In my daily work as an education professional (which is the phrase I use when I don’t want people to know how glamorous my job isn’t) it is important to present an open and accepting disposition. Sure, the majority of the kids are ignorant and intolerant of anything that is different, but for that one student who doesn’t yet know how to express his or her weirdness, your encouragement and support could be a difference maker. What’s great about any film festival – this one included – is the no-holds-barred embracing of the strange.
I almost didn’t make it to the fest today. The weekend was exhausting, and I was still a little put off by yesterday’s last-minute change of plans. But I couldn’t leave my loyal readers wanting (remember the Day One fiasco?). So I brought it on down to LA Live for a day of celebration of all things odd.
I’ve seen some odd things already during the fest (Recommended By Enrique and Giuseppe Makes a Movie spring to mind), but you will never fail to be mystified by a good shorts program. I had hoped to get a chance to check out some unusual shorts during the festival, and LA Film Fest obliged with the collection it calls “Shorts 1.”
The program consists of eight shorts, ranging in length from six to 23 minutes.
Some of the shorts are good, some are not so good, but almost all of them are different, which is what it really important. In my assessments of the shorts, the ones that took the most risk tended to keep me the most interested, even if they weren’t necessarily the best.
The collection starts with “Exchange and Mart,” a Scottish short by directors Cara Connolly and Martin Clark about a school age girl whose budding desires get mixed up with a self-defense course. “Fe26” is Kevin Jerome Emerson’s documentary short following two scrap metal scavengers. Pedro Zulu González’s “A Family Day,” is a beautifully crafted piece, composed mostly of stop-motion. At 23 minutes, Jean-Bernard Marlin’s French short, “The Runaway” – about a young delinquent – is the longest in the program. It is followed by “Off Ground,” a uniquely choreographed dance piece directed by Boudewijn Koole. “David Hockney IN THE NOW (in six minutes)” is a very tight biographical piece made for LACMA by Lucy Walker. The program ends with two comedies, “This Is It” (not the Michael Jackson doc) and “The Gunfighter,” by Alexander Engel and Eric Kissack, respectively.
The final two were the biggest crowd-pleasers, as both were legitimately funny and right comedic pieces. “This Is It” uses very quick cuts to show an entire roommate relationship in 3 minutes. There’s laughs, intrigue, a little melancholy, all coming from context-less single lines of dialogue, most of which are questions that are never strictly answered. “The Gunfighter” stretches its legs a little more, as the titular character finds himself in a saloon rife with unspoken conflicts. Luckily, an all-knowing and unseen, but very-much-heard, voice (Nick Offerman) is more than willing to voice all of the town’s secrets, much to the chagrin of the secret holders.
The most experimental pieces – “A Family Day,” “Off Ground,” and “David Hockney” are also very fascinating to watch, though “Off Ground” may stretch out its interpretive dance a little too long.
It’s the more straight-forward shorts, like “Exchange and Mart” and “The Runaway” that don’t really fit. Both are traditional narratives, and as the two longest films, they sort of feel like they’re taking up time that could be filled with more interesting fare. I am a little embarrassed to say that I fell asleep for a portion of “The Runaway,” but I don’t know if I am completely to blame for that.
My plan all month has been to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon this evening, but the moving of Man from Reno necessitated the moving of another film to tonight, so we say “bye-bye” to Ang Lee’s 2000 film. That’s fine though – it really wouldn’t have fit my theme of “the weird.” Unless that movie is all about being different. I haven’t seen it since I was 10, so I don’t really remember.
Instead I replaced that screening with a screening of Jossy’s. Jossy’s is a Japanese genre film, and nobody does weird like the Japanese (stereotype alert!). The film is a comedic take on Power Rangers-type shows. The five “Jossy’s” – Red (Mirei Kiritani), Blue (Mina Fujii), Yellow (Mitsuki Takahata), Green (Kasumi Arimura), and Navy (Mizuki Yamamoto) – are recruited by a mysterious Zordon-like figure named Charles (Jiro Sato) to combat various phantoms seeking to wreak havoc on Tokyo.
Jossy’s skewers its source material incredibly well. I haven’t watched an episode of Power Rangers in probably over a decade, but everything goes exactly how I remember. The rangers fight the minions, then fail to beat the monster, then combine their efforts to beat the monster as a team. It’s heavily repetitive, but that’s the charm. And once the characters start to realize how rote it all is, the movie really takes off. The Jossy’s aren’t really interested in taking on the the responsibility Charles has given them, nor are they even particularly good at it.
This all leads to some great moments of humor. Judging comedy is already such a subjective endeavor, but when you throw in the references and touchstones of an entirely different culture, you are basically setting yourself up for failure. So I was surprised by how much I actually laughed out loud at Jossy’s. There are some really inspired moments of random, State-like jokes, as well as some long takes that really take their time. The movie is surprisingly patient, especially considering the genre it is parodying.
Of course, for each joke that works, there is one that goes over an American audience’s head. Noteworthy examples are the extremely broad characterizations – archetypes that are common in Japan, but not so much over here. One great thing about Jossy’s detachment from the Hollywood system is it’s almost nonexistent structure, which refreshingly allows an emotional arc to peak at the film’s midpoint, and then let’s two of its characters look at stairs for what feels like 10 minutes. Jossy’s is truly strange, but in a great way.
In a decade suffocating on blockbuster sequels and cerebral indies, it is nice to find small pieces of weird at the LA Film Fest. Sure I’ll probably go back to all the standard fare next weekend (and I’ll probably like it), but it’s nice to take a break. Good on ya, Fest.