Monday, June 26, 2017

The Big Sick




Today's film is called THE BIG SICK.

This film is a romantic comedy in the classic vein. Awkward boy meets awkward girl. Awkward love ensues, only to be interrupted by an awkward problem, but at the last moment, the awkward lovers figure out that they're meant to be, so a hurried and awkward last minute public demonstration of said awkward love happens, which finally cements the duo together, and then we get a sweet final awkward bit of hilarity meant to assure us, the audience, of the awkward couples' re-established and continued love, on and on, forever and ever. The End. Everyone sighs happily.

Obviously, it's a winning formula. Okay, sure, if they're not done right, these types of films can be a bit sappy, trite, and cliched, but THE BIG SICK's secret weapon is that it has the added twist of being based off the true life love story of the writers, and lead actor, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. So, even if it is a bit sappy, trite, and cliched, it's real life stuff, so... doesn't count.

I know what you're thinking... Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon? Who?


Emily has worked on shows, produced shows, and generally worked behind the scenes on stuff. You may have seen her occasionally on talk shows and food/home shows. Kumail has been in TV shows and movies. He's an actor, voice actor, stand-up comedian, and writer. Together, the pair had a podcast about Gaming called The Indoor Kids. They're Hollywood people that have lived and worked in the Industry for awhile now, so that's why their first film is directed by Michael Showalter and produced by Judd Apatow. Actually, it's probably not all that surprising that Judd Apatow produced this, as he seems to produce everything that doesn't have superheroes, explosions, or monsters in it.

The film also stars Holly Hunter, who is awesome, Ray Romano, an actor who I try not to hold their old sitcom against, and Zoe Kazan, who is charming, but was in Ruby Sparks, which is one of the most execrable movies ever made, and it's really hard for me to forget that.

...God damn, I hate that movie...

Anyway, all of that aside, I'm interested. This film looks good. Plus, the word on the street is all pretty positive.

The synopsis, however, are terrible.

Here's IMDB's: A couple deals with their cultural differences as their relationship grows. That's it? Somebody needs to be fired for giving so little of a shit.

Here's Wikipedia's: The Big Sick is based on the real courtship of Kumail Nanjiani and his now-wife, Emily Gordon. Kumail's traditional Pakistani Muslim family is unhappy with his relationship with Emily, a White American. When Emily is waylaid by a mysterious illness, Kumail must take charge of the crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry, whom he barely knows. That's a little better, but even a single watch of the trailer shows how incomplete that is.

You know what? Let's just watch the trailer...


See? That's cute, right?

There seems to be a good balance of comedy and drama going on here, as most "based on real life" stories should. I like how it's about a mixed race/mixed culture couple. I like that it's unapologetically sweet, and with more than a little bit of anger just below the surface. I like that it seems sincere. More and more, with Nazis and bigots in the White House, and a Legislature that is actively trying to kill off citizens, a little sweet positivity is just the type pf thing we need.

THE BIG SICK opened this past weekend, so it might be playing for some of you, and it might not be playing for others. It's in Limited Release now, and that means it did pretty well for only being in a few theatres, so if it's not playing near you, hopefully it'll come to your area soon.

Until then... Look for it. Go see it.

Jon


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Hello World :)



Today's short film is called Hello World :)

Yep, with the emoji. 

This short film was made in France, by students apparently. Rafael Mathe and Etienne Larraguetta directed it, and Etienne Larraguetta and Arnaud de Cazes wrote it. This is their first short film. Now, the fact that this is both French, and that it was made by students, well... that can go either way, good or bad, in my experience. French short films often have other priorities than a coherent story, and student short films often have a lot in common with student drivers, skittish and wild, and barely in control. Sometimes. Often. Occasionally.

I've also seen a few articles describe this movie as a "Hacker film". In France, Cyberpunk isn't completely dead yet, apparently. The title actually refers to a program of the same name called Hello, World! See? Computer shit. Bleeding Edge. Hack the Planet!


Anyway, here's the synopsis: In a close future, a private company developed a technology aimed at boosting our brain capacity. But it requires from its clients to store their memory data on one single server. In this highly controlled world, a young woman has the power to change things. 

That's a pretty vague synopsis, but I'm going to blame the language barrier.

Let's watch...



Well, that felt very... French. It looked really French too.

Honestly, I'm surprised there was no parkour.

