Showing posts with label short film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label short film. Show all posts

Sunday, November 14, 2021

All Too Well (2021)

All Too Well could be considered 'the song' for Taylor Swift's fanbase. It's tough, but not impossible, to find fans who voice an opinion for it above okay. If they do, they're certainly outdone by the legions who have been singing, nay screaming, the lyrics back to Swift for the past ten years. With Taylor working on the re-releases of her past albums, there are expectations of more songs from her vault to come. But none have accomplished the hype for one of her most popular ballads. It's this special  reverence - about a seemingly casual break-up that provokes cruel and painful memories - that has had fans begging Taylor to release an extended ten minute version, and now she's finally delivered.

As a certified Swiftie, All Too Well is one of my favorites of hers. It's not my most beloved song, but it's cathartic to listen to, to shout-sing when I'm left reeling by the world or a person in my life. And though I follow along with fun updates and crazy-ass theories with the fandom, I can't say for sure I ever wanted the extended version. It'd be fun to listen to, sure, but I mostly wandered if it would add anything new. It'll be blasphemy to say - in comparison to the rest of the internet - but Taylor's Version of All Too Well was reasonably good enough on a first listen. The added imagery heightened the lyrics and will also simply take some getting used - since like so many, I know the original track forwards and backwards, sideways and diagonal. I love the addition of several new lines and metaphors here and there, but I was still left wondering what was new that added to the song that made my emotions echo everyone else the second this version dropped online.

And, that answer really came with the short film starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O'Brian.

"I walked through the door with you, the air was cold / But something 'bout it felt like home somehow / And I left my scarf there at your sister's house / And you've still got it in your drawer, even now /" as well as "Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place / And I can picture it after all these days" sets the stage - a familiarity of a new relationship starting, a blossoming of love when Mother Nature is going into hibernation, the adventurous innocence and hope of something to live for. Swift starts by taking the audience upstate, exuding the long road ahead of ups and downs. On the surface it seems like nothing can go wrong; surely, this will have an happy ending. As we lean into the 2 minute mark, things divert into a horror movie. Bright dispositions are laced with passive-aggression. Sink might be wrapped O'Brian's arms but the embraces are practically empty. Passion seems to boil with the slightest sign of affection, but withdrawing it all leaves her dead in her tracks and questioning everything. 

Instead of moving the film's settings along at the same pace of the song, Swift cleverly avoids making this another music video. It's simultaneously a vignette of memories but also a story that's progressively moving forward. For the first two acts, she focuses more on the relationship between herself and Jake-Gyllenhaal-Or-Not-Jake. There's no real need for the lyrics to line up exactly with the imagery. Yet, at the video's most poignant moments, she manages to do both without feeling too forced or rushed. She's not strictly going by her own words to tell the story to build up the bridge, but at the same time she is.

As director and writer of the song she wrote about her life, it could be easy to take that personalization a little too far - to not see the forest from the trees. The best places where Swift casts distance between herself and the story is the casting. Sink creates the balance of being a young girl becoming increasingly aware of how broken and twisted this relationship is; she's not a blank canvas but she's not an impersonation of Swift either. And, O'Brien, I hate to say it, immediately captures the essence of a douchebag with his anger-driven expressions in the eyes practically casting aspersions towards her, the mocking apologies, and white-man-hipster bruised ego. They hold down the story where Swift's attention to detail is both a strength and a hindrance.

For the back-half of the song, however, Swift struggles to keep up her own pace. Most of the 'script' navigates her lyrics without being too on the nose. But, her inclination to spell out what's happening on screen can be distracting. Here, she uses title cards to mark the various beats she's already hitting naturally. On their own, they're just harmless title cards. But as the story wraps up between 'the breaking point, the reeling, the remembering', the newer verses (3 and 5 in particular) feel rushed. Taylor initially uses the song to show that this moment in her life is impossible to forget, yet proved that pain could be forged creatively and take on new meaning. She loosely shows the connection between the characters so they aren't screaming the meaning of the lyrics at us. As the new additions pivots to the "nameless" heartbreaker remembering the relationship, we're left to wonder why he wouldn't just return the scarf and make amends. Does he recognize the heartbreak he caused too much to do anything about it after all this time, or still just to ignorant to be anything but an observer from the sidelines? Has too much time passed now to even try to make up for what was lost? The ending doesn't focus on vague imagery anymore, but it's trying to squeeze in both narratives that the film doesn't have enough room for.

Swift can be and is recognized for having a reputation of extremes - taking what the critics say and proving them wrong; reaching unexpected places with every new album or era; hinting countless easter eggs that fans sort through and predict her next move. Not many artists would probably consider dropping a whole short film for an old-new song, but Taylor does. While I'm a huge fan but not always on the same page of extremes the fandom goes to, or Swift herself, I think she did a good job here with creating a short film that puts into context the extent of the pain of All Too Well  emanates- especially for those like me who might not automatically relate to the extended version or understand its vision.

