Friday, July 28, 2017

Lunar





Today's short film is called LUNAR.

Written and directed by Tyson Johnston, he's yet another in a long line of hard working genre short film creators that I've never heard of, nor have I even seen any of his work.

Well, that's gonna change today, people!

Here's the synopsis: Set in Los Angeles City, 2057, an outlaw is captured and sentenced to a lifetime of imprisonment on the Lunar penitentiaries. To reunite with his family, he must become the first convict to escape the corrupt system and return to Earth.

All right. That sounds cool. I'm interested.

Let's watch...



That was good.

Well, maybe interesting is a better word. It definitely wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't great either. There wasn't really a giant glaring flaw either. LUNAR is a well made, good looking, nicely paced genre short film with decent effects and a pretty strong script. There was some really great dystopian looks and details too. I loved the facial recognition stuff, and they did a really good job hiding the restraints of the low budget with how shot the inside the shuttle, and how they used the Security Feeds to blur the actual crash. All of that kind of stuff was smart. I like that. The acting was good, the dialogue was fine. All in all, this was good. I enjoyed it.

But I have three complaints.

One little complaint, and two larger complaints, specifically. The little complaint is definitely little, but once you notice it, it's pretty actually pretty annoying, and kind of detracts from the film, at least it did for me. The larger complaints are definitely larger, more encompassing of the whole project, but they also don't really hurt the film that much.

They don't help it either.

The little complaint is about the robot police. They looked good, even though they were kind of a currently pretty familiar designer, but whatever, the point is... they looked good standing there. The problem was, after awhile, I couldn't help but notice that all they ever did was stand there. Maybe they moved a head, or a single arm, but that was it. Otherwise, they mostly just stood there. Did they creators run out of cash, and couldn't afford to animate the robots more, or did they animate the robots, but the final product looked bad, so they decided not to use it? Either way, even in the space of five minutes, by the end of the film, it stood out.

The two larger complaints are familiar ones when it comes to genre short films.

The first one being, for the most part, that even though this film was generally well-paced, it ended in the wrong place. The film did a good job imparting information and stakes. It covered a lot of ground and gave a lot of information, and all within basically a five minute run time. The problem is, I question the decision to run credits before the main character's actual homecoming. I assume a dark and depressing discovery awaited him at home, judging by the phone call, but that's the basic gut punch that these types of short stories/short films live off of. The escape from the moon is more notable when it's ultimately futile. The escape alone lacks any emotional resonance. Plus, that much narrative left dangling is not a good decision ever.

The second larger complaint is that a lot of that Narrative Dangle (tm) is due to a lot of open-ended world-building insinuation. Yes, I can guess what types of slavery and experiments are going on up in the Moon Prison, but why mention them and not make more use of them? To give the character a reason to escape? He already had one in his wife and kid still being on Earth, and sounding like they're in a bad way. Besides, the basic rule of short stories is always a good thing to keep in mind: With so little narrative space, you only have room on-board for directly relevant details and information. Extraneous bits should be chucked, and the whole experiments/slavery angle? The definition of extraneous here. All it did was take up time and space the film couldn't afford to lose, and in the end, directly contributed to us being left hanging as the credits rolled.

Cool. Good. Not great.
Jon


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Singularity







Today's short film is called Singularity.

Singularity was written by Ian Fried and Samuel Jorgensen (with some additional dialogue by Jeremy Pronk), and directed by Samuel Jorgensen. This trio is the usual mix of guys I've never heard of, from the Visual Effects Departments of some actually pretty impressive film projects, who are otherwise responsible for a smattering of short films that I'm not familiar with. 

Except for Ian Fried, that is.

Ian has a "story" credit, but not a "written by" credit, for the recent Netflix film Spectral. I have no idea what it is that determines that distinction, but whatever, it's still a pretty big credit. A big credit, but maybe not a very good one. I don't know... I don't want to say that Spectral is terrible, because I haven't seen it, but I also haven't heard anything good. Plus, Army guys versus Ghosts? C'mon...

So, that's a bad sign right at the start...

Here's the synopsis: In the midst of a war between humans and sentient androids, a Delta Force team must battle a dangerous enemy to rescue the US President.

Granted, that's a pretty short synopsis, which is usually a bad sign, but it should be noted that the synopsis does lay out the narrative pretty clearly, and the idea itself, while a tad basic, does sound kind of cool in an 80s sci-fi action kind of way, so...

Let's watch!


That was great.

Short and sweet, sure. A little overly familiar, maybe. But, at least in this case, those critiques seem overly harsh, and ignores what I think the creators' original intent was, which is to just tell a basic Men On A Mission action story. Simple, straightforward, and classic are not bad things, if you can stick the landing. So, yeah, you could make those claims, and you wouldn't be wrong, but in this case, I think the tight focus, the basic characterization, and the clear stakes work in the film's favor. And really, at a certain point, if you're looking for deeper characterization and larger worlds, then you need to go to Features.

All that aside... What is there to know beyond: War with the Machines. President shot down. Soldiers go in to save the President. Machines show up. Everybody fight.

