RIFF 4 Shorts Review

I went last night to see both screenings of Reel Shorts at the Reel Island Film Festival.  That’s a lot of sitting in those City Cinema seats, I’ll tell ya!
Here, then, are my opinions on what I saw:
Pete Murphy’s “The Olde Christmas Spirit” was shown first.  Frankly, this was a rough piece of work.  Pete, I think, has an interesting eye, but this film (as well as the few other films of his I’ve seen) suffers from poor acting, worse sound and lazy editing.  The story and script, too, could have benefitted tremendously from a prudent editor.  
The acting in the first scene was, I’d have to describe as, plodding.  Very slow and deliberate.  Couple that with languid edits and the film starts off at a less than energetic pace.  And slows down from there.  The main trouble with the acting of the lead actor is that he tries too too hard to act Angst and tries to play “Cool guy” too much.  His acting gets in the way of his, well, acting.
I could go on, I suppose, but I have to live in this town.
Next up was “Snowbird” The Search for Lonestar” by Scott Parsons.  An interesting, but slightly flawed, docu-drama on the origins of Gene McLellan’s song Snowbird.  I say flawed because of too much reliance on voice-over narration to tell us what is going on.  It results in too much telling us the drama rather than showing us the drama.  The story is about this woman trying to find out about a guy named Lonestar, a former lover, who apparently co-wrote a song about her with Gene McLellan.  She’s trying to find out about the song.  Turns out the song is Snowbird.  Little things bugged me.  Like when we flashback to the woman’s younger days, when she’s with Lonestar, she’s wearing the same short denim shorts that she’s wearing in “present day”.  And there was no attempt to make her look younger in those flashback scenes.  Maybe that was a conscious decision, but to me it belied the reality of those scenes where she was supposed to be a teenager.  Especially since her “youthfulness” was supposed to be the thing that sets of the rest of the story.  Small complaints, really.
Third was Louise Lalonde’s “Courir la chandeleur”, a re-enactment of an old Acadien soiree, performed by Birchwood Intermediate French Immersion students.  This was an enjoyable film.  Yes, the acting of the junior high kids was pretty amateurish (and some of their French Immersion french was pretty rough), but their energy and enjoyment of the experience kept me interested.  Probably could have shortened the amount of time we see them dancing to a tune, though.  That seemed to go on a bit too long.
Speaking of going on a bit too long:  Jeremy Larter’s “A.J.” was a film that I absolutely hated and couldn’t wait for it to be over.  Basically, this was a masterbatory piece of shit, where one guy, Jeremy Larter, points his camera at another guy (forget his name) who plays A.J. who may or may not be mentally handicapped and gets him to do “funny” stuff.  What a piece of crap and a waste of my time!  Scene after scene of this guy doing stupid, barely interesting, things.   There was no apparent attempt at structure.  Just random scene after scene of boring “look at me and how car-aaazy! I am” bullshit.
Thank goodness for Joey Weale’s “Flagwar”.  Basically, this film documents an elaborate game of capture the flag on the streets of Charlottetown.  Very well done, it kept me interested and entertained for almost its entirety.  I say “almost” because my only criticism is that it may be a few minutes too long, and a couple of times I wanted the action to move along, rather than showing me, yet again different versions of basically the same scene or idea.  The film employed a lot of still-photos to further the action, and at first I was worried that such a technique might bog the film down.  Nobody likes a slideshow, right.  But, to his credit, Joey made it work beautifully.  He used all kinds of tricks and techniques (without making them feel simply like tricks or techniques) to keep the action moving forward and to keep the audience engrossed and it worked wonderfully.  It’s apparent that a great deal of thought and effort went into the production of film, and I was very much impressed with the whole thing.
Of the first round of Reel Shorts, Flagwar got my “viewer’s choice” vote.

