Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Top 10 Summer Action Short Films




With the recent success (both in execution and at the box office) of The Avengers and upcoming releases such as The Amazing Spider-Man, The Bourne Legacy, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Expendables 2, the summer of 2012 is giving you plenty of chances to get your fill of superheros and explosions.

Action films are a summer time staple for movie goers; we buy our tickets, take our seats, and expect to be dazzled for two hours. But what if we you want to satisfy your action film appetite for a bit without paying $10.00 to go see The Avengers again? (Not that there's anything wrong with that).

Enter the short film: A great medium where movies must efficiently use a small amount of time to grab our attention, tell a story, and leave us wanting more (or resolve things if the director/creator isn't using it for his or her demo reel).

What's even better is that much of the back story and exposition that would normally be found in a feature film is bypassed; this gives the director/creator the benefit of the doubt for being a genius who would have TOTALLY nailed that part of the process.

Unfortunately, the small amount of screen time is also often accompanied by a small budget, making the larger than life spectacles we enjoy in a theater or on a DVD something that we don't necessarily expect to come across on Youtube (unless someone uploaded a movie and hasn't had their account banned yet).

Well fear not, fellow action movie lovers. Below are my Top 10 picks for short films that you can currently watch for free on the interwebs. They provide a theater worthy experience without the $8 popcorn and 14 year olds talking on their cell phones. You may not agree with all of my choices, but I think everyone will be able to find at least one that they truly enjoy. I'll also go give an analysis of each film some links to behind the scenes features for those of you (like me) that are interested in that type of stuff.

A quick warning: There's a lot of violence, a little gore, and a bit of cursing, so some of these entries may be a bit NSFW.

And now, onto the list:



10. Somnolence


Summary
In a dystopian future, the earth has exhausted all of it's natural resources.  To remedy this situation, a group of scientists sends a bunch of guys back in time with guns to battle a giant robot.  I'm really not sure how that fixes anything, but it definitely looks cool.




What's Good
When things pick up at about the 3:30 mark, this film is a lot of fun to watch. The effects on the giant robot, along with the sound editing and weapons effects, are outstanding.

What's Not So Good
At the point when one of the doctors randomly exploded, I was lost. I realize that a short film has a limited amount of time to build a back story or explain something as complex as time travel, but this one needed a lot more than it gave us.

Also, the acting (particularly from the main doctor character) was absolutely terrible.

Could It Work as a Standard Film?
Patrick Kayln, who is a great visual effects guy, showed that he can also do some great work from behind the camera, as well.  If he's willing to get some writing help for the story and script, than this one could be a lot of fun to watch as a feature.

Behind the Scenes Goodness and Project Pages




9. Code Hunters


Summary
In a dystopian future (again?), a band of misfit hunters protects the earth from hairy monsters and a corrupt police force that's in severe need of a better dental plan.





What's Good
The highly stylized animation never feels too "cartoony," even when the monsters show up.

Through brief moments and facial expressions, the main characters' personalities were strongly established, making you already want to root for them.

What's Not So Good
With a short film, it's perfectly fine to have an open ending as long as it leaves you wanting more. The ending to this one, however, just made my head hurt. Chop off the last minute or so and the product would probably be much better.

Could It Work as a Standard Film?
This was originally shot as a prologue to an international MTV series, so there are probably a lot of unused plans waiting to be mined for a feature film project. I'm not sure if the general American audience would take to the ultra textured 2D animation, but the action and incredibly likable characters could probably win them over.

Behind the Scenes Goodness and Project Pages
Article from CGSociety.com






8. Portal: No Escape

Summary
Based loosely off of Valve's best selling 'Portal' video game franchise, this film finds our heroine, played by Danielle Rayne, imprisoned a dystopian future (are you noticing a trend?). She has no idea how she got there, but after a training montage that goes on for far too long, she eventually finds a portal gun and begins to make her escape.






What's Good
Director David Trachtenberg takes the concept of a popular puzzle game and somehow creates an action film full of atmosphere, suspense, and excitement. The cinematography by Keith Dunkerley is top notch and the special effects are outstanding (which are also well supported by some quality editing).

What's Not So Good
When your film runs a little over five minutes, it's not good for things to feel like they're going too slowly. Unfortunately, the opening of the film drags on long after it has established the main character's frustration and physical power.

Could It Work as a Standard Film?
I'm not sure how the marketing guys would sell "Girl vs. Wall" as a film. But with what little I know about the game and after seeing this film, I think there is definitely enough plot there to make a good movie. The problem would be how to alter the story for a mainstream audience (who may be hard to win over) while not alienating fans of the game franchise.