Genre short films work best in smaller slices. They're meant to be vignettes, or short stories. And no matter what the topic, the simple truth is, the most important part of the film is what happens between the opening and closing credits, and not the stuff that is implied might be happening elsewhere, in a later episode, possibly. The reality of short films is that you're stuck in a box when you're making them, and time is not on your side, so you have to do the best you can with your limited space. The creators of this film are obviously aware of this, because they hit the ground running right away, the story/setting info is given quickly and succinctly, every character is clearly given a name, the geography of the action is simple to follow, and the effects are all good. For an eight minute short film about army guys versus robot killing machines, what more could you want?

Also, I really liked the kind of mass produced monster look of the robots. That was fun. I also liked the way they weren't focused too clearly on, at least not until later in the film. The World at War/Dystopian destruction was pretty good, as well.

All in all, I really liked this one. SINGULARITY is well-made and inventive, but it isn't trying to remake the wheel. It stays focused, and looks good while doing it. I'm all around impressed by their restraint as storytellers. In fact, I won't even begrudge them their little dangling future plot thread implication at the end.

Who knows, maybe there'll be more...
Jon


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Super Mario: Underworld








Today's short film is called SUPER MARIO: UNDERWORLD.

This is an older short film. It's been floating around for awhile. You may have seen it already. But it's quick and fun, and I don't think I've ever posted anything about it, so that's changing today. There's some weird stuff going on here, though. Not in the film... well, yeah, in the film, but right now, I'm talking about the people who made it. The folks responsible for creating this film are from a group/team/Production House called Nukazooka.

Beyond that, I don't know anything else about them.

I mean, I'm sure I can look around the Internet more, maybe try some Google tricks, but why bother? A. I don't get paid for this. And B. I don't really give a fuck. And besides, they have a Facebook page, and they have a Youtube page, and they have a barely filled out IMDB page, so it's not like they don't have options to easily provide the information, if they wanted to. They obviously don't.

And like I said, I don't really give a fuck.

So, from what I can tell, Nukazooka makes a lot of short films--A LOT of them--and they're mostly rather broadly jokey, kind of bro-ey, and usually involve some kind of video games in the "real world" and/or "real-life" Nerf gun use. It seems like a lot of them are probably young Dads too. They have that look about them. I bet even more of them wear flip-flops or open-toed Dude-sandals whenever possible. They also have that look. Also, despite this list, their videos are usually pretty well-made.

Here's the synopsis for SUPER MARIO: UNDERWORLD... Mario enters the upside down.

Okay, that's a shit synopsis. For one (Nerd Beef)... it has nothing to do with the Upside Down. It's not even the same concept as the Upside Down. That's just... a flawed, and ridiculously lazy comparison. That kind of half-assed pop culture callback is an unfortunate hallmark of this Nukazooka group. Looking at them, and what they focus on, it's also the least surprising thing ever for them to have this issue. The miracle is that it doesn't ruin their work that often.

Granted, the film is only 3 minutes long, but as the possibly tens of my long-time readers out there are no doubt well aware of by now, a shitty synopsis is usually a pretty bad sign as a predictor of a short film's general and narrative quality. Usually. However, I've already watched the film, so let me assure you all that this time, at least, the short film in question is actually pretty good.

But still... what a crap synopsis.

A better version might be: Ever wondered what happens to Mario when he falls off the screen? One hapless little plumber survives the fall, and learns the horrifying truth.

Let's watch...



That was great.

I love it. Short, sweet, imaginative. It doesn't overstay its welcome, or over-estimate the power of its central joke. It manages to be both funny AND kind of creepy. Sure, it's more of an amuse-bouche of a short film than a whole short story, but that's not a problem when it's done right. Besides, this whole thing is an in-joke. The entire premise is based off the idea of the audience being well-versed in the subject, so the point isn't the narrative, it's the tour of a world that twists the familiar elements. It's flash fiction meets the Alternate Universe Trope.

And it's pretty fun.

Jon

Monday, July 17, 2017

Temple










Today's short film is called TEMPLE.

I found TEMPLE on a website/Facebook group called DUST. I'm not really sure what DUST is, who runs it, or why it even exists, but a cursory examination tells me that it's a platform for weird/sci-fi/genre short films, so that's right up my alley.

This is what they have to say about themselves:

"When You Cut Into The Present, The Future Leaks Out.” – William S. Burroughs

DUST is the first multi-platform destination to experience stunning visions of the future from filmmakers of tomorrow. We feature the best sci-fi short films, series, and innovative content that cuts through the present to invite the future. With vivid special effects, complex characters, and captivating plots, prescient themes are explored and tantalizing questions asked. Whether it’s a utopia worth striving for, an apocalypse to avoid, or a truth about the ways technology is changing the human experience – we amplify the voices and visions that will shape the future through imagination. New videos every week across technology platforms. The future is coming. Be our passenger. Explore, subscribe, follow, and submit to join us.

A tad over-written, perhaps, but at least they have a mission statement.

