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A Short Film: Lights Out

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Even at the age of 25, I find it impossible to walk from downstairs to upstairs with the lights completely off. Perhaps it’s from taking one too many punches with horror movies and their “darkness is full of murders” attitudes. Or maybe it’s because I am a bit of wimp. But if you don’t launch yourself up the stairs the minute you flick the living room lights off. Or lunge across the landing for your mid-morning piss, then you are a braver person than I am.

Lights Out a film by David Sanberg and Lotte Losten was the first film to crop up on a somewhat haphazard Google search. Written for B Horror Challenge Who’s There? this is a two minute effective short that spooks you during the daylight as well as the night. A woman turning off the light to turn into the bed sees a figure at the end of the hallway every time she flips the switch…..

The idea is really simple and that’s probably why it is effective. Playing on a fear that everyone experiences, unless you are Chuck Norris, Sanberg and Losten cram a lot of terror into a handful of minutes. The slight shadow, the unnerving way it doesn’t move and that “less is more” aspect allows little claws of fight to scrape down your back. As the small jolts and jumps build, the film becomes ghastly. Lights Out keeps that element of fear as a residual effect from childhood of monsters in the shadows, lights that are saviours and that ultimate hero – the blanket. It’s a small but it will make you shit yourself. Not one to watch before you go to bed.

You’ll be rocketing up the stairs in the quickest way.

 

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A Short Mission: Super Zero

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How would you survive a zombie apocalypse? Would you run for your life? Or maybe you’d hole yourself up with a lifetime supply of beans? Perhaps you, like me, will accept your inevitable fate and go out in a blaze of glory and epic one-liners, killing as many people as possible so that you’re loved ones could escape. Of all the endless possibilities of the eventual doom that will reap the souls of Earth, I bet the one thing you didn’t think off is having a debilitating spine cord disease that makes zombies believe that you are already dead. Enter the magnificent Super Zero.

The story follows engineer Josh who received a dreaded phone call: he is dying. After much contemplation, he has resigned himself to that and instead of living life to the fullest, he lounges around mulling over his misfortune. However, when a space rocket crashes back to Earth, it brings an extra-terrestrial virus along for the ride that turns the people into monsters the minute they come in contact with it. Josh, after be-friended a group of survivors including the love of his life, discovers that his machines make great weapons and his disease is an almighty plus.

Super Zero is the kind of short film that packs an almighty punch and is just begging for an entire series of fun and action. This could possibly be the best superhero origin story without there being dead parents or spider bites. Josh is the kind of character you immediately empathise with because he seems wholly realistic. He’s a nerd, spending the first half of the film being undeniably droll, sarcastic and lazy thanks to his lack of will to care. Helped by actor Umberto Celisano’s talent and a fully fleshed script, Josh is an amazing protagonist to follow.

Mitch Cohen combines different elements here to make it all work. Able to balance comedy and gruesomeness alongside a rather darker theme (dead man walking hero verses, well, dead men walking), Cohen’s awareness of small bites of fright and hilarity give Super Zero this fresh edge. It pulsates with this wholly original spirit that overblows on one component. Combined with a stellar cinematography, wondering machinery that has us nerding out and an abundance of great characters; this is Firefly meets The Walking Dead with just a little dash of Kick-Ass. Phenomenally done, Cohen’s Super Zero not only needs a huge fanbase – it demands it.

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A Short Mission: Skinship

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Most of us yearn to be touched. We spend a large proportion of our lives trying to feel just a brush of skin. After all, we live in a hyper-technological state (which I am fully aware I’ve mentioned before but as filmmakers are utilising it for all their films, I kinda have to). Anyway, people’s hands spend more time attached to a metallic box that has swipey functions and a camera than they do locked into someone else’s. If you spend most of your time without contact, you could feel as cold and distant from the human race as a phone or laptop.

If you feel like this, then do not be afraid, Skinship is a film that will bring you back to your senses.

