Thursday, January 28, 2010

That's An Impressive Bulge In Your Shorts!

There's nothing quite like a sensuous curve to set the imagination on fire. While Sarah Hepola's fashion essay, Swan Thong, offers a humorous take on Cosmo magazine's declaration that the thong is and should be relegated to the dustbin of history, curves are curves.

Sometimes the curves which titillate us the most are not the ones most people expect. With the advertising world so insanely focused on women's breasts and hips (let us not forget fashion photographer Anthony Citrano's charge that a photo of Demi Moore's hip had been digitally retouched) and paparazzi battling for the best cleavage shots during award season, equal time should be given to the luscious and titillating curves of the male physique.

Whether one fantasizes about Buns of Steel, "pecs to die for" -- or hums that age-old refrain: "A tisket, a tasket, Good God, you've got a big basket" -- male pulchritude can stoke the imaginations of both men and women. With the 2010 San Francisco Indie Film Fest about to begin, here are some of the more interesting shorts that will be shown at the Roxie in the next few weeks.

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Lara Everly's charming Me, You, A Bag and Bamboo introduces viewers to two shy and depressed youngsters. Clifford (Kirby Heybourne) has limited social skills. Even though he loves pandas and carries some bamboo with him, he is depressed and imagines a zoo bereft of pandas. Chun Li (Ceciley Jenkins) carries around an inflated Ziploc bag filled with her sadness and dreams about her dysfunctional father (Allan Havey) gift wrapping her head with a map of Wisconsin.

As the two sit on a park bench, trying to figure out how to connect, they watch a Robot Dad (Josh Jacques) and his Robot Boy (Thomas Minkowski) playing on the grass in front of them. Once they realize that two heads are better than one, a realm of happier possibilities opens up for them.

Me, You, A Bag and Bamboo offers a quirky mix of animation and beautiful cinematography as a little girl's voice describes how these two emotionally crippled, melancholy strangers finally work up the courage to say hello to each other. The film has a great deal of charm and originality.

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Kevan Funk's Weight does not refer to a person's physical weight, but rather the plight of someone who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Wesley Salter stars as a birthday clown caught on a difficult cell phone call with his wife or significant other. It's hard to tell whether the options they are discussing ("Innocence, "Serenity") refer to a choice of paint colors (he keeps referring to something in the back seat of the car) or perhaps the interior lining of a coffin. "Everyone's just going to think it's blue," sighs the clown as he tries to load some equipment into the back of his station wagon.

Wesley Salter in Kevan Funk's Weight

Filmed in one long shot that slowly pulls back from Salter's face, Weight ends as a collection of colored balloons breaks free from its anchor and the balloons silently drift toward the sky. One can feel the clown's frustration and disappointment with his life evaporating, if only for a brief respite. Beautifully written, directed, and acted, Weight unfolds like a tone poem about an overburdened man whose job is to deliver happiness to others while he struggles to cope with the most banal details of a meaningless and sorely disappointing life.

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If black comedy is your thing, you're guaranteed to love True Beauty This Night, a sweet short by Peter Besson about the stupidest purse snatcher in the world. As the film opens, we see Rhett Somers (Dustin Seavey) nervously fondling a business card as he stands in front of a pay phone, trying to get up the courage to make a call. Also eager to use the phone is a very impatient black man (Joey Wells) who finally grabs the business card out of Rhett's hand, dials the number, and tells the person on the other end of the line that someone has something very important to say to her but only has five minutes in which to do it -- so she'd better pay attention.

As Rhett beats around the bush, trying to explain that he has the purse the woman left with him the previous night, it becomes obvious that he is either shy and tongue-tied or totally inept at dating. He finally convinces Elise (Meegan Michel) to meet him at the same place they "shared a moment" so that he can return her purse.

Alas, Rhett is not the sweet young man we would like to believe him to be. As we watch him shower up and get dressed in his loser's apartment, something just doesn't seem right. The camera follows him into a convenience store where the action takes an unexpected turn. After selecting a bunch of roses, a nice greeting card, and some other trifles with which to impress his date, Rhett suddenly dons a ski mask, reaches into Elise's purse, pulls out a gun, and proceeds to rob the cashier (Angel Nafaratti) at gunpoint.

We then see Elise standing under the marquee of a movie theatre, nervously waiting for Rhett to appear. Without his ski mask, she has no idea who he is until she recognizes her purse. After the cops who have been waiting to nab Rhett subdue and handcuff him, he can't stop grinning as he is taken off to jail.

As Rhett keeps staring out of the patrol car window at Elise (all the time smiling like a lovesick fool), she nervously signals him to call her. Later, as he is being booked and photographed at the police station, the photographer can't get Rhett to stop grinning like the happiest man in the world.

True Beauty This Night is a delight from start to finish. Beautifully written, acted, and captured on film, this is one of the most entertaining and original shorts I've seen in years.

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In New American Soldier, filmmakers Emma Cott and Anna Belle Peevey follow the stories of three immigrant soldiers who have chosen to join the U.S. military in order to become United States citizens.
  • Seth Donkor is a native of Ghana who won an immigration lottery. Having grown up on Rambo-style movies, he has always dreamed of becoming an American soldier. That dream is now coming true.
  • Clarissa Calderon is a Peruvian immigrant whose biggest dream was to become a doctor. The only reason she joined the Army was because she heard it would pay for her tuition to medical school.
  • Victor Toledo Pulido came from a Mexican family of illegal immigrants. One of the reasons he joined the United States Army was to become a legal citizen. Although he had enlisted as a way of getting out of California's farm economy, a year and a half after joining the Army he was killed in Iraq. Because his family did not understand the regulations, the period of time in which he could have posthumously been granted citizenship has expired.
Seth Donkor from Ghana

There are many moments when New American Soldier seems more like a military recruitment film as it shows how foreign nationals can legally become American citizens by joining the Army. However, as a gay man watching this film, one can't ignore the fact that these people will automatically be granted full citizenship by the Army and have every obstacle removed from their path while LGBT members of America's armed forces have been cast out in shame because of the military's misguided Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

Second class citizenship for people who were born and raised in the United States sticks in the craw when foreign nationals can waltz right in and be welcomed with open arms and full benefits. Thus, what should come across as a "feel good" documentary takes on a really rancid taste for some viewers.

To be sure, it's no fault of the filmmakers. Just Army regulations.

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Unbelievable 4, by Pyo Hong and Sukwon Shin, is a snarky piece of animation that depicts a team of superheros who alternate between performing as members of a rock band and being the kind of action figures who can save the world. When the Unbelievable 4 receive an urgent message that the earth is under attack, they spring into action.

Condoleeza Rice in Unbelievable 4

There's just one problem. The Unbelievable 4 are a quartet of total fuckups named George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleeza Rice. When they eventually lift off from earth in a space ship that looks surprisingly like a golden penis, they are shocked to look back and to discover that they've destroyed the planet they had sworn to protect. You can watch the trailer here.

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The teaser for Entering The Mind Through The Mouth, a surprisingly vivid animation short by the very talented Jensung Choi, explains that:
"This is the story about a cat with a boy's mind and a mouse with a girl's mind. They try to escape from a wicked tamer of a circus. A mouse takes a risk to save a cat."
It's almost impossible to describe how the story unfolds in this captivating short whose brilliant visuals and Manga style help to create a a splendid alternate universe that has been conceived and rendered with great artistry. The superior soundtrack makes Entering The Mind Through The Mouth stand head and shoulders above many other animated shorts. Here's the trailer:

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