An inside out pair of shorts

Pixar’s latest opus, Inside Out, was naturally accompanied by a short film in cinemas. On Blu-ray (out today in the UK), it’s accompanied by two. These are they, reviewed in nice quick drabbles.


Riley’s First Date?
2015 #179a
Josh Cooley | 5 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | U / G

In this ‘sequel’ to Inside Out, Riley is going to hang out with a friend… who turns out to be a boy, which sends her mum and dad — and their anthropomorphised emotions — into paroxysms of worry. Is this the 12-year-old’s first date?

The straightforward story is built on clichés of male and female parental reactions to their kid growing up and encountering the opposite sex (mum tries to be cool, dad gets protective), but then it’s only got four minutes so needs that shorthand. Nonetheless, it manages roughly as many laughs as the feature, even if they are easy targets.

4 out of 5


Lava
2015 #179b
James Ford Murphy | 7 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | U / G

The short that accompanied Inside Out in cinemas is essentially a music video for a folksy ballad about a pair of volcanoes who are in ‘lava’ (read: love) with each other.

It’s quite beautifully animated, with realistic CGI (apart from, you know, singing volcanoes) that eschews stylisation without giving in to the urge to shallowly emphasise its photorealism, but other than that I didn’t much care for it. The story and song — inspired by an underwater volcano that will one day merge with Hawaii — are a little too twee. It’s not really sweet, nor sickly, just kind of uninspiringly quaint.

3 out of 5

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The Crying of Lot 49 (2007)

2015 #149a
Jeremy Sutheim | 7 mins | streaming | 4:3 | USA / English

After watching Inherent Vice back in August, I was inspired to re-read the only Thomas Pynchon novel I’d ever read, which I’d liked very much and been meaning to take another run at for years. That was, as you might guess, The Crying of Lot 49, a ’60s tale of possible conspiracy and definite paranoia. Reading about it afterwards, I came upon thomaspynchon.com — not an official site, despite the straightforward name — which linked to their series of Wikis on each of his novels; and right at the top of the Crying of Lot 49 one was a subsection entitled “And now… The Movie…”, complete with a YouTube link. So I watched that and now I’m reviewing it because, you know, that’s what I do.

Although details are fairly scarce on the film’s YouTube page, it appears to be a student short, possibly only made for some school project. It adapts the entire novel in just seven minutes, solely through meaningful images and music — there are no actors, no dialogue, no voiceover. A solid knowledge of the book is essential to understand what’s going on and why certain imagery has been chosen; without it, I think the film would come across as utterly meaningless. Even with it, you find yourself grasping back to memories of the novel to work out what you’re being shown and why.

Some images are lifted out of the text wholesale, like representing an approaching city as a circuitboard. In the novel, it’s a memorable visual simile; on screen, its effectiveness is bluntly underlined (you can, literally, see what Pynchon means), though in the context of the film it’s an odd item to just pop up. Most of the rest of the film is more literal, picking out locations and things to show that will (or may) trigger a memory of the appropriate part of the book. That’s where a viewer will get the narrative from — as a film in its own right, it’s unfollowable. As someone in the comments accurately describes it, “This feels like a version of [the novel] done by Microsoft’s Summarize Text feature. It’s all basically there but coherence and cohesion have been thrown out the Windows.”

It’s probably not fair to judge The Crying of Lot 49 by normal moviemaking standards. As a high school project to summarise a novel in a few minutes of video (which it may or may not be), it’s probably alright. Otherwise, though, it’s not worth the seven minutes; not even for die-hard fans of the author and/or novel. It is, you might say, a W.A.S.T.E. of time. #injoke

1 out of 5

The Crying of Lot 49 can be watched on YouTube.

A pair of shorts for summer ³

Time flies: it’s five years since I last did a “pair of shorts for summer” post. But these things linger long in my memory, and so the series (I say “series” — I did two) is revived this year… but only with reposts.

So, we have the two previous “pair of shorts for summer” posts (a pair of pairs!), and the final two archive repost shorts (a new old pair! Or something.) Or, in its own way, 2x2x2 — 2³! I do think these things through y’know (well, sort of).

OK, I agree it’s not really worth getting excited over. But several of the shorts featured are actually very good, so there’s that.

