Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bag Man






Today's short film is called BAG MAN, and it was Written and Directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker, who I assume are related, possibly as brothers, but I can't be bothered to find out for sure. Also, I am not familiar with any of the short films they've made before now, so here's their site, if you're curious.

And here's the synopsis for today's short film: BAG MAN is the understated story of a 12 year old African American boy, who takes us on an introspective journey out of the city and into the remote countryside of upstate New York. With a mysterious duffle bag in hand, its contents unknown to us, we journey from the urban hustle of Harlem, into the winter-ravaged woodlands a world away. On the road, we slowly discover his real intentions, and the startling significance of what is hidden inside a young boy’s bag.

All right, so... right away, I'm a little wary.

This synopsis feels really over-written, right from the start. I mean, if you just remove the words "understated" and "introspective" from the first sentence alone, it suddenly reads 100 times better. Plus, and admittedly this is a nitpick, but... if a duffel bag is described as "mysterious", then that implies that its contents are unknown to us. Pump the Purple Prose Brakes, my man. Also, having watched the film, the last sentence in the synopsis weirdly walks a real fine line, where I honestly can't tell if they're just a bit deluded as to what actually happens in this film, or if it was more of a lie, which actually makes the most sense when the over-written synopsis is considered as well.

Of course, none of this means that it's a bad film...


I don't know what this poster is, but I'm real interested in finding out...

Also, according to Birth.Movies.Death, the Bakers are going to turn this short film into a feature length movie called KIN, reporting that the film will be about: "a recently released ex-con (Jack Reynor) and his adopted younger brother who are forced to go on the run. Chased by a vengeful criminal (James Franco), the feds and a cadre of otherworldly soldiers, their only protection is a found weapon of mysterious ancestry".

So, keep that in mind.

Let's watch...


Well, huh.

I guess it turns out that cartoon poster, the one I got from their website and posted above, is really nothing but Hope and Fervent Wishes. I suppose you could infer its depiction as being part of the greater story, maybe, if you stretched really, really hard, but still... not really.

Maybe it's for the feature film? That would be cool.

This isn't really the film's fault, of course, and to be fair, it does highlight that, within the film itself, they do an excellent job of restraining themselves when it comes to the narrative. As we've discussed before now, this is something that lot of short films struggle with: Keeping the story tight and focused, with a keen eye toward budgetary and technical restraints. Not showing some robot warrior fighting a bunch of other robot warriors is a good call. Would I like to see something like that? Of course. Could they have pulled it off? Judging by the Effects? Maybe.

But could they have afforded it? Probably not.

So, it was a good call.

The film is open-ended, sure, but there's no outside speculation, or loose story threads purposely left dangling, like some Short Films like to do, as if through sheer narrative awesomeness they'll be able to force some anonymous Mr. Moneybags out there to pay them to make more. That's never a sound plan, but whatever, the point is, the film doesn't directly pose any questions that it can't answer within its 14 minute time limit, and I appreciate that. Of course, the downside is, they don't answer any questions in the film at all, questions that might be a little more important/fundamental/interesting, questions like: What is the gun? Where does it come from? How did the kid find it? Who is the kid? Who are the three men in the car? Who is the guy in the trunk?

And on, and on, and on.

Put simply, even though it keeps it all very tight, this short film is really just a single sequence from a larger movie, and that kind of renders the whole thing inert. It looks great. The cast is great. I enjoyed what I saw. But what really happens in this film? Beyond a handful of the "Oh, that was neat" kind of moments? Not much.

I really hate to say it, but I would've liked less journey, and more alien weaponry.

Speaking of alien weaponry, I really loved the gun design and all of the stuff related to it. That was all really cool. And in the end, the things the film does do, I enjoyed, and if they make a feature film that dives into all of the unanswered questions, I'll see that too. I just wish they had answered a few more of those questions here.

Blog Man,
Jon




Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Destino







Dali and Disney. Disney and Dali.

Two names you wouldn't expect to go together.

But go together they did, at least for a few months. As the story goes, in 1945 Disney approached Dali with an idea.  Disney wanted to create a short film based on a Mexican folk song called Destino, a song that would play over the animation. He wanted Dali to create it. Y'see, at the time, ol' Walt was chafing from criticism that his films were too populist, and lacked any kind of genuine artistry, so he sought out the World's most famous surrealist, and Dali was completely on board. He loved the idea. The unlikely duo reportedly struck up an enduring friendship.