Directed by Nicola Wong, this is a beautiful and entirely sensual film about an almost dystopian world where human contact is pretty much nil. A woman feeling lost in this unfeelling and callous life, where even her husband doesn’t touch her, finds a way to feel like herself again. She visits a mysterious woman who, for a small price, reconnects her with her senses.

Wong’s utterly captivating film will send shivers down your own skin and that is largely the point. The narrative, filled with this exquisite imagery and drenched in these outstanding colours that enhance the experience, is sublimely done. Wong juxtaposes the colour of the sessions with the black, white and grey world that is abundant in our lead’s life – which adds more heat to the moments between the two women. There, Skinship focuses on this intense empty emotion and fills it up slowly. Like teasing the audience with this delicate feather, Wong is careful not to allow too much to slip too quickly – especially with the character who feels all her urges burst at once when she is finally attended too. Now, this may sound like it’s leading to sex but that’s where Wong’s direction cleverly works. This isn’t about sex, this is about tantric and sensual connection. It focuses on this fingertip brush that allows you to feel alive again. Pulled along by the riveting performance by Anna Marie Cseh, who captures the isolation and alien feeling as well as the re-vitalisation so beautifully.

Skinship is an awakening – evocative in every sense of the term – and the powerful short film is completely breath-taking.

Skinship is making it’s ways around festivals – make sure you feel alive again 

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A Short Mission: Bachelorette

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Arguably, everybody in the entire world has probably seen a short film. It all depends on your outlook of the genre. If an advert is crafted well, it can become this mini story of epic proportions only with an agenda to sell you stuff (which, with the abundance of product placement and the state of blockbuster films, is pretty much what features do anyway…cough cough…Frozen.) But what about the music video? Now, we’re not talking about the ones where girls in scantily clad outfits grind up against men in da club or the ones where boybands dance around yachts and islands talking about gorgeous ladies.

I’m talking about the music videos that tell a story alongside their songs. One of the few artists who utilises the art of the music video, whilst roping in some of the best directors around, is Bjork. She carves out some of the most excellent pieces of art that transcend just representing the music and becomes this mini-films of brilliance. Though there are many of her music videos that you could choose, a particular favourite is Bachelorette.

Directed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s Michel Gondry, Bachelorette is a succession from previous characters in music videos such as Isobel and Human Behaviour, seeing the “Isobel” character head off into the city after finding a self-writing book that dictates her life. Falling in love with a publisher, the book becomes a success and is soon developed into a musical.

Not only is the song fantastic, a poetic and great depiction of love and loss, but Gondry’s visuals fit into incredibly well. Taking a surrealist tone and stage setting as the Bachelorette repeats her situations that get smaller and smaller as the film progresses, Gondry astutely captures the spirit of the song whilst also conveying the claustrophobia of losing love. Drenched in wonderful colour that spring to life when the “Isobel in the woods” comes out of her black and white settings, the video greatly comes into vivid life. As the world becomes bigger, it’s clear the Bachelorette feels as though she is losing herself and Gondry cleverly creates this wonderful visual piece to match Bjork’s evocative song.

It’s one of many examples of making a short film out of a music video.

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A Short Mission: Eaten Horizon s

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There is a fine line between surrealist cinema and throwing a bunch of images together and calling it art. It is the same with any art, really: someone can shit stain toilet paper and people get nuts but what is the meaning behind it all? Sometimes with exquisite masterminds such as Salvador Dali, those random images can coherently string a meaning together that evolves over time (for example, his work with Luis Bunuel in Un Chein Andalou is one of the best). So Danish filmmaker Jørgen Roos and Wilhelm Freddie around the 1950’s, teamed up for Eaten Horizons (which you can, and will, make pretty comparisons with the other two jokers previously mentioned).

So as this is a surrealist movie, there is not much in the way of plot – what makes Eaten Horizons quite an impressive short? Well, for one, it has been likened to Cronenberg’s experience with body horror and for that, it’s worth a gander. As for the themes, there is actually quite a lot you can take from it. It’s an amalgamation of the body in the nude form. Which is mostly female and if we were going to go down that route then I suppose it’s either a celebration of the feast that is a supple nude lady or indeed, that is exactly how men see us – but that’s a complete in-depth scene by scene analysis for another time. Yes, that’s coming. The entwining of bread and meat with the body in this succession of oddities highlights both the importance of food or at a deeper level, how the life is “eat or be eaten.” There is penance within jail and that imagery is likened to being trapped without the simple pleasures of life (sex and hearty meals). It’s in this that the film becomes this impressive short that is delectable in themes.

