Tag Archives: short films

TIFF19: No Crying At The Dinner Table

Director Carol Nguyen interviews her own Vietnamese-Canadian family, mining them for secrets.

Mostly they share their losses, their grief. The short film explores the cultural and generational differences in how her father, mother, and sister have experienced loss, from physical expressions of sympathy to regret and shame and forgiveness. It’s incredibly personal and soberly realized. What Nguyen accomplished in just 16 minutes is a veritable portrait of grief, and a moving, and living, family history. Her precisely-composed shots reflect the range of emotions, from raw to repressed, and her unobtrusive camera allows us a spot at the dinner table, preferably close to the tissues.

I love how we get to experience the difference between old country new country for this immigrant family, but the truth is, all families are different. Nguyen’s mother shares that she only kissed her own mother once, when she was very ill. Just once. She’s fairly matter of fact in the recounting, but her eyes betray some anguish.

I come from a very physically affectionate family, though I wouldn’t have described us as such until I met Sean’s family. We don’t necessary feel the urge to hug and kiss all the time, but I think our casual touches are actually a testament to our closeness. We might stroke each other in jest, or pinch each other with affection. Rarely does a family gathering go by without someone’s hair getting brushed, or braided. Or perhaps feet rubbed or nails painted. And we might sit very close together, even touching, even lying on top of each other if someone needs the cuddle, or sitting atop each other, if someone’s being a pain. Sean is not naturally a physically affectionate person. I call him a robot all the time, and he assures me that he has feelings, and I pretend to believe him. We just didn’t grow up the same way. It’s fine. We’ve just had to get used to each other. But now he’s the one always reaching for my hand, and he gives me a backrub almost every night before bed (of course, he mislabels this as foreplay, but that’s another story for another short film whose review I’ve highjacked). With coaching, I’ve even gotten him to admit to his mother that he loves her right before hanging up the phone. That’s huge for him. And occasionally he and his father have exchanged a hug rather than a handshake.

And that’s kind of another great revelation hidden inside this film’s 16 minutes. People do change, even just one generation to the next. We learn. We do better. Trauma changes us, but life goes on, and maybe next time, we do it differently. That’s a beautiful thing.

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TIFF19: All Cats Are Grey in the Dark

I’ll be honest. Until I watched All Cats Are Grey in the Dark, I did not know the first thing about breeding cats. Now, having seen it, I have a much better idea of what is involved. It is safe to say I will not be getting into the business anytime soon, but it’s good to know it could be my life if I’m looking for a career change.

Christian, on the other hand, has clearly decided that cat breeding is for him. And he is all in. His cats go everywhere with him, whether on a ferry to another country, to a ski resort, or to what I can only assume is a European Costco. I realize that is not an extremely long list but All Cats Are Grey in the Dark is not an extremely long film, so there were probably more destinations that didn’t make the cut.

I would have been interested to see more of the world surrounding Christian and his cats, because the few shots outside Christian’s home are my favourite parts of the movie. Those scenes really capture the separation between Christian (and his cats) and literally everyone else. Christian may or may not be aware of the distance his cats create between him and others, and he may or may not care, but it’s obvious and striking how much of a barrier is put up by a person having two cats on his shoulder as he goes about his day. He sits alone at the slope-side bar, there is no one else in sight at the pet store, and his veterinarian is the only person Christian talks to directly during the 18 minute runtime of All Cats Are Grey in the Dark.

[Editor’s note: Although Sean has just told you the film is only 18 minutes long, I feel the need to tell you that he paused it somewhere in the middle because he was “so hungry I could eat a cat.” He had cereal. – J ]

Which is not to say that there is no other dialogue. Christian is very chatty with his cats, Marmelade and Katjuscha, and the three of them seem quite happy to do their own thing, especially when that thing involves staring hungrily at mice at the aforementioned EuroCostco (it’s exactly as pictured in Tom and Jerry). More accurately, Christian seems happy, because cats always seem angry no matter what they are doing.

Still, despite the happy facade, I can’t help but feel sad for Christian as he lives in self-imposed exile. Most of all, I can’t help but wonder how much different his life would be if he had just gotten a couple of dogs and, through them, brought the rest of world closer instead of pushing it away as the guy with two cats on his shoulder.

[Editor’s note: Sean makes this sound like a pretty gloomy movie, and I suppose maybe it is, but he watched all the way through the credits “In case there’s a post-credit scene!” so I guess there was something special about it after all. – J ]

Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein

David Harbour had a career before Stranger Things: The Equalizer, Black Mass, Suicide Squad, and various TV roles. But Stranger Things is the thing that made him a household name, playing the gruff police chief who adopts science experiment Eleven. It’s what allowed him to secure the lead role in the Hellboy remake. But despite his various roles, I didn’t know him for what is clearly a deep and quirky sense of humour.

In this Netflix short film, he plays “himself”, David Harbour III, plus his father, Harbour Jr., and his grandfather Harbour Sr., as well as Frankenstein. David Harbour (the third) is ostensibly looking into his family’s rich acting legacy, and particularly at a made-for-TV play he starred in called Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein. It’s a mockumentary, in case you’ve failed to glean that.

