Short Films

Misinventions of Milo

Why Watch? Milo is a young boy who’s constantly working out the kinks. His garage boycave is a wonderland of DIY science equipment cobbled together using the best electronics of 1988, but his inventions never work quite right. That might be a good thing, though, because his ideas are ridiculous. His most recent absurd concept? A Reverse Microwave that doesn’t so much make food instantly cold as it sends things back in time. You might even mislabel it “a time machine.” This short film from writer/director William Whirity is fantastically endearing. A perfect representation of the kinds of childhood adventures that canvased 1980s filmmaking from Joe Dante to Amblin. Milo (played with lisping energy by Charlie Bazzell) is a really cool geek who deals with bullies, finances his inventions with a cheating scam and even has his own adorable catch phrases. From the thrilling score to the tension of a teacher’s footfalls down the hall to the sweet buddy comedy, The Misinventions of Milo Weatherby is pitch perfect. It’s a miniature Goonies with a sci-fi twist. Whirity has crafted a winning story that succeeds by amplifying low stakes into how large they feel when you’re small. (Sidenote: it’s not at all structured like a sitcom, but it would make for a great TV show where Milo and his pal Levi go on a new quest every week.)

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Gros Short Film adam taylor

Why Watch? When you’re a fat fish in a small pond, the allure of swimming across the ocean to test yourself against greater challenges is often incredibly strong. Things are more difficult when your pond only has seven hot dogs in it, though. In this short film from Adam Taylor, the largest man in an Eastern European village goes after his dream to prove himself as the largest man in the world. He’s dedicated, in love and probably weighs about 180 pounds. On one level, Gros feels like a sweeter version of Borat. More innocently naive. Our normal-sized fat guy doesn’t shake hands with the Statue of Liberty to satirize, but to find a broader sense of humor. Some surprising images and bone dry witticisms make it all possible, and the art school style offers a calm base for the bombastic to stand out. At the same time, he’s definitely making a statement about how great Americans are at consuming large quantities (and what it’s like not to give up on your goals).

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The Gray Ghost Sweating Bullets

Why Watch? Batman has probably inspired more fan films than any other character, but I appreciate this short film from J.L. Topkis and Matt Landsman because it moves beyond the typical cosplay action sequence by channeling a Batman television show that channeled the Batman serials. They take their inspiration from a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series (aka the best Batman TV show ever) where young Bruce Wayne is shown watching a show called The Gray Ghost and, in the present-day as Batman, has to find a copy of the show in order to solve a copycat crime. As a bonus, Adam West voices the actor who plays the Gray Ghost in the Animated Series episode. Here, Topkis and Landsman have imagined the show within a show as a real adventure series, crafting a live-action hero who leaps into young Bruce Wayne’s life at exactly the right moment (with some Sin City-style CGI to help). To be fair, The Gray Ghost: The Lost Reel (or maybe it’s called Sweating Bullets?) is pure nostalgia and design with a blustery script that follows a formula blazed almost a century ago. That doesn’t stop it from being a lot of fun — an excellent distraction that makes me wish they’d made a longer short. One warning, though. The acting and fighting in it is stiff like a 1930s serial would be. Not the look-how-accurate-we’re-being version of serial parody that we’re used to, but legitimately broad and direct. Get on board with the homage, and you’ll have a swell time.

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Dust Short Film

Why Watch? A disheveled man follows a little girl and her mother as they walk down the street, he breaks into their home, and soon he’s writhing around in the little girls’ bed. This man is Alan Rickman, in case you weren’t already completely creeped out. In the short film Dust from Ben Ockrent and Jake Russell, the concept of what millions of people knowingly allow into their child’s bedroom is explored with an unnerving sense of simplicity. It’s almost pure atmosphere, punctuated only by a singular goal that maintains mystery simply because we may refuse to believe that we’re about to see what the film is promising to show us. It’s all body language and intent, which makes Rickman perfect casting not only because his ease of appearing terrifying, but also because he’s committed to even small roles like this one. Granted, it’s also a short film created solely to deliver a final moment, but Ockrent and Russell use a street-level, naturalistic shooting style that surrounds us with one, powerful emotion: dread. So remember, the next time you hear a weird thump in your house, it could be Alan Rickman snorting drugs in your daughter’s bedroom.

