Monkey See, Monkey Ride A Bike – One Got Fat (1963)

ogf1aTen little monkeys jumping on a bed

One fell off and broke his head

Nine little monkeys jumping on a bed…

While watching the 1963 bicycle safety PSA One Got Fat, I couldn’t help but think about the strange little chanting song above that is often used by teachers and parents to teach young kids how to count backwards from ten to one.

To say that this short film is just as creepy and strange as that counting song is not an exaggeration.

ogf2One Got Fat is a production of Interlude Films which did a number of PSAs to be shown in schools, and features a group of school children dressed as monkeys who are riding their bikes to a nearby park. Along the way each of them fails too observe a bicycle safety rule and because of it meets a rather grisly fate. The entire film runs about 15 minutes and is narrated by acclaimed voice artist Edward Everett Horton, whose voice you will immediately recognize if you spent any time watching Rocky and Bullwinkle as a child.

Y’know, it occurs to me that with all of the remakes coming out of Hollywood today maybe some enterprising film maker should try redoing some of these PSAs with modern technology and effects for today’s schools. I mean, just imagine the effect this could have on today’s school children with modern CGI effects.

Of course, that’s assuming that any of today’s kids actually still ride bikes instead of just doing it virtually on their cell phones.

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There’s Nothing Tacky About Oscar Isaac In This Short Film – Ticky Tacky (2014)

tt1Coming into writer/director/producer Brian Petsos’ 2014 short film Ticky Tacky, you could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps you had stumbled upon some missed early Wes Anderson film. After all, there is the initial shot of the record stylus being placed on an LP thus establishing the source of the classical music which will make up the bulk of the soundtrack for this 15 minute short, and then there is the stylized wide-angle strictly-balanced establishing shot, in which, like many of Mr. Anderson’s set-ups, the right and left sides of the screen are practically mirror images of each other.

Fortunately, Mr. Petsos soon proves that he wants to be much more than just a slavish Anderson imitator as he puts his own unique stamp on what follows.

tt2I’ve written before about just how hard I think it is to create a truly great short film and the hazards that both the screenwriter for this sort of film and the director face when it come to being able to establish unique characters that are not merely two-dimensional placeholders which move the plot along, and to providing an actual story  with a beginning, middle, and end, rather than just shooting a scene and calling that a complete film.

Again. Petsos manages to avoid both of these pitfalls, giving his audience a compelling, even at times shocking story of a rich man who turns his mind to revenge for a perceived betrayal.

tt3Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the insanely talented Oscar Isaac to play the lead in your film, but as we know from Inside Llewyn Davis, even he can’t redeem everything he’s in. (Sorry, I know it’s kind of a cheap shot, but despite the acclaim for Davis, I really found myself disappointed by it.) In this case, Isaac certainly brings his “A” game, turning on an emotional dime and providing a truly compelling and at times downright terrifying protagonist. (Is that really the right word for this role? Hmm…)

tt4Another smart move that Pestos makes is casting the young Julian Shatkin as Isaac’s aide de camp. Shatkin proves himself well worthy of his role, and his seeming youthfulness provides the film with one of its most shocking moments.

Ticky Tacky is the first of Petsos’ short films that I have seen, (IMDB lists twelve writer credits for him and five directorial ones) but I look forward not only to checking out more of his already completed work but also seeing what he will bring to the screen going forward, For now, however, I highly recommend checking this one out. The 15 minutes it will take to watch it will definitely be well spent.

They May Actually Be Somewhere In This Five Minute Short – All Your Favorite Shows (2015)

ayfs1I’ve said it here many times before, and I’ll say it again: short films are not easy. Not only do you have to set up the story that you want to tell and establish your characters, but then you also have to carry that premise through to a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion. Of course, from a personal perspective it makes it even harder for me to really enjoy a short film that is simply trying to “depict a moment”, rather than actually tell a narrative story, but that’s simply my own bias. Since I am a story-teller, I prefer films that have an actual narrative to share.

As an added obstacle, the short film maker then has to try to do something to really set his film apart in a way that often times those making longer movies don’t. Because so many beginning film makers think of short films as a gateway to bigger things, and especially with the cost of entry into creating your own film being so much lower today than it ever has been in the past, the number of short movies being made today is exponentially larger than ever before.

That’s why I’m always thrilled to run across a short film like All Your Favorite Shows. Created by Ornana Films, this short is a triumph not only of story telling, but especially of editing as during its 5 minute running time it uses clips from roughly 160 movies to move its story along at an extremely wild pace and yet never gets lost, and it really is a showcase of just how much can be done working with so little. I highly recommend giving this one a look, and if you like what you see, you can check out some of their other shorts at Ornana.com.

It’s True, Eli Roth Always Did Want To Be Quentin Tarantino – Here’s One Of His Student Films, Restaurant Dogs (1994)

er1I have to admit I’m not a very big fan of Eli Roth. His films really tend to be more graphically gory than I prefer. Not that I don’t like a bit of gore in my horror films when it’s appropriate, but I tend to prefer when the movie takes a bit of a step back and remembers that its purpose is to entertain rather than to simply – as Ross seems to have a tendency to do – revel in the most realistic portrayal of gore and body torture that it possibly can muster.

Nonetheless, one thing that I always find interesting is to look back and see just what today’s film makers – or really, film makers from any era, but it’s a much easier task today with the proliferation of this kind of thing to be found all over the internet – were doing in their early years.

