Monday, June 27, 2016

Vestiges





Today, I have another animated short film from France.

I've put a few of these up here over the years, but I can't specifically recall what they were, or when I posted them, so I didn't dig up a link for you. You can look around for it, if you want. As far as I can remember, they're mostly kind of the same, they're generally good and interesting, but also usually more about the animation and the emotional tone, than they are the narrative, y'know? I expect this one will probably be along the same lines.

This one is called Vestiges.

I'm not really sure why, not yet. Some ideas occur to me, but they don't quite fit what it appears the short film is about, or don't make a lot of sense, so... who knows? Hopefully we'll find out.

Anyway, Vestiges was created by group of kids with Tumblrs known only as Naleb, Ester, and Thomas. I assume they're all animation students at EMCA. They apparently made this for a French contest called the Espoirs de l'Animation, which looks like it's all about the animated short films, and according to Naleb's Tumblr, they won the Audience Award at this year's contest, so congratulations!

Good on them.

And so, finally, here's the synopsis: A young girl uses the strength of nature to struggle against the growth of a black mud.


That was nice.

Cute animation, nice designs, clear themes, the whole thing was quick and simple, a familiar tale of nature versus toxins, the pure versus the contaminated. It worked well, I think. Plus, as I've said before, I like it when Creators acknowledge the time constraints of this genre. It signals a self-awareness that is important to good story-telling, I think. Now, in both theme and look, this is very obviously a heavily Hayao Miyazaki-influenced piece, but I don't think this is a bad thing, at least not at this level. It's a good start, and for what it is, it's pretty well done.

Good job,
Jon

Friday, June 24, 2016

Sunspring







Okay, so this is a weird one.

This short film is called SUNSPRING, and it was written by an A.I., (both an Artificial Intelligence and a terrible Spielberg movie). The A.I. began its life with the name Jetson, but soon re-named itself, and is now known as Benjamin. He has an IMDB credit. I'm sure you're all familiar with the concept of A.I.s, right? After all, an A.I. was the main bad guy in the classic Matthew Broderick film WarGames.

So, here's the deal... Director Oscar Sharp and New York University A.I. Researcher Ross Goodwin made this film for the Sci-fi London film festival 48 Hour Film Challenge. Benjamin wrote the screenplay after first being fed a ton of sci-fi scripts, and then using a recurrent neural network called long short-term memory, or LSTM for short, kind of like the Predictive Text Function on your phone. You can subscribe to Benjamin's new screenplay updates here and you can like its Facebook here.

Now, I know what you're thinking... "But Jon, you look great, by the way..." (Thanks) "Isn't it dangerous to encourage A.I.s to like... do stuff? I mean, from just looking at all the pop culture stuff out there, when you encourage computers to get smarter, you either end up with all of humanity dead or in chains, or you get a really stupid film."

I hear you. I acknowledge you. This is a valid concern.

Here's the synopsis: A computer generated the screenplay for this short science fiction film.

Uh-huh. Well, all right then. Let's watch the film.



"It's a damn thing scared to say! Nothing is going to be a thing, but I'm the one who got on this rock, with a child, and then I lift the other two."

Powerful. Powerful stuff.

The death knell of Hollywood has been sounded, people. The Age of the A.I. has begun. Soon all of the Oscars will belong to the Machine. Humanity is over. I, for one, welcome our new Robotic Screenplay Masters.

I don't know what you're talking about,
Jon


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

TRIAL







All right!

Today's a new day, and here we are with another Sci-fi Short Film from me to you, so let's get into it, shall we?

SHALL WE?

Today, we have Trial. It is a short film Written and Directed by The Brothers Lynch, otherwise known to their parents as Keith and David T.. This I know: They are brothers, and they are film-makers. However, beyond that, I don't know much, except that I'm reasonably sure David and Keith are in actuality the separate entities that, when they utter their magic phrase, transform and merge, to become a Mighty Director!

Pretty sure. 85% percent, at least.

Other than that, neither one of them has done anything that really jumps out at me. That being said, though, they do seem to have a passion for genre stuff, and are pretty regularly active--as a separate pair--starting out on music videos, and now branching out into their own projects.

So good for them.

Here's the synopsis for today's film: A pioneering mind transfer procedure offers a quadriplegic soldier the chance of a new life... but at a terrible cost. The corporal finds himself in another part of the science facility with no idea how he got there. These time jumps escalate out of control climaxing with a horrific realization...

Tsk, tsk, tsk... There's always a terrible cost with these things, isn't there?