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Humans Need Not Apply

Why Watch? If you’re feeling anxious about what the future holds, this short film from CGP Grey isn’t going to help. In Humans Need Not Apply, a horrible dystopian future present reigns over the landscape, forcing humans from their jobs as less-expensive robots become more available. If you’re certain that robots won’t be coming for your job, think again. This documentary has some startling statistics about how many fields they’re already in and will be in soon. Everyone from office workers to your neighborhood professional painter might be looking for a new gig. The caveat to all this (which the doc doesn’t go into) is that — while this revolution is wholly different from others — it will still have to abide by the basic rules of economics. Simply put, if everyone is out of work, no one will have any money to buy the products that companies need the robots to make. That’s both a chilling nightmare scenario and the safeguard against catastrophic damage as we transition to a new economy. Still, Humans Need Not Apply is  fascinating look at the future we’re currently living that recognizes both the wondrous potential for automation and the bedrock danger that it presents. Plus, if you’re Ray Kurzweil, this should put a big smile on your face.

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Henchmen Ill Suited

“Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay” might not mean a lot these days. Under their Gary Sanchez banner, they’ve given us disappointments like The Campaign, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and this summer’s Tammy, to name just a few. Even Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues was a slight letdown. Their future might seem no better, with movies like a Hansel and Gretel sequel, a Flintstones feature and an adaptation of the TV series Manimal all in development. But maybe their first animated feature could be something to actually look forward to. Titled Henchmen, the film will be co-written and directed by Adam Wood, a former Pixar animator who also helmed a direct-to-video mermaid movie starring Barbie. As in the doll. While the feature won’t be out for another two years, according to Deadline, Wood recently completed a related short titled Henchmen: Ill Suited. It’s not exactly a teaser trailer, as some are making it out to be, but it’s also not necessarily a condensed version of something we’ll see extended in 2016, either. On the Vimeo page, Bron Studios clarifies: “The short isn’t being turned into a feature per se. More like the short is a teaser for the larger world that is to come. Just a little taste.” Deadline is right to compare the short to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as it involves a guy with a mop who accidentally makes a big mess of the place he works. But rather than a sorcerer’s apprentice, he’s a janitor at a museum in Supervillain City. The […]

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Multiverse Short Film

Why Watch? At the opening of this short film from Michael DiBiasio, a young woman (Rebecca De Ornelas) obsessively tucks her hair behind her ear, gets a text message and then tentatively heads for her front door. It’s a sequence that becomes overbearingly familiar as she experiences a series of hollow social encounters filled with literally blank faces. Where Groundhog Day set out to make repeated sequences entertaining and fresh, Multiverse uses quiet echoes for an opposite, alienating effect. Coupled with an agoraphobic’s eye view of abjectly meaningless jaunts into generic parties and bar scenes, we get to share in her angst to the point where tossing on some stretchy pants and staying in feels like a damned fine idea. The editing also aids the disconnected feeling — shooting us from the doorknob straight into the middle of a crowd — and the cinematography keeps focus on De Ornelas while almost always framing her slightly off-center (not to mention she’s the only set of eyes we get to see). She is unmistakably alone and surrounded. This is a great example of transforming something benign into a nerve-gripping trial. Heading down a hallway becomes the space walk from 2001. Going to see a comedian becomes the grownup version of dreaming you’re naked in school. By the end, you can easily imagine Franz Kafka watching this, putting his arm fraternally around DiBiasio and then buying him a beer.

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This Land is Mine Short Film

Why Watch? In the spectrum of using an inappropriate platform to deliver an important social message, this short film from Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues) reaches Monty Python levels of purity and dedication. Eschewing the typically dry, somber way that profound conflict is often portrayed (while utilizing the absurdity of action movie violence), This Land is Mine strips away everything except murderous domination in order to color a history of a land with many names. Israel, Palestine, The Levant. This short doesn’t exactly offer illumination on the current crisis happening in Gaza, but it condenses thousands of years to show one angle on and beyond the devastation. Again, wacky animation with Andy Williams boldly crooning “The Exodus Song” and a body count rising is a teaching method with teeth. It’s aggressive, semi-satirical and proves you can laugh with your jaw on the floor. There’s a read on this movie that it crassly shares a hopeless message of the land being doomed to bloodshed, but I don’t see it that way. Instead, I think of it as a simple reconstruction of reality — pared down as it may be. No, the Eastern Mediterranean isn’t defined solely by its wars (not by a long shot), but it’s powerful to see so many people singing the same song.