At under four minutes, the film does a lot of greatness and gives you enough to chew other. Though, if surrealism isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll be left with a bad taste on your tongue – mainly, you will lap up its (debatable) messages for a while.

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A Short Mission: Knick Knack

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Pixar is one of those studios that will always be met with quiet admiration (or wide-eyed obsessive wailing). Their film portfolio is brimming with delightful and astonishingly visual movies that are created by clicking a mouse (which is a lot more hard work than that sentence made out). From the much beloved Toy Story series to the stirring Wall.E and all the innovative movies that came between, Pixar is often seen and revered as the greatest computer animation studios of all time. And quite rightly so. You cannot earn as many Oscars as the team has done without having a bustling array of talent and story-telling skills. However, as the ominously silent opening tells us, this 1989 short Knick Knack was one of the first shorts that John Lasseter and crew made. And because it centres on a Snowman, I am straining my article on it to cater to the Christmas season.

Knick Knack tells the story of souvenir brick-a-brack all lazing about on the shelf. Equipped with sunglasses, the bouncing palm trees, flamingos and a blonde haired woman all merrily dance with the spirit of whatever summery place  they were brought in. A Snowman, caged in his winter scene, looks on with jealousy and when he is invited by the beautiful lady, he endeavours to escape his lair in order to join the festivities. But the snow-globe is a lot tougher to break than it looks.

The story and the animation are, true, dated (you’d hardly get away with showing a Snowman who wants to bone a plastic big bosomed figure before you settle down for Toy Story 10 or whatever these days). However, there is a rambunctious spirit throughout it that relies on the old humour of films such as Laurel and Hardy; the film was openly inspired by Tom & Jerry too. Combining all the elements of slapstick and visual puns, Knick Knack is helped by the jovial antics that the Snowman goes through to escape his snow-globe cage. This has a fun element to it that will please audiences everywhere who wish to visit the small roots that this great studios began with. The inspiration for Toy Story is clear here (what with stationary objects springing to life) and it smatters of a happy and glee-filled origin for the animation giants that we hold in high regard today.

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A Short Mission: I Remember April

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There are people in this world who are often eschewed by the people around them because they quake with this deluded confidence that feels awkward in the atmosphere. You’ve met them, rabbiting on down the pub and unearthing these darker secrets as they desperately try to play this character, on top of the world and without a care. They jabber on with this narrative that is unwavering but off somehow. Trying to be tougher, hard and more confident than their mind is letting on. In film, it’s really hard to balance a character like this and make them watchable, somewhat likeable yet still convey the problems underlying. Rob Hurtt’s great and rather darkly comic film I Remember April is just that short to do this.

It’s the festive period and scummy, pathetic man Douglas is making his rounds to friends and colleagues. As he stops to visit shop keeper Dave’s, he regales about what is going great in his life and his lost love April. But is his speech just hiding a much more visceral undertone as he hides his true feelings with tales of grandeur, love and more.

I Remember April is a rather endearing whilst uncomfortable watch. Hurtt’s writing is so terrifically realistic that Dougie leaps off the screen becoming this character that you would see in the middle of the street and would avoid eye contact with. It’s a perceptively written role that Hurtt directs with this humanistic realness. The dialogue absorbs you into the quaking mind-set and defines him, giving him much depth and substance.

What really works for I Remember April is the terrific performance by Eric Colvin. As he recounts his mischiefs and his memories, Colvin is aware of how to make Dougie tick and sublimely gives him little nuances to flesh him out. He holds back when he should and then erratically gives Dougie a frantic nature that is compelling. It’s Colvin that delivers the almighty script and delivers it extremely well that you unfold with Dougie and are shocked when he makes a darker confession.

