Short Round: Teddy Bears Are for Lovers, killing too

Thank you to The Missing Reel for a wonderful write up of the new short film I wrote, TEDDY BEARS ARE FOR LOVERS!

Almog Avidan Antonir not only has the coolest name ever, but he also happens to be the director behind your new favorite short film Teddy Bears Are for Lovers—it’s like a cross between Child’s Play and Gremlins, only condensed into 9-minutes of cuddly mayhem. It’s about a dude who wakes up in the middle of the night surrounded by a handful of stab-happy teddy bears that were once gifts he gave to his ex-girlfriends. They’ve come to give him a taste of what it feels like to have your guts (or in their case, stuffing) ripped out piece by piece. It’s a hilarious and altogether batshit premise that works flawlessly.

View original post 149 more words

Favorite 15 Films of 2015


It was truly an incredible year for cinema. 2015 provided us with re-imaginings of old franchises, unorthodox studies of brilliant and trouble geniuses and both micro and macro examinations of justice in a sometimes harsh and unfair world. Without further ado, these are my 15 favorite films of 2015 (in alphabetical order)…

BRIDGE OF SPIES — Too many people take Spielberg for granted, but no one knows how to deliver a film as important, emotional and unendingly entertaining as he does. Scripted by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers, Bridge of Spies demonstrates the power of American values and ideals in the face of ever-changing popular American opinions. The perennial every-man Tom Hanks maneuvers and sneezes through U.S. justice system to the behind the iron curtain in the name of human decency. A wonderful examination of Cold war politics that resonates even louder in today’s tumultuous times.

CREED — I have only stood up and cheered in a few movies, and Creed was one of them. What could have been a cash-grab reboot is turned into an intensely personal examination of legacy and carving your path in life thanks to the passion of writer/director Ryan Coogler. You know where the story will end, but the characters are so wonderfully handled that it doesn’t even matter. Also, Sylvester Stallone is back in top form.

EX-MACHINA — Despite what you’ve heard, THIS movies has the best ensemble of the year. Sci-fi mastermind Alex Garland explores the nature of artificial intelligence in this heady, creepy and sexy extended Turing Test. Dohmnall Gleeson, Osacar Isaac and the other-worldly Alicia Vikander give their best work yet, shifting alliances, motivations and beliefs in the span of this tight and fascinating thriller. The stakes couldn’t be higher: what is that truly makes us human?

GOOSEBUMPS — Really, David? Yes! Goosebumps is some of the most fun I’ve had in a theater this year. Full of mystery and hi-jinks, this movie embraces the macabre insanity of its source-material… and even finds room for a deep well of emotion. Buoyed by a hilarious supporting cast, Goosebumps is fun for the whole family.

INSIDE OUT— Pixar movies are made of magic, and this one is no different. Pete Doctor, the ingenious world-builder of Monster’s Inc. and Up, turns his creative eye to the inside of a young girl’s brain. Don’t let the bright and cheery colors and voices fool you, Inside Out isn’t afraid to explore the importance of sadness — it’s part of what makes us human. We’ll laugh and delight in the Hollywood-like dream factory and the exploits of Bing Bong, but we’ll walk away thinking about the first time we ever moved away from what we knew as home.

IT FOLLOWS — What if STDs could kill you? I mean they can, but what if they stalked and murdered you? That is the monster afoot in the micro-budget horror throwback from David Robert Mitchell. Bracingly cool and stylish, Mitchell uses thrills and chills to explore a deep, dark terror in our everyday lives. If only all genre filmmaking rose to such a challenge.

LOVE & MERCY — I’ll be totally honest, I really didn’t care much for the Beach Boys before I saw this movie, but that’s what makes this movies so surprisingly satisfying. Focusing on two pivotal moments in the life of Brian Wilson, this film sees both the beauty of creative genius and the tragedy of mental illness taken advantage of. Featuring two transformative performances from Paul Dano and John Cusack, this inspiring picture had me singing Pet Sounds for weeks.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD — I have no idea how a 70 year-old man directed this movie. Brutal, operatic, wild and brimming with imagination, Mad Max is the action epic of the year… and that would’ve been enough. But, this film has bigger issues on it’s mind, bringing us a singular hero in Furiosa, protecting a group of escaped sex-slaves across the unforgiving desert. Everyone has a shot at redemption.

