Short Films

Dont Fear Death Short Film

Why Watch? For many of us, Rik Mayall was Drop Dead Fred — the magic man who brought an eight ball’s worth of energy and mom-defying brilliance to a movie about growing up after you’ve already grown up. Not to sound schmaltzy, but he was an imaginary friend who believed in us. His resume, of course, extends far beyond that 1991 non-fantasy film. It’s dominated by television shows — particularly the public dole celebration of Bottom and his early breakout The Young Ones – and an ever-present sense of smart, cutting edge work. Mayall died today, leaving behind loads of comedic offerings and countless people inspired by what he brought to the creative world.  Name a favorite modern comedian, and they’ve most likely publicly offered their Mayall fandom and remembrances already. He was a titan against the status quo. His last credited work is a short film from Louis Hudson called Don’t Fear Death. It’s a cruelly funny piece of black humor that feels inappropriately appropriate for today. Mayall acts as narrator, explaining all the wonderful things about being dead, from conveniences to existential freedom. Naturally, the short benefits wholly from his unique delivery and the angry joy that pervades the shouting climax of his speech. It’s one last reminder that he will be impossible to replace.

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Why Charlie Brown Why

Youth, love and cancer. That’s a formula of sorts, one that conquered the world back in 1970 with Love Story and has since bounced back and forth between Hollywood and the Lifetime network. The most recent incarnation is The Fault in Our Stars, an adaptation of a Young Adult novel by John Green, starring Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley. It’s getting decent reviews and may very well be a head above the rest of the genre, to the extent that one can use the word “genre” to describe this mini-phenomenon. Yet what I find the most interesting about this particular sort of film is the way it might be seen as something of a psychological education. The fact that The Fault in Our Stars is a YA novel has raised some eyebrows and ruffled some feathers, in particular given the anger evoked by a Slate piece shaming adults for reading the book. While I’d object to the idea that YA books are exclusively for teenagers, I wonder whether we can consider them somehow proscriptive texts. Is The Fault in Our Stars, at least in part, trying to introduce young people to the concept of serious illness? That’s an open question. It’s also a good an excuse as any to look back at a particularly fascinating cartoon. Why, Charlie Brown, Why? is a Peanuts TV special that first aired in the spring of 1990. As you can probably tell from the title, it isn’t exactly the subtlest educational cartoon in television history. Like The Fault in Our Stars it is a […]

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Troops Kevin Rubio Short Film

Why Watch? When we reported that Josh Trank would be directing a standalone Star Wars movie in the expanding universe, we included a found footage comedy short film he’d made which shows why you shouldn’t bring a lightsaber to a house party. Kid don’t play. Thus, it’s only fair that we highlight the ingenious 1997 short film from Kevin Rubio that mashes Cops together with stormtroopers  to fantastic result. As a mockumentary, it doesn’t miss a note. Not only does it include sly nods to the movies, it allows the comedy to breathe on its own by stepping back and letting dramatic situations play out in absurd ways — turning a straightforward script into comic gold by putting it in the mouths of familiar pop culture figures. The funniest part is that you can actually see this being a realistic part of the day-to-day trooper job when Luke, Leia and Han aren’t busting up their business in the name of freedom. Let’s call it believable ridiculousness. When the big adventure leaves the frame, someone has to answer the domestic disturbance calls and issue traffic tickets. The cherry on top is our friendly cop narrator who sounds like he transferred from Fargo PD. Here’s Rubio explaining where the idea first came from along with clearer (yet cropped) footage.

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Nike The Next Level

Why Watch? Wind sprints are tough. That’s why most of us will never play professional soccer. That, and a million other reasons, but it’s mostly the wind sprints. Fortunately, Guy Ritchie has our back just in time for the World Cup. He’s teamed with Nike to create a short film that puts us into the body of a pro footballer in order to experience training hard, earning glory and whining like Meryl Streep explaining her hatred of dingoes when we barely get clipped inside the box. And if you bristle at me calling this advertisement a “short film,” watch it and see why. It’s a gimmick, yes, but it’s a pristine gimmick. This isn’t merely about strapping on a GoPro and letting it do all the work. Ritchie choreographs some beautiful trickery that’s rounded out by sound design that rips through the rock-heavy soundtrack to create a multi-sensory POV experience. It’s a lot like being John Malkovich. If John Malkovich had a wicked penalty kick. It also benefits from editing that lets impressive field sequences play out while maintaining an urgent sense of chaos. Watching this should count as gym time for the day. On that note, I hope you enjoy puking. Or at least watching it from someone else’s POV.

