Fresh out of USC's film school, this assured director of features and TV captured the attention of Steven Spielberg with his student film, "Last Chance Dance". Joanou made his commercial directing deb...
It is often be the case that great things can come in small packages. In the realm of cinema, this translates to under 10 minutes. There is a distinctive artistry in short filmmaking. One could make the illusory coloration that the job of a short film director or writer is somehow easier, given the brevity of their resulting creation. The reality, however, is that the stunted time-frame requires the filmmaker to become adept at the economy of storytelling, and therefore to actually work harder to develop a narrative in a more concise framework.
It’s not a frequent occurrence, nor is it exceedingly rare that a short film will be picked up for adaptation into a feature film. This week, the wonderful Spanish horror short Mama sees its full-length iteration hit theaters. The Guillermo del Toro-produced Mama centers on two young girls found living alone in squalor, in the middle of the woods. When their new adoptive parents bring them home, it becomes clear that something terrifying has come along with them. Andres Muschietti, who also wrote and directed the short, helms the feature version. This got us thinking about some other short films we’ve seen over the last couple of years that would also be ideal for full-length big screen treatment.
The Legend of Beaver Dam
John Landis would be proud of this horror comedy short from writer/director Jerome Sable. It’s the story of an awkward young outcast, out on a camping trip with his scout troupe. As the night’s activities turn to ghost stories, which in turn accidentally awakens an evil monster, unlikely hero Danny is called upon to save the day. What is so outstanding about The Legend of Beaver Dam, and what we’re aching to see more of, is the spectacular musical element, and how this feeds an imaginative narrative structure. It would be great to see Sable team with Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich (the twisted minds behind Repo! The Genetic Opera) to turn Beaver Dam into a large-scale theatrical horror musical.
A carjacker witnesses a shooting, and inadvertently becomes the only one who can help a dying man. His conscience will not be the only thing tested. Marko Slavnic’s gritty crime drama is fairly simple in its construction. But within these few moments, we are presented with a probing, brooding character study that takes a phenomenal turn in its final act. It would be fascinating to see this twist altered to serve a running, tension-fostering conflict. Slavnic clearly has the directing and screenwriting chops necessary to hook an audience, and it would be great to see him expand this tale into a dark crime thriller somewhere in the neighborhood of Headhunters.
This is a bit of a cheat, we are not afraid to admit that. Directed by Phil Joanou (State of Grace, The Gridiron Gang), Dirty Laundry centers on a familiar skull-tee-clad comic book vigilante who, in this adventure, stumbles upon a nasty assault while he’s just trying to do his laundry. Yes, we’ve already had two Punisher films, and yes one of them already starred Thomas Jane, but Dirty Laundry is a sterling example of how the right director, and the right tone, can make all the difference. Dirty Laundry is edgier than 2004’s Punisher, and yet more grounded (if only a hair less violent) than 2008’s Punisher: War Zone. Hopefully, the overwhelming response to this fan film will earn Jane another shot at the role of Frank Castle. Gotta love that Ron Perlman cameo, too.
No Way Out
Even abstract shorts films can provide a compelling appetizer for a potential feature; more than any other type of short, they leave us wanting more. If there is one short that left us ravenous, it was 2011’s No Way Out. Directed by Kristoffer Aaron Morgan, and co-written by Eric Vespe, No Way Out is a violent, cruel descent into madness wherein a man, House of the Devil’s A.J. Bowen, is pushed to his breaking point by hideous monsters in the dark. The production design, the cinematography, and the ghoulishly delightful practical effects make for a superb and haunting Lovecraftian nightmare that begs to be expanded.
Portal: No Escape
It would be impossible to construct this list without mentioning what is conceivably the best fan film ever made. Dan Trachtenberg’s ode to Valve’s sci-fi video game was artful and immaculately shot, tantalizingly hinting at the potential for a feature-length Portal movie. No Escape was so exceptional that it actually just netted Trachtenberg a gig directing New Line’s movie version of the graphic novel Y: The Last Man. Our guess is that if Trachtenberg were to also then direct the cinematic Portal adaptation, something for which we are all crossing our fingers and toes simultaneously, Guillermo del Toro would produce. That may seem like a stretch... unless you happened to notice the voice of GlaDoS in the Pacific Rim trailers.
