Saturday, April 16, 2016

Worldfest-Houston 2016: Comedy Shorts

The 49th Annual Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival
Comedy Shorts, Saturday, April 16, 2016

April is one of my favorite months for three reasons: the NCAA Frozen Four, my wedding anniversary, and Worldfest-Houston, a terrific film festival with a great selection of short films that I've been enjoying for the last three years. Unfortunately, I've had a standing conflict between the Frozen Four and the film festival, but fortunately, the festival lasts ten days, so I can still usually squeeze some of it in. (I'm disappointed I missed the animated shorts session last weekend; it was my favorite category last year.)

In any case, my first of four sessions this year was "Comedy Shorts," consisting of seven short works. It was quite a nice selection of films, although I personally would have classified most of these as either family or drama rather than comedy, with a few exceptions.

Minor spoilers may occur below.

Forever, Your Fireplace

Director: Grant Collier
Screenwriters: Grant Collier, Kristina Zill
Length: 12:47 minutes
Category: Comedy (listed); Family/Drama (my categorization)
Country: unlisted in program (assume United States)
Film (on Vimeo)

In this film, it's gradually revealed that Bob and Barbara, a well-dressed, middle-aged couple, are living out of their car, having lost their house. They haven't yet told their daughter, a recent college grad who lives off in the big city and who has scheduled a visit for a day. Hoping to maintain the illusion for the duration of their daughter's visit, Bob tries to make some quick cash by accepting an online "rush" job translating a paragraph from Turkish to English, with some help from Google Translate. Just when the parents realize they have to break the news to their daughter no matter how difficult it is, Bob's translation sheds some light on the subject.

I enjoyed this piece quite a bit, especially as I've read that so many of the "new homeless" in the last ten years have been people still holding down jobs. It's no joke; no matter how frugal you are, in the United States, a single medical crisis can permanently wipe you out. I felt this film treated the subject with warmth, compassion, and humor, although I personally would not classify this as a comedy film. It was both sobering and a little uplifting, which is a lot to accomplish in a film that's less than 13 minutes. I should also mention that while I found all three of the main cast members effective, Dee Nelson as Barbara was a standout for me.

The Run

Director: Penny Eizenga
Screenwriter: Penny Eizenga
Length: 09:03 minutes
Category: Comedy (listed); Family/Drama (my categorization)
Country: Canada
Film (on Vimeo)

In this film, a woman grieving the loss of her young adult daughter reluctantly rouses herself to go out for a run. She encounters all sorts of people -- some self-absorbed, some reaching out to her in various ways -- but it's not until the end of the run that she finds a little peace.

While I wasn't entirely sure what each of the encounters was meant to signify, I loved the way I gradually became aware of what was going on -- the film achieved just the right balance of providing relevant information while remaining subtle. I also thought that the lead actor, Erica Wood, conveyed a wealth of emotional pain by her facial expression alone. This was very effective, but this was definitely not a comedy; in fact, on her website, the creator herself calls the film a drama with a heavy tone. (This isn't a criticism of the film, just a note on the categorization -- in fact, since this was the second dramatic film in the session, my friend and I actually thought we had been sent to the wrong auditorium, until we got to the next film.)

Ms. Vanilla
Director: 徐子悅 (Hsu Tsu-yueh)
Screenwriter: (unable to reproduce characters)
Length: 22:16 minutes
Category: Panorama China (listed); Comedy (my categorization)
Country: Taiwan
IMDB page

This is an adorable film about Ms. Vanilla, a young woman who works as a hotline counselor and who cannot say no to anyone, from the neighbors who foist their garbage on her, to the baker who wants her to try his ghastly sweet-and-seafood pastries, to co-workers who take advantage of her. She wants to say no, and the viewer gradually realizes that the young woman who accompanies her everywhere is not real, but rather is her imagined persona of bravery and self-interest. Unfortunately I can't read the actors' names, but both Ms. Vanilla (pictured right) and her alter ego (pictured in red) are delightful in these roles. I'm not sure I entirely cared for the part in which Ms. Vanilla goes to find a hotline client in a rather ridiculous situation, but it's a small quibble, and there are moments in this short film that are both touching and laugh-out-loud funny.

