FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #37 – “The World’s End” (dir. Edgar Wright), “Mud” (dir. Jeff Nichols)

Poster for "The World's End"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel tackle the exciting conclusion to Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright‘s recently-minted Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), as well as a surprising new coming-of-age adventure from writer/director Jeff Nichols. Will the nostalgic and paranormal wanderings of a posse of drunken middle aged-men win our favor? Or will we prefer the naively romantic notions of an adventurous child with his very own motorboat and island? Either way, the soundtrack will be fantastic. Don’t miss either one of these films (53:41).

May contain some NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (The World’s End): 8/10
FilmWonk rating (Mud): 7/10 (Daniel), 8.5/10 (Glenn)

Show notes:

  • (00:00) Review: The World’s End
  • (11:11) Spoilers: The World’s End
  • (23:37) Review: Mud
  • (32:48) Spoilers: Mud
  • Music for tonight’s episode is the track “Loaded” from the soundtrack to The World’s End, followed by The Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” from the end credits of Mud.
  • Seriously, if you’re on the eastside of Seattle, hit up La Fuente for some quality Mexican food. I’m as surprised as you are that this was relevant to a film podcast.
  • Check out my Elysium review here.
  • The “women are more likely to initiate divorce” statistic comes from a 2004 study by the AARP, which found that 66% of divorces were initiated by women, and gets into further detail on some of the reasons cited, which do include infidelity and abuse.
  • Stay tuned at the end of the recording to hear a bit of Daniel’s beautiful siren song.

Listen above, or download: The World’s End, Mud (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2013 – Monday (Bonus Segment)

SIFF Film Center projection room

The One-Reel Film Festival is part of Seattle’s renowned Bumbershoot music and arts festival. Throughout the weekend, I’ve had the opportunity to see short films from all over the world, some of which can be viewed online (I’ve included links below where applicable). The films were arranged into blocks of around an hour apiece, which I’ve arranged in presentation order below. Bold text means I enjoyed the film, and an asterisk (*) means it was my favorite film of that block. Skip to the bottom for a list of all the films that can be viewed online.

Click here for Saturday’s films
Click here for Sunday’s films

Films4Adults: Thrill Me

  1. Birding (Director: Max Cantor, USA, 16 minutes)

    Note to Hollywood: do more “rear window” scenarios. No, I don’t mean you should transparently rip off the entire story of Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but rather – give us a story that effectively utilizes the panopticon monstrosity of a high-rise city apartment building to great narrative and cinematic effect. Birding is exactly the sort of short that I was looking for in this category. It features David (Alan Fox) and Ada (Lizzy Fraser), a newly engaged couple about to head out for the weekend to go bird-watching with Ada’s father. David becomes fascinated with a woman in an opposite apartment, and begins watching her with his newly acquired bird-watching binoculars. This incredibly simple setup works in large part because the couple’s acting and dialogue is stellar. They establish a credible relationship in a short space of time. If the film had failed at this one crucial task, it would’ve rendered the awkward final act entirely ineffectual. And this act is admittedly a bit off. The dialogue, strong up until that point, becomes awkward and uneven, as does Fox’s performance. The film seems to be building toward an obvious and excruciating ending that it mercifully avoids, and everything remains askew for just long enough to make it seem like a deliberate and effective choice.

    And that is ultimately what this short is about – choices. The mundane choices of our daily lives are far more frequent than the sort that might have far-reaching and life-changing consequences, but this film effectively shines a light on one that can seemingly erupt out of nowhere. No matter how important the choice may be, you’re still the same person you were before you had to make it, and you would do well to remember that.

    More info and trailer here.

  2. Midnight City (Director: Luis Ventura, Switzerland, 14 minutes)

    Midnight City is an incredibly goofy and trashy genre exercise that takes place in a brothel during an unspecified “old-timey gangster period”. I’ve certainly enjoyed such pulp before, but this one was almost intolerable. There was a severe gulf in acting caliber between the female lead (Lucinda Farrelle, who wasn’t half bad) and the two male supporting characters. Male #1, the john (Alex Rendall) bore an uncanny physical resemblance to Ben Affleck, but gave a performance that was almost as grating as Reindeer Games. And Male #2 (Alan Thorpe) was boring and forgettable as the club “Daddy” – although I’m not sure any actor could have redeemed such terrible dialogue. You have to be pretty bad at being a creepy pimp to make me long for the squirm-inducing talents of Oscar Isaac in Sucker Punch (a performance I loved, but never wish to see again). This wasn’t good (or stylistically consistent) enough to be Sin City, not bad enough to be The Room, nor pretentious enough to be Sucker Punch. But very nearly dumb enough for that last one.