Behind the Scenes Goodness and Project Pages






7. Left 4 Dead: Impulse 76

Summary
Another film based off of a video game franchise, this one finds the rag tag Left 4 Dead team trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. (Another short film based in an apocalyptic future? You don't say...)

I tried to stay away from the more horror based movies for this list, but the great action sequences and the plethora of guest stars that begin showing up around the 6:00 minute mark make this one a perfect fit.






What's Good
Aside from some "cloudy" blood splatters, the effects are fantastic. The sound editing is also far better than you will find on almost any fan film.

Director Adrian Picardi transitions seamlessly from tension filled survival movie to knock down/drag out action flick. The cast does an excellent job in the opening scenes of using their brief dialogue to display the group's different personalities and general dysfunction.

What's Not So Good
Some folks who are not hard core gamers may be a bit disappointed when what starts out as a tense survival thriller turns into a massive, over the top video game homage.

Could It Work as a Standard Film?
No way. The licensing costs alone would make the budget way too big.

Behind the Scenes Goodness and Project Pages





6. Round 6


Summary
I'm not sure if this one takes place in a dystopian future or not. It centers around a man nicknamed "Snap" who is playing his final round (which is the 6th one, if you needed some help figuring that out) of a game called "Fragball."

The game apparently involves a lot of running for your life from a walking abomination while trying to capture an under inflated football with lights on it.




What's Good
The film immediately sets to work making you realize that there is a high degree of fear and stress from an unknown yet very powerful entity. The animation, particularly the lighting effects, are superb.

What's Not So Good
The film's biggest weakness is also one of its strengths: By the time it was over, I felt like I had just begun to really enjoy myself.  Clocking in at a little over three minutes, this one will definitely leave you wanting more.

The jerky camera work was effective at times, but it also detracted from some of the film's more tense moments.

Could It Work as a Standard Film?
I'm not sure about a feature film, but it would definitely make a great game. I know I'd definitely like to play Fragball again (from the comfort of my gaming system; not with a demonic centaur trying to crush me).

Behind the Scenes Goodness and Project Pages




5. The Gift


Summary
In a dystopian future (...), a Russian guy delivers a mysterious box to a wealthy man. He then decides to stab him in the neck and keep the box for himself. After he loses the box (due to being hit by a bus), the wealthy man's robot butler picks it up and begins running from the police.

Look, I know it sounds like I just described the set up for a terrible 80's TV pilot, but it's good--I promise.

Also, my apologies for the odd formatting of the video. The version that is not a giant advertisement for Phillips televisions will not allow me to embed it. You can watch that other version here, if you prefer.




What's Good
Phillips sponsored a movie project in which the films had to use these lines of dialogue:


"What is that?"
"A Unicorn."
"Never seen one up close before."
"Beautiful."
"Get away."
"I'm sorry ."


If I had made a film within those parameters, it probably would have ended up being a cautionary tale about cryptozoology and abstinence.

Carl Rinsch, however, ended up creating an exhilarating chase sequence with an ending that left us wanting more and hoping for answers...along with a feature film and/or sequel.

What's Not So Good
I'd still like to know why the Russian dude with the box went all the way to the wealthy man's house just to stab him in the neck. Also, it may make me a bad person, but I have to admit that I chuckled a bit when he got hit by the bus.

Could It Work as a Standard Film?
Let's hope so; this would be a great one to watch.

Behind the Scenes Goodness and Project Pages
Article at creativity-online.com.





4. Azureus Rising

Summary
This film takes place in an advanced future (THANK YOU) and centers around a person inside of a cybernetic suit (and in desperate need of a hair cut) as he or she tries to evade law enforcement and giant robots...with style.





What's Good
Just about everything. The animation is so good that at times it looks like a live action film, particularly during the fire and explosion effects.

The protagonist's movements always feel very real (despite his/her unearthly abilities) due to great editing and camera angles.

I know this will sound weird, but the constant breathing that we hear from the main character is also a huge plus. It keeps reminding us that we are dealing with someone or something that is a living being...and maybe even a human.

What's Not So Good
The liberal use of slow motion took me out of the film a couple of times, particularly when most of my enjoyment was derived from the protagonist's incredible speed and precision.

Could It Work as a Standard Film?
This movie was done as a proof of concept film, and so far the reception it has received has been fantastic. Considering that it was released in 2010, the technology should be there to make this into one heck of a feature if someone wants to do it.

Behind the Scenes Goodness and Project Pages
Azureusrising.com
Azureus Rising Facebook Page




3. Losses

Summary
No dystopian future here! The basic set up is a Jason Bourne-type character being brought in by his corrupt/evil boss, who is angry at him for not being worth the money they paid to train him. He then handcuffs the operative and gives him 5 minutes to reach his office if he wants a job and to continue breathing.  

