AFI DALLAS – Cool Ass Short Films (Round Two)

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 26, 2009

Okay, I figured it’s time to roll out another handful of short films that we will screen at AFI DALLAS this year. Once again, none of these have been announced – so you are getting the scoop on the pending coolness headed for the NorthPark Center or the cozy confines of the Magnolia Theater. They are each great, great stuff that I am excited to chat up throughout the film festival.

However, before I do that I want to put something out there I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

A lot.

Here it is:

I want to see a Geico ad where a bunch of homeless people tear that stack of bills with the eyes-thing apart like a bunch of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD zombies. Just tearing it apart and gorging themselves on the dollars as they stagger mindlessly into a 7-11 and buy those cheap burritos or something.

Why do I so desperately want to see this? Because it would make me happy, that’s why. And it would be a fitting coda to an insufferable tune that has played for way too long.

I write this because I thought it important to give some more context into what I personally enjoy seeing onscreen, where my mind goes, what delights it and what would make sense to me in a wonderful world of my own making. Because, let’s face it – if I’m singing the praises of films I want you to see and filmmakers I think we should all keep an eye out, then you need to know where I’m coming from.

So, here we go…

First up, we have a trio of films that played at Sundance. I wrote about them at that time, but they are worth bringing up again:

Max Winston’s animated short film is candy-coated ultra-violence courtesy of a mad hillbilly muppet guy who goes on an unbridled homicidal and graphic rampage. It’s fun (to me), clever, has a ton of take no prisoners attitude and has no qualms – not a moment of hesitation – to add some very over-the-top animated gore to the proceedings. The movie really upset these two horrified old ladies sitting behind me at the screening. This, of course, only added to my enjoyment because few things irritate me more than people sitting their butt down for a film they have no business watching and then blaming everyone but themselves for their error in judgement – not to mention passive aggressively trying to ruin it for those sitting near them.

Last year, we played the drama SAVAGE GRACE starring Julianne Moore. That is a tough film with some…how shall we say this politely…? ADULT scenes. And we told everyone, we did the disclaimers, damn near put brown paper wrapping on the door going into the theater. And what happens? Some doofus takes some teenage girls to the screening because it’s a Julianne Moore movie and then is shocked! Shocked, I tell you! When Julianne’s mother character really goes the extra mile to help her son with his uhmmm…tension. And, naturally this is the kind of guy that fires off e-mails to board members and uncles in high places and so on trying to make an example of everyone but the lame-ass he sees in the mirror each morning. Oh, delightful axe grinder with too much time on your hands…

Maybe I’ll send a copy of Max’s little ditty to him. Might make him smile.

Another animated winner, Dominic Bisignano’s little film is food for the funny bone. In it, we follow the first person recounting of a young man who believes he has contracted AIDS by eating a hamburger someone has left behind. It is twisted logic rooted in naiveté that only gets more confounding and ridiculous as he winds his way through the tale. I will also say there are hints of Dimetri Martin both in form and delivery and for anyone who is a fan of martin’s I know I’ve got you now… Anyway, for me there are few things better than crazy logic teaming up with crazy animation. And this is as fine an example of that as you’re gonna get.

How can I succinctly put the joy that is Jason Eisner’s short film, TREEVENGE? How about this: A copy of it goes in my DVD library at home. (Which I hope he’ll be cool with…) I love it and I’ll watch it again and show it to friends at all of those fabulous parties I convince myself I’ll host someday.

Let me set the scene for you: A pristine field of evergreen trees faces an onslaught of violence from cruel, evil men wielding axes and chain saws. It’s a horrible scene of torture and slaughter and the trees don’t understand. (We know this, because their horrified peeps and squeaks are translated via subtitles.) Then they’re taken to Christmas tree lots and separated from their friends and family where ignorant and insensitive humans pay money to the cruel men, take them away and put them in their houses. Ultimately, they’re forced to wear gaudy decorations on their branches as the humans blissfully go about their bizarre holiday ceremonies. Eventually, of course, they exact their…wait for it…TREEVENGE. In every violent and gory way imaginable, it’s great.

This is the third film in three years we have had at AFI FEST and AFI DALLAS from Canadian filmmaker Trevor Anderson, following ROCK POCKETS and CARPET DIEM. And by this point, I almost feel as if an AFI film festival without one of his films is like a day without gay sunshine.

Because he is smart, droll, funny, whimsical and charmingly smart-assed in a very sweet way. And this is his best short film yet. Basically Trevor takes a gay-baiting hate e-mail suggesting that he and all the other gay men should just congregate on an island somewhere and give each other AIDS.

So what does he do? He dreams up a scenario where maybe that’s a good idea – that is if the island and life there is of his own colorful and fanciful making. And this is literally a lemons into lemon-AIDS tale. Accomplished is the filmmaker that can take you for a trip into the way his mind works in such a way that you want to schedule next year’s vacation there too. And now, I’ll be looking forward to the next one…

Michael Lennox’s drama RIP AND THE PREACHER is seven minutes of intensity. It’s simple and direct and all I will say about it here is that an Irish temper and a loaded gun are maybe not the best things to have on hand for a theological discussion. Although if you put a six shooter between Rick Warren and Rob Sherman and allowed Michael Cimino to direct the proceedings that could be the best pay-per-view event ever.

