The relevance of short films grows in the structure of what they represent. Usually they function as a business card but more and more, if it can show an inherent basis for an ongoing story, it has the possibility of becoming a series. The Palm Springs Shortfest highlights this art form in an area which is known for its Hollywood ties.
Opening Night percolated through with “Laughing Matters”. The short with the most visceral impact was “The Pledge For Mr. Bunny” which functioned more as a Terry Zwigoff ode than anything else where the inherent dialogue because a kid egregiously wants to go through a car wash (even on his bike) spells the answers for the medical prayers of his young sister’s plush toy. “Penny Dreadful” brings to mind if Wednesday Adams was raised by a normal family and then was kidnapped for ransom. There is a bit of “Raising Arizona” in the mix as the bumbling husband trying to make his wife happy is not unlike Nicolas Cage’s Hi. While “Killing Vivian” tries with interest (especially with the always creepy Missi Pyle) as well as “Chopper” (with a little too much wanton CG), they never quite live up to their possibilities.
“Amazing Animation” takes more of an international approach but its wares actually dictate the differences which refer and motivate traditional values. “The Banquet Of The Concubine”, oddly enough made in Canada, is an interesting progression of Chinese etiquette from the form of a mistress. The fluidity and texture (like it was drawn on a panel) is quite indicative. “Cicada Princess” shows the romantic cycle of life and death through a type of beetle. The imagery is quite scaled in a wonderful sort of way while the sense of depth really gives a feeling of elegance. “Kiki Of Montparnasse” is the most ambitious by far incorporating all sorts of different animation processes to create a triptych of this woman’s life with a distinct amount of lurid poignancy. “Waterwheel”, dark in its intonations and hailing from Mexico, shows an inherent reflection of death in a father’s eyes but the resolution that betrays him very much reflects in the puppet’s watery eyes.
“After Hours” tries certain penchants for shock that sometimes work, though at other times, is seen as trying too hard. “The Cyclist” starring a nearly unrecognizable Shannon Sossamon (looking more like Mary Elizabeth Winstead in “Scott Pilgrim” than herself) plays a girl searching for a bike. It plays a little bit too fable-based despite its obvious tongue-in-cheek quality. “Follow” definitely works in its “Twin Peaks” imagery, even down to the red curtains. What sells it is the lead actress who takes on a kind of succubus role without ever quite explaining its full meaning. “Likeness”, directed by the cinematographer behind “Babel” and “Argo”, is a little too self indulgent in reflecting its portent about the beauty myth even if it does feature metaphorical posing of models against what they represent. Elle Fanning speaks volumes with her face but it comes out superficial which likely is part of the point. “Honk If You’re Horny” is just a jolt of pure fun despite moving to the lowest common denominator with a cabby who just doesn’t quite know when to quit.
“Seven Deadly Sins” hits many aspects on all cylinders. “ The Finnish entry “Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything” (which also played Opening Night) is just a farce of many things going wrong with a family on one day, mostly due to a mother who is overcompensating in the most loving way. The slapstick banality of how everything goes wrong from the kids party outfits to her broken shoes to the wedding gift just percolates back to an essence of love (and the audience loved it too). “Hotel” takes its progression from “Beetlejuice” in many ways (as does “Sweet Mosquito”). Both have been seen at past film fests but do not lose their pertinence or hilarity. “Hotel” attacks the form of gluttony with a man supposedly in a desert who is actually a pest in an insect household being dealt with accordingly. “Mosquito” reflects a sloth with a man , who being neglectful in his past life, when he is reincarnated, becomes that of a mosquito.
“Crimes & Misdemeanors” closes out on a decided structure because the incidents they extract should either require point blank honesty or a mask that must be hidden behind. While “The Cleaner”, utilizing an interesting protagonist rebelling against its expected norms, has its strengths, it is “Junkyard”, using a conceptional anime principle, about two friends that grow apart in a town littered by trash, that really hits a nerve with its dark colors and manipulating tone. “The Charlatan” is an interesting play on the con-man function though it tends to overplay its hand while “Red Velvet” creates a dexterous set up but the follow-through is a little too over-dramatic.
Palm Springs Shortfest continues to percolate with a sense of knowing within different genres as its creative functionality, especially on an international level, continues to blossom.
Finding different textures of independent cinema has always been the balance of the Los Angeles Film Festival equating this in equilibrium with its studio galas that permeate the middle of summer. While genre structures do play constructive, the influx of real impact documentaries continues to intersperse notions of social consciousness within the confab.
Late night always begets horror. “Saturday Morning Massacre” takes into account the notions of those friends and a dog who find themselves in trouble that might not work out. Using the “Scooby” satire mode without truly saying the inspiration seems to suggest an idea of over-the-top comedy and some good scares moving into a more “Evil Dead” arena. Instead the inflection plays at times more psychological with “Blair Witch” and the more recent “Citadel” [SxSW 2012] considered which includes the overdone texture of feral children. While the stoner mentality (especially with the happenstance structure of ectasy thrown into the mix) has a bit of fun, the eventual dismemberment sends the tone into a slightly different realm that is in-between at best.
Doing a movie on the notion of promoting a movie (and the ego that goes along with it) plays a tad lazy. From there, the idea of making a film about a film tends to become self fulfilling if one works in the business. The resulting genre tends to know itself a little too well because one simply takes experiences from real life and applies it. Here, in the example of “Red Flag”, the director (played by the director in question) experiences a breakup right before a tour. While on tour, he is approached by a seemingly obsessed fan who he quickly has sex with. His friend, a children’s book writer (in real life as well) falls in love with said girl as the director in question shirks her. While the film does express some of the interesting verite elements possible with the 5D, it still doesn’t offset that some movies just shouldn’t be made simply because they can. While some of the psychology can ring true, the dialogue itself was improvised from an outline which points to a lack of structure hoping for lightning in a bottle.