Seriously though. on a more personal preference note, I hate it when a synopsis refers to a character in broad terms first, and then very quickly after throws in a specific designation, no preamble, no explanation, just a sudden blurt of specific character information thrown in your way, because they couldn't figure out an easy way to convey it. Note: Most of the time, I've found that when I come across this, the specific information isn't very important information, and ultimately does not need to be shared here.

Specifically... I.E. They first say "soldier" in the synopsis, and then in the very next sentence, reference "the corporal". Who's "the corporal"? Now, obviously this is supposed to be the previously mentioned "soldier", but that's just an assumption that's not confirmed by the rest of the synopsis. It could be a second character, you don't know. In fact, there's no definite way to be sure, especially since (SPOILER) the main character is rarely referred to as "the corporal" in the film, if at all. It's a nitpick, sure, and you're probably safe in assuming "the soldier" and "the corporal" are one and the same, but the point is... it's clutter in your synopsis, and people trip on clutter. When you're doing one of these things, you need to keep it short, simple, and broad. The point is to entice, not confuse. To propel your audience onward into your story, not bog them down. You want to make them want more, not make them want to consider whether or not to bother.

Now, I'd like to say this kind of inability to see the forest for the trees--however slight--is not indicative of narrative issues that pop up in the film itself.

I'd like to say that.

Let's watch...


Okay...

For the most part, that was all right. It was certainly well made, especially for this level and type of film-making. It looked good. The effects were nice too, and well-integrated. This was a good job, especially on a technical level. That having been said, it really didn't do much for me. I wasn't bothered, or offended. I didn't roll my eyes, but I wasn't drawn in either. I think what it was, for me at least, was that they put much more narrative stock in the dramatic power of the "twist" than was ever actually warranted, so it all fell flat for me.

The whole film revolves around the twist, obviously, that's the point, but honestly, at least for me, when it came time for the big reveal, it just kind of thuds. I hate to say it, but: Who cares? Is this reveal about the body swap process an issue? Why? Just because? How is it worse or better that the body (SPOILER) isn't a clone? Or was that even an issue? Was the reveal simply that there are (SPOILER) two minds warring for dominance in one body? Was that the point? If that was the point of the reveal, then their whole narrative structure was off, and the story was missing its resolution.

It just wasn't clear.

It also wasn't clear enough what the point of the time jumps were, as in what was supposed to actually be happening in the film, while they were actually happening in the film. And when you couple that with the fact that all of the characters were generally too under-developed for the audience to really forge a connection with... the whole thing just ends up feeling too bombastic.

Less "mystery" in general would have been a good thing for this film.

Personally, I think the events surrounding the reveal, the specifics of the reveal itself, and what exactly the process entailed, would have been a hell of a lot more interesting narrative-wise, than this weak Twilight Zone-like nod we got instead. Or maybe they should have made a bigger deal earlier in the film over where exactly the Scientists got the new bodies from, maybe then the reveal might have had more power. I don't know. Maybe "The Trials" would've been more interesting? Show me several attempts, maybe, rather than just showing a single one, you know, show the various successes and failures? Context is what I'm saying, basically.

The film needed less Mystery, and more Context.

This all sounds very critical, of course. And it is, the film has issues, but I don't want to imply that it was bad or anything. It wasn't. The film is good, it just didn't wow me.

Competent. Good looking. Kind of average.

Jon

Friday, June 10, 2016

Night Stalker






Another Horror Short Film? I suppose these things happen...

Night Stalker was Written and Directed by Mike Anderson, Abigail Horton, and Ryan Dickie. Now, normally this is the part where I'd say that I know nothing about these three people, or their work, because that is usually case for me when it comes to Short Films. Usually. But not today. Y'See, Mike Anderson, Abigail Horton, and Ryan Dickie were--respectively--the Property Master, Assistant Camera, and First Assistant Camera on Blue Ruin, one of my favorite films ever (Check out the trailer right here), which is an awesome credit to have. Seriously, if you haven't seen this film, then you need to rectify that as soon as possible, because you're missing out.

Now, who knows if this connection will make any difference in their actual skills as film-makers. It probably won't, but what it will do, in all likelihood, is cause me to be a little more forgiving of them and their project than I might be on any other day.

Just letting you know about my possible bias here...

Anyway, here's the synopsis: THE NIGHT STALKER WILL POISON YOUR TOGO FOOD AND CHANGE YOUR FACE TO PLASTIC ANS DESTROY YOUR LIFE!!! YOU WILL WATCH THIS FILM AND THEN COME HOME AND YOUR DOG WILL BITE YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT THE SAME! NIGHT STALKER!! NIGHT STALKER!! NIGHT STALKER!!!!!!

