A staple of Oscar season for the past five years, Shorts International and Magnolia bring back the Oscar nominated animated and live action contenders in a program that clearly proves the most inventive work in the short form. It’s worth noting that basically the only work it showcases here is from foreign climes. The dark, often depressing tone of many of these shorts, however, may make this a longer sit than usual for audiences expecting sunnier things from smaller packages. Opening February 19 in select markets and expanding over the next month to 100 cities in the US, UK, Canada and Mexico, business should be fairly brisk despite the fact that the same films will also be available on iTunes beginning March 2nd.
Other than Fabrice O. Joubert’s thoroughly delightful French Roast, an 8 minute ‘toon about a businessman who loses his wallet and tries to stall before paying his bill at a very tony Parisian cafe, the rest of the animated contenders are somewhat dark and edgy—in addition to being quite funny. Most brazen of all of them is another French produced short directed by H5, the 16 minute Logorama, an L.A. hostage story set against the garish landscape of endless billboards, from McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken to Planters Peanuts and The Walt Disney Company. Truly spectacular, it pits two Michelin Men cops against a raging, Oozi-equipped Ronald McDonald on a rampage against society. Profane dialogue and lots of violence aside, the remarkable thing here is how these filmmakers ever got permission from these button-down corporations to use their logos in the first place. It’s in English with French subtitles.
Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty is a cute, but forgettable Irish short from director Nicky Phelan revolving around some questionable re-invention of a classic fairy tale. Here, a nice old lady turns into a terrifying bedtime nightmare as she reads to her mortified granddaughter. Perhaps the best-known brand of the bunch is the UK’s Aardman Animation’s latest edition of the adventures of Wallace & Gromit, now caught up in a noirish story and murder mystery in which Gromit turns sleuth in order to save his boss and solve A Matter Of Loaf And Death. Frantic, fun and sometimes confusing, Wallace & Gromit fans won’t be disappointed in this half-hour ‘toon—though the four time Oscar winning director Nick Park has done better.
The last of the animated entries may be the best: Spain’s 8 minute The Lady And The Reaper deals with issues of death, mortality and assisted suicide but still keeps it fun and visually dazzling in this story of an old woman willing to die but rudely interrupted in the process. Actor Antonio Banderas is one of the producers of this inventive work from newcomer Javier Recio Gracia.
On the live action side there’s more death, destruction, murder, slavery and cataclysmic events as well for those who didn’t get enough from the animated contenders.
India’s Kavi, already a student Academy Award winner in 2009 from writer/director Gregg Helvey, is about a boy who longs for a normal life but is forced against his will to work in a brick kiln as a modern-day slave. Australia’s 17 minute Miracle Fish is a meandering study of 8 year old Joe who finds himself transported to another kind of world after being bullied on the school playground. Writer/Director Luke Doolan’s ambitious story has its moments and a startling ending but doesn’t quite come together.
Ireland’s 17 minute dirge, The Door, from director/writer Juanita Wilson, is based on a true story and is a Russian-set tragedy about the aftermath of the devastating 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Its focus on the effects on one family is moving and well-acted but the subject matter probably would benefit from a longer running time in order to be truly affecting.
The Denmark/USA co-production, The New Tenants has a Coen Brothers feel to it in a story written by longtime Susanne Bier collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen, with an English adaptation by David Rakoff who also co-stars. Danish director Joachim Back puts the Coen quirkiness and dark humor into a nightmarish scenario about a couple of men moving into a new building with rather startling results and an particularly un-neighborly welcome. Kevin Corrigan and Vincent D’Onofrio turn up as the only real name players in any of the 10 films in this program.
Finally, an amusing and enjoyable entry from Sweden, Writer/Director Patrik Eklund’s Instead Of Abracadabra about a down-on-his-luck, would-be magician who puts on one hell of a show for his father’s 60th birthday party. It’s the most entertaining of the bunch and a nice, if slight, character study.
Distributor: Shorts International
Directors: Fabrice O. Joubert, Nick Park, Patrik Eklund, H5, Javier Recio Gracia, Nicky Pehlan, Juanita Wilson and Luke Doolan
Genre: Short films
Running time: 163 min. Animation: 68 min. Live Action: 95 min.
Release date: February 19, 2010