Film Review: The 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, Part II (2017)

Having participated in the 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, I wanted to shine a light on the ten finalists. I’ll break this review into two parts, covering the first block of films before the festival’s intermission and then the second block of films after the intermission.

What the film festival does, is it takes thousands of short films from all over the world, narrows it down to ten finalists and then lets the audience from all the participating venues vote on the winner for best film and best actor. Currently, there are more than 250 venues from six continents that participate.

Just Go! – action, adventure – Latvia (2017):

Release Date: September 28th, 2017 (Manhattan Short)
Directed by: Pavel Gumennikov
Written by: Pavel Gumennikov
Music by: Michael Bahnmiller
Cast: Aleksandrs Ronis, Toms Velicko, Jana Herbsta

11 Minutes

Review:

This wasn’t one of my favorites of the film festival but it was a lot of fun.

The story follows a teen who lost his legs. He is smitten with a girl around his neighborhood. While he is talking to her, she has her purse stolen by two thugs. Without hesitation, the legless teen flies after the thugs in hot pursuit. First he uses his wheelchair, then his car, then moves with just his quick hands, then uses a skateboard and does everything he can to keep up with the thugs until finally being cornered by them in an alley.

The point of this short film is to show that there aren’t really disabilities but just abilities. It is a good representation of this idea and pretty much proves its point while being fast paced and exciting.

The teen wins out, the thugs are defeated and we get a happy ending with a little funny extra scene in the credits.

The teen in the film is actually a player on Latvia’s sitting volleyball team.

Mare Nostrum – drama – Syria (2016):

Release Date: October 26th, 2016 (France)
Directed by: Rana Kazkaz, Anas Khalaf
Written by: Rana Kazkaz
Cast: Ziad Bakri, Zayn Khalaf

Georges Films, Syneastes Films, Philistine Films, 14 Minutes

Review:

At first I didn’t like this film. But the ending and the added context brought everything together like a finely woven tapestry.

Taking place in Syria, on the Mediterranean coast, the film sees a father basically terrify his daughter by throwing her off of a pier, again and again, trying to force her to learn how to swim.

You feel for the girl and understand her pain and the horror that this puts her through but you don’t fully realize why the father is doing this until you get to the end. It is really hard not to hate the father for what he is doing but it makes you understand what a parent’s tough love is and how he only wants his daughter to have a better life.

It also humanizes the struggle of those who are good people that are demonized as enemies because they just so happen to live in a part of the world that many consider a threat. But ultimately, the good people of these faraway lands are victims themselves.

Mare Nostrum is well shot and beautiful. It’s a short film that hopefully gets its message out to more people who might need a reminder that we’re all human beings with our own adversity to overcome.

Viola, Franca – drama, biography – Italy (2017):

Release Date: May 30th, 2017 (Poland)
Directed by: Marta Savina
Written by: Andrea Brusa, Marta Savina
Cast: Antonio Bruschetta, Carlo Calderone, Claudia Gusmano

15 Minutes

Review:

Viola, Franca was damn good and it is almost tied for first place overall with 8 Minutes, but I liked 8 Minutes just a bit more.

That being said, this is the more important of the two pictures and it tells the story of the real Sicilian women that fought against social injustice perpetuated by the Italian government and the Catholic church.

This is Franca’s origin story on how she came to resist what her church and her community tried to impose on her.

In the story, she rejects a despicable local man’s advances. He then waits for her father to go into town and he rapes her. Being that she is now seen as impure by the Catholic church and the community, she is pressured into marrying the very man that raped her. She decides that this is not the course that her life will go and she refuses to conform to the outdated and archaic ways of her culture.

Viola, Franca is the only period piece out of all these films and it feels like it has the highest production value. It employs stock music but the selections work well for the film and the landscape of Sicily is a breathtaking backdrop.

Claudia Gusmano gave the best acting performance in the entire festival.

In A Nutshell – animation – Switzerland (2017):

Release Date: June 9th, 2017 (Japan)
Directed by: Fabio Friedli

5 Minutes

Review:

In A Nutshell is the shortest of all the films in the festival. It is a scant 5 minutes but that’s all it needs to work.

There isn’t a story or actors or anything really, other than everyday objects being animated in an interesting way, showcasing their relation to one another. There isn’t much point to this other than showing these objects evolve from one thing to another forming a perfect metaphorical circle.

The film looks good and is well animated for what it is. But what it is a forgettable art piece reminiscent of a quick time killer segment from a public access children’s show.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot to walk away with.

