Summer Shorts: Star Wars: Pink Five

13-Aug-10 11:00 AM by
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Spoofing Star Wars never seems to go out of style. From RiffTrax to Robot Chicken to Family Guy, many artists have used this theme for more than just an independent one-off, making it a continuing commercial venture.

But few have the history or duration of Pink Five, which debuted as far back as 2002 with sequels appearing in 2004 and 2006. This independent fan series presents an alternative perspective on the events of the original Star Wars trilogy (episodes IV–VI). Paralleling the well-known tale of a rebellious young moisture farmer, the audience instead follows a dim-witted but obstinate Valley girl. It may sound annoying as all heck, but stick with it, as the writing is actually quite clever — her landing on Dagobah will have you laughing out loud. The character even proved popular enough to have a cameo in the official Star Wars expanded universe. The shorts' special effects are also inspired, their many subtle touches effectively inserting our heroine into George Lucas' universe.

The official versions of all four shorts don't load as quickly as your typical YouTube video so are included after the break.

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Summer Shorts: The Life and Death of a Pumpkin

23-Jul-10 11:00 AM by
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Few actors and directors are talented at multiple genres. Michael Bay, for example, is known for directing explosive action films that lately have not been very good; conversely, James Cameron was as skilled at the character-driven science fiction of Terminator 2 as he was the sappy romance of Titanic.

For this reason and others, it is often effective for a person or team to choose a speciality to focus on and master, building a reputation for quality in their chosen field. But from a creative perspective, such dedication can be boring, and the temptation to flex one's artistic muscles is ever-present. Still, I never expected the creators of the ludicrously funny Star Wars satire series Chad Vader to investigate the horror genre, resulting in the excellent Life and Death of a Pumpkin:

This film won multiple awards at the Chicago Horror Film Festival in October 2006, a timeline that places the short's airing at around the same time Chad Vader made his own debut. I'm guessing Blame Society Productions, the team behind both shows, was at the time experimenting to find their niche and eventually settled on the comedic styles of the imperial day shift manager. But the above short demonstrates their talent at a diverse range of cinematic stylings. The macabre perspective, tremulous voice, and bittersweet climax remind me of another award-winning horror short, Unloved, which has also been featured here on Showbits. Among those qualities is the occasional effort at injecting Blame Society's trademark humor into the pumpkin's monologue, suggesting that the film is not meant to be taken seriously — yet it works whether you view it as as genuine and satirical horror.

Who are some of the actors or directors that you have found to be as effective as Blame Society at crossing genres?

Summer Shorts: Paintballing

09-Jul-10 11:00 AM by
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There are many ways for a film to be creative: plot, characters, presentation, and more. One variation we don't often see is in the medium itself. So far this year, the post popular media for the Summer Shorts films are CGI and live action. We don't often see puppets or classic animation, for example.

Paintballing is a short that could be classic animation but looks more like it was drawn in Microsoft Paint. That crude program is rarely a source of works of art, but this short is both novel and fun:

Choosing an art form that is thematically related to the plot was an inspired choice that is rarely possible with more traditional media. On the other hand, I've been playing too much Worms lately, so maybe I'm biased toward depictions of cute little things blowing each other up.

Summer Shorts: Pigeon Impossible

18-Jun-10 12:00 PM by
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Toy Story 3 comes out today, but you don't have to patronize the House of Mouse to get an excellent CGI story. Behold Pigeon: Impossible:

This short parody of the spy genre creatively draws on a number of cinematic archetypes. Although it may strain credulity that such an inept agent would be responsible for war-instigating weaponry, such buffoonery is not without precedent — just look at any incarnation of Get Smart. The scene in which the pigeon takes a strafing run at the agent is akin to Hitchcock's North by Northwest, while the enormity of the missile's launch is reminiscent of Fail-Safe and The Iron Giant.

The film is supported by a comprehensive Web site with a blog, podcasts, and merchandise. The first episode of the creator's 19-part behind-the-scenes videos reveals his initial belief that, since Pixar does one 90-minute movie a year, he could produce a six-minute short in a fraction of the time. The reality? Pigeon: Impossible, released on June 25, 2009, took four years to create. (It could be worse; The Passenger took twice that time.)

Whether Lucas Martell created this masterpiece for pleasure or profit, he has an incredible work of art on his hands that will likely lead to a bright future. Such fortune also has precedent: when Victor Navone created "Alien Song" in 1999, it wasn't long before he got snapped up by Pixar to lend his talents to everything from Finding Nemo to WALL•E.

Summer Shorts: Goodbye to the Normals

11-Jun-10 11:00 AM by
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The last two summer shorts were diverse in matter — one a dark animated film, the other an upbeat pilot for a live-action series — but both prompted questions about life and relationships. After such weighty subjects, I thought it timely to consider something more lighthearted. So say hello to Goodbye to the Normals (note: the film ends with a swear word):

This film is four years old, during which time all three actors have had extensive television acting careers. Most of their credits would be unrecognizable to American audiences, save for Magnus (Alfie Field), who just two months ago appeared on an episode of Dr. Who.

