spears. Her accent is so thick it took me a bit to get used to it as she described various aspects of her life while walking along a canal. The climax is jaw-dropping, both in its implication and for the filmmakers being so bold and unsubtle. It won a BAFTA for Best Short Film and Brian Percival has recently been scooping up awards (including a Golden Globe last month) for directing episodes of DOWNTON ABBEY.
Day 11. I MET THE WALRUS (Josh Raskin, 2007)
In 1969, 14 year-old Jerry Levitan snuck into John Lennon’s hotel room and managed to convince him to give a 30 minute interview. That audio is edited down to a svelte five minutes, animated with creative pen drawings as lucid and free-flowing as the song that inspired the title. The audio is fairly rough, with Lennon and Levitan’s voice sometimes struggling to rise over the din of the hotel room, but the visuals help to illustrate the anti-war/pro-peace message Lennon was pushing.
DAY 12. VINCENT (Tim Burton, 1982)
Before his first feature in 1985 (PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE), Burton made this six minute stop-motion short that one can imagine is just a bit autobiographical. Our protagonist obsesses over horror icon Vincent Price and has a ghoulish imagination that seems to be driving him mad. Burton managed to get Price himself to narrate the film and they would later work together again with EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. It’s remarkable to see that Burton had his style locked-down so early in his career. Keep your eyes peeled for an early prototype of Jack Skellington (with arrows through his head).
DAY 13. ‘CHARLIE ROSE’ BY SAMUEL BECKETT (Andrew Filippone Jr., 2008)
You don’t even need to pick up a camera to make a short film nowadays. The digital and YouTube age we live in has given rise to a proliferation of short films made by editing other works. Despite a very, very crowded field, Andrew Filippone is one of my favourite artists working in this style. By editing Charlie Rose interviews to make it look like the man was having a spirited discussion about technology with himself, he has created an absurdist nightmare – much like the work of Beckett (his name-checking in the title is possibly a bit unnecessary). The threatening non-sequitur “Steve is not happy” is also the name of Filippone's website.
DAY 14. VERY NICE, VERY NICE (Arthur Lipsett, 1961)
Of course, creating new films from other footage has been around long before the internet age. It’s unfortunately quite hard to find some of these films (I assume there would be plenty of copyright issues), but luckily Lispett’s avant-garde short is available through the National Film Board of Canada website (which I recommend having a long browse through sometime). Social anxieties buried amongst the everyday norm – very nice, indeed.
DAY 15. RUNAWAY (Kanye West, 2010)
I had to include at least one long-form music video, and it wasn’t very hard to pick a favourite. West’s 35 minute film is certainly an exercise in unabashed ego, and features more than a couple of unintentionally hilarious moments, but it looks gorgeous and does a great job of incorporating tracks from his album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. West has the funds to aim a bit higher than most short film-makers and so what wound up on screen is probably very close to his original vision. Love him or hate him, you have to respect the man for giving his all and diving head first into the new medium.
That’s the half-way mark – two more weeks to go!