short film review

Reviews and news about short films, short film festivals, reviews, links and guides to short films online,images from short films,directors,writers,cinemaphotographers. Copyright 2005, 2006 by Allan Maurer. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Gopher Broke at Sundance Made Us Laugh

"Gopher Broke," an animation showing in the Sundance 2006 Short Film program, reminds me of both classic Disney and Warner Brother's Cartoons. The Gopher has worse luck than Wylie Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons and never fares anywhere so well as the Disney Gophers.

This fella, unnamed but winningly animated, whether by computer or by hand, and who cares when it's this good, is entertaining. He coulda done Broadway. I would love to see another of cartoon starring this character. Those rolling eyes never worked better.

This four-minute extravaganza made me laugh aloud several times with sight gags worthy of Chuck Jones, famous for giving characters such as Wylie an expression showing they recognize their fate, among other things. Geez, this little gem plays with cartoon cliches and turns them to new purpose. Despite its clear influences, this is no slavishly imitative effort. The animation itself is often ravishing.

It ends with a perfectly classic, ah, end. You'll see what I mean when you watch it.

Jeff Fowler, Tim Miller
Jeff Fowler
Executive Producer
Tim Miller
Al Shier
Animation Supervisor
Marlon Nowe
Lighting/Compositing Supervisor
Dan Rice
Concept Design
Chuck Wojtkiewicz, Sean McNally

There's a terrific bit of harmonica early on that I appreciated as a blues harmonica player, but really, it has a nice score reminescent of the best classic toons throughout, from lush orchestration to that single harmonica.

This is very much one of my favorites among the Sundance short films I've watched so far. I expect to go back and give it another look, and I've already watched it three times.

True North, Rape, and A Half Man at Sundance

(Photo from director Lovinsa Kavuna's, "Rape for Who I Am," examines the way men regard South African lesbians as targets for their sexual assaults. Something of a pc-niche-cause, maybe, not unworthly, but not exactly up there with world hunger and AIDS.

I loved the imagery of this technically sophisticated 14-minute film. Surrealistic shots of Johanisberg, powerful close-ups of the people, and the moderate use of multi-screen and other effects are all put to good use. I actually found the film-making more compelling than the story documented. Kavuna also did the ravishing cinematography.

"True North," another 14-minute short at Sundance, is an impressionistic look at the story of Matthew Henson, a black man servant who accompanied Robert E. Perry's 1909 arctic expedition and may have been the first person to reach the North Pole, or so says the film's promotional material.

Isaac Julien directed somewhat expressionistically. Nearly all the shorts Sundance shows are technically interesting even when their stories -- as here -- are a bit weak. I thought this story in particular had more potential for development than we get here, but then again, I have to ask myself just what I want from 14-minute films, anyway.

I did think the film's "creative" description on the Sundance site is academic twaddle. It describes the film thus: "Here the sublime moment of cognition of the image is presented to the mind itself, which in turn can only comprehend the absolute of magnitude which itself defied conceptualization."

Whew! Fortunately, the film itself is not that dense, but personally, we hope the film-maker sticks to images. A wordsmith he isn't.

"A Half Man," by Firas Momani, is a five-minute exercise in surrealistic animation. A man, played by what looks a lot like one of those transparent dolls that reveal the inside of a body, has trouble adjusting in society because his insides are falling out. Now that's a problem!

The first half of this little film drags and feels padded, but the very funny second half reignited my interest and took me home. It's helped by clever sound effects (Julian Pasieka gets kudos for those) and a effective minimalist music score.

It reminded me at times of Cronenberg's version of "The Fly," (Jeff Goldblum's transformation when pieces of his body began falling off) and partly of Tim Burton's recent "Corpse Bride," although not to the point of outright imitation.

I found this one of the more compelling shorts I've seen so far.

By the way, if you're interested in reviewing short films for this site, drop us a line. We'd love to have a few more fans of short films on board.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Robin's (as in Batman and Robin) Big Date at Sundance

The first four Sundance shorts we viewed were dramtic and serious, although not without jokes. Even the most serious of drama should have a sense of humor.

Still, we watched "True North," and "Moma's Boy," and "You turned Your back and held my hand," more or less at random and found them strong stories elegantly told. But we tried "Robin's Big Date," as an exercise in throwing a change-up, to borrow baseball terminology. It suggested a lighter turn with its focus on a lecherous and profane Batman horning in on Robin, the boy wonder's big date.