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL — Out of the 20 films I see every year at Sundance, there’s always just one that finds some avenue straight to my heart. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was that film. Genuinely funny and innocently creative, the movie demonstrates how the art of filmmaking has the capacity not just too express, but to heal. You, like the protagonist Greg, fight for a happy ending, but nothing will save you from the well of emotion that will rise from your gut and into your eyeballs. I’ve never witnessed a crowd so touched.

ROOM — This movie is a bit of a miracle. Exploring the aftermath of a kidnap, rape and imprisonment that leads to a child, Ma and Jack escape the clutches of their captor in the most explosive, tense and heart-wrenching scene of the year. But, that’s only half the movie, as we witness the messy complications that tragedy has on lives and those that are touched by it. Bring a box of tissues.

SPOTLIGHT — Not since All the President’s Men has journalism been so wonderfully portrayed onscreen. Following the investigative Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, the film brings into the minutia of a breaking story — in this case, the true atrocity of pedophile Catholic priests. Forgoing sentimentality or dramatic histrionics, Spotlight shows good people doing a good job, and in this case, doing right by the whole world.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS — What more can be said about the biggest movie of the year? J.J. Abrams hyperspeeds us back to a galaxy far, far away that perfectly balances a respect for the old and an ushering in of the new — the new being a host of excellent and sympathetic characters finding their place in the force. Fun, thrilling and full of wonder, the first part in this new series sets up a tale worth believing in.

THE REVENANT — There are some films that just baffle you on how they were made. The sheer brutality of the shoot, the depth of performance and the impossibility of the production mount to something that seems beyond comprehension. But against all odds, Inarritu did it. This masterful epic explores the spiritual underpinnings of justice and revenge, the indifference of nature and the boundaries we push to avenge the imbalance of losing a loved one. I’m still processing the beauty and horror of this magnificent film, but one thing is for sure — it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.

TRASH — Somehow off everyone’s radar, Trash is steeped in pedigree thanks to a script from the always emotional Richard Curtis and the Academy Award nominated Stephen Daldry. The Goonies meets City of GodTrash celebrates the power of the individual in making a difference in an unforgiving  world. Following three orphans who stumble upon political corruption, this movie is filled with action, humor and heart, all while taking us to a corner of Brazil rarely seen or heard.

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS — Do you like laughing? Watch this movie. Containing more vampire mythology than any Twilight movie, What We Do in the Shadows brings the mockumentary style of Borat and This is Spinal Tap to three vampire friends living in New Zealand. Life’s hard when you live on a diet of human blood, live forever and can’t go out in sunlight; but, it’s occasionally a riot and always hilarious thanks to the laugh-a-second script from star Jemaine Clement and director Taika Waititi.

Films I unfortunately haven’t seen yet: Youth, The Tribe, The Assassin, 45 Years, Son of Saul, Tangerine, Girlhood, Legend, Testament of Youth, Bone Tomahawk, Victoria and Lost River


Daniel Pimentel’s Haunting Quest on Selfish Songs



Daniel is locked in his room. Although the phone endlessly beckons him to go outside, he recedes further and further into his own mind — a desolate apocalyptic wasteland ripped from the pages of Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy or maybe even the Old Testament. As the voicemails on “Prologue” fade into the background, Pimentel traverses the wild with raw emotion and a six-string, his weapon of choice for battling the encroaching monster of self-loathing.

Summoning the spirits of Jack White, The Decemberists and the thematic underpinnings of Kendrick Lamar, Pimentel’s strength lies in his ability to mix get-on-your-feet rock and roll with brutally honest poeticism. “Wanderlust” and “Deus Ex Machina,” the two liveliest songs on the album, introduce Daniel as a troubadour and a vagabond, searching for a savior from himself. “I long to look upon your face,” croons the guilty soul. Where is God when you need him most? In the dense wilderness of Pimentel’s mind, He seems unfathomably distant, and by the time the beautiful “Eros” fades in, the anger is replaced by sorrow and weariness. He might not have it yet, but love is out there… and maybe even within reach.

