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SPOILER ALERT:

For every film and short that I attend at the festival I will be including both a brief, unspoiled synopsis, followed by a spoiler filled discussion beneath it. So be warned before you read-on that if you do not wish to spoil any of the following titles that you watch for my included warnings.

Initially, I was intending to write an article for the independent feature film, The Sound and the Shadow; and also briefly talk about its preceding short film. However, in an unusual turn of events, the amount of stuff I ended up wanting to say about the short film, Dragula, became long enough that I felt it deserved its own separate review. And so, here is that review.

 

Now if you don’t ooze naiveté, as I often do, then you can probably guess based on the name what this short film centers around. What you might not be able to guess, however, is where it goes with it.

The story is about a young high-school kid named Charles, who has a severe case of butterflies and stage-fright when he gives speeches or reads aloud in class. But one day when Halloween rolls around, his two best friends; Ben and Phillis, take Charles to a local hot-spot known as “The End,” which apparently is a frequent bar for gays and drag-queens. Upon arrival, Charles is treated to the nightly performance of the titular “Dragula,” and becomes transfixed by her hypnotic gaze and overwhelming stage presence. He realizes that this person is so comfortable being themselves that they can both dress the way they dress, act the way they act, and do it all while singing on stage to an ever-changing audience without fail. Charles is so taken with her that he decides to go meet with “Dragula,” and Charles confesses that he wants her to teach him how to be confident and proud of who he is, so that he too can show the world what he’s got inside. The very next day, Charles immediately decides to take the plunge and sign up for the school talent show, where he plans to give them a show they will never forget.

 

Spoilers Ahead!

So if you haven’t guessed it yet, Charles decides that he wants to do a Drag-Queen performance in front of his whole school to prove what he’s capable of. And I gotta say, this was a bold move not only for the character but for the filmmakers to tell in a story like this. Now it’s not entirely too bold, but some of the statements that I think this film makes, directly and indirectly, are pretty important and poignant to the ever-changing mindset of today’s parents and children.

This short film presents us with a young man, probably about 17, who has a lack of confidence in himself and feels like he hasn’t had the chance to show others who and what he is and what he can really do: something I certainly can relate to; but his solution to solve this issue within himself is such an interesting one. Instead of taking his experience with Dragula and acting on it in a general sense: reflecting on how she presents herself and lives her life, Charles instead takes things in a literal and direct sense by literally dressing up in Drag to get the full Dragula experience. And he hopes that in doing so, he will gain the same audience recognition from his fellow classmates that he had given to Dragula the night he first saw her.

Spoilers over.

In the process of telling this story, the film tackles (in a rather easily rectified and unobstructed way) the issues of parental acceptance of seemingly deviant behavior, finding yourself by doing something outside of your comfort zone, and our general perception and the concept of “Drag culture” itself.

 

Now I’m probably not the best person to speak on this as I don’t have the best knowledge on all opinions surrounding the subject. But from the standpoint of an observer, it almost seems like drag culture and the concept of drag could be a double-edged sword. On the one hand you have men who may identify closer with women or at least with their own feminine sides, and therefore they chose to adorn themselves in make-up and wardrobe that, in the strictest terms: expresses their inner-selves to the rest of the world; often flamboyantly. And on the other hand, you have actual women, some of whom may have a problem with drag queens as a misrepresentation of the female gender, since most drag-queens of course emphasize the sexualized nature of woman with their long legs, long eye-lashes, colorful outfits and so on. I’m not saying this is a broad opinion, I’m not even saying this is necessarily true, but it seems like there would be at least some amount of negative criticism to the drag culture in that way. And in case that is an issue, I feel like it shouldn’t have to be.

In my opinion, even though drag queens present themselves in the form of “an ideal woman” or a “glamorized woman,” I think it is fairer to say that they are their own culture, their own people, and should not have to have a gender associated with them. Biologically, many are all still male; but if you try to look past that to see what they want you to see, then you begin to see a much more unique and expressive individual that… perhaps stands as the “ideal” of confidence and the pinnacle of personal expression. These people risk so much to be true to themselves, just as the out-and-out gays do. But they seem to have so much fortitude in the face of adversity and public opinion that even a two foot solid brick wall could not hold them back. And if that isn’t inspirational, then I don’t know what is.

Can’t necessarily say if I’d ever find myself performing in drag at a talent show. But what I can say, is that I loved this short, and it would be a delight to see it again someday.

 

Before I go, though, I would like to speak a bit about the cast for this short, as it was quite a varied bunch of strikingly entertaining people.

Allison Paige

First we have Allison Paige, who was absolutely fun to watch. She had that spunky best friend/bad girl thing going for her like Sam Manson on Danny Phantom, or Gwen on Total Drama Island; and she definitely had that look that you saw more in the late 90s/early 2000s. Quite a strong resemblance to Mellissa Joan Hart, actually. Based on what I saw here, Allison is definitely being underused by the industry at this time, and I sincerely hope that she will soon gain some more notable and fan-followed roles in the near future.

It was also interesting to see a few semi-familiar faces from the B and C-lists of working actors: people like Rob Riggle from SNL, the lovable Missi Pyle (who I somehow keep mixing up with Elaine Hendrix) from Galaxy Quest and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Cheyenne Jackson from 30 Rock.

