Todd W. Langen was one of those countless aspiring writers who had dreams of working in Hollywood. The difference between Todd and nearly all of the rest was that he actually managed to break in and write some movies. He penned the first two live-action TMNT movies and was a story editor and writer on the first two seasons of the Wonder Years. The latter earned him an Emmy nomination. Fast forward a number of years and after traveling the world for years the pile of cash from those assignments is nearly gone. (An unusual way to blow the money. Most people in Hollywood would have wasted it snorting coke off a hooker's ass, but Todd's an unusual guy.) His next step? Make a movie all by himself. The result? 42 Story House, a 90 minute film composed of the many 1-4 minute shorts that Todd made over the course of a year. While no one will accuse this of being high art, the disc does contain some funny bits that work quiet well. While the A/V quality isn't spectacular, it's very good for a solo effort, and this is a substance-over-style project anyway. Langen decided to go for content over flash, which makes him the anti-Michael Bay.
This movie, as you'll probably guess from the title, consists of 42 films, all made by Langen without any help. They're all comic shorts and while some of them will leave you thinking "Yeah, okay." There are many good laughs on this disc, which is more than you can say for Norbit.
While the introduction and the second film were mildly amusing, the first truly inspired short is the third one; A Foreign Breakfast. Making fun of pretentious European movies, Langen gets everything right from the impenetrable symbolism to the fatalistic outlook on life. All in under two minutes. I laughed several times and after this I was sold on the project.
Another great segment is When Toilet Paper Rolls Find Out, in which, well, toilet paper rolls find out just what they're used for, and they don't like it. How Small Appliances are Conceived is creative use of editing and sound effects to show what happens when a washer and dryer are left to their own devices (no pun intended.) A personal favorite of mine is I, Narrator in which the overused technique of first person narration gets its comeuppance.
A couple of the pieces ran a little long with the joke being presented a bit too early or the idea being milked a little too much. Survival of the Needless, where a man tries to survive in his house all alone for a week, was one such piece. The idea was cute but it wasn't as lean-and-mean as some of the other segments. While this was a bit long, it contained one of my favorite jokes. When assessing what resources he had at his disposal the main character comes across a DVD of "Contemporary American Movie" which he proceeds to use as a coaster.
Even though this was all done by one guy with consumer equipment, the result is surprisingly sophisticated. Langen puts some special effects in the films which work better than one would think. The green screen and stop motion work while a bit crude fit in really well and look good.
This DVD is available only from the creator's web site. It's only 10 bucks, including shipping, and comes in a white DVD sleeve rather than a case since it's more economical that way.
On the good side, this film does have audio. One the bad side, well, it's not that great. The audio quality was very thin and tinny, and there were some pops and clicks over the course of the 42 segments, and distortion occasionally reared its ugly head. The levels were uneven too. Sometimes the music or audio effects would be significantly higher than the dialog which could be irritating. It was never hard to understand what Todd was saying though, so the defects didn't ruin the film.
This was filmed on a high end consumer camera, and as Todd says on the film's web site "This movie is rather best described as BD ("barely definition")." There were some problems, but the movie actually looks much better than I thought it would. The colors were represented fairly well, and the image was clear and generally well defined. There was a fair amount of blooming, especially when Todd wears white shirts outside. Aliasing crops up here and there, and there was some edge enhancement in sections, though it was never heavy handed. For a micro-budget one-man movie, this looks fantastic.
Todd W. Langen has made a pretty amazing film. It's funny, creative,
and entertaining. It should be mandatory viewing for anyone who's
thinking of making their own film. 42 Story House shows just
how much you can do with a shoestring budget, a little work, and a lot
of thought and creativity. Go ahead and send this guy $10 for a disc,
it's worth it. Recommended.