The Live-Action Shorts 2011
A more entertaining, less self-serious crop than last year's, or at least I felt that way when the lights when up Monday. It helps that the program chose its order well, and ended with a strong, funny short packed with sight gags.
Want to check them out for yourself? Head to iTunes, where you'll find all of the films below except Na Wewe.
Things kicked off with The Confession, a UK entry that started off funny but soon got extremely dark. Shorts in general rely more heavily on child actors than feature-length films, which makes a sort of sense: a dramatic feature that treats "adult" (i.e., R-rated) themes but stars children probably isn't going to get sold. But children's acting is a more crap than shoot, let's face it, and The Confession is a good example. Lewis Howlett is okay as Sam, but Howlett benefits from writing that better reflects the way children speak and think; as Jacob, Joe Eales is a lot more natural and reactive, which is good, because his dialogue isn't how grade-schoolers talk. The short has some good imagery — the cross on which the scarecrow rests, and then doesn't, is maybe a bit direct, but it works here, as does a dinner-table scene designed and shot to evoke prison. Overall, though, self-seriousness makes it drag.
Wish 143 resists that for a while. Lead actor Samuel Peter Holland is fantastic and real as teenage cancer patient David, and the relationship between him and the unnamed priest (Downton Abbey's Jim Carter) is fresh and unsaccharine. It's going along all lovely and sad until it loses its nerve, thinking it has to back away from the black humor of the first two thirds, but it would have been more effective if it had stayed that course, not less.
Na Wewe is extremely tense for a few minutes, but bloodshed is averted by a multilingual play on words that's very clever. Not much more to it, though.
The Crush promises more substance, and wisely opts not to turn into a PSA on not keeping firearms in a home with children. Nor, fortunately, does it turn into a PSA on not casting your relatives as leads in your work; Oren Creagh, the titular crusher, is the director's son (…I assume; half the Creagh clan is in the credits, actually), and he's perfectly hilarious and adorable. The pacing is juuuuuust ponderous enough to make the movie feel a bit amateurish; a handful of scenes take slightly too long, and then the end is comparatively abrupt. But I always enjoy an Irish-accented "Also, you're a dickhead," and that child is going to grow up a fox.
Last but certainly not least, my favorite, God of Love. It has a Wes Anderson feel to it, with unusual character touches that just are, instead of getting explained to death. That guy knows how to make balloon-animal fish in 3D? Where did the goat come from? The girl who barges up to her crush all, "Wanna join my book club?", the mysterious packages from the Olympus Corporation, the sweet sight gags, writer/director/lead Luke Matheny's luxurious fro — it's very Rushmore, with a noir top note. It keeps things moving right along without drawing obligatory conclusions about human nature, or standing back from itself to make sure we Get It. Slightly undisciplined, but fizzy and smart: it's my favorite, and I hope it wins.
Tags: God Of Love Jim Carter Joe Eales Lewis Howlett live-action shorts Luke Matheny movies Na Wewe Oren Creagh Oscars 2011 Death Race Samuel Peter Holland The Confession The Crush Wes Anderson Wish 143