But of course the biggest impression was made by veteran B-list actor, Barry Bostwick; perhaps best known for his role as Mayor Randall M Winston Jr. on the series, Spin City: who performed the title character of Dragula. Mistakenly I had assumed that the character of Dragula was played by a real drag queen. But instead it was a brilliant performance by a truly talented and rather full-lipped man, who has been working in the industry since 1970. And from what I can see, Barry did his own singing for this part; which makes his performance all the more amazing and fantastic. He seemed so wrapped up in this character; such finesse, such gravitas, such comfortable control. It’s no surprise then that he has spent part of his career on Broadway as well.

If you’re unfamiliar with Bostwick’s work, as unfortunately I am as well, he actually has an entire short-form video (as part of a kickstarter campaign) that lists all of the major things he has starred in; including the 1982 sci-fi laugh-fest, MEGAFORCE: for which he actually played the title role, Commander Ace Hunter. You can check out that whole video below.

And, Holy Crap! You have to check this out too. Barry Bostwick is… FDR! [LANGUAGE WARNING]

All I can say about that is what’s said in the final video below. You Must Watch. [LANGUAGE WARNING]

 

Well, thank you all for sticking with me through a rather lengthy recount of an absolutely stellar short film. And now if you’ll continue to stay the course, up next I’ll be talking about my experience watching the independent “so-brand-spanking-new, it’s not even funny” movie… The Sound and the Shadow.

SPOILER ALERT:

For every film and short that I attend at the festival I will be including both a brief, unspoiled synopsis, followed by a spoiler filled discussion beneath it. So be warned before you read-on that if you do not wish to spoil any of the following titles that you watch for my included warnings.

Yesterday morning, I attended something that I don’t often get to attend: an animation showcase. Back in the very early 2000s, I had been an entrant at the young age of 9, to the Kalamazoo Animation Festival: which at the time was a slowly expanding and eventually high-profile event for Michigan and the tri-state area. I was actually one of the Bronze winners that year in 2002 for my age group, 9-12.

During my life in Michigan,  I attended 4 KAFI festivals in total, and each time got to watch many many short form animated films from both amateurs, students, and professionals. The sad part though, was that as the festivals went on, the shorts got darker, grimmer, and more angsty: very melodramatic stuff most times. It ended up giving the whole event a rather gloomy atmosphere. The director of the 2005 festival even said directly to an audience that she felt the festival desperately needs more funny and comedic films next year. So you can imagine that, especially if you’re a young kid, going to an animation festival full of grim and dark tales is not the most entertaining of experiences. This, however, was not one of those experiences.

Out of the 8 animated short films presented, every single one of them was a masterpiece, and 6 of them were simply extraordinary: almost beyond words. And although I would very much like to do so, all of these films are of course only going through the festival circuit right now and are not available on line to view. But hopefully in the near future that will change, because all of these deserve to be seen by the general public.

So let us break them down, shall we.

And to make things easier, I’ll provide each of the film’s synopsis and major credits as they are written on the Savannah Film Festival website, and then I’ll give my personal thoughts about them beneath each.

I will also warn everyone now that all of my personal thoughts below will be filled with SPOILERS; however, I don’t believe any of them should actually spoil the experience of watching these, as it would be rather difficult and lengthy to intentionally try and ruin them.

 

1. Stan

USA, 2014, 5 min. and 40 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Meirav Haber

Producer: Meirav Haber

Writer: Meirav Haber

Cast: Iain Sandison

“Stan was born with a hell of a problem: an unfortunate resemblance to the devil. Rejected by society, Stan is forced to live a life of solitude. But Stan stays hopeful, creatively seeking connection and persisting despite all odds. Stan’s life is destined to change when a strange delivery arrives at his door.”

 

This was one of the shortest shorts of the day, and perhaps suffered a little for it. I don’t know, it just felt like they didn’t show enough when describing Stan’s life with horns and a tail. They show him as an abandoned baby, then a twice-orphaned pre-teen, then a young man with his own home (despite the fact that since he has been discriminated against, then how did he get a job in order to pay for a house?); and then it immediately jumps to him in his late 60s/early 70s. So what happened in the intervening time? Did he ever land any girlfriends who had a thing for horns? Did he ever go on vacation to anywhere and have trouble outside of his town?

I know that in a short film you don’t really have to show these things, and perhaps the film accurately explained everything that it needed to. But even so, sometimes when a short film cuts as many corners as this does in terms of its story, it just feels like we’re missing so much that we could be seeing, and it leaves me with so many questions.

Nonetheless, the payoff of this short is well worth it and becomes a big “Awe” moment.

 

2. The Planets

USA, 2014, 12 min.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Andy Martin

Writer: Andy Martin

Cast: Andy Martin, Sarah Martin

“The Planets” is an intergalactic animated adventure through 12 distinct worlds in which we find plasticine battles, bored sheep, robots in love, ghostly fish and chips, superhero kids and lots of other shenanigans. These bizarre, creepy and often hilarious planets give us a glimpse into an undiscovered part of outer space while mirroring how we spend our lives on planet Earth.”

 

Perhaps the most entertaining and humorous short of the day, The Planets presents us with a varied set of 12 distinct planetary worlds; each with their own quirks, landscapes, creature designs, and inhabitant personalities. This short also presents each planet in a distinct animation style: most of them are still done in a vector format either with Flash or Toon Boom or something similar, but one of them utilizes some hand-drawn animation, one of them replicates the style of paper-cut-out animation, and another uses clay animation on an actual animation set rather than with green-screened snap-shots.

The creativity involved here was quite impressive. There was a lot of graphical arts elements prevalent here, not just in the overall design but in some of the transitions and bookending imagery that took us from one planet to another. The end of the short also included a song which ended with a bang, so I thought that was a rather fun choice as well.