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Quentin and Lisa at the Grocery Store

Why Watch? Two things stick out about this comedy(?) short film from Thane Economou besides it being a single, six-minute-long tracking shot. First, it’s an intense blast of the full emotional spectrum contained in a tiny space. Second, it shrugs off its own ferocity with Dude-like, headphone-blasting zen. In Quentin and Lisa…at the Grocery Store, two fiery exes run into each other in an area built for 1.8 shopping carts to exist and proceed to brutally assail each other across the entire establishment. Things get ugly — maybe too ugly at times — but the manic energy is infectious, providing two brains devoid of rational thought a chance to collide. The comic timing is sharp, the camera movement is acrobatic enough to impress in the tight squeeze, but the short film also works largely because it focuses on a rocket blast of an argument that’s meaningless from a few feet away. It works you into a lather before reminding you that it isn’t really that big a deal. Beyond that foundation, the humor comes directly from the uncomfortable fear of confrontation, played naturally and followed by two free radicals finding their verbal fists. Let the fireworks commence.

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Dinner With Holly Short Film

Why Watch? Rob and Anna are looking to add some seasoning to their sex life, and they’ve actually been doing a good job if their need to clean the kitchen counters is any indication, but when their friend Holly comes to dinner this short film from Josh Crockett and Daniel Sinclair gets hit with Office-level dashes of uncomfortable propositioning. There are really two keys to the brilliance of Dinner With Holly. The first is the shared chemistry between its actors — Kristin Slaysman, Bob Turton and Bridget Moloney — that creates a realistic base of comfortable characters shoving well past their comfort zone while allowing for all the overwhelming emotions that naturally tag along. These are our friends and neighbors. Every decision seems rooted in figuring out what a dull suburbanite would do when faced with uncomfortable situations that are largely self-desired and self-created. They realize in the middle of their quest that letting loose has consequences beyond scrubbing their cooking surfaces. The second mark of magic is editing that is fearless in allowing pregnant silences to hang even as we’re caught tapping our toes, desperate for the scene to change. It bolsters everything the actors are doing by offering an anti-laugh track environment. Like a stranger making prolonged eye contact, we have no choice but to accept the situation or look away, and if you can handle staring something awkward in the face, this short film will yield a lot of hilarious dividends.

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Every Runner Has a Reason Short Film

Why Watch? Busting through like Rocky without the gray sweats on, Ronnie Goodman flies in slow motion down the streets of San Francisco like every sports documentary subject of all time. Just to hammer the standard tropes home, his low voice provides an autobiographical voiceover while chill wave music crawls in the background. At first, this short film is hallmarked by gorgeous photography and calm, simple sentences telling an athletic story as common as 110% showing up in a post-game, locker room chat. Then, Every Runner Has a Reason shifts, and shifts again. It’s due completely to Goodman and his personal story, marrying a common documentary method to a worthy, compelling subject. At less than 3 minutes long, it also manages to offer facts about Goodman in a specific order that challenges preconceived notions, purposefully letting the audience make assumptions about a man who is (within seconds) going to push hard against them.

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A Truncated Story of Infinity Short Film

Why Watch? Imbued with Eternal Sunshine‘s DNA, this fantastic short film from Paul Trillo makes repetition interesting and vibrant by framing a single, unimportant man on an unimportant day faced with unlimited possibilities Gorgeously dynamic visuals are to be expected from Trillo (see his previous work Salience), but not only do we get abstractions like an Escherian tea pot eternally pouring into a never-spilling cup, we also get to see the banal made fresh. Sometimes that’s through the subtlety of fingernail polish colors shifting, sometimes from a television smashing to the sidewalk. There’s also a hint of Stranger Than Fiction here, as the narrator for A Truncated Story of Infinity discusses his generic subject with dry witticism and flatly offered profundity. It’s the blend of those sweeping, plain as day observations and the beautiful photography of common paradoxes that makes this short film a wondrous delight.

