The comedy short has a long and illustrious history in cinema. In modern times, the art is still alive but exhibition spaces are limited. As a result, film festivals have become the number one destination for these little films. deadCENTER has its share of shorts programs, but I was only able to check out the comedy section because I needed a laugh. Did I get one? Let’s take a look.
Ten For Grandpa - dir. Doug Karr
This slick little short follows a man wondering who his departed grandfather really was. The camera flows between scenes, across time, and across rooms to create the illusion of fluidity. This is extremely well executed, but I do wonder how much of this film actually qualifies as comedy. If anything is a joke, it seems to be the efforts the filmmakers went to to pull off these shots. Every time we enter a new space we are supposed to be wowed into a laugh; the form is so over the top for such a little film. The choice of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio seems like an arbitrary choice; the piece may be funnier with more vertical space. Of course, we would lose that slickness. T__en for Grandpa is tight, well executed, well_ acted, and fully realized. _Overall, it is a very strong piece and I want to see more from all involved.
The Last Page - dir. Kevin Acevedo
The best part of this short is the Dodge College opening logo. Its self-assuredness provided me the biggest laugh all day, but sadly, all logos must end. The film goes on to depict the terribly tired premise of a writer envisioning the final page of his novel. The writer goes for a walk ends in him getting into all kinds of “wacky trouble”. I realize this is a student film, but still, it is fraught with problems. Again we have an unjustified 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The biggest issue of all is the runtime. At 22 minutes, the piece is more than twice as long as there is story. Most offensively, the laughs are unexplained. Why, Mr. Acevedo, is it funny when a rotund woman grabs the writer’s crotch? If you are out there, defend your joke. And to the professors at Dodge College at Chapman University, please guide your students to kill their favorite babies and cut their pieces down to size.
The SPAM Job - dir. Padraic Culham
Stone faced after the last bit of drek, I was determined not to laugh once through this cheap-looking documentary, but it wore me down over time. I couldn’t help but chuckle by the end. Through interviews and photos, the story of one prankster’s stolen spam becomes clearer and clearer. It sounds dumb and that is the point. The joke here seems to be on us for making it through the whole damn story. This “cheap” feeling I mentioned only adds to the charm of the piece, you simply don’t expect how far they are willing to take this joke about a can of spam ending up in different locales across the globe. The piece is a little fat, could be cut down to size. I could see this as a sketch on a late-night comedy show, that is if Mr. Culham and friends have any other notes up their sleeves.
Cherchez la femme - dir. Idit Dvir
Comedy has a darker side that is briefly explored in this short. A man dressed like a taco wants to kill himself over a woman until he finds a friend in another suicidal man with far different love troubles. Slowly we learn that the man’s wife cheats on him while he is home, so the taco concocts a plot to kill her off. The film takes too long to get to very little payoff, though one of the purest laughs during the shorts program came out of the film. Once the murder is imminent, the murderer must continue having sex with his victim through tears. As an audience, we are left with no emotional output except laughter because our other options simply won’t do given the rest of the film. This one laugh is impressive, but it doesn’t make up for the slow pace of the rest of the film, not to mention the pre-required misogyny one needs to find humor throughout. Ms. Dvir assumes a lot about her audience’s beliefs: that walking tacos are funny, that promiscuous women are sluts, and that murder is a natural progression from anger. Focusing in on these muddled corners will help to make better work in the future.
Tom’s Day Off - dir. Justin Stanley
Sigh. I believe in film criticism as a tool to help filmmakers better their work over time, but when I am given nothing to work with I feel there is nothing I can offer. This is how I feel about Tom’s Day Off. It’s such a mess that I would rather the filmmaker, Justin Stanley, go make something else and bring it back so I can actually give some critique. Apparently, after being dumped a lanky bank employee chooses to rob his place of business. Then he ends up in the back seat of a student driver’s vehicle with no plan. There are no laughs, no plot, no aesthetic quality to speak of. Mr. Stanley probably thinks he’s a genius with his use of an inner monologue interspersed with diegetic dialogue. The bigger question is what place this film has in any film festival. The 10 minutes of space this took up could have been used so much better.
Miracle Investigators - dir. Jeremy Dehn
The program finished off with this crowd pleaser. Overall, this is a lame mashup of kung fu action and outdated church humor. Still, the laughs are there, and that is respectable for a student film thrown into this mix. The film follows two priests charged with meting out justice against perpetrators of false miracles. Unfortunately, this goofy premise never really comes to fruition. The film bumbles along from joke to joke with a plot that hardly makes any sense. It seems that it didn’t matter since the laughs were there. The makers of this film would do better to cut it down to about a 5 minute sketch and really focus in on each joke. Nonetheless, a valiant effort.