Category Archives: Short

Ident (1990, Richard Starzak)

Ident is an unpleasant five minutes. Intentionally unpleasant. Even the dog is unpleasant, but mostly because the protagonist finds the dog unpleasant. The protagonist is unpleasant himself; the dog seems mostly innocent.

The short is claymation and takes place in a labyrinthine city. It’s not clear it’s a city for a while, it just seems like a labyrinth where the protagonist–a tall rounded cylinder (the design of the people gives them all Picasso eyes, like they’re looking straight from the side of their “heads”)–wandering around. But then it’s clear he’s got a job, acquaintances, a life. Of course, life mostly consists of wearing masks around some people and not around others. And changing the masks.

Maybe the best thing director and animator Starzak does is imply some depth and symbolism the short doesn’t actually have. So the narrative isn’t as important the mood. And the mood is very, very dark. The protagonist some spends his time terrified, in search of a way to cover his face; he spends some his time drunk, in search of a way to change his face;Ident no doubt is short for “identity”–or otherwise disguise himself.

Then at the end he finds his way out into a new, open world. But not really open because it’s still a set.

Starzak makes a disquieting short, no doubt, with some distinctive stop motion animation. There’s just nothing to it. And distinctive claymation isn’t necessarily good claymation. There are a few neat visuals but nothing worth sitting through the rest.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Animated and directed by Richard Starzak; written by Starzak, Arthur Smith, and Phil Nice; director of photography, Dave Alex Riddett; edited by David McCormick; music by Stuart Gordon; produced by Sara Mullock.

Starring Arthur Smith and Phil Nice.


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The Good Time Girls (2017, Courtney Hoffman)

The most disconcerting thing about The Good Time Girls is the dialogue. The short opens with this solid, distinct narration from Laura Dern. Director (and writer) Hoffman goes for lyrical shots but not visuals; Autumn Durald’s photography isn’t dull so much as shallow… to the point you wonder if the filters were just set wrong in post-production. But Dern’s narration carries it. Right up until the action moves into the remote brothel.

Hoffman’s shots outside, even with contrary photography, are all precisely composed. Inside, not so much. Especially not since it opens with all the women sitting around listening to one sing a song on a banjo. And then Hoffman’s lack of performance direction starts to become clear. No one really looks like they’ve ever sat and listened to her play her banjo before. Pretty soon Q’orianka Kilcher takes a drag off a cigarette and it doesn’t seem like she’s ever smoked a cigarette before. All that attention to visual outside, it doesn’t come inside.

Turns out Dern and some of the girls are actually in the brothel to exact vengeance on some brothel regulars. The madam, Dana Gourrier (who gets terrible dialogue, but the performance is painful), is an accomplice but not invested in it.

Dern’s okay. Mostly. More when she’s acting opposite Garret Dillahunt, as the lead bad guy. Everyone else needs more direction. Even Alia Shawkat, who at first seems like she doesn’t, but then has this banter thing going on and it’s a fail. Extreme long shot banter.

Hoffman’s timing is off in just about every scene. Good Time Girls drags and is only about thirteen minutes of actual movie. There are long credits. Also the various visual homages to Westerns play incongruous. They distract, which is both good and bad. The film initially implies it’s going to be really dark, but then there are various relief valves throughout and it avoids verisimilitude for anachronistic comic relief.

Maybe if it all added up, the thin script, the exceptionally problematic interior direction, and the shaky performances wouldn’t matter. But it doesn’t. It just wastes Dern’s narration.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Courtney Hoffman; screenplay by Hoffman and Lucy Teitler, based on a story by Hoffman; director of photography, Autumn Durald; edited by Julie Garces; music by Will Patterson; production designer, Florencia Martin; produced by Jordana Mollick; released by Refinery29.

Starring Laura Dern (Clementine), Annalise Basso (Ellie), Alia Shawkat (Ruth), Q’orianka Kilcher (Myra), Dana Gourrier (Ada), and Garret Dillahunt (Rufus Black).