With that realization, Pimentel ups the tempo a hair on “Light Blues,” reminding himself that, “I don’t want to kill myself today.” Things could be worse in Dan’s head, but a driving piano riff introduces some levity to the proceedings, reaching a rousing climax with the help of a terrific horns section — harking a realization — do I really have it that bad?

Part lament, part praise, “Alleluia” answers that question. Pimentel finds solace in the story of David from The Bible, who though plagued with trials beyond all compare, still praised God for his endless provision. Like the eventual King of Israel left the cave that acted as his hiding place from Saul, Daniel finds strength in admitting his weakness. It’s okay… you don’t need to have it all together. God can be praised amidst the storm and the battle.

Which brings us to “Famine,” the most complete and soul-stirring track on Daniel’s powerful debut. With keen retrospection, he finally encounters God and presents himself for who he truly is — angry, lost and sinful — with the searing guitar solo punctuating the confession, “I’m so damn tired.” Daniel’s epiphany concludes that God must still be praised within the plenty and the famine because He will carry him through both. The Lord is our crutch and strong-tower.

Gentle fingerpicking lulls us back into reality on “Epilogue,” concluding with one last voicemail urging him to join the world beyond his walls. With renewed strength and spiritual insight, maybe Pimentel is ready to do just that.

This rousing debut will strike a chord for anyone with a penchant for spiritual longing and tight guitar-rock. Recalling Eric Clapton’s quest in “Crossroads,” Pimentel takes the road less traveled, searching for comfort in God rather than making a deal with the Devil. Musically, I cannot wait for Daniel to loosen up and let his instrumentation wander as much as his soul, adding texture to what is bound to be a rich and illustrious adventure. I, for one, want to travel the dark roads with him.

4 out of 5

The Unfulfilling Vision of Tomorrowland


Detailed in Esquires’ recent article, “Inside Walt Disney’s Ambitious, Failed Plan to Build the City of Tomorrow,” the visionary pioneer behind the House of Mouse set his sights on something grander and more utilitarian than the awe-inspiring theme parks that he has become legendary for. It was called the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” — and it was primed to change the face of the metropolis as we know it. Disney, ever the idealist and ambassador of optimism, envisioned a wheel-shaped city in Florida that would be clean, organized, beautiful and technologically-savvy, reinventing how humans thought about transportation, waste-management and community planning. It was his next step in changing the world.

And it never happened. Marred by an extended timeline and Walt’s untimely death in 1966, Project X, as it was nicknamed, never reached fruition. Instead, the city was repurposed into creating a new park: Epcot.

Fast-forward to 2015. Geek throne-bearers and sci-fi heavyweights Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen announced to the world that they were working on a Disney futurist film, promptly setting off a storm of intrigue and wonder with release of a mysterious box labeled 1952. I personally devoured every morsel of information I could find on the movie that would eventually become Tomorrowland. Every trailer hinted at what the rousing adventure would hold — the completion of Walt’s vision.

Tomorrowland is out, and just like Walt’s unfulfilled vision of his dream, so is the movie. That’s not to say Tomorrowland does not have its fair share of strengths — from the rousing score from Michael Giacchino, a game-protagonist in newcomer Britt Robertson and to seeing my stomping grounds of Florida onscreen. The strange choice to relegate everything that is interesting about this story to the background deflates what could have been a new bonafide classic.

To recap, Tomorrowland follows Casey Newton (Robertson), who upon finding a mysterious pin in her personal items after her arrest for sabotaging machines that are dismantling launch pads at a defunct NASA launch site, is transported to a futurist world filled with endless potential — but only for a few minutes. In an effort to get back there, Casey tracks down Frank Walker, a curmudgeonly engineer with possible ties to the city she saw.

To be totally honest, I wanted to see Tomorrowland. I wanted to walk among the platinum streets, play with the holographic technology and fly in a jetpack like a young Frank Walker does in the prologue. An adventure in Tomorrowland would have been the stuff of movie magic. But just like the pin that acted as a commercial for what Tomorrowland could be, the movie was a commercial for what the story could have been.

