Feb 17 2017

Some Thoughts on the 2017 Oscar Nominated Short Films

I love short films and am fascinated with how they are able to tell compelling stories in tiny spaces. I’ve been wanting to watch the Oscar nominated short film showcases that play every year, but haven’t had people to go with or the timing was off. This year, I made it happen, taking time to see both the Animated and Live Action selections, and it was fantastic. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to also see the documentary shorts and I don’t think I’ll be able to this year. But I’m making it a goal for next year.

As a quick note, it was interesting to discover that all of the live action shorts were significantly longer than the animated shorts (with one exception), being 15 minutes to 30 minutes in length. I tend to think of short films as being in the 3-15 minute range, maybe due to the number of shorts I’ve seen through YouTube of Vimeo. I’m sure cost and time is a part of the reason why the live action movies were longer, with animation taking more time to create cell by cell. The differences in length might also have to do with how people connect with animation compared to live action. I’m not sure. But it’s interesting that the animated shorts were often able to provide as complete and moving of stories as the longer pieces in a shorter amount of time.

My thoughts are below, with links to trailers provided.
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The Animated Shorts

Blind Vaysha, directed by Theodore Ushev (8 minutes/Canada) – Blind Vaysha is a strange folk tale about a girl who is born with a strange infliction, in which she can see only the past out of one eye and only the future out of the other, essentially making her blind to the present. It’s a bit more talky than most of the other animated shorts, but the art is beautiful with a heavy-lined graphic style and strong-toned colors. I loved the way some images overlapped, stretched into impossible shapes, or presented sketchy, swirling images. A little more intellectual than emotional, but it’s my favorite of the animated films.

blind-vaysha_f

Blind Vaysha

Pearl, directed by Patrick Osborne (6 minutes/USA) – A girl and her dad tour the country in an old hatchback, busking and making music and facing life. Although the animation is somewhat blocky and not as dynamic or perfect as some of the other offerings, this is a moving story filled with music telling a sweet story with almost no dialog.

Pearl

Pearl

Piper, directed by Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer (6 minutes/USA) – This story of a baby piper bird facing his fear of the ocean is funny and adorable in that predictable Disney/Pixar way. The animation is technically perfect and beautifully rendered, worth watching for that alone.

Piper

Piper

Pear Cider and Cigarettes, directed by Robert Valley and Cara Speller (35 minutes/Canada/UK) – There are parts of Pear Cider and Cigarettes that are gorgeous, the animation slick and stylish with hard angles that reminded me of certain comic book drawings. In the story, which is based on a real human, a man describes the dynamic personality of his friend, Techno, who eventually became a hardcore alcoholic. This is the most adult of the animated films, presenting a complex and straight look at sex, drugs, alcohol, and the fall of a friend. It’s also the longest out of any of the short films I watched. Although the last third of the film was moving, the first two-thirds were a little slow going for me and I think it could have been cut down a bit while still maintaining its powerful effect.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Borrowed Time, directed by Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj (7 minutes/USA) – A sheriff returns to the site of his father’s death. The CGI animation is good, but the story didn’t connect with me, despite a few genuinely surprising moments.

Borrowed Time

Borrowed Time

Highly Commended

Due to the adult nature of Pear Cider and Cigarettes, the screening showed three additional animated films in order to give parents time to bring their kids out of the theater, if need be.

The Head Vanishes, directed by Franck Dion (9 minutes/Canada/France)

Once Upon a Line, directed by Alicja Jasina (8 minutes/Cyprus)

Asteria, directed by Josh Crute (5 minutes/USA)
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The Live Action Shorts

Timecode, directed by Juanjo Giménez (15 minutes/Spain) – One of my favorite shorts of the night, Timecode is the story of two parking lot security officers who begin communicating with each other in an usual way. This utterly delighted me. It’s wonderful and a bit weird. It probably is not going to win, but it’s the one I’d watch again and again without hesitation.

Timecode

Timecode

Sing, directed by Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy (25 minutes/Hungary) – A girl comes to a new school and is delighted to join the school’s award-winning choir — only to discover that the choir is not what it seems. It’s a wonderful story about friendship and people coming together in quiet revolt against unfair systems.

Sing

Sing

La Femme et le TGV, directed by Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff (30 minutes/Switzerland) – A bit of a quirky tale and almost-but-not-quite romance in which an older woman set in her routine. Every day she waves a flag at the passing TGV train, which leads to a mysterious answer from one rider. It’s sweet, even if the ending felt a bit abrupt.

La Femme et le TGV

La Femme et le TGV / The Woman and the TGV

Ennemis Intérieurs, directed by Sélim Azzazi (28 minutes/France) – An educated, Algerian man applying for French citizenship finds himself confronted with a young immigration official whose examinations grow more and more invasive. This is essentially just a movie of two men sitting in a room talking, but the writing and acting are stellar, making this intense and captivating as each man tries to gain control, although the power is clearly skewed in favor of the young immigration official. There’s a lot going on in this, reflecting the current issues surrounding immigration and prejudice against Muslims. I’d like to watch it again and think about the layers some more.

