Watch: “The Birth of the Lightsaber”

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“Star Wars”  fan or not, this is something every movie nerd should see. This short documentary (or featurette, as some prefer to call it) lets you peek behind the scenes of one of the most iconic films of all time and understand the origins of the most bad-ass weaponry in popular culture – the lightsaber. From the ideas and inspirations all the way to the ins and outs of pulling it off with special effects (in the 70’s, mind you), the story of the Jedi weapon is very entertaining and – most of all – informative. Now, I have no idea how much of what George Lucas is trying to tell me is actually true, because he’s known for trying to re-write history, but a lot of logic and thought must have gone into designing everything about the prop that changed the pop-culture. Plus, there’s more than a handful of really cool factoids and pieces of trivia about the movie-making magic to be discovered in that short, and nothing’s more fun at parties than a guy casually sharing his “Star Wars” wisdom. Am I right?

Watch: Wes Anderson’s style and idiosyncracies

Enjoyed “The Grand Budapest Hotel”? Why not learn more about its auteur director Wes Anderson and his very unusual film-making style. It’ll only take you a few minutes, but it will undoubtedly expand your appreciation towards this guy’s work, which – let’s be honest – is one of a kind.

Enjoy!

See also:

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Magnificent, hilarious, bizarre…

Watch: “The Motion Picture Camera – Past, Present, and Future”

It will take only 4 minutes of your life, but if you’re a fan of film and the film-making process, it sure is worth checking out. This very short film will take you on a journey through time and show you how the medium has evolved over time together with the craft of catching images on film. Plus, there might be a challenge involved: how many films can you recognize from the clips? Continue reading

Shortcake #19 – “One Last Dive” and “2AM”

It’s not my usual m.o. to blog when I’m at work, but since I have a short space of time to spare and nobody’s looking I decided to give it a bash and put something together. Right, so it happens that I managed to start off my day in a pleasurably disturbing way by having these two short films accompany me while I was finishing my coffee.

“One Last Dive” is a minute-long single-take film directed by Jason Eisener (“Hobo with a shotgun”), so I can’t really say that it’s an amateur job. There’s not much to say about something that lasts only 69 seconds; it was shot for a “3:07 AM Project” (conceived as a part of the viral campaign for “The Conjuring”) that actually imparts the format of the film (1 minute, 1 take) and the genre. I’ll definitely sit down and watch the remaining three shorts (that you can watch here), and I can already tell by “One last dive” that at least Eisener knows what he’s doing. The film is creepy and disturbing, even though there’s not much of a story there, but in being absolutely terrifying, it’s done the job pretty well, I must say. And the fact everything takes place under water with limited visibility only serves to amplify the claustrophobic sense of threat.

“2AM” is a freshly released short produced by Go For Broke Pictures that has managed to make a bit of a splash on Youtube by raking in a million views in under 72 hours. Directed by Michael Evans, the film is an adaptation of an allegedly true story found on Reddit and while by the end it might have strayed away from it, it still remains pretty disturbing. I should only hope that it was all made up and none of that was actually true, because I would not like to find myself in a situation like his. And if I did, I would probably never be able to sleep again. Nicely done, shot with a pro angle making nice use of the depth of field to capitalize on the fear, “2AM” makes for 4 minutes of decent horror. And if you buy into the story’s origins – well, then you’re in for a ride.

Shortcake #18 – “Conscription”

Whenever we think of war and its repercussions, we almost invariably have in mind an entire string of cliché pictures from the dying soldiers, through holocaust victims, refugees, to pretty much who looks like he has lost someone in the midst of some kind of military conflict. It is not my intention here to somehow depreciate the importance and the powerful message of said pictures that we immediately associate with the horrors of war, but there are things we rarely think or speak of, that also fall into such category.

“Conscription” by Jack Bottomley is just that – a powerful example of how war breaks human spirit. It’s a single-take story (a criterion to enter One Shot Movie Competition, where it clawed its way to the final screening) about a man whose life is terribly disturbed by the war. So, accompanied by a radio speech of Winston Churchill’s (which is pretty ironic given how the story unfolds in the end, against how Churchill’s speeches are widely considered the pinnacle of uplifting patriotism) the man struggles with the most difficult decision of his life.

It’s simply stunning how much one can stuff into a single camera shot that lasts about 2 minutes. I mean, I’ve seen things before that tried to look smart by shoving all kinds of nonsense into the frame, but “Conscription” by way of minimalism in shooting with attention to detail gives the story a sense of depth without steering towards pretentious moralizing. I think Jack Bottomley has accomplished something here, because he invariably forced me to think what I would do if I were in such a position myself. Where does my patriotism end and where does it begin? How do my personal beliefs and moral code fare against what my country could expect from me? And do I even care enough about it all…

I reckon that most of the so-called difficult decisions we face during our lifetimes are on a completely different level to what is posed in here by “Conscription”. At no point in life do we want to choose how our lives would end… And at any given point in time, chances are that somewhere in the world someone might be faced with a dilemma of just that nature – and it scared the living hell out of me more than any other horrors of war. After all, the mass-media and Hollywood have made me somehow immune to the bulk of the violence that is associated with military conflicts, but this amazing, creepy and ultimately disturbing short film broken through this thick shell of indifference that had encapsulated that little part of my brain that is responsible for empathy. Well done, Sir!

