Tuesday 30 June 2009

Worldwide Short Film Festival 2009 - Awards

It's funny how time just kind slides away from you...The 2009 Worldwide Short Film Festival wrapped up 8 days ago and had their awards out before I even posted my first set of reviews.

Here's a quick round-up of the winners:

Audience Award
"Paul Rondin Is... Paul Rondin / Paul Rondin est... Paul Rondin" - directed by Frederick Vin

Best Live Action Short
Winner: "My Name is Dominic / Tous les enfants s'appellent Dominique" - directed by Nicolas Silhol
Honourable Mention: "Sand / Zand" - directed by Joost Van Ginkel

Best Emerging Canadian Filmmaker
Winner: Aparna Kapur for "Amma"
Honourable Mention: Joseph Johnson Cami & Ayelen Liberona for "Becoming"

Best Cinematography in a Canadian Short
Winner: Miroslaw Baszak for "The Water"
Honourable Mention: Pedro Pires for "Danse Macabre"

Best Animated Short
"Slaves" - directed by Hanna Heilborn and David Aronowitsch

Best Canadian Short
"Land of Men / Terre des hommes" - directed by Ky Nam Le Duc

The Best Experimental Short
Winner: "Danse Macabre" - directed by Pedro Pires
Honourable Mention: "Inscape" - directed by Servane Phillips and Nathalie Robison

Best Documentary Short
"Skin" - directed by Rhys Graham

Best Performance (Female)
Leora Rivlin for "Wind Chimes"

Best Performance (Male)
Jack Wouterse for "Sand / Zand"

Best Performance (Ensemble)
Kil-ho Kim & Tae-hoon Lee for "Auld Lang Syne"

Screenplay Giveaway Prize
Kate Hewlett for "She Said Lenny"

Monday 29 June 2009

Origins of the Moonwalk

I expect this to get posted everywhere. It's flat out amazing. Especially that guy with the chef's hat starting at 2:47...

I don't take anything away from MJ and his moonwalk or that "Smooth Criminal" video (that takes direct inspiration from the end of "The Band Wagon") or any of his dancing. I think he incorporated certain moves into what he did and built on them. I just hope that people can also appreciate the earlier dancers who came before...

Saturday 27 June 2009

Trailer for Richard Kelly's "The Box"

Though I wouldn't consider myself a fanboy of Richard Kelly's first film "Donnie Darko" (I don't own the extended director's cut), I certainly do love it. Like most people, I heard about it through slow building buzz on the internet since it had to find its audience through DVD release. Its initial theatrical plans were somewhat quashed after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 because the film contains a key element of a plane's engine crashing into a house. The early buzz talked about the time travel elements and that was enough to make my expectations hopeful. It surpassed them all though. Not because I think it's a profound commentary or anything, but simply because all its elements worked for me - the use of music, the individual character quirks, the little bits of foreshadowing and so forth.

So I was over the moon excited for Kelly's follow-up film "Southland Tales" - even after its virtual disaster of a premiere at Cannes in 2006 (a 160 minute version without completed visual effects was submitted). Once it made it out to DVD audiences (it had a theatrical release, but barely), storylines had been cut, characters dropped and even scenes re-ordered. It was a disappointment for me, but there are still a number of moments that are either intriguing or visually well put together (the centerpiece being Justin Timberlake's dream sequence to the tune of The Killers "All These Things That I've Done"). I haven't yet revisited it, but there's enough there that makes me want to at some point.

Now comes "The Box". A simple enough premise - would you press a button to receive a million dollars if you knew that it would directly result in the death of a single person somewhere in the world? If that sounds like a great idea for a short story you'd be right - Richard Matheson wrote "Button, Button" in 1970. I think the concept has all kinds of interesting paths down which it can go and it could end up being a fine tension-filled thriller. On the other hand, the release has been delayed already (which is never a good sign) and I'm a bit worried as to how this will be stretched to a full feature film. I think Kelly has another solid film in him though, so I'm going to go the hopeful route again...

Here's the trailer:

Consider me eager.

Worldwide Short Film Festival - "Midnight Mania: Freaky"

First the creepy films and now the freaky ones. They sure know how to live up to their titles.

Glottal Opera (directed by John Fink) - 4 minutes of 4 women singing as seen from inside their throats. It's weird, wonderful, certainly freaky and a bit too long. It is pretty interesting matching the sounds you hear to the way a human body makes them though.

The Snake Mountain Colada (directed by Calvin Reeder) - Probably my least favourite of all the films I've seen in any of the screenings. I think the filmmakers actually achieved what they set out to do - recreate a Texas Chainsaw Massacre style vibe, mixed in with drug binging and internal organs. In all honesty though, I hated pretty much every single frame.