In the needlessly complicated play, the monster is posing as the doctor Frankenstein, and the good doctor is posing as the monster, in an effort to get funding from a lovely young woman (Kate Berlant), who for some reason falls madly for the monster, who is actually not the monster, though she doesn’t know that. At first.

David Harbour (the third) screens footage from this weird TV movie for us, and not just the movie, but the commercials that ran between episodes, giving us a glimpse of vintage product placements that will make you appreciate the content all the more. In fact, it seems this play as being broadcast live on television, and was subject to the whims of its blowhard, egotistical star.

The more Harbour (the third) looks into it, the more his idea of his father, the acting legend, unravels. Turns out, he as a real piece of shit.

It’s a crazy, wacky project that’s not for everyone, but I love seeing this kind of stuff from Netflix. It’s deliciously indulgent, and it takes a sudden turn that you wouldn’t buy from more traditional material. It breaks all the rules. This truly is a new era for television, if Netflix can even be classed as such – not quite TV, but not quite the movies, it’s clearly a lawless, magical place where classic lines can be redrawn and anything goes.

Harbour fully commits to the weirdness, even if I’m still not sure what to call it. Is this sketch comedy? Just an odd idea he had one night, in a fever dream? A side project devoted to pushing boundaries? In the end, at only 30 minutes, it’s an easily digested bit of fun, which actually demands to be rewatched immediately, to pick up the little Easter eggs you didn’t know where planted. I’ve never seen this side of David Harbour before, and it’s not so much a new side as like half a dozen new sides, all at once. Enjoy.

Anima

A man (Thom Yorke, of Radiohead) is one of many people riding the subway in a dazed state, nodding off, sleep walking through life. Only his sighting of a beautiful woman (Dajana Roncione) sets him on a divergent path, going against the usual drudgery to return a forgotten lunch box to her.

Paul Thomas Anderson directs Thom Yorke in a 15 minute musical short, though Yorke isn’t exactly breaking into song, it’s more like an extended music video, a visual piece accompanied by hypnotic music that to be honest is really working for me.

The choppy, physical choreography has Yorke literally going against the grain, and it’s only when he finally reunites with the woman from the subway that the dance, choreographed by Damien Jalet, becomes playful, fluid, more intimate. The two carve out a private space in a world that is monotonous and homogenous. It’s hard to say if this world is dystopian, or if it’s meant to be interpreted on a more metaphorical basis, but images of competition and subjugation abound.

The piece ends with the two boarding a streetcar. Yorke again nods off, and it’s unclear if the whole that came before it was meant to be a dream, but even if it is, it’s taken him from the underground darkness (or artificially lit at best) of a subway and left him above ground, seated in a beam of sunlight.

You’re darn right it’s weird, unlike anything else you’ll find on Netflix. But that’s what I can easily love about it, and about Netflix. Netflix is a lot of things, and not all of them good, but it’s creating space for experimentation. With the sheer volume of output, it can afford to take risks, and it does, something that is increasingly rare if not already obsolete for movie studios. Not very long ago it would be nearly impossible for most of us to catch a short film, other than the ones that routinely screened before Pixar films (although I can’t be the only one to notice this absence before Toy Story 4). But Netflix now hosts, and in fact is creating, a whole host of out of the box content. How wonderful to let PTA do his thing. And no, Thom Yorke is no actor, but I can’t help but admire someone who will go out on a limb for art. It gets all of our creative juices flowing to see new and boundary-pushing things, which is what Anima is. At worst, all it costs you is 15 minutes, but it’s a literal tunnel out of oppression, an exploration of conformity, and ultimately, an expression and rejoicing of freedom.

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

The Lonely Island is a comedy trio consisting of childhood friends Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer. They became known for their popular digital shorts on SNL, many of which, like Lazy Sunday, went viral, for comedic songs like Jack Sparrow, featuring THE Michael Bolton, and for movies like Hot Rod and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. If you like them, you probably love them, and if you love them, you’re in for a treat. Especially if you also have a soft spot for late-1980s-era major league baseball.

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is a 30 minute short streaming now on Netflix that’s the supposed never before seen\heard rap collaboration between steroid bash brothers Jose Canseco (Samberg) and Mark McGwire (Schaffer) of the Oakland Athletics. I don’t give two shits about baseball (especially not historical baseball from another century), but Sean did and does and had an especially appreciative chuckle for all the references they got right.

The rap album consists of many memorable musical numbers, literally something for everyone, between such hits as Bikini Babe Workout, IHOP Parking Lot (featuring Maya Rudolph), Oakland Nights (featuring Sia, who looks an awful lot like Sterling K. Brown in a a wig unworthy of the real Sia), and my favourite, Daddy, which explores the mountainous daddy issues behind the Canseco-McGwire shenanigans.

Sean wondered how – not if, but how – high they were when they wrote this stuff. And the answer can only be: extremely. So high. And yet I was sober when I watched it and I still dissolved into fits of giggles (a credit cameo featuring “Joe Montana” had me gasping for breath). It’s light-hearted and doesn’t dare take itself serious for a single split second. The narrow theme of the “visual poem” (a la Beyonce’s Lemonade?) ensures that the songs are punchy and topical, if not always sensical. But you didn’t come for the sense. You came for the nonsense, and they’re flooding the diamond with it.