Shortcake #17 – “Bridget”

I think it’s the first time this year when I actually thought I’d have no decent shorts to watch on a Friday evening. I ventured on the Tropfest website to have a go at the New York finalists and I couldn’t believe the amount of pretentious shite that got shortlisted for the finals. Fair enough, there was a handful of good entrants, but I think the official top 3 (with a special nod to the winner) were, maybe not so much terrible, but mediocre. Yup, that’s a good word – mediocre.

This time, the keyword was ‘bridge’ and, quite expectedly – as the festival was taking place in NY, most of the shorts featured the Brooklyn Bridge in some way or another, and my God, was that annoying… So, it should come as no surprise that my favorite short of the featured finalists had nothing to do with all that crap.

 

It’s called “Bridget” (directed by David Eisenberg and Kaela Wohl) and there are no bridges in it… sort of… Anyway, it’s wonderfully witty and funny in its portrayal of a potentially vital problem of global proportions we’re going to be facing in the foreseeable future. Apart from that, it’s about a girl trying desperately to sign up for online dating. It’s only 2 minutes long, but it’s well worth it. Plus, it didn’t try to be something that it wasn’t only to fit the criteria of the festival. Maybe I’m slowly evolving into this uber-cynical monstrosity that cannot and will not be satisfied by any attempt of deeper thought in indie cinema, but I think that more often than not, young aspiring film-makers are totally missing the point of a short film by trying to squeeze a whole damn story with character arcs and complex plots, and multiple scenes and what-not, all the while the message the short was supposed to be carrying ends up omitted; covered by layers of nonsense.

Well, my faith was restored when I saw “Bridget”. It’s light, funny, nicely shot and while really minimalistic, the story kind of makes you think about the phenomenon of the Internet and how its evolution is surely going to be affected by the sheer volume of people using it. If anything, coming up with a username for that forum you’ve just been trying to join is going to be a challenge.

Enjoy!

Shortcake #16 – “Moving In” and “Smile”

How much can you do in 16 seconds? What do you hope to accomplish when you start off your article with a question? Errr…

Anyway, the question stands, as it seems to be a premise of a relatively fresh film competition organized by River Film Production Company that encourages film-makers from all walks of life to put their skills to a test. And the test involves shooting a short that consists of four shots, no more no less, each of which is exactly four seconds in length and the entirety of a short fits the genre criterion of the challenge – it needs to be a horror…

 

Really, what can you possibly do to scare me when you are confined to 16 seconds of footage… You can’t possibly tell me a story, but you can only tease it enough so that I can make up the rest in my head. So, when your hands are tied, you can maybe throw a jump-scare at me. That’s what I thought before I watched all 32 entrants (you can see them here on Youtube, or on the River Film website where you can vote for your personal favorite). I have to say that I just spent some scary 10 minutes of my life. Fair enough, some of the films weren’t up to par with the rest, but it is to be expected and I shan’t really discuss it further. The whole make-up of the shortlisted films spans from slashers, zombies, ghost stories, bits of homage to classics (like “Halloween”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Saw” or “Evil Dead”), horror comedy, stop-motion, all the way to proper animation. From prop effects to CGI, from gore to terror, you’ll see it all. Some shorts will scare you, some won’t, but give them a go anyway. It’s only 10 minutes of your time and if you like horror, you will not be disappointed.

 

What I think is the best of all the little 16-second horrors is “Moving In” by Mat Johns (whose other really disturbing short – “Run” – I had the pleasure to see some time ago). It’s nice, creepy and it scared me a bunch. On top of that, it actually tells a story in those 16 seconds – so that’s a win right there. Interestingly, Mat Johns has also entered a second film into the pot – “Smile”, but I think that while it still tells a very condensed and disturbing story, it lacks some oomph in comparison to the first one. But since watching them back to back would take less than a minute, why the hell not…

I’m now secretly hoping that Mat’s work will get picked up by someone with funds and as a result we’d get so see his take on horror on the big screen someday. Fingers crossed…

Shortcake #13 – “Concrete”

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be granted one wish, a wish so powerful that regardless of what you think of, it would come true? Of course you have… Everybody has… When they were little, or just immature…

 

But seriously, imagine that somewhere out there there’s a box that opens only once every hundred years and in it you’ll find whatever you just wished for. And this is what “Concrete” is all about – a guy who is about to make his wish, but is brutally interrupted by a nosy cleaning lady. I don’t know about you, but I had a good laugh watching it. It’s nice and short, very compact even. The film in itself is very professionally shot, but that doesn’t really matter because the whole 6 minutes you’ll be thinking of what is in the box (every time I write or say the phrase ‘what’s in the box’, I say it in my head in Brad Pitt’s voice…). Because, of course, the wish-granting box is most likely a kind of a scumbag; you don’t really have to make a wish to get it to work, you need to think of something… concrete…

“Concrete” is actually not a stand-alone picture (well, it is per se), but a part of “Imagination” series and I will make sure to go through them all. Anyway, before I did, I just wanted to write a couple of words about “Concrete” , because it was just so good. And also because the whole time I kept thinking about a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man…

staypuft

In summary, I have to tip my hat to Daniel Benmayor who directed this little film, because it just made my morning and hopefully the whole day. Well done, sir!