  3. Spine* (Director: Sophie Miller, Australia, 11 minutes)

    What would happen to my culturally constructed and reinforced notions of masculinity and power if I were suddenly rendered paralyzed? How would my image of myself in a romantic relationship have to change as I suddenly must be taken care of all the time? And how would all of these tenuous notions avail me in a life-and-death situation that I was just as unlikely to face before my injury?

    Spine forces the audience to confront all of these questions in a matter of minutes. There were so many subtle touches that grant a view into the inner life of the quadriplegic protagonist Nick (Lucas Pittaway). There was a brief flashback to he and his girlfriend Chloe (Sara West) making out – an expression of affection that is highly physical for both parties, and has now left them both behind. In a lesser film, this sort of flashback would have lingered and hammered the point into oblivion, but here, it was just a nice, subtle moment, in a film that makes a nice, subtle point.

    West is also given some nice material to work with as she runs into an old friend working in a liquor store where she has stopped to get Nick some beer. Chloe clearly maintains a strong affection for her boyfriend, but also feels the burden of their new existence together. Even as Nick’s arc is coming together in the carpark below, each stolen moment in the liquor store reveals more about her own struggle. And it all fits together quite well.

    This experience feels authentic, even as I mercifully lack the life experience to validate its authenticity for myself. This is an unfortunate, but credible situation – and a story quite worth telling.

    More info here.

  4. Penny Dreadful (Director: Shane Atkinson, USA, 18 minutes)

    This film reminded me aggressively of both Tarantino and his acolytes – and I mean that in the best way possible. There are few things more hilarious than the kidnapping of a child gone awry (*chuckle*), and this film milks every bit of dark comedy from the situation. Both man and girl were brilliantly cast. The easy comparison for Oona Laurence‘s character here is Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass, but I actually found this character far more believable. She’s not a cartoon psychopath; just a troubled and precocious little girl with a bit of an f’d-up sense of humor. This film was an absolute delight, and I don’t dare say more.

    More info and trailer here.

    Watch it here.

  5. A Pretty Funny Story (Director: Evan Morgan, Canada, 19 minutes)

    This is a bad story for bad people to enjoy. It begins with a couple glancing through the window at their neighbor, who is indulging in a bit of goofy solo dancing. They laugh at him for a moment before they’re caught watching…and then everything goes to a bit of a dark place. This film is hilarious, awkward, mean-spirited, and unrelenting. And I loved it – I’ll direct you back to Sentence #1 for my conclusion.

    More info (and the first three minutes) here; buy it here.

  6. Voice Over (Director: Martin Rosete, Spain, 10 minutes)

    A narrator tells a series of increasingly dire life-and-death situations, all in the second-person starring you, the audience member. Each of the sequences features the main character (you) about to die in increasingly horrific ways, whether in a space suit on an alien planet, or strapped to a sinking boat underwater. Each of these sequences is rendered with absolute precision (and gorgeous visuals, particularly for the alien planet), and yet each one has a bit of a fanciful quality. The narrator keeps cursing his poor memory and correcting himself, lending each story both the urgency of imminent death and the endearing hilarity of somebody’s dad telling a poorly strung narrative. The heartwarming side of this film hits like a ton of bricks, and yet feels like it was always inevitable.

    Watch online here.

Best of the Northwest

  1. The Next Step (Director: Mel Eslyn, USA, 7 minutes)

    A couple meets a stranger (Kevin Seal) in a coffee bar to discuss their next step in the relationship. And that’s really all I’ll say. This is a 7-minute film featuring a single joke – meaning it has basically the same formula as a modern episode of South Park – but it only needs to keep the joke going for a third as long. By and large, it works. The couple is delightfully awkward, with the enthusiastic Nancy (Alycia Delmore) and the uncomfortable (and slightly henpecked) Glen (Evan Mosher) making an effective on-screen pair. The film keeps you guessing nicely, complete with a wonderfully creepy interaction between the stranger and the coffee-shop manager, as well as a so-subtle-I-may-have-imagined-it reference to Clerks. Funny stuff.