Feast (2014)

2015 #28a
Patrick Osborne | 6 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | USA / English | U / G

FeastThis year’s Best Animated Short Oscar winner is a charming little tale of a dog and his owner. I absolutely adored it, though there’s little doubt that it was helped to victory by being produced by Disney and released theatrically alongside Best Animated Film winner Big Hero 6. I haven’t seen any of the other shorts nominees, but you only have to look at clips of The Bigger Picture and learn a little about how it was made to see that it’s a monumental technical achievement, if nothing else. But I’ve not seen it, so perhaps a nomination was reward enough.

Anyway, Feast is the (mostly-)silent story of a stray dog and his adoptive owner, told from the dog’s point of view through their shared meals. The little dog is the man’s faithful companion, particularly for all the wondrous food he provides, but when the man finds love, will our little canine hero be subjected to healthy food for the rest of his life?

Essentially one long montage, Feast is the very model of economical storytelling. With nary a word of dialogue — certainly, none that drive the plot — we quickly learn everything we need to know, see everything the characters are thinking, and follow their decisions and motivations. It’s obviously a slight tale — it’s only six minutes long — But it's empty!but nonetheless packs an emotional punch. Viewers have been known to shed a little tear (though fear not, dear reader: it doesn’t come via a Marley & Me-type ending).

Whether Feast is the greatest or most groundbreaking short on this year’s ballot, I wouldn’t like to say. It is, however, a lovely rendering of a beautiful little story about, truly, man’s best friend.

5 out of 5

Feast is available on the Blu-ray (and DVD, I guess) release of Big Hero 6, out in the UK today.

Lumet: Film Maker (1975)

2011 #43a
Elliot Geisinger & Ronald Saland | 10 mins | DVD | PG

This ten-minute documentary short is made up of behind-the-scenes footage of some of the filming of Dog Day Afternoon, with the occasional on-set interview with some (to be honest, minor) crew members, snippets of audio interview with Lumet himself, and a voiceover narration.

Today it’s the kind of material that would come out as part of the EPK and be included on the DVD — it has a largely promotional tone, talking about how great Lumet is to work with, how great Pacino is, that kind of thing. From a modern perspective, much of the information is duplicated elsewhere on the DVD, but for those not interested in a two-hour audio commentary it’s here.

What it does still add is footage of Lumet at work. Based on what we see, you can well imagine how he managed to finish the shoot a whole three weeks ahead of schedule, and how he produced such an authentic-feeling final result. There’s the soundman, for instance, who humorously has to dash off halfway through his interview for the next setup.

It feels a bit daft reviewing what would today be just an EPK and/or DVD featurette. But as this comes from a time before those things existed, when it wasn’t designed to go straight to the DVD just for the interested (though I don’t know where it was shown — in cinemas as a kind of extended trailer, I presume? It doesn’t look like a TV special, especially at just ten minutes), it’s a “documentary short” — look, IMDb says it is.

But then, are feature-length DVD ‘making of’s a kind of film too? Lost in La Mancha would have just been the DVD extras, had the film not gone tits up. What about Hearts of Darkness, which is now, pretty much, placed as ‘just’ a Blu-ray extra?

Oh dear, I fear there may be another lengthy and inconclusive waffle coming on…

4 out of 5

How Long is a Minute? (2001)

2010 #103a
Simon Pummell | 1 min | DVD | U

60 seconds, naturally, which is also the length of this film. No surprises there.

At the length of a TV advert, there are two things that are hard with a 60-second short film: one is making them say or do much in such a brief period of time; the other is reviewing the result. Pummell’s point, more or less, is about how the same length of time can feel like a different length of time at either end of life. The film says it much more eloquently than that sentence.

There’s also a final shot that underscores the concept with the idea of youth having an effect on old age. In the sense of a baby and its effect on its grandmother, that is, not some kind of Benjamin Button-esque fantasy.

Though still as slight as a well-conceived advert, Pummell’s film succeeds by not over-reaching itself. He has a single philosophical thought, conveyed succinctly with a mixture of image and sound. That’s worth 60 seconds, surely.

4 out of 5

How Long is a Minute? can be found on the BFI DVD release of Pummell’s feature, Bodysong, or as one of many one-minute films at stopforaminute.com.

Another pair of shorts for summer

The sunny weekend weather is beginning to fade already, heading for a typically dreary Bank Holiday — not that I’m complaining, personally, but I suppose I’m an aberration. Will that be all the summer we get, I wonder? I doubt I’m so lucky. But just in case it does get sunny again, here’s a pair of shorts! Not that you can wear them.

