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I first encountered this short while re-watching many of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons on DVD. The Looney Tunes shorts in particular have been some of my favorite cartoons since childhood and I enjoy many of Warner's other early efforts as well. While many of these classic cartoons make pop cultural references that have become obscure or mostly forgotten in the modern day, most of them maintain a timeless quality that children and adults of all generations still enjoy. The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos however is one of the most outdated Warner Brothers cartoons that I have seen, to the point where it's one of the only classic cartoons I have ever felt the urge to write about.
This cartoon is simply a parody of 1930s radio culture, parodying famous celebrities of the time as birds and woodland critters. I imagine this short film must have been hilarious upon release and would have succeeded at its intentions, but 77 years later it comes off as mostly outdated and incredibly boring as a result of the now obscure cultural references. The celebrity references to Bing Crosby, Al Jolson and WC Fields, which I recognized, weren't enough to save this cartoon for me. This could be because in the current age of brutal and scathing celebrity caricatures as done by South Park and Family Guy, simply seeing cartoon versions of 1930s celebrities as animals with puns based around their names is anemic by comparison. Which is another reason this cartoon aged so poorly, its approach to caricatures and parodies is simply, "hey look who it is, your favorite star in cartoon form with a pun for a name." The jokes run on a "can you guess who this is?" basis and do little else with the caricatures. Today this cartoon plays out like watching a late night show 10 or 20 years after its first airing, many of the jokes become forgotten, and the ones that are possibly remembered are often too far removed from cultural context to remain funny. This style of humor ages poorly, but has a place in culture as it can be very funny before its expiration date.
While I've bashed the cartoon's comedic content and long expired cultural relevance, this isn't a terrible cartoon by any means. The animation is great, especially considering the amount of characters present and the beautiful hand drawn efforts of animators from the pre-computer time. There is also a high level of energy to the cartoon that makes it somewhat watchable for anyone who is curious to see how a parody of then-fresh cultural references from the 1930s would play out. And I understand that parodying celebrities in this fashion was popular at the time, considering that many other cartoons from this era do the same, though admittedly the references to classic film stars age significantly better than references to radio culture of the time. The classic cartoon "Goofy Groceries," in which food mascots come to life in a grocery store after closing, takes a similar approach and not only references brands that are still regularly sold in the 2010s, but also uses the caricatures in a much more creative way than the rather shallow approach seen here.
When all is said and done, I don't regret watching this as it gave me one of the most unusual reactions I have ever had to a classic cartoon, but unless you were alive and following 1930s radio culture during its time, or have researched it enough to understand the ins and outs of it, the humor and cultural references are going to fall flat for most modern viewers.
An Uneven Mixed Bag, but Heartfelt
First thing I should say is it's clear that this is a low budget movie and should be viewed as such. It's unfair to compare a low budgeted short film to something that had major studios backing it. Judging it on those terms though, it still falls short compared to many other short films I've seen on an even lower budget. The first half is very uneven due to some poor, student film sound quality, purely amateur sound effects, a laughable gunshot effect and uneven directing that ruin what was meant to be an emotional scene. The main actor, Jeff Freeman, is also very over the top in his line delivery at the beginning of the film.
Surprisingly, the last half was quite effective. Jeff Freeman delivered a more convincing, heart felt performance during the last half of the film and as a result, the film had more emotional resonance at this point, which was lacking in the first half.
On the plus side of this movie, Long Nguyen delivers a good performance in his short time on screen. The cinematography, while not perfect, did make great use of cranes, dollies and car mounts which added some very smooth and professional looking images to the movie.
A majority of the flaws in the movie come from the editing. Images such as the cartoonishly sped up car speed at one point as well as the crackling sound in others are partly results of the editing. The opening and closing graphics of the Earth were straight out of a High School production and gave the movie a more amateur feeling when it was clearly aiming for something more. This isn't the only movie I've seen with poor graphics, but regardless that is something that more filmmakers should find a substitution for.
Despite the flaws that ruin the first half of the movie and keep it from fully reaching its goals, it is clear that a lot of heart and soul was put into it which keeps the film from truly failing at it's intentions. The last half is, for the most part, free from the flaws of the beginning and succeeds at what the film aimed to achieve. Overall it's an uneven mixed bag, but because it is heart felt it succeeds on some level.
