Last night, the sold-out crowd at the Landmark River Oaks Theatre got a sampling of Houston filmmaking talent that was ... enlightening. The 2010 Houston Summer Sneak Peek was a four-act screening of short films, each preceded by two trailers for locally produced features. If there's anything to be learned from the eight trailers shown over the course of the screening, Houston filmmakers are morbid, demented, and funny. Over half of the trailers were of the slasher-film variety, the slickest being Kerry Beyer's Spirit Camp (basically Friday the 13th meets Bring It On) and Stacy Davidson's Sweatshop (ravers vs. foundry hammer-wielding monster). Travis Ammons' Suicide Notes presented the most unusual premise--struggling playwright starts a theater company and hires suicidal actors to blow their brains out onstage.
The shorts themselves were hit and miss. Renee Edd's Midsummer will score with the fantasy crowd. It's about a girl's lifelong romance with a man-fairy she meets at an annual summer vacation spot. She won't go on a date with him to the fairy world, because the time/flux-something would alter her earth life, causing her to lose her loved ones. Edd had the best Q&A session of the night, admitting that if she were her protagonist, she'd be gone to fairyland no questions; screw here.
Chuck Norfolk's Bar Room Blitz is an amusing comedy/shoot-'em-up about bar owners who defend their dive against an endless stream of thugs. Norfolk displays a good eye for action sequences and physical comedy, but the writing's hokey. Bruce Campbell would demand a rewrite.
Writing went out the window for Judy Garlow's Key of D, the evening's hands-down dud. Garlow took a gamble by removing the dialogue audio from her film, which ruined it, because there's no way to know what it's even about. There are long stretches of characters talking in restaurants, at a bar, in a car, with only music to accompany. Perhaps if Garlow cut it way down, it would work as experimental video, but as narrative film, it's a bore.
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Chris Spisak's The Usual displayed the best overall handling of the short-film form. A barfly, Teddy, meets a mysterious stranger who causes Teddy to consider getting his life together. The stranger has a knack for knowing exactly what Teddy is going to say next. When Teddy tests the stranger with a rapid-fire salvo of profanity, the stranger hands Teddy a bar napkin with the words verbatim. Funniest moment of the screening. The Usual was shot at the legendary make-out bar Marfreless (which Spisak rendered unrecognizable in his film; amazing what lighting can do), right around the corner from the theatre, so naturally, the crowd headed over afterwards to check out the location and mingle.