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Short Film Reviews: "T" Surnamed Directors

10 short films, 10 directors, 10 last names that start with the 20th letter of the alphabet: T as in Tornado.

By Trevor WellsPublished 2 years ago 17 min read
Short Film Reviews: "T" Surnamed Directors
Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Grass Labyrinth (Shūji Terayama):

We're starting this review list off with an oldie produced from outside of the U.S. Being directed by a man known for avant-garde poetry/television and Japanese New Wave, it's not much of a surprise that Grass Labyrinth is such a surreal trip of a short film. While the tale of a young man named Akira (Takeshi Wakamatsu) searching for the lullaby his mother (Keiko Niitaka) used to sing him might sound simple, the way it's told certainly isn't. It doesn't take long for Akira's journey to fall down a rabbit hole of weirdness and the movie quite literally ends in a madhouse.

Viewers with more of a taste for experimental cinema--and perhaps a better understanding of Japanese culture--might get more enjoyment than Grass Labyrinth than me. Still, the longer I watched, the more I became strangely captivated by the bizarre stops in Akira's journey. My personal interpretation of the film's events is that Akira's obsession with finding the lullaby stems from wanting to preserve one good memory of his deceased mother. From what we see and learn of her, it sounds like she wasn't a particularly kind woman and that her relationship with Akira was far from healthy. There are even some implications that have me thinking Akira's mother abused him in more ways than one. SPOILER ALERT That makes Grass Labyrinth's ending tragic in a subdued, ambiguous sense. Through my lenses, all the madness Akira encounters is meant to show how he might lose his sanity if he doesn't properly deal with the trauma caused by his mother's maltreatment. With that in mind, it's hard to tell if fulfilling his quest to find the lullaby will bring him peace...or if it will only bring him more misery. Spoilers Over

The actors do well, though they're mostly just pawns in Shūji Terayama's cavalcade of crazy. Keiko Niitaka and Yasumi Nakasuji stand out the best as Akira's unnerving mother and Chiyojo, an unstable woman whose perverted interactions with Akira are disturbing as well as tragic, once her backstory is revealed. Grass Labyrinth may not have been my cup of tea and it wears itself a little thin with its 40-minute runtime. But Terayama's beautiful direction and the inexplicable appeal of the movie's outlandish narrative are sure to capture the interest of many viewers. It's like entering a labyrinth where the entrance closes right behind you: once you go in, you can't stop until you reach the end.

Score: 7 out of 10 lacquered boxes.

Pretty Boy (Cameron Thrower):

Now for a trio of LGBT-themed short films, all far more within my reviewing comfort zone than Grass Labyrinth. Sean James Collins (Nick Eversman) is spending his 18th birthday at a seedy motel. Why? Because his father John (Jon Briddell) has arranged for a hooker to sleep with Sean to "fix" his homosexuality. But as Sean realizes over the course of his night with Katie (Rebekah Tripp), you can't fix what's not broken. From the minute Pretty Boy begins, the film grabs you by the heart. After an opening scene of Sean getting assaulted by homophobic bullies, we watch as the clearly uncomfortable teen is dropped off at the motel for his encounter with Katie. The dark lighting and anxiety-inducing soundtrack put you directly into Sean's conflicted mindset.

As much as you'll feel for poor Sean during his painfully awkward almost-tryst with Katie, seeing the kid break down about his anguish to a complete stranger might have you tearing up. Nick Eversman and Rebekah Tripp give overall great performances, but they really deliver during Sean's meltdown. Eversman digs deep into Sean's repressed pain while Tripp allows you to see the gears of empathy start to turn in Katie's mind. While she's initially impersonal and later hostile towards Sean, she softens up once she sees how troubled he is and becomes his confidante and unconventional maternal figure. Eversman and Tripp mesh perfectly together as Sean and Katie forge an unlikely bond and Katie slowly reveals she has her own problems that she hides behind a snarky veneer. Those problems actually mirror Sean's, as they both center around being mistreated by cruel and close-minded people.