That’s one reason I found this film from Roth’s film school days so fascinating. Another is the sheer creativity on exhibit, especially considering what must have been an extremely limited budget that he was obviously working with. Of course, again, that’s another thing that usually sets this kind of short film apart. The fact that during these early years these creators didn’t have a lot of money to work with, nor did they have access to the latest technology or effects houses such as ILM to create their effects, so they had to come up with some kind of work around or other way to get their vision to the screen, and since, as the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, I’m always curious to see just what kind of inventiveness they come up with.

Anyway, it’s in that spirit that I thought I’d share with you this video, complete with an introduction by Mr. Roth himself explaining not just the origins of the film, but its rather disastrous reception, of Restaurant Dogs from all the way back in 1994.

(Y’know, in a way I almost feel it’s a shame he ever did get a big budget to work with. There’s actually a lot more thought and inventiveness going on here than in a lot of his full-length efforts. At least that’s my opinion anyway)

Here’s A Good Reason Not To Bring Your Work Home With You – Alice Jacobs Is Dead (2009)

ajSo what happens after you’ve found a way to stop the zombie virus, but haven’t actually found a cure for those who were already infected? How far do you go in the name of love? These are the questions that face Doctor Ben Jacobs in this very effective and evocative short film from Strange Case productions.

Alice Jacobs is Dead stars John LaZar as Dr. Jacobs, and Adrienne Barbeau (yes, Adrienne Barbeau!) as his wife Alice. It was written and directed by Alex Horwitz.

The film runs around twenty-one minutes, and like the best short films, does a good job of getting in, setting things up, taking the time it needs to tell the story it wants to, and then getting out, without being overblown or overstaying its welcome.

Give it a look:

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This Early Stop Motion/Live Action Short Really Lays An Egg – It’s A Bird (1930)

This intriguing short film from 1930 is entitled It’s a Bird and features comedian Charley Bowers interacting with some very interesting stop-motion animated creatures.

For those who have never heard of Bowers (as I hadn’t until I ran across this) here’s a bit of biography on him, taken from Wikipedia:

cbThe son of Dr. Charles E. Bowers and his wife, Mary I. Bowers, Charles Raymond Bowers was born in Cresco, Iowa. His early career was as a cartoonist on the Mutt and Jeff series of cartoons for the Barré Studio. By the late 20s, he was starring in his own series of slapstick comedies for R-C Pictures and Educational Pictures. His slapstick comedies, a few of which have survived, are an amazing mixture of live action and animation created with the “Bowers Process.” Complex Rube Goldberg gadgets also appear in many of his comedies. Two notable films include Now You Tell One with a memorable scene of elephants marching into the U.S. Capitol, and There It Is, a surreal mystery involving the Fuzz-Faced Phantom and MacGregor, a cockroach detective. He made a few sound films such as It’s a Bird and Wild Oysters, and wrote and illustrated children’s books in his later years. For eight years during the 1930s he lived in Wayne, New Jersey, and drew cartoons for the Jersey Journal. After succumbing to severe arthritis, his wife started drawing them under his direction.

Having seen that, I’m curious to check out more of his work. Wikipedia notes that a collection of what is known to have survived was released by Image Entertainment in 2004. It’s definitely something I think I’m going to have to track down.

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When Donald Duck Was Nominated For The Oscar For Best Documentary – The New Spirit (1942)

ns1A Donald Duck short nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature? Yep it happened.

You see, because of the various rate changes and income brackets introduced in the Revenue Act of 1942, which was passed in order to help finance America’s part in World War II, approximately 15 million Americans would be asked to pay income taxes for the first time. In order to encourage the public to not only pay this new tax, abut to do so properly and on time, and to explain why the government needed the money, then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. approached Walt Disney to produce a propaganda film to cast the concept in a positive light and perhaps make biting the bullet just a little easier.

At first, it was proposed that a new character to simply be known as “Mr. Average Taxpayer”be crated for the short, but Disney, who certainly was one who understood the American moviegoer and what would appeal to them much more than Mr Morganthau, countered that Donald, who was at that point Disney’s biggest star, would be more appropriate for the task. After all, if even the irascible duck was willing to pay his fair share. then perhaps it would help the rest of the public see doing their part as the good and patriotic thing to do also.

ns3Thus was the short film The New Spirit born.

Directed by Wilfred Jackson and Ben Sharpsteen, and featuring Clarence Nash as the voice of Donald, Fred Shields as the radio announcer, and Cliff Edwards singing the theme song, while this was the first propaganda film Disney produced to aid the war effort, it would be far from the last.

“Interestingly, the financial information included in the short are accurate if one takes Donald’s salary of $2501 as accurate. Donald files as Head of Family since he is single and able to claim Huey, Dewey, and Louie as his dependents, sog his payment of $13 authentic according to the tax bracket. Interestingly, we also see that Donald’s address is 1313 Hollywood Boulevard. and we even get a look at his bank and check numbers

ns2Anyway, the next year, at the 15th Academy Awards, 25 films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, – this was obviously a huge year for propaganda films, and both feature films and shorts ere included in the nominations and The New Spirit was one of them. Unfortunately, it was not one of the four winners, which were The Battle of Midway, Kokoda Front Line!,  Moscow Strikes Back, and  Prelude to War.

Still, one can only wonder just how different Donald’s mantelpiece would have looked with a bight shining Oscar on top of it. Assuming, of course, his nephews didn’t just take it outside to play football with.

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