I'm a little surprised to see that DUST is so cyberpunk heavy. Honestly, in most parts of the world, cyberpunk is dead as the ideas and styles that power it. This isn't a recent development either, decades ago, Cyberpunk joined its obnoxious lesser cousin, Steampunk, as an out-of-date, ultra-specific speculative branch of the future/past that never happened, and never will. Not only will it never happen, but really, as the real future gets closer and closer every day, cyberpunk just ends up seeming more and more quaint and ridiculous. The real world moves too quickly, and cyberpunk is the 8-track of speculative fiction.

However, that doesn't mean I don't still enjoy the genre every now and then, so I guess I'm glad DUST is around. From the looks of the stuff they've curated, you'll probably find a lot of what they've got over there appearing over here.

But back to today's short film...

TEMPLE was directed by Nguyen-Anh Nguyen, and written by him and Santiago Menghini. They've worked on a bunch of stuff I'm not familiar with, as per tradition, with the noted exception of THE AKIRA PROJECT. That's an Indigogo-funded film project that was intended to either bankroll a fan-made attempt at a live-action version of Katsuhiro Otomo's famous manga/anime film AKIRA, or to finance a 5 minute trailer of a never-going-to-exist fan-driven live-action version of AKIRA. It's hard to tell. Either way, it's a pretty ill-advised idea, if you ask me. Anyway, the five minute trailer itself isn't that bad really, but it also three minutes of footage and a minute and a half of credits, so.... yeah... it's not that great either.

Here's the synopsis of TEMPLE: It's the year 2045. The ocean levels have risen to flood islands and coastal areas. The human race has been forced to become cyborgs. However, a virus has started to infect those who have these cybernetic enhancements. Oz (Osric Chau) must do whatever it takes to save the woman he cares about who has also developed this deadly virus.

That definitely sounds very cyberpunk. Let's watch...



Okay, so first things first... almost NONE of the above synopsis was in, shown, or even mentioned, during the film. I mean, how did rising flood waters force people to become cyborgs? Did they mean cyborg boats? Do they all have cyborg waterski feet? Because none of that is in the film. And the whole part about saving the woman the main character cares about? That's an inference, at best. And as far as I could tell... not one character was sick.

That's a problem, right?

That should be a problem. I mean, you go and say: "Here's what my film is about" and then include almost none of that in the actual film? What the fuck is that? That's so disappointing. Even more disappointing is how often this type of thing happens in the Genre Short Film World.

A more accurate synopsis of TEMPLE should've read: Two guys drive around a cyberpunk city, then one of the guys fights a different guy, apparently because the first guy wants the second guy's cyborg arm, because the first guy.... collects them, I guess? Also, there's a girl in a tube.

But other than that... Not too bad. I mean, it looked good. The fight was cool, and the effects were even better, so despite being a complete narrative failure, at least the film is pretty to look at.

If you have the time, and lower your expectations, I'm going to say... sure, check it out.
Jon 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes











I'm super excited.

This is the third, and supposedly finally, film in this franchise. That's sad, but it is supposed to be a trilogy, after all, and honestly, a good ending is necessary if you're going to complete the story, so... sad, but good. Of course, endings mean very little in Hollywood, the story will go on, especially if something hits. Not that I expect this film to be a hit. This franchise must do all right, I mean, they've made three of them, but I don't really hear people talk about these films much. People like me do, of course, but not regular people. Not really. 

Do the mainstream crowds watch these films?


I don't think so.

At least, not as much as they should, because somehow, surprisingly, against all odds and expectations, these new PLANET OF THE APES films are amazing. Somehow, incredibly, while FOX Studios has been busy crapping on the X-Men franchise, and backing ridiculously bad ideas like ID4 Part 2 or Trolls, or pushing hollow garbage like The Revenant, the Planet of the Apes reboot/prequels have quietly become the best big budget film series they've got going. 

The films look good. The effects are amazing, and only surpassed by the incredible performances. Andy Cerkis really needs an Oscar for his various Mo-cap performances... in fact, the Oscars need an Oscar for best Mo-cap performance too. The scripts are smart. They're well-written. They have something to say. Sure, Apes with machine guns are inherently silly, I know, but in these films, they're powerful, believable, fully realized 3-D characters. AND besides all of that, the movies are action-packed and super-explodey, in short... tons of fun. Hands down, these are great movies. I'm a big fan of this franchise, old and new. 

I've talked about them before now... a lot.

And now there's a new one coming out. Here's the synopsis: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.

Now, that's a really short, really shitty, really vague synopsis, and that's usually a red flag, but I've glimpsed a few more complete summaries other places, so I'm not worried about this film having a weak story. I'm not going to post those synopsises, because I want to stay a little ignorant of the entire plot, so you'll just have to trust me, or go hunt them down yourself. But basically what I'm saying here is... I've heard really good things.

Let's check out the trailers. I've posted a couple...




Oh, man... It's looks so dark and grim, and yet it still has a Chimpanzee holding a machine gun. What more can you ask for? The imagery on display here just makes me want to kiss my fingers as if I was tasting a particularly delicious meal... MWah! Plus, Woody Harrelson as The Colonel? That's just extra awesome.

I love it. LOVE IT!

They've finally made a monkey out of me,
Jon

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES opens on July 14th. Get hyped!