If one of ‘em was Irish, that is.

In the meantime, this film will do nicely.

A product of AFI’s fantastic Directing Workshop for Women, Jasmine Kosovic’s mini-romantic comedy is a charming portrait in economy. We meet the title character as she awakens to the reality that her wedding has been called off and yet life must continue. However, possibly that awkward life might be put off by immersing herself in work helping supervise the mundane paperwork reorganization of a company’s merger. That is until she meets her counterpart for the other company (played by Adam Goldberg). The two meet cute and then proceed to find themselves drawn into their own merger in as low-key and slow burn a way as it gets. I like films that “show” versus “tell” and this one does that very well.

Ironically, the film reminded me of an unfortunate date I had with an aspiring female screenwriter years ago who informed me that every romantic comedy HAD TO HAVE a dance scene in it. She was convinced there was no debating this. Because it was a rule and I should’ve known about it. Apparently everyone else knew about this rule but me. If you had a romantic comedy without a dance scene I think there had to be an asterisk after the title because it didn’t really count. This will be of great surprise, but a lot of mocking ensued.

And there was no second date.

I bring this up because in all of her economy of writing and direction, Jasmine worked in a dance scene of sorts in her 17-minute movie. Which means that she managed to cover all of her romantic bases and there will be no need for an asterisk or a call of complaint to the ridiculous section of the WGA.



“My life’s been a party and a joke and a tragedy.”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on January 22, 2009

Back at Sundance – Day #3

So I’m getting ready to go out and face the Sundance today and at a certain point I look in the mirror and realize that my turtleneck and sweater layering strategy combined with a new haircut had made me look like ‘Greg Marmalard’ or ‘Niedermeyer’ from ANIMAL HOUSE. I started accosting myself in the mirror, “Where’s your pledge pin!”

Moving on from that, I had a lot of needless internal debate on which film was going to be first on the list for today. The winner was 211: ANNA. The loser was me. And AFI DALLAS programmer Sarah Harris – who also went to the screening. The documentary looks at the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya who had been a strident voice of journalistic dissent against the Russian government’s war and actions of cruelty in Chechnya. A worthy subject to be sure. And potentially riveting along with being informative. Unfortunately, in execution the only thing it truly succeeds in is making you very sleepy tired.

A film we’re trying hard to give a one-way ticket from Sundance to AFI DALLAS is HUMPDAY. And that was a very happy movie number two for me today. The premise is a one line pitch winner: Two former college buddies decide for various reasons of heterosexual one-upmanship to make a gay porn art film with each other. It’s the kind of idea that gets someone a big check to write a script and then comes out of the other side of studio development morphed into a lame toothless comedy (and I’m being generous using that last word) by the numbers starring…oh, let’s say for arguments sake… hmmm…Adam Sandler and Kevin James. Fortunately, this one had Lynn Shelton at the helm and Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard at her service. It’s funny, it feels real, it hits all of the necessary notes and clears all of the hurdles you hope for, all the while genuinely keeping you wondering if we’re going to get the promised “climax”. And whether or not we want to see it in the first place as well. I think one of the age-old clichéd ideas of what a Sundance movie is goes something like this: Two or more people sit in a room talking about their feelings. And the camera never moves. And the truth is, a lot of HUMPDAY is exactly that – only here, those people are talking about the idea of two straight guys having to have sex with one another – and they’re all freaking out about it. Great stuff.

The third film on the day’s schedule was WHITE LIGHTNIN’. The animated short film I LIVE IN THE WOODS (directed by Max Winston) started things off appropriately enough with its candy coated ultra-violence courtesy of a mad hillbilly muppet guy who goes on an unbridled homicidal and graphic rampage. Delightful. Well, to me. Maybe not so much for the two horrified old ladies sitting behind me.

But back to WHITE LIGHTNIN’. Inspired by the life of Jesco White, a tap dancing ex-con hillbilly whose life’s exploits were fueled by his thoughts of gaining revenge on the men that killed his father, the film may be the most vivid portrait of crazy that I’ve seen in recent memory. Jesco says at one point, “My life’s been a party and a joke and a tragedy.” And filmed in extra crispy black and white, director Dominic Murphy shows us all of that and more. He is clearly a man with a plan to push our visceral buttons and loiter in the head of Jesco’s bat-shit crazy. There are certain actors that are “blessed” with that wild-eyed thing that keeps them off of planes and several feet away from children, and Edward Hogg’s got it. And bonus points go to Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of the love of his life. Now – let me be clear – I’m not recommending this one for everyone. I don’t think you can acquire this taste. You’ve either got it or you don’t. And the old ladies sitting behind me would back me up on that thought. In fact, their constant carping about the black and white flourishes of gore and crazy reminded me to specify that.

I don’t think they’re sleeping too well tonight.

But I am.