Jon Briddell's John Collins is the last of the movie's central characters. While it would've been easy for Cameron Thrower to write John as one-dimensionally abusive, he and Briddell allow John to be more than that. He's definitely homophobic and some of his comments to Katie reek of sexism. But other times, you can see John does love his son, but his learned bigotry keeps him from supporting Sean the way he needs to be supported. While it has plenty of somber moments, Pretty Boy has just as many lighthearted scenes of comfort as Katie hangs out with Sean and encourages him not to be ashamed of who he is. SPOILER ALERT That allows Pretty Boy to end on a bittersweet but hopeful note. While Katie is left still dealing with her unsupportive mother keeping her away from her son, she gives Sean a renewed sense of confidence that allows him to start an honest conversation with his father--one John seems to be open to as a result of Katie calling him out for not being the parent Sean needs. Spoilers Over Well-shot, superbly-acted, and exceptionally-written, Pretty Boy is a film that perfectly captures the queer experience without being relentlessly depressing.

Score: 10 out of 10 salt and vinegar chips.

Just Ask Him (Brian Tognotti):

While it has a similar setting as Pretty Boy, Just Ask Him is much more relaxed than the previous gay film on this list. While he's out of the closet at his high school, Andrew (Donovan Napoli) is still nervous about asking out his crush Ricky (Río Padilla-Smith ). In terms of both plot and mood, Just Ask Him reminds me of Shawna Khorasani's LoverGirl. Both are about a gay high school student working up the nerve to confess their feelings to their crush, with both having a snarky female POC best friend as an ally. But unlike LoverGirl's Cameron, Andrew's friend Joelle encourages Andrew not to ask Ricky out due to believing him to be another straight jerk jock. While her insistence that Andrew should blindly dismiss Ricky is frustrating, it's understandable given her own queer identity and presumed bad experiences in their "dicksville" hometown. Elsie Arisa's humorous performance also keeps Joelle's cynicism from getting annoying.

As for the rest of the story, Just Ask Him makes for a simple but well-acted look at a shy teen's efforts to confess a crush and (more importantly) feel truly at home in his own skin. Donovan Napoli and Río Padilla-Smith make Andrew and Ricky a pair of realistic teenage boys. The first conversation between Andrew and Ricky is dripping with adolescent awkwardness. Napoli in particular sells the feeling of being young and lovestruck for someone you fear won't feel the same way. Padilla-Smith is just as charming as Ricky, whose affable energy and goofy jokes make it no mystery why Andrew is so into him. Rounding out the main cast is Sherri Z. Heller, who plays Andrew's supportive mother as a loving woman who doesn't shy away from giving her son some much-needed frank advice. Apart from the somewhat rushed ending, Just Ask Him is a sweet little short film about finding the courage to be yourself and take chances. Plus, it's a nice breather after the significantly more intense Pretty Boy.

Score: 7.5 out of 10 coupon books.

Cupcake: A Zombie Lesbian Musical (Rebecca Thomson):

Last in the LGBTQ+ triumvirate is a very uniquely premised short film exploring the female half of the same-sex loving community. While a zombie outbreak wrecks havoc on their quiet little neighborhood, Mauva and Agnes (Phillipa Tyrrell and Helen Edwards) are more concerned with another matter: Billy and Dayna (Anna Kidd and Rose Mastroianni), the lesbian couple next door. When a zombie ends up invading Billy and Dayna's home, their day quickly becomes one marked by blood, guts, and wacky musical numbers. An odd Australian comedy visibly made on a shoestring budget, Cupcake: A Zombie Lesbian Musical at least delivers everything the title promises. Just don't go in expecting too much in the "musical" department. Only one song in the soundtrack (a duet between Billy and Dayna) escapes the movie unscathed. The rest are either poorly sung, have groan-worthy lyrics, or are partially unintelligible.

Of the four main cast members, Anna Kidd and Rose Mastroianni have the better voices. Acting-wise, though, Phillipa Tyrrell and Helen Edwards do a good job depicting a pair of comedically lesbophobic old ladies. SPOILER ALERT Sadly, despite spending the whole film spouting slurs and laughing as Dayna and Billy are attacked by zombies, Cupcake doesn't end with the bigoted biddies getting devoured. Instead, the movie ends with another obvious "they act like lesbians despite hating lesbians!" joke. Spoilers Over Kidd and Mastroianni are just as effective as a horny gay couple just minding their own business before zombies come to spoil their fun. Billy and Dayna's duet is as cute as it is funny. Kidd is even able to make Billy's solo song bearable with her solid set of pipes, despite having the worst lyrics of the film to work with in that instance. Unfortunately, despite having some fun moments both comedically and musically, Cupcake's staler moments and overall dull story end up overpowering them. And "dull" is not a word that should describe a movie about zombie lesbians.

