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“The Butterfly Circus” is one of the most extraordinary short films I’ve ever seen. I’ve attended the Academy Award nominated short film screenings for the last few years and haven’t seen anything there that rivals how involved and fascinated I was by this film.
The story involves a circus troupe traveling through America during The Great Depression, bringing much-needed entertainment to down-trodden people. The real miracle may be the effect the circus has on the troupe’s performers. Going along for the ride with this troupe is Will, a limbless man played by Nick Vujicic, who is limbless in real life (no Lieutenant Dan effects here). Vujicic has made a career on the lecture circuit, taking his “No Limbs to No Limits” speaking engagements around the world, preaching positivity to overcome anything. That mindset is certainly on display in “The Butterfly Circus”, which concludes as one of the more uplifting movies I’ve seen in years.
Kudos to director Joshua Weigel and his wife and co-writer Rebekah Weigel for not letting the short film nature of their format inhibit them from going all out in production value. The re-creation of place and time is done without trickery, production designer Yeva McCloskey and costume designer Kiyomi Hara do a commendable job of bringing to life the desolate 1930s and the visual showmanship of a carnival show and circus tent, and everything is awash in sepia tones in DP Brian Baugh’s photography.
The cast is as eclectic as you would expect a traveling circus ensemble to be. Eduardo Verastegui plays Ringmaster Mr. Mendez, with his not-of-America dialect and striking looks, you’d follow him anywhere his troupe goes. Vujicic brings excellent acting chops to his role, a skill set I didn’t know he had. He’s the heart and soul of the film. The strongman, trapeze star and acrobat all have wonderful backstories that enrich the narrative.
Given the twenty-two minute running time, there’s not much else I want to give away about the story except to say that it’s reminiscent of some of the best “Amazing Stories” in look and feel, without the supernatural element. Do yourself a favor, and don’t visit the website or watch a trailer, just go straight to the Vimeo link below and watch the film, spoiler-free (in full-screen mode). In fact, if you have AppleTV or some device that allows you to watch internet content on your HD TV, that’s a great way to enjoy the cinematic experience of this movie. But even on my 19” computer screen, I welled up.
There’s talk at the film’s website of “The Butterfly Circus” becoming a major motion picture. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m all in.
Directed by: Joshua Weigel
Running Time: 22 Minutes
“The Embalmer” by Michael Regalbuto is a phenomenal short horror film, better crafted than most full-length horror movies. The average horror pic today is simply an overbearing montage of gore and loud screeches attempting to shock and startle the viewer (I have always theorized that an episode of “Sesame Street” or “Leave It To Beaver” could be turned into an equally entertaining cut of schlock horror by adding the same tactics: toss in gore and loud screeches every five minutes, whether needed or not). “The Embalmer” is so much more than that.
It is directed with precision and acted with the same care toward accuracy. First, without the use of gore or screams, Regalbuto chooses more specific images and sounds to create mood and intention, as opposed to shock and disgust. Instead of severed limbs, he uses simple images of tools and deceased victims (furthermore, victims are portrayed so “cleaned up”, it creates an eerie antithesis to death). Also, his choice of noises that occur naturally within the environment create genuine tension (as opposed to the manufactured, over the top, crap most horror films contain). It’s effect is a Hitchcockian (yes, I said Hitchcockian) roller coaster ride in less than 10 minutes.
Finally, the acting is brilliant. Because the story is the star, the average viewer will not appreciate the subtlety and caliber of the actors until repeat viewings. However, without giving too much away, nearly every role requires differing levels of believability of the lie they are portraying. Some actors must illustrate their lie to the audience, while others must play the masked objective. All of them play it just the right amount (like I said, precision is the key to every performance in this beautiful work of art).
Overall, “The Embalmer” is an excellent short that is a fantastic representation of a very talented director who truly understands storytelling in it’s many small components. Kudos to Regalbuto and his team! I look forward to seeing more of his work.
4 Stars- See it!
In fact, go HERE and watch it! Now!
(Then study it and watch it again!)
Did I mention I liked it?
Directed by: Michael Regalbuto
Running Time: 6 Minutes
Company: Loaded Media
What I seem to be asking for more and more from Hollywood movies is “take yourself seriously”. As rushed projects blow through their genre requirements in film after innocuous film, it’s good to see a movie, that’s one hour shorter than most features, take every minute of its running time to layer the story in mood, feeling and emotion.
“Touch” tells the story of a masseuse and his client coming together for a session after both have been wounded by trauma – his emotional, hers physical. Naturally, this meeting is beneficial for both characters to begin a healing process. Justin T. Bowler plays Rick the masseuse, whose opening scenes give no doubt as to the character’s history, without the film having to spell it out heavy-handedly, a wise move by writer Bowler and director Jane Lanier. Laura Nickerson plays Sarah, who nicely underplays her pain and sheepishness.
Overall, this film has a mesmerizing tone that’s achieved in a nice balance of tech elements. The photography is rapturous, rich in color and smart in its use of focus. A real stroke of genius is using Priscilla Ahn’s “A Good Day (Morning Song)” to frame the film. The filmmakers just NAILED the tone in using that song. It’s title says a lot, plus it’s ethereal and hopeful, guiding Sarah in her journey and letting her know it’s gonna be a good day. Great, great song, complimented well by Jerome Kurtenbach’s score.
The actors are up for the drama required by such a serious film with themes of loss, grief and distress. With this dense subject matter, I could have used a little more humor in the film. I certainly believe comedy can cure what’s ailing you as much as touch. But as I said before, it’s bold for a short to take itself seriously in what is becoming a fast-food, oversaturated short film market (thank you, internet). So, in shooting high in theme and presentation, “Touch” makes an impression.
Visit the film’s WEBSITE to watch the trailer and find out what film festival it plays at next!
Directed by: Jane Lanier
Running Time: 30 Minutes
Company: Affection Films