Sunday, October 12, 2008

Spout #13(Part Two): Gowanus, Brooklyn

It's going to be almost impossible for me to really, fairly review Gowanus, Brooklyn. As a short film, a visual short story with beginning, middle and end, it's a horrible failure. And yet it's also a complete success, as a compelling piece of drama, a showcase for some good acting on the half of some previously unknown talent, and as a glimpse into the abilities of a talented young filmmaker trying to show the world what he can do. I'm sorry, that last bit might seem hyperbolic, but it's also true, and it needs to be noted because of the success he has with his attempts. Director Ryan Fleck intended this film as the feature-length it would eventually become, 'Half Nelson', and filmed a 25 minute short film/segment to drum up interest and financing. That he eventually succeeded, to critical acclaim, needs to be considered before judging the merits of this film alone.

Stranded at school when her brother fails to pick her up, Drey heads back inside to use the gym's restroom facilities, where she finds one of her teachers, Mr. Dunne, getting high in one of the stalls. She immediately asks him for a ride home. There are brief glimpses of a relationship that may build between the two, wary friendship or outright dependence, but that isn't the focus of this short. Drey seems well adjusted, but sullen, quiet, and lonely, and is obviously disconnected from all aspects of her life. Her mother seems loving, but absent most of the time due to work. Her brother, likewise, seems close to her, but he's older and part of a different world. She has friends at school, but while they chatter and laugh, she seems more interested in clusters of older children hanging out on the street corner. That probably explains why she grasps onto Mr. Dunne; she has something on him, proof of the fallibility of adults, and it brings him down closer to her level. Their both out of place in their own lives, and hiding something from the world. We don't see much of Mr. Dunne, but his misery is clear enough. It's there in his drug problem(always the cinematic sign of misery), and the extended pause he takes after getting into his car before he drives away.

We get a flurry of possible conflicts in this short film, and none of them are anywhere near resolution. Drey's mother has her own sadness and seems to be preoccupied with some horrible thoughts, Drey's brother is apparently involved in some not-quite-legal activities, and of course there's Mr. Dunne and his drug problem, and Drey herself and her alienation. Most of these conflicts aren't directly addressed, but are conveyed by lingering camera takes, and some meaningful glances.

A word should be said about the acting. I actually really like low-budget films and their non-actors. There's something appealing and even emotionally affecting about the sometimes stilted or borderline flat delivery. I like it's rhythm, and it's awkwardness. Not to say that any of that appears here. With the possible exception of the important Mr. Dunne, every single person appearing on screen seems to not even be acting, but to be living these events out. Every one of them is utterly convincing. I don't mean to say that Mr. Dunne, played by Matt Kerr, is a bad actor, but he doesn't seem a perfect fit for a role that should be much more magnetic and, yes, charismatic.

So there, a quick overview of a fantastic short film that should really only serve as a companion piece to a larger work. I find it very encouraging that Ryan Fleck was able to get his feature film made from this short, and look forward to seeing how everything plays out. There are many predictable ways in which this story could go, which we can call the 'after school special' approach, but judging from the work on display here, I don't have much fear about that.

Final Analysis: Would I pay money for a feature film directed by Ryan Fleck(and co-written by Anna Boden, can't forget her)? If it weren't already obvious, I plan on doing so later this week.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Spout #13 (Part One): Hyper

The disc I'm reviewing this time is a collection of short films, 13 to be exact. I didn't plan on writing individual reviews for each film, and I still don't. My friend and fellow Spout Maven Rik did that far more impressively than I could hope to do here. I'm leaving it up in the air right now, some posts may have only one short film, others may include a few, or I may just burn through the final dozen in the next post(that last one is highly unlikely). I do plan on treating each of these shorts as an individual film, however, and will be taking time to review all of the special features they may have(each includes at least one commentary). To many of these filmmakers, this short film they've produced represents just as much passion, sweat and ingenuity as a feature length film, and maybe more of that stuff than many features. I've also decided that the best way of reviewing these films, the best criteria, is a single question I'll ask myself at the end of every viewing; would I pay to see a movie directed by this artist? I'll answer the question for the first of these shorts, Hyper, in the following paragraphs.

Like the Ace, the subject of the fake documentary that is Hyper, and Rik, who suggested this disc to me, I move at a personal speed that is noticeably higher than that of the rest of the world. Part of that is my height, longer legs and longer strides, but most of it is motion. I fidget a bit, I pace constantly when I'm required to be on the phone, and I've somewhat mastered the ability to weave in and out of clusters of shoppers at the mall. And yes, this brings with it a level of frustration. Constantly slowing down to the speed of the people I'm with, or facing the terror of a packed mall where I'll have my own personal rhythm interrupted by some teenager who decides they don't need to see what's going on behind them before they stop short to stare at something in the window. That stuff can sometimes be annoying. I sympathize with Ace. But there is where the similarities end.

I may move at a faster than average clip when walking, and may experience mild annoyance when that clip is interrupted, but in general I am not worried about time. It does not appear logical to me to live your life watching the clock, or constantly measure time in a series of positive or negative blocks. In my life, as anyone reading my infrequent blog can attest, I am not averse to stopping to smell the roses, as it were. But Ace, well, Ace is a bit more extreme. Every moment of his life is lived in fast forward, counting every minute and adding or subtracting to some vague, unmentioned total. Working out while riding the train to work gains him an hour, while spending time with the girlfriend loses him 15 minutes. I'm not sure what he's keeping track for, or what he's doing with the total, but it completely consumes his life..

I guess that would be the biggest question: Why? What is Ace hoping to accomplish? What is he going to do with all that extra time? It's not as if it sits somewhere, accruing interest until some magical day when he retires. And besides, Ace seems to have no real goal or desire to be anything other than a courier, which he already is. He obviously doesn't want a family one day, as private time with a magazine in a public restroom seems more than enough domestic satisfaction. Sure, the point may be that all of Ace's tips for faster living are, in fact, pointless. That in the end Ace winds up stuck in his own rut, alone and never at rest. But I'm still unsure as to why this man would feel so compelled.

By the time I made it through this film for a third time, watching Ace gave me the sort of annoyance I normally reserve for those people who use wheelchairs but push themselves around with their feet.

Final analasis, would I pay to see a feature length film directed by Michael Canzoniero and Marco Ricci? Well, I wouldn't avoid it. I know that sounds like faint praise, but it's hard to judge from this short. Hyper was quick and fun and mildly stylized, but there was nothing to it to set it apart. Nothing in the film gave any idea about the philosophies, ideas or style of the talent behind the camera. So yes, if the subject matter of the film appealed to me, I'd love to see more from these guys.