As you can imagine, this was a poor decision by Mr. Evil Bossman on a lot of levels.






What's Good
According to director Ryan Connolly, he borrowed a Red Epic camera from someone, got a bunch of friends and family together, and somehow shot that 9 minutes of badassery on a budget of only $200.

The film's cinematography looks like a million bucks, but the stunt work by his brother Josh Connolly (who plays the films protagonist) along with some excellent editing makes this seem like a top of the line Hollywood production.

Add in some incredibly well done special effects by Michael Stark, and you've got yourself one heck of a shoot 'em up action flick.

What's Not So Good
While the shaky cam (which was probably a byproduct of not having cranes or camera supports) was often put to good use, it made my motion sickness start to act up a bit by the end.

I'll need to take some benadryl before I watch this one again (which I most definitely will).

Could It Work as a Standard Film?
Absolutely, but that's not really the point of how great this film is. It's your basic Jason Bourne/Mission Impossible set up and fight scenes, but done on a shoestring budget while maintaining a very professional and high level of quality.

Behind the Scenes Goodness and Project Pages
Behind the Scenes of 'Losses'




2. The Raven

Summary
In a dystopian future (I give up), Chris Black, aka The Raven, tries to evade capture from a ruthless Los Angeles police force...

...which is actually sort of how things are now for many LA residents, except that The Raven also has the powers of telekinesis, energy projection, and extreme parkour skills.





What's Good
The special effects are outstanding. Short films often ask us to forgive and actively remind ourselves of their incredibly small budgets, but this one somehow delivers Michael Bay quality action and explosions (along with more character development than most Bay movies ever hope to achieve).

Writer and director Ricardo de Montreuil creates an incredibly chilling atmosphere (aided greatly by Angelo Milli's haunting score). He expertly combines well placed close ups and tight shots, making us feel like we are running with The Raven for safety.  

Actor Victor Lopez gives The Raven life in two different ways: His athletic abilities border on being superhuman, while his emotions, expression, and dialogue convincingly express desperation and anger without ever veering into SyFy Channel movie cheesiness.

What's Not So Good
I'm not sure if Montreuil asked actor and co-writer Antonio Perez (the man in the car) to channel the most stereotypically offensive Latino character possible, but he just about achieved it.  

Could It Work as a Standard Film?
As long as The Raven's back story is compelling enough, than absolutely. The whole "dystopian future" thing has been done many times before, as has the idea of automated/murderous and oppressive government and law enforcement.

Make us care about Chris Black/The Raven, however, and it will actually be worth watching for two hours.

Behind the Scenes Goodness and Project Pages





1. Batman: Dead End

Summary
In July of 2003, the world was still a few years away from Chris Nolan's successful reboot of the Batman franchise...and Joel Schumacher was still a hated man for seemingly ruining it. That's when film design artist Sandy Collora decided to spend $30,00 of his own money to finally give us a great Batman movie (and to prove his directing chops).

The film starts out with Batman pursuing the Joker through Arkham City. Despite this standard set up, their eventual confrontation is absolutely riveting...and then all hell breaks loose.




What's Good
Everything.  

Clark Bartram is Batman, plain and simple.  He and the late Andrew Koenig (as the Joker) create a scene with more tension than all of the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman films combined.  

The costuming is where a large portion of the money was spent, and it definitely shows. While Batman's costume goes for the cost saving "classic" look over the more stylized/armored version, the Predator and Alien suits look as good as they ever have on screen.

The mix of selections from the soundtracks to Predator, Aliens, and Danny Elfman's Batman score creates a perfect accompaniment to what we are experiencing on screen.

I could write more (and for a long time), but I think I'm going to go watch that movie again.

What's Not So Good
It ends...and I wanted it to last longer.  

I guess if you want to get picky, there were a couple parts where the sound was a bit off. 

Could It Work as a Standard Film?
Probably not. 

Batman has faced off against the Predator and the Xenomorph from Aliens in the comics before, but that won't mean much to a mainstream audience. Many would probably find it too gimmicky or strange (despite awesome evidence to the contrary).

Combine that with the fact that Warner Brothers (who owns the rights to Batman) and 20th Century Fox probably won't play nice with their franchises, and this great short film is all we're going to get.  

Maybe it's better that way, especially if there's a risk of Fox getting involved in the production.

Behind the Scenes Goodness and Project Pages


I hope you enjoyed the list. Even if you have somehow seen all of these, you are welcome to use this space as a bookmark to get to some of your favorite films (we won't mind the extra hits...I promise).

If there are any films that you feel I missed, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments below.  And be on the look out for our Top 10 Scary Short Films list this fall.  Here's a little preview to tide you over:

Charlie Bit My Finger: The Horror



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