For a short flash-animated piece, this is one of the most elaborate and well colored that I have seen, and one of the most humorous. An extremely fun time.

 

3. Granddaughter

USA, 2014, 5 min. and 10 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Nicolás Villarreal

Producer: Pedro Villarreal

Writer: Nicolás Villarreal

“An incoming storm transforms a young girl’s perspective of the world.”

 

Likely intentional by the director, you don’t pick up on the point of the film at first. But once it explains things visually in the end, you understand what in the world you were watching at the beginning.

Simply put, this short is about the bizarre and magical world seen in the mind’s eye of a young blind girl: where grandfathers become tall, lanky creatures with hooked heads and magic wands; and fountain spouts become streams of gold rushing onto an azure-blue floor.

This concept has been successfully presented before in another amazing short film, called Out of Sight; which I actually can show you here for your viewing pleasure: you can see that below. It’s a bit like if the comic strip FoxTrot were animated by Hayao Miyazaki.

But thankfully, Granddaughter presents the concept of the blind interpretation of the world differently enough that it can stand on its own without much comparison. It tackles the subject in its own subtle and beautiful way.

 

4. Sunny and Steve: Enjoy the Sweets

USA, 2014, 2 min. and 37 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Directors: Bill Dorais, Ty Coyle

Producers: Derek Macleod-Veilleux, Matthew Creden

Writers: Bill Dorais, Ty Coyle, Graeme Revell, Jacob Fradkin

Cast: Ty Coyle

“This short film tells the humorous tale of an office worker as he struggles with a protective, seemingly innocent bunny on a quest for sweets. In the first episode released for Easter, Sunny revels in every opportunity to keep the Easter eggs from Steve and goes to great lengths to ensure there is no sharing allowed.”

 

I’ll be honest, I was a little confused by this one and didn’t end up liking it too much, mostly because of how jarring the animation was.

From what I could tell, it looked like stop-motion, but the stop-motion wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, even if it was done in a limited fashion. It seemed to jump frames too much. But it also couldn’t have been actual stop-motion because the characters were too complex and detailed and had too malleable of a skin layer to be plastecine or clay models. So what I believe was going on was that someone had created an entire short film in the computer; had designed and built the set, the characters and the props; and then animated them all in a very choppy, limited stop-motion style. But why?

Why animate this like stop-motion? And then why animate it so choppily? I’ve sort of seen this same approach, maybe even a couple of times before. But each time I see it I like it less and less. It’s certainly an economic way to go about things, but it isn’t the most enjoyable or interesting looking. And like I said, it is most certainly jarring to watch, at least at the beginning.

As to whether I thought the plot was good or not, it was average.

 

5. My Dearest

USA, 2014, 5 min. and 50 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Tim Fisher

Writer: Tim Fisher

“An independent animated short about a man’s quest to be reunited with the woman he loves.”

 

This one was weird. First of all, it seems that the director himself did the voices for this, which at first is bad because he give a terribly stiff, middle-school style delivery of his own lines; but then becomes worse when he starts having to do the same thing in a woman’s voice. So already I’m not very impressed by what I’m watching.

Then to make matters worse, the animation for this short is extremely rough, almost like an inked and colored story animatic. It certainly isn’t a finished product as far as I’m concerned. I suppose for an animation contest, it gets a pass because it still counts; but even so, it’s extremely rough and rudimentary work. Which only begs the question of why this short was included in an animation block at a festival that had a series of far superior works? This is the one short that stands out as the odd-ball: the weakest of the bunch.

Beyond all that, the story itself was a weak story. Despite what the tagline sound like, this is about a steampunk looking scientist who’s wife has been dead for some time, and he has been working for years trying to build a surrogate robot body to transfer her consciousness into. But once he does and embraces his newly awakened wife, she doesn’t know her own strength, and crushes him to death. And then as if I didn’t see it coming (which of course I did), the robot wife then begins to build her own surrogate robot body for her newly dead husband, so that they both may share in their mutual immortal torment as robotic abominations.

Eh, it’s dark humor, whaddya gonna do?

 

6. The Looking Planet

USA, 2014, 16 min. and 40 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Eric Law Anderson

Producers: Anne Uemura, Eric Law Anderson, Thomas Southerland

Writer: Eric Law Anderson

Cast: Samuel Hery, Cindy Robinson, Joe Cappelletti, Peter Oldring

“During the construction of the universe, a young member of the Cosmos Corps of Engineers decides to break some fundamental laws in the name of self-expression.”

 

By far the most amazing film of the morning, this was one of the single greatest short films I have ever seen. Even more so than The Planets, The Looking Planet exudes enormous amounts of creativity and visual design.

What this film amounts to is a visually stunning depiction of the birth of our universe as if it were a contract job by an alien corporation. And as the many planets in our local solar system are being designed and built, one of the workers becomes fed up with working on planetary rings, and decides that he wants to do something different. He sets his eye on the 5th planet from the sun, which actually ends up being the moon in its own orbit, and he decides to carve his likeness into the moon’s surface (which explains how we got the Moon’s maria surface). This kid then discovers through a unique set of blueprints, the eventual history of the Earth with all of its many plants, animals, and civilizations; and realizes that Planet 5 is not where it should be at all. So he decides to take matters into his own hands and push Planet 5 into orbit around Planet 3, thus creating what is sometimes referred to as the Double-Planet of the Earth and the Moon.