    More info here.

  2. Decimation* (Director: Wade Jackson, USA, 30 minutes)

    Like any film featuring American actors set in a foreign country, there is something slightly askew about Decimation, at least until your brain has time to adjust. Much criticism was heaped upon Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie for not even attempting German accents for its English-speaking cast of Wehrmacht soldiers. But I tend to think that affecting a foreign accent is more of a gamble than a guaranteed win. Perhaps Enemy at the Gates (which receives a nice shout-out in this film) handled it best for an American audience, opting for the generic stand-in British accent for all of its Russian characters. Decimation, a film about a group of World War II Russian solders accused of cowardice, opted for accent fakery (with bits of actual Russian sprinkled in), and I don’t think it does the film any great service. The acting quality here is quite solid all around, but the accent work is variable, and my three years of Russian language made it difficult to separate the two as the film began. But before too long, I was absorbed enough in the story and cast that this detail ceased to bother me.

    The strongest performer is certainly Roy Stanton, who plays Prisoner One, the unofficial leader of the group. The titular practice of “Decimation” refers not to the complete obliteration of a group, as it has come to mean, but rather the destruction of just one tenth of it to enforce discipline – in this case, a single soldier selected by Prisoner One for execution. He could even choose himself if he wished, but whichever man is chosen must be executed by the other members of the group. This practice featured prominently in a vignette in Max Brooks’ novel World War Z (also in Russia), and apparently there is a documented instance of it happening among Russians in World War II. But I give this film immense credit for using the practice as an effective metaphor for the unrelenting bleakness and indifference of warfare.

    If you’re lucky, you won’t be in a war. If you’re luckier, you won’t be in a war in the Soviet Red Army. And if you’re luckier still, you won’t duck or hide in the face of enemy fire while a commissar is watching your back. Enforcing both the virtue of patriotism and the shame of cowardice was deemed essential in a war in which over 20 million Russian soldiers and civilians died. We get to see this struggle of ideology vs. survival play out in the face of pure, indifferent chance. Differentiating ten characters in the space of a 30-minute short must have been a daunting task, and the film does a marvelous job. Each character, whether the suspected Cossack, the Eastern Orthodox priest, or the doggedly patriotic teenager, gets his moment to shine. Making me care about each of these characters was essential; otherwise I would have a nice, long list of unimportant extras that I’d be happy to see up against the wall in the end. There were certainly a few who received very little screentime, but not one that seemed superfluous.

    I’ve referred to a few short films from this weekend as a “solid first act”, but I think this may be the only “solid third act” that I saw. The film jumps effortlessly from one moment of character-loaded tension to the next, mostly justifying it with the acting, but never completely earning it with the setup. Even a few plot details are unclear from the start. I initially identified the prison commandant (Michael Patten) as one of the worst accent offenders (sounding more German than Russian), only to see him identified as “The German” in the end credits. How did a German come to work in a Soviet prison camp? We never know…but it must be a hell of a story. Despite this fundamental problem with putting feature-length complexity into a short film, none of these unknown details prevented me from feeling every moment of shock, sadness, and horror by the film’s end. And apart from that, the film is very well made. The score is dramatic and catchy – albeit slightly repetitive – but it never once commits the cardinal sin of pushing past the justified emotional content of the scene. The production design is budget-impeccable, featuring authentic weapons and real-looking uniforms*. In addition to the score, the sound mix features the slightly mocking twitter of birds just outside the cell, giving the constant [and false] impression that happiness and freedom are just a window-climb away. Very effective.

    Bottom line – this movie is unrelentingly bleak, features some very strong performances, and is greater than the sum of its high-concept parts. For a 30-minute war film, I couldn’t have asked for more.

    *Confession: I really don’t know if the uniforms were accurate, although they helped significantly with character differentiation. But the weapons (notably the PPSh and the Mosin-Nagant rifle) certainly looked legit. I spotted at least one German MP-40 rifle, but given that the Russians frequently had to deal with weapon and ammo shortages, I’m happy to justify that by assuming it was a captured item.

    More info and trailers here.

