Speedwriting - Michael Russnow
Sometimes, a joke runs thin. That's the case in a lot of short films that just don't understand pacing. Sometimes, they come back, and once in a while, a thin joke is made funnier by the fact that it's a thin joke that a smart director knows what to do with. I'd say that's what Michael Russnow has done with Speedwriting. It's a get-rich-quick scheme comedy in which a young guy (played very smartly by Santa Cruz County's own Michael Beardsley) develops a 'system' to write and sell screenplays. It's not a real system, of course, it's barely an idea, but they play with it really well, and the scene where he's constantly stopping a pitch, sometimes to give completely contradictory information, is really funny. It's not a comedy that goes a lot of places, but it's one that delivers on the places that it DOES go, and one that had me laughing.
Jobless - Alessio Colia
The economic downturn hit everywhere, and Italy actually got it worst than most. This story, of an experienced guy being sacked and pushed aside for lesser employees, then trying desperately to get something new, is a classic, and the way writer/director Colia handles the material is clean and smart, in a sort-of neo-modernist fashion with touches of Bergman. It's a powerful film, and a descent into madness, but not an entirely internalistic one. Perhaps Jobless is best viewed as a document for the descent of the international job market and economy into madness and infinite peril. Either way, it's a film I really enjoyed seeing more than once.
Dead Sharks - Nic Barker
If you're going to open with a Woody Allen quote, you better bring your A-game... unless it's from a court transcript. Either way, it sets a table, and you need to be able to deliver quality that matches up. Nic Barker's well-made, often hilarious, and gringingly-real life film Dead Sharks not only works in the 1990s-Allen vein, but he manages to out-mine him as well. The segments are perfectly timed, immaculately-paced, and just smart, and there's a certain comedy to it that might be coming from my own personal experiences. The opener, where we are greeted to a series of voice messages being left, ala Swingers (only with a far more real feel, and far more personally familiar) and it's super-funny, while also moving a story along.Fiona Norman as Paige is just note-for-note perfection, and sets up the rest of the film so well. It's situationally hilarious, and very dramatic, much like any good (or completely failing...) relationship. It reminded me of one of my favorite shorts, Insomniacs, and I can't fault a single aspect of the production. I really wish this would become a feature.
El Tambor y La Sombra - David Bisbano
A re-telling of a folk story in computer animated form will usually work if the filmmaker has any sort of talent with the writing and a certain reverence for the material. David Bisbano does a remarkable job telling us the story of a healer who duels with a shadow-spirit. This is a compact film, making perfect use of all four-and-a-half minutes, and the animation is strongly stylized, yet still accessible. This is exactly the kind of film that should be powering through the festival circuit these days.
Cows: A Moosical - Sandra Boynton
I'll admit it - a large part of why I programmed Cows in the Animated Worlds program at Cinequest was the fact that my twins love her board books. Also, I'm a big fan of cows. This lovely little three minute music video is just plain fun. It's a MOOOOOOOOsical, and it's simple, and sweet. It's also the first film I know, for a fact, my youngest boy Benjamin ever watched. He adored it, and it may just be that it was the first thing he ever saw flashing across a screen that wasn't a heart-rate monitor, but he smiled and laughed. So, thanks, Sandra Boynton, for making the first movie I could share with my little guys!