An enthralling performance combined with clever dialogue and direction, I Remember April is a charming yet gloomy short.

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A Short Film: Touched

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Ever since we caught his work at Shorts On Tap – Beyond Scotland, we’ve all be extremely excited to see the rise of director Jeremiah Quinn. His previous work was the brilliant and stunning The Strange Death of Harry Stanley and was certainly remarkable for the excellent shifts in narrative viewpoints, the emotional vein that trickled the reality of the story throughout it and the excellent cinematography and aesthetic. As Quinn celebrates the release of his film Incognito, whilst climbing his way up the cinematic ladder of greatness, let’s have a look at his previous work; the touching (sorry) Touched.

The film follows a young lover who has had her heart broken. Lost and abandoned on greenery of Hampstead Heath, she reminds herself, bitterly, of the love that she has lost through the engravings of the benches nearby. Can connecting to the ghosts of lovers past help heal her or plunge her further into despair?

Visually captivating, Touched is a fine example of how Quinn utilises the beauty of the park around our heroine whilst using the imagery to enhance the story. Though the narration can teeter somewhat into artistic pretention (which never hurt anyone, by the way, but may be off putting for some who’d rather the imagery speak for itself), the combination of sublime beauty and heartbreak is one that many people will relate to. As she ventures through the throne of nature, nestled in the heart of a bustling city, she connects with herself and her sorrow and it’s easy to get lost in this optical poetry. It’s rather brilliant, if a bit short. But Touched serves a small purpose, perhaps to help you deal with our own lost love issues. And director Quinn delicate handles it to great effect.

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A Short Mission: Basla Wood

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I would like to dedicate this to my lovely friend Carrie. While that may not be the most conventional way to start a review, ten seconds into this film just brimmed with the jovial dual cultural spirit that my adoring friend Carrie has. Though, understandably people are always different, the combined heritage of British and Filipino does brim in her. So in this delightful and humorous Balsa Wood, the understanding of reaching out to distant relatives and keeping in touch with your roots is one that people I know will engage terrifically with.

Starring the brilliant Jessica Henwick and Doctor Who’s recent Dr. Chang Andrew Leung, it centres on a loving family and two mixed race siblings who are taken to their distant Filipino relatives. Caught between two nationalities and two heritages, Scotty is forced to confront her own identity as she feels like an outcast in her own family. Sweet and charming, Balsa Wood is a wonderful little short that help you connect with your blood-line.

Directed by Dominique Lecchi and supported by backers thanks to Kickstarter, this is a rather endearing short film that encapsulates the clash between distant relatives and the new generations. Whilst not explicitly showing the turmoil as Scotty explores a new part of her family, Henwick and the writing allow it to bubble underneath and thus enthuse this delicate charisma to it. With wit, both visual and through the impressively realistic dialogue between the family members, especially Scotty and her brother Ted. There is a true heart with intellect behind this that Lecchi gloriously writes. Alongside this, she enhances the tale with this gorgeous countryside setting and phenomenal cinematography that drenches it in colourful sunshine.

Though it may seem slow, it is paced delectably with gentle comedy and humanity. Basla Wood is a magnificent and intriguing little short with a warming end, beating down in the sleep countryside. With strong acting, intense spirit and a glorious aesthetic. This is a superb charmer.

While the film is unavailable, it is making the way around film festivals. Here’s an interview with the director though!

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A Short Mission: WeWi

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There is always something so exquisite about dancing. No. No not the kind of acting where your drunken limbs flail so enthusiastically that you look like a drugged up spider. The kind that professionals undertake. Street dance, ballet, interpretive – it all mystifies in this spectacular way. So when short film, however experimental or without plot it may be, there is a level of excellence from the dancing that automatically drags you into the tale. Add that to wonderful cinematography and a sublime beach back drop and the greatly and bizarrely named WeWi is a little random short that you’ll enjoy.