(Be careful googling for this one; you will get some results that decidedly are not the droid you're looking for.)

Director: Manan Singh Katohora
Screenwriter: Brett Kofford, Manan Singh Katohora
Length: 13:00 minutes
Category: Comedy/Romance (listed); also Drama (my categorization)
Country: USA
IMDB page

In this movie, Margaret attends a speed dating event for seniors and meets some true characters before interacting with a charming man who intrigues her even while she decides she doesn't want to move too quickly. This is one I defintely don't want to spoil, so I'll have to be a little vague by saying that I did enjoy this, including the plot developments, but I thought the way those developments were overtly explained to the audience was ultimately a little clunky. It's still sweet and worth seeing, however. Anne Stone as Margaret was quite enjoyable.

Catching Hail
Director: Adam Taylor
Screenwriter: Mac McStravick
Length: 07:46 minutes
Category: Category: Comedy (listed); Family/Drama (my categorization)
Country: Australia
Film (on Vimeo)

In this piece, a school coach who spends his summers mowing lawns gives some advice to one of his students.

I'm afraid this one didn't quite work for me. Even for a film this short, there wasn't much in the way of story, and the dialog as written and/or its delivery seemed self-conscious in comparison with the other films. The student expresses his worry over his parents fighting with one another, and the coach explains, by way of metaphor, that it's something all people in relationships go through. This is also another one that I would classify as drama rather than comedy.

Florence Has Left the Building
Director: Mirrah Foulkes
Screenwriter: Mirrah Foulkes
Length: 13:30 minutes
Category: Category: Comedy
Country: Australia
Film (on YouTube)

Flo, an unwilling resident of a nursing home, takes advantage of a little chaos that's created when two Elvis impersonators are double-booked for the annual in-home Christmas show. This story, which delivers the fairly straightforward message "when you stop moving, you start dying," is actually fairly complex, and quite funny. My only quibble is that while I'm rarely offended by profanity, and I wasn't offended by it here per se, the initial humor inherent in discovering that Flo had a foul mouth wore off pretty quickly, and it eventually started to seem that her F-bombs were being dropped for shock value. There was also an odd sequence when one of the Elvis impersonators was singing but the visuals deliberately did not match up to the music actually being played.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed this film, and the expression of sheer joy on Flo's face at the end was worth the price of admission by itself. It was an infectious smile, and a reminder that mentally, elderly people often don't think of themselves as old.

The Ballad of Ella Plummhoff
Director: Barbara Kronenberg
Screenwriter: Barbara Kronenberg
Length: 28:59 minutes
Category: Category: Comedy (listed); also Drama (my categorization)
Country: Germany
IMDB page

In the last but certainly not least department, I absolutely adored this film, the longest of the session. In the middle of an important math exam, an eighth grader named Ella daydreams about the summer just past, including her crush on her rather ridiculous ballet teacher; her humiliation at being tutored in math by Ulrike, an even more socially awkward seventh grader with a clubfoot; and continuing neglect by her own parents. This film was especially fun for me because I could understand the German even without the English subtitles (it's the only other language I know), but even if that hadn't been the case, I was completely enchanted by Lotta Julie Teufel, who played Ulrike. Her earnestness and confusion were so appealing, and both she and Inga Dreger, who played Ella, showed a level of acting sophistication far beyond their years. Music was also used in this film to amazing effect.

I have only one complaint: while I felt that Ella's parents' neglect was important to her coming-of-age story, her father's ascent (I think) from the backyard in a rocket he invented seemed completely out of place with the rest of the film. I understand that he spent all his time locked in the basement tinkering on his inventions, but I couldn't tell if he actually did ascend, in which case he probably would have died, and whether this was intended to be funny. I just didn't feel it added to the film, and actually took something away.

That said, I'm glad this film was last in the session, because it would have been very hard to follow.

My next post will be on Saturday's "Sci Fi Shorts (International)" -- stay tuned!

Click here to see my other reviews of Worldfest-Houston short film screenings from this and previous years.

1 comment:

Optimistic Existentialist said...

"The Run" sounds very I wish you a beautiful day.