Quick List: All of the films that are available online:

Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2013 – Sunday Roundup

SIFF Film Center projection room

The One-Reel Film Festival is part of Seattle’s renowned Bumbershoot music and arts festival. Throughout the weekend, I’ve had the opportunity to see short films from all over the world, some of which can be viewed online (I’ve included links below where applicable). The films were arranged into blocks of around an hour apiece, which I’ve arranged in presentation order below. Bold text means I enjoyed the film, and an asterisk (*) means it was my favorite film of that block. Skip to the bottom for a list of all the films that can be viewed online.

Click here for Saturday’s films
Click here for Monday’s films

Films4Families #2

  1. Snap (Director: Thomas G. Murphy, Belgium, 6 minutes)

    There’s nothing new under the sea, but this is enjoyable nonetheless. The film is equal parts Kung Fu Panda and Looney Tunes. An underwater gremlin learns to hunt in a different way with the help of…an underwater frog. It’s zany, and a bit forgettable, but fun for a moment.

    Trailer here.

  2. The Mole at the Sea (Director: Anna Kadykova, Russia, 5 minutes)

    Crowded beaches are not fun. This is the point the film ably makes, and it does so with a sea of grotesque humanity (or at least human-looking animals). The animation is unique, and quite a throwback – it falls somewhere between 1960s Charlie Brown specials and JoeCartoon. The mole is frankly adorable, and watching him “swim” around through the sand to find an enjoyable spot on the beach is most entertaining.

    Watch online here.

  3. Hedgehogs and the City* (Director: Evalds Lacis, Latvia, 10 minutes)

    This delightfully subversive stuffed animal stop-motion begins as Over the Hedge, wherein an animal habitat is taken over by human development. Then it becomes…something else entirely. According to the film’s environmental and consumerist satire, the best recourse for an eclectic collection of animals (including a drunken moose) is to rise to the top of the food chain in a new way. Great fun.

    More info and teaser here.

  4. Hannah and the Moon (Director: Kate Charter, UK, 6 minutes)

    Now that’s more like it. Like yesterday’s “The Window”, this film takes place inside the pages of a children’s book – but the pencil-drawn animation is gorgeous and elaborate, and the simple story is nonetheless deeply affecting. This is the tale of a lonely girl whose mother is too busy to talk, so she talks to the moon instead. The book’s narration is revealed one word at a time (making this almost a “Reading Rainbow” exercise for younger audience members) as Hannah navigates the world. Sometimes words follow her climbing the stairs, or fly through the air – and sometimes, they literally leap off the page.

    More info here, trailer here.

  5. The Goat Herder and His Lots and Lots and Lots of Goats (Director: Will Rose, UK, 7 minutes)

    If Nintendo’s Mario character were reimagined as a goatherder, rendered in silhouette at magic hour, it might look something like this. This beautiful 2D platformer short is very video-gamey (seemingly on purpose), and even contains a twist that will be familiar to modern gamers, wherein the player’s efforts are rendered unnecessary. Quite fun – and the goats rhythmic chomping was very catchy.

    Watch online here.

  6. Blue (Director: Asia Lancaster/Katelyn Bianchini/Rena Cheng, USA, 8 minutes)

    A bright blue balloon is terrified of being popped by humans. This film gets occasionally elaborate with the limited visual tools at its disposal, but the animation is incredibly simplistic, and its human characters look downright grotesque. Given the balloons’ quite reasonable fears during the first half of this film, this uncanny valley look makes sense, but given the emotional connection the film attempts to cultivate with a young boy by the end, I can’t help but think that it was not deliberate. The film’s end credits sequence contained a jarringly upbeat song – easily one of the most obnoxious sunshine pop ballads this side of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Not a wise choice for tonal consistency when the film’s last scene takes place in a cemetery full of mourners.

    More info here.

Dance, Dance, Dance

  1. Ballet (Director: Sajid Dilawar/Gunja Bose, India, 2 minutes)

    It’s hard to impress me with “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”, if only because I’ve seen it so many different ways. But this elegant and simplistic animation managed to do so once again. The faux film-grain and sepia tones evoke a prototypical film projection, and the effect is a captivating study in movement.

    Watch online here.