Swift's film directorial debut is a gift for the fans, but where Swift saves face is not by crowding it with so many easter eggs that it's alienating to non-fans. Swifties can still watch this and pick it apart, or pass it onto non-fans to say 'hey check this out' without needing an advanced degree in her career or the song itself. It can be the new starter park to becoming a Swiftie or another familiar tune in a long list of familiar tunes by her. This, in itself, will make the song an even grander masterpiece to be remembered all too well.

Rating: ★★☆

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Hearts Want (2018)

Two former lovers Lily (Sam Simmons) and Jacques (Peter Christian Hansen) reunite for a play and face the consequences of a past secret that threatens to tear them apart forever. 

As a debut short film by writer Ruth Maramis of FlixChatter, Hearts Want offers a satisfying deep-dive about love and loss in such a short running time and the potential to see it as a feature-length film. Though it's only about 15 minutes long, sparks fly with the chemistry and character development to invest yourself in Lily and Jacques's relationship right from the start. The unspoken connection between the duo lends to an established repore between the Simmons and Hansens' performances and lets the conflict between their characters - a secret Lily is holding onto and vices that sweep Jacques away - culminate on its own.

Maramis's script doesn't let one scene go to waste in building the tension between the two leads, the impact they have on each other after years of separation, and where it could lead. Her strongest suit is that both are not particularly demonized for their past or choices - they're both flawed characters who will need to find a new way of dealing with a big secret. If given the space for a feature length film, it's easy to imagine how the story would progress with more of Maramis' inspiration from Jane Austen's Persuasion and build further with an in-depth running time and story. Director Jason P. Schumacher also maintains a steady hand with the pacing of every scene from a brief glimpse of the characters' reuniting on stage to the more coarse drama going on off of it.

Hearts Want is a sound short debut that is worthy to check out. The film has gained recognition in festivals around the world including Best Audience Award at The Twin Cities Film Fest. It's available on Amazon Prime with a subscription as well as to buy and rent.

Rating: ★★

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Short Films Collection at Athena Film Festival 2021

The Athena Film Festival is the premier festival celebrating and showcasing women's leadership in documentaries and feature films as well as in-depth conversations with industry experts. One of their prominent program areas features short films grouped into specific themes that explore and highlight a wide range of issues from climate change to social justice movements.

This year’s festival included several themes including Resilience Through Uncertainty, Nothing About Us Without Us, and Tear It Down: Dismantling White Supremacy. While covering the festival this month, I had access to short films from each of these sections and provide reviews to my selections below.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Meeting Brown (2019) Personalizes the Divide between Love, Race and Racism

What do you do when the one you love turns out to be the opposite of what you thought? Great relationships can feel like they’re built on honesty and trust, but one brief meeting with her fiance’s best man Richard (Andrew J. Cornelius) changes everything for Alex (Diana Gonzalez-Morett) – a hopeful Latinx bride who sees her white partner’s true colors about their cultural differences.

Meeting Brown draws attention to the complex lines drawn between love, race, and racism. Director and writer Ana Lydia Monaco, a rising Latina filmmaker, tackles diversity by bringing representation to women of color to the screen with experiences from her own community. Realizing how often she didn’t see herself and fellow people of color onscreen, Monaco’s transformed her observations with bicultural couples to create a distinct narrative about life as a woman of color.

Nervous yet excited for her doubtful maid-of-honor to meet her fiancĂ© John (Sean Dube) and his best man, Alex believes John is exactly the man she wakes up to every morning. Life is seemingly smooth between the two of them until that fateful evening when the four of them spend time together – or rather, Alex and Rocio (Sonia Diaz) try to navigate Richard’s ignorant remarks about their heritage and identity while John goes along with the "jokes". His continual dismissal of his future wife's feelings and invites an alarming realization to Alex about his own excuses about Richard’s behavior. Monaco’s script paces well between the dreamy state of bliss Alex thought her life was and the slow realization of John's beliefs aren't what she ever imagined.

Even though the film’s primary focus of the cracks deepening in a romantic relationship, there’s a genuine relevance, especially in our current political climate, of how much we might be expected to accept other people’s behaviors as they are. It might be out of fear of losing or creating a rift between a family member, friend, or acquaintance, there's a personal responsibility of recognize what individuals of other communities withstand and persevere. How we treat someone’s culture in our own lives speaks to how society treats minorities on a whole – women, people of color, LGBTQ, people with disabilities. Meeting Brown is succinct and to the point of how what most consider microaggressions, small acts of ignorance, start to add up whether we are bystanders or in the direct line of dangerous judgement and attacks.

As a ten minute short film, Meeting Brown presents a thorough examination of what Latina women encounter. Her cast carries the story well with performances by Gonzalez-Morett, Sean Dube, Sonia Diaz, and Andrew J. Cornelius. Even though there is an increasing divide between the film's leads, the actors share a palpable chemistry together as their idyllic relationship starts to present true issues. Monaco’s attention to detail and the experiences she has witnessed in her own life creates a refreshing defiance of the typical roles women of color are presented with on-screen and shines a light on the daily conflicts they encounter in real life.

Please Note: I was provided with a screener of this movie in exchange for an honest review. Meeting Brown is currently making the rounds at film festivals this year. Check out more of Ana Lydia Monaco past and current work at her official website.

