Despite the insistent quacking of a Brooklynite in between films, the short showcase put on by the Brooklyn Film Festival was an invigorating experience — a presentation of some truly talented individuals who will likely impress many when their features eventually unfurl.
"Tennis" by Darren Herczeg was first up and we can't imagine a weirder way to start an evening. Short and sweet (the total run time being a scant four minutes), the movie documents a match between two highly aggressive players, sweating and grunting as they slam the ball back and forth. But when one athlete misses his shot, "Tennis" takes a darker turn: soldiers storm the court and prepare him for execution, exhibiting their strict no-loser policy. It's funny through and through, managing to be enjoyable while critiquing the inherent rigid, stuck-up nature of the sport. Like a more sober example of an "Adult Swim" show with its odd sensibilities and quick running time, it'd likely thrive as a viral video, and we wouldn't be surprised if that was the next step for this one. Afterwards, Herczeg mentioned a feature in the works — one which used this short as the opening scene — and while the idea could potentially fizzle in a prolonged form, we're definitely interested to see what the filmmaker would do with more room to play with. [B+]
Rather generic and harmless, "Tapperman" is a Swiss comedy about a struggling tupperware salesman (Paul) who can't seem to catch a break — he can't sell a thing, and his boss' demands that he smile at each customer don't seem to be making any difference. It's a lonely existence for Paul, and it bums him out so much that he doesn't notice the interested eyes of his female neighbor. Eventually, his job somehow gets him stuck inside a coffin, an experience which causes him to enact the big, bold life changes he needs so badly. Alberto Meroni's flick tries hard for laughs — heck, the tupperware tops make fart noises when they seal — but it's ultimately too dull and contrived to elicit any chuckles. What's worse is the cute electronica soundtrack, which feels slapped on and forced. Still, "Tapperman" does have some pretty nice imagery, and Meroni gives a somewhat surreal touch to Paul's coffin-entrapment — it's a creative impulse we wish we'd seen more of in the scripting and direction, but there's always next time. [C-]
Charging out of the gate with motormouth narration and an uppity soundtrack, "Easy Snappin" looks at a young couple, Johnny and Marianne, as they spend their day acting on impulses, attempting a dutiless, freewheelin' lifestyle that is unfortunately cut short when the former's dirty deeds catch up with him. Shot in the midst of last year's Hurricane Irene, there's a pervading sense of desolation within, as if the apocalypse was taking its damn time in annihilating all: sparsely populated areas complete with forlorn gray skies make up the various settings, and if that doesn't leave you in disarray, the filmmaker stages an extended tracking shot around a man explicating end-of-the-world theories. But director David Lombroso remains playful with "Easy Snappin," using jarring soundtrack cuts and a mix of genre styles to show both the charming naiveté of his protagonists and the futility of their behavior. [A-]
One of the longer efforts, "Three Brothers" is a bit messy, cramming in a number of ideas that never get the chance to properly breathe. After being kicked out of their mother's house, the titular siblings set up permanent camp in the woods and live out their days in the wilderness, eating canned food and building a spaceship. Through a bunch of random and relatively unimportant developments, the trio manage to make serious dough selling wild mushrooms — though their newfound wealth source evaporates after they discover that their fungi may have killed seven patrons at a nearby restaurant. On the lam from the cops, they complete the spaceship and pull out of there, eventually crashlanding onto a beach, safe and sound. But it's not as fun as it sounds: scenes are barely developed and seem hurried along (rendering some completely pointless) and there are absolutely no stakes within the narrative (if there are — such as the police coming after them — you never feel it). Helmer Lucas McGowen embraces the weird, but most of it isn't very unique. Once the spaceship takes off, though, 'Brothers' hits an interesting stride — the effects are fantastic, and the thing actually functioning is a terrific payoff that this writer was quite surprised by. It's a shame the movie didn't open at this point. [C-]
Seemingly plucked out of the 1980s/1990s era of hand-drawn animation, Neil Boyle's "Last Belle" is a beautiful, alluring short regrettably held back by a thoroughly humdrum screenplay. Long-haired Rosie giddily tells her friend about an upcoming blind date, noting that that two have been exchanging emails frequently and finally decided to meet for a drink at a local pub in London. As she gabs, we meet the much-talked-about Wally, a fat slob who, at times, looks a helluva lot like a Hungry Hungry Hippo. Wally clears his entire fridge of beer before passing out, accidentally falling asleep while Rosie waits for him patiently at a bar. After finally awakening, the man rushes to the location, experiencing one cartoonish setback after another — which includes losing all of his clothes and being hit by a train. Boyle's film is a sight for sore eyes, but the story is rather simplistic and the jokes are incredibly obvious, and given the decades of "Looney Tunes" and their ilk, Wally's misfortunes seem terribly neutered by comparison. Maybe Boyle and "Tennis" filmmaker Herczeg should collaborate for that zanier jolt? [C+]
David McClain is a compelling figure: once a New York gangster, the man was blinded in a gunfight and soon sent to prison for various crimes. Now clean and full of faith, David leads a peaceful life in North Carolina but is still haunted by his violent past. His life is fit for some sort of silver screen treatment, and director Jeff M. Giordano managed to be the first to snatch it up, fashioning a non-fiction account of his past and present. "King David: Part One" is the precursor documentary to the feature-length tale of David, which means that this short sometimes feels like an appetizer to something bigger rather than a stand-alone piece — yet still, it's hard not to get sucked in by the contemplative style that the filmmaker establishes. There's also the scratchy, roughly recorded narration which we soon discover is not from an interview session with the filmmaker but a personal cassette made by McClain for his Bible Study meetings. The confessional inflection of his voice gives the movie a strange tone, as if he was divulging all of this information to the viewer for their forgiveness. A solid, different aesthetic is employed here, and the feature is something that is definitely on our radar. [B+]