8 Minutes – sci-fi, drama – Georgia (2017):

Release Date: September 28th, 2017 (Manhattan Short)
Directed by: Giorgi Gogichaishvili, Davit Abramishvili
Written by: Zaza Koshhadze, Mari Bekauri, Giorgi Gogichaishvili
Cast: Slava Natenadze, Ani Bebia, Giorgi Sharvashidze, Donara Gvritishvili, Zanda Ioseliani

12 Minutes

Review:

This ended up being my favorite film of the festival and not just because it went on last and was the freshest in my memory.

8 Minutes told an interesting tale and it really pulled you in.

The film is primarily about a father reconnecting with his son. The father is a career magician. However, the film is set in a time where the sun is about to burn out. In fact, the sun has already burnt out but it takes 8 minutes and 33 seconds for the effects to reach the Earth. This all takes place in that time frame.

The father and the rest of the world know that it is the last moments of life on the planet but the man’s son, who is off on a scientific expedition in the wilderness, doesn’t know what is about to happen. The man doesn’t tell his son but uses the final moments to try and touch him over the phone and to pull of his last great magic trick.

The film is sweet and well acted. It also utilizes some great cinematography and pulls off some magic tricks of its own.

As the world is crumbling and chaos ensues, a father and son find peace.

8 Minutes was fantastic.

Film Review: The 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, Part I (2017)

Having participated in the 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, I wanted to shine a light on the ten finalists. I’ll break this review into two parts, covering the first block of films before the festival’s intermission and then the second block of films after the intermission.

What the film festival does, is it takes thousands of short films from all over the world, narrows it down to ten finalists and then lets the audience from all the participating venues vote on the winner for best film and best actor. Currently, there are more than 250 venues from six continents that participate.

Do No Harm – action, drama – New Zealand (2017):

Release Date: January 20th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Roseanne Liang
Written by: Roseanne Liang
Cast: Shan-Mei Chan, Mana Hira Davis, Steven A. Davis

Bebe Films, 11 Minutes

Review:

Do No Harm had an interesting premise and ultimately, it is about what a woman is willing to do if her daughter’s life is in danger.

The premise sees a female surgeon in Hong Kong working on her patient when a group of thugs barge in with their sights on that very same patient. They take out the rest of the medical staff, leaving just the surgeon. She refuses to step aside because of her oath to her patient. Her oath and her morals are tested and all the while, she shows that she is pretty much a martial arts badass.

The film is very confined and takes place in one room, and then a hallway, at the very end. But the tight space adds a little something to the narrative.

This is a brutal and violent short film.

In the end, it is a bit one-dimensional but it peaked my interest for the 11 minutes it ran.

Behind – horror, fantasy, drama – Spain (2016):

Release Date: May 1st, 2016 (Spain)
Directed by: Angel Gómez Hernández
Written by: Angel Gómez Hernández
Music by: Óscar Araujo
Cast: Macarena Gómez, Javier Botet, Ruth Díaz, Lone Fleming

Producciones Diodati, 15 Minutes

Review:

Behind was my favorite film of the first block of shorts in this festival. I went into it blindly, as I did with all of these pictures.

This was the only horror film of the bunch and that was kind of exciting because I expected these films to mostly be short character studies.

Most modern horror is pretty crappy but there does seem to be a small resurgence in quality over the last few years. While I don’t think this could work, stretched out over a 90 minutes picture, it really made the most of its 15 minutes.

The film builds suspense like nothing I’ve seen in a long while. And then the big horrific payoff is incredibly satisfying and I was legitimately frightened by it. It’s best not to know much more and to just experience it, as I did.

The main actress, Macarena Gómez, puts in a stellar performance.

Fickle Bickle – comedy – United States (2016):

Release Date: September 28th, 2017 (Manhattan Short)
Directed by: Stephen Ward
Written by: Stephen Ward
Cast: Kimberley Joseph, John Fulton, Randy Rackson

11 Minutes

Review:

This was the only US film out of the ten finalists, so I was hoping that it would be pretty good. It wasn’t.

It also wasn’t bad, it just didn’t do anything for me.

It’s a comedy and it focuses on a guy who tries to woo his high school crush, a girl that never gave him the time of day because she’s a gold digger. Being forgotten in a rich guy’s mansion, where he was fixing the plumbing, he calls the girl and invites her over.

It was lighthearted and a bit funny but there wasn’t much of anything that made it standout. Americans are obsessed with status and money, yada, yada, yada.

The actors were decent enough and the main guy was amusing but this film is pretty forgettable.