  2. Still Moving: Pilobolus at Forty* (Director: Jeffrey Ruoff, USA, 38 minutes)

    A creative endeavor – particularly one that began as a collaborative project between college students – is lucky to last a few years, much less four decades. This modern dance company’s story is remarkable, and yet familiar to me personally, as the company’s history, ideology, and public classes feel very much like an improvised theatre company that I’m involved with. The medium is unique, but the message is quite similar.

    The company’s style features choreographed dance routines with human bodies initially walking in unison, but then meshing and wrapping together into unique shapes and transformations – often with limited clothing. All in all, the company’s longevity seems best attributed to its extreme adaptability. The film features a 2010 collaborative mixed media performance with a comic book artist, wherein the dancers perform in silhouette behind a rear projection screen, interacting with the changing graphics in real time. For a ragtag band of 1970s Dartmouth students, this seems a significant evolution of the company’s style.

    The only thing that gives me pause about this film is that it is functionally an advertisement for the company, as well as a memorial piece for the company’s late co-founder (who is featured in the film, and has passed away recently as of the film’s release). On the face of it, it is unlikely that this is an unbiased, “warts and all” portrayal of the company’s history. Several of the company’s founders have also left since its inception, and it was clearly in a period of transition and uncertainty when the film was made. But what I can’t argue with is the unique and valuable artistic endeavor that is on display here. Pilobolus is a thriving arts company, and on that level they have my respect. The film acknowledges that losing one of its co-founders will be the next great challenge to the organization’s survival – surely to be followed by other departures as the years go on. But like the bovine dungborne fungus for which it is named (I bullshit you not), this company seems adaptable. And messy.

    More info and trailer here.
    Watch 26 members of Pilobolus squeeze into a Mini Cooper here.

Love…In the Afternoon

  1. Side Effects* (Director: Traven Rice, USA, 20 minutes)

    This film is quite riveting, even if it’s a bit difficult to discern its intention. It functions as a dark and somewhat demented version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, wherein the film’s central love story may be little more than a construction in the main character’s mind. Alena (Carla Quevedo, The Secret in Their Eyes) is part of a drug trial whose side effects include a series of lucid (and narratively connected) dreams, complete with a Hot Dream Guy on the beach. Her love interest (Robert Beitzel) is a bit of a cypher, mainly because we never see him speak. Their communication in the dream is solely in the form of voiceover dialogue (some of which was made while pretending to breathe underwater, which must’ve been a bitch of an acting challenge). This doesn’t especially diminish the effectiveness of their romance, but it does make it almost entirely dependent on Quevedo’s performance.

    Alena spends the majority of the film in the Saw-like environment of a windowless hospital room as frigid medical personnel administer dose after dose of unknown medications. It’s all very unpleasant, and Quevedo does an admirable job of both conveying Alena’s inner plight and eliciting audience sympathy. I almost wish the film had not relied on Alena’s letters home to expose her inner turmoil – the actress was doing a fine job on her own, and the letters (which receive no response) do little but add to the film’s already ever-present paranoia.

    All in all, the ending is a little obvious, but it reveals just enough about the intended purpose of the drug trial without making every detail clear. This may well just be mad science at work, or it could just as easily be a deleted scene from the first act of Inception. Whatever is going on here, it brings more than enough intrigue to the table, and one bravura performance.

    More info here.

  2. Taboulé (Director: Richard Garcia, Spain, 4 minutes)

    Modern technology has done a wonderful job of creating “trust opportunities” for couples – this film tackles the conversation that ensues when a man asks his boyfriend (for no reason whatsoever) to share his mobile PIN. They hang out on a rooftop together, and debate the ever-changing definition of trust. Simple and sweet.

    Trailer here.

  3. A Little Something on the Side (Director: Stephen Tobolowsky, USA, 14 minutes)

    Stephen Tobolowsky had a triple heart bypass last year (something he has been quite open about on his storytelling podcast). I don’t know whether knowing that in advance made me enjoy this film more, but it certainly didn’t hurt. The film plays a delightful bait-and-switch with a very obvious joke, taking “this isn’t what it looks like” to absurd new heights, and having a great deal of fun with its bad behavior. Most enjoyable.

    More info here, Twitter here.

