The 30 Year Old Bris
Written and Directed by: Michael D. Ratner
Starring: Bradley Mark, Jaclyn Jonet, Donnell Rawlings, Chris Elliott
Before I watched The 30 Year Old Bris, I thought I would take a look at Michael D. Ratner’s other short films. This is how I stumbled on Ratchet, Turnup, Molly, a music video shot for an alleged new single off the Turnup Twinz debut album. It took me two viewings to confirm that it was indeed a parody of contemporary rap; at first, I dutifully paused the video and cross-referenced lyrical passages against Urban Dictionary in an attempt to better understand the underlying message. All for naught; as the DJ in the film says, “You can’t just watch a VH1 reality show and start yelling the words.” Subtlety does not appear to be a strong point of any director named Ratner.
So what kind of nuance would he bring to a short about a 30-year-old man being circumcised to please his Jewish fiancee? Try tasteful cutaways of hot dog vendors slicing up Italian sausages or a street artist deflating a pink balloon. The 30 Year Old Bris would be hilarious if I were still fourteen years old, solidly within those heady days – pun intended – of thinking genital trauma to be the height of civilization. I think I liked Bradley Mark as the lead, but since he was tasked with bugging out his eyes and saying “Penis!” in a stage whisper, I can’t quite say for sure. The money shot is fake rabbi Chris Elliot laughing maniacally as he holds up a severed baby penis. I will sleep a little easier at night knowing I have crossed that off my bucket list.
Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard
Directed by: Tony Glazer
Written by: Christian Keiber, Tyler Hollinger
Starring: Christian Keiber, Tyler Hollinger, Bree Michael Warner, Katie Henney, Brett Azar
Director Tony Glazer wrote and directed a low budget crime thriller called Junction in 2012. In 2014, Glazer would attach himself to Redrum, a true crime series on the Discovery Channel spin-off ID (Investigation Discovery) that unfolds its narratives backwards, a la Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Keiber and Hollinger – who serve double-duty as the writers and leads in the short film – are both veteran television actors with one other writing credit between them. The pedigree of Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard is certainly something of a mixed bag.
So the last thing in the world I expected was straight-faced surreal humor similar to that of Children’s Hospital or any Zucker Brothers production. Keiber and Hollinger play two middle-aged lifeguards who are forced to contemplate whether the great summer of their lives is coming to an end. Hollinger needs to convince his former flame that she’s still the woman he wants, while Keiber needs to prove to himself – and his fiance – that he is no longer haunted by an underwater encounter with an amorous dolphin. Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard may not be the most original film on the docket, but I surprised myself by laughing several times, most often when the muscle-bound beau of Hollinger’s ex was onscreen. With beach season just around the corner, the filmmakers will hopefully post the film online and see if it connects with an audience.
Directed by: Ken Lam
Written by: Laura Grey, Jordan Klepper
Starring: Laura Grey, Jordan Klepper
I believe it was Socrates that once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
Actually, I don’t “believe” it was Socrates, I know it was Socrates. I looked it up, just right now, for this review. I don’t even really know why I pretended like it was off-the-cuff. Maybe I wanted you to think I was smart. Maybe I wanted you to think I was the kind of guy who could quote Socrates without having to look the quote up first. Well, I’m not, ok? I’m not that guy. I don’t know Socrates! I’ve carried the same copy of Bel Canto around since I was in college because it was a smart book and I wanted to have smart books on my shelf! LEAVE ME ALONE!
An unexamined life might not be worth living, but if Peepers is right, then even the slightest amount of examination can turn a life pretty goddamn miserable in a hurry. The short frames a young couple’s crisis of legitimacy against the traditional trappings of a horror film; when someone stares at them through their window, they find the mirage of their happy catalogue lifestyle falling down around their feet. In my past year of festival coverage, I’ve grown rather fond of the ten-minute horror comedy. It’s the perfect length of time to establish a joke, hit the high notes, and then wrap it up quickly before people lose interest. Peepers is right up there with the best I’ve seen; it’s a fantastic bit of humor that I hope will make the internet rounds after the festival is completed.
Written and Directed by: Dylan Marko Bell
Co-written by: Russell August Anderson
Starring: Tyler Lueck, Rob Mathes, Dana Salah
The length of short films are something of a mixed blessing for filmmakers. On the one hand, you cannot do much in the way of world-building. The format lacks the time to explain away all the inconsistencies of your short story: what characters mean to each other, how they came to be in their present circumstance, and where they will go from here. A short film uses the medium to its strength when it does not try to do too much. Rather than do a handful of things in a slapdash manner, a filmmaker should choose to do one thing really well and strip away all the unnecessary pieces.
I appreciate the story that Remora tried to tell. If you love someone but have the power to inadvertently harm them, is leaving them behind the kindest action? Bell tells this story through the lens of a man with the power to disintegrate objects with his mind. Landon (Mathes) could not keep the love of his life safe, so his brother (Lueck) stepped in and now needs Landon’s blessing to marry his ex. While this is a nice scenario, there are too many threads here, too many necessary bits of character development for the film to unfold in only a few minutes. A short film like Peepers works because the filmmakers were willing to throw away anything not absolutely necessary to the joke at hand. Remora wants us to accept a failed relationship, a new love story, superpower trial-and-error, and the death of a father, all as back story to our eight minutes with the characters. More showing and less telling; the audience will meet you halfway if you let them.