Last Words (2010)
An Effective and Highly Psychological Short Film
Last Words is a short war film that examines the mental state of distressed and deeply haunted soldier Jason Gray (Justin Lancaster, who also directed). Despite studying the negative effects that war has on it's soldiers, the film never becomes political or points fingers at politicians, instead opting to focus on the life and mental breakdown of one soldier in his last days. This was a breath of fresh air to me as I'm sick of highly politicized war movies and am more interested in the stories about those who actually fight wars.
Similar to Platoon, much of the film is shown through the main character's first person voice over. The main difference is that Platoon's voice over was read as though reading a soldier's letters to his family, where as the voice over in Last Words is told in the mood of a suicide note.
Last Words begins in Jason's apartment and reveals that he has isolated himself from his loved ones, is deeply paranoid, haunted by memories from war and suffering from suicidal thoughts. The first half of the film is told through flashbacks which focus on Jason and fellow soldier Westler (John Woods, who also directed) during their time in Iraq. After showing his most startling memories and current paranoia, the climax of the film focuses on how Jason comes to terms with his decision and spends his last day.
Filmed on a low budget, the film's biggest flaw is the inaccuracy of the soldier's uniforms, which are outdated and are not used in desert combat. The war scenes were also filmed in Pennsylvania and as a result some of the outdoor locations show green grass and trees that are clearly not in Iraq. With that said, the most effective Iraq flashback scenes are definitely the night time battle scene and torture of an Iraqi prisoner which follows. Because the film's biggest battle takes place at night, the location used is more obscured and feels authentic as a decaying Iraqi village. This location is used again during the day for the torture scene, and because of the stone architecture and blown out windows, it proves to be a great and convincing location during the daytime as well.
The torture scene is the film's most intense and well acted scene, boasting strong performances by Justin Lancaster, John Woods, Tyshawn Jenkins, Damien Colletti, Russ Huth and Munir Kreidie. While I did criticize the film for it's lack of authenticity in the soldier's uniforms and non desert outdoor locations, I do praise the filmmakers for casting Munir Kreidie as the prisoner as he is very convincing and authentic in his role. This scene and the previous battle are the film's strongest scenes due to the filming location, strong acting, and high energy shown on screen. Also noteworthy about the battle and torture scene is that the supporting characters are interesting and engaging, even in their brief time on screen.
The film is inspired by the true story of Tristan Lancaster who committed suicide after returning home from Iraq. Because Tristan was the brother of director Justin Lancaster, this film is very personal to the filmmakers behind it, which definitely shows through. The personal nature and strong effort put into the film compensates for its flaws. Also effective is the use of real life Iraq footage and still images in the film, as it provides often intense documentary footage and brings more realism to the film.
Enjoyable and Inventive short film
This was an interesting and very surreal short film. While it obviously had a very low budget and it suffers from student film type errors, it was a creative and enjoyable short film to watch. The concept was handled quite well and some of the effects were visually striking. I particularly liked the way the main character imagined his furniture attacking him, along with the stop motion look and digital distortion that took place during these scenes. While the recorded dialogue had poor sound quality, the use of sound effects to enhance the story was done very well.
This film won the Best Young Filmmaker award at the Appalachian Film festival in West Virginia one year. While judging it as a film by itself, there are many flaws related to the student film look and feel that it has, specifically due to the dull, grainy colors on the camera and the static heavy audio track. But while judging it as an early film from a young filmmaker, it shows much imagination and a good grasp on the medium that will hopefully go further for this director one day. There is more imagination in this short film than I've seen in some other low budget films by adult filmmakers. I hope to see more work from this director after watching this film.
A Hero's Burden (2008)
A Prelude to Better Things
This is one of the first short films made by the Pennsylvania based film company Hogghouse Productions. The story follows soldier Jason Grey and his adopted brother who went to war together and were ultimately affected by it in ways that impacted themselves and their loved ones. While there are good things that this short film has to offer, it ultimately feels like a short preview to the superior sequel Last Words.
For a 10 minute short film, the character development is relatively well done. Much like Last Words, the production values are fairly impressive considering the low budget. The cinematography in this film is adequate and the editing is great. Most of the main actors gave good and convincing performances, and the direction was relatively good.
The main weakness of this film is the length, which ultimately makes the whole movie seem like a preview for the themes and ideas of the sequel. The climax of this movie briefly touches upon the ways that war affects soldiers and their loved ones, but it is very brief and the potentially great emotional impact falls short as a result. After this film, the production company made the sequel Last Words and the documentary Tristan's Story, which both explored these interesting themes to greater depth and have a much stronger emotional impact.