But not a film.

Disney shut down production after only a few short months. I don't know why. There wasn't much done on the project at the time, all that remained of the weird collaboration was a 15 second demo reel and a few hasty sketches. The project had been secret, so for years it was all but forgotten. Finally, in 2003, Disney got a wild hair up their ass, and hired a team of French animators to create a six minute short film based off of the fifty-some year old project's bits and pieces. The result garnered them an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film, but they ended up losing to an entry from Australian that was both claymation AND arty.

How could they compete?

Whatever, anyway... Here's the synopsis: The film tells the story of Chronos, the personification of time and the inability to realize his desire to love for a mortal. Dalí said: "Entertainment highlights the art, its possibilities are endless." The plot of the film was described by Dalí as "A magical display of the problem of life in the labyrinth of time." Walt Disney said it was "A simple story about a young girl in search of true love."

Let's watch.



Well, that was not bad. It was pretty. The song was nice too. Mostly though, honestly, it felt a lot like what I would imagine if someone said: "Imagine a cartoon by Salvador Dali." This was pretty much it. Not to dismiss it, of course. It was nice, really nice. It definitely looked good, it was just... very "melting clocks", y'know? 

Mostly, it felt like fluff.

Disney-pointed,
Jon


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Overwatch - UPDATE - The Last Bastion



Hello, hello, my friends! I am back again.

As some of you may recall, my last post was...well, last month... and it was all about the animated short films connected to a video game called Overwatch.

Do you remember?

Great. Glad to hear it, but for the benefit of any new readers out there, and the click-lazy, I will sum it up: In a nutshell, I liked them, and why wouldn't I? They're all generally entertaining, high-quality, and pretty well-written, if not a bit fluffy, but whatever... overall, they're pretty fun. However, I did complain about the lack of a cohesive narrative to string all the shorts together. I wondered, why they didn't build a more apparent story line? They almost seem to, and there's a somewhat noticeable connecting theme, but then they just kind of... don't really commit. That being said, this particular complaint wasn't all that disappointing, as much as just the lament of a missed opportunity. In the end, I mostly just wondered if they were ever going to make any more...

And then a few days later... they did.

That's the power of Jon, people.






This short film features the character Bastion. 

Bastion is your basic Warbot type character, big, clanking, and ugly, all as can be expected, right down to his "surprisingly" gentle nature. Not to be too hard on the game, of course, it's not an impressive insight to note that all of the characters are basic archetypes, because that's what these games always do. Anyway, Bastion is the character that, from what I've heard, if given the chance, he will just destroy the other players with his big cannons. Now, due to his being so over-powered, and easy to use to achieve victory, he is not only a favorite of low-skill players, or "Noobs" as the most likely horrible gamer nerds say, but he is also almost universally hated on sight.

Which may be why they made this particular short film...


Here's the summary: "THE LAST BASTION follows the forgotten battle automaton, Bastion, as it unexpectedly reactivates after laying dormant in the wilderness for over a decade. Fascinated by its unfamiliar surroundings, the curious omnic begins to investigate, but quickly discovers its core combat programming may have a different directive..."

Aw... see? He's not so bad after all, you guys. Let's watch...


So, my first thought is that maybe I was wrong (GASP!), maybe they are building a larger story. The theme in this short film is very similar to the others, as the main character deals with a dark past that is not as dead and gone as they would like, the main difference this time being that there is a distinct message of hope at the end, hope for change, for freedom from self, and a new direction. Sure, it's a bit heavy-handed, but it's a 7 minute short film about a robot in the forest, you got to get to the thematic meat quick, if you're going to do it at all.

I liked this.

It's interesting to me to see an animated short film that is all about turning your back on violence and old hatreds, like this one is, and yet, it is tied directly to video game that is 100% straight-up violent combat. Was the left hand not aware of the right hand? Or did anyone really care, expecting the message to be completely missed or ignored by its customer base?

Does it really matter?

Love,
Jon

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Overwatch Cinematics



There's this game called Overwatch.