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Sleeping Betty Short Film

The story of Sleeping Beauty is ripe for reinterpretation, if only because of how simple and boring it can be. The title character, after all, is unconscious for the bulk of the narrative. Disney’s newest solution is Maleficent, in which the villain becomes the main character. Whether that was a successful call remains to be seen (our own critic wasn’t so impressed). For my money the best, most inspired feature-length twist on the story is that of Catherine Breillat, who countered the snoozing character’s complete lack of agency by giving her a rich and exciting dream life. The prize for funniest adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, however, goes to the National Film Board of Canada. Claude Cloutier‘s Sleeping Betty is a cartoon short film that takes the strategy of the Shrek series and turns it loose on a vast panoply of familiar images and cultural touchstones. It begins in a crowded room. The queen is distraught, hunched on a chair next to the bed of her dormant daughter. The king is next to the bed, trying to shake the princess out of her slumber. Around them is a strange cast of visitors which includes familiar images of Henry VIII and Queen Victoria, a court jester and a many-eyed extraterrestrial.

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Life of Larry

Why Watch? For his student thesis at RISD, Seth MacFarlane created a cartoon short film featuring a schlubby guy, his sarcastic dog best friend, sweet wife named Lois and their fat son. Naturally, MacFarlane did almost all of the voices. The cartoon was called The Life of Larry, and its status as clear precursor to Family Guy goes far beyond the synopsis. The gags, the patter, the obsession with Star Trek and bizarre political commentary. It’s all here like an unvarnished artifact buried in hand-drawn ground. In a way, it’s like watching old stand-up routines from Jim Carrey in his too-big sport coat, where the jokes and rhythms are still raw, but the DNA for future success is clearly at work. It’s also fascinating to see a creator stick so directly to a project (not to mention a student film) that he’d massage it into a network show 5 years later. There’s a sense that he basically got it right on the first try, inventing what would become a ridiculously popular show the first year he could legally drink.

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Keith and Heath Short Film

Why Watch? Do you have a best friend? Probably not as best as Keith’s best friend Heath and Heath’s best friend Keith. These best friends are the best best friends. They’re also twins, and they’re also puppets. This imaginative short film from Andy Young thrives due to sheer cheekiness, parodic levels of sunshine and a hint of Adult Swim’s DNA. It’s a bowl of sugary children’s cereal spiked with whiskey and set loose on Saturday morning. Jon Cozart voices the titular stars of Keith and Heath, complete with their signature gag and a manic sense of comic joy that infects the entire cast. A wrench gets thrown into the happy story when the brothers face the difficult choice of living apart from one another, but the bulk of the short film doesn’t worry about plot, using it like a rag doll instead of a storytelling tool. Instead, it takes the unflappable smiles of children’s programming and exposes them for the creepy absurdity they truly are. And then things get weird.

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Mis-drop Short Film

Why Watch? Almost the entire runtime of this absolutely fantastic short film from Ferand Peek is dominated by the face of a Private on his first mission to a hostile planet war zone. He’s hazed by the old hats in the battalion, attempts a little ill-advised romance with an officer and does the futuristic sci-fi version of a para jump all while we watch his reactions and a fraction of the action via the glare on his protective gear. Mis-drop is a mastery of not showing instead of telling. The plot is as thick as it needs to be (even bearing the weight of an ounce of character development), and while the story is told through sound design and reaction shots, the visuals are absolutely not surrendered or forgotten about. It’s a generic science fiction warfare world, but it’s fully realized through impressive CGI landscapes and, of course, an unflinching static shot of Elliot Travers, the actor whose face we become intimately acquainted with by the end. He has an unenviable task and does a remarkable job of engaging the audience by engaging with the things we’d normally be seeing. And there’s something refreshing about that concept. So many short films are done purely for vaulting VFX without concern for a story, but Peek has found a clever way to twist that idea while still showcasing strong VFX skills, and more than being an interesting idea, the execution is powerful because we’re staring so stridently into the eyes of a man who […]