The most incredible thing about this short, I think, is how it creates this environment of the planet builders, almost like Magarathea in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Except here, the entire universe is the building site rather than an isolated mega-planet that builds other planets inside itself. And so what happens is that this building site is filled with all of these brightly illuminated spires, astrolabes, and gyroscopic rings around every planet; which allow these builders to measure, move, and rotate the planets around in order to work on them. And surrounding all of these planetary control mechanisms are these endless streams of sunlit clouds that stretch on to infinity. But once the builders are finished and leave the universe to return to their own home, the enormous controls disappear, the clouds disappear, and the darkness and emptiness of the universe returns; leaving us with what we see in the night sky today.

The icing on the cake that then brings all of these beautiful visuals together is of course the musical score, which was an astoundingly gorgeous and uplifting orchestral track filled with strings, French horns, and booming percussion. And I hope someday you all can share in the magic of this short film; as it was one of my more rewarding experiences as a film goer.

 

7. Silent

USA, 2014, 2 min. and 40 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Directors: Brandon Oldenburg, Limbert Fabian

Producers: Angus McGilpin, Vince Voron

Writers: Brandon Oldenburg, Limbert Fabian

“Two street performers dream of bringing their “Picture and Sound Show” to life. When they discover a magical contraption inside an old theater, they embark on a cinematic adventure of sight and sound, traveling through movie history to find the audience they always wanted.”

 

An extremely swift and concise short, Silent was apparently an independent advertisement for Dolby Digital in that it emphasized the marriage of Picture and Sound by presenting us with a series of film genres and typical movie scenes, played in quick succession on a movie screen as a young girl’s father is pulled along through them all which she backs him up on the pipe-organ.

So much stuff happens in such a short amount of time that after its over you don’t really know exactly what all happened. But at least you know it was friggin’ awesome. That’s for damn sure. And the music was stellar here as well.

 

8. The Oceanmaker

USA, 2014, 10 min. and 4 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Lucas Martell

Producers: Christina Martell, Lucas Martell

Writer: Lucas Martell

“After the seas have disappeared, a courageous young female pilot fights against vicious sky pirates for control of the last remaining source of water: the clouds.”

 

The final short of the day was a bittersweet story about a young woman living in a post-apocalyptic world that is nearing the brink of extinction due to the severe lack of water. As water pirates fly overhead in their airplanes scooping up any amount of cloud condensation they can in water collecting bags they pull behind them, one young female pilot has a different solution: creating more rain clouds. Her plane is then equipped with a smoke generating sparkler system attached to the bottom of her craft, which when activated, sends out streams of yellow smoke into the rain cloud and begins to seed new clouds, and most importantly, rain storms.

In the end, after duking it out with another plane in a fatal dog-fight, the woman sacrifices herself in order to complete one last cloud seeding job, and ends up jump starting a widespread heavy rainstorm that may finally spell the end of the planet’s “dry-spell.”

Extremely well animated for such a small team of people. Excellent musical score. And an empowering and inspirational story told in a very economic manner. A great way to end an amazing series of shorts.

 

If fate is kind, I may be able to provide some links to these short films as they become available in the future. Until then, I hope that some of you may get the chance to see these in your own local festivals.

Next up, we have a very interesting independent feature film to talk about called The Sound and the Shadow. But before that, I have another small bit of business to take care of…

SPOILER ALERT:

For every film and short that I attend at the festival I will be including both a brief, unspoiled synopsis, followed by a spoiler filled discussion beneath it. So be warned before you read-on that if you do not wish to spoil any of the following titles that you watch for my included warnings.

For the second film I’ve seen this festival, and for the first packed house I’ve been to for a film this year; Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher was a unique experience if not an incredibly satisfying one.

No short film this time around. However, we in the audience were given a treat, as actor Matt Bomer was attending the festival, and was given a SCAD Spotlight award that evening for his achievements and skills in acting throughout his career thus far. And despite only being in the business for a few years, he has already done plenty of impressive work.

The story of Foxcatcher follows Olympic gold-medalist, Mark Schultz, as he is recruited by a rich philanthropist named John Du Pont to become the star figure of Du Pont’s new Olympic Wrestling Team. Du Pont has a vision, a vision for America, a vision for it to return to prominence, and for the youth and sports players of America to have role models to look up to. And he hopes that those role-models can be his wrestlers. But, there’s something a bit off about John Du Pont; you don’t quite know what’s going on in his head. He’s almost a spoiled and privileged child trapped in a middle-aged man’s body. He’s a wild-card. And this wild-card could prove very dangerous to Mark and his brother David if they were to get on his bad side. This then is what creates the conflict for the film.

 

Spoilers Ahead!

Since this movie is based on real-life events, some of you may have already read by now that John Du Pont had become extremely paranoid by 1988, and was sure that David Schultz was responsible for causing John to trip in his house, potentially injuring him. And so John up and decided one day to drive up to Dave’s house, roll down his window, and shoot him three times with a hand-gun.

Now this did not happen exactly that way in the film: there was no point where John Du Pont tripped or had an event occur that would have made him feel like his wrestling team was trying to harm him. But instead what the filmmakers emphasized was the growing power struggle and slight relationship triangle between John Du Pont, the younger Mark Schultz, and the older David Schultz.

Basically, once John Du Pont brings Mark Schultz on as the star of his team, the two begin to bond: John finds a son in Mark, and Mark finds a father in John. Mark had always been taken care of by his brother Dave, and John tries to steer Mark away from Dave’s shadow. But then John ends up putting Mark “under his wing” as it were, as John likes to refer to himself as America’s Golden Eagle; and this creates an eerily strange relationship between the two where Mark begins to respect and admire John a bit too much.