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Straight Down Low Short Film

Why Watch? Almost a decade ago, Rian Johnson turned eyebrows with Brick by passionately sticking to noir conventions while subverting them just enough to breathe fresh life into a musty genre. To be fair to that genre, it’s one that will eternally and repeatedly enjoy new resurgences, potentially along the same tidal lines as the western, and Brick hit just at the right moment with all the right ingredients. This short film from Zach Wechter follows that same formula, and through doing so, reminds us that its the familiarity of the story beats that keeps entries in this seedy world so satisfying. Like Johnson’s film, Straight Down Low (announcing its genre right there in the title) asks a cast of high school students to get to the bottom of a gangland murder, and in not attempting to reinvent the wheel, he instead conducts a master class in cool. Beyond the tropes, Wechter’s movie has a different sheen to it — a modern noir told through clearer lenses and a drug-dealing plot that feels classic without feeling dated. The leading man is handsome and enigmatic (although I don’t totally buy Shamar Sanders as “nerdy”), the femme fatale is beautiful and wily (and I fully buy beautiful and wily from Daniele Watts), the bad men are very bad, and the twisty turns are told through the standard spoken poetry of our hero’s heady contemplation. You may need a stiff drink afterward. Overall, it’s a strong example of knocking one out of the park by nailing the fundamentals, and […]

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Follow Your Fears Short Film

Why Watch? To be honest, there’s a lot of schmaltz going on in this documentary short film from Live Unbound, but sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that dreams can be both big and personal. Sometimes it’s good to remember that, damn it, you can work to achieve your own thrills in life. Follow Your Fears has everything a soft focus inspirational story needs: a crazy person attempting something crazy, a kind message of life’s brief brilliance by a beloved relative, and a money shot that requires a mental crash pad. Brad O’Neal has wanted to launch a motorcycle into the air high enough to base jump from since he was a little kid, and now that he’s a professional Motocross racer, he’s decided he has the skills necessary to make it a reality. To be specific, that means riding a motorcycle off a ramp so high that he can pull a parachute and make it safely back to the ground. Sadly, no one else seems to want to make it a reality, so it takes an education and guts into his own hands to do something that could potentially break most of the important bones in his body (all to the tune of navel-gazing post-rock). Yes, it’s a little bit funny to pump so much grandiosity and poignancy into a 2-second bike stunt, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded that there are wonderful, wacky people out there trying stuff that we shouldn’t attempt at home.

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Chaser Short Film

Why Watch? At the center of this short film from Sal Bardo is a sex scene made uncomfortable to watch not by the presentation of the act, but by the orgy of emotive facial expressions projected by the film’s star Max Rhyser. In Chaser, Rhyser plays Zach, a teacher (with surprisingly empathetically intelligent young students) who is alienated and alienates himself from a conservative family. While his brother and sister-in-law have bought a new house with enough rooms for new humans, Zach views a foundational future as something beyond his reach, and seeks comfort in a barebacking house party that offers easy sex as a temporary fix. “Fix” is a good term for what Zach is chasing — both as a solution and as a high. There is both pleasure and pain in his stripping down in an unfamiliar room and having sex with strangers, but through the act, Zach reveals that he was used up before he ever walked into the party. There are a few hiccups — notably some stagey-feeling acting (that ends up working thematically in the story’s favor) and a few amateur lighting cues — but the overall impact of the short film is potent and aggressive. I especially loved the image of a piece of paper with continuous hollow fun advertised on one side and the chance to escape the cycle on the other.

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Beneath Short Film 2014

Why Watch? At first, this short film from director Frank Maldonado feels like an unauthorized music video, but it quickly coalesces around an enigmatic chase and several shots of self-destructive emotion. Beneath features a young man wallowing in angst and whatever’s handy at the bar, riding the subways of New York City until he spots a thuggish figure in a ripped-up black hoodie who inexplicably starts following him. Boasting that it was shot in a single night throughout Brookyln, Manhattan and Coney Island, the short film feels like it — but only because the story takes place over the span of one night leading into the sunrise. It’s gorgeous, shot with precision that makes great sense of motion (a shot of our hero walking away from us as a train heads speeding toward us is particularly strong) and showcases the loneliness of the young man regardless of whether he’s lost in thought under a shower head or surrounded by the metropolitan crowds. The editing also helps to blur the night together, flashing between moments as a collective instead of a linear series of events, placing us into his troubled headspace. It also works well because it leads in an unexpected direction. In spite of being mostly abstract — and swimming in neon-soaked visual nods to work like Only God Forgives – there’s a significant payoff for wordless curiosity.

