Better Than Okay

The Huntington Beach Library certainly wasn't quiet.

There was a red carpet outside, though few were actually walking it—the promised appearance by David Carradine never materialized. There were some surprisingly nice T-shirts for sale. And everyone was totally approachable—can they really call this a film festival?

Indeed. The SoCal Independent Film Festival often felt like a bunch of your friends just happened to get together in a totally awesome screening room to show off a few flicks, some of them they incidentally made and starred in, and which were better than you'd expect. All that was missing was a keg, but you couldn't have everything. And there was champagne on Saturday. Plus, free pizza on opening night.

Oh, yeah, and movies, too. I previously reviewed all of the features save Zombie Farm, about which there isn't a lot to say. After the first 10 minutes, I felt like leaving: Awfully acted “inbred hillbillies” chow down on a rubber rat, and I feared nothing good could come of it. It's a knowingly bad movie, but that alone isn't enough to save it. Still, despite this, I stuck around, and it grew on me. Not exactly a “good” movie in any sense, it was strangely endearing and appeared to have been made purely for the sake of showcasing hilariously bad “zombie walks” by inexperienced actors and a whole lot of ridiculously over-the-top gore effects.

Zombies fared better in smaller doses: Sarah Hamblin's The Deadening was hilarious, with an excellent performance by Jonathan Farnsworth as a Bruce Campbell type so self-centered and whiny about a small cut in his hand that he doesn't notice the zombie invasion going on around him. If an Evil Dead remake is seriously being considered, this guy should be the next Ash. And Michael Swann's Gay Zombie= Awesomeness. “I'm the undead . . . Maybe I can help you live a little.” This would make a much better sitcom than that Geico cavemen thing we're hearing so much about.

Short films are not a good medium for tragedy. On a low budget, it's hard to stage a kid getting run over by a car without it looking ridiculous, and taking up most of your running time with close-ups of a person looking sad and doing nothing is a waste. Shorts are best when they're either super-short (Mischa Livingstone's A Little Night Fright was quick, slick and to the point—a perfectly told joke in which a little kid tries to frighten his brother about the location of a monster in the room, but the tables get quickly turned) or a good 15 minutes with some well-drawn characters (Shane Reid's 'Tis the Season, a Christmas comedy in the vein of The Ref that sees two accidental burglars trapped at a holiday party full of cops, has at least five fully realized performances and could easily be expanded into a great feature).

The other highlights of the fest included the new Don Hertzfeldt short Everything Will Be OK. Among animation fans, a new Hertzfeldt short is as anticipated as a new Pixar movie, and this one doesn't disappoint, taking the familiar themes of madness and breakdown used in his award-winning Rejected and amping them up a notch stylistically and narratively. Using the familiar black-and-white stick figures, it's the story of a man named Bill, who observes odd, daily minutiae such as dead horses on the street and slow-motion replays of boxing wounds and engages in such banal activities as sucking blood from a sore in the corner of his mouth. Eventually, the banalities become stranger and stranger, and Bill suffers a complete breakdown, which we get to observe through his eyes as the editing and visuals get more demented. This could easily be the next Oscar winner for Best Animated Short.

Neil Jesuele's Rad Racers is a car-chase movie done with remote-control cars and Todd McFarlane action figures: Yellow Submarine-style Paul McCartney competes with Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Old Monty for the hand of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (not a McFarlane). Dork watches toys; dork likes.

Marshall McAuley's Quiet was pretty damn outstanding. A young girl has her hearing seriously damaged by a car accident; from then on, the movie's soundtrack becomes her own, with bass-heavy vibrations, indistinct dialogue and occasional piercing tinnitus high-pitches. As she tries to adjust to the new sounds around her, a scary guy follows her home. The sound design may seem like a gimmick to juice up a fairly simple story, but it's one hell of a gimmick, taking you into the thing the way 3-D does, but drawing on different senses.

And then there's Bodybagman . . . wait . . . what the heck is this? Black-and-white Super-8? I had no idea anyone used this as a medium anymore. Feels like I'm back in film school. No sound on this one, either. And yet it's genius. A guy in a body bag wakes up in a strange house and tries to escape . . . but he never once actually gets out of the body bag, so it's just the adventures of this giant, walking bag. Eventually, he ends up in a rap battle, which is hilariously pointless in a movie with no sound. The credits claim the film was directed by “Bodybagman,” and it isn't clear who the lead actor is, but considering the physical bumps he takes and the expressiveness he gives a big black bag, I nominate Bodybagman for Best Actor in the festival.


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