You might remember it. I've mentioned it before.

I haven't played it, and honestly, I probably won't, but from what I can gather, the gist of the game is that you, and a bunch of other players, all run around an area and shoot at each other a whole bunch. Depending on which character you choose to play as, you fight in slightly differently stylized, powered, and paced ways.

It looks like this...


Bright, colorful, loud, confusing, and really pretty run-of-the-mill...

Some people will disagree with this. They'll talk about frame-rates maybe, whatever that means. They might mention the game's A.I. or how smooth the controls are, or who knows. It doesn't really matter to me, because I just see a differently painted version of Halo.

Whatever. Maybe I'll try it someday. Maybe not.

Honestly, probably not. I'm way behind on my video game playing, not to mention my other interests like writing and reading and rambling on about random short films, movies, and sometimes comic books on this blog, but like I said: whatever... that's not why we're here today. We're here today, because during the lead-up to the game's release, Blizzard Entertainment, the people behind Overwatch, released a handful of animated trailers to hype the game. I've posted about things like this before now, and aside from the obvious differences in animation, the Overwatch trailers are a lot like the ones Star Wars and DC comics released awhile back. I'm a big fan of things like this. No big reason why, I just like them. When they're done well, they're pretty fun, and these are pretty well done, so I've gathered them all here for our shared enjoyment.

Let's watch.


This was a lot of fun.

One of the links above will lead you to where I posted this trailer before, and that's where I talk about what I liked about this trailer. In a nutshell, though: It was fun. This was the first of the Cinematic Trailers released, and it's easy to see why. Not only is it quick and cool, and introduces the basic idea of the game, but the four characters it features are also kind of their main ones.

Reaper
     Tracer                                        Widowmaker
Winston

I have a theory that these were chosen as the game's main characters because they best represent/speak to the four most prevalent personality types of your average Gamers... But it's not really a completely considered theory, so I won't bother going into it. Anyway, after the initial cinematic was released, a series of character vignettes soon followed. Some of the shorts revisit the main characters from the first cinematic, which isn't that surprising, really, they're invested in those designs. The last two shorts feature some of the more reliably popular archetypes. In short, while the character choices aren't THAT interesting, what does interest me, is the possibility a larger story running through all of these vignettes. I like that kind of stuff.

First up, we have Winston, in a short called RECALL.

Here's the synopsis: "Recall" tells the story of Winston—a genetically engineered gorilla and brilliant scientist who longs for the days of heroism to return. In this episode, we explore Winston's thoughts and memories as he wrestles with the decision to recall the agents of Overwatch, all while the forces of Talon stage an attack on his laboratory in the abandoned Watchpoint: Gibraltar.


Winston is pretty much just a knock-off of the X-Men character Beast--you see a lot of Anime and X-Men nods in this game--he's your basic genius and savage mash-up. Reaper, meanwhile, is pretty much the pure essence of the on-line person of every sweaty and powerless teenage boy, muttering angrily to himself because the pretty girl at school likes the popular guy.

But it's a video game, what're you gonna do?

Other than that, this short did a good job of finishing off the world-building stuff from the first Cinematic. It's like this... Overwatch is a disparate team of heavily anime/X-men influenced archetypes who once saved the world from some kind of war. It's hard to tell if this was due to a ruthless terrorist organization along the lines of Cobra, or if it was a coalition of rogue nations, or maybe alien invaders. Who knows. Doesn't matter. The long and the short of it is: Once upon a time, big trouble was beaten back by Overwatch. Then, in the aftermath, an ungrateful world turned on their heroes, outlawing their activities, and disbanding the team, forcing them all into an early retirement. Surprise, surprise, this was premature, short-sighted, and stupid, because Bad Shit is on its way back. The world needs Overwatch again!

So, Winston makes the call.


Next up is an interesting one. It's called ALIVE.

Zenyatta

Not only does this next short give us our first glimpse of a new character--the Robot Lama Zenyatta--but this is also the video that basically launched a thousand fanfic ships by maybe insinuating that Tracer and Widowmaker have some sort of history, a history that could maybe be inferred to possibly have been romantic in nature, maybe, a history that then somehow went bad. Exciting, right? Tumblr certainly thinks so. See...



