Film Review: Ramona (2015)

Release Date: May 19th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Andrei Creţulescu
Written by: Andrei Creţulescu
Cast: Rodica Lazar, Dorian Boguta, Andi Vasluianu, Serban Pavlu, Ana Ularu

Kinosseur, Wearebasca, deFilm, 25 Minutes

Review:

In a nutshell, this is a 25 minute short film about a woman going on a revenge killing spree. However, there is no dialogue and no real explanation for her actions, other than a small bit where she flips through some pictures of girls that look physically tortured.

I guess it is similar to I Spit On Your Grave and other films like that but it is a super stylized modern neo-noir looking picture. It also lacks a setup and therefore, you have no real emotional attachment to this woman’s violent revenge quest.

The film is unfortunately one of those that falls victim to style over substance. It plays out in what feels like real time, as it is comprised of a few long take shots but those moments between the killings weigh down the picture and dilute the little bit of violent action that does take place. 80 percent of this short film is walking and driving from place to place and then waiting.

Does it feel real? Yes. But again, it isn’t something you can connect with emotionally and it plays more like a really long music video without music until Bauhaus’ “She’s In Parties” plays at the very end, twenty-plus minutes into this.

The cinematography is nice and the shots are very well choreographed but there isn’t much else here.

I guess this is the third part of a trilogy of short films. I’m not sure how related those films are, if at all, other than having the same cast, but maybe seeing those first would have given this a bit more clarity. I’ll still check those out, if I can find them, and maybe that will make me understand this film a bit more. But as a standalone effort, this just isn’t something I was into.

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.

Ranking the Films of the 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival (2017)

The Manhattan Short Film Festival is now in its twentieth year and sadly, it was only my first year participating, as things like this don’t make their way down to my neck of the woods. Two theaters near me were venues that hosted this thing, there are over 250 venues worldwide now, so I wanted to take part in it.

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.

It was a pretty cool experience, even if there were only three other people in my local cinema to watch this – one of them left in the middle of the third short film. Southwest Florida claims it has culture but it is either extremely high brow or nothing and unfortunately, something like this fits somewhere in the middle because it isn’t a traveling opera or Transformers 17.

Anyway, I figured that I’d go beyond just anonymously picking my winner and that I’d rank the ten films I saw. All of these will be reviewed in the coming weeks, as well. But here they are, the ten finalists ranked.

1. 8 Minutes – drama (Georgia)
2. Viola, Franca – drama (Italy)
3. Behind – horror (Spain)
4. Mare Nostrum – drama (Syria)
5. Hope Dies Last – drama (UK)
6. Just Go! – action (Latvia)
7. Do No Harm – action (New Zealand)
8. Fickle Bickle – comedy (US)
9. In A Nutshell – animationm (Switzerland)
10. Perfect Day – comedy (Spain)

Film Review: Bottle Rocket (1994)

Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Owen Wilson, Wes Anderson
Cast: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave

Gracie Films, Columbia Pictures, 13 Minutes

Review:

“Man, that was a great driving. Seriously, that was a really good driving. Okay? 183 dollars, pretty god rob. Good driving.” – Dignan

This is not a review of the feature length 1996 film Bottle Rocket, this is a review of the original short film made by Wes Anderson and the Wilson brothers that would go on to give birth to the feature length version a few years later.

Shot in 1992 in black and white and only 13 minutes long, this version of Bottle Rocket debuted at Sundance in 1994. It got a good amount of buzz and provided Anderson and the Wilsons with the opportunity to shop the idea around, raise money, produce a longer version and get Columbia Pictures to distribute it. They were also able to attract the legendary James Caan to the picture, where he stars alongside the Wilsons in the final act of that film.

This early version of the Bottle Rocket story is a condensed version of what would become the first act of the larger movie. Some of the dialogue and the scenes are almost exactly the same but lacking the visual refinement of the later version. Still, the look of this film is more gritty and feels more authentic and real when compared to its bigger budget followup.

This version is superbly shot and the Wilson brothers already deliver their lines like seasoned veterans. As a fan of the 1996 Bottle Rocket, seeing this now is a real treat.

Wes Anderson showed here, that he had talent and knew what he was doing, even if his work wasn’t as fine tuned as it would become just a few years later with his breakout film Rushmore.

Where I usually leave trailers at the bottom of my reviews, I figured that I would post the short film in its entirety, as it really is worth 13 minutes of your time, if you are a fan of Anderson and the Wilsons.

Film Review: The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Release Date: December 1st, 1903
Directed by: Edwin S. Porter
Written by: Edwin S. Porter, Scott Marble
Cast: Alfred C. Abadie, Broncho Billy Anderson, Justus D. Barnes, Walter Cameron

Warner Bros. (as Edison Manufacturing Company), Kleine Optical Company, 12 Minutes (at 18 frame/s)

Review:

Lately, I have been going back to the films that started it all. I want to look at where this great art form came from and to explore some of the earliest films that made an impact on pop culture. The Great Train Robbery was a massive success, for its time. Back then, a twelve minute film was like an epic.

What makes this film so important, is that it was a huge achievement in capturing action. It was also one of the first films to have an actual plot. It helped launch the action, adventure, heist and western film genres.

The film had a budget of $150, which it made back fairly quickly, as it opened at Huber’s Museum in New York City and was then exhibited at eleven theaters throughout the city before expanding out even further. Thomas Edison’s people, a true marketing machine of its day, touted the film as “…absolutely the superior of any moving picture ever made.” They weren’t wrong, by the way.

The Great Train Robbery was really one of the first blockbusters and was the most popular silent film of its time until the release of The Birth of a Nation, twelve years later.

This film inspired many directors and several auteurs have made homages to it within their own works. For instance, Martin Scorsese mimics the final shot of this film in his hugely successful Goodfellas, where the main character points his gun through the fourth wall, at the audience, and shoots. Additionally, the scene in Goodfellas where the mobster shoots at the feet of the waiter, making him dance, is a sort of recreation of the scene in The Great Train Robbery where trigger happy locals cause the Eastern stranger to dance, dodging gunshots towards his feet.

The Great Train Robbery is one of the most significant films ever made and without its existence, who’s to say how the film industry would’ve evolved. This, alongside A Trip to the Moon, really allowed motion pictures to take shape and have a deeper meaning.

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.