Film Review: A Straightforward Boy (1929)

Also known as: Tokkan kozô (original Japanese title)
Release Date: November 24th, 1929
Directed by: Yasujirô Ozu
Written by: Tadao Ikeda, Chuji Nozu
Based on: The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry
Cast: Tatsuo Saitô, Tomio Aoki, Takeshi Sakamoto

Shochiku Kinema (Kamata), Asakusa Teikokukan, 14 Minutes (extant fragments), 38 Minutes (original length)

Review:

Yasujirô Ozu was one of the most prolific film directors in Japan for his time. He started by making comedy shorts in the silent era. He would later go on to make more technically savvy films once he started directing “talkies”. This is one of his earlier films, however.

A Straightforward Boy was once a 38 minute picture. A lot of it has gone missing or been damaged and the print that has been reconstructed and digitally archived is only 14 minutes. However, one can still get the gist and spirit of the story in the 14 minutes that survived to give us the cut of the film that exists now.

When I was researching this, I saw that one reviewer on IMDb referred to this as the Japanese Dennis the Menace. That’s really not a stretch, as the story follows a boy that is kidnapped and ends up being such a handful that the kidnappers return him, only to have the tables then turned again, as the kid continues to terrorize the main kidnapper’s lackey.

This isn’t an exceptional film but it is really cool seeing Japanese culture come to life in the pre-WWII era. If you like Japanese humor, you’ll probably be amused by this, especially the physical humor, as it couldn’t rely on sound. It’s not quite slapstick but it is very physical and entertaining.

Tomio Aoki, the boy who plays Tetsubo, the menace, did a really fine job. The comedic timing of Tatsuo Saitô and Takeshi Sakamoto enhanced Aoki’s performance as their reactions to him were great.

This is absolutely something that fans of Ozu’s work should check out. At least, I always enjoy checking out the early works of top filmmakers, especially when they are still experimenting with style and narrative; it helps you see how they evolved and sometimes gives their later work deeper meaning and substance. For the layman, this is probably not too exciting and there isn’t a lot to walk away with, other than it being a quick short about a funny prankster kid.

Film Review: Krazy Kat – Bugologist (1916)

Release Date: March 14th, 1916
Written by: George Herriman
Based on: Krazy Kat by George Herriman

International Film Service, 3 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll teach thee bugology, Ignatzes.” – Krazy Kat

The character of Krazy Kat was conceived as a comic strip by George Herriman in 1913. He would go on to be featured in 231 films from 1916 to 1940. This is one of the first films to feature him and his friend, Ignatz Mouse.

It’s hard to really critique something like this as it is almost primitive animation. These films feel more like experiments within the style and certainly aren’t anywhere near as great as the animated shorts that would put Walt Disney and the Looney Tunes on the map, just over a decade later.

Still, without the Krazy Kat shorts, we may not have had Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny, which would have completely altered the evolution of animation. Krazy Kat films kind of wedged the door open for other animated features to work their way into the public’s hearts during the earliest era of theater going.

Krazy Kat – Buglogist is very short but that wasn’t uncommon for 1916 where you could see a film that is longer than a television season and the next night, see something shorter than most movie trailers. In those early days, everything was experimental and certain rules weren’t yet established.

In this short, we see Krazy Kat try to teach Ignatz about bugs, which turns into him getting stung by a bee, right in his bum. It then goes off on a tangent about an elephant. It’s a short film with multiple personality disorder but ultimately, it shows that both friends are different yet need each other.

The drawings are pretty crude but I don’t think that the people behind this were as concerned about art quality, as they were about technical prowess and trail and error.

Since the film is so short, I’ve posted it in its entirety below.

 

Film Review: Kansas Saloon Smashers (1901)

Release Date: March 16th, 1901
Directed by: Edwin S. Porter

Edison Studios, 1 Minute

Review:

Kansas Saloon Smashers was a short one minute motion picture put out by Thomas Edison’s film company. Back in that time, his studio was at the forefront of motion picture technology and were typically the ones who made the biggest breakthroughs from a technical standpoint. Their films weren’t necessarily known for their artistic merit but more for being tests for the creative medium, as it evolved year after year.

However, they weren’t below dabbling in political satire, which is exactly what this film did.