Written and Directed by: Paul Davis
Co-Written by: Paul Fischer
Starring: Alfie Allen, Christian Brassington, Jack Gordon, Ben Matthews, Hannah Tointon
I love character actors with narrow range. While the Daniel Day Lewises of the world achieve great things in roles designed for greatness, the typecast character actor must entice an audience despite the established nature of his or her performances. Jeremy Davies is a particular favorite of mine. Unlike many, he nurtures his particular style of acting without overexposing himself. The past six years have seen him be very cautious in what television and film roles he selects, choosing only to work with established names such as Graham Yost or Bryan Fuller. No one is more wary of Jeremy Davies’s Jeremy-Davies-ness than Jeremy Davies himself.
So I hope someone is advising Alfie Allen to be cautious as well. Allen was blessed – cursed – with a cruel face. His characters are quick to violence, using their strength to distract from the weakness that lies inside. The man in The Body is no different. Part American Psycho, part Weekend at Bernie’s, The Body presents Allen as a serial killer free to wander the streets of London on Halloween with a dead body in tow. None of the people that Allen’s nameless character encounters have any clue that the body is real; they all complement him on his dedication to the holiday and offer to join him in a Halloween scavenger hunt to bury the “body” in the woods. The humor in the short comes from Allen’s social miscues. His arrogant attempts to own up to his own crime are construed as satire by those around him, and even when he admits that Halloween is the best night of the year for his brand of work, his cohorts still think they’re playing along.
While there may not be a ton of fresh ideas in The Body, Allen takes the opportunity to show off his chops as a true sociopath. It will be interesting to see what direction the actor goes as he enters his prime. He may not be interested in playing only the villain for the rest of his career, but if he manages his roles correctly, oh, what a villain he could be.
Written and Directed by: Jesse Burks
Starring: Michael Berryman, Alan Rackley, Catherine Burks, Sailor Holland
In a brightly-lit suburban neighborhood, a woman stands at a counter chopping vegetables. Her daughter jumps rope outside. The only sound we hear is the rhythmic exchange of the knife hitting the cutting board and the rope bouncing against the sidewalk. An ice cream truck becomes visible in the distance and we hear the carousel theme of the truck. The girl dashes inside and runs up to her mother, tugging on her skirt until she finally puts down the vegetables. One of the mother’s fingers is missing; her daughter ties a string around her remaining pinky and finishes with a bow. You always have to pay the ice cream man.
The sound designer for One Please is Dwight Chalmers. He deserves to be mentioned by name in any review of the film. Not because there is any dialogue in One Please – there isn’t, not unless you count the hiss of Michael Berryman as the ice cream man – but instead because Chalmers isolates everything from the soundtrack that highlights the banality of the horror. The chopping, jumping, and chimes are all rooted in the foreground of the piece, allowing the quiet spaces of the soundtrack to drain the brightness from Burks’s happy neighborhood. Only the ice cream truck itself exists in darkness. Everything else is cheerfully mundane.
I have a fear of knives that I have never been able to shake. On my best days, I can watch movies like The Raid and Under Siege without wincing too hard. On my worst days, I am barely capable of looking at the screen without cringing. I’m not too proud to admit that I watched most of One Please through the gaps between my fingers. Burks and Chalmers have created one of the creepiest films, short or otherwise, I’ve seen in the last few years. Please do not try and expand this concept to a feature length; it is absolutely perfect just the way it is.
Written and Directed by: Carles Torrens
Starring: Joe Hursley, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Jayne Taini
What if you woke up one morning to find that the world hated you? What if everyone you know – and everyone you didn’t – had shared a collective nightmare where you had performed unspeakable acts? How would you convince the world you weren’t a monster?
As the story in Sequence progressed, I found myself thinking about Alex Proyas’s Dark City. Like John Murdoch in that film, Joe Hursley’s Billy is a decent fellow who cannot understand why people are deathly afraid of him. All he wants to do is celebrate his anniversary with his girlfriend, but she locks herself in the bathroom and refuses to come out. When Billy goes into a nearby liquor store for a pack of cigarettes, a robber changes his plan and decides to take out his frustration on Billy instead. All of this is predicated on a parking ticket that tells Billy that he is “next,” a vague threat that Billy will not understand until it might be a little too late.
Like Dark City, there seems to be unknown forces at play that take an interest in how Billy resolves the situation. Hursley delivers a strong performance as the downtrodden guy; when the screenplay twists the knife at the very end, we have spent enough time with him to believe his reaction is genuine (thereby ensuring forward motion). As a thought exercise, Sequence keeps its sights aimed low enough to prevent it from getting bogged down in too many big-picture concepts. The film acts as a laboratory experiment, tracking the results of Billy’s day when under the influence of a world of hurt. While Sequence may not quite be as charismatic or as high-concept as some of the other short films on the program, it delivers the strongest blend of both. This is a universe I wouldn’t mind revisiting in the future.