All, but the humor faded in the face of the pathos. Poor Robin. Pathetic Batman. Only the girl (Callie Thorne), not Robin's date after all, it seems, aquits herself well. The super heroes prove less than super and not very heroic.

I'm sure I'll find some humor in this stellar collection of shorts. But this is not it. I liked it fine for what it actually is, though, a takeoff on our cultural pop icons thrown into the less-than-perfect real world via the reel world.

This has got to be the seediest Batman we've ever seen, but not that much of a stretch from Frank Miller's postmodern take on the character.

Written by William Carlough and directed by James Duffy, the short if Duffy's first as a director (he's a film editor based in NYC). It's certainly an original concept, although I find many of the shorts I see somewhat over-acted, although anyone who's seen the 60s TV series would be hard-pressed to out do that duo. Sam Rockwell's Batman tries to steal Robin's (Justin Long)date. Yuk. That ain't my Batman.

Anyone familiar with Batman and Robin from the comix or the films or even the TV show will likely enjoy this take on the Bat detective and the "Boy Wonder," as Robin used to be billed.

You turned your back and held my hand

Gabriela Tollman's "You Turned Your Back and Held My Hand," a 6-minute short showing at the 2006 Sundance film fest and availble online at

Tollman, a native of South Africa and graduate of UCLA's School of Film won a Cinematography award at Cannes and an LA short film grant. You can see why she would win a cinematography award from watching this well-shot film.

This sensual exercise in recording love on film evokes a warmly engaging sense of touch. You can almost smell the sweet heady aroma of sex when these lovers thread their fingers through each other's hair, the closeups of eyes, of eyelashes, of golden smooth skin and melding bodies.

Many short films resort to collage and montage to collapse time. This one collapes emotion. It forgoes extensive plot to extend effect and does it well.

The imagery carries this short film right into your skin. You'll feel it viscerally rather than intellectually, and isn't that the essence of what short film should be?

Reviews of Sundance Shorts: Moma's Boy

"Moma's Boy," directed by John Bryant, showing at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, reminds me of Harold Pinter's "Homecoming." It's not particularly "Pinteresque" in its dialog. But the idea of potent family drama underlying a Thanksgiving family visit is.

A young man (Jason Foxworth) brings his fiance home for a Thanksgiving dinner and the dialog with his brother (Mark Reeb), father, and significant others rides along one of those sibling roller coasters that make your stomach roil. It's embarassing to watch real drama, particularly that which is intimate and disturbing, not so much because it's extreme as because it's soooooo real.

Reeb plays a sadistic game with his sibling, teasing him that he was adopted, despite their father's protests that the statement is untrue. Brothers are not the only ones who wreck such intimate emotional havoc on each other. All sorts of people with intimate knowledge of us can engage in this sort of edgy, dangerous and dramtic fireworks.

Most family dramas don't escalate into the actual violence this one does, but we've all experienced some form of teasing -- perhaps from a school bully or a buddy or a co-worker if not family -- in which the teasing approaches psychological torture.

"Moma's Boy" moves from family dialog to a literally electric finish. The Tazer massacre and bloody noses that bring this particular Freudian case study to a close climax in Reeb's fiendish laughter as he realizes just how successful he has been at getting inside his brother's head.

You might find yourself laughing a bit yourself, at the end, the kind of nervous laughter elicited by a horror movie.

Check out the director's Website: John Bryant

View Sundance Shorts Online

I’ve started watching the Sundance short films available at the festival Web site. These are not your average short films. I watched four in succession and each held me with expert use of the digital medium, compelling imagery, intriguing stories or ideas or both, and clever execution.

I learned these would be online from one of the film-makers, who stumbled upon our site a while back. I’m glad he alerted me.

I would hate to miss an opportunity to view this selection of short movies, all I’ve seen so far done on digital video, but expertly enough to give me a film experience.

I’m far from evaluating any of these films as much as I might over time and reviewings. But I know this: if you care about short films or in fact, films, period, you should have a look at these. I don’t know how long they’ll remain available.

Here’s the link:

Monday, January 16, 2006

Short film history

Here's a very good discussion of short films from their beginning when film itself began up to the proliferation of them at film festivals today.

When films began, reels ran a minute and so did films. When longer silent reels ran ten minutes, so did that era's shorts. When two ten-minute reels were combined in the early talkie era, shorts expanded to ten minutes.

As we plan to explore here later, the short films of the early film era have much to teach us yet about those produced now.