I kid, I kid... that was actually better than I thought. Not great, but not bad either. The surveillance leaping from person to person was a nice effect. Especially when the authorities were hunting for the Mustang. That was clever. The ending was pretty rushed though, because the film was pretty uneven. The pacing, the narrative... they spent a lot of time in the front half moving pieces around and setting things up and talking and posing and talking and posing and smoking cigarettes in that very French way, and as a result, I'm not really sure what happened at the end. How did the catatonic old guy suddenly became not catatonic, and was then able to upload his program? And it's a program that does what exactly? Frees everyone? Why? How were they oppressed? It was nice looking and well put together, but the story was too flawed to be able to blame it on a language/cultural barrier. I guess that's student films... never really fully in control.

After the last couple of films, the flaws in this one are probably more apparent than it would be on it own, but for a first time try, not too bad.

C'est la vie,
Jon

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Monsters





Today's short film is called MONSTERS.

The film is Directed by Steve Desmond, who also wrote it with Michael Sherman. According to their IMDBs, they're very active short film scene people, but this is the first time I've heard of either of them. Blame me, not them. So anyway, as a result, I don't have a lot to say about either of them or their work, but the initial information I've found on this short film does seem promising.

Don't believe me, check out the synopsis: Jenn lives in an underground bunker with her family, protected from the monsters that now ravage the world. This is the day that she goes outside…

Underground bunker? Monsters? Venturing outside for the first time? 

Awesome. Let's watch...



Classic. Loved it.

This was just your basic Twilight Zone-like short film. There's a twist, a good twist. There were a couple of good twists, actually. MONSTERS keeps you guessing, but it doesn't try to make itself seem too clever either. I appreciate how they used your expectations to pull you into each new reveal, but for all of the twists the film does contain, it's still a pretty straight-forward horror/sci-fi tale. I liked that.

Sure, if you want to give yourself a trophy, you can probably say that you saw at least some of it coming. Good for you, you spotted some classic twists that have been in a thousand short stories and TV shows. The point is, MONSTERS did a good job of it... even though it kind of looked like a TV episode. Whatever, doesn't matter. The actors did a great job. The script was well-written, I don't know how much rewatch value something like this might have, but that's not really a big issue, because the initial viewing at least was a lot of fun.

I'm a big fan of self-contained short films with tight narratives, and this one was definitely a good example of that. That having been said, this film was one of the few times where I'd definitely watch more of this world. It felt a lot like a PURGE-type world to me. I like that, so I'm interested in seeing more of what's going on, and how it all got that way. I'd like to see something pick the story up from the ending, and tell us what happens next.

What happens to the extra kids?

I may have to write this idea down...
Jon



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Aftermath






Today's short film is called AFTERMATH.

Written, directed, and produced by Jeremy Robbins, you'd think, with as many of these genre short films that I watch, that I'd eventually begin to recognize more of these guys and their work, but... nope. Not this time, at least, so I can't really comment on him or his work, except to say that he seems ambitious, driven, and mutli-talented. That's without having seen the film, of course. Who knows, he may turn out to be overly-ambitious, unrealistic, and lacking a realistic view of his abilities.

We shall see...

The point is, this film is Post-Apocalyptic, so I'm in.

Here's the synopsis: In a new, predatory ice age, two brothers search for a place to call home. And if I know anything, it's this... That is a really shitty and vague synopsis, which might be a bad sign. In fact, it probably is a bad sign. I mean, what the fuck is a predatory ice age? Are they being hunted by icebergs? I could see that, actually. They're pretty sneaky, you know that, right? Icebergs hide most of themselves beneath the water line, so you never know how large they really are... until it's too late.

Anyway, let's watch...



Well, now... I liked this one.

Turns out Jeremy was ambitious, driven, and multi-talented after all. That's a nice surprise. Not to imply that this was a happy film, of course. It was actually pretty bleak. It definitely pulled more for the THE ROAD school, then say... the MAD MAX school, but that's fine sometimes. Even if the film was grim, it wasn't overly-serious, or overly inflated by an undeserved sense of self-importance, which is nice. Sometimes that line blurs, y'know? What I'm saying is, yes, this was definitely not a happy film, but it was still a good one.

For once, a really shitty synopsis didn't end up heralding a really shitty film.

This was cheap and easy and not too flashy, but it looked good. It used smart characters and great world beats, not to mention some pretty well-chosen sets, and the weather, in order to tell its story. I really liked how the characters' lives were nothing but a restless and near-constant motion, there was a real feeling of the almost shark-like focus on keeping moving as it was the only real safety. I liked how they showed that through their wariness and how a bed was so appealing. I liked that simplicity. It was all about simple survival. I liked that focus. It kept the film tight. Nothing sends these short films off the rails faster than when they cast too wide of a narrative net.

I was also really impressed with the way they sold the world. Small, but perfect and hard-hitting little details that worked so well. The body left in its underwear... the sudden and random violence... the willingness to shoot... the overwhelming desire to just sleep in a bed... These moments not only lent themselves to the whole "cycle of violence" theme, but they really crystallized the story.

