Short Film Review: MOVING

2014 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL NARRATIVE SHORT FILMS SELECTION!
Unrated
3 minutes

**

You know those multi-media art installations that that require complex mission statements to understand? “Moving” is one of those. Director Marc Horowitz and friend took advantage of an art gallery remodel by donning abstract pink costumes (one looks like a roll of pink shag carpet and the other, a pile of insulation) and slowly chipping away at a marble-ish monolith inside a white room.

Their conversation (which is actually just subtitles of pitched-up gibberish) vaguely resembles the small talk one might make during a laborious move, but it could also be a way to pass the time during any physically taxing but monotonous job. That dialog is the most interesting thing about the piece. The conversation goes from vaguely philosophical (“Acceptance is the only way out of hell”) to light-heartedly hypothetical (“Would you rather stand in line all day, every day, for the rest of your life or have to exclusively eat frozen molasses?”) with some goofing off in between (“Do I look like I’m modeling for a J. Crew catalog?”).

As it stands, “Moving” feels a bit on the pretentious side. It’s the kind of art that the auteur doesn’t want you to get right away. How else can you interpret Horowitz’ synopsis of the film which he describes as “a series of peripheral conversations between two workers on the job raises more questions than answers.” Horowitz doesn’t want you to get it. He wants you to have questions, but he doesn’t want to answer them. He leaves it up to other to explain his intent. Marisa Olsen wrote a lengthy “meditation” about “Moving” and the only thing clear about it is that she thinks Horowitz is a genius.

“Like a good con man, he draws his interlocutors (in that case, that would be you: the viewer) closer and closer, eager to hear more, and serving-up projects that cut to the heart of the interpersonal issues with which so many of us identify in an increasingly alienating, media-saturated, power-hungry art world.”

It takes Olsen over 1100 words to elaborate on those common interpersonal issues. Then again, she does specify that they are issues felt within the “power-hungry art world.” I think it’s pretty safe to say that I am nowhere near that demographic. But if Olsen’s quote makes perfect sense to you, then you’re going to love “Moving.”

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Short Film Review: MOTHER CORN

2014 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL NARRATIVE SHORT FILMS SELECTION!
Unrated
16 minutes

***

“Mother Corn” is the story of an orphaned teenage girl who lives with her grandmother among the Triqui Indians in Mexico. The girl loves her grandmother and wants to make her happy by upholding Triqui tradition. She wears the traditional clothing and helps her grandmother make and sell cornhusk dolls. But she refuses to speak the native language because it isn’t considered cool amongst her peers. That’s just the beginning of her attempt to distinguish herself from the old woman who raised her. But with every step she takes away from Triqui culture, she breaks her grandmother’s heart a little bit more.

To add intrigue to the otherwise relatively simple narrative, there is a mystery surrounding what happened to the girl’s mother. The girl is always asking to visit her mother’s grave and her grandmother always makes excuses as to whey they cannot go or changes the subject. When the girl begins experiencing spiritual visions, she questions her reality and where it is she truly belongs.

“Mother Corn” takes a little while to get into, but once the girl’s visions intensify, director Guillermo Lecuona invokes the work of fellow Guillermo (del Toro) creating a supernatural element that is at once captivating and disturbing. The performances from both the girl and grandmother are very natural and moving.

The ending feels a little unresolved but perhaps that is just because I’d like to see more of Lecuona’s fantastical narrative. A title designer by trade, this guy has a very electrifying vision and I hope that “Mother Corn” is successful enough to get him behind the camera once more.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Short Film Review: MEET MY RAPIST

2014 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL NARRATIVE SHORT FILMS SELECTION!
Unrated
7 minutes 

*****

“Meet My Rapist” is, as the title suggests, not a light film. There are some “jokes” in it, but they’re more smiles through gritted teeth than they are belly laughs. It can sometimes feel satirical to the point of mocking. But it also transcends satire.

The story begins at the farmer’s market, where the jovial and chatty Jessie (her character in the film doesn’t have a name) happily samples the wares and chats with the vendors. But then she runs into a familiar man shrouded in a red hoodie and bushy beard. At first, she can’t remember where she knows him from, but then it hits her. This is the man who raped her. She recovers quickly from the blow, however and follows him to the car where she asks for a ride.