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Flying Padre (1951, Stanley Kubrick)

Flying Padre has three types of impressive shots. The first two types involve an airplane. The short is about a New Mexico priest who flies around his 4,000-square mile parish. There are interior and exterior shots of the plane and director Kubrick gets some fantastic shots from inside out. He’s also got some great shots of the plane from the ground, though they’re occasionally a little jerky. Given how smooth the camera movements tend to be in Padre, the jerks have got to be unintentional.

Then there are the close-ups. Kubrick gets these great shots of the priest’s parishioners when he’s performing services. Sometimes there are great shots involving the priest himself, but more often it’s when Kubrick can get a shot of the ostensibly enraptured parishioners.

The shots with the priest tend to involve action, not reflection. Flying Padre is–in its nine minutes–a bit of an adventure story. The priest, Father Stadtmueller, goes from funeral to children’s counselor to erstwhile ambulance driver. I suppose the funeral’s real? Though it seems a little macabre either way. Because the children’s counselor bit–and then the ambulance flier bit–those two are definitely staged. They might be based on real events, but they’re dramatized for Flying Padre.

The short’s got no natural sound. There are occasional diegetic sounds, like the bullied child knocking on the priest’s door or the priest’s birds chirping, but they didn’t record any sound during filming. Or, if they did, they didn’t use it, which is too bad because Father Stadtmueller is frequently talking. There’s constant narration to explain what’s going on.

The narration also establishes the narrative distance, something Kubrick relies on once the staging is obvious. When Father Stadtmueller has to fly a mother and her sick baby to a medical services, there are shots of the mother talking to the Father. While they’re on the plane. And it’s obvious there’s no way they both could’ve fit in the plane with a camera.

Kubrick even pokes fun at the priest at one point, when the narration describes him as a crack shot with a rifle and then Father Stadtmueller misses not just the bullseye but the any of the target’s rings.

There are some excellent shots and some great location shooting to get Padre through.

Flying Padre’s interesting but disposable. Kubrick’s got some ambitious filmmaking but no ambitions for the short itself.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Photographed and directed by Stanley Kubrick; edited by Isaac Kleinerman; music by Nathaniel Shilkret; produced by Benjamin Burton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Fred Stadtmueller; narrated by Bob Hite.


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Coffins on Wheels (1941, Joseph M. Newman)

Coffins on Wheels opens with Roy Gordon directly addressing the camera, explaining used car salesman–despite most being all right (check your Better Business Bureau)–can be dangerous. There’s a scrupleless “lunatic fringe.”

Then the narrative starts with trusting Walter Baldwin buying a used car from a genial salesman, John Gallaudet. Once Baldwin’s left the lot, however, Gallaudet goes in to tell boss Cy Kendall about the sale… and it’s clear they’re scumbags.

Coffins runs seventeen minutes, which lets it get away without a lot of depth to the characters. Kendall’s got more than enough time to come across pure evil though. He’s crazy effective.

Baldwin’s bum used car isn’t the focus. Instead, it’s teenager Tommy Baker’s car. He begs his dad to get it–with younger brother Darryl Hickman pleading as well–and the father relents. Allan Lane’s the police detective who gets involved, mostly with Baldwin and then in the extremely manipulative finale.

Decent acting from Lane, kind of grating acting from Hickman and Baker–fellow teen Larry Nunn’s much better.

Newman’s direction is solid. There’s an investigation of the bum cars in the police garage, showing off their defects, which Newman and editor Adrienne Fazan handle quite well. The short does better with the minutuae than the drama.

Coffin on Wheels is effective. It’s manipulative and kind of craven, but it’s definitely effective. Lane being able to sell the concerned copper is essential.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph M. Newman; written by Howard Dimsdale; director of photography, Jackson Rose; edited by Adrienne Fazan; produced by Jack Chertok; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Tommy Baker (Tommy Phillips), Darryl Hickman (Billy Phillips), Allan Lane (Police Lieutenant), Cy Kendall (Nick the Used Car Dealer), John Gallaudet (Williams the Salesman), Walter Baldwin (Mr. Martin), Larry Nunn (Bob), Wade Boteler (Mr. Phillips), Helen Brown (Mrs. Phillips), and Roy Gordon (Commissioner Blake).


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