Most fictional intelligent children are saddled with some shortcoming, whether it's a lack of social manners or a tenuous grasp of reality. Magnus is no exception, but at least he doesn't seem to suffer from it, as he instead possesses a clarity of intention and an unfaltering determination. Although I can imagine a child being this precocious, the parents are unbelievable pushovers. Magnus' concern over his lunch's quality may be well-intentioned, but his manner of expression should've earned him a spanking. Of course, that's what makes it so funny, so I'll let it slide.

As an aside, Magnus' choice of destination is curious; being an American, I've had my share of friends who were eager to move out of this country, and few wanting to move to it. I'm curious if the statistics show the number of Americans living abroad has changed disproportionately in the past decade.

If your child was this intent on running away, would you take it as seriously as Magnus' parents did? How would you stop him?

Summer Shorts: Sebastian's Voodoo

28-May-10 11:00 AM by
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With the last two weekly shorts being fairly light-hearted, I thought the third entry in the Summer Shorts series should shake things up a bit. The Black Hole, shown here last summer, toed the line of comedy and tragedy in that live-action short. Accompanying it in the fifth annual National Film Board of Canada Online Short Film Competition was the animated short Sebastian's Voodoo, which goes full-bore to the dark side while still offering a message of hope:

Sebastian's Voodoo takes the well-known concept of voodoo folk magic and gives it nuance. For a doll to represent a living entity, it too must have some connection to a life force. If so, then does it flow both ways? Must a voodoo practitioner have his own doll?

These questions are not just philosophical but have realistic applications and contexts. What gives any one person more right to live than another? It's a moral dilemma that has been examined again and again, from Hitchcock's Lifeboat to Roddenberry's Star Trek. In Sebastian's Voodoo, the hero's decision reminds me of the climax of one of my favorite fantasy films, Dragonheart, but in a visual style similar to the movie 9. The result wasn't inevitable, though; a protagonist in a similar scenario but making different decisions can be found in Black Button. Sebastian's Voodoo is also slated to become a feature-length film — but will it remain a dark morality play, or will Hollywood turn it into something more kid-friendly?

What films have helped you explore life-and-death decisions?

Summer Shorts: Office 2010

21-May-10 11:00 AM by
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Shorts can take many forms: cartoon, parable, excerpt, vignette. Sometimes the teaser for a film is the film itself. Trailers are created for nonexistent movies with no intention of expanding it into a feature-length production. Popular examples are the World's Finest trailer for a Superman/Batman team-up, as well as Grayson, a project by the same team that puts Robin in the leading role after Batman's death.

It's easier to create a standalone trailer based on an existing property, as with so little time in which to draw viewers in, using familiar characters will quickly bring them up to speed sufficiently to appreciate the tale being teased. At the same time, creative types can still use such trailers to reinvent established franchises, taking them in bold new directions. No more dramatic effort has ever been witnessed than in this trailer for Office 2010: The Movie.

Even if the popular yet despised productivity suite is not destined for the silver screen, it does have its share of stories. At ROFLCon II, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Kevan Atteberry, creator of Clippy, the much-maligned assistant found in Microsoft Office 1997–2003. He disavowed responsibility for the loathing Clippy incited — "I only invented the chracter; I did not invent the functionality" — but is nonetheless happy with the fame it brought him, saying that he still gets 3-4 letters a year about Clippy. "It doesn't matter to me if you like him or not. As long as you know who he is, I'm happy."

Should the above trailer ever prove fodder for a feature film, expect fans to be dismayed at the source material being betrayed:



Summer Shorts: The Passenger

14-May-10 12:00 PM by
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Our inaugural entry in the 2010 Summer Shorts premiered in 2006 and was awarded Best Animation at the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival. Despite this sterling record, it is not one of the better-known shorts to have circulated the Internet. In my own effort to remedy the situation, I present to you The Passenger:

Many animated shorts eschew dialogue completely while nonetheless making impressive use of audio. The Passenger takes it a step further by incorporating sound as a central plot element. As for the visual inspiration, the titular passenger looks like an inhabitant of Oddworld, a video game published in 1997 by GT Interactive. That company was purchased in 1999 by Infogrames, a company this short's creator worked at until 2000. Coincidence? Probably.

The Passenger is available on DVD with multiple extras for $18.11. Though I believe artists should be rewarded for their work, $18 for a seven-minute film is a tough sell when you can often get a 90-minute production for the same value. But when you consider that, from conception to release, the film took eight years to craft, that's less than five cents a week to watch the film (and considerably more to render it). If you enjoyed spending seven minutes on this blog post, what do you feel is the best way to appreciate the artist?