That was good stuff.

AFTERMATH is a good example of what a successful short film should be. It tells a whole story. It has real characters and a real world. It maintains awareness of the production's and the genre's limitations, but it doesn't feel constrained by them. It's a story you would be interested in seeing more of, but they don't leave you dangling. All in all, this was very well done.

Simple, tough, and good. I liked it.

Jon

Monday, June 19, 2017

Rakka - Oats Studio - Volume One







Today's short film is called Rakka.

So, right off the bat, I should probably tell you two things about this particular short film. 1. It's not really that short. And 2. It's part of a new Neill Blomkamp project.

I've talked about Neill Blomkamp on here before, most recently in this post, and what I said then is still true: At this point, I consider him to be a Director of Diminishing Returns. Unreliable. Basically, with each new endeavor, he makes District Nine seem like more and more of a fluke. For me, his stuff can all be summed up the same way: Cool ideas executed poorly.

So, when Blomkamp teamed up with Oats Studio to announce a series of shorts films intended for release on the online gaming platform Steam, mostly as a possible test for future feature film releases, I was interested, but I was also appropriately wary.

Blomkamp has had a lot of failures recently. Chappie is an inhumanly terrible film. His recent BMW short film about The Driver went over like a lead balloon. And most recently, in what just might be proof that God exists, his terrible ALIEN franchise reboot idea was dumped by FOX. Who knows what it is. Maybe he's out of ideas, out of gas, and this is all of the ill-advised left-over crap he hasn't got to use. Maybe it's time for him to hang up his spurs, and this is just him refusing to listen? It's possible.

Or...

Maybe this is his redemption? Maybe he's got some cool new ideas, instead of recycling all of the same old garbage? Maybe a smaller budget and less studio oversight is just what he needed? Maybe it will allow him to work with more clarity and focus? Plus, a series of experimental short films with a generally dark and militaristic sci-fi bend? Yeah, I'm certainly interested. This could be cool. Maybe. Of course, they could be terrible too... But hey, at least this one has Sigourney Weaver in it. She's awesome.

Here's the synopsis: A tale of a dystopian future where an unknown alien group have colonised the earth and humans struggle to fight back. 

Okay, well, that's a bad sign. This is a good microcosm of why I'm a little wary of Blomkamp's stuff: At first glance, it sounds super cool, right? But if you take a second and think about it, you'll see that they misspelled "colonized" on their IMDB page. I mean... come on, dude...

Oh, well... only one way to find out.

Let's watch.


Well, that was about on par with what I expected. It looked good. It was gory and gross. It had some good special effects. The characters were paper thin archetypes. The story was wide and vague, and that's being pretty fair. Being tough, you might say the film leaned too heavily on the "experimental" idea in order to jump over all of the necessary narrative heavy lifting. At 20 minutes long, we got a lot of familiar imagery--and a lot of it was definitely cool--but mostly it felt more like a really long trailer more than anything else. The fact that this project was launched as a test for future possible feature film releases on Steam suddenly looms pretty large.

There wasn't a very good sense of geography either, or character placement, and granted, this was a short film, but the resistance force felt pretty small. Was that scale on purpose? Were they just a local cell of something bigger, or were they it? It was hard to tell, and the film didn't seemed concerned at all. I wasn't a big fan of the design of the aliens' tech either. The spike goo effect just felt unfinished. Also, a nitpick, but if they're changing the atmosphere to be more heavily methane, then I would have liked to seen that reflected in the aliens' body language, and their tech compensating.

In the end, at best, this film felt like an extended trailer for an overly-familiar project, and at worst, like a poorly constructed prequel to an obviously under-funded and underwhelming production.

Blomkamp, man... Diminishing returns...

Out,
Jon

Friday, June 9, 2017

Infiltration







Today's film is called Infiltration.

This is the sixth animated short film in a series that accompany the video game Overwatch. I've talked about these films a couple of times before now. Don't believe me, click right here.

tldr, I think they're pretty neat.

Overwatch is described as a team-based online multiplayer first-person shooter. I still haven't played it, and probably never will. I like video games, but not enough to hook my Xbox up on-line, and if I can't get on-line, then there's no way I can fully enjoy a squad-based combat game. I know, I know, not hooked up on-line? It's like I'm living in the stone age, but y'know what? I've been flying the Death Star trench run for longer than some of you have been alive, mother fuckers. Stand-up version AND sit-down version. Try me.

Anyway, I really like these short films.

