The Live-Action Shorts Program: …Chimay!
Thanks to the IFC Film Center, I managed to knock off five movies in two hours last night — and pull ahead in the Death Race.
The live-action shorts, in screened order…
Kavi. The credits note that the film came out of coursework for an MFA at USC, and it shows. It's like a younger sibling's first night home from college for Thanksgiving break, on which she spends the dinner hour asking your parents in a near shout whether they understand how many gallons of fossil fuel it took to bring that meatloaf to their benumbed bourgeois table. It's utterly well-meaning and genuine; it's also tiresome.
The laundry list of human-rights violations in Kavi is no doubt accurate, but doesn't humanize the protagonists, or work as art. The physical abuse, the separation of the child from his parents, the flies buzzing around his head, the hell-is-a-single-crayon palette all add up to a lecture, not a story. I don't smell cynicism on the part of filmmaker Gregg Helvey by any means, but I didn't care about these people, because they didn't come off like people. They were lessons, beleaguered symbols.
Could win; shouldn't.
The way the film introduces various cast members is a lot of fun, too; you've gotten used to the rhythms between Frank and Peter, and then D'Onofrio bursts in all drunk-Orson-Welles, and no sooner have you integrated him when in stomps Kevin Corrigan — to do a Christopher Walken imitation. Horrible shotgun murders, followed by dancing — it's a fantastical plot, but it's sure of itself.
Should win; won't.
Miracle Fish. Why can't writers for film and TV get 7-12-year-olds right?An 8-year-old is either a wisecracking savant with all the answers, or a staring simpleton who only reacts to pets and chocolate.
The latter is our hero in Miracle Fish, a relatively cool premise sunk by Joe's non-credible reactions to his situation. Non-credible, and glacial: each scene lasts twice as long as it should (and then there's the slo-mo at the end, an attempted manipulation that, like most others in the script, fails).
The movie is good at knowing what to show instead of telling, and Karl Beattie is perfectly competent as the lead; the foundation is there. Chop it down to 10 minutes and rewrite Joe so he's not an Amish dipshit, and it's a good short. As is, it's far too slow.
Shouldn't win; won't.
The Door. Another one that would have worked far better at half the length.A handful of beautifully composed, effective shots sink under the weight of soapy dialogue (a weird accusation to level at a Ukrainian film, but not made lightly) and absentee editing.A funeral procession is affecting for 45 seconds, then isn't, then actively drags; the shots of the protagonists' middle-aged hosts staring in pity and fear lose their power after the fourth time the dad sinks into a chair and hangs his head. Director Juanita Wilson seems to have no instinctive feel for how long scenes should last, or that the cliché is not usually the desired choice.
On top of that, the girl whose death informs the action is adorable, but dreadful; she repeatedly and blatantly looks off-camera for instruction.She's teeny, and in a less maudlin film I wouldn't have noticed this, but I'm probably not supposed to quibble with her performance given that the character dies of cancer she got at Chernobyl — or with anything else in the movie.
Did I mention the beloved cat that had to stay behind, whom her father promises to retrieve, knowing she'll die before he has to make good on the vow?Yeah, that's…what we're dealing with here.
Re-cut, it could work; as it is, it's probably a slam dunk for the category thanks to the subject matter and its relatively impressive technical presentation.Shouldn't win; totally will.
Instead of Abracadabra. Poking fun at magicians is cheap humor, but hey, it works — and almost everything else in this short works, too. Simon J. Berger is flawless as Tomas, and the casting is smart; he's hapless and unstylish, but quite handsome when he dons his guyliner for a show. The script smartly plays against expectations with the love interest, too, letting Monica like him (or at least not think he's a giant dweeb), which prevents the movie from turning into a Swedish Napoleon Dynamite. (Other bits reminded me of other movies, too, but it's not a negative — Tomas's resemblance in overall presentation to Mark Borchardt of American Movie; the nod to the only scene in Garden State I liked, with Jim Parsons sitting at the breakfast table in Medieval-Times drag.)
It's neatly cut, the characters have dimension, the slapstick goes just far enough, and the last shot is a flawless rimshot.It's the best traditional-structure storytelling of the bunch, but it doesn't put any children in harm's way and is probably insufficiently somber.
"Should win" is a bit strong, but I'd have no problem with it; won't.
Sarah 30, Death Race 28; 8 of 24 categories completed.
Tags: Christopher Walken David Rakoff dial-a-cliche Gregg Helvey Jim Parsons Juanita Wilson Karl Beattie Kevin Corrigan manipulative use of pets in film and TV Mark Borchardt movies Orson Welles Oscars 2010 Death Race poor management decisions by drug dealers simmer down freshman Simon J. Berger the Amish the importance of being overly earnest Vincent D'Onofrio