The other weakness of the film is that while the two main characters are well developed, the other characters are merely reduced to short appearances and are given little time to develop, despite the fact that some of these appearances feature good performances. More depth to the other characters could have helped this film greatly.
With that said, despite the low budget and flaws, this is decently made for a 10 minute short film and it does display some great talent.
White Trash theater
This is a very odd movie, and is probably one of the most critically divided movies out there. While it does have a cult following and it does receive a lot of praise, it also receives an equal amount of harsh criticism. I can see both sides of the argument. When I first saw this movie, I was interested because of how bizarre and surreal it was, but I was also kind of mixed about how I felt, because I felt it was just the director Harmony Korrine parading his personality. Sort of like this one guy I knew who bragged about how he was into film his whole life, I felt that Korrine was just saying "look how weird and messed up I can be." I've seen the movie about 3 times since, and my opinion changed. I like it now. Part of the reason I like this movie could be because I lived in a town near Xenia Ohio, where the movie is set.
The movie really doesn't have much of a plot. The whole concept is a tornado ripped through Xenia damaging half the town, and killing half at the same time. What is left afterward is a boring, post apocalyptic world, narrated by a 14 year old kid named Solomon. The rest of the movie is basically a series of somewhat unrelated clips, the reason I say somewhat is because the way they flow together is kind of like someone took a camera through a messed up town, mainly following two kids, but filming some other people on the way, and showing things that the two kids talk about.
Some of the things they do in the short segments are funny, some depraved, and some just completely weird. The two main characters, Solomon and Tumler, kill cats and sell them to a butcher shop, so they can get money to buy glue to huff. In the middle of the movie they realize they have a little competition, a cross dressing teenager who takes care of his catatonic grandmother is also killing cats to make money.
Some other characters are two teenage girls who try to raise their nipples, and basically do teenage girl stuff throughout the movie. One of them is played by Chloe Sevigny, who is currently on HBO's Big Love. Some other characters include an albino, two skinheads who killed their parents, a bunch of drunk hicks who wrestle chairs (one of which is played by skater Mark Gonzales), a guy who pimps his retarded sister, and the movie's mascot, a kid who skateboards around in bunny ears. One of the funniest and strangest parts of the movie is when he runs into two foul mouthed 6 year olds in a junkyard, who say some outrageous things. It's been commonly interpreted that the bunny kid represents the only true happiness in the rundown town.
One thing I've grown to like is how the movie is a half documentary. I say half because some of the stuff appears to be real people that the director found in a Tennessee town who are just being themselves. Another interesting element is the usage of different film throughout the movie. Most of the movie is filmed in regular film, but some parts are filmed with grainy hand-held camera footage, giving it even more of a documentary like feel.
If you're a metal-head you'll love the soundtrack. It has songs by Bathory, Burzum, Sleep (one of my favorite parts is when Tummler and Solomon bike down the hill while Sleep's Dragonaut plays in the background), and a song by Bethlehem plays during a couple of scenes. Black metal fans will be pleased during a scene in the middle when they show footage of people in corpse paint doing some kind of ceremony. Besides just metal, there's also that song Crying by Roy Orbison (another one of the best scenes is when this song plays), Like a Prayer by Madonna, and this one classical piece that perfectly fits the movie.
This movie might take a few viewings to appreciate, and it's not guaranteed you'll like it. One thing I can say is that once you watch it becomes hard to stop because of how depraved everything becomes. By the end of the movie, you'll wish the tornado had just killed the other half of the town the first time around.
Big House Blues (1990)
The way the world was introduced to Ren and Stimpy
Ren and Stimpy is one of the best cartoons ever made. Everything about it is surreal, the situations characters get into are bizarre and funny, and the characters are great.
Big House Blues was the pilot that would later start the legacy of Ren and Stimpy. The two main characters are Ren Hoek, a scrawny, hyperactive chihuahua, and Stimpson J. Cat(Stimpy), an overweight, idiotic cat who is generally the dumb character, but has his occasional smart moments later on in the series.
In the story, Ren and Stimpy are brought to the "big house" along with other dogs. At first, they are told they will have fun, and they do have fun for a while with the other dogs, but not all goes well when they realize that they will eventually get "the big sleep." There are a few things that were just small details at the time, but when the series started, they would be more noticed. In this pilot, we see how Stimpy receives his beloved litter box, the music playing when the dogs are having a party is what would become the opening them music, and many clips from this episode end up being shown during the introduction in each episode.
This might just be a short pilot episode, but it is how Ren and Stimpy were introduced to television.