Presented by Channel 4’s Random Acts and directed sublimely by, David Allain  a part of its programme during the late of night as well as commissioned by Dazed and Confused, WeWi is a beautiful and stirring short film. As the wind rolls into the coast, curling with the sea and breaking against the sand, two people connect across the whirling breeze and being to dance emotively. As they are caught into a cycle of movements, the erratic yet evocative movements start to push them apart as they battle different elements. Can their magnetic energy pull through?

Sometimes, Channel 4’s Random Acts is a little hit and miss or a little too surreal for But with WeWi, it is a delicately done and thoroughly absorbing piece that harnesses three art-forms in such a stirring way. The redolent score alongside the engaging dance movements with this beautiful cinematography make this a visual cinematic feast that pulls you into a story told by dance movements. Though there is little with plot, there still a story conveyed but the brilliant dancers Luke Divall and choreographer Emma Chadwick, are able to dance their emotions and characters. WeWi is a divine dance with nature too, plunging their feet and hands into the dirt and sand. It’s this visual filth with the beauty of the movements that conflict and therefore makes the interpretive film a little bit more incredible.

It’s superb

 

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A Short Mission: Comedienne

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I have had a whole slew of short films fall into my lap that have fooled me at the title. Death by Chocolate, for example, was not about the perfect way to die (massive amounts of suffocation thanks to Cadbury’s Dairy Milk). Siren wasn’t about some beautiful bisexual mermaid luring unsuspecting lovers to their watery graves. And Comedienne, whilst featuring the titular job, isn’t actually funny – teetering more to the sentimental backbone between a pair of jokers, rather than tickling your humerus. And in many respects, that is actually a good thing here. It’s just a shame that it is stretched a little thin.

Starring Lucy Dixon, who some will recognise as Tilly from Hollyoaks, and Roger Bingham, it revolves around a young girl who aspires to be a, well, comedienne. Unfortunately, her first exploration on stage sees her shot down before she could tell any jokes. When she confronts him, the pair start to form an unlikely friendship as he helps her with her act. Directed by Thomas Pickering and written by James Pickering, Comedienne isn’t a laugh a minute but it has a soul to it.

Despite throwing emotional curve balls into the pit and focusing on the poignancy rather than the wit, Comedienne suffers from not having much depth. Mainly because it spreads a lot of issues across a twenty minute slot rather than focusing on one  Instead, it feels as though this furtive little life confessions that happen to the pair divulge in happens too often and too fast in this constant one up of whose world is more depressing. Incidentally, while the performances are good (Dixon is impressive here whilst Bingham feels a little stale until he leaps into excellent in the third act) and the relationship between the pair is great; unfortunately, the atmosphere just feels awkward and unsure of itself.

There is a saying that less is more when it comes to cinema and Comedienne could definitely strip its act back a bit. After all, for a short – you have to effectively convey the visceral vein without slapping it around your audiences’ cheeks. Unfortunately, the drama is strained here which makes for muddled viewing. The film is good but needs tightening.

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A Short Mission: “…less”

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Unemployment is a hefty and heavy word that is placed on an ever rising number of people yearly. That excruciating daily weight drags you further down into the pits of despair with no ground to hit. You are floating in this miserable atmosphere believing on a daily basis that you are worthless, because you are jobless. And because of it, you are penniless, nearly homeless and you are soon to be hopeless. Taking that affix and making it titular, Ashlee Coughlan (from the great horror short “shhh”) is a small look into the turmoil that many unemployed people feel “…less” is the day in the life of someone unemployed and how they are constantly belittled, dragged down and made to feel less than human.

As someone who has battled against notions that I am equally lazily or apathetic because I have been unemployed, the emotions here are important and vital. Doused in black and white, giving it an added layer of dread is effective. The brilliant aspects is threading the visceral backbone into the imagery; a blurred face, a smashed laptop and relentless bills all mark pivotal emotional moments within our heroes life. There is also the added strong acting from Jason Perryman who accurately conveys the frustration and anger from a world repeatedly saying “no”.

However, that being said, “…less” suffers from being somewhat over sentimental with its storytelling and is hampered by shaky camera work.  It’s a good effort from the upcoming filmmaker but it’s not an incredible one, showing Coughlan just needs to hone in his storytelling skill.

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