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By Rory L. Aronsky | August 18, 2003

“Shortkutz” bills itself as “The DVD Magazine of Independent Cinema”. While it doesn’t likely speak for ALL of indie film, it does have a good format to ride on, thanks to producer Ken Westermann and Mark Vreiling at Screenplay, Inc. Not only are short films featured, but also special features including audio commentaries (depending on the issue), interviews, trailers, and demo reels, along with filmographies for each filmmaker and production group. Time is valuable and “Shortkutz” makes sure that it’s well spent. Well, enough of my babbling. You’re here to read about the short films and features, after all.
The Stereo Is Bleeding ^ *** ^ Directed by Darcy Van Poelgeest
Here we have a music video that was made for a grand total of 60 bucks. It features a bunch of guys jamming on stage in front of empty seats. The music’s pretty good, though the lyrics are kind of hard to understand.
Toby Bear I – Birth of Toby ^ **** ^ Directed by Jon Ray
Toby is a claymation bear, created by Jon Ray as a spin-off of some experiments he was working on that involved claymation. He’s a little bear with what appears to be a gray exterior, a white puffy tail, and white ears. He waves to the audience, looks down from the desk he’s on, and slides down a desk chair leg and keeps on walking. He’s very cute and Jon Ray definitely has something good here.
The Yard ^ ****1/2 ^ Directed by Eldrofo Leones
Now this is a lot of fun! Ashley (Rachel Dodd) is incredibly bored with her lunch, which includes a bag of Lays potato chips that’s smashed up. Eddie (James McElroy) comes into the picture and gives her a Twinkie and she initially refuses, but he says that it would just go in the trash. Jake (Nicholas Buschini), a bully with orange-spiked hair, comes into the picture and tells Eddie to lay off because he’s had his eye on Ashley for quite a while. Then the punches and kicks begin to fly in a most entertaining way that encompasses so many films, including a little bit of The Matrix, Star Wars, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and even Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. There’s that old Hollywood legend that kids are hard to work with, but “The Yard” also includes some great outtakes at the end that seem to show that these kids had a great time. The audiences who see this will definitely have a great time as well.
Toby Bear II – Slimy Encounter ^ **** ^ Directed by Jon Ray
Toby Bear is back, utilizing his trademark wave to the audience and encountering a sneaky slime pile who tries to hide from Toby by backing against a brick wall. One thing’s for sure; Toby’s quite handy with a sword, at least off-screen.
The Big Picture ^ ***1/2 ^ Directed by Matthew David Joyce
Two guys, Richard (Gariss) and Robert (Jaret Patterson) are arguing over going with the flow of things and The Big Picture. It would seem like they are arguing about some facets of life, but the ending provides a funny surprise. The only weakness here is the silliness of the acting by the two leads, but the punchline of the short smooths that over fairly well.
The Mixed Marriage ^ **** ^ Directed by Beth McElhenny
A marriage counselor (Paul Tulley) is listening to the problems of Janyce (Karen Constantine). She’s not very pleased with how her relationship is going with her husband. Well, how could you be if your husband was a caveman named Thark (Mike Janowiak)? We learn that time travel brought these two together and the problems that they face from being millions of years apart in terms of who they are provides some great laughs. She’s not happy that he paints pictures of bison all over her lemon chiffon walls. He’s afraid of fire after a bad experience with the toaster oven and is fascinated with the light in the refrigerator. Not only that, but Janyce also complains that the only appliance he knows how to work is the remote control. Oh yeah, and he likes her boobs too. Janyce also misses the days when Thark would club and then drag her. Makes you wonder how a marriage counseling session would go for Gandhi and his lapdancer wife, as mentioned at the end. It provides a tantalizing idea for a sequel.
Toby Bear III – Wild West ^ *** ^ Directed by Jon Ray
Toby’s in the Wild West this time and after his traditional wave to the audience, he’s using an ax on a gold nugget and packs it up and takes it to a general store to buy a few things for himself. Upon leaving the store, that’s where he meets the villain. This is not the best of the Toby series, but not the worst either (That lower level hasn’t been reached yet and with the cuteness of Toby, it’ll probably never happen).
John Doe – A Business Day ^ ***1/2 ^ Directed by Shawn Wickens
The day is not going well at all for John Doe who is in his office, with an important deadline to meet. But he’s having a bit of trouble getting the person on the phone to just let him put her on hold and fax what she needs. Not only that, but the fax machine’s not working either. This is another one of those “surprise ending” shorts where you realize where John actually is.