This synopsis tells us nothing, of course, because it was probably written by some over-paid hipster asshole Social Media Director at SXSW, who most likely couldn't be bothered to even barely watch the film when it screened, because they were too busy combing their beard while texting about vintage t-shirts and/or an after-party where they served PBR. It was obviously written by a stupid person, and is obviously not an official synopsis. However, the fact that I couldn't locate an official synopsis anywhere is... strange and somewhat disconcerting. That might be a bad sign.

Either way, we're on our own here. Let's take a look.



Not bad.

Not great either.

I mean, it didn't really blow my skirt up, as the kids say, but it wasn't too bad. It certainly looked good. I really liked the weird designs of the Monster World, and the use of stop motion I liked the lead actress a lot. I think my main stumbling block, when it comes to really liking this short, is that I can't help but feel like the entire point of the thing was just to use the music of whoever the hell that band was in something. Are they a known band?

I could look it up, but I'm not really that interested.

Okay, so my completely uninformed, and extrapolated purely in my own head, theory is that someone involved with the film, or maybe someone related to, or dating someone, involved in the film, is in that band, and thus... a platform was created specifically to facilitate them. Maybe their social media wasn't taking off. Maybe they're just not finding an audience. Maybe their sound isn't that innovative or good. Who knows, but this is what I think is happening here. In a nutshell: Nepotism. This theory would explain why I couldn't find an official synopsis of the film anywhere, and yet there were plenty of links provided to find the band and their music.

I might have to call Shenanigans.

Because here's the thing, the film's story was very simple and straight-forward, which I appreciate. I'm a big proponent of Short Film Story Economy. Acknowledge the limitations of the genre! But so much time in the film is given over to karaoke of the band's song, to dancing to the band's song, to a triumphant bursting forth climatic moment featuring the band's song, that there's almost zero character moments to speak of. Luckily, the lead actress is talented enough, and emotive enough, to get some much needed information across in more subtle "Actor-y" ways, because otherwise, where's the firm story/character foundation for me to build off of, so that I can even attempt to give a shit about this Suburban whine rock band?

That probably sounded meaner than I actually care, but whatever, point stands.

Anyway, there's definitely ability here, and an eye for capitalizing on the limitations of the short film genre, while at the same time pushing some boundaries, and boldly striding into the area of weird and different ideas. But in the end, it was all undermined by the odd front-and-centering of this band, whoever the hell they were.

Not bad, kinda odd, but ultimately it stumbles.

Jon

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Woods



I don't normally bother with Horror Short Films.

I don't know if it's me, or if it's just a side-effect of the narrative limitations that come with making a short film, but I find them largely ineffective. They just feel weak, or tired, of put-on. They often put me in mind of the Death-Metal dude that works at the local Bruegger's Bagels, the one who's constantly throwing devil horns and making "crazy" tongue-sticking-out faces in his hairnet. It's like, "Yeah, man, you're totally super hardcore, f'reals. I'd like a Rosemary Olive Oil bagel with Plain Cream Cheese, please." Now, this particular reference may not mean anything to you, but to me...? VERY illuminating.

Get on my level.

I know, I know, don't @ me. Sure, it's definitely true that sometimes these Horror Shorts really do work. For example, take a look at this one right here, which is great. But honestly, it's been my experience that successful Horror Shorts like that one are the exception, and that most of the ones I've come across end up being much more like this one right here.

As a result, I'm a little hesitant about trying this THE WOODS out.

In this particular case, this is mostly due to the synopsis: The Woods is a dialogue-free horror short that follows a lone woman in a desolate snowscape on a quest to take care of an ailing relative.

"Dialogue-free", huh? Shit, now that's a big Red Flag. The Writer, a man known only as Remington Smith, goes on to say: "Shot in -30 degree weather using only natural light and no digital trickery, The Woods is a horror-meets-arthouse narrative about the lengths we will go to take care of family." That sentence is both filled with Red Flags, and yet admittedly is kind of intriguing too. So, maybe it's not as bad as I first assumed? I don't know, some good, some bad... It could go either way. Unfortunately though, the main Big Ass Red Flag isn't as readily apparent. I had to stumble across it. The IMDB page for the film doesn't list a Director... Is that a bad sign, or just an oversight?

I guess there's only one way to find out...



Hmmm... I don't know if I'd call that Horror, honestly.