Ennemis Intérieurs

Ennemis Intérieurs / Enemies Within

Silent Nights, directed by Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson (30 minutes/Denmark) – A woman working at a homeless shelter begins a romance with a homeless refugee from Ghana. Although the acting is great and it’s well done, there were aspects of this that annoyed me in terms of how the young woman approached him, more as someone to save instead of as a whole person. I also really didn’t like the ending (which I won’t talk about because of spoiling).

Silent Nights

Silent Nights


Feb 2 2017

Culture Consumption: January 2017

Alrighty, here’s my January in books, movies, and such.

Books

This is the first is time in, well, probably ever that I haven’t completed a book over the course of a month — not even ONE. I’ve been doing a lot more watching TV than reading this past month as a way to unwind and reading three books at once sort of extended things out a bit — though really it was the watching that got me.

Books Finished This Month: 0 (*weeps*)

Total Books for the Year: 0 (*wails*)

Still in Progress: Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez, Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, and Tim Burton: Essays on the Films, edited by Johnson Cheu

Movies

Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight (2015)

I’ve been meaning to see Spotlight, for a while, ever since it won the Academy Award for Best Picture along with Best Original Screenplay. The movie is based on the story of how a group of reporters uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. Although a bit slow paced in the beginning, the movie is fascinating to watch, to see how each small piece of evidence, every interview, every mistake comes together in the end.

I’m particularly interested in how the characters are developed in the movie — which is to say not much, since the main focus is not on the emotional trajectory of these characters, but on the trajectory of uncovering and revealing the truth. And yet, the writers, director, and actors do an excellent job of using small moments that make us connect with them and reveal how their work is affecting them. It’s all very well done.

I also enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for and Don’t Breathe was a great thriller with tight pacing. XXX: Return of Xander Cage was all over the top action and somewhat stupid, although in a stupidly fun sort of way (it also gets points for having lots of diversity in its cast).

New-to-me Movies This Month:
1. Spotlight (2015)
2. XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017)
3. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
4. Don’t Breathe (2016

Short Films

I enjoy watching shorts and I’m hoping to taking time to watch them more often. All of the ones I list here are available online with links provided.

My favorite of the batch was The House of Small Cubes, a Japanese animated story of a flooded a world, in which an old man dives into his past — a beautifully animated and so many feels.

I also loved One Week, no surprise since I’m a huge Buster Keaton fan. A couple gets married and are given a build-your-own home kit — with disastrous and hilarious results.

I also dug the silent film A Trip to the Moon, which is loosely based a Jules Verne novel, and Isle of Flowers, a strange, jumbled, poetic documentary from Brazil.

Shorts from This Month:
1. The Punisher: Dirty Laundry (2012)
2. Isle of Flowers (1989)
3. A Trip to the Moon (1902)
4. Junior and Karlson (1968)
5. The House of Small Cubes (2008)
6. One Week (1920)

Television

Game of Thrones was my greatest time-suck last month — although I didn’t intend for it to be. I meant to take it slow and just watch an episode here or there, then something shocking or catastrophic would happen at the end of an episode and I’d have to watch the next. I went through Season Two and Three in this way — and if my pace keeps up I’ll probably finish all the way through Season Six before the end of February.

However, my focus Game of Thrones is not entirely there when watching, so sometimes I miss little details. I have a feeling I’ll have to watch it all again at some point in order to make proper commentary on it. But I continue to love  Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen (Khaleesi), and Tyrion Lannister, as well as Brienne of Tarth, who was introduced in season two.

Arya Stark

Arya Stark, from Game of Thrones.

I also checked out the first episode of Black Mirror from season one, which tells the story of a kidnapping and a bizarre ransom demand involving the Prime Minister of the U.K. It was complicated and smart and sooo disturbing. I’m excited to see more.

I’m starting to fall behind on The Walking Dead again, only this time it has less to do with being terrified of what’s going to happen to the characters and more to do with finding myself having greater interest in other things on TV. At this point, I’m mostly sticking with it to keep up with discussions among family and friends.


That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?


Jan 6 2017

Top Reads of 2016

I read a total of 57 books in 2016, far lower than usual, but it was a particularly busy year for me in regards to writing and other projects. Nevertheless, there were many great reads this year, so many that I would not be able to narrow them all down to just a few. So, here are my favorite reads, all categorized, because that’s how I roll.