  4. Dream Girl (Director: Tulica Singh, USA, 6 minutes)

    It’s become easier for my mind to drift further away from heteronormativity the more of these tales of something-other-than-straight romance I see. On the face of it, this isn’t merely a low-budget, reasonably well produced tale of unrequited love – primarily, it just made me ponder the social engineering task that is recognizing viable romantic partners who happen to share your sexual orientation. As a straight male (recalling my single days), it was easy for me to take for granted that if a lady doesn’t respond to my advances, it was likely because she didn’t find me specifically attractive, not my entire sex. Laura, the dreamer, is forced to contend with the possibility that the girl of her dreams not only doesn’t know she exists (or at least doesn’t know her name), but that she might never be interested in her romantically. If that situation is half as difficult to parse as my gendered pronoun use in the previous sentence, I don’t envy her task.

    More info here.

Best of SIFF – Audience Award Winners

  1. Spooners (Director: Bryan Horch, USA, 14 minutes)

    This film’s thesis seems to be that progressive acceptance of same-sex marriage has reached the point where it can be hilariously grating to the actual couples. In a world where same-sex marriage (as of this writing) is still illegal in 37 states, this filmmaker still manages to find comedy in the suspiciously well-timed corporate acceptance of former social taboos. The majority of the film takes place inside a mattress store called “Drowzy’s”, featuring a “smart bed” that is just a little too happy to see its first gay couple shopping for a mattress. Corporations are amoral entities, and calling attention to their propensity for becoming socially liberal as soon as the market dictates is spot-on satire. The crowd of white liberals crowing about how they’ve heard terms like “bear” and “otter” on NPR is just the icing on the cake. That’s tolerance in a nutshell. Most people are well-meaning, nice, and just a little bit full of shit. Well done, sirs.

    Watch online here.

  2. Malaria (Director: Edson Shundl Oda, Brazil, 6 minutes)

    A well-executed gimmick requires a story that would be compelling even without it. This story, of a man hiring a mercenary to kill Death, certainly qualifies. The story is told in what I can vaguely refer to as a motion comic, but featuring human hands turning over each gorgeous pencil-drawn and shaded frame, and a knife-blade sliding in to reveal each line of dialogue. This technique is augmented with physical effects as we hear the scene play out in [Portugese] voiceover. It’s a clever premise, and the technique makes it visually captivating.

    Watch online here.

  3. Fora (Director: Ayuub Kasasa Mago, Rwanda, 7 minutes)

    A conundrum for an American film critic: How do I judge an up-and-coming third-world film production without being patronizing or mean, or tolerating mediocrity? If you have an answer, you’re a better person than me. This is the only Rwandan film I’ve ever seen, so I have no qualitative basis for comparison. But on the face of it, the story is not terribly compelling and the filmmaking technique is pretty rudimentary. But while these are not trained actors (and it shows), they are decent filmmakers with the tools at their disposal. The lighting and cinematography are solid in both the indoor (fairly dim) home, as well as the Kigali city overlooks. This is a simple tale of brotherly love and forgiveness featuring what might be an actual father and son pairing (two of them have the same last name). It’s an old, simple story, which resonates a bit. But is it good? Hell if I know.

    More info here.

  4. Good Karma $1 (Director: Jason Berger/Amy Laslett, USA, 15 minutes)

    In this documentary, a pair of ad executives attempt to find the most successful slogans for the homeless to use on cardboard panhandling signs. These guys are no Don Draper, but they are slick and chock full of wistful, vaguely inspiring, mildly pretentious ideas. The client to whom they must present their ideas is a homeless man with dreadlocks (a wonderful character unto himself) who rightfully thrashes them, saying the men have clearly never been homeless. And if this film were merely pretentious and well-meaning, it might have been grating. But it carries a sense of optimism about the spirit of generosity that is genuinely contagious. If you give a homeless man a dollar, sure- he might buy a beer with it. But you’ve still made him happy, and were you really guaranteed anything more than that once the money changed hands?

    Trailer here.

  5. Noodle Fish* (Director: Jin-man Kim, South Korea, 10 minutes)

    Noodle Fish features the fruitless existential musings of fish in the sea speculating about the air-world above the waterline. In its own rite, this would be a smart piece of existential satire- but this film takes it a step further with some of the most brilliant and unconventional stop motion animation this side of Don Hertzfeldt. The entire story is rendered in noodle flour. Depressions and sculptures, fish, seaweed, sand, and waves…made of noodle flour. The film is 10 minutes long, and it boggles the mind to think how long it must have taken to produce. The technique is absolutely flawless, and is every bit as brilliant a piece of film craftsmanship that a smart script like this deserves. And man is it funny.