The second round of Reel Shorts was basically a display of the talents of Fox Henderson.  Five of the nine shorts were either “all credits by Fox Henderson” and one other (Jack and The Mud Queen) utilized his studio and talents (to the point where I thought it was another by him, but in fact was directed by Devon McGregor).  Rather than go through each of his films, I’ll offer a general opinion of his work.  First of all, it’s obvious that he’s a very talented guy and so much of his work is impressive.   Last year, he had a few animated films entered in RIFF 3, and my criticism then was that his films were technically interesting but failed on the story, editing and acting fronts.  This year, all that improved dramatically, and I was very impressed with practically all of his work.  Dan Caseley was very good playing Mr. Death in a couple of very funny silent movies.  One aspect of his work that I don’t care for is in his choice to re-record the dialogue in a controlled environment (just like the big movie-makers do).  While I understand the desire to want to control the sound, it can really adversely affect the performances if the actors aren’t up to the over-dubbing task.  This was most apparent in my least favourite of his films “They That Did Dream”.  The dialogue-audio re-dubbing was very intrusive to the enjoyment of the film.  But, since I didn’t like the story at all anyway, I doubt that better audio would have helped much.
I was very much impressed with the look of Jack and The Mud Queen, and the acting of the lead actor was good, but, like other films presented, this story needed to move along a lot more quickly.  Once again, plodding direction gets in the way.
Onto the non-Fox Henderson films of Reel Shorts 2:
Daniel Arsenault’s “Music Has Family Roots” was a trifling bit of music video.  Basically a single-camera, one shot thing showing two live musical performances of Michael and Robert Pendergast.  Apart from a slightly interesting projection effect, there wasn’t much of interest in this, as a film.  The music performances were good, though.
“This and That” by Richie Mitchell was a film that I ended up not “getting”.   I think it was about a guy who desired to be a gay thief, but wasn’t because of a priest in a car who followed him around.  In one reality he has a companion who may or may not be his lover, and they steal some money from a store owner.  In another reality, he is alone, with no companion, and rather than steal from, is given an envelope by, the store owner.  He then gives the envelope to the priest.  When he sees his alternate-universe companion crossing the street, he gasps, but the priest shakes his head “no”.  ???  There are also some shots of a woman walking down the street.  She has been shopping.  I didn’t like this one very much.
And the other non-Fox film was my very own, Christmas Lights.  This film, of course, is brilliant, and above criticism.  Seriously, though, I am very proud of this film and think it’s a pretty good piece of work.  It’s a tight, compact, funny piece of tragic-comedy.   The audience seemed to like it quite a bit.
I do think (not really), however, that a conspiracy was hatched to confuse the audience (perhaps in an attempt to keep me from any chance of winning “viewer’s choice”?).  First of all, on the website, my film was shown as being directed by Jason Rogerson.  That was later corrected.  Then, on the Viewer’s Choice slips of paper that each audience member was given, Driving Lights was shown as being directed by Rob MacLean.  And, the title on the actual film is “Christmas Lights” not Driving Lights, but I think that one was an honest mistake.  All the rest, though, is an obvious attempt to confuse the audience.

Of the second round of Reel Shorts, I voted Christmas Lights as my “viewer’s choice”.  If it wasn’t in the running, then my vote would have gone to Fox Henderson’s “The Last Days of Death: After Life”.  It was a very funny piece of comedy and my only criticisms of it are that it is too long and the joke doesn’t go anywhere.  Each scene is merely a different version of the same joke.  It is only too long because it’s one-joke retold again and again.  And again.  I wanted each scene to build on the previous scenes in some way, but they didn’t.  As a result, the joke didn’t have a conclusion.  It just ended.

In the past, I’ve railed against the Reel Island Film Festival for showing films that I didn’t think were good enough to be shown.  I complained that RIFF’s eyes were bigger than its stomach.  Meaning that the festival was too big for the amount and quality of films it screened.  This year’s event, due to a lack of funding, was very much paired down compared to previous RIFF festivals.  Whereas in the past, they might have tried to have two evenings of shorts screenings and would have had to “water down” the overall quality in order to fill up all the slots, this year’s festival, I think, benefitted by the single night (of shorts).  The result was an evening with a pretty solid lineup of shorts.  An impressive variety of films.
I do think they need to be careful, though, with the potential problem that the RIFF could turn into the Fox Henderson Film Festival.  Nothing against Fox, and his work is definitely worthy of being shown, but ideally, I would have liked to have seen a couple less entries from Fox and a couple more entries from other people.


  1. Jay says:

    as Rob knows, I caught Reel Shorts Part 2 (I was sitting next to him). Like you, Rob, that This and That flick left me scratching my head. If anyone saw it and is able to enlighten me as to what the hell it was all about, send a post. Wait, on second thought, don’t bother. I think if I do know what it’s about, I’d probably hate it more. Ironically that was my favourite film of the night.