Best Science Fiction Novel

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. The more I read Connie Willis’ work, the more I admire her as an author. Doomsday Book was no exception. Set in Oxford—at a university in which historians are able to actually travel back in time to witness and experience the past eras they research—the story is split between Kivrin, who travels to the Middle Ages (one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history), and Dunworthy, her mentor who is terrified to see her go and is left to face his own crisis in the present day as a sudden influenza outbreak flares up, forcing Oxford to go into quarantine. Dealing with disease as it does, it’s a dark story, although it is laced with Willis’ wit and humor. I especially loved Kivrin’s journey to the Middle Ages and fell in love (as Kivrin does) with the family that takes her in. A fantastic book, one that had me itching to read more in Willis’ time travel series.

Honorable Mention: Ancillary Mercy, by Anne Leckie, which was the conclusion to the Imperial Radch trilogy (the first book was featured on my list from last year).

Continue reading


Jan 4 2017

Culture Consumption: December 2016

Alrighty, here’s December in books, movies, and such. I’ll be posting my lists of Top Books and Top Movies from the year over the next couple of days.

Books

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway introduces Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a place for children who have been there and back again, those who have found doorways to other worlds (of which there are many) that feel more home than home, and who, for one reason or another, found themselves back in the mundane world of their previous lives. It’s a place where these children can bide their time, trying to make do while they search for a way back to where they really belong, or learn to accept and make peace with the fact that they’ll never return. The story centers on Nancy, a teenage girl who has traveled to an underworld presided over by the lord of the dead, a place where she has learned to still herself into a statue. Having returned home, her parents can’t accept who she is now and so have sent her away to this school, where disasters begin to happen shortly after she arrives.

This story is beautiful and I love the way it presents different worlds for each kind of child and different kids for each kind of world. I also love the way it rejects the idea that a child like Alice would want to live in England instead of a place like Wonderland. It’s a good thing that this is a series, because I wanted more from this book, more of the characters and this strange school and of the worlds beyond.

Continue reading


Dec 15 2016

Finding Your 12 Best Days: Edward Burns’ Reflections on Filmmaking

In Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life, Edward Burns relates his experiences working in the film industry as a writer, director, and actor. Burns directed and produced his first film, The Brothers McMullen, on a tiny $25,000 budget — which went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995. Since that initial success, he has gone on to make ten more films on his own terms and act in several big budget Hollywood movies (such as Saving Private Ryan) and television shows.

This memoir highlights Burns’ successes, but perhaps more importantly delves into his mistakes, the poor decisions and bad luck that makes a movie fail to be the success one hoped it would be. These missteps, more than the successes, are where the greatest lessons lie.It’s hard to figure out why something succeeds, much easier to point to the number of reasons why something didn’t. His honesty in looking back on these moments, in which he examines where he went wrong and where the cards were against him, is a part of what makes this memoir work.

A few practical, useful pieces of advice are littered throughout the book (the difference between a master shot and a two shot, for example), providing some help in the nitty gritty of making a movie — but the real value of this book is in his philosophy toward filmmaking in general.

For Burns, the act of independent filmmaking is the ability to make movies according to your own vision and away from influences that might compromise that vision. He describes the twelve best days of his life as the twelve days he spent filming his first movie, The Brothers McMullen — twelve days telling a story true and making a movie for no other reason than the sheer joy of making a movie.

The Brothers McMullen

The Brothers McMullen (1995)

After The Brothers McMullen became a success and as his career as a director progressed, Burns continued to seek out those twelve days of joy. This lead him to choose projects that may have had smaller budgets, but that provided him with the freedom he needed to tell the kind of quiet stories to which he was drawn and to experiment with new technologies (such as using digital cameras and premiering some of his films on streaming services).

With the availability of such technologies, he notes, filmmakers have the opportunity to seek out their own twelve best days, to experiment and learn how to make movies while in the process of making movies in the same way writers learn how to tells stories through the act of telling stories, and musicians learn how to create songs by plucking strings on a guitar to get it right. He explains:

“At this moment, anyone who dreams of becoming a filmmaker is lucky indeed. For the first time in the history of cinema, filmmaking does not need to be a capitalist enterprise. You no longer need millions of dollars or even thousands of dollars. You are no longer beholden to someone writing a check. It no longer needs to be a business. It can be your artistic expression.”

Many filmmakers have realized this and are using various outlets on the internet to get their movies made and seen. But, as someone who’s often felt overwhelmed by what I believed the barriers to moviemaking to be, it’s empowering to be reminded that those barriers than I had imagined them. It’s a strong message for me — for all of us creative types — to get back to work and to keep seeking out those best days, those days when we are engaged and living our work.

As a footnote, I realize that I’ve never seen any of the movies Burns directed. As someone interested in independent filmmaking, I’m fascinated by what people are able to accomplish with small budgets and creative thinking. It would be interesting to do a marathon focused on movies that Burns directed to see how his skill in low budget movies evolved over time.

Another Note: This book was an ARC provided by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.