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Mr Petrified Forrest

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career. Various things can happen to a famous director’s student films. Mostly they wind up hidden from us, sometimes permanently in the case of something intentionally destroyed, other times simply held from being uploaded to YouTube or another video site. It’s not often that a currently successful filmmaker is proud of his or her schoolwork, no matter how much money, passion and talent he or she put into it. That’s a shame, because a lot of these pre-professional shorts (and occasional features) aren’t that bad. Many have won awards, deservedly so. Others helped the student get a foot in the door, which obviously means there was promise there. In very, very rare circumstances, a student film will get distribution, possibly in an altered form. That was the case for Matt Reeves, director of the new sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as well as Cloverfield and Let Me In. Reeves attended the University of Southern California, where he made an award-winning short film titled Mr. Petrified Forrest during the 1991-1992 year. Other now-prominent people who worked on it include J.J. Abrams, who co-produced and composed the scored under the name Jeffrey Abrams and also created a plane crash scene (on his parents’ lawn) that looks like a Max Fischer production of the Lost pilot. Regular Abrams collaborators Bryan Burk and Greg Grunberg were also producers, the latter […]

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Time Travel Lover

Why Watch? Let’s say you tell your friend that if you ever love a Michael Bay movie, he should just go ahead and kill you. Then, 10 years later, you rave about Bay’s latest (a heartfelt remake of My Fair Lady), and your pal shows up on your doorstep with a gun. He’d only be doing his duty, right? Even more complicated, in a world where time travel exists, what authority do you have to make decisions that will affect your future self? This excellent short film from director Bo Mirosseni and writer Elisha Yaffe (presented by Partizan Films) toys with the more mundane uses of the profoundly powerful tool, proving that it’ll be the personal things (and probably not assassination attempts on Hitler) that will do the most damage. Time Travel Lover is a hilarious — often dispiriting — exercise in having a plan laid out before you that you never asked to see. In it, a young man (Yaffe) and woman (Stephanie Hunt) are about to make it past third base when a disheveled version of the young man appears to warn him of the heartbreak he’s inviting. Naturally, things aren’t that simple, and the room fills up rather quickly. Somehow, Bruce Willis never pops up with gold bricks taped to his back. More than anything else, this short film lives on the clever shoulders of Yaffe’s script and the chemistry he shares with Hunt. They both own each moment (large and small), and give the premise the exact right amount of incredulity to maintain the […]

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Ignition Short Film

Why Watch? There are few sounds in this world worse to wake up to than the noise of your beloved automobile being stolen. For Jake (Hank Spangler), it’s a fried out Kombi called Betsy, and he’s probably wishing he didn’t sleep in his tighty whities. Or that he didn’t lock himself out of his house. This short film from Dylan Kai Harris is front-loaded with potential — looking like the kind of thing Guy Ritchie and Edgar Wright might make if they had teamed up in college. Ignition takes a high concept script and fills it with colorful figures (none more vibrant than the Naked Cowboy look-a-like at the center of the action) and clever editing that offers a shot glass of gasoline. It’s also a fine example of a movie that’s 90% where it needs to be. A little amateurish acting, some timing issues and an indulgent Tarantino-aping textual trick can all be forgiven because there’s a lot of fun to be had watching a burnout aggressively asking, “dude, where’s my car?”

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Roman Polanski in Two Men and a Wardrobe

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career. Today marks both the U.S. theatrical release of Venus and Fur and the 40th anniversary of the U.S. theatrical release of Chinatown. So, let’s just consider it Roman Polanski day. In honor of the occasion, we should just skip his latest (see our review for why) and hold off on watching his 1974 classic for the billionth time. How many of you have seen his early short films? They’re available in proper form on Criterion’s two-disc DVD set for Polanski’s first feature, Knife in the Water, and they can also be found on YouTube. For the latter, there are no English subtitles, but that only matters for one or two that have very minimal dialogue. For the most part, they’re all really “silent” films. Nine shorts are credited to the actor-turned-director through the start of his academic and professional career in the late 1950s and early 1960s. One of these, however, is Rower (aka Bicycle), which was a 1955 student work that went unfinished thanks to an error by the lab. That leaves eight survivors. From 1957 there’s Murder, which is a nice short scene of a man being murdered but there’s no story there, Let’s Break the Ball (aka Break Up the Dance), an exceptional work of editing that’s even more stunning when you learn that it’s partly documentary in that it was shot during an […]

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