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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, February 01, 2014

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


ADD theater: 2014 Oscar short nominees

By Dennis Hartley

Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal...


















So another year has gone screaming by and yet another Oscar ceremony looms on the horizon (I get older, and Einstein gets smarter...how does that work?). Traditionally, one of the most head scratch-inducing categories has been the short films nominations. Not that there's anything wrong with short films, it's just that usually, no one (save Academy voters and film critics) has even heard of them until they are announced on Oscar night. Luckily, this inequity has become less lopsided in recent years, with packaged theatrical showings of the nominees for Live Action Short, Animated Short, and Documentary Short categories making the rounds well before the telecast. This year, ShortsHD and Magnolia Pictures are presenting the limited engagements, which opened this weekend.


(Gazes at camera like deer in headlights) The nominees for Best Live Action Short are:


That Wasn't Me (Spain, 23 minutes) - Writer-director Esteban Crespo says more about globalization and its socio-political impact on impoverished African nations in 20 minutes than Captain Phillips was able to convey in its (interminable) 2 hour-plus running time. Two Spanish aid workers, caught in the crossfire of a civil war, have a tense confrontation with child soldiers led by a sociopathic adult "general". Nerve-wracking and unsettling as it is, this intense, powerfully acted film offers an unexpected glimmer of hope with a very moving denouement regarding compassion and forgiveness.


Just Before Losing Everything (France, 29 minutes) - Another harrowing and tough-to-watch entry, writer-director Xavier Legrand's drama puts the light on domestic violence. Deciding that enough is enough, a woman calmly readies herself for work and corrals her two young children to drop them off at school just as she does every morning, except today she's hitting the road with kids in tow to get as far away from her abusive husband as quickly as possible. First however, she has to drop by the store where she works to give notice and collect her last check. While waiting for her money in an upstairs office, the husband unexpectedly shows up downstairs. Will she and the kids escape undetected? While only victims can truly know the psychological terror of living with an abusive person, this suspenseful and realistic film conveys a palpable sense of the fear and dread.


Helium (Denmark, 23 minutes) - Before I tell you that this film is about a dying child, let me reassure you that there is some comic relief on the way shortly. Directed by Anders Walter (who also co-wrote with Christian Gamst Miller-Harris) this touching, visually striking fantasy-drama centers on a young boy with a terminal disease, who strikes up a friendship with a hospital janitor. To help ease his transition, the janitor, who lost his own little brother to illness, tells the boy a serialized tale about a magical world called "Helium", a place where similarly afflicted children find peace and happiness for eternity. Yes, I know what you're thinking...but if you don't tear up by the end, you're dead inside.


Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (Finland, 7 minutes) - I'm really dating myself here, but do you remember a Top 40 song called "Saturday Morning Confusion"? Anyway, this charming short (directed by Selma Vilhunen and written by Kirsikka Saari) about a discombobulated family scrambling to get ready for a wedding made me flash on that old radio chestnut. Deftly combining the kind of ironic, deadpan humor you find in Aki Kaurismaki films with amusing, well-choreographed slapstick, it's a delightful palate cleanser (especially considering the heavy subject matter in 3 of the 5 nominated shorts).


The Voorman Problem (UK, 13 minutes) - This cheeky Twilight Zone-style yarn features two of my favorite British comic actors, Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander, starring (respectively) as a psychiatrist named Dr. Williams and a convict named Voorman. Dr. Williams has been called in to diagnose whether Voorman, who alleges that he is, in point of fact, God…is feigning insanity or needs be transferred to the laughing house for observation and treatment. Adapted by director Mark Gill and Baldwin Li from David Mitchell’s novel “number9dream”, it’s a slice of British comedy in the classic Monty Python/Red Dwarf vein (right down to the requisite inclusion of Belgium as a comic foil).


(Reads woodenly off the teleprompter) And the nominees for Best Animated Short are:


Feral (USA, 13 minutes) - Writer-director Daniel Sousa uses an impressionistic palette of ink and watercolor animation to represent the travails of a boy who grew up in the wild adjusting to life in the city. While it’s an oft-told tale (Greystoke, The Emerald Forest and The Wild Child came to mind) the film is bolstered by hypnotic, dreamlike visuals.


Mr. Hublot (France, 11 minutes) - Co-directed by Laurent Witz (who also scripted) and Alexandre Espigares, this imaginative fantasy is set in an alternate universe where WALL-E meets steampunk. Our eponymous protagonist is an urban hermit whose life changes one fateful day when he espies a little robot dog in distress on the street below.


Possessions (Japan, 14 minutes) - Here’s something you don’t see every day…an anime with ancient shrines, forest spirits and resplendent visuals that isn’t from Studio Ghibli (although comparisons are inevitable). A weary traveler seeking shelter from a rainstorm stumbles into an old shrine, where all is not as it initially seems. Shuhei Morita directed.


Room on the Broom (UK, 25 minutes) - I think this was my overall favorite of the 4 animated shorts I was able to preview. It’s a lovely, good-natured tale (in the vein of Kiki’s Delivery Service) about a benign witch, her cat, and a menagerie of hitch-hikers who join them on their magical mystery tour (via broom). Kids will love it, and there are subtle gags to keep the grownups amused.  Directed by Jan Lachauer and Max Lang, and co-adapted from Julia Donaldson’s book by the author and Lang. Simon Pegg narrates.



Get a Horse! (USA, 6 minutes) - Alas, I was unable to preview this one (technical difficulties). It’s said to be Disney Studio’s resurrection of Mickey Mouse and pals in their old school B&W renditions. I can only speculate that wild and wooly hijinx ensue…






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