Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Independant Film Festival of Boston: Short films

"Tomo" - * * * (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2004 at Coolidge Corner #1

"Tomo" is one of those short films that are perhaps more impressive as a demonstration of what kind of technology is available to all filmmakers, even guys making shorts on a tight budget. Director Paul Catling, who has done art and special effects work on features, gives us a very well-realized robot character. Tomo is sleek, humanoid and expressive, but also very real-looking. It looks like an evolution of modern robotics; far more believable than the andoirds in that Alex Proyas/Will Smith trailer. The story is pretty straight forward and simple - after a spaceship crashes on an cold planet (which looks suspiciously like the English quarry yards where Doctor Who filmed), the sole human survivor has only a robot (Tomo) for company... and they irritate each other perhaps as much as they need each other.

"Tomo" is amusing - the robot porn is always good for a laugh - and I liked the robot designs a lot. It's not always perfectly integrated, but Tomo is one of the nicer-looking robots in recent film history.

"Jo Jo in the Stars" - * * * ¾
Seen 1 May 2004 at Somerville Theater #4

Marc Craste goes for less realism in "Jo Jo" than Catling did in "Tomo"; his characters are rounded, stylized creatures with no necks and noses, but pointy rabbit ears. They live in an environment straight out of Lang's Metropolis, with a dark side beneath a tall and beautiful exterior. In it, a young boy realizes that the winged, beautiful star of the circus he has fallen in love with is a prisoner, and sets to set her free so that they can be together.

Craste's simple style is capable of great beauty, and the small distortions he uses to create Madame Pica's freak show ("There will be no comfort - close the doors.") are genuinely creepy. The characters and story are simple and iconic, as they must be in a 13-minute film, while the visuals are striking.

"Mrs. Meitlemeihr" - * *
Seen 1 May 2004 at Somverville Theater #5

Udo Kier is larger than we normally think of Hitler as being, though that doesn't really work against him in this film. Indeed, it adds a layer of absurdity, though not quite enough to make this a really amusing short. The basic concept just doesn't seem funny enough - that as World War II ended, Adolph Hitler faked his own death with the intention of escaping to Argentina, but somehow ended up in England instead, waiting for word from his comrades. To escape detection when he must venture to the market or post office, he disguises himself as an old woman. On one of these trips, and elderly Jewish gentleman takes a fancy to "Mrs. Meitlemeihr", and irony ensues.

Parts of the movie work - the denoument is the blackest of black comedy, and the opening scenes in a Berlin bunker are quite well-done, as are the visuals of a post-Blitz London. In between, though, Kier is simply not a convincing Hitler. He comes off as merely world-weary, seldom showing any trace of the insanity or charisma that made the man such a seminal figure in world history. I found myself more interested in trying to anagram the movie's title ("Meitlemeihr" yields "Hitler" + "mieme", and I got no farther) than much of the movie.

"The Frank International Film Festival" - * * * ¾
Seen 2 May 2004 at Somerville Theater #2

Created as an extra for the DVD release of Bob Odenkirk's Melvin Goes To Dinner, this is a great "hit-and-run" comedy short: Take a goofy concept, squeeze as many jokes about that concept as possible into ten minutes, and end. Here, the concept is that one of the festivals that booked Melvin Goes To Dinner is actually just one guy - Frank (Fred Armisen) - getting people to bring their movies to his place for him to watch. In the process, Odenkirk, Arminsen, and Michael Blieden lampoon film festivals and fans, from the parties to the Q&A panels, filled as they are with long, self-indulgent questions designed more for the questioner to hear himself talk than to elicit interesting information.

(I confess, though, that perhaps the most enjoyable part was Fred Armisen's Q&A session between the short and the feature. As one might expect, there isn't a whole lot of dissection and discussion possible for an eight-minute parody, and the session quickly entered the realm of the absurd.)

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