From that point forward, the red-hooded man is everywhere she goes, sometimes actively tormenting her (popping bubble wrap and flicking her ear during a job interview), and sometimes just lurking in the background. Everyone meets her declaration of having been raped with varying degrees of faux concern or dismissiveness. The man who interviews her for the job warns her, “no one around here wants an angry woman” and instructs her to “leave [her] problems on the coat hanger”. Her best friend turns the conversation around to herself and then asks for some water. Her therapist tells her to “get the fuck over your shit.” In the film’s most absurdist scene, she takes her rapist home to meet her family, and her parents question him as if he were a potential suitor.

Talk about artistic catharsis. Jessie Kahnweller wrote, directed and stars in “Meet My Rapist,” a short film that she made as a way to catalog her own feelings about being raped. You might think that rape is a black and white issue (it’s bad, m’kay). But as the recent national controversy over rape jokes in stand-up comedy proves, the only thing that everyone agrees on is that their feelings about it are very strong. Some say it’s OK to make rape threats as long as you’re “just joking.” Others think that rape jokes are only OK if they aren’t at the expense of the victim. Some (still!) believe that women are sometimes “asking for it” or “bringing it on themselves.” If a baby is conceived during the rape, there are even people who consider that “God’s will.” It’s no wonder Kahnweller was confused.

In a recent interview, Kahnweller says that she never really knew how she was supposed to react to the incident and in many ways, still doesn’t. Clearly, it’s something that left an indelible mark. But is it trauma? Is it OK to move on or should she still be really angry? It’s helpful to have that small bit of back-story before watching the film because without it, Jessie’s constantly shifting attitude and the way she interacts with her rapist can be a bit confusing. Occasionally, the rapist reacts as though she is stalking him. Other times, it seems like they are dating. At one point, Kahnweller’s character describes her rape as “not a big deal.” She doesn’t want to be a “problem”, but she clearly wants (and needs) to talk about it.

This isn’t the easiest film to stomach. I certainly needed repeat viewings to process it. But you don’t have to be a rape victim to know that this is an important film. There are doubtless many women (1 in 6, actually) who could benefit from seeing “Meet My Rapist”. At the very least, it tells them that it’s OK to feel how you feel even if it’s not what others expect of you.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Short Film Review: GRAND MORELOS

2014 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL NARRATIVE SHORT FILMS SELECTION!
Unrated
9 minutes

***

A Bleeding Gums Murphy type receives word from his doctor that he has come down with an O. Henry of a condition whereby should he continue with his life’s passion of playing the jazz saxophone, he will go blind. “It’s that simple, I’m afraid,” says the doctor, as if his diagnosis makes perfect sense and no further inquiry is necessary. It brings to mind the “brain cloud” from “Joe vs. the Volcano.” But while the “brain cloud” is made-up even in the context of the film, this jazz blindness is completely legit for Grand Morelos. It’s hard for me to say if our protagonist is meant to be talented because I don’t much care for jazz. But it is absolutely certain that music is the most important thing in the world to this guy.

So he decides to process this news “Golden Girls” style, by drowning his sorrows in cheesecake at the local diner. He and the waitress regard each other for a very long time before he poses the biggest question he has presumably ever asked, “What would you do if you were about to go blind?” Now the phrasing here is very important. He doesn’t ask whether he should choose sight or music. He’s already made up his mind about that. Though his doctor implied that this curse-like affliction would not take hold if he stopped playing, a happy ending is just not an option for him.

Since his mind is already made up, it’s not clear why he asks the waitress to weigh in at all. Her answer couldn’t possibly sway him. Perhaps he just needs to hear it out loud. But she wouldn’t have been much help anyway because she answers his question with a question.

Perhaps it’s the symbolic nature of his affliction, but “Grand Morelos” feels more like an allegory than a realistic drama. It follows dream-logic. You don’t realize that it makes no sense until you try to tell it to someone else. I never expected it to end any other way, really. But I think the emotional impact would have been greater if he’d come to the decision some other way.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Short Film Review: DAYBREAK

2014 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL NARRATIVE SHORT FILMS SELECTION!
Unrated
10 minutes

**

One hallmark of aging is a shift in generational empathy in media. For instance, even if you grew up watching “My So-Called Life,” you may now find yourself siding with Angela Chase’s parents upon repeat viewings. It’s not so much that we forget what it was like to be young as it is that we now have more information and life experience.

The simple fact is that when you’re a kid, you don’t know anything, but you think you know everything. Sometimes, you can watch a story about youth with nostalgia, putting yourself back in their shoes as they try to figure out what kind of person they want to be. But occasionally, the characters are so bewildering and Id-driven that the only thing you get out of the story is a sense of frustration.