At one point, Mark’s opinion of John soars so high that when John strikes Mark in the face, Mark’s trust is completely shattered. After that, Mark no longer looks at John the same way, and barely ever talks to him. That’s when Mark lets his brother back in, and Dave becomes the go-between. Unlike his brother had done, Dave never thought very highly of John; he could never find anything meaningful or interesting to say about him. All of this eventually culminated in John feeling a strong sense of contempt from Dave, and John strongly resenting Dave for it. Thus, this is what leads to the eventual drive-by murder.

I think it was wise of the filmmakers to go this route, as it doesn’t necessarily give a clear cause and effect to the decision of murder in John Du Pont’s mind, as I’m sure there was no clear motive or point of decision in real life: but this does help provide some potential triggers that could have set John off.

Major Spoilers over

The three main actors of Foxcatcher are all at the top of their game here. I’ve begun to see more and more work from Mark Ruffalo in recent years, and I am continually impressed by his performances and the kinds of roles he chooses. And I think it is both unfortunate and fortunate that I had to first see him in the role of Bruce Banner/The Hulk in The Avengers, because that role was rather nondescript, and didn’t stand out as much as many of Mark’s other roles. However, it was also a good film to start with, because it nonetheless introduced me to the actor, and it wasn’t until after I saw that film that I started watching more and more serious dramas, which seems to be where Mark Ruffalo gets most of his work.

I haven’t seen all that much with Channing Tatum, however. And although I never fully prescribed to the assumption that he was just a pretty faced actor, I’m glad to see that he is committed to being as serious of an actor as any of his colleagues. The role of Mark Schultz allowed Channing to play to the strengths of his stature, and to realize a character that was very hard on himself. Channing had to endure a lot of physical stress and likely some physical harm while playing this role; not just in training to become knowledgeable at wrestling, but also to intentionally punch and beat himself up during certain scenes. It was rather shocking actually. And I could not say if he was really punching himself in the cheek, or if that was a faux punch with an added sound effect. However, I know for a fact he did smash his head into a mirror, whether not it may have been a prop-glass mirror.

Of course the star of the film is the miraculous transformation of comedic actor and lovable leading man, Steve Carell into the off-putting, dark, and unreadable real-life character of John E. Du Pont.

What is most apparent about Carell’s performance, other than the brilliant make-up job, is that Steve is almost completely non-existent in this part. There are only a few moments, like the introduction and when John speaks loudly that you still feel like Steve is somewhere in there; but other than that, it’s one of the more complete transformations I’ve seen. Almost on par with something that Gary Oldman would do. It’s very much in the same vein as the late Robin Williams, taking on the role of Patch Adams (1998) and Andrew Martin (Bicentennial Man, 1999), only to turn around two years later and play Seymour Parrish (One Hour Photo, 2002) and Walter Finch (Insomnia, 2002).

Up until this point, Steven Carell has never prescribed to the antagonist before, only ever the absent-minded but lovable father, or the quirky and awkward loner, or other likable characters in-between. Even Gru (Despicable Me). But now he has crossed that threshold, and has proven himself capable of handling a dark and dramatic role. The question remains, however, if he was only able to achieve this role by that extra element of the make-up? Because I’ll admit, that if I had to watch Steve Carell as he normally is, playing this role, I would not have bought it; and it also would have been incredibly awkward because Steve Carell is just too nice looking of a guy.

Seriously, though, his acting chops are not in question, and make-up does not change your ability to perform a character, unless it is a subconscious thing.

Interestingly, what I think allows Steve Carell to achieve this character the way he does is precisely because of his improve and comedic training. His ability for comedic timing, as he uses to great effect in both Get Smart and Anchor Man, allows him to pick up on the subtle oddities of John Du Pont’s speech patterns and possibly his inner thought process. It takes a unique mode of thinking and an odd perspective to think that you are the country’s saving grace and that everyone is just dying to read your new book on bird watching. But it also takes a wild imagination to make wild accusations, change your decisions on a dime, and to irrationally throw away priceless things just to further your own ideals.

And all of these things had to be taken into account before Steve Carell would be able to speak one word as John Du Pont. It oddly enough is one of the most chilling and most funny true-life antagonists I’ve ever seen in a drama. And I truly believe that there is no one else who could have played this character better than Steve. I’d actually be curious to know what Steve’s friends like Steven Colbert and Dana Carvey think of his latest dramatic turn. The three of them worked together for quite a few years, it’d be interesting to know how shocked or surprised they were at his believability.

As a story, it’s a unique one; and one that I would not have learned about otherwise, which I find more than a little surprising, actually. As a piece of entertainment, I was impressed to see such a varied group of people attending the film: nearly every age group from teens to Senior citizens were in attendance, and everyone was excited to see it. But as for me personally, while the production of the film was admirable and the story well-told, it’s not one of those films I’d ever watch again; and I was actually hoping I might.

 

I’ll be writing a more complete essay about this at a later time, but in recent years I have begun to discover more and more independent drama films; things like Albert Nobbs, The Best Offer, and something more horror-based like The Awakening: all of which I absolutely loved and hope to watch again and again. I could not say the same, unfortunately, for Foxcatcher. The film was simply too dark of a story and too gray of an atmosphere for me to want to relieve the events again.

However, I would be curious to read up more on the actual events. Perhaps pick up the book that the film was based on.