    Update: Watch it in full here!

Films4Adults: Neither Here Nor There

  1. Presence Required (Director: Maria Gordillon, Spain, 12 minutes)

    A couple experiences empty nest syndrome when their household ghost Sebastian goes missing. What this film brilliantly captures is the magical realism of everyone having the same skewed sense of morality. In this world, death is not the least bit tragic, and no house is complete without a ghoul to call its own. The actors convey this warped reality brilliantly as they painstakingly interview potential replacements.

    Trailer here.

  2. No Beers for Bradley (Director: Julian Doan, USA, 10 minutes)

    Speaking of a skewed sense of morality, here’s a demented fairy tale about a drunken rampage, told as a bedtime storybook to a precocious little boy dying of ebola. This film is a mean drunk. It is definitely being offensive and gory just for the sake of it (much like one of last year’s selections), which works just fine as long as everyone is entirely committed to the bit. And everyone is – even the little nosebleeding kid.

    Trailer here.

  3. Dosa Hunt (Director: Amrit Singh, USA, 22 minutes)

    Seven friends – six Indians and one Mexican – hunt around New York City for a South Indian crepe dish called dosa, set to an enjoyable soundtrack from their various bands (they are all members of the indie music scene, including Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer, Das Racist, and others).

    I could utter some very pretentious phrases about this film. “Primer on Indian-American culture” definitely came to mind. The film does a solid job of making the point that what we call “Indian food” in the US (ditto Chinese food, Mexican food, etc.) is really from one small area of India, and there is plenty of other food from elsewhere in such a huge country that individual countrymen might have never tried. It’s a point that seems pretty obvious (how many regional dishes are there in the US?), but the film makes it well.

    Unfortunately, the other pretentious phrase that came to mind was “Meandering foodie tour”. I was mildly entertained by this (and felt like tracking down some dosa afterward), but the pacing and structure felt entirely too loose. Certain threads led nowhere – we see them shop at an Indian grocery for ingredients and a pan to make their own dosa. They buy the stuff, but they never actually go through with the cooking. The myriad detours and delays on the hunt seemed to be more entertaining to the group themselves than anyone watching. And don’t get me wrong; that sense of fun was mildly infectious. If you watch a group having fun, you can’t help but feel like you’re having fun as well. But it probably could’ve been done in half the time.

    More info and trailer here.

  4. Five Years* (Director: Durier Ryan, USA, 14 minutes)

    Pop quiz, hotshot. Is it racist for me to find it jarring to see a teenage Justin Bieber-looking kid getting out of jail on probation? Is there any combination of appearance-based adjectives that I can string together which won’t normatively imply that an attractive, white delinquent is somehow…unusual? Whatever combination of prejudices led me to this conclusion, I did not find this character intimidating in the least, and I think that might be what makes him so effective. We never find out his crime (although he does tell us it’s none of our fucking business), but we do know he is wearing an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet, he’s not allowed to drive, and he’s not allowed to leave Brooklyn. And naturally, the very day that he gets out of jail, every one of these constraints is challenged, and he is forced to make some very grown-up (and possibly very stupid) decisions about what’s right and wrong in his life.

    This is a solid dramatic film. Like The Wire before it, it sets up a captivating world on the streets in a short space of time, and makes you feel the weight of the characters’ histories in every interaction before you really get to know any of them. The casting of this film was spot-on, especially that of the lead.

    More info here. Some of the director’s other films here.

  5. Magma (Director: Pawel Masiona, Poland, 30 minutes)

    This film made me twitchy with anticipation, and not in a good way. It chronicles the existential dread and creeping insanity of a furniture salesman at the dawn of middle age. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on here. From the way the sets get rearranged and the music gets extra plunky at the end, there may have been a twist ending so subtle that I completely missed it. At all times, this film seems to be building to something. The main character seems deeply tortured by his existence, and there seems to be a distinct reason why. That reason is never revealed. If conveying the neverending chore that is this man’s existence was the sole objective of this film, then I say to the filmmaker, bravo.

    More info here.

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