Short Film Essay

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Harold Bloom is About to Die at iFilm

Harold Bloom is About to Die is among the top five most popular short comedies at

Harold (Jeffrey Weissman) is anxiously waiting for his date and hoping to score when hooded Death (Ryan DoRemus) shows up and says it's time to move on to the next life.

"Jesus Christ," swears Harold.
"No, I'm Death," the hooded figure answers.

Harold begs for a little extra time because he's a virgin (this 2002 short preceeded the currently popular feature about the 40-year-old virgin).

"Get a move on," Death says. "I've got an earthquake about to happen in Asia."

The whole 11 and a half minute film is vulgar but amusing. It reminds me a bit of Woody Allen's play, "Death Knocks," which would make a good short film itself. Director Anthony Piersanti is no Woody Allen, however.

Death and Harold both overact when restraint is called for. DoRemus would have done well to emulate Frederick March's creepy, underplayed Death in "Death Takes a Holiday." Playing straight makes comedy work.

Still, I got few laughs from this and it's worth a look.

17 of 24 frames on the Short Film Review Scale. Not really a

Dangle Will Ding Ya

We saw "Dangle," written and directed by Phil Traill over at, which has a fine selection of international short films. This 2003 German/UK production is a simple idea well done. If you suddently discovered the light switch to the world while out hiking, would you play with it? The ending is predictable, but the film manages to make an entertaining six minutes out of the idea.

You can find it here:

San Francisco Short Film Fest Wants Entries

The San Francisco Short Film Festival seeks entries. Photo is of the Victoria Theatre in the Mission District, one of the venues.

For more info: San Francisco Short Film Fest

Friday, January 06, 2006

Dual Gives Spielberg Classic Legs

"Dual," made by Wilmington, NC filmmakers, really shows what you can do with not only film but also with the Internet if you want to make a showpiece.

This short film, like the film that inspired it -- Stephen Spielberg's "Duel", which happens to be showing on the Sundance cable channels this month (January, 2006) is one long chase scene. Also like Spielberg's, this "Dual" manages to keep the tension high, aided by Philip Glass-like minimalist thriller music, a wicked pace, and a situation easy to imagine oneself experiencing in today's weird world.

This is sophisticated short filmmaking. Reading reviews from others, I'm continuously amused by the way reaction to films is most certainly in the eye of the beholder. Some found it pointless or boring, while others found it as stimulating and interesting a piece of short film making as I do.

I still don't hesitate to recommend it, but obviously, it's not for everyone. Personally, I'd be proud of this one. Buckley Hubbard gets writing/directing credits. I enjoy minor touches, such as the cigar the runner substituting for Spielberg's faceless trucker smokes (the diesel smokestack of the semi) and similar clever correspondances to the original.

If you've got the bandwidth to handle the full download with alternate versions and assorted left turns during the chase, by all means give it a try. It's interactive city as you make decisions for the runner. You be the director.

I'd give Dual 22 of 24 frames on the short attention span theatre scale.

Addicting Clips - Funny Short Vids

The world of short movies is expanding so rapidly it's hard to keep up.

Here's a site dedicated to hilarious, embarassing, informative, idiotic and otherwise entertaining short clips. They range from "Boom goes the Dynamite," to French Maids teaching podcasting seminude. Uh, huh, sure.

We'd be willing to bet you don't learn much about podcasting while watching it.

Worth a visit if you need a laugh.

Warning: I could easily get along without all the Adultfriendfinder sex ads. But the clips themselves are fun. They aren't, by and large, in the same category as the fine short films reviewed elsewhere here by any means. In fact, I wouldn't really know how to review them seriously or take them seriously. But we're in an inclusive rather than an exclusive mood today.

For a somewhat similar mindless fix of short video stuff, from star fixations to nude this and that, you might try or

Not for the prudish. And they're skimpy on anything resembling art, even in their cheap video fashion. They also seem rather relentlessly male-oriented. You have to wonder if the sheer sleeze attraction of this stuff crowds out attention to the incredible wealth of fine short films at Atom, ifilm, and elsewhere on the Web and off.

Video University

Shoot video to look like film: tips and techniques from DAVID CROSSMAN, a broadcast television director with credits in drama series, music, and children's programmes in the U.K. and abroad.

He shoots both multi-camera studio and single-camera technique for Channel Four and the BBC - and companies specialising in corporate communications and training.

Great ideas for making what he calls "more loveable video."

Check it out at:

While you're at it, don't miss the entire free library at