 

If you haven’t seen this film yet, I encourage you give it a watch sometime just to see the incredibly performance by Steve Carell; who I’m sure will grace us with another dramatic turn in the near future. Other than that, I bid you farewell until the next feature film from the Savannah Film Festival.

SPOILER ALERT:

For every film and short that I attend at the festival I will be including both a brief, unspoiled synopsis, followed by a spoiler filled discussion beneath it. So be warned before you read-on that if you do not wish to spoil any of the following titles, then please watch for my included warnings.

 

So hi, everybody, and welcome to the first entry of my week long personal coverage of the 17th annual Savannah International Film Festival. I would have gone to the opening ceremony on Saturday evening, but due to some homework I had to complete, I was unable to attend. But my experience of the festival has been off to a good start nonetheless, so I am very thankful for that.

 

Before I talk about the main film today, I first have to talk about the short film that premiered before it, because quite a few of the films that I attend will include a preceding short.

The short that I got to see was called Bis Gleich, also known as Till Then (in English); directed by German-born director, Benjamin Wolff; who was able to attend the screening this morning. The story is about an old man and an old woman who live across the street from each other, and regularly go out every morning on their window sill with a pillow, in order to watch all the people that pass by every day. As you may expect, the old woman does eventually meet the old man, and they share a unique and heart-warming moment together.

 

Spoilers Ahead! (for Bis Gleich)

What actually happens though, is that the man tries his best to be friendly each day, smiling and waving to the woman across the way. She has a man staying with her in her home, and that seems to slightly discourage the man across the way on his window-sill; but we are never told whether or not the man in the woman’s house is her son or her husband.

At one point the man doesn’t come to his sill, and so the woman becomes concerned. She decides to go to his door after noticing a younger woman go into his apartment, and we find out that the old man has had some heart trouble and is now temporarily bed-ridden. The heart-felt moment then comes when the old woman decides to do something incredibly nice and clever for the old man by giving him a way to continue to look out his window without having to leave his bed. So what does she do? She buys a wagon-load of old mirrors of varying sizes, and strings them about his bedroom. And each mirror is angled to the perfect pitch in order for him to see each of the persons that he, and she, watches every day.

The quality of this short film was quite high. It appeared to have been shot on a 4K camera, digital not film, and it had a very high-key and bright color space: very clean and pristine. The production design and shot design was unique in that the filmmakers needed to find two apartments that were right across the street from each other, and then they needed to have the proper lenses and focal-lengths with which to achieve the long-lensed shots that looked across from either side of the street and from each window’s vantage point. Getting certain shots and certain angles I’m sure came at some great difficulty. This film was also accomplished with very little dialogue, and I have recently come to appreciate stories that can be told with little to no dialogue.

Spoilers over.

 

Now onto the feature documentary.

Today, I went to see the 2014 documentary called Limited Partnership, directed by Thomas G. Miller. It’s about the struggles and hardships of the first legally married bi-national gay couple, Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan. The film chronicles their lives mostly from the time that they met around 1974, how they married in Boulder, CO in 1975, and then how they fought in the gay rights movement and  struggled to be issued a green-card for Anthony, since he was an Australian National living in the US on a temporary basis. For the next 25 to 30 years, the two men waited patiently, biding their time and doing what was necessary; as they waited for the day that their lives could be legally recognized by the United States government, and the day that Tony would be able to be legally documented as a US citizen.

Spoilers Ahead! (for Limited Partnership)

 

During the time between roughly 1980 and 2013, Anthony Sullivan (not to be confused with the television spokesman) lived under the radar of the US Immigration office, bravely standing by his partner Richard in the hopes that he would not be deported for simply being a homosexual. And thankfully, he never was deported.

What was unfortunate, however, was that during the course of filming later interviews for this documentary, Richard Adams (who was born in the Philippines and had moved with his family to the US in the late 1940s) died of lung cancer in 2012, just before the explosion of legal progress for Gay rights happened between 2013 and early 2014: including the denouncing of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was a bill that defined marriage solely as that between a man and a woman in the eyes of the law.

Throughout their lives, especially during the 1970s and mid-2000s, Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan stood as role-models, celebrities, and important voices in the Gay Rights movements. For the sake of Tony’s safety, they had to choose a certain level of anonymity and reclusion during the intervening time, but that ultimately did not stop them from continuing on with their relatively happy lives. And in the end, Richard and Tony realized that they were happier then then they had ever been before, and that even if they hadn’t won the legal battle over Gay Rights before Richard’s death, they had won for their own lives because they were never separated.

 

Now I don’t usually get to speak on this subject, but I feel that this moment will be as good as any to say my piece. I am in full support of any law or decision that furthers the equal treatment of homosexual individuals within this country, and all other countries. And even if I did feel differently on a personal level, this would only be the right thing to do since I am going into the Film and Television field; which is by all accounts filled with many talented people who define themselves as gay or lesbian. And I feel that anyone who does not believe that these people deserve to be treated with kindness and fairness is only doing themselves a disservice.

“Treat others as you would like to be treated.” No truer now than it ever was.

If you must hold onto your beliefs that gay relationships are wrong, then that is your business. But that does not mean that you have to force that belief onto others or to deny someone a basic necessity or service because they go against your beliefs. You may believe that the color lavender is an ugly color, but you don’t go around preaching the evils of lavender and that it should be abolished. And you may believe that certain movies are not appropriate for your kids, but that doesn’t mean that you should go out trying to boycott or remove such films from a library or rental store or theater for everyone else’s’ kids; because that’s not your business.