Score: 4 out of 10 corn-shaped vibrators.

The Lunchbox Brigade (Kyle Thiele):

Best characterized as a cross between Rugrats and your average Disney Channel kidcom, The Lunchbox Brigade follows the titular child squadron on their latest mission. Leader Teddy (Kyan Zielinski) has just learned that his friend Johnny (Alex Silva) has been sent to camp for the whole summer. Rounding up the other Brigade members, Teddy leads his team on an endeavor to bring Johnny home. But the rescue operation doesn't end the way Teddy thought it would. While the main characters of The Lunchbox Brigade are older than the infant protagonists of Rugrats, the movie still has the same carefree atmosphere as the Nickelodeon series. Teddy and company's journey to "save" Johnny from summer camp brings to mind similar missions that Tommy Pickles went on with his friends.

While it's just as simplistic as an episode of Rugrats, The Lunchbox Brigade also has just as much adolescent appeal. From the children's dedication to their game to the camera avoiding letting any adult faces appear onscreen, the film accurately puts you in the mind of an imaginative child. Kyan Zielinski and his co-stars further sell the brigade as a loyal group of kids committed to keeping their youthful adventures alive. SPOILER ALERT Conversely, Alex Silva does a good job making Johnny a snooty "kid who thinks themselves more mature than everyone else" kid. Johnny's stern and callous mother (as played by Lorraine Montez) makes it clear where Johnny got his newfound arrogance from. Spoilers Over Starting with a cool tracking shot opening credits sequence and ending with a lovely message about friendship and staying young at heart, The Lunchbox Brigade is a quirky bit of fun that might just stir up some fond childhood memories for you.

Score: 7 out of 10 pixie sticks.

Crimson Heist (Dalton Thorvilson):

Running at a quick 4 minutes, not including credits, Crimson Heist is a speedy comedy about Devin McHale (Loïc Suberville) and his plan to rob a bank. He's planned similar crimes in the past, but none of them have been successful. Will this time be different? Being a comedy short that's all about the punchline, Crimson Heist basically hinges on its cast to make it a fun ride. Loïc Suberville and the actors playing his accomplices are thankfully up to the task. You'll find yourself rooting for Devin thanks to how earnestly Suberville plays him. With his history of failed robberies and slightly nervous confidence as he explains his foolproof plan, you'll want to see Devin accomplish his goal. His three accomplices are all likable in their own ways, with Casey Gardner's sassy Lizzie Dun and De'Vaughn Looney's brasher "Robber 2" standing out the best.

The plot twist ending makes for an adequate laugh, but the best part of Crimson Heist's finale is how unexpectedly heartwarming it is. While the robbery definitely doesn't go according to Devin's plan, what does happen still ends up giving him an adorable confidence surge. It's hardly a vaultful of comedy gold, but this 4-minute skit is still bound to put a smile on your face with its competent cast and surprising conclusion.

Score: 6 out of 10 local millionaires.

Cuck (Adam Tyree):

While the title and premise--especially the way IMDb phrases it--might turn some off, Cuck has a lot more going on under the sheets surface. Colton (Jake Brown) and Emily (Rachel Alig) feel that like relationship has fallen into a rut. Colton's solution to the problem? Arrange for another man (Jeremy Christian) to come in and have sex with Emily while he watches! As the movie began, I'll admit I felt a little wary of where it appeared to be going. Seeing Colton goad an uncertain Emily into agreeing to his plan to "help their relationship" is a little icky to watch. But at least it never comes across that Emily is being forced to go along with her boyfriend's wishes.