Samberg and Schaffer are both hilarious in their terrible mullet wigs, but it seems like everyone who pops up in these videos are having a riotously good time. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience offers locker room injections of satire and parody, and they will PUMP YOU UP.

Shorts: Ready To Go

anigif_enhanced-23110-1444243585-11Lance is bringing his cat to be put down. It’s time. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Whether he’s emotional or nervous or lonely, he’s ready to pour his heart out, and an unsuspecting old lady on the bus doesn’t have much choice but to listen. In just under 10 minutes, we get to know Lance quite well – and even better in the film’s last 5 seconds or so.

It’s a bittersweet little film that reminds us how important pets are in our lives, and how bereft we are when we lose them. Putting down my childhood mutt Patches was seriously one of the most wrenching things I’ve ever done in my life and I’ve only been able to let doggos back into my life after extracting from them solemn vows to never, ever die. We brought Patches to the vet at the end of his life, perhaps not quite his natural end, but an end that we chose in the hopes that it giphy-downsizedwas best for him. The first shot was to settle him. His little legs gave out and he collapsed on the cold metal table. He was wrapped up in a Star Wars blanket and placed in my arms. The second shot stopped his heart. He looked like he was sleeping, but for once not chasing cars in his dreams. We left him there, my mother and I. I left him there, and we cried hot tears in a mini van. My friends offered hugs, and even a greeting card, the ‘blank inside’ kind with a generic flower on the front. Today condolence cards for pets exist, a testament to the place they’ve taken up in our hearts sirga-the-lioness-excited-dogand homes. But for many of us, cats and dogs are more than just pets, they’re family. I suspect for Lance, Galen (the cat) was his only friend, hence the great unburdening on the bus.

Do domesticated animals really think the thoughts and feel the emotions we ascribe them – or are we merely deluding ourselves by anthropomorphizing them? As our social circles grow narrower, and our ability to truly connect with other people seems to dim, perhaps pets are our last secret keepers. With seemingly unconditional positive regard OVYBbQ8for us, a dog is loyal and steadfast in a way that few if any people in our lives will be. When Lance brings his only friend in to the vet, which of them is truly “ready to go” – the cat who doesn’t know what’s coming, or the human who doesn’t know how to say goodbye?

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SXSW: The Shorts

Are We Good Parents?

Director: Bola Ogun

One day before school, a daughter lets slip she’ll be shopping for her homecoming outfit, and her parents are floored to find out that a certain “Ryan” will be picking her up for her first dance. As soon as the daughter’s out of earshot, Mom and Dad are questioning their whole parenting motif. They’d always assumed she was gay. What have they done wrong? Is she actually straight or just rebelling, or has something they’ve done or failed to do made her feel unsafe to come out?

The script is flipped from the hetero-normative expectation that a kid is straight until you hear otherwise. It’s an interesting statement to make but one which might have worn thin with a less authentic-sounding script (by Hailey Chavez). But this is no after-school special; Are We Good Parents is genuinely funny, thanks in large part to Tracie Thoms and Sean Maguire, who really tap into the self-doubting roles of two loving parents to a straight kid. This short film has big heart but it really makes you think about the assumptions we make not just as parents but as a society, and what ‘coming out’ really entails.

A first-generation American from Nigerian heritage, Ogun was born and raised in Texas and has a bright film making future ahead of her. Her film is making its world premiere at the SXSW film festival on March 10 and screens again March 12 and 15 as part of the Shorts Program 3.

 

The Coffin Club
Director: Briar March
This short is a documentary about a club formed by senior citizens in New Zealand. Through a lively musical number, the real members of the club tell us how they’ve formed a club that makes their own coffins. Sure they save some cash with their hand-made confections, but the best part is how they personalize their final resting places with glitter, paint, and pictures of Elvis. The film is 3 and a half minutes long, the whole thing sung (with Jean McGaffin and Kevin Quick providing spirited vocals), and it covers the snacks they nibble on between their morbid arts and crafts, and the trouble they got into from local funeral homes who felt their bottom lines were being hurt.
I am several decades too young and not a joiner by nature but I am desperate to be a member of the Kiwi Coffin Club. These are people who know that a box is just a box – but why not make the thing beautiful? They’re demystifying death, and preparing for it in their own way, putting their own stamp on a funeral that is usually designed by others. But it’s also clearly a social thing, with lots of camaraderie. If the club is looking for new members, I’m a great beaker and I have my own glitter, a glue gun of course, and a whole drawer full of ribbons. I’m not much of a singer, but I can snap and believe I look quite fetching in a top hat.
This doc is just minutes long but I felt like I’ve made some real friends. I could have watched for hours more. The production is great, and director Briar March turning the thing into a musical extravaganza shows us there’s more than one way to flip death the bird.
This film screens in the Documentary Shorts 1 block on March 10, 12, and 15 and honestly, it’s a whole lot of fun.