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Island Short Film

Cannes is a great place for cartoons. That may sound odd, given the festivals’s reputation as a towering arbiter of high-minded auteurist cinema, but it’s true. The Palme d’Or for short film (which is a thing!) has been given to many, many animated short films over the years. As is also true of the Best Animated Short Film category at the Oscars, Canada’s National Film Board has done quite will for itself. In 1955 the very first official Palme d’Or du Court Métrage went to Norman McLaren for his experimental his experimental Blinkity Blank. That said, the more interesting story is a Cold War one. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries were powerhouses of animation for much of the latter half of the 20th century. The films never quite broke into American awards, but time and again juries at Cannes chose to recognize their brilliance. Russian, Romanian, Polish, Hungarian, and Czechoslovak animators brought home gold from the Croisette. In 1973 Soviet animator Fyodor Khitruk won the Palme d’Or du Court Métrage for Island, a perfect example of the power of a cartoon to break through both censorship and international barriers of understanding. Like most of the award-winning animated shorts to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain it is essentially wordless. Its images are generic and therefore universal. And its message, at least on the surface, is very generically philosophical. Beneath this veneer of comedy and harmless pacifism, however, is a wry critique of the world that includes the Soviet Union.

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6-minute Mom Short Film

Why Watch? In this short film from Chris Shimojima, a young woman (Jenny Murray) meets with the mother who abandoned her (Ginger Grace) when she was a child. As their conversation shifts between niceties, the young woman’s internal monologue gives a convincing speech about why she shouldn’t care about the complete stranger sipping water from a mason jar across from her. The shooting here is simple — mostly done in jarring close-ups and meaningfully off-kilter over the shoulder shots — but the real power comes from the editing. A few moments are left to simmer, others flash by, and the rhythm of it all denies us the solid footing that the main character doesn’t get. Pushing that empathy further, Murray (who was recently highlighted in this short) does a stellar job being the main visual focus and proving that it takes 6 minutes for water to boil. It would be easy to say that she shines most when the fuse hits the dynamite, but it’s actually in the quieter moments when she proves how compelling an internal conflict can be with a biting rage that lives in her nuanced facial tics. Overall, 6-Minute Mom is a harsh exploration of an intensely difficult situation made complicated by denial. It’s a stellar examples of dramatic storytelling that becomes more powerful when not looked at straightforwardly.

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disCONNECT short film

Why Watch? If you’ve never thought about deleting your Facebook account, you either don’t have a Facebook account or you’re a grandmother who just joined last week. (Mothers who joined last week to check up on children have already thought about deleting dozens of times.) This short film from J. Buckner takes a semi-surreal look at cutting the chord by following a man as he struggles with a single mouse click. It’s an appropriately dark carnival ride through a man’s mental state — one that both personifies and prods social media into a destructive force that cajoles and holds hostage anyone thinking of stepping back from the virtual edge. What’s most impressive is the balance between the initial desire and the sheer size of the extortion that takes place. Here, a living, breathing social network all but pulls out the waterboarding bench to convince our hero that a reprieve from connectivity is actually a life sentence for isolation. Things go from zero to scary very quickly, and it’s all held together by off-center photography and an increasingly “real” villain. disCONNECT captures an ominous tone and matches perfectly the raw feeling of loss that comes from our conflicted relationship with relationship sites. Remember to click “Like.”

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Negadon The Monster From Mars

Judging by the crazy advanced ticket sales for Godzilla, by this point many of you have already seen the movie. Given the ecstatic reviews that it’s been getting I think it’s safe to assume that the bulk of you are all hopped up on kaiju and desperate for more. And, thanks to the rabid fandom that has developed over the years for this particular brand of Japanese monster, there are plenty of cartoon lizards just waiting to be devoured online. Godzilla has starred in two different animated television series. The first was simply titled Godzilla, and was co-produced by Hanna-Barbera and Toho. It aired in both the United States and Japan starting in the fall of 1978. Following a team of scientists as they travel the world on a ship, Godzilla is more of a plot device than a character. In the monster’s stead is Godzooky, his much more reasonably sized cousin. Godzooky is essentially a green, reptilian version of Scooby-Doo, hardly a surprise given the involvement of Hanna-Barbera. Actually, the whole show plays like a seafaring re-imagining of Scooby Doo, Where Are You! with much bigger monsters (and no shady criminals hiding inside). You can watch the first season of the show here, with a Hulu+ subscription. The second series was launched twenty years later in the wake of the “success” of the Roland Emmerich film. It was given the creative title of Godzilla: The Series and aired on Fox on Saturday mornings. It ran for two seasons before it was canceled, never able to keep up […]