In contrast, taking a documentary where life simply reflects the drama that comes with it can seem almost as effortless. “Drought” however wills it to be and, by contrast, wants it to be (though it is by no means the absolute truth). This examination here of families in Northeastern Mexico points to the beauty of a cowboy existence when electricity, internet and such luxuries are not givens in life. The ideas of morality and survival interplayed by myths (at many times spoken by children on their own accord) give the progression a weight, especially when the entire clans have to pack up everything on their trucks and move away from barely completed shacks when the water dries up. The animals who interplay with their lives feed into this completely. While the brutality against the horses and cows can be unrelenting at certain points, it functions as a fact of life which paints the humans simply as functional animals continuing on their way to protect their young and fight another day.
The advent of the zombie movie may have run its course but the aspect of using Cuba from the inside out as a springboard creates a slightly different dynamic. While missed at the Miami International Film Festival, the buzz “Juan Of The Dead” created points to an interesting play on politics within the movie. While the comedy functions with inherent charm and the team that Juan, a father who doesn’t want to leave his country, puts together rocks, there is a thread of dread just hanging below the surface. Whether it treads on the basis of a juicehead that is afraid of blood, a transvestite with more cahones than half the guys in the bunch or a Romeo & Juliet coupling involving Juan’s daughter that he definitely doesn’t want happening, the movie knows it balance. While the storyline itself is wobbly at best, this haphazard crew figures itself out time and again creating a strong backbone. While the ending of the film points to a more cinematic finale than eventually plays out, it is still by all means entertaining. Like “Black Lightning” [Fantasia 2010], it takes mainstream US movie tropes and does its best with their abilities to fulfill them (though the CG is comparatively primitive) but this is without a studio involved and flying under the radar (though it is uncertain whether local or government help was offered with this production). In doing the Q&A, the director, whose wife and co-producer couldn’t get her visa to come to the US from Cuba in time, expressed interesting sentiments (albeit after a couple drinks) of what specifically the film can represent.
Using this aspect of politically charged motivation, the arena progresses from Cuba to the US/Mexico border with “Reportero”, a documentary backed by PBS’ POV program series. This specific inlay focuses on the history of the newspaper “Zuma”, a below-the-border periodical which, in attacking the notions of corruption and narco trafficking through the vista of Tijuana, pulls no punches. Like “Page One”, which examined the less life-threatening but still engaging plight of The New York Times, “Reportero” understands, even in making the film, that the battle continues on. The assassination of different journalists, who exposed traffickers and their organizations lived and died by their principles, definitely shows the stakes involved. Using older news footage and interviews of journalists since killed (sometimes on VHS quality), the intensity shows an issue, especially with the recent increase in violent killings on the border, that the problem is yet without balance or solution.
Intently, this notion of identity continues with the intersection of “P-047”. Unlike a film like “Mystery” [Cannes 2012] or even some of the documentaries showcased at LAFF 2012, this narrative, built in Thailand, points to a story of ambitious people who have no idea what they want to be or where they want to go. Following the notion of a locksmith who becomes a home invader who takes nothing, the idea explores the idea of ignoring the world while still wanting to be part of it. While the disjointed structure (probably interrelating to different parts of the lead character’s mind) plays with a certain kind of focus, the only true element of the film that works is within a hospital sequence. Here, the character in question meets up with a girl committed who under lock and key, simply likes to engage in the scents of the world wherever they may be, whether from a trashcan or a dilapidated building) providing a portal of senses. The resolution points to lives changing right around the corner but one that requires an action of some sort.
Moving simply to a more promotional structure, “The History Of Future Folk” as a basis of origin story for the NY based folk duo uses some interesting ideas of sci-fi while not needing to really push the boundaries as far as effects too far. What supremely helps along the entire process (which I would think is their doing) is the great aspect of scoring which gives the progression a needed sense of pacing. What is undeniably strong is using this as an inter-cutting mechanism between a fight on a roof and a tango with the two main characters. While distinctly a homage to “True Lies” in a way, the intention of what the film shows and the way it is presented makes it stick in your mind. Not to be discounted is the marketing hook of the red bucketheads of “Future Folk” which repeat with dexterous frequency through the entire film make sure that the point is not missed.
LAFF decided also with more frequency this year to include shorts as precursors to films, especially when the subject matter proved very continuous. Four specific shorts stood out for various reasons. The best in terms of overall function because of its grand chemistry both dramatically and with bouts of humor was “92 Skybox Alonzo Mourning Rookie Card” which follows the incessant story of two brothers trying to outdo each and ruining a family gathering. Its balance works in figuring out the humor and physical timing with genuine moments of heart which is not the easiest angle to accomplish.
Both “3113” and “Thumbsnatchers From The Moon Cocoon” show a dexterity of creativity from both the CG and stop motion textures respective simply because of the ambition of what was attempted. While “Cocoon” was more done in jest closer to a music video perception of say Alice In Chains’ “I Stay Away“, “3113” was purveyed more as a teaser, hinting at a larger meaning.
“Once It’s Started, It Could Not End Otherwise” as a short, by comparison is all about mood and mixed media. While the texture of its overall tendency for narrative is unexplained, its paradoxical placement of images was intense visually and, overall, affecting.
Examining different ideas of life and politics through less than conventional methods always sparks interesting conversation. Whether through the bleak but aspirational “Drought”, the political bloodletting of “Juan Of The Dead” or the real life war of words of “Reportero”, the Los Angeles Film Festival continues to program with a texture of thought and creation.