And to try to put an end to the old saying that “if a man marries a man, then what’s stopping a man from marrying his dog;” human beings are recognized as citizens under the law, animals (as far to my knowledge) are not citizens. Men and women are tax payers, and when you get married you receive a tax deduction, along with further deductions if you have dependents: this is not at all the same for animals, and animals do not pay their own taxes. And finally, human beings are conscious and moral; we have a sense of self, we have the ability to give and receive consent, and we have a concept of the greater world around us: animals may exhibit many things comparable to these behaviors, but they are not at all the same thing.

A man can and should be able to marry a man because we simply give married couples too many legal benefits for many people to live without; and also because in any other situation, both men would not be discriminated against. But if a man, or woman wants to marry an animal, then that is a completely new story and a completely new issue; because now a third party of a completely unrelated species has become the point of contention and interest; and therefore should be treated as such.

Simply put, I am happy for Tony Sullivan and his late partner, Richard Adams. I think what they had was a genuine love for each other, no different than the love I see between many heterosexual couples I have met and that are part of my family. And it is a shame that they had to endure what they did to get to where they were when Richard died, and where Tony is now with the most recent rulings of the Supreme Court.

I wish Mr. Sullivan all the best as he now applies for his official green-card and for the rights to his spousal benefits.

 

Next up, we have Steve Carrel’s turn as the dark, real-life character of John Du Pont, in Bennette Miller’s Foxcatcher.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFwPyqQy9K0

For the little change of pace, I decided to watch something I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade today. It was Disney’s The Fox and the Hound.

Now you say, “but FilmmakerJ, that’s a Disney theatrical film. None of those are underrated.” Bull crap, I can think of plenty Disney films that were shown in theaters that are horribly underrated or nearly forgotten. Pete’s Dragon, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, the freaking Gnome Mobile; and definitely today’s topic The Fox and the Hound.

 

It’s true that a lot of you may have seen this film, but I’m sure a lot of you don’t really remember a lot about it. Nor do I think that a lot of its subtleties get noticed by those who do remember it. It’s a rather odd film.

To put it straight, the film isn’t very interesting story-wise, however it is rather interesting in every other respect.

To start with, the cast is full of surprising actors. There’s Pat Butram as Chief (the top hunting dog), Jack Albertson (who played Charlie’s Grandpa in Willy Wonka) as Amos Slade, Paul Winchell (the original and best voice of Tigger) as Boomer the woodpecker, Mickey Rooney as adult Tod, Kurt Russell as adult Copper, and a very very young Corey Feldman as young Copper. So a rather interesting lot.

 

Mickey Rooney as Tod is an interesting choice, because while you may know the late Mr. Rooney from a few of his roles in the late 80s and 90s like Mr. Cherrywood in The Carebears Movie, or Flip in Little Nemo; he has had one of the longest running careers in movie history, and was still in his 50s when he played Tod the fox; and Tod is meant to be a 20 year old if you compare him relatively to a human. And what’s interesting is that even though Mickey’s voice was already becoming gravely by the early 1980s, his voice didn’t make Tod sound old so much as it made him sound like raspy adolescent: which is a very unique and fitting voice for him.

Vixey-posing-the-fox-and-the-hound-26313607-1280-1024

Now, if I could just have a moment to compliment Miss Sandy Duncan on her beautifully charming voice as Vixey, I’d be most thankful. It’s a truly rare thing for someone to be born with a voice like hers, and it’s absolutely perfect for animation. And while her character in the film only comes in during the last fourth and doesn’t have much character development, I have seen worse; and Sandy’s special sound helps add to Vixey’s personality. The character would not stick in my mind as well without her performance.

And although you might think seeing Snake Plissken as a dog named Copper in a Disney movie is weird, you shouldn’t; because Walt Disney himself gave Kurt Russell his first acting job and proclaimed Kurt’s future fame just before his death. Kinda creepy, but Kurt did go on to have a pretty stable career for a while working with John Carpenter.

The rest of the cast is rather underwhelming, suffice it to say, but they are no means bad in their roles; and Pearl Bailey does a fine job as Big Mama, as much as you would expect.

 

So what else is interesting?

Well I think one of the first things that may strike some of you about this film is the absolutely GORGEOUS character animation.

baby-tod-the-fox-and-the-hound-17938762-500-333

I mean my God, these are some of the most adorable faces I have ever seen in my life. Those big eyes, the softness of the cheeks, the subtle movements of the lips and jaw, the way their ears react to everything they’re thinking. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen animated faces that you can read so well.

 

Look at any frame of this film, and it is astounding how much you can tell from their expressions; how much humanity and honesty; how much inner contemplation.

Here are some of my favorites:

Fox-And-The-Hound-the-fox-and-the-hound-20117673-720-480Vixey-vixey-26313881-1280-1024

big-mama-and-vixey-the-fox-and-the-hound-18194294-700-473

vixey41246233_1373597821141_full

It’s just… I can’t… there are no words I can think of that accurately describe how much I love the animation here. Whoever specifically worked on these characters should have gotten an Oscar.

Now I’m mostly speaking of Tod and Vixey, though, when I say how adorable their faces are; because Copper and Chief and the other characters have a very stiff or incredibly wrinkled face; so the same qualities can’t quite be said for them. However, the fluidity and careful attention to facial muscles and detail are exactly the same on all accounts. It is by FAR, the best facial animation in a hand-drawn film that I have ever seen. Hands freaking down.

