Category Archives: Movies

San Jose International Short Film Festival: The Best of the Rest

I’m writing this two days after the end of the festival, my mind still reeling from the sheer number and variety of movies I saw. It’s simply impossible to have seen everything, and my apologies go to many no-doubt worthy entries which I didn’t get to see.

Here’s a few of my favorites from the final two days of the show:


An animated film by Natalie Labarre which beautifully captures the joys and frustrations of a guy raising a little girl. How do you ever breach the gap between the world of tea parties and stuffed animals with the adult world of work and responsibility? With a lot of love. Beautifully told and heartfelt.


An incredibly ambitious Australian thriller that marries CSI style forensics with an intelligent ghost story.

The Smiling Man

Saw this one as part of the late night Saturday horror block, and A.J. Briones’ little 7 minute film is definitely the stuff nightmares are made of.  The only thing I could wish was a little more of a back story or reason for the action, although the titular character’s performance alone is enough to disturb.

Honorable Mentions/Well Worth Seeing

Dave – A comedy about a many who wakes up after an accident to discover a daughter he never met at his bedside. Awkward!

Carry On  – Overall winner of the festival – An Austrian movie about an elderly couple who scratch out a farm living and have to come to the decision to put down an old donkey. A bit bleak for my taste, but a great film nonetheless with pitch-perfect acting and technique.

The Holy Cave – A high school sex comedy from Spain, wherein a couple of outcasts with parents who travel a lot decide to become popular by turning their home into a hook up spot.

Love is Blind – A UK comedy about a cheating girlfriend who’s in the midst of a fling when her deaf boyfriend returns home.

Moving On – Imagine finding out the relationship is over when a moving service shows up at your door, hired by your former paramour, to get you and your stuff out of the house. Good concept, sharply executed, with a nice appearance by Robin Lord Taylor (Gotham’s “Penguin”) as one of the movers.

First Date – Another nice Australian comedy of sheer awkwardness and misunderstanding by Rob Innes. Won in the comedy category at the festival, but personally I thought it could have been funnier if they’d pushed the material just a little farther. (It was awkfward-funny instead of South Park-style-“Omigod I can’t believe what I’m hearing”-funny).

Enfilade – A minimalistic, and unique-looking film from Australia’s David Coyle. Imagine Cube done by someone who’s played too much Portal.

Best of Day 2: San Jose International Short Film Festival

I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that the easiest form of short film to do successfully is comedy. Although there were exceptions, most of the films I saw on the second day struggled at least somewhat with the various demands of establishing characters, setting, and an emotional arc–particularly in the dramatic and sci-if genres.

That said, here are some of the best:

Joe Gonzalez’s story of a man who hasn’t been lucky in love, and has launched on a rather novel way to gain revenge. Funny, outrageous, and a movie that nevertheless has a heart.

A King’s Betrayal

From David Bornstein, a real gem of a short that manages both comedy and existential angst from the perspective of a Piñata.

Getting In

An all-too-relatable tale of a guy who gets into the college of his dreams on a sham squash scholarship (he ran the odds of a full ride as a star academic student (7%) against that of the most feeble of athletic scholarships (47%) and took the sensible route). But it all went south when an “injury” caused him to lose the squash scholarship and he was left with over $20,000 in tuition for a semester with only days to pay it. So extreme measures went into play…


Great stuff, managing an entire 80s college movie in a mere 13 minutes. Director Stian Hafstad also has a terrific time sending up all the “hacker” motifs in Hollywood while doing some very clever plotting.



Austin Kolodney’s hilarious rendition of an American family at Christmastime that discovers the Peruvian holiday of “Takanakuy” wherein grievances are settled with fistfights. Imagine The Good, the Bad and the Ugly crossed with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. With a bit of Enter the Dragon thrown in for good measure.

San Jose International Short Film Festival – Best of Day 1

Day 1 was the red carpet opening along with a revue of past favorites, followed by a round of comedy shorts from recent years.

My favorites so far:

“Fool’s Day” 

Trailer (some spoilers):

Full movie:

Comments: Oh. My. God. This was wonderful, and very dark stuff. Absolutely brilliant comedy filmmaking by Cody Blue Snider. I only wish I could get this on disc to show off to friends.

Status Update: A Facebook Fairy Tale

Hilarious, snarky, and NSFW British movie from Dan Reisinger.

Chronicles Simpkins will Cut Your Ass

Brendan Hughes has a hilarious (and evil) take on the mean kids terrorizing the school playground… except this time, it’s elementary school and the gang of toughs is led by a pig-tailed trash-mouth named Chronicle Simpkins. It’s that rare short that starts out funny and gets funnier and funnier.