Hope Dies Last – biography, drama – United Kingdom (2017):

Release Date: August 10th, 2017 (Holly Short)
Directed by: Ben Price
Written by: Ben Price
Cast: Tarek Slater, Andrew Grose

Bolo Films, 8 Minutes

Review:

Hope Dies Last was the shortest picture of the first block of films. It also just falls short of Behind, as my favorite of this bunch. It makes the best use of its time, at just 8 minutes.

Emotionally, this film has the most impact. It is also based on a real person.

The picture showcases a haircut. But as the film rolls on, you realize that something is wrong and that for some reason the barber is terrified of his client. It is revealed that he is a Polish prisoner at Auschwitz and that the man getting his haircut is a Nazi officer. The barber was forced to cut the hair of this man, weekly. With each cut, he was terrified that it would be his last.

There is no dialogue but the attention to detail and the cinematography really work in providing the context for the narrative. Everything is revealed at the end but the suspense is built up well and you want to understand what is happening.

Tarek Slater was impressive as the barber and with the emotions he was able to convey without dialogue.

The Perfect Day – comedy – Spain (2016):

Release Date: July 15th, 2016 (Spain)
Directed by: Ignacio Redondo Gutiérrez
Written by: Ignacio Redondo Gutiérrez
Music by: Sergio Fernández-Sastrón
Cast: Pedro Freijeiro, Paula Sancho, Pep McCoy

12 Minutes

Review:

Somehow this has won over 30 awards, or so the poster and the website for this short film claim. Truthfully, it was my least favorite film of the entire festival. In fact, I had a hard time believing that this could even be a finalist.

It is a comedy story but it is derivative, in the worst way and something I’ve seen countless times as dream sequences is just about every sitcom that has run a long time and ran out of fresh ideas.

The story follows a guy who has a “perfect day” only for it to be a dream and then to relive the same day and have everything go wrong. Truthfully, so many other people have made this story and done a much better job with it.

There wasn’t really anything to learn here, the egotistical director puts himself in the film, as himself, and none of it works.

At least it is a Spanish film with a lot of Spanish hotties in it, though. That’s about all I can really get behind.

TV Review: Preacher (2016- )

Original Run: May 22nd, 2016 – current
Created by: Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Preacher by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun, Ruth Negga, Lucy Griffiths, W. Earl Brown, Derek Wilson, Ian Colletti, Tom Brooke, Anatol Yusef, Graham McTavish, Pip Torrens, Noah Taylor, Julie Ann Emery, Jackie Earle Haley

Woodbridge Productions, Short Drive Entertainment, Point Grey, Original Film, Kickstart Productions, KFL Nightsky Productions, AMC Studios, Sony Pictures Television, 23 Episodes (so far), 42-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Preacher was a comic book series a lot of my friends have talked about for years. I never read it, actually, but I have always wanted to. After seeing the show, now two seasons into its run, I definitely want to pick up the comic series much sooner than later, even if I am two decades too late.

The show stars the always perfect Dominic Cooper. It also stars Oscar nominated actress Ruth Negga and the super entertaining Joseph Gilgun, as an Irish vampire. The show actually reunites Negga and Gilgun, who both starred in the awesome British show Misfits. Well, maybe not a real reuniting, as they were on that show a season apart.

One of the most surprising things about Preacher, when I first heard about it, was that it was being developed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. AMC did feel like the perfect home for this show though, due to how well it has handled another little comic book property, The Walking Dead.

Preacher follows a preacher who has a special power. He is able to use his voice to force people to do his bidding. He is joined by his crazy ex-girlfriend (Negga) and his new vampire sidekick (Gilgun). Initially, the show takes place in a small Texas town and pits Jesse Custer, the preacher, against an evil and psychotic villain, played by Jackie Earle Haley. Jesse discovers that God is missing, his hometown is destroyed and season two sees our trio head to New Orleans in search of God.

While The Walking Dead pushed the envelope of what you can show on television to new levels, Preacher pushes it even further. This is a really dark show. Dark to the point where even regular viewers of The Walking Dead might feel uncomfortable with Preacher. In fact, I’m not sure how this can exist and not be something that has to be on HBO, Showtime or Starz.

Overall, the show is pretty damn good. Sometimes it feels a bit drawn out, which is its only real weakness. The thing is, Preacher is so unique and bizarre that you’re never really sure where each episode will end up. As of now, it looks as if each season will have its own unique theme and environment. From what I’ve seen thus far, it doesn’t seem like it will be a show that will get stale or trapped in redundancy.