    I’m kidding. Fox’s stuff for me was all pretty fantastic in its own way. Of course, I liked some more than others. Found Jack and the Mud Queen could have benefited from a shorter script or quicker pacing and edits within the scenes. But I was impressed how effectively he used Island locations to shoot a fairy tale. A perfect marriage really. I also didn’t care for Those That Did Dream. Some neat visual sequences, but the story didn’t grab me. Gordo and the Other Demon for me visually was a tour de force. And the story was fun, if simple, too. You could really see Fox going the extra mile on the detailed backgrounds on this one. Nice. I don’t know why, but I thought Gordo was going to cheer when, after he finds his stump exploded, he realises the other demon is dead. He’s got soft heart, that little guy. And nobody mumbles like Graham Putnam (who voiced the other demon). The Last Days of Death was always one of my favourite Fox flicks. So I was excited to see the sequel. It didn’t disappoint. With Fox’s talents, he could easily animate some flames out of Death’s hands or something, but he wisely chooses to keep Death’s methods of killing organic. It makes him more human and pathetic, which is the key to making this premise work. And nice work by Dan Caseley (DCC factor in full effect). Daniel Arsnault’s short was fine, but grew static. It’s unfortunate when we see live concerts on TV like U2 and such with all those crane shots, that low budget concert tapings can seem to lack that visual energy. But some variety in the visual technique would have benefited the piece. Strong performances though. Of course, it was fun to see Christmas Driving Lights with a group of people. People laughed in all the right places. Dennis still cracks me up.

    Maybe I’ve forgotten one, but that’s my review. Good on Fox and Pete for keeping a worthy thing rolling. There were a lot of Fox flicks, but all enjoyable. I hope he has as many in next year, but with more from the rest of us.



  2. graham says:

    It’s certainly not Fox’s fault that he has more peices then anyone. He is easily the hardest working flick maker on the Island.
    If everyone else, including me, decided to produce half of what he does, the Festivasl would be a full week of shorts.

    I agree pretty much with the others. I only saw the second screening.

    Mudqueen was well-done, visually nice and an interesting original story. Pacing is a little drawn out, but only at parts. I agree with Jason that it was nice to see a fairy tale. We should do more.

    ‘This and That’ was less coherent and direct then the others, but one could tell it was a very expressive piece. Seemed he was trying to say something very personal. Not sure what though…

    Driving Lights/Christmas Lights: Genius editing helps the guys from that comedy show be funny and sad etc.

    My viewers pick went to Fox’s “Last Days of Death: Afterlife”. Dan gives a very funny, layered portrayal of Death, and Fox has a lot of impressive Shots and cuts in it. Even though the joke was repeated somewhat, I enjoyed each segment.

    Fox’s obvious strength is his technical side, and I find the actors he works with make or break a piece. The projects with stronger actors end up complimenting his visual abilities, and vice/versa.
    This is reflected in his fully animated peices, which are normally a head above his live-actions, as he designs and controls his own actors. If only he had the same control over humans as he does the digital characters, he wouldn’t rely so much on the actors instincts.

    Still, I find everything he does is even better then the last, and I am continually surprised by his ideas, jokes, effects and volume.

    I have a soft spot for one of my own characters: SALT (Stupid Annoying Little Thing), that Fox came up with a few years ago. They are short and sweet. And being a meglomaniac, I like that I am in them.

    All in All great work to everyone… Looking forward to the Docs tonight.


  3. Rob says:

    I agree with everything that Jay and Graham say. And I want to make it clear that I don’t mean it as a criticism of Fox that 50% of the titles shown last night were by him or his studio. I think it’s fantastic that he’s capable of doing the work he does, and every one of his films is a worthy contribution.
    As for the editing of Christmas Lights, I think it’s that Rob MacLean’s direction was of such a high standard that not even an editor could screw it up.


  4. Laura says:

    Kudos to Peter and Fox for keeping the festival rolling this year. Well done! I think the guys went about it the right way going with all island films and keeping things simple in terms of planning.

    In general, I really enjoyed the night and wish I could have made the earlier screening. I hope Joey burns a DVD so I can catch Flag Wars.

    Every year I leave the festival saying “I’m going to submit something next year” and hopefully it will keep rolling long enough for me to actually do it.


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