Rating: ★★☆

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Monday (2018) Packs A Big Punch For The Short Film Circuit

Sometimes it's not the budget that makes a short film good, it's the production team rallying behind it that counts. Following in director Robert Rodriguez's footsteps, independent filmmaker Alejandro Montoya Marin participated on El Rey's network show Rebel Without A Crew where creators banded together to create an original film. Armed with $7,000, no crew, two days to prep and fourteen days to film his project, Marin creates a fun action movie reminiscent of today's blockbusters.

Jim (Jamie H. Jung)'s life is about to change in the worst ways when he loses his job and his girlfriend gives up on their relationship. Caught in the crossfire of two hit women aiming to take down a drug cartel, Jim is on the run for his life and standing up for himself once and for all.

As the story counts down Jim's day starting off as bad as it can be and only getting more bleak and chaotic from there, what Martin and the cast were able to put together in such a short amount of time shines. Each actor has a fitting on-screen presence for their characters and working well as an ensemble. It's difficult to single out any singular actor in particular, but Kenneth McGlothin exudes a perfect big personality as Jim's friend Paul and Anna Schatte/Sofia Embid have a commanding, intimidating bad-ass presence as the hit women at odds with each other's plans. But the entire cast has good comedic timing and offers solid reminders of similar action-comedies like Horrible BossesThe Other Guys or 21 Jump Street . It's also worth it to stay through the end credits for bloopers and a post-story catch-up with Jim's old business acquaintance.

Monday showcases a lot of potential for Marin as a filmmaker. The story trails in the footsteps of comedies and action movies that you would see today with leading stars like The Rock or Kevin Hart. His direction is seamless, especially with the sound editing adding clever bytes for specific lines of dialogue and an energetic soundtrack. As the writer of the film too, there's a real sense of love for film-making with Marin's clever dialogue and nods to pop culture. The only slight stumbles are a few one-liners that feel random and out of place. However, it's tough to imagine how much of a rush the production must have been to work together, but the limitations doesn't show in the slightest. For a film that only runs an hour long, there's a lot to unpack and it makes for a fun Friday night short film to check out. Hopefully it's the start of bigger and better films to come for everyone.

Please Note: I was provided with a screener of this movie in exchange for an honest review. You can currently watch Monday on Apple Itunes.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you watched Monday? What did you think?

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Story of 90 Coins (2015) charmingly explores the promises of love

When we in fall in love, we tend to make a lot of promises. But what happens when love itself can't be kept? Director Michael Wong makes his directorial debut with The Story of 90 Coins, a beautifully composed short film exploring the complexity of falling in love - how it is a commitment, the fresh spark between two people, and the complications of regret.

Wang Yuyang (Han Dongjun) wants to be with Chen Wen (Zhuang Zhiqi), an aspiring fashion designer, for the rest of their lives. But she doesn't feel the same way. At first, he makes a promise to prove his love to her for 90 days. Every time they meet he gives her a coin. At the end of the deadline, if she still feels the same way they will merely use the coins to toast each other farewell. Otherwise, they'll eventually use their collection to get married. Along the way a relationship blossoms and the promise of the coins falls away. But Chen isn't fully committed in the relationship as he is; she's aiming to own a house in the city and take her fashion career to the next level, thus calling into question what happens when love needs to be more than a promise.

For a film that runs less than ten minutes, it's simple and straightforward as well as absolutely charming and sweet. While jumping into this world, the production design lusciously takes the frame of a theatrical motion picture. Han Dongjun and Zhuang Zhiqi are captivating leads as they explore their characters similarities and differences. It's easy to feel everything they do throughout the highs and lows their on-screen relationship.

It's difficult not to walk away from this story without harboring a lot of feelings to ruminate. The coins act as their "in" for falling in love and marking the wonderful memories they made. A promise of love is alluring and might lead to a grander experience, but relationships also require understanding and engagement from both sides. The parallel of Yuyang and Wen falling in love and growing apart tugs at heartstrings in all of the right places.

The film fills in a lot for nine and a half minutes, which works for and against the movie's favor. As simple and poetic as the simple piano score by Wei An is, at times it felt distracting and repetitive, taking me out of the journey portrayed by the actors. The other issue belongs slightly to the script which crops up a lot of questions about the couple without feeling like they're properly answered. The story itself could've used a bit of fine-tuning in terms of conflict or exploring more of the disconnect between Wang and Chen. Depending on where your heart lies on whether or not the couple should stay together, the ending can feel abrupt. But otherwise, there's so little significant downfalls to pick on.

As a directorial debut, The Story of 90 Coins is an impressive short film. Wong and the cast have earned top prizes at prestigious festivals around the world since it premiered in 2015. Having previously been an art and creative director in advertisement, there are influences of that industry throughout, but the short still manages to be remarkably well-rounded. Speaking to the complications and joys of falling in love, the story is truly touching with two talented leads and gorgeous production design. To watch The Story of 90 Coins, it's available on Vimeo.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you watched The Story of 90 Coins?
What did you think?