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Phantom Limb Short Film

Why Watch? After a motorcycle accident that leaves her without an arm, a young woman seems to be doing relatively fine, but her boyfriend isn’t handling it so well. In this excellent short film from Alex Grigg, Phantom Limb Syndrome affects the person whose body is still in tact, but whose mind begins playing cruel tricks on him. This is a powerful experience. Visually, it’s a beautiful mix of acrylic-style detail and striking minimalism that creates a dreamy environment in which a nightmare can thrive. As for the story, it’s told without words, wisely leaving the heavy lifting to symbols of the couple’s relationship and of their willingness to connect. What’s more, even though we see the horror of what’s happening to him, we feel exactly what she’s feeling as well. There’s a balance that makes the problem heavier and the resolution more important. It isn’t a shared psychosis, but it’s a shared reality. Ultimately, what stands out most about this poignant short film is its ability to weave a metaphor or guilt cleanly into the real world. What the young man sees isn’t a problem hidden away in the shadows of his mind, but a manifestation that acts directly upon him and the person he cares most about.

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Fists of Fire Short Documentary

Why Watch? A few years ago I had the extreme pleasure of seeing a vintage Shaw Brothers movie that I wasn’t allowed to talk about because a theater — let’s call it the Schmalamo Schmafthouse — was working out a deal to secure a lot more reels. There was so much magic in it. Not only the gorgeous fight choreography, but also the sheen of creative aggression and semi-fantastical adventure. It was a big movie that didn’t feel expensive. A contradiction that must have taken an immense amount of skill. With a half century of cinema under their black belts, the Shaw Brothers were luminaries in the popularization of kung fu movies, and now The Seventh Art (via IndieWire) has stumbled upon this excellent BBC documentary from 1975 which chronicles star David Chiang’s rise to prominence and the studio’s unusual techniques. Taste for Adventure; Fists of Fire is an incredible little gem that feeds the body, mind and spirit. Also, people get punched a lot, and Peter Cushing is in it because we get a glimpse of the set for The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. If you didn’t want Count Dracula in your documentary about martial arts, blame Hammer Films. More than the lesson in the genre masters of the time, it’s also a fascinating time capsule on how we once reported on filmic traditions and pop cultural movements. It’s tough to imagine this same kind of documentary being made today discussing the growing allure of superhero movies, but it’s easy to […]

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This Is Mary Short Film

Why Watch? Despite weekly eggplant Parmesan dinners and a bed to jump on, Mary’s life isn’t at all exciting. Fortunately, she’s discovered an interesting method for injecting profundity into a meager existence. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about it. Told with the rhythms and beats of an 80s teen movie (complete with the self-aware references), this short film from Kevin Slack does its best work in drawing out a clever idea to its fullest potential. It’s the kind of quirk that doesn’t immediately seem like it would make good material, but at three minutes, Slack has crafted something funny — and slightly thought-provoking — that stays exactly as long as its welcome. It’s shot beautifully, offering the right platform for yellows and pinks to pop. The imagery also manages a few subtle tricks that make the discovery of Mary’s ingenuity even more playful. To be fair, it’s the kind of punchline reveal that might make you slap your forehead and smile at the same time, but it’s also not where Slack allows the story to end. Plus, Jenny Murray does strong work here as Mary. It’s a difficult role that doesn’t allow her a lot of room to emote, and she creates a few layers with sly flashes of nuance. A scoff or sigh does wonders here, building youthful angst with an offhanded look and the help of the narration.

