Thursday, April 14, 2011


The phrase “tour de force” gets tossed around liberally in our word-obsessed culture…

Okay, it really isn’t. However, if it were, it would be most-appropriately applied to Phil Hall’s performance in the one-man short film “Uncorked”. At the risk of accusations of nepotism and/or ass-kissing, I’d like to heap great amounts of praise upon Film Threat’s own journalist/thespian, not for who he is but for what he achieves in this very funny little movie.

Hall’s character is the premise of “Uncorked”. An unseen and largely unobtrusive camera crew happens upon a chatty man sitting alone in a park, sipping from a bottle of cheap cognac and eager to talk to anyone willing to listen. His stream-of-consciousness monologue touches upon his relationship with his wife—opposed to his smoking, his drinking, the usual—his dream of achieving a career as either a gynecologist or a lounge pianist, his brief career as a “first story” burglar partnered with a dwarf and his disdain for his brother-in-law who claims to have been abducted by aliens. “These creatures come from millions of miles to get here and where do they go? Do they go to New York? Do they go to Rome? No—they go to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. And they don’t even go to the mall there! And the first person they meet is my brother-in-law? Lemme tell you, I go to his house every year for the Fourth of July and I’m always disappointed. I can’t imagine how these creatures felt.”

Everyone, at some point in their lives, has met a person like the man Hall creates in “Uncorked”. Amiable and aimless, open-minded about some things, surprisingly bigoted about others, but above all eager to share his philosophies and observations and break up the tedium of the day. Hall’s portrayal of the unnamed protagonist is at once likable and disquieting, as a character like this would be, and at the same time both baffling and sympathetic. If you were to encounter this man in real life, you’d spend equal amounts of time, laughing, shaking your head in disbelief and checking your watch while trying to devise a graceful exit strategy.

Shot in crisp black and white for a mere $10 (the cost of the bottle of cognac) in more-or-less real time in Connecticut, filmmakers EM Schrader and Aaron Sandler hand the reins to Hall (who scripted the monologue beforehand). With Hall as the focus, the filmmakers only make their presence known in minor ways—passing the man a non-working lighter, allowing a boom to slip momentarily into frame. At its best, the camerawork becomes the perfect counterpart for the viewer when its attention wanders away to focus on a frolicking squirrel during the man’s rambling. It’s at its worst when it “participates” by nodding or shaking in response to inquiries. Fortunately, these latter missteps are utilized sparsely and only briefly. Because, wisely, they understand that this is Hall’s show from start to finish, and just as you would if encountering this character in real life, they almost have no choice but to just let him go.

Best of all, Schrader, Sandler and Hall know when enough is enough. “Uncorked” runs for just under 40 minutes. Any shorter and you might feel wanting for more of the oddball and, just as in real life, any longer and he’d have overstayed his welcome. As it is, “Uncorked” is a nearly perfect short.

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