After the opening, Cuck dives right into the comedy as Emily and Tim start having some incredibly stiff sex while Colton spectates. Things seem to start dipping back into problematic waters when Colton tries to call off the deal right as Emily starts to enjoy herself, suddenly put off by the arrangement he made once it no longer satisfies him. But just when it felt like the movie was heading to a troubling end, Cuck pulls a 180 and ends on a triumphant note. SPOILER ALERT After shutting down Colton's attempt to cut her time with Tim short, Emily finally realizes how unsustainable their relationship is and makes the smart decision to end it. Even as Colton tries to guilt trip Emily, she sticks her ground and walks away. So in a nice little surprise, what starts off as a straightforward sex comedy segues into an empowering drama about a woman standing up to her toxic boyfriend and refusing to let him manipulate her into staying in an unhappy relationship. Spoilers Over

Jake Brown and Rachel Alig work well together to paint a portrait of a broken couple while Jeremy Christian is amusing as Emily's hired paramour. Christian and Alig similarly blend well during Tim and Emily's sexual encounter, making for some nice cringe comedy throughout and immediately after their tryst. Cuck gets off to a slow start and might turn some away because of the direction it seems to be taking at first. But give it some time and the film has some good laughs, strong performances, and a surprisingly touching ending to make you happy you stayed for the climax.

Score: 6.5 out of 10 Wish You Were Here tattoos.

Clark (Nelson Torres):

It's another comedy prominently featuring a kid, though this time, they're not accompanied by other children. After learning about a young boy named Clark (Aramis Gomez) who discovered a valuable diamond, a money-hungry man (William McNamara) hatches a plan to hold the boy for a hefty ransom. Little does he know that kidnapping Clark is a lot tougher than it initially seems. Featuring both William McNamara and Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham, Clark has some good star power behind it. And within the film's 6 minutes, the two do some solid work. McNamara is funny as Clark's frustrated captor and Cunningham joins Michelle Bruce in being more lowkey hilarious as the hyperactive kid's exasperated parents Jonathan and Martha.

Aramis Gomez, meanwhile, nails the voice and mannerisms needed for playing the ultimate wild child. Clark will have you sympathizing with his kidnapper for having to deal with such an out-of-control pain in the neck. At the same time, though, the film's schtick of Clark being obnoxious starts to wear thin about halfway through. You might feel tempted to quit the movie early just so you won't have to hear him anymore. This isn't helped by the fact that the conclusion offers nothing to make sitting through Clark's whiny tantrums worth the headache. SPOILER ALERT The whole kidnapping plot turning out to be set dressing for a superhero origin story is a pretty unsatisfying twist that leaves McNamara to end the movie as the butt of a cheap slapstick gag. It would've been much better to see Clark getting some sort of karmic punishment for all his brattiness before the end credits rolled. Spoilers Over

With such a short runtime, Clark thankfully doesn't have enough time to grate your nerves completely raw. But between the repetitive premise and the ending that caps the movie off with a whimper instead of a bang, it comes pretty damn close. So the moral of this story? If you're going into the business of kidnapping children for ransom, always bring chloroform in case your target turns out to be an annoying little maniac.

Score: 4 out of 10 Kansas farms.

Me & You (Jack Tew):

The second-to-last movie on this list is as simplistically filmed as it is simplistically plotted. Through only a from-the-ceiling view of a bed, we watch as romance blossoms between a boy and a girl (Jesse Rutherford and Georgia Clarke-Day). It's a simple story of a passionate love changing with time, but the way Me & You tells it is very engaging. Through the stationary frame in which we watch this love story unfold, we see the signs that things are starting to change for the worse. As the days pass, the once immaculate room becomes progressively messier, starting with an unmade bed and escalating to a leaky roof and clothes strewn everywhere. The bubbly soundtrack starts getting interrupted by the harsh sounds of car alarms and police sirens. Before the young lovers have their first argument, you see the writing on the wall (or, in this case, mainly the floor) that the happy-go-lucky days of video games and movie night make-out sessions are not going to last.

Jesse Rutherford and Georgia Clarke-Day succeed in depicting both the honeymoon phase of their characters' relationship and its gradual downfall. It's a realistic progression that's sure to strike a chord with many people. The film's best achievement, however, is its ending. Rather than going down one of the two obvious paths a story like this could take, Me & You forges its own that acts as an ambiguous middle ground. SPOILER ALERT While the return of his stuffed alien encourages the boyfriend to finally clean up his room, this doesn't lead to him and his girlfriend getting back together. It's not even confirmed if it was the girlfriend who tossed the discarded toy through the boyfriend's window or just some random passerby. Some may be disappointed that Me & You doesn't end with a typical romcom reconciliation, but personally, I liked seeing Rutherford's character overcome the breakup and put his life (and room) back together. I also liked the film going out with a light "Callback/Here We Go Again" joke, with the boyfriend's roommate being too busy starting his own love affair to join him for a night out. Spoilers Over

Lots of visual details that speak volumes pop up throughout Me & You, which work hand-in-hand with the set design to give a simple narrative a twist of originality. With that and the expectation-subverting finale, this thin slice of romance has a lot more flavor than its title would suggest. So if you're in the mood for a relatably poignant yet ultimately uplifting exploration of relationship woes this February, Me & You has just what your heart desires.