Preacher boasts some of the best actors on television and each season brings in other veteran actors with talent to match. Negga truly is an Oscar caliber performer but Cooper and Gilgun are right there with her from scene to scene.

Preacher is a show with serious gravitas but it isn’t for everyone. I can’t imagine that it could have a large audience, which is why it is such a unique experience and its existence in its current format, a bit puzzling. But over the years, television seems to be getting better and smarter as motion pictures continue to be dumbed down to the point that most are unwatchable.

This is a show that feels fresh and new and brings something to the table that no one has seen before. It doesn’t hurt that it is also a top quality effort by everyone involved, at every level.

Film Review: RiffTrax: Night of the Shorts IV – SF Sketchfest (2016)

Release Date: January 7th, 2016
Written by: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Paul F. Tompkins
Cast: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Paul F. Tompkins, John Hodgman, Cole Stratton, Adam Savage, Janet Varney

RiffTrax, 123 Minutes

Review:

This RiffTrax Live event recently dropped on Amazon Video, so I thought I’d check it out, as I really like when these guys make a feature length event where they riff a series of shorts.

Now this wasn’t as great as the most recent short riffing event, Summer Shorts Beach Party, but I still quite enjoyed it. Although, that David & Hazel, two parter was a bit tough to get through.

This did have a variety of shorts on varying topics, however. Most of them were entertaining. Apart from David & Hazel – a film about communication, we got The Trouble with Women – about women in the workplace, Dining Together – about Thanksgiving, One Got Fat – about bicycle safety and starring kids in monkey masks, Improve Your Pronunciation – self-explanatory, and Robin’s Wild Ride, which was the third chapter in the Batman & Robin serial from 1949.

I like that this event featured more than just Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy from Mystery Science Theater 3000. The live events where they do shorts usually feature guest riffers, though. This time around, we got the returning Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson. Paul F. Thompkins, who has become a regular at these things, also appears. MythBusters‘ Adam Savage joins in, as do comedians John Hodgman, Janet Varney and Cole Stratton. The final short film featured all ten people on stage together.

Ultimately, these events are always fun and for fans of the classic Mystery Science Theater 3000, it is hard not to completely succumb to nostalgia. Again and again, these funny people prove that they’ve still got it and it is always great checking back in with them a few times, each year.

While not my favorite of their events, they have never had a bad one. They are masters of what they do and they never miss a beat. Night of the Shorts IV was just one of many great outings by this great crew and their friends.

*trailer from the previous ‘Night of the Shorts’ event, as there wasn’t a proper trailer for this installment.

TV Review: The Tick (2016- )

Original Run: August 18th, 2016 – current
Created by: Ben Edlund
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Chris Bacon
Cast: Peter Serafinowicz, Griffin Newman, Valorie Curry, Brendan Hines, Jackie Earle Haley, Yara Martinez, Scott Speiser, Michael Cerveris, Bryan Greenberg, Alan Tudyk

Sony Pictures, Amazon Studios, 6 Episodes (so far), 29 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Last year, Amazon debuted the pilot episode of The Tick. It was pretty well received, which caused them to produce a season’s worth of episodes, albeit a short season with just six. That full season just premiered on Amazon’s streaming service.

Having now seen the show, I do mostly like it. However, it has been a really long time since I saw the original live action series, as well as the animated show. This version is a bit more realistic and gritty, as much as it can be anyway, but it still stays lighthearted and the spirit of the franchise is very much there.

I have always liked Peter Serafinowicz ever since first seeing him on Spaced and Black Books. He has also been in Shaun of the DeadGuardians of the GalaxyParks and Recreation and provided the voice of Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It’s nice seeing him get this opportunity and he played the Tick quite well.

Griffin Newman’s Arthur annoyed the piss out of me mostly, though. But then again, I guess he’s supposed to. But they did play up the pansy reluctant hero bit way too much. Once he sort of accepted his destiny, he got more tolerable. I don’t blame Newman per se but the shtick wore thin very quickly.

The rest of the cast was good. I especially liked Arthur’s stepdad, played by François Chau and I hope he gets a more expanded role in the future.

My experience with the show is positive, thus far. With only six episodes, it is hard to make a fair assessment of its quality. Time will tell but I think the franchise is in good hands.

TV Review: Luke Cage (2016- )

Original Run: September 30th, 2016 – current
Created by: Cheo Hodari Coker
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Luke Cage by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Cast: Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Alfre Woodard, Mustafa Shakir, Gabrielle Dennis, Ron Cephas Jones

ABC Studios, Marvel, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 44-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2016.