I also wasn't expecting it to be about zombies, that was nice, even if the whole "putting your family to rest" thing is a pretty familiar angle. It looked great, much better than I assumed, but really, minus the music, what part of that would you say was all that scary? All that tense? All that gory? All that... basically anything Horror-related? Sure, there was a monster in it, but it wasn't much of a threat, and there wasn't a sense of danger so much as a sense of isolation. I also think, despite the strong performances and the clear motivations, that the family aspect could have been sold better. The reasons for her quest, or that she was even on a quest, aren't very apparent at first. She seemed to be just wandering more than she was actually hunting for a good portion of the film.

This isn't to say THE WOODS was bad or anything. It wasn't. It didn't feel overly long. It really did look great. The performances worked well, and the things that I kind of expected to work against the film, largely did not. In the end, it was a well done short film, albeit a somewhat narrative-light one.

It definitely didn't feel like Horror.

Jon

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Uncanny Valley






Diving back in!

Okay! So, today we have a sci-fi short film that looked kind of interesting, despite the somewhat worn-out and obvious trope it starts out with. I'm sure you're familiar with it... VR as a drug. Users as addicts. The game is not really a game. Blah, blah, blah, quack-quack. I mean, sure, yes, it's all been done before, there's nothing new under the sun. Sure, sure, that's all true, but even with that allowance, after awhile some of these ideas get a bit thin, y'know? However, that being said, while this short film may start out with a pretty standard idea, it looks like they might have done something interesting with it this this time, at least for some of it anyway, maybe...

Whatever, like I said, it looked interesting, so I thought I would check it out.

The film is called Uncanny Valley, and it was written and directed by Federico Heller though 3dar, if that means anything to you. It doesn't to me, of course. As pretty much always with these type of things, both the man, and the Company, are just another in a long line of Short Film Directors and Production Houses that I am completely unfamiliar with. That's not a judgment on their work, just a statement of fact. So, I can't tell you much about them. Some day, though, right? I figure I've done enough of these, so any day now I'm going to start seeing names I recognize, like this one time right here. That was kind of cool. I mean, I assume this will happen again someday. I assume there's a short film circuit, right, like how some people only write short stories? That's a thing, right?

Whatever... Here's hoping for a quality short film!

And here's the official synopsis: In the slums of the future, virtual reality junkies satisfy their violent impulses in online entertainment. An expert player discovers that the line between games and reality is starting to fade away.

Uh-oh, I hope that doesn't mean that if you die in the Matrix, you die in the Real World too! GASP!

Let's find out...


That was pretty good.

I'm kind of surprised. Honestly, I wasn't expecting much. Like I said above, the themes and ideas weren't all that new here, but it turns out they were used pretty effectively, and they told a pretty good--and pretty good looking--story while using them too. There was good action, some nice designs, there was some nice social commentary going on, not to mention some good effects too. All in all, this was good. I liked it. And I really liked the story economy too. Get in, get out, and all with a full awareness of the time, narrative space, and money constraints of the Short Film. I appreciate that. The inability to tell a complete story within the confines of the actual film they're creating is something a surprising number of Writers/Directors seem to fail at.

The only complaint I have about this film is the whole "junkie flying" thing. Obviously it's a visual metaphor, I get it, but I think it undermines the reality of what they're doing. The contrast between the VR world and the Real World is all you really need, the flying thing is just wasted effects. But that's a quibble. All in all, good stuff. Uncanny Valley is totally worth your time.

Check it out.

Later,
Jon


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Procrastination


Hello again, my friends, family, various hanger-ons, and occasional Internet randos!

Hello, hello, hello! It's been awhile, right? Yeah... nearly four months. I mean... shit. That's a long time, even for me. Now, I'm sure a lot of you out there have been worried. Where was was I? What was I doing? Was I all right? Did I have dry socks? Was I eating? What did I think of Captain America Civil War? Well, worry no more, kids, because I am back, and I have a butt-load of short films that I've stumbled across here or there around the Internet to share with all y'all. Plus, as a special bonus, I'll eventually get around to putting together a few updates on the current status of me and my writing too.

So exciting, right?

It's all right, you can admit it.

Anyway ...Like I said, I'm back. To start things off, I thought this short film would be the perfect way to ease back into things, as it's called--appropriately enough--Procrastination. It's a short one, quick and easy, so you should definitely check it out. It's by filmmaker Carmel Gatchalian, whom I've never heard of, so I am unable to really comment on. However, a cursory examination of her page leads me to suspect that this might be a student project of hers. That's cool. Whatever. In the end, whoever she is and whatever she does or why, it doesn't matter. The point is, the synopsis is simple: This is a self-portrait about my struggles with procrastination.

I can so relate...



Yep. Been there.

See you soon, and more often (hopefully),
Jon