And yes, I did this joke before. Almost a year ago. But it’s such an outstanding slice of humour I figured it would bear repetition. Probably every year.

As per before, neither of these really have a connection, either to summer or to each other, beyond that I’ve had each review sat to post for a while. Click the title for the full review.

Before Sky Captain, there was this: a six-minute reel, shot, edited and, er, special-effects-ed, by Conran on an amateur basis over four years, demonstrating the production techniques and storyline he had in mind for a feature-length homage/reimagining of ’40s cinema serials.

2010 #40a
Pixels

characters and graphics from old 8-bit computer games escape and run riot over New York City. We’re talking Space Invaders firing on real streets, Tetris blocks crashing onto buildings… For people of A Certain Age it’s an explosion of nostalgia, but everyone can be impressed by the CGI on display.


The World of Tomorrow is available on the DVD and Blu-ray of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Pixels is available free online.

A pair of shorts for summer

Neither of these films, or their reviews, have anything significant to do with summer, but that pun was too good to resist.

I say “good”…

there’s no reason that any story shouldn’t be told in animated form… but sometimes, you have to wonder if it’s the best choice for the job. The Wraith of Cobble Hill is a perfect example for this debate as its modern, urban story seems to clash with the cartoonish style employed to bring it to the screen.

to attempt to describe the plot would be to give too much away, which would be a mistake because this is a beautifully shot (in grainy black & white) and performed tale with a distinct, yet subtle, character arc and an important, but not over-egged, moral message.


Both of these shorts are available on the Cinema16: American Short Films DVD.

The Wraith of Cobble Hill (2005)

2009 #4a
Adam Parrish King | 15 mins | DVD

Animation isn’t a genre, it’s a medium, as Brad Bird would be so keen to tell you. As such, there’s no reason that any story shouldn’t be told in animated form… but sometimes, you have to wonder if it’s the best choice for the job.

The Wraith of Cobble HillThe Wraith of Cobble Hill is a perfect example for this debate as its modern, urban story seems to clash with the cartoonish style employed to bring it to the screen. There are no flights of fantasy, few implausible shots, nothing that couldn’t be achieved in live action even on a low budget. Ultimately the only reason for it being animated is, why shouldn’t it be? Personally, I’m not convinced it works; at the very least, it distracted me enough to consider it.

Otherwise, the story is a bit slow paced and perhaps uncertain of what it wants to say. By the end, ignoring the question of if the right form was chosen, I was unsure what it did say — what had actually happened, what had changed. Without giving away the ending, obviously rather a lot changes for one peripheral character, but for the central character it seems to have minimal impact. Well, he acquires a dog…

In short (sorry), The Wraith of Cobble Hill is nicely animated, though you might wonder why. More importantly, you might wonder what it was trying to say.

2 out of 5

This short is available on the Cinema16: American Short Films DVD.

The Lunch Date (1990)

2009 #9a
Adam Davidson | 10 mins | DVD

Short films are paid minimal attention by most people, but a good one can launch a career. Take this, for example, which won the Short Film Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1990 and the Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 1991. Writer/director Davidson may not have had a significant film career since, but he has directed episodes of Dexter, Deadwood, Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order, Lie to Me, Lost, Rome, Shark, Six Feet Under, True Blood, and more. Not all great TV, true, but there are some outstanding series in there and it makes for an impressive CV.

If any short were to kick-start a career it would be The Lunch Date. As with many shorts, to attempt to describe the plot would be to give too much away, which would be a mistake because this is a beautifully shot (in grainy black & white) and performed tale with a distinct, yet subtle, character arc and an important, but not over-egged, moral message. There’s virtually no dialogue, everything conveyed by what Davidson does (and, importantly, doesn’t) show and the performances, particularly that of Scotty Bloch as the central Lady.

Some of the film’s power rests in a neat twist, cunningly obscured by intelligent blocking and timing of other plot elements. Personally I saw it coming, but that didn’t diminish its point. It’s also worth nothing that none of the twenty-or-so others I was watching with spotted the twist ahead of time and they all seemed to find it even more effective.

Why short films are ignored is a discussion for another time, but The Lunch Date is an outstanding example of why they shouldn’t be.

5 out of 5

The Lunch Date is available on the Cinema16: American Short Films DVD.

In 2013 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.