Shortcake #11 – “Something I never had”

So I decided I’d do some searching for new shorts to watch… And little do you know, right off the bat I got this – “Something I never had” by Andy Dodd (courtesy of Twitter). I mean, how lucky am I to stumble upon a lovely, compact, well shot, brilliantly acted, meaningful and touching little nugget like that… And on a first try of the night. Therefore, I deemed my hunt complete and went on to sugar-coat it in writing.

And here I am. Some shorts I find are just like that – they know what they are. I mean, their creators know what they’re doing and hence the end result is all the more powerful. “Something I never had” fits perfectly into that category. It doesn’t try to make me believe you can do action films on a three-digit budget. It’s not trying to be pompous and artistic. The photography doesn’t overwhelm the picture by attempted fancy angles, shallow depth of field and such. Its power lies in the bullet-like parabolic emotional conversation – a conversation filled with remorse, guilt, resentment, and ultimately, forgiveness.

 

“Something I never had” is a film about a confrontation between a father, who had selfishly abandoned his family, and his daughter – who then had to take care of her alcoholic mother. That’s about it. It’s just that simple… Simple, and yet overwhelmingly powerful… We all know the subject – the narrative of paternal (or maternal) abandonment is almost inherently embedded in contemporary film (or any form of art, for that matter). Nonetheless, a story like that can be very instructive and morally uplifting when done right. It doesn’t take much: a couple of actors, a camera, and a man behind it that knows where to look for genuine human interactions. “Something I never had” proves brilliantly, how simple it can be for us to care about the characters we see on the screen, make a strong connection, or perhaps relate on the basis of our own experiences.

It is all too easy to go overboard while tackling a sensitive subject – especially in a short form. Andy Dodd navigates swiftly delivering waves of emotions that relentlessly increase in magnitude only to break into a tsunami in the climax. I have to admit, Andy, you almost had me crying there for a second – and it’s not an easy feat. Everything is just right about “Something I never had”, and just because of that I couldn’t ask for more. It doesn’t take much to woo the viewer. Sometimes by staying in touch with the reality of the story you’re telling is more than enough to make it perfect. Combined with subtle and well placed music, very personal shots (the shaky hand-held frames at the end worked well for me, even if not on purpose), convincing actors and well-paced dialogue, all that makes “Something I never had” a short to remember. I certainly will.

 

Shortcake #10 – “Lapse”

Wow, just wow! I have just watched “Lapse” by Anthony Haden Salerno and… well, I needed a moment to get myself back together. It’s been awhile since I saw a short film that was that well put together, that professional in its technical aspects, and at the same time still conveying its message in the most powerful way.

It’s not the shortest of shorts, but it is well worth the time. In essence, “Lapse” is a piece (not exactly a story) about a journey that a man has to take in order to overcome the burdens of his scarred youth. It is not surprising at all that – as the author states – the plot is loosely based on real events. We see a man who descends into the mouth of madness by repeating his father’s wrongdoings and speeds towards a brick wall of self-destruction in a hope for a cathartic release. I have to say that “Lapse” has a potential to strike a note in nearly every one of us. No-one had a perfect childhood, and even those lucky ones can relate as well. This 30 minute long delusional downward spiral of powerlessness, fear, rage, despair, grief and a need of acceptance and love illustrates perfectly, how every man feels about becoming his own father. To all of us who can relate to the protagonist (be it only slightly) “Lapse” is a powerful reminder that our lives belong to us and it is imperative that we face our demons, remove the shackles of our frailty and break the cycle once and for all.

 

When it comes to a well-worn topic of a father-son relay of scars, bruises, intimidation and bad choices, it takes skill to make it fresh and vigorous. There are textbooks written about it, after all, and if you look through the history of creative writing, music and cinema, you’ll find that it is in fact a subject beaten to death – sometimes literally.

In that regard, I was bolted to my chair all throughout “Lapse”, got hit in the stomach by its raw approach and I have to admit that it made me stop and think about my own life a little. Clearly, if I were Anthony Haden Salerno, I think this would be the impact I would be going for with a story like “Lapse”. It is a fantastic work of art where every single frame works unison to elevate the film’s message. There’s scarce dialogue, though it’s not needed when the imagery with non-vocal sounds tell the story just as effectively. In fact, I would like to add that sharp and frequent cutting combined with a clever use of close-up photography and its optical traits make “Lapse” look all the more convincing.

I really hope this picture will score some gongs and gain wider recognition, because – as much as it touches on an exploited theme – it valiantly strays away from the beaten path to bring the viewer down to the primal level of man’s incapability to stand up against his (and his father’s) sins. Finally, when a movie makes you feel uneasy about your own shortcomings, I think it’s a job well done. A movie like “Lapse” needs to be cruel and uncomfortable in order to be believable – and it is. The madness is real, the rage is real, the reality is dirty and the tears are salty. Bravo!