All the Marbles, a film I briefly reviewed earlier this year when it screened at Dances With Films, is in the running to be nominated in the Academy Awards short film category. This film that has so much going for it, it’s a shame there are not a full slate of Academy Awards for short films. It would be in contention for all of them. The writing is perfect and delivers a surprise twist at the end. The acting is charming and just over-the-top enough for the fantasy genre. The technical work is superb on many levels.
Read Me a Story
The screenplay, crafted by Michael Swingler, who also directs, and Carl Petersen, who also plays the antagonist, Wolf, belongs in the classic category of children’s favorites like Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory or the Harry Potter films.
We first see a classic leather-bound storybook which opens to bring us into a world where marbles are the most valuable commodity in existence. Jamison, played by Cole Sand (Hart of Dixie, Trollhunters) is a boy who has been cheated out of a marble playing trophy by the villainous Wolf. He challenges Wolf to a competition, the winner of which will get “all the marbles.”
Amazingly, the 16-minute story manages to contain a fully developed plot with a false victory, an all-is-lost moment, surprising reveals, and a twist at the end.
Petersen, experienced in Shakespeare and Upright Citizens Brigade, portrays Wolf as a totally unlikable heavy.
Wolf has a large group of henchmen. One of them, Foxy, played by Helen Sadler (True Blood), takes a liking to Jamison and becomes an ally. Sadler’s performance reminded me of Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
To make the experience even more delightful, all the dialog and narration is in verse.
Make Me Look Scary
To draw an audience into a film takes more than just a story. The amount of filmmaker craft and artistry packed into this short film is amazing.
When Jamison enters the factory that is Wolf’s lair, the make-up and costumes take us from the modern world into a Victorian fantasy dream. They are comparable to anything you might see in a full-length feature.
The cinematography and editing help create a menacing environment. As Jamison is led into Wolf’s lair, he sees the marbles lost by other boys. When he is finally admitted into Wolf’s presence, we are not allowed to see the villain’s face for a time, creating more tension. The set-decoration also adds to the menacing atmosphere.
Once the battle for all the marbles begins, exaggerated sound, slow motion, and super close ups emphasize the drama. There is even a shot from the point-of-view of a marble rolling into the chalk circle. I haven’t yet figured out how they did that. As the crowd of henchmen cheer and jeer, the score is posted. The game of marbles between Jamison and Wolf takes on the epic proportions of a Rocky Balboa battle in the ring.
The original music by Robert Lydecker (Sleepy Hollow TV series), Designated Survivor) added impact and drama. It reminded me of classical romantic compositions by Grieg or Tchaikovsky.
I’m not alone in my praise of this film. All the Marbles has now screened in 24 film festivals including Cannes, and won 7 major awards. To find out when and where you can see it, check their website, Facebook page or Twitter feed. Everyone should enjoy this film, and, if you are a filmmaker, be prepared to take notes.
Whether All the Marbles makes it to the Oscars or not, I’m sure we will hear more from Swingler and Petersen. All the Marbles should be a door opener.
You can watch a teaser linked below.