Danny's Magical Potion (directed by Gaute Hesthagen) - How do you even try to review a film 1 minute long? Danny drinks a special potion, becomes nice and we see how the effects ripple. Why is it freaky? You need look no further than the screencap below.

The Sexiest Stories on Earth! No. 2 (Las historias mas sexy del mundo! No. 2) (directed by Eric Cheevers) - As an homage to euro sex comedies of the 60-70s, it seems to nail the period and style. I couldn't find the film online, but here's the original film by Cheevers entitled "The Sexiest Stories on Earth! (Las historias mas sexy del mundo!)". You should get the idea:

The Heart Of Karl (directed by Steven Kostanski) - Kostanski and his Astron-6 Video team produced one of my favourite films from last year's Toronto After Dark Film Festival - the great and highly entertaining Lazer Ghosts 2: Return To Lazer Cove. This time out it's a full story as opposed to a simple fake trailer, but there's less of a fun goofy spirit to it. That's not to say it isn't good or funny, it's just a different tone. More downright...um...oh what's the word...oh yeah, freaky. Another film that goes on a bit longer than maybe it should, but there's some particularly brilliant moments contained within.

Here's the trailer:

Eel Girl (directed by Paul Campion) - A scientist observes an Eel Girl and then things go pretty much exactly how you figure they will. And you're glad they do.

The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon (directed by Richard Gale) - Most of the work here was done when they came up with the concept and the title. Especially when they decided that the weapon would be a spoon. Unfortunately this too goes on longer than necessary, but you can't help but laugh pretty much every time the insane murdering guy whacks his victim with the convex side of the spoon - leaving darker and darker bruises as the story goes along.

Everyday is a Fish Day (Høydepunkter) (directed by Jens Lien) - The daily grind of the life of a fresh fish for sale. Who knew they had longing in their hearts?

Here's the entire 1 and a half minute film:

The Sleuth Incident (directed by Jason Kupfer) - I just liked the different ways that the filmmakers created to make this big stuffed bear appear to be moving on its own - walking, sitting, lunging at someone's neck to rip it out...

My Rabit Hoppy (directed by Anthony Lucas) - Aren't bunnies cute? Until they grow up to be big and strong that is.

Git Gob (directed by Philip Eddolls) - More short animated goofiness. Fun, entertaining goofiness, but goofiness all the same.

Here's the entire 1 and a half minute film:

My Love Lives in the Sewer (Mi amor vive en las alcantarillas)
(directed by Manuel Arija De La Cuerda) - The black and white photography only emphasizes the grungy, grimy and overall disgusting washroom and sewer scenes. A young man (as the title indicates) believes he has found his true love who lives down in the sewer. He communicates with her via letters printed on a certain brand of toiler paper. It's even stranger than you're imagining right now.

Here's the trailer:

Monday 22 June 2009

Worldwide Short Film Festival - "Midnight Mania: Creepy"

This would have been a more effective set of films had I actually been in the theatre with an audience watching them at the midnight screening, but alone in your dark basement (this is just not my wife's cup of tea to say the least) still allows for some unsettling moments.

One note: Just go ahead and assume that none of the video clips are safe for work and we'll all be much happier...

The Intruder (directed by Mikael Kreuzrigler) - The twist isn't overly surprising and some of the ghost images aren't very original, but the film is very adept at making you constantly shift your focus all over the screen for clues or hints of what is to come next. Add to that a couple of good jump scares and some other eerie moments and you have a very well done film that was a great opener.

Out Of Control (Fuera de Control) (directed by Sofia Carrillo) - Beautiful and creepy. Think long form Tool video and you're getting close to the feel of this stop motion animation film. I can't deny the artistry, but it simply didn't captivate me after the first couple of minutes and became rather dull. Geez, I feel bad for even saying that considering the amount of work and creativity on hand.

Laura Panic (directed by Adam Wingard) - You can accomplish a lot in 3 minutes and Wingard is able to convey character history, empathy, humour and some rather disturbing turns of event all within that time frame.

Here's the entire 3 minute film:

Mom (Mama) (directed by Andy Muschietti) - There are a couple of extraordinarily effective scenes in this film, but they wouldn't be quite as effective if the tension built from the start hadn't already put you on the edge of your seat. You may know where it's going, but the ride is a lot of fun.

Breed (Dos manos zurdas y un racimo de ojos manchados de gris) (directed by Antonio Trashorras) - Billed as a tribute to 70s Giallo films (though perhaps not completely successful in that regards), Trashorras (one of the writers of Guillermo Toro's "The Devil's Backbone") keeps you wondering as to whether the central female character's point of view is accurate or not. Most horrifying of all is the thought that an abusive husband may pass along those same tendencies to his son.

Here's the entire 20 minute film:

Full Employment (Arbeit für alle) (directed by Matthias Vogel) - A great little zombie film wrapped inside what initially appears to be a day in the life of a volunteer helper for old people. He just happens to be helping a zombie killer on this particular day.

