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Mini-Film Festival #17: Comic & Media Expo 2015

I was really looking forward to my two sixty minute sets at Comic & Media Expo and I had a blast in a slightly different setting than usual. I've programmed a lot of sci-fi, a bunch of steampunk and some horror, but this is the first time I've been able to filter some of the best of those films (and some new ones) into a pop culture framework.

It's not as international as some sets I've programmed (only four films come from outside the US: two from the UK and one each from Belgium and Spain), but six are from Arizona and representatives from three of those kindly attended to take part in a Q&A in between the two sets. Thanks, Adolpho Navarro (Fists in Flight), Jim and Karen Politano (Flight Fright) and Chris Bradley (Black Gulch)!

The first set is a fun, family friendly warm up: 56 minutes of pop culture comedy that explicitly references Doctor Who, The Twilight Zone and Star Wars, as well as bringing up a host of others. Each of these played really well, especially Losers which is frankly tailor made for this sort of convention.

The second set starts off in the same way with the perennial favourite, Logan Must Make Star Wars, before getting a lot more edgy, with all sorts of adult material. There's no nudity (well, one drunken man's butt for a second or two) but there's plenty of outrageous gore, swearing and dark themes, always keeping that comedic touch. I know Happy Birthday, Mr Zombie and Bad Guy #2 especially played well, because I kept hearing snorts of laughter in all the right places.

Short Film Set #1

# Title Year Length Director Company Country Review IMDb Online?
1 Japanese Doctor Who 2014 3m Joshua Kahan Joshua Kahan UK IMDb Vimeo
2 Fists in Flight 2014 8m Adolpho Navarro N'Raged Media USA IMDb YouTube
3 Secret Identity 2011 12m Tyler MacIntyre Infinite Lives Entertainment USA AL IMDb Vimeo
4 Flight Fright 2015 6m James Politano Dreamlook Productions USA AL IMDb
5 Awesome Guy: A New Identity 2011 5m Bob Marquis Sailbear Labs USA AL IMDb
6 Losers 2014 22m Carlos del Rosario Losers Television USA IMDb

Short Film Set #2

# Title Year Length Director Company Country Review IMDb Online?
1 Logan Must Make Star Wars 2014 5m Nathan Blackwell Squishy Studios USA AL IMDb Vimeo
2 Happy Birthday, Mr Zombie 2012 7m David Leclercq Professeur von Shoop Belgium AL IMDb
3 Black Gulch 2003 15m Michael Strode University of Southern California USA AL IMDb
4 Timeholes 2013 2m Ben Mallaby Berry Cinema
Grey Area
UK IMDb Vimeo
5 Frank DanCoolo: Paranormal Drug Dealer 2010 8m Andrew W Jones Never Knows Best USA AL IMDb
6 Bad Guy #2 2014 10m Chris McInroy The Bear Media USA IMDb
7 The Woodman and the American Woman 2013 17m Jesús Hernández NYSUfilms Spain IMDb

Japanese Doctor Who

I first saw Japanese Doctor Who at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival and wanted more from it. It does what it does really well, which is to imagine a Japanese remake of Doctor Who in the style of Supaidaman, but I wanted the whole episode. I didn't want it to end after five minutes. The more I see it though, the more I feel Joshua Kahan got the length right as he doesn't hang around long enough to outstay his welcome. When it played well at LepreCon 41, I knew I had to kick off my CMX show with it.

Fists in Flight

Fists in Flight was an entry to the Phoenix Comicon Film Challenge in 2014, where it won top prize up against tough competition in Running Wild's Spur. Two men gain superpowers when a meteor lands right in front of them and immediately take different approaches to what they can do now. Adolpho Navarro only had a month to put it together and when you see how many effects shots there are, you'll be stunned that he could get the job done that quickly. You'll be especially stunned to discover that the cast and crew numbered a total of three people. If Travis Mills is the Phoenix master of making films on the fly, Navarro is surely the Phoenix master of doing that and including more effects work than can comfortably be believed.

Secret Identity

After a couple of in your face movies, I slowed down the tempo with Secret Identity, which really is one of the greatest short films I've seen to come out of Arizona. Sure, it's a superhero story, but that doesn't mean that it has to lack substance. Lee Meriwether's performance as a grandma relating an old encounter with Captain Magnificent is absolutely outstanding, a masterclass performance which highlights how wasted she was in cheesy television over the decades. Her young co-star has her work cut out just to keep up but she plays her own part very well too. I had a couple of young kids in the audience for this set and, as slow and talky as it is, this never lost them.