The pre-adolescent kids in “Daybreak” are a frustrating lot. They tool around their suburban Montreal neighborhood, literally looking for trouble. There is a quiet boy in their midst who is also the recipient of quite a lot of ridicule over the time he spends with one of the girls. He seems the nicest of the bunch, but he still voluntarily hangs out with the “recreational strangulation” sort.

Eventually, the kids knock on the door of a house. A scruffy metal kid answers. He wordlessly beckons them in and sets the soundtrack for mayhem (Pantera). All of a sudden, all the children are Fucking. Shit. Up. They’re smashing things, scribbling on the walls, moshing and being generally naughty.

Meanwhile, the quiet boy and the girl he likes wander off to explore the house. They’re not directly participating in the destruction, but they don’t seem too concerned by it either. This chaos will continue to reign until an authority figure arrives to break it up. Who knows what the consequences will be. What would you do if you came home to a child riot? Kids can be real assholes. “Daybreak” seems to suggest that being a shit is an essential rite of passage. That may be true, but I take no joy in it.

I can’t say I enjoyed this short much either. But narrative aside, it’s a nice looking film, particularly during the bike ride scene, which is dream-like and bathed in warm, summery colors. I’d be interested in seeing what else director Ian Lagarde may have up his sleeve, but the climax of “Daybreak” was just painful to watch because I kept thinking about those poor parents and the awful day they were about to have. Perspective can be a bitch.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Short Film Review: THE GREGGS

2014 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL NARRATIVE SHORT FILMS SELECTION!
Unrated
20 minutes

**

“The Greggs” is an insane fever dream that hypothesizes about the people who create standardized tests. In this universe, the test scribes live together in relative seclusion, inspired by a cult-like figurehead, The Gregg, represented by an old timey oil painting.

And that’s not the weirdest thing about them. There are two men and two women who refer to each other only as Gregg. They don a genderless wardrobe consisting of brightly colored turtlenecks, short blonde wigs and rosy cheeks. They subsist solely on eggs, delivered to them by the gruff woman who picks up the tests.

This is a lot to establish, and it feels rushed in a short format (not that I would want to explore “The Greggs” at feature-length, necessarily). Things start out batshit and only get batshittier as the Gregg portrait mysteriously vanishes and they feel abandoned by their figurehead. After a while, the scenes start to feel like random irreverence, rather than a cohesive narrative.

This may have something to do with the fact that there are seven people listed as director, and four of them are principal actors. There are also three directors of photography, but only one writer (Bruce Bundy). Call me old fashioned, but while collaboration is great, you should still only have one person steering the boat. Who knows, maybe “The Greggs” did have an unofficial leader, but it does feel like a too-many-cooks production.

In addition to the narrative chaos, there is also a vaguely “Napoleon Dynamite” sense of humor present that will certainly divide audiences. I will give them this much: the actors all commit to this project whole hog. It’s that level of commitment that keeps it from falling apart completely. Twenty minutes is a long time to spend with these characters, but I think you can probably tell by the five-minute mark whether or not you want to stick around.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

 

Short Film Review: THE WALK

2014 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL NARRATIVE SHORT FILMS SELECTION!
Unrated
15 minutes

****

I’m still not sure how I feel about “The Walk,” but I’m certain that’s what director Mihaeka Popescu was going for. The third act takes a very unexpected left turn and it happens so suddenly that you don’t really have time to process it before the credits roll.

It’s the snail’s pace set-up that makes it so surprising. The film begins in an old woman’s apartment where she clearly lives alone and has very little going on in her life. It takes the first three minutes of the film for the woman to stand up out of her chair, pour some tea, take some pills and look out the window. The titular walk doesn’t even happen till four minutes, thirty seconds. It all feels a bit unnecessary until you know what happens on the walk and how completely out of the ordinary it is for this woman. Without the lengthy opening, we might not find the contrast quite so jarring.

Popescu would probably prefer I not reveal the “twist” so rest assured this review is spoiler-free. But keeping the secret does make it a bit difficult to write about. I can say that I loved the lead actress, whose weathered face makes her seem like the oldest person in the vibrant city. Her character adopts a perpetual poker face, which makes the implications of the ending ambiguous. It is not clear if it is a happy or sad ending because what happens can be one of the most complicated or simple things in the world, depending on the attitude of the person involved.

One thing that is clear is that “the Walk” is a beautiful looking film, worth a watch just to pay the visit to Central Europe. Regardless of how you feel about the ending, it will be memorable.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).