Thursday, July 23, 2009

My review of "I was Merely Acting/Dramatic Shorts" at the Indianapolis International Film Festival

I'm not much into dramatic movies. As a humor writer, I try to avoid things that are, well, dramatic. I like to say it's because dramatic movies and TV shows just suck the humor right out of me. But in truth it's because dramatic means "will make Erik tear up."

But still, I had decided to see the dramatic shorts at the Indianapolis International Film Festival on Tuesday. I figured they were short enough that we would be starting the next one before the first one really had a chance to grab ahold of me.

Here's a quick rundown of the five movies in the "I Was Merely Acting/Dramatic Shorts", including Free Lunch, The Collector, Borderless, The Chef's Letter, and Weathered.

Free Lunch


The story of a privileged young man who decides to shake off the fetters of wealth and privilege to open his own lunch truck in Los Angeles. Walter was one of those optimistic young liberals who thinks he's down with the people because he lives in a 2-room apartment and can speak a little street Spanish.

Frankly, I found Walter really annoying. The acting was good, the story was actually kind of funny. But Walter as a person bugged the shit out of me. He had that youthful world-changing optimism that you find in a lot of youth pastors meeting their first group of inner city kids. He bugged me because I was that way. I saw a lot of myself 20 years ago in Walter.

The bigger problem is that Walter didn't know when to quit. When things were going bad, he kept going. When things got worse, he kept going. When things hit rock bottom, you and I would have wondered how we're going to find our next thing. Walter just looked like this was one more minor setback, no worse or better than running out of ham for his favorite customer.

The Collector


I watched these movies with a couple of friends I bumped into at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the consensus was The Collector was not our favorite. Most stories have a beginning, middle, and end; The Collector just had an end, with a bit of a middle in front of it. We weren't sure what happened at the end or what caused the end to come around. It threw all of us for a bit of a loop.

The story is about a boy who develops a love — an obsession, really — with collecting things. When he collects all of something, he finds something new. This behavior continues on until he's an old man, collecting memories along with items.

I love the sound effects in this movie. It's a weird thing to love, but the the solid clunking of the different collectibles was comforting and more vivid than even real life sounds.

If you're into imagery and metaphors and deep life lessons, then The Collector is right up your alley. If you're not, it will be a little tough to wrap your head around. See it more than once to get it to fit with your worldview.

Borderless


I loved this movie. Elena Torres, a college student and illegal immigrant, and Jason Whitsell, a campus Republican, are the two characters in this great short about learning to trust and accepting help from new friends.

Elena washes dishes for 40 hours a week, sleeps in the library at night, and goes to campus events that provide food so she can eat; Jason is the son of a U.S. Congressman who's against illegal immigration. Elena has to learn that she either has to trust Jason or spend her days and nights alone.

The website, BorderlessMovie.com says this is a story about being who you are, even when you are afraid that who you are is not what other people would accept.

What was especially surprising was that this was done as a USC graduate thesis film. It was well-acted, well-shot, and in short a great movie. It was my second favorite of the whole series, and actually a tough call to make.

The Chef's Letter



Rob is a successful chef with a wife who loves him and a daughter who adores him. Everything is going great, but he falls in love with a male trainee, so he writes a letter on the trainee's last day, telling him how he feels.

I found myself pulling for the two characters who never made an appearance in the film, Rob's daughter and wife. I wanted Rob to follow his loyalty and family commitments, not follow his infatuation. I can imagine it was a hard decision for him, and I've known people who have faced this decision. Knowing Rob's dilemma made this a difficult film for me to "just watch." I became emotionally invested in the story, wondering and worrying about what would happen.

Weathered


My favorite movie of the whole series. Weathered is a story about a woman, Weather, who lost her fiancée, Jules, in the 1990s, and has refused to move on in her grief and mourning. Her computer is a word processor, she uses an answering machine, and still listens to record albums.

As Jules' life came to an end, and all their friends faded out of their life, the doctors and nurses were the only human contact in Weather's life. So as a way to receive some human contact, Weather visits every kind of medical professional she can imagine, saving their little flyers, prescriptions, and sheets of paper they hand her.

It's only by accident that Weather's life gets shaken off center and we think she may finally move on a bit. Starring Nicole Parker of MadTV and Broadway's Wicked, and Tony Hale of Arrested Development, this film became my favorite of the entire slate.

I had a chance to meet Matt Barber, one of the writers who also played Jules, after the show, and talk to him for a little bit about script writing. Pretty cool, pretty cool.


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