Flight Fright

Given that Jim Politano kindly asked me to be an extra in this film, I can't resist playing it over and over, but it's worth it on its merit. It doesn't have the depth of The Class Analysis, but it doesn't pretend to. Its a comedy set in a Twilight Zone framework, with a man on a plane seeing crazy things out on the wing and finding that nobody believes him, and it nails the laughs, right down to the Eddie Deezen cameo. I'll be playing it as often as I can avoid repeating to the same audience.

Awesome Guy: A New Identity

It had been a while since I'd seen Awesome Guy, which hasn't crept its way online since its showing at the Phoenix Film Festival quite a few years ago. It stayed with me though and I'm very happy that Bob Marquis allowed me to bring it back to a big(gish) screen again. Mario Guzman has so much heart in this film, perfectly encapsulating the superhero who gets ditched by his city in a round of budget cuts only to find a new purpose in life that fits him better than the old one. What he's given to do late in the film would be a mess in lesser hands, but he's spot on with the sentimentality.

Losers

Losers is about the most natural choice for my CMX program of any movie I've ever seen and, while the audience enjoyed the other films I showed too, it was the favourite of most of those I asked after the first set. This tale of two geeks trying to convince an old geek friend to be himself, rather than hide his true nature to impress his fiancée is so full of pop culture references that I just couldn't go wrong with it in this set, but I could tell by the laughter that it was really hitting home with these folk. As it's a pilot for a proposed TV series, I can absolutely say that there's an audience for the show if it happens.

Logan Must Make Star Wars

Nathan Blackwell has a knack of taking cultural touchpoints and distilling them down into short comedic gems. He's so good at it that it's hard to pick a favourite. Perhaps I'll always go with Zombie Team Building because it was my first, but Masters of Daring and this film are exactly what they need to be and my opinion of them doesn't change how often I see them. This one has one edge though: I admire the sheer balls of having

Happy Birthday, Mr Zombie

I knew I'd picked right with this unusual Belgian zombie short when audience members started snorting with laughter at the hilariously inappropriate moments unfolding on screen. The plot couldn't be simple. Mr Zombie is, well, a zombie and his zombie friends surprise him with a birthday cake with a flaming finger in it. The rest of the film involves him trying to blow it out. The gore effects are great here but what shines brightest is how completely wrong it continues to be while remaining utterly hilarious.

Black Gulch

I played Black Gulch at my first mini-film festival back in 2013 and Chris Bradley, who effectively plays Kurt Russell in it, kindly came out to do a Q&A. I hauled it back out for this seventeenth set and Chris kindly came out once again to talk through some of the same stories for a new audience. It's another of those short films that becomes an old friend, never getting tired however many times it shows its face. I still haven't been to Miami, AZ, but one day I'll get there and be surprised to see people. The town is deserted in this film, which seems odd to Bradley's bank robber, but the explanation is well built and superbly sicced on us at the end.

Timeholes

This Creative Commons-licensed time travel short only runs two minutes but it packs a lot into that running time, even if two thirds of the people on screen are scarily drunk and almost unable to function. It's funny, it's clever and it's thoughtful. All in two minutes. Much respect!

Frank DanCoolo: Paranormal Drug Dealer

Talk about personal favourites! I've adored John Charles Meyer and Priscilla McEver since seeing them both in Doctor Glamour but, as much as I get a kick out of that film, I much prefer this one which is a Neo-Mega-Ultra Tokyo romp through cyberpunk via screwball comedy. It has to be seen to be believed, as you won't believe how much Andrew Jones crams into it. I really wish he'd make another short film with these two, but I'm not sure how much energy he'd need to outdo this one!

Bad Guy #2

If Happy Birthday, Mr Zombie had the audience snorting with laughter, Bad Guy #2 had them almost choking with laughter. It's just as wildly inappropriate and it's just as funny, but it has dialogue and gore too. Lots of gore. As much gore as you can imagine given that it's about a bad guy working his way up the bad guy ladder as each bad guy ahead of him gets killed off by the kingpin for screwing up. There's even more that's wrong here than the earlier Belgian film but it's just as consistently funny and I'm really happy that I put both of them into the same set and separated them out a little. They play very well together.

The Woodman and the American Woman

I adore this film, however poorly some of the subtitles were translated from the original Spanish. I've seen it a dozen times and still haven't quite figured out exactly what happens, but it mesmerises me every time. When everything goes horribly wrong for Zoe, the cheerleader who's ditching her precious status at school for life with a weird kid in a gas mask, I lose track of everything else. The visuals are amazing, the song that accompanies them is gorgeously edgy and I wonder why so few people create art of this calibre. I chose to finish out my second set with this film because its slasher tendencies fit with the violence in a number of the shorts that preceded it, but I think it was too out there for this particular audience, especially as it's a serious and subtitled film following a lot of wild humour. I think I gained it a couple of new fans though.


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