Also, trust me when I say that these foxes here look much more attractive and well designed than these foxes from Robin Hood. Seriously, there’s no contest. Lol

 

So after that, you may start to notice the musical score: which at first sounds like your typical down-home country mix of violins and harmonicas sweeping across the calm and cool lush autumn forests and farm houses… But then it catches you off guard and decides to also throw in a synthesized organ and flute, a freaking harpsichord of all things, and a 1970s base guitar beat that sounds like it was ripped straight out of a chase scene from a Dirty Harry movie. It’s the kind of mix-and-match musical score that you would ONLY get out of the early 80s: approximately from 1978 to 1983, which is of course where films like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, TRON, Xanadu, and Rock &  Rule were made. Makes the bizarreness of that period start to make a little bit more sense, eh? But you know what, I love all those movies, and this musical score. It might not seem the most cohesive, but it’s one of those a-typical elements of the period that gives the film part of its charm. And sometimes being dated is not a bad thing.

Now the actual songs on the other hand, are unfortunately rather dull, lack-luster, and forgettable. In fact, I don’t even think some of them are complete songs; they just kind of pop up from nowhere for no particular reason, and (albeit the very talented) Pearl Baily starts to sing, but then the orchestra doesn’t back her up. And then other times, it does back her up, but only for half the song. For instance, “Elimination, Lack of Education” has no visible tune. It’s almost like a song that tries to start, but fails miserably because the orchestra does this terrible explosion of country-western fiddling riffs that have no cohesion; until it just peters out half way through. And then one of the songs is a weird mix of spoken word poem with a backup chorus; that being “Goodbye May Seem Forever.” I’ll admit it’s probably one of the saddest songs I’ve heard in a Disney movie considering what’s going on during it, but it only adds to the bizarre choices as far as songs go.

I think this tendency for an inconsistent soundtrack list stems from the avant garde way in which the soundtracks were designed for The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, and Robin Hood. Because all three of these films approached their songs not like a musical number, as previous films had done; but they approached them like the characters themselves were literally choosing to sing within the realm of reality rather than act as if the movie jumped the shark and went into an alternate reality where the song holds no bearing on time or space. In other words, the characters don’t all start singing and dancing like they’ve been trained overnight by Gene Kelly; instead, either only one character sings with a very minimal accompaniment (ex.  “Whistle-Stop” by Roger Miller in Robin Hood, “Trust in Me” by Sterling Holloway in The Jungle Book); or multiple characters all sing together and you can visibly see where at least some of the instrument sounds are coming from (ex. “The Phony King of England” in Robin Hood, “Everybody Wants to Be A Cat” in The Aristocats). And then of course The Rescuers really broke tradition by having the majority of its songs part of a 3rd party soundtrack where none of the characters sing, and all of the songs become part of an in-movie music video (ex. “The Journey,” “Tomorrow is Another Day,” and “Someone’s Waiting For You.”)

Something else that’s interesting (but not necessarily good or bad) is the fact that the opening of this movie has no song whatsoever. But that’s not what makes it strange. No, what makes it strange is that it is “Dead SILENT!”

Dead silent! Not a single solitary noise for an entire minute. Even the opening Buena Vista logo sits there as if frozen stiff for an unsettling amount of time. And after that first minute, all we get are the sounds of birds and bugs chirping and clicking until finally, after another unsettling two full minutes we actually get some music. Except the problem with that is that it’s extremely dark and foreboding music because we are watching as a young fox mother is running across the landscape, attempting to save her new baby fox from harm. And you thought the opening of The Brave Little Toaster was somber and off-putting, you ain’t seen NOTHIN’ till you’ve seen this!

 

I suppose that then leads me to one of the over-arching issues I have with this film. The whole thing is off-putting. Well, maybe not the whole thing. But let me see if I can explain it this way…

This is not the kind of movie you would go out of the way to see in a theater, and certainly not one that you would take your really young kids to see as a present or to keep them entertained. Because your kids are sure to be freaked out, then sad, then bored, then asleep, then annoyed, then sad again, then freaked out again; and then after all that, they’re sure to feel cheated because the film didn’t leave them wanting more. And that is all as true as the summer day is long. This movie is dry, unassuming, un-exciting and unfortunately unsatisfying. It feels like a Disney live-action film that just decided to animate the animals rather than try to dub over live animals like they did with the Homeward Bound movies. The ONLY saving grace it has is its impeccable character animation, which allows you to get a hell of a lot more emotional depth out of these characters than you would other-wise. But as far as the story goes, this movie is no more engaging or unique than maybe one of those Beethoven or Buddy movies. And it is very uneventful.

Does that then mean that the film is a bad film? Well no, it doesn’t. I would just say it just makes it a weak “Disney” film, because it ends up being one of their least Disney-ish. Like, if you want to have a “good time” watching a Disney movie, this is probably the last one you would decide to watch, other than maybe The Black Cauldron: but even that has some unique visuals.  And the other thing I would say is that because it is the least Disney-ish, it just ends up being… a film; and a mature one at that. It doesn’t candy-coat things, it doesn’t try to jazz it up. It’s almost like what you’d get if Watership Down wasn’t so dark, grungy and creepy; and was about a fox and a hound. It’s the sort of film that, if you were so inclined, you’d want to sit down and watch “With” your kids as a family bonding moment, because this film does have some honest moments in it, and you will experience some “feels:” to use a recent expression.

Final note, experience it for yourself and see what you think of it. You may end up liking it more than me, or you might not. I leave it up to you. =)

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