Here's the trailer (no subtitles, but you should get the gist of it):

The Chest (Sandik) (directed by Can Evrenol) - A rather terrifying concept that is - if I'm being honest - completely bungled. The film manages to make you very curious as to what is in the chest a young boy is pulling. Even with some poor quality camera work, you're still waiting to see the reveal and can't help but wonder why this boy is bringing the chest to this particular family. Unfortunately, once the blood and guts start flowing, it loses any kind of tension or even reference point. It really felt like the director had just learned how to create gore and just can't help himself...He doesn't even seem to care why it's flowing.

Boob (directed by Honest) - "Boob on the loose! Boob on the loose!". I think that's all I really to say, isn't it?

Here's the trailer:

Dara (directed by The MO Brothers (Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Tjahjanto)) - I can't help but steal the basic marketing pitch already used elsewhere for this film - "Audition" meets "Saw". That pretty much describes this Indonesian effort in a nutshell. Dara's skills in the kitchen are matched only by her way with men and she seems to have found the perfect way to combine them both...

Here's the trailer:

Sunday 21 June 2009

Worldwide Short Film Festival - "What You See Is Not What You Get"

Because of some other things going on, I wasn't able to make it out to any of the Short Film Festival screenings this year. Fortunately, the fine publicity folks for the festival were kind enough to pass along some screeners, so I selected my top 4 anticipated sessions.

My first choice to view was the Official Selection set entitled "What You See Is Not What You Get" - each film was to follow a bit of a different path than perhaps you may have expected initially.

Section 44 (directed by Daniel Wilson) - A man gets abducted coming out of his house and is brought into a dark interrogation room. He's peppered with questions and then threatened with what appears to be some sort of torture device. Why is he there? Is it because of his online screen name? Will he crack? This was a solid, humourous beginning to the set that preps you to avoid setting your expectations too rigidly.

Here's the entire 5 minute film:

Coagulate (directed by Mihai Grecu) - A man's head is under water and yet the rest of him is dry and he's standing upright. Less a play on your expectations than a total breakdown of all physical laws. A wordless and beautiful film that I couldn't even begin to try to explain.

The Last Breath (directed by David Jackson) - A great concept: while a group of SCUBA divers are under water, all the air on Earth suddenly disappears. What happens when they come up with air tanks that are starting to run out? Not a wholly convincing realistic follow-through on that idea, but still worthwhile and with an appropriate ending.

Pencil Face (directed by Christian Simmons) - A human sized pencil able to stand on its tip (and with a freakish looking face) appears before a young girl. She quickly figures out that whatever you draw with it actually becomes real. Of course, you need to be very careful to be specific in what you're drawing - otherwise you might not get what you expect. Creepy music adds to this well-directed, slightly disturbing and very strange piece.

Here's the entire 4 minute film:

The Hunter and the Bear (Der jäger und der bär) (directed by Joachim Brandenburg) - Anything set to the music of Sigur Ros can only get better. The story in this short of a hunter determined to find a polar bear is well thought out, but the music just simply elevates it. Though I couldn't stand the animation (especially of the faces), I think that's mostly my own personal taste - it was kind freaking me out.

The Refuge (Les réfugiés) (directed by Emile Proulx-Cloutier) - A lonely Quebecois man falls in love with a Mexican woman and brings her back to Canada. Will they find true love together or is there some other reason behind the marriage? I appreciated how the film took its time with the characters, but I have to say it never really engaged me - I couldn't help thinking I should feel something stronger by the end.

Pawnshop (directed by Andrew Bush) - An old man behind the counter of a pawnshop plays mind games with a young man looking to buy an engagement ring. What should have been a nice switch-a-roo at the end doesn't amount to much because by then you don't really care about either of the two characters. The writing lets this story down from pretty much the first line.

Top Girl (directed by Rebecca Johnson) - A wanna-be girl rapper and her friend bring their talents to the house of a local teen who has his own recording studio set up in his room. Though unable to really strut her stuff, she ends up gaining a great deal of life experience and maturity from that day. Surprisingly effective and genuine.

Here's the trailer:

The Kinda Sutra (directed by Jessica Yu) - My favourite of the bunch. Filmmaker Jessica Yu ("Ping Pong Playa") intercuts several adults talking about their childhood memories of where they thought babies came from with animated Indian characters recreating those descriptions. Very funny, sweet and finishes up with a modern view from some real kids.

Here's an abridged version (embedding disabled).

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Two of the Best Film Titles Ever

This post is part of the Japanese Cinema Blog-a-thon being held from June 15-21 over at Wildgrounds.

"Detective Bureau 2-3: Go To Hell Bastards!"