The “IT” Girl ^ ***1/2 ^ Directed by Alex P. Michaels
Surrealism is the game here as a mother comes into her daughter’s bedroom to chat with her. Apparently, it’s her 16th birthday, but is she really her daughter or some robot chick? This one will really rack your brain and that’s not a bad thing either. At one point, she’s doing a headache aspirin commercial for some camera placed inside a cabinet and who in heck is that voice on the phone with the “mother”? Some strange happenings are going on here, but it’s definitely different and that’s the cool part.
The Casting Couch ^ ***** ^ Ken Westermann
Is it worth doling out 5 stars because of four women faking orgasms on screen?? I don’t know about you, but I think it is. Apparently, these four women are at some kind of audition that requires them to do this. One woman cannot bring herself to do it and leaves, but you have four lovely ladies for your viewing pleasure. If you thought watching Meg Ryan go through the motions of a fake orgasm was a good time, please see this! A female group called Seattle Goga (girl on girl action), which specializes in comedy on stage, participated in this short. It’s funny because normally it would be the other way around on the casting couch rather than women faking orgasms. Well done ladies!!
Ill Will ^ **** ^ Directed by Chas Messmer
Will (Jeremy Miller) is jealous of his roommate (Devon DeLapp), who has a beautiful girlfriend (Tami Reda) and will stop at nothing to get her, even if it means murder. Of course HOW he wants her, is what makes the short disturbing. “Ill Will” was produced for the Port Townsend Film Festival’s 48-hour film contest, and for something done in 48 hours, it’s pretty decent.
The Gamers ^ ***** ^ Directed by Matt Vancil
In order for it to fit on this edition of “Shortkutz”, “The Gamers” was condensed into a 36 minute running time. The spoiler that’s provided in the extra features, via the interview with two members of the Dead Gentlemen production company, makes me want to see the original version even more. It’s finals week in college, but a group of gamers will not stand for that. After all, when there’s gaming to be done, what’s college algebra? They gather together for Dungeons & Dragons and that’s where the film really shows its skill through so many elements, first beginning with the actors. These guys are great fun, though many of you readers might find them scary as hell. I love the fact that they are so into what they are playing. But there’s also so much more that makes this short perfect. “The Gamers” switches many times from the guys around the table plotting their moves to their characters actually in the various situations that they are rolling dice on. Good editing keeps it all afloat and those costumes are well done. The situations the characters get involved in create opportunities for many laugh-your-a*s-off-moments, including one where one of the guys’ characters takes first watch of being guard around a campfire where the rest are sleeping. The character encounters the princess in holographic form and the rest of the characters see it too, only to be reminded that they are asleep and you see those characters drop to the ground numerous times. This is an incredible effort that’s worth it all.
The special features in Volume III are worthy companions to the shorts. First up is an audio commentary by Darcy Van Poelgeest and one of the band members in “The Stereo Is Bleeding”. Poelgeest reveals everything he had to do to make a $60 music video, including a camera that he only could have for two hours because he wasn’t paying for it. Reminiscient of 1959’s “Breathless” and a wheelchair being used for tracking shots with the camera, Poelgeest also tells of a skateboard that was used for all the dolly shots. There are also trailers for “Gambling Divinity” (from Raffaele Riconosciuto, who helped out on “Ill Will”), “1st Testament: CIA Vengeance” (another one from Young Man Kang…WOO!!!), “Demon Hunters: Dead Campers Lake”, and “Revamping Doyle” (Both from Dead Gentlemen Productions, which was in charge of “The Gamers”). Demo reels have also been placed on here. There’s one of actor Ron Hippe whose reel is actually quite good. Different clips include him as Eric Woods, a new guy at a job where no one is telling him anything, and an appearance on “Northern Exposure.” There’s also a reel by Tim Maffia, who’s a digital colorist. His work’s impressive as well. Winding it all down is an interview with two members of Dead Gentlemen, head writer Matt Vancil and Development Director Ben Dobyns. They talk about “The Gamers” and their various projects, along with answering questions on technical details about their films. Because of that, I really want to see “Demon Hunters” now because there’s a scene where two characters in the film accidentally run over a demon and its blood splashes heavily all over the windshield. As it turns out, they used carrot juice and other items for the blood and it’s the kind of bloodshed that makes you really laugh. The spoiler for “The Gamers” that I mentioned earlier goes into what’s included on the missing 12 minutes.
That’s about all there is to say about this great DVD release. If you’ve got the dough, then a subscription to Shortkutz is definitely worth an investment.

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