Luke Cage was the third of the four Marvel series being produced for Netflix. He is to be a member of the Defenders, who will get a minseries as a team, once all four heroes are introduced in their own series. We’ve already seen Daredevil and Jessica Jones (where Cage actually debuted) and we have Iron Fist coming up after this.

While Luke Cage is a superhero and actually a member of the Avengers in the comics. He is not an Avenger in the show, at least not at the moment. Also, the vibe of his show is much different from the ones before it. This is more of a modern blaxploitation series in its style and story.

Cage gains the power of being indestructible. It is a slow reveal as to how this happened and what it all means but he uses this ability to protect his neighborhood from the criminals that seek to exploit and destroy it. There are actually a few big villains in the show and each gets a good amount of time to be fleshed out and come to life. None of them, however, are as interesting as Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth.

In fact, the chemistry between Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Ali is pretty uncanny. They played off of each other very well and their was a real weight to the tension between the two. Unfortunately, Ali is only in about the first half of the season and then the gears shift to the villain Diamondback.

The shifting gears is one of the issues I have with the show. In a way, the first season feels like two condensed seasons of a show compressed down into one. The tension and drama between Cage and Cottonmouth is essentially wiped away, just as it is reaching a really satisfying high. Then the stuff with Diamondback just isn’t as interesting, even if he and Cage have some cool fights.

I also have to mention the awesome work of Alfre Woodard and Theo Rossi, who are both established as villains but they are big baddies to be explored more in the future. They have ties to everything that happens in the first season but are really just there to be a part of a much larger arc that has really just begun.

One thing that is amazing about the show is the score. It is produced by Adrian Younge alongside Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest. Also, the hip-hop tracks that are worked into the show are all pretty much fantastic choices that give the show a gritty New York vibe in the right sort of way. Also, every episode is named after a Gang Starr song. One of the musical highlights is definitely the live performance by Jidenna as he does his song “Long Live the Chief”. Also, look for a stupendous cameo from Method Man of Wu-Tang Clan towards the end of the first season.

Another cool thing about Luke Cage is it spends significant time trying to flesh out Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, who is the link to all these Defenders related Marvel shows. Dawson and Colter have a good bond and camaraderie that I hope to see explored more in the future.

Luke Cage is pretty good. I don’t enjoy it as much as Jessica Jones and Daredevil, thus far. However, it has promise and looks to be heading in the right direction with what it established in its first season.

Film Review: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Release Date: March 11th, 2016 (SXSW)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Cast: Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Austin Amelio

Annapurna Pictures, Detour Filmproduction, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Have you noticed whenever we’re around baseball all we talk about is pussy. Now, we’re actually around a few potentially interesting young women, all you talk about is baseball. It’s a little fucked up!” – Finnegan

I really anticipated Everybody Wants Some!! when it was coming out. It was Richard Linklater’s spiritual successor to his coming of age classic Dazed and Confused. Also, Linklater seems to really nail it on the head when it comes to coming of age films.

While I enjoyed the experience of Everybody Wants Some!!, it wasn’t on the level of Dazed and Confused. That’s okay though because even if they share narrative and style similarities, they are very different movies.

This film picks up in the summer of 1980 as it follows a college freshman as he moves in with the baseball team to prepare for the upcoming year. The story then captures their lives and their camaraderie while becoming a team and chasing girls. The film ends the moment the first class starts, so it really just focuses on the main character’s introduction to his four year college journey.

The cast is pretty fantastic and Linklater has a way of steering ensembles into great territory. This film is no different in that regard. All the main actors hold their own and feel like authentic teens and twenty-somethings.

I do have to say that Austin Amelio really steals the scenes he’s in but maybe that is because it is hard to envision Dwight from The Walking Dead as some collegiate baseball star. But his comedic timing and presence are great and it was really cool seeing him do something that is such a departure from his more famous character.

I really liked Zoey Deutch in this but she didn’t have a lot of screen time compared to the guys. Speaking of which, Jenner, Powell and Hoechlin had a great chemistry. The other scene stealer though was Wyatt Russell, who just commands attention without really trying but when you are the son of the legendary Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, that shit’s in your blood.

Everybody Wants Some!! is pretty enjoyable but it doesn’t have the lasting impact of Linklater’s Dazed and ConfusedSubUrbia or Slacker. It is a nice companion piece to those films however and sort of adds a fourth chapter to those pictures that I always thought of as a loose trilogy.