There's seems to be a theme here, but I can't seem to put my finger on it...

Anyway, here's the synopsis: "Alive" weaves a tale of Widowmaker, the peerless Talon assassin who stalks her prey with deadly efficiency. In this episode, we spend a fateful night in London’s King’s Row—where you’ll discover how one death can change everything.

Let's watch...


This is maybe the best one, I think.

This short is fast and simple and the action is great, and both Widowmaker and Tracer are pretty great in conflict. They have distinct personalities, their abilities are cool, and their designs look good together. I don't know how much you would say there was an implied history--let alone a romantic one--if you weren't told to look for it beforehand, but (heh... butt) it's cool either way. Zenyatta doesn't do much, however, and since he's a playable character, I can only assume he's not dead.

However, while the immediate story-line of an assassin trying to take out her target, and a hero trying to stop the assassin, really works, the biggest failing of this short is that the larger story gets a little murky. Yes, it kind of showcases the idea that evil is making a push back into the war, and that maybe the heroes can't face it all alone, but there other questions. Is this before or after Winston recalls Overwatch? What was the point with assassinating Zenyatta, other than just general bad guy reasons? Personally, I would've liked a clearer "larger narrative" arc here, something to tie it more to the previous shorts.

Either way, it's still a pretty good Short Film.


The third Cinematic breaks the mold. It's called DRAGONS.

This is the first one to avoid using any of the big four. This one is a more personal story, one in which we meet Hanzo and Genji, your basic samurai guy and techno-ninja type, as they appear in a classic tale of broken family honor. You basically know what to expect here, right? I mean, shit, if you're going to go for Asian archetypes, why not go full out, right?

Hanzo                                                 Genji

Here's the synopsis: "Dragons" explores the history of conflict between the scions of the Shimada clan: Hanzo and Genji. In this episode, we follow Hanzo as he returns to the siblings' family home in Hanamura once again to seek redemption... only this time, he finds himself confronted by the ghosts of the past.

Are you interested? Do you feel like you've seen it before?

Only one way to find out...


Interesting. Sure. Good action. Looked great. This was pretty all right. It definitely looked good. I liked those dragon attacks, they had a really great, bright color, and the various arrows were pretty cool. The story itself was maybe a little too "cherry blossoms on the wind" for me, but that's what happens when you brush so hard up against anime influences, I guess. As for the larger story, this one seems to take place before Winston recalls Overwatch... maybe. It was hard to tell. Besides the thematic idea that you can't run from the mistakes of your past forever, it really doesn't seem to connect up to the larger story at all, at least not as far as I can tell.

Still, it was fast and fun, so no big deal.


Finally, we have the fourth and finally Cinematic, called HERO.

This short features a character known as Soldier 76, who is basically a mix of "mysterious masked anime guy, and a whole heaping handful of the Marvel character Cable. Look at him... so mysterious, right? Not to mention bad ass too, huh? Hopefully, because that's certainly what they're going for, like the character was designed by an Internet Bad Ass Generator.

Soldier76

And here's the synopsis: "Hero" follows the masked vigilante Soldier: 76 on a personal mission to Dorado where he's set to investigate the illegal activities of the Los Muertos gang—but an unexpected complication threatens to compromise his objective.



Man, there was a lot of irresponsible shooting going on there...

That was all right. I think I had the least connection to this one over all. Good action. I liked the design of the gang when they were in low light. That was cool. Other than that, it was pretty generic. This was your basic "why the heroes are needed" story, but the amount of street destruction kind of undermines that whole thing, so... meh. I think this cinematic, more than anything else, illustrates the what is most likely the over-riding reality of this game: It's kind of generic.

But still, I enjoy these types of things, so... still fun, too.


And that was it.

The game came out, and the shorts dried up. Will there be more? Does the story go on? Who knows. So, what was the larger story? Was there one at all? At first there seemed to be a thread, but that quickly fell by the way side. Were there Cinematics trying to say anything at all? There's a whole theme of being true to yourself, and accepting your Destiny, but it was pretty fast and loose. That disappoints me a little. However, the execution was so well done, so fun, that it's hard to be too upset. I hope the people behind these Cinematics are trying to do something on their own...