Score: 8 out of 10 Luigi costumes.

Always Remember Me (Nell Teare):

This list's final film comes to us from Omeleto and it's another movie that aims to strike your emotional core. At first, all seems ordinary as Sarah (Luci MacNair) and her new boyfriend Adam (Brandon Scott) arrive at the 7th birthday party of Sarah's friend Amy. But to Adam's shock, it turns out that not only has the birthday girl been dead for years, but a doll is being used in her place as part of an unsettling annual ritual. Like Cuck, Always Remember Me starts as a comedy before morphing into a drama. Once the true nature of the party is revealed, you'll feel equal parts bemused by the inherent absurdity of what's going on and saddened by the implications of it all. While the first half of the movie mostly keeps that tragic reality hidden behind the cutesy music and bizarre festivities, the piñata scene brings it back into focus hard. And like Me & You, a few subtle details can be found that speak to all the underlying sorrow and frustration that's slated to come to a head.

It's once the cake comes out and the full truth about Amy's death follows suit that Always Remember Me will have your chest aching. Seeing the carefully crafted illusion of normalcy dissolve into a mess of grief, guilt, and implied resentment from Amy's mother Kim to Sarah (and vice versa) is heartbreaking. Wendy Haines and Luci MacNair excel at making you feel their characters' pain, with MacNair doing the same with Sarah's justified anger over how Kim has prevented her from fully healing from the pain of her best friend's death. Jamie Wollrab and Melissa Jane Osborne more discreetly convey Mike and Jen's feelings about Kim's delusion and the loss of their respective daughter and niece. Wollrab meshes well with Haines to form a haunting picture of a couple ravaged by their anguish. Pangs of sympathy will hit you during the aforementioned piñata scene and the final scene Kim and Mike share over Amy's posthumous birthday cake.

Brandon Scott rounds out the cast as Adam, who acts as a supportive boyfriend to Sarah and a likable Only Sane Man to keep the birthday party of weirdness grounded. While he's immediately put off by what's going on, he agrees to go along with it when Sarah pleads with him to do so for the sake of Amy's family. It's only when things go too far and start making Sarah uncomfortable that Adam puts his foot down. Scott gives just as good of a performance as everyone else and Adam's brutally honest outburst leads to the film's heavy-with-a-hint-of-hope ending. The only downside is that the comedic final shot is lame at best and tone-deaf at worst. On the whole, though, Always Remember Me is a drama that mixes its morbid comedy and tragedy elements together pretty well. The cringe comedy has the intended effect, the tragedy hits like a bullet, and the moving story of a family trapped in time by their grief is brought to life by a crew of talented actors. It's a great movie to end a list on, even if the plot-inciting party can't be livened up by all the pizza and candy in the world.

Score: 8 out of 10 unicorn piñatas.


For a list that started off with a movie that had my head spinning, it turned out to be a relatively strong collection of short films. Grass Labyrinth is strangely compelling despite being such a mind trip and is followed by a series of good movies that take your emotions for a ride. Pretty Boy and Always Remember Me will make you cry, Just Ask Him and The Lunchbox Brigade will make you smile, and Me & You will make you do both. Cupcake: A Zombie Lesbian Musical and Clark make up the bottom of this review barrel, but even they have some funny moments that make them worth giving a try if you're bored or have some time to kill. So without a film to its name that dips below a 4 on the rating scale, I'd say that on the whole, this list is terrific with a capital T! (if this were a Disney Channel kidcom, this is where the laugh track would play to give that joke the illusion of being funny...)


About the Creator

Trevor Wells

Aspiring writer and film lover: Lifetime, Hallmark, indie, and anything else that strikes my interest. He/him.

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