"3 Seconds Before Explosion"

The wonderful folks at Kino just happened to release both of these great titles on the same day about a month ago. While one title reflects the joyful anarchic spirit of Japanese Pop cinema from the 60s, the other economically summarizes pretty much the entirety of its plot in 4 words (and lays out the fun simplicity of many of the 60s crime films).

"Detective Bureau 2-3: Go To Hell Bastards!"

Rat-a-tat pulsing snare drums blast out of the speakers, scantily clad dancers jiggle around a Christmas tree and Jo Shishido smirks while holding a large machine gun like weapon...And that's just the menu of the DVD. What's even better is that "Detective Bureau 2-3: Go To Hell Bastards!" delivers fully on this immediate promise.

Done around the time that director Seijun Suzuki began pushing his boundaries, but before he abandoned the idea of straight narrative, Kino's recent release of this 1963 Nikkatsu "detective infiltrates gang" story moves at a good clip. By giving just enough information to the viewer, the film keeps you in the loop, but also forces you to always be on your toes if you want to stay there. Because of that, it seems hardly worth it to describe the plot - it's doesn't really matter to a certain extent and there's nothing revelatory about it - so just know that you'll get gun battles, women in distress, tough talking yakuza, operatic death scenes and a jazzy, 50s rock 'n roll score. The key to the film is actually in its presentation. Things like visual cues, lighting schemes and character framing are always giving additional information while the quick pace, great looking colours, broad acting and the music firmly state - above everything else - that there's a sense of fun that will last throughout the movie.

A little grounding to the story couldn't hurt though...Shishido plays a detective offering his services to the local police after a mass gangland slaying leaves a single surviving witness. Shishido thinks he's the right man to go undercover. He plays it ultra-cool (and drives a wickedly great little white sports car), but not so much that he can't do some additional mugging on occasion for the camera. He even participates in one of the four musical numbers that crop up during the various club visits made by the gang members (it's completely silly, but it's extraordinarily entertaining). Through some of this goofiness, Suzuki manages to gently poke some fun at the genre itself while also using many of its own conventions.

Another distinguishing characteristic of many of these 60s films is the ability to sneak in some cultural commentary amongst all the schizophrenic goings-on. Whether it's the American style music, the large U.S. planes the camera lingers on as a car drives by the airport or many of the tropes of American crime thrillers being reused (and also slightly mocked), there's a definite sense of a struggle to find where Japan's own identity fits in. To do that while also stretching (and even redefining) a well-worn genre and keeping an audience highly entertained is a pretty grand feat. My appreciation of Suzuki continues unabated...

"3 Seconds Before Explosion"

Similar to Kino's other release, Tan Ida's 1967 thriller is a fast paced, colourful and completely entertaining story of undercover spies and gangs with lots of stylish violence. With several layers of spies acting on behalf of three separate groups attempting to recover some precious gemstones, Ida's film has perhaps a larger focus on its plot than on the striking visuals and stylish technique, but it still contains both of those as well.

The film opens with a roughly 2 minute long sequence of our hero Yamawaki being tortured - piercing tones and flashing bright lights are assaulting his senses and it looks like he's about to crumble. He's attacked by a knife-wielding man and just as he's ready to kill him (at the encouragement of a disembodied voice), the "test" comes to an end. It's been a training exercise to see if Yamawaki can not only withstand incredible stress, but also follow orders - to see if he could actually kill if directed. He's now passed his final test and is officially considered a special agent for the secret crime fighting bureau.

He's assigned to track down and recover the gemstones. Through complicated legal reasons, the gems change ownership to whoever has possession of them on a certain date at 6:00AM. So obviously, there are competing interests in acquiring the stones. Yamawaki goes way undercover to infiltrate the gang known to have the gems, but he encounters several issues. First, he's not easily trusted. Secondly, there are already spies within the gang feeding information to another gang who also want to get their hands on the jewels. Further complicating matters is the fact that his former colleague and equally well-trained spy Yabuki, is now working for one of these gangs. Of course, the two old friends respect each other, but vow that they will kill in order to get the gems.

Though not as openly silly at times as "Detective Bureau", the fun factor kicks in with the brisk pace of the story as well as Yamawaki's inventiveness and use of little gadgets. He's always ahead of the rest of the gang leaders and the assorted henchmen clogging up each scene (there are more henchmen per square foot in this film than any you might care to mention) and manages to retain a cool detached persona. Even the Chinese female escort attempting to seduce information out of him can't crack a smile on Yamawaki. Yabuki on the other hand is a bit more emotional and quick to temper - perhaps because his girlfriend is in a rival gang and providing information back to him. The women in this world, by the way, don't typically fare very well...My impression has always been that this is more a direct correlation to the real societal issues women had to deal with at the time than any kind of misogynistic exploitation, but whatever the case, it certainly jumps out at you. So even while you're enjoying a good solid genre film packed with action and tension, you can still be made to ponder a few things.

Even 40 years later.