I believe this comes down to an issue of scope. In Slashfilm’s inteview with story architect Jeff Jensen, he describes the approach of the movie to be like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, opting to focus on a character searching for truth and authenticity for what they saw or experienced early in the film. By teasing something beautiful and profound, the protagonist must fight to solve the mystery and find what they only had a taste of.

In order to do this, you need a really good mystery — one that unfolds through narrative, character, theme and aesthetics. And boy, does Tomorrowland have tantalizing mysteries. The incredible Plus Ultra brain trust that founded Tomorrowland. The machinations of the 1964 World Fair. And of course the inner-workings of the city itself. Even more dynamic though is the focus on Casey and her family — a ragtag group of scientists who share a love for the stars and their place in it.

For the first half of the film, the mystery is firing on all cylinders. When we finally get to Tomorrowland via a spaceship hidden inside the Eiffel Tower (my favorite scene in the movie), there’s nothing left of the promise and optimism that Casey saw. It’s a desolate, abandoned city that has succumbed to the inevitability of a coming apocalypse, foreseen by one of the inventions Frank made during his tenure there.

Then it all seems to fall apart. There’s talk of tachyons and alternative futures contingent of positive thinking, but it plays out in too convoluted a manner. The story seems to go off the rails, as though there was not enough track to keep the whole enterprise running smoothly. When the audience expects ingenuity, wonder and even a larger-than-life magic, we are given revenge, fighting robots and more portals. The payoff just isn’t sufficient. We are left wanting so much more.

Was that really it?

Maybe the expectations were too high. Maybe Tomorrowland should simply be judged for what it is — a small story of a smart girl realizing she’s right to be optimistic in the face of cynicism. Bird and Co. have the right ideas, a fantastic team and a spectacular idea of a world, but it seems they got so caught up in getting to Tomorrowland, they didn’t know what to do when they got there.

In addition, a focus on optimistic humanism lends itself to a different kind of shrinking in scope — the lack of the supernatural or extraterrestrial. When evaluating the work of the great populist science fiction creatives of our time (Spielberg, Stephen King, Zemeckis, Lucas, J.J. Abrams), they acknowledge at the least the potentiality of something beyond ourselves, giving their stories weight with mystery about the great what ifs of our universe. Tomorrowland bypasses these concepts, preaching that great ideas and hard work are all that is needed to reach beyond the stars, signaling that the best humanity has to offer is from humanity itself. Although I can see the comfort in this philosophy, it makes the film seem so much smaller and earthbound than a film about reaching for the stars should be.

Nonetheless, I applaud Bird, Lindelof and Jensen for attempting, reaching and dreaming. I love that they want kids to care about space, about caring and about hope. Even though their ideas never quite break the atmosphere, I hope maybe their next film will or that a new generation of storytellers will take these themes into orbit. Maybe one day we’ll even have a new Walt, who will carry on the vision of a brighter tomorrow.

2.5 out of 5

A Different Perspective

My name is David Vendrell, and this is my website. I know, this is a groundbreaking feat, attempted by very few wannabe-pundits of my generation. Prepare for an experience like none other. We’re setting sail for new lands here.

But in all seriousness, I’ve enjoyed my time writing for Biola University’s The Chimes, and garnered a little following that shares similar thoughts and opinions about movies, music, literature and culture at large. So, I thought I would continue my quest for what I will call A Different Perspective.

And what is this perspective? Engaging arts and entertainment from the Mere Christian worldview (thanks, C.S.) — focusing on the moral imagination, redemption, cultural engagement, aesthetics and the Big Ideas that make us human. I’ll be reviewing the latest movies, albums and books, while crafting some longer features that hone in on bigger themes or topics worth investigating. Everything from Aquinas to Spielberg to Kendrick Lamar.

I will also be posting original works of my own, from short stories, films, music videos, commercials and a little poetry. And since this is a blog, I’ll be keeping you updated on several projects I’m working on right now — everything from scripts, books, films and much more. I hope you’ll tune in!

Most importantly, I want to start conversation, so please comment or email me. It’s my hope we can then take these discussions offline — promoting cultural engagement, higher thinking and creativity wherever we go.

Time to cast off. We have a lot to explore.