The animation is top notch, the characters are cool, the designs are good, and the stories are generally pretty fun. I'd love to watch a regular series or a feature length film in this style, or in this one too. I wish there was more of a cohesive narrative thread running through all of these, but that's a small complaint. Mostly, I'm just a fan of this world. I really like the whole post-cold war/post world war/twilight of the superheroes vibe it has going on.

This film features a new character named Sombra. She is supposed to be a kind of gray-area mercenary hacker type of thing, I guess. Basically, she's a loose cannon that looks out for herself, but she gets results! Personally, I'm not a big fan of her outfit style and design, it's way too... shoulder-paddy and accented, y'know? It's just generally over-designed like crazy. It's cool that she's Latina, at least. Fans have apparently gone fucking nuts for her signature nose "booping" for some reason. A quick Google search shows that the Boop is all over the fan community's cosplay and fan-fic and fan-art. Who knows why, but they fucking love it. What can I say, fans latch onto weird shit.

The film also features the return of grimdark fandom's favorite over-compensating power-fantasy character, Reaper, as well as one of the same fan-base's favorite overly-sexualized porny characters, Widowmaker. Both of them have appeared in previous short films. They're grim. They're dark. The people love them.

The people love them.



There's also a brief tease of the character Zarya at the end, a character who hasn't appeared in any shorts before now. She's a huge Russian woman with a big gun and questionable taste in tattoos and hairstyles. You don't get to see her actually doing anything, though... next time, I guess.


Here's the synopsis: When a Talon operation doesn't go exactly as planned, Sombra steps out of the shadows and takes control.

Well... that was brief.

Let's watch...



That was fun.

This one goes mostly light on story and heavy on the action, but the action is fun and well-choreographed, so that's not necessarily a bad thing, and it takes a sudden turn at the end and adds a strong bit of character motivation and greater narrative stuff, so... a little from Column A, and a shit ton from Column B. Unbalanced, sure, but still fun.

I continue to hold out hope for a focus on the larger connective narrative...

Sombra's got a shit-ton of abilities though. She can turn invisible. She can teleport. She can control basically everything that is even a little bit electronic apparently. And that's all on top of being able to run and jump and shoot and fight at pretty much superhuman levels. If she can do all of this in the game, she might be a little overpowered as a character. As she stands in the movie, she's pretty cool. Too bad she looks so dumb.

Can't win them all, I guess.
Jon

Thursday, June 8, 2017

It Comes At Night








A24 is the best Production House around.

That's just the pure truth, people.

Active since 2012, the lists of films they've put it out is a who's-who of "God damn, I love that movie." Titles like... Spring Breakers, Spectacular Now, Under The Skin, Locke, Enemy, The Rover, Ex Machina, The End of the Tour, Room, The Witch, Green Room, The Lobster, Swiss Army Man, Moonlight... just to name a few. At this point, they're basically the only Production House out there whose name alone is enough to grab my attention. Succinctly put, they're good shit.

IT COMES AT NIGHT is one of their latest.

Trey Edward Shults is the writer and director. His previous film, Krisha, was also by A24, so since I haven't seen it, I will most likely check that out at some point in the near future as well. Otherwise, I'm not familiar with his work, however, that being said... everything I've seen for IT COMES AT NIGHT so far has looked completely amazing and totally scary, so I'm interested.

Plus, it's Post-Apocalyptic, so... y'know...

Anyway, here's the synopsis: Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son, but this will soon be put to test when a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.

Now that's a good synopsis, folks. It's short and straight to the point. It clearly lays out the plot, yet stays vague. Despite this, it remains tantalizing, and all while not giving anything away. A good, clear synopsis means they've put some thought into their story, what it means, and what they're trying to say, and that means you can trust them... a little. Add that to A24's reputation, and I think we've got something good here, maybe.

Don't believe me? Let's watch the trailer...



Oh, man... There's multiple levels of Holy Shit going on here, people.

At first, you have your basic Post-Apocalyptic hardship, with its isolation and uncertainty. Then, you add new people to an already established group, and the intense paranoia and resentment that stress and tighter quarters seems to lead to. And then, there's the Rules. Rules, of course, are meant to be broken in stories like this, so the question of when that happens and how bad are the consequences are is added to the mix, not to mention the automatic question of: Why do these Rules exist in the first place? And finally, the cherry on top, the weird mystery sickness... Is it real? Is it supernatural? Whatever the answer, it looks like it's going to get bloody and ugly before it's all done. Sounds awesome. Total thumbs up. Reviews are good. Rotten Tomatoes is strong. I'm hearing good stuff...

I am worried about the dog, though...
Jon

IT COMES AT NIGHT opens this Friday, 6/9/17. Go see it. I know I will.