Because these are all pretty good.

Game on,
Jon

Thursday, August 4, 2016

I'm You Dickhead






I'M YOU, DICKHEAD is the title of today's short film. It was directed by Lucas Testro, written by Larry Boxshall, and stars Anthony Gooley. They are complete unknowns to me. They could also be Australian. Or maybe they're from New Zealand. Or maybe not.

I just don't know.

From what I can tell, the film is a wacky, sci-fi comedy of the classic "what if a run-of-the-mill idiot had access to something fantastic" variety. And in this case, the fantastic thing appears to be some sort of time travel. This could be fun. It will probably involve some rules, which they will then immediately violate, hopefully to hilarious results. There will probably be more than a little "alternate self" shenanigans going on.

Warning, I suspect there's a good chance this might get a little slap-sticky, so... just fyi.

Here's the Synopsis: "In a world where time travel is a simple hospital procedure, a man jumps back in time to force his 10 year old self to learn guitar, so that he can get more action with the ladies in the present day."

Sounds reasonable. Let's check it out...



Well, now... that was pretty good. That was pretty funny. I liked that.

Good times.

This was recommended to me by my friend, Mike, and I'm glad he did, because I really enjoyed it. It's light and cheeky, self-aware, kind of dirty, and most of all, lots of fun, and not to mention, well-made too. I suppose you could pull apart the Time Travel rules if you wanted to, but that's not really the point. The cast was great, as was the comedic timing. Honestly, there's not much else I can say, really. I'll let the film speak for itself. It's definitely worth watching.

This was good.

Dickhead,
Jon


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

RISE






Today I have another example of the dreaded "Proof of Concept" short film.

I'm not sure whether RISE was intended to be a TV show, or a movie, but this Proof of Concept short film was Directed by David Karlak, and it was written by him, Patrick Melton, and Marcus Dunstan. And while I'm not specifically familiar with David Karlak's work, he was a Digital Artist on the movie Feast, which was the third or so Project Greenlight movie, which is why Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan looked kind of familiar to me. Melton and Dunstan were the guys that wrote Feast, so they were on the show occasionally, dealing with the random nonsense the Director would throw at them out of the blue. That's why I didn't recognize them right away, their pictures didn't show them sighing heavily, and then running their hands through their hair in exasperation. 

Just as an aside, if you're ever interested in some insight into how Hollywood really works, and exactly what the priorities are when they're making a movie, then you should watch the third season of Project Greenlight. After that, watch the trailer for Feast that I linked to above, and then sit down and watch the movie itself. If you do this, you'll get a glimpse into just how much a screenplay is chopped up. sewn back together, and then chopped up again during the process of making a movie.

Anyway, you can find all they want you to know about the short film RISE by clicking here.

And for the click-lazy, here's the synopsis: In the near future, sentient robots are targeted for elimination after they develop emotional symmetry to humans and a revolutionary war for their survival begins.

Honestly, that is a horribly written synopsis. That's a bad sign. I can tell what they're trying to say, but shit... come on, man, put some effort into that stuff. It's your introduction to the world.

...All right, whatever, let's do this.


Hey, that was kind of good.

I mean, it definitely wasn't a complete story or anything, which I'm usually against, but that wasn't what this film was going for. In fact, to me, this is a really good example of a Proof of Concept film done right. They have a big idea, with big concepts, in a big world, but a short amount of time, so they made it more like a movie trailer.

This was a smart move.

Doing it this way showed off their cool designs, and their cool CGI, and all while explaining what their show was about. Plus, unlike yesterday's short, RISE managed to find a possibly interesting angle to what is otherwise a pretty familiar idea, so that's definitely a point in their favor too. And for a little bit of extra oomph, they even had some recognizable star power on hand, between Rufus Sewell and the late Anton Yelchin. Sure, sure, maybe the imagery and the analogy was a little heavy-handed, but hey... it's a trailer, it needs to be sharp and clear and convey the intent. They did that.

In short, they sold me. I'm interested.

Of course, this was posted five months ago, and sadly, Anton Yelchin died somewhat recently in a pretty tragic accident, so maybe they didn't really get the chance to sell the idea to anyone else but me, but hey... it was a good effort.

Well done,
Jon