[Photo Credit: George Kraychyk/Universal Pictures]
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The truth on which Gridiron Gang is based simply does not bode well for incarcerated juvenile criminals trying to go the straight route. Probation officers Sean Porter (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) and Malcolm Moore (Xzibit) tried to buck the trend by doing something different and in a small way they actually succeeded. Disappointed with the grim reality that roughly 75 percent of teenage inmates will not be rehabilitated the two officers try to shake up the curriculum. After watching the young inmates feud with one another on a daily basis Sean decides to turn the group into a high school football team in hopes of unifying them and rescuing them from lives of crime. Initially met with great trepidation from the inmates their opponents and the bosses of their ward Sean hopes to prove all the doubters wrong. In the process he seeks freedom from his own demons as well. It’s difficult to truly knock Dwayne Johnson--he currently shuns the name that begat his celebrity The Rock in favor of his birth name--for taking the pledge of serious actordom. After all when any highly bankable actor makes such a decision--not to be confused with the comedy-to-drama crossover--isn’t it more admirable than the alternative of staying the same finance-driven course? Alas however Gridiron is absolutely not a serious actor’s vehicle. Johnson has a few surprisingly tender close-ups but most scenes feature him from afar shouting his best chest-bump voice. Xzibit attempting another kind of crossover (rapping to acting) is in almost every scene yet says almost nothing. Maybe the best performance comes from youngster Jade Yorker who plays the team’s hotheaded star.Yorker’s emotional range (and shirtless prancing...for the ladies) makes him one to keep an eye on in the future. Director Phil Joanou (Final Analysis) was given a twofold head start with Gridiron Gang: The genre that has become “football movies” has eclipsed “spelling-bee movies” in popularity and the film is based on a true story. (Movie execs foam at the mouth over the prospects of a true-story dramatization.) But although Joanou succeeds in reducing R themes to PG-13 theatrics and some sharp football visuals he appears unsure of whether he wants Gridiron to be more Remember the Titans or The Longest Yard. That doesn’t in turn mean that he has created a football-movie subgenre all his own but rather that his tentativeness relegates the movie to its generic status completely lacking in originality save for the original story on which it’s based. As for that original story it suffers the same fate as most of those before it: film-worthy true stories transpire over much longer periods than the course of a two-hour movie (United 93’s “real time” notwithstanding) so the all-important subtlety is inherently lost from the get-go as is oftentimes the heart of the story.
Helmed "Age Seven in America", a CBS documentary modeled on Michael Apted's acclaimed British series "Seven Up" wherein a group of subjects are interviewed and profiled every seven years
Directed "Gridiron Gang" a drama inspired by a 1993 documentary that follows a probation officer (The Rock) who forms a football team of juvenile inmates
Directed, edited, and served as a camera operator for the documentary, "U2 Rattle and Hum", a concert film
Returned to features with "Heaven's Prisoners", a muddy thriller with Alec Baldwin as a New Orleans detective
"Discovered" by Steven Spielberg who was impressed by his student film "Last Chance Dance" (date approximate)
Helmed "Dead-End For Delia", a segment for the Showtime anthology series, "Fallen Angels"
Directed the concluding segment of the cultish sci-fi miniseries "Wild Palms" (ABC)
Made "State of Grace", a portrait of Irish-American gangsters in NYC's Hell's Kitchen
TV directing debut, "Santa '85", an episode of NBC's "Amazing Stories" executive produced by Spielberg
Wrote and directed the autobiographical film "Entropy" which detailed his spur-of-the-moment marriage
Directed John Lithgow in an Emmy Award-winning performance in "The Doll", an episode of "Amazing Stories"
Feature directing debut, "Three O'Clock High", a teen comedy
Directed the 3-D segments of the season-ending episode of the hit NBC sitcom "3rd Rock From the Sun"
Fresh out of USC's film school, this assured director of features and TV captured the attention of Steven Spielberg with his student film, "Last Chance Dance". Joanou made his commercial directing debut with "Santa '85" (NBC, 1985), an amusing episode of Spielberg's fantasy anthology series, "Amazing Stories", about St. Nick's unfortunate arrest for breaking and entering. Joanou was invited back to the series to direct John Lithgow's Emmy Award-winning performance in "The Doll" (NBC, 1986), a sentimental romantic fantasy. He segued to features with "Three O'Clock High" (1987), a likable teen comedy that was greatly abetted by Joanou's manic and inventive camera movements and staging. Shifting to the reality mode, Joanou crafted "U2 Rattle and Hum" (1988), a technically assured if uninspired record of the Irish rock group's 1987 "Joshua Tree" tour of the US.<p>Joanou returned to fiction (albeit reality-based) with "State of Grace" (1990), a moody and violent story about Irish-American gangsters in NYC's Hell's Kitchen. Outstanding performances by Sean Penn, Ed Harris, and Gary Oldman helped make this the director's strongest film to date. Joanou returned to TV to cast a documentarian's eye upon American childhood with "Age Seven in America" (CBS, 1992), a special modeled on producer-director Michael Apted's acclaimed British series "Seven Up", which profiled and interviewed a group of subjects every seven years beginning in 1962. Joanou's follow-up was the uneven Hitchcockian homage "Final Analysis" (1992) starring Richard Gere, Kim Basinger, and Uma Thurman. Joanou spent the next year helming stylish installments of the ultra-cool TV miniseries "Wild Palms" (ABC) and "Fallen Angels" (Showtime). In 1996, he returned to the big screen with the thriller "Heaven's Prisoners", a character study about a retired Louisiana homicide detective (Alec Baldwin) who becomes enmeshed in a mystery.
married on March 19, 1992 at Graceland Chapel; met on March 18, 1992 backstage at a U2 concert in East Rutherford, New Jersey; married 22 hours later; born c. 1957
married to screenwriter Scott Frank ("Plain Clothes", "Little Man Tate", "Dead Again"); co-owns design and clothing shop with her brother