DVD has been a boon for the outsider/independent filmmaker, allowing them access to an audience that otherwise would never get a chance to see their efforts. Of course, this is a double edged sword, one that cuts deeply and divisively along the lines of talent, entertainment and interest. Not everyone will enjoy 80 minutes of homemade gore effects, or appreciate your hour long dissertation on familial dysfunction and drug–based self discovery. Perhaps the worst offenders in the "anything goes' sweepstakes are short film makers. There's an art to miniaturizing a movie, a skill that many cinematic novices fail to fully grasp. Indeed, after spending 90 nauseating minutes with the Movieside Film Festival Short Films collection, new to DVD, it is obvious that a lot of auteur wannabes haven't figured out how to work a camera, let alone make something salient – or engaging. With a 90 percent failure rate, this dreadful digital package is enough to make you give up on the indie cinema scene all together.
Instead of going into detail about the festival, its history and its motives, let's just get these individual reviews over with, shall we? Let's start with:
Title: Knuckleface Jones
Director: Todd Rohal
Score: ***1/2 (out of *****)
Plot:A strange dork wanders the countryside, learning about the legend of the title character.
Review: Beginning brilliantly and rapidly falling apart afterward, this campy travelogue from director Rohal wants to be a self-contained spoof, one of those insular ideas where everyone understands the social and structural rules of the universe – except the audience. We are supposed to respond with extreme inquisitiveness as the unusual narrative and characters collide. Sadly, a little of this story goes a long way. More potential than fully realized filmmaking here.
Title: Monkey vs. Robot
Director: Nathan Pommer
Plot:A song about the neverending struggle between science and the simian.
Review: Really nothing more than a music video, this They Might Be Giants like offering is rather silly and sloppily done. Still, it is one of the better films on this DVD, a fact which bears repeating in light of the horrible dung that's about to come.
Title:Dance Habibi Dance
Plot: Random images of movement accompany a multi-cultural mash-up
Review: Someone's been smoking Kenneth Anger/Kuchar Brothers crack and trying to pass off their hallucinations as original. Director Alshaibi combines religious iconography with stocky chicks going grindhouse, all in a pointless attempt at eye candy. Only tasty for those who like stale sour quince.
Plot:Two boys battle for backyard supremacy. It's fun until someone goes psycho and gets hurt.
Review: Making it's point with a massive ham-fist, this 'war is bad' allegory is well done and expertly directed. Still, we see where it is going, almost from the first few frames, and Lefler doesn't explore the concept beyond the 'insidious nature of combat' conceit. Good, but not great.
Title:State of the Union
Plot: How original – George W. Bush is the sun, rising above the Teletubbies domain. And he's got WAR on his mind.
Review: Talk about hedging your bets – the juxtaposition of PBS's favorite infantile icons with our President's predilection toward military misdeeds is exploited over and over and over again. One can imagine a like minded crowd cheering such a strategy during a screening. On home video, the meaning's still there, but the bully pulpit is not.
Plot:Industrial and educational films, along with home movie footage are used to juxtapose innocence with insidiousness.
Review: This otherwise ordinary effort earns points for showing those shameless '50s kids, hearts as pure as the conservative political mindset of the time. Their confused faces alone add untold entertainment value to what is more or less a cluttered collage.
Title:And Knowing is Half the Battle
Director: Eric Fensler
Plot: Old GI Joe cartoon PSA's are reconfigured with new, naughty dialogue. Oh my!
Review: This is just dumb. Voice over comedy never works – NEVER. Not even the talented Woody Allen could pull it off with What's Up, Tiger Lily. Instead, we see through the ruse and focus solely on the level of wit. The cretinness amount of cleverness on display should indicate how seriously you should take this satire.
Plot:It's the trailer for a new action film starring everyone's favorite ass kicking nerd.
Review: Finally, a real cinematic respite. Loaded with off-color innuendo and well-staged schlock action, this clever combination of expert editing and motion picture shout-out will have you wondering where the real feature is. Without question, the single best short of the entire DVD presentation.
Plot: A couple of office nimrods make random comments about technology – to the beat!
Review: Like a horrid hip-hop Office Space, the two losers locked in this technological battle will break your spirit and make you sad. There is nothing remotely funny, novel, interesting or engaging about this exercise in editing. If director Lussenhop had avoided his predilection for smash cuts, we might have been able to tolerate this tripe. Instead, he continues on, believing himself clever. Argh!
Title:A Primer for Dental Extraction
Plot:In a bleak black and white world, people smoke and obsessively clean their teeth.
Review: Oh joy! Monochrome pretension. Some one has obviously watched a few too many They Might Be Giants videos (is that a new trend in short film making?) as chattering teeth match up with random Goth inspired idiots meandering around pointlessly. The French New Wave advocated the destruction of the old rules regarding the language of film, but this type of senseless reject of the cinematic basics is ridiculous.
Plot: The famous Chicago House Project is demolished, and we watch a few minutes of the process.
Review: Here's an intriguing idea for a film – go down to the Southside of Chicago and watch as construction workers tear down the infamous Cabrini Green projects. Maybe even employ some time-lapse photography. Unfortunately, director Foxwell felt the need to show up for a couple of hours, instead of a couple of weeks. As a result, his film feels like the last act in an opera that's already presented its main arias. Interesting, but a real missed opportunity.
