LRFF2015 Review: “Made In Arkansas” Shorts Block 2

19 May

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

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MatchMaker

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

The full review of Robin Sparks’ “MatchMaker” can be found here.

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Hush

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Kenn Woodard’s 20-minute film, “Hush,” is a strange, fascinating thriller-drama that is both hard to watch and fun to watch at the same time. It takes place in a small Southern town and begins with a news report of the arrival of a new Sheriff, Elkins (Billy Chase Goforth) before we are introduced to a couple (Warren McCullough and Cassie Self) in a remote rural area, as they reluctantly take in McCullough’s ne’er-do-well brother (Houston Nutt III). But that night, these two elements come together in surprising, dangerous ways. And unfortunately, that’s about all I can say about “Hush,” lest I give something away (a recurring problem I notice in reviewing some of these shorts, if not most of them). I will say that the film is brutal and effectively so, and the tone and spirit sucked me into a world gone mad. It feels like an efficiently exaggerated tale of how only the position of power (such as in politics) matters when greed is on the line. And I will also say this: the ending, in my opinion, is nothing short of brilliant. With a hint of commentary, an arresting look, an eerie calm, a despicable bad guy, and a good deal of violence, “Hush” is not a short I’ll forget anytime soon. And I certainly won’t forget the image of Elkins staring down an equally horrific trophy; that’s a brilliant shot. Shout-out to cinematographer Blake Elder.)

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Dim the Lights

Smith’s Verdict: ***

There’s usually at least one experimental film at every film festival, and Dwight Chalmers’ 10-minute short “Dim the Lights” is the one for LRFF2015. Shot with a Super 8 camera and presumably with hardly any editing whatsoever, “Dim the Lights” is a series of shots of locations that is the equivalent of videography for a nice road trip; it’s like one of those family vacation videos where what you shoot is what you have, with no editing. Minus the family. What we have instead is a feeling of nostalgia as we get numerous images of some of the most forgotten places on Route 66. Surprisingly, it works. It’s almost like a memorial to the Mother Road. Yes, the film can frustrate some by seeming a few minutes too long, but if you get into the spirit of it (like I did), it can turn out to be a nice experience.

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The Pop N’ Lock

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Ohh boy. There’s not much I can say about this one. “The Pop N’ Lock” is Jadon Barnes’ 2-minute short that is computer-animated in the same style as “Lego Movie” with CGI crossed with stop-motion animation…and featuring Lego characters. A Lego couple arrives home after a time of apparently hard partying and drinking, and the man wants to show his girlfriend he still has good dance moves. So he shows them off in comedic over-the-top fashion. That’s pretty much it—just like an awesome YouTube video you want to show your friends. There’s hardly another way to review it. The animation is fabulous, it’s fun to watch, it’s funny…and moving on!

Oh the film is online? Sweet! Check it out!

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Rapture Us

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

It’s a terrific premise: when a devout Christian is mistakenly left behind after the Rapture, he attempts to gain God’s attention by breaking the 10 Commandments. Even though I feel there could’ve been more done with it than what is delivered in Levi Agee’s 20-minute short film, “Rapture Us,” it’s still a very entertaining comedy with enough clever twists to keep it interesting. When you get past the notion that “God made a mistake” (it’s not supposed to be taken seriously), it’s an enjoyable romp.

It begins as a young man (played by Quinn Gasaway, Sacred Hearts, Holy Souls) awakens at night as he is levitated from his bed and stopped by the bedroom ceiling. When he is brought back down to the ground, he finds he is alone, with his family members and neighbors seemingly “raptured” into heaven. Further proof that he is now living in the End Times is the appearance of a new friend: an undead wisecracker (played by writer-director Agee) who appears from under Gasaway’s bed. He has a plan for them both to get God’s attention and be raptured, which is, of course, to break all the 10 Commandments.

A feature film could be crafted from this idea. But as is, “Rapture Us” is definitely worth recommending for its ambition, skill, and talent. It’s well-made, with sharp direction by Agee and striking cinematography by Bryan Stafford (The Dealer’s Tale), and also well-acted. Quinn Gasaway is a likable actor and a good lead here, and Levi Agee, as a performer, is freaking hilarious. I loved him as Bo in Cotton County Boys which played at the festival four years ago, and after meeting him since then and watching his interviews at this year’s festival, Agee himself is pretty much exactly like the characters he plays and that’s fine—no one can play Levi Agee like Levi Agee. And with “Rapture Us,” he also proves to be a good filmmaker.

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The Ask

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

In Ed Lowry’s 5-minute short, “The Ask,” a teenage girl (played by Lowry’s daughter) practicing a speech she plans to present to her parents, leading to the question in point. It’s a very well-edited piece, as her pitch is told to us in order but from different locations at different times, as if she’s been preparing to ask this for a long time. It’s well-handled and also quite funny. My only problem with the film is a slight nitpick: I feel the punchline could’ve been stronger. But it’s cute; I’ll let it slide. I like Ed Lowry’s work as an actor (he also received the Best Arkansas Performance award for his role in David Bogard’s “A Matter of Honor” at last year’s LRFF Awards), but like Levi Agee (and also Kenn Woodard, for that matter, for “Hush”), he also proves to be a capable filmmaker.

Contact

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

“We help people see the world more clearly.” A perfect slogan for the eye doctor if ever I heard one. Alexander Jeffrey’s 10-minute short film, “Contact,” centers on an eye doctor who believes he can not only make people see more clearly with eyeglasses and contact lenses but also literally give them fresh new outlooks on life and the world around them. Can he? He claims he truly can when he meets an old friend from high school, who is nearsighted. The doctor says his old friend could use some contacts, but after a falling-out due to a betrayal, the friend isn’t sure he can trust him. What he learns is something he won’t forget. The way the resolution comes along is very cleverly handled in an unpredictable way. And it also delivers a positive, powerful message of not taking things for granted and considering what you have rather than what you don’t. “Contact” is a well-done short.

Join me later for Block 3!

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