This movie is a parody of the then famous political activist and busybody Carrie Nation. For those who don’t know, Nation was a radical member of the Temperance Movement, a group that fought against all the fun things in life like intoxication and sex. They used their influence to pressure the government into enacting laws that favored eventual Prohibition, as well as trying to force abstinence on the public.

Nation and her group were horrible people. She was also famous for wielding a hatchet that she would use to bust up taverns and destroy other people’s property. She even referred to herself as “…a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.”

This quick film’s plot showcases a bartender serving his fun loving patrons. After he fills a man’s bucket with beer, Carrie Nation and her peeps bust into the bar and start causing havoc. She swings her hatchet and smashes up the place as best as she can until the bartender and the police toss her out, presumably on her ass.

Kansas Saloon Smashers was a very influential film, as it inspired other studios to pump out quick little pictures about Carrie Nation. Edison Studios even produced another one called Why Mr. Nation Wants a Divorce, which took shots at her failing second marriage. Pretty juicy stuff for the early 1900s.

The most notable thing about the movie, other than its influence and condemnation of Nation, was that it employed stop-action techniques for the bits where Nation is smashing up the bar.

And since it is so short, I have posted the film in its entirety below.

Film Review: Young Mr. Jazz (1919)

Release Date: April 20th, 1919
Directed by: Hal Roach
Cast: Harold Lloyd, ‘Snub’ Pollard. Bebe Daniels

Robin Films, 10 Minutes

Review:

Hal Roach may best be known as the producer of the Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang (The Little Rascals) comedy film series. However, before all that, he directed some short silent comedies in the 1910s and 1920s. Young Mr. Jazz is probably one of the most well-known.

The film is quick and simple but it is really amusing. It is only ten minutes but it uses that time wisely and gives us a fun and energetic look at the popular culture of Roach’s era.

The plot sees a young couple running away from the girl’s father in their car. The car breaks down in front of a dance hall. The establishment is run by crooks, which leads to the couple trying to stay one step ahead of the girl’s father while also evading the criminal element in the club that is trying to swindle them for all that they have.

It’s a cute and fast paced movie. While it obviously feels dated, it’s 99 years-old, the humor still works and the picture is quite hilarious.

The film stars Harold Lloyd, who was a pretty prolific actor in these sort of films and a regular collaborator with Roach. Lloyd would also go on to direct and produce like Roach and he carved out a nice place as one of the comedic giants of his day, alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

The collaborative efforts of Roach and Lloyd were pretty influential on comedy as a whole and they really helped set the stage for what would come after.

If you want to get into either the work of Roach or Lloyd, this is a good place to start and it is a short and sweet sample of what the two greats could do.

Film Review: Gremlins Recall (2017)

Release Date: December 5th, 2017
Directed by: Ryan Patrick
Written by: Ryan Patrick
Based on: the Gremlins films series by Chris Columbus
Music by: Russ Howard, Grand Soleil
Cast: Katherine Rodriguez, Randy Irwin, Sarah Lilly, Robert Wood

10 Minutes

Review:

I don’t often times talk about fan films here. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed one, actually. However, I like to give recognition to fan films that are really well done. And this one is pretty friggin’ cool. Mainly, because I love the Gremlins films and we haven’t had one in nearly three decades.

This little ten minute short was written and directed by a guy named Ryan Patrick, who did a superb job with this and really captured the tone of holiday dread like the original film did.

The story picks up thirty or so years after the events of the original 1984 film and sees Mogwai being sold as domesticated pets. How is that safe? Well, Mogwai need to be given an injection that keeps them from having the negative effects that turn them into terrors. With the injection, the rules for owning a Mogwai no longer apply. However, there is obviously a curveball waiting to be thrown.

The film is well shot, decently acted and the Mogwai and Gremlin puppets are really well constructed. They were made by Eric Fox, who was, at one point, a competitor on the special effects Syfy reality show Face Off. The film was also shot in just three days and all of it takes place at a diner, which works well for this just being a ten minute picture. But, it does leave things open for a sequel.

And like the original film, this takes place around Christmas, which was a nice added bonus. I have also always loved Gremlins 2: The New Batch but I wished that it took place around the holidays like its predecessor.

For a fan film, this is stupendously done. Kudos to Patrick, Fox and everyone else that put this together.

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.