Plot:Skate rats run ramshackle over downtown Chicago late at night.
Review: Like CKY mixed with a soft drink commercial, a band of talented street surfers show off their tricks. The Chicago backdrop is very evocative, and some of the camerawork is incredible. Unfortunately, it goes on for about five minute too long, leaving us wanting a whole lot less of this imitation Tony Hawk hackwork.
Plot:Random images are supersaturated with color to create a nightmare cityscape...sort of.
Review: Really pointless. "Random" is indeed the key word here, since nothing links up or makes much sense. Just lines and skylines soaked in red, that's all.
Plot:It's time to sing along with the Ruskies as this Mitch Miller like karaoke gives us a trio of songs to contemplate.
Review:It's fun for a while – the goofy Eastern European chorus delivering the musical manifesto with gusto and grit. Even the bouncing ball idea is intriguing. Then it quickly grows stale and silly, to the point where we don't care anymore – not about the songs or the symbolism.
Title:Damn You Mister Bush
Plot: Some idiot sings his homemade protest song. A nation weeps.
Review: If you like your politically minded music to be grade school simplistic, then take a listen to this talent-free tune. The "recorded in my basement" vibe to the video definitely doesn't help matters.
Plot:A kid rides a pogo stick. Someone is in the house, going about their business. Repeat.
Review: There is something initially intriguing going on with this short, something that's hard to distinguish at first. The stop motion imagery, the use of still photographs and Photoshopped material tweaks our curiosity. Sadly, Hurst has very little to say beyond his obvious way with a visual. Nothing here adds up to a concise, coherent statement.
Title:Track One: Incomplete
Plot:A one minute video montage.
Review: Someone stop Ricky before he films again. An attempted creepy collage comes off as dumb and amateurish, the point frequently lost in post-production optical tricks and senseless meandering.
Plot:Images are interspersed with interpersonal comments to create a sideways looks at relationships.
Review: What the people speaking have to say here is fairly interesting. The way Ms. Hart manages the material is simply awful. The graphic design style deadens any deeper meaning, and the constant shuffling between dialogue strands is incredibly annoying.
Title:Monkey Walken: An Intimate Portrait
Director:Jason Woliner and James Dean Conklin
Plot:A chimp that sounds and speaks just like the famous enigmatic actor discusses his life.
Review: It's poop jokes propped up against a mediocre imitation of everyone's favorite unhinged actor. The A&E approach is fairly novel, and the animation technique used to render the monkey's mouth and eye movements are very well done. Still, it's all in service of slack satire, the humor failing to find the notion of funny over and over again.
Title:Forced Entry TV State
Plot:A murder is described in text, voice over narrative and surveillance footage.
Review: This is a hard short to get a handle on. We keep reading information about a gruesome crime, and creepy hidden camera material tries to amplify the feeling of dread. But director Matts can't bring it together, and by the end we are sick to death of the whole suggestion and innuendo angle. We want to know what happened. Unfortunately, that's not this film's intention.
In essence, the Movieside Film Festival Short Films is a royal waste of time. There are only two titles here worth a look, and both are probably available elsewhere – either online or at some other media service. To sit through nearly 80 minutes of crud to see a send-up trailer and a couple of costumed dudes beating up on each other is antithetical to the concept of entertainment. It's true that Monkey Walken and Knucklehead Jones have some decent moments, but they can't survive a more concise critical overview. They barely manage to make sense. Unless you are a true weird film fan, and have to see every single short film expression of some basement dweller's unfettered aesthetic, it's best to give this collection a pass. Believe this critic when he tells you - you won't be missing much. Not at all.
Presented in a 1.33:1 full screen transfer (though a few of these efforts are actually framed for 1.78:1, or 1.85:1 widescreen), the image here is fairly decent. The colors are bright, and the balance of light and dark is expert and efficient. The letterboxing will be an issue for those who'd hoped for a legitimate 16x9 release, but overall, the details are easily discernible and the contrasts are nicely controlled.
When conversations are present, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix utilized for this DVD allows us to hear every shabbily scripted word. For most of these movies, however, it's music that provides the sole sonic signature. If you like droning techno, cheesy death metal, and an overabundance of dismal indie rock, the aural mastering captures this cacophony in fine auditory form.
Similar to a souvenir in packaging quality, what we have here is a collection of 20 films and nothing else. No commentaries. No making-of material. No idea who these filmmakers are, and what their objectives might have been. There is a bright side to this sort of basic, bare bones situation, however. We don't have to spend time listening to deluded artists bemoaning the state of their craft. We can just experience their lame sense of expression and move on.
This is an unbelievably easy no-brainer. Skip It. Avoid It. If you even give a moment's consideration over the potential pleasure you might have after reading over the titles and descriptions of the films offered here, make an appointment with a mental health professional for some quick memory-purging electroshock therapy. Indeed, be glad you didn't have to pony up your paycheck to see these misguided movies in a full blown theatrical setting. That's because even in the privacy and comfort of your home, these short films suffer from a severe lack of entertainment or enjoyment value. With such compelling compilations as the recent Animation Show, and last year's fantastic Small Gauge Trauma, there is no reason to give this Z-grade compendium the retail time of day. Movieside may be a "great showcase for films", according to one John Waters, but it's a safe bet to suggest the Godfather of Puke never saw the unpleasant offerings presented on this DVD. They're more mediocre than memorable.
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