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JohnnyExpress Short Film

Why Watch? In the future, being a delivery guy is unbelievably easy. The ship flies itself, you can land at the press of a button and most of the packages are larger than microscopic. This short film from Kyungmin Woo is a delightful triumph of cartoon violence and a Twilight Zone-style hook that’s played upfront for laughs instead of held back for a dramatic twist. It’s especially appropriate for this week’s release of Godzilla and especially entertaining for anyone who wants to punt the minions from Despicable Me into the sun. JohnnyExpress is brilliant for its nihilism, its slapstick simplicity and the sweet dramatic irony of what the entire situation must have looked like to our anti-hero. The animation is rich and layered, but the real standout is a chase sequences where an alien tries to steal a bicycle and a car — the timing is comic perfection. It’s the rare short film that uses wanton destruction to mine for laughs, and the payoff is absolutely fantastic. This should play in front of whatever Pixar puts in theaters next.

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The Big Shave

Why Watch? In 1967, Martin Scorsese put out a short film with a simple concept and the kind of execution you’d expect from a young Martin Scorsese. In The Big Shave, a young man (Peter Bernuth) stands in front of mirror, picks up a razor, and gets rid of his stubble. And then some. Obviously there are surprises in store. It’s Scorsese. The result is an experimental work (completely with incongruous jazz music) that acts as a striking anti-war metaphor, and an excellent lesson in how not to shave yourself.

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Fishing at Lethe Short Film

Why Watch? In this dreamy animated short film from Derek Fong, an old woman begins to see shadowed figures in her living room, which would be enough to concern anyone, but then a whale floats up to her windowsill. Naturally, she hops on for a ride back into her own memories. As you can see from the image above, the style is rudimentary — a nod back to Steamboat Willie that Fong uses deftly to build visually layers to coincide with the story itself. Fishing at Lethe is about finding clarity and bringing the past into focus, so our simply outlined main character gets dropped into each space almost as a cutout. A figure that doesn’t quite belong in the environment. The comic strip style also evokes an endearing fantasy element even with a difficult subject matter lurking beneath. The only misstep is a repeated piano tune that breezes in and too obviously highlights certain moments. Without it, or with a different sound cue, the film would breathe a bit more. Overall, it’s a beautiful and slightly whimsical look at a common struggle. A film that thankfully (and maybe joyously) offers a resolution that’s as hazily defined as its artwork.

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Vienna Waits For You Short Film

Why Watch? If the key to good horror is making you fear something that’s common, and the key to good horror comedy is finding humor within that fear, then this short film from Dominkik Hartl is one of the best examples of the genre. A perfect execution of a well-worn idea giving new life thanks to your grandmother’s knitting. Vienna Waits For You does for lace doilies what Jaws did for beach vacations. Yes, that phrase is a standard one, and it give you visions of hyperbole, but this short film really, truly is something special. A standout in genre filmmaking that’s shot beautifully, told with invective mystery and injected with a powerful creativity in its final moments. Anna (Petra Staduan) has moved to the big city to be with a boyfriend who summarily dumps her, so she finds an apartment that an elderly woman is anxious to get rid of. It’s comfortable, government subsidized, and it sucks the lifeblood from whatever tenant signs on the dotted line. Fortunately, this movie never goes for the obvious. It pits a young woman against an unstoppable force, and we get to watch as her sanity and skin is tested beyond the usual limits. Plus, it creates heartfelt stakes as the equation of what’s really going on continues to shift, and is genuinely funny at every turn because it treats an absurd situation with due absurdity. On top of fantastic storytelling, it offers some strong practical effects — both with Anna’s make-up and the transformation of […]

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Mite Short Film

Why Watch? The twins down the hallway? Sure. The guy in the bear suit prepping for God Knows What? He’s okay. What’s really terrifying is what’s lurking in the carpet of The Overlook Hotel. The above image is a taste of the disgusting beauty in this short film from Walter Volbers, who crafted this amazing animation by himself over the course of a decade. Its location is both inconsequential and powerful, driving us through a familiar space of fear before diving deep into a new ecosystem that’s vibrant, richly formed and effective at making skin squirm away. It’s also unexpectedly funny, a sort of bizarre complete package that provides an alternative theory on what drove the caretaker crazy. More so than any specific sense of story, this is a pedestal to show off some profound CGI skills. Someone needs to hire Mr. Volbers yesterday. Every nanosecond is as detailed, fully realized and markedly shadowed as the still shot above. Stellar, astounding work. On the other hand, if you wash your hands every hour on the hour, you absolutely shouldn’t watch this thing. And now I’m staring at my rug suspiciously. Thanks, Mr. Volber. Thanks a lot.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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