Any Ren and Stimpy fan should see this episode. If you want to see it in its entirety, the DVD has the uncut version that is worth watching.
Menace II Society (1993)
Menacingly Powerful, and Gritty Urban Drama
Menace II Society is much more than your typical hood movie. It tells the story of young Caine Lawson, a teen growing up in Watts, California.
The opening briefly shows Caine getting caught up in a grocery store shooting with his friend. This was a chilling way to open the movie, as it shows how easy it is for someone in the ghetto to get caught up in the moment and kill someone. During the opening credits, we see footage of the Watts riots that took place during the 60's. Caine narrates the story of his life, explaining how after the riots, drugs came into effect, and affected his home life as a child. After loosing his parents on at the hands of drugs, he was sent to live with his Grandparents. His Grandparents love him, but they struggled to raise him and tried their hardest to keep him out of trouble.
Not too long into the movie, after we learn about Caine's early life, we see him graduate from High School. He hopes to leave the life of violence that surrounds him in his neighborhood. After falling victim to a violent car jacking, he is brought into violence and crime himself. As the story progresses, and things spiral downward for Caine, he ends up in a hell of a jam and tries to make a way out of it all.
This is an incredible movie. It perfectly balances the ugly crime life and murder of tough inner city neighborhoods, Caine's own personal troubles, police brutality, and drugs.
This is a powerful movie with a great story. It has a good message, but in some ways, I thought the film Boyz N the Hood showed the message in a better way. Menace II Society is more focused on the crime involved in inner cities, where as Boyz N the Hood focuses more on the family life of the characters.
This is an excellent film that you should see if you ever get the chance. It has a good message, and it has some very moving moments in it.
If you enjoyed this, I also recommend Boyz N the Hood, and you'll probably enjoy the Wayans brothers' spoof, Don't be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.
Short, but interesting, and at times amusing
Vincent is one of Tim Burton's first films. It is claymation, like The Nightmare Before Christmas. The animation isn't as advanced as Nightmare, but it still has a dark effect to it, mainly because of the black and white film.
Narrator Vincent Price narrates the story, which is a long poem. He gives it that Edgar Allen Poe kind of effect. The poem is catchy, humorous, and somewhat twisted. All of these elements add up to create a short gem of claymation short films.
The story is that of young Vincent. He is a young man so isolated from the outside world that he is driven into madness. The story shows how he feels about the people he interacts with, how he thinks, and how his isolation gets to him.
Vincent's twisted behavior is amusing at times. I sometimes wonder if that's how Burton used to act as a kid.
Though it's a bit dark, it's amusing and I enjoyed it. As a fan of Tim Burton, I'm glad I watched this. It's amazing to think that he starts out doing this, but goes on to making masterpieces like Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Beatlejuice, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Big FIsh. If you liked this, I would also recommend Franken Weenie, another early short of his. After that, watch the other movies I mentioned.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Much like the title character, a bit odd around the edges, but inside, it has a good story and a great message
Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton's masterpiece. He is a visual genius who can create unique images and weave a great story into all of it.
The story follows Edward Scissorhands. He was created by an inventor who lives in a castle, but was never given hands because the inventor died before he could finish him. He was uncompleted, but had scissors as hands(hence the name "Edward Scissorhands"). One day, a local woman finds him and brings him home. She tries to teach Edward the normal ways of their suburban life, but he has a hard time fitting in. He discovers a talent for trimming hedges into shapes, and later he discovers a talent for grooming. Despite being useful for these types of things, he isn't looked at in a positive light by the local neighbors. Edward tries and tries, but finds it very hard to fit in with the everyone else.
This is a great film. One can easily look at the cover and think it's a weird film, but you have to really look beyond the oddness and realize the great message and great story that is being told.
The cast is great, with an exceptional performance by Johnny Depp. Anthony Michael Hall makes a different turn with his acting and image. In Weird Science and The Breakfast club, he plays the nerdy character. In this, he plays the tough guy character who is more of a nerd torturer.
There are a lot of moving moments in this movie. There is also an underlying love story, and there's a great message about looking beyond someone's surface and looking deep inside to realize what they are really like.
Like Tim Burton's other films, this is a visual treat to look at. Every shot is like magic, the way everything looks is fantastic. Every moment in this film is great, and many of the moments are very moving.
The film is dark, like Tim Burton's other films, but at the same time, it is a beautifully told story, and it even has some underlying humor.
This is easily one of Tim Burton's best films. If you want to see more great films by Tim Burton, I recommend Beatle Juice, Batman, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.