The Answers

A man dies and gets answers to all his questions about his life. A great premise, strong performances, tight plotting and a compelling emotional arc–everything a short film should be.

Wall-E/Watchmen Trailer Mashup

Unbelievable, pure brilliance.

For the original, see:

(Trailer 1)

Watchmen Review


This movie is going to drive me crazy.

On one hand, it’s spectacular: everything I could have hoped for in an adaptation of one of the greatest graphic novels of all time. It had terrific casting, great acting, and an almost-entirely-faithful adaptation of the original material, albeit with some fairly nuanced changes. I even appreciate its multifaceted and deliberately murky handling of the politics and events of the era. In a lot of ways, this is a huge accomplishment as a film.

And yet, I can’t recommend it to a huge number of folks who otherwise would have really gotten something out of it, because it’s just far too graphic in ways it really didn’t need to be. In order for it to get a visceral reaction out of us jaded adults, it indulged in so much on-camera sex, nudity and violence that it put the movie completely off limits for a big part of its potential audience.

This is really weird thing for me to say, but for the first time in my life, I found myself sort of wishing I was watching the airplane-safe version of a movie in the theater, instead of what felt like the “unrated director’s cut” [actually, it’s ‘R’-rated–and a hard ‘R’ at that]. Had it been edited toward a PG-13 (or even a softer R), the director would have had to pull back the edit just a little, and I’d be hailing it to anybody who’d listen as a tremendous filmmaking achievement.
Instead, I’m oddly forced to make any recommendation contingent on my best guess at the sensibilities of the person doing the asking: How does the person asking feel about seeing more full-frontal male nudity than I saw in my high school locker room during swim season? Not many people have a problem with gunfights, but how do they feel about close-ups of exit wounds? Action-packed dust-ups with super-heroes are great, but how about cut-aways to the resulting protruding bone spurs? And what’s their position on entrails splattered on ceilings?

In the end, it comes down the infamous “blood in the gutters” — not the literal kind (as you see when the Comedian’s body splats onto the pavement”) but the comic book concept that most of the really tough imagery doesn’t actually happen “on-panel”. It’s usually implied, or shown briefly, and the reader’s imagination makes up the rest during the space between the panels–the “gutters”.

Let’s say a scene calls for a character to do something very nasty with a hatchet to another character. In most comics—including the Watchmen graphic novel—the usual way of dealing with it is to set up the situation, then do something like showing a silhouetted window view with one character raising the hatchet out, arm flexed, behind the unsuspecting person. To anyone paying attention, it’s crystal clear what’s happening, but the worst violence happens in your mind—not on the page.

After I got done watching Watchmen, I had to go back over a couple of the more visceral bits and compare them to the graphic novel’s treatment, because I couldn’t remember clearly whether I had just imagined certain of the most grisly or adult-oriented scenes. In almost every case, the situation was exactly the same, complete with all the terrible details. But the graphic novel tended not to show the hatchet crashing down repeatedly into the skull; or the bits of gore coming off of a wound. And it knew enough to crop the frame upward by 10% so we knew Dr. Manhattan couldn’t be bothered with clothes, but we weren’t actually forced to stare at his junk in every other one of his scenes.

I’m afraid that with Watchmen, a little less would have been a lot more: both in box office receipts and in my ability to recommend it to anyone other than jaded R-rated movie fiends like myself. I would have been happy to watch the version I saw as part of a special-edition DVD, but I really sort of wish the theatrical version had been edited with just a little more restraint.

Batman: The Dark Knight

If you had trouble reaching us this afternoon, it’s because the company was all out seeing Batman: The Dark Knight. (Yes, there are some advantages to working at a comic book software company).

My take: 4 stars out of five, and easily one of the best comic book films I’ve seen in years. Of the Batman films, I liked it second best to the very first Tim Burton one. (Who can forget seeing Burton’s Gortham City for the first time?).

Acting-wise, Ledger stole the film—his Joker was great. I won’t do any spoilers here, but he’s just so well-written and played that you can’t wait to see what he’ll do next. He absolutely nailed the Dark Knight-era version of the character. The rest of the cast was solid, but they just didn’t have the same on-screen fascination for me.

So why not five stars? For me, it comes down to editing. Unless you’re prepared for it ahead of time, the sheer length of the film can get a bit tiring. Had they found a way to shave 30-40 minutes off (particularly by trimming the second act), it would have been a stronger film. As such, it takes on a bit of a Godfather tone—both in scope and, unfortunately, in running time.