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Sundance Short Film Explosion!

Man, Jesus Reynolds was some kind of slut, huh?
by Chris Parry, Scott Weinberg & Erik Childress

Every year at the Sundance Film Festival, we trawl through dozens of short films that are supposed to be the best of the best. More often than not, the films match that billing, but sometimes they come up insanely short. As the festival continues we'll keep 'em coming, in an effort to give a little more exposure to the new wave of filmmakers; some of whom will disappear with a rather large mortgage to pay, and others who will become tomorrow's auteurs. So how does this year’s crop compare to last year’s? So far not too bad...

LIGHT IS CALLING
This is why theaters don't show shorts any more... well, this and the fact that theater owners are greedy bastards. Light is Calling is an art short where Bill Morrison has taken a scene from the 1926 film The Bells and manipulated it through a series of means to make it a spooky sorta vision. If you can stick with it, you might get something from it, but this is one of those films that some will admire as genius and others will decry as wankery. I'm in the latter section of the crowd.
CP: 2/5

MERIDIAN DAYS
Pushing into the art world once more, but not in such a polarizing manner as the previous title, Meridian Days takes you on a three week cruise with the director's grandmother as she discusses her life, her loves, and much more. Director Trevor Fife gives the audiences attention span more credit than I do, however, as it takes some time to make any sense. Beautifully shot and presented in a moody black and white, this is 12 minutes that seems like... maybe 9.
CP: 3/5

KRUMPED
This was a mindblower. We personally had no idea that Krumping is a growing trend in the inner cities of the west coast, and we'd never even heard of Clowning. Krumped educates the audience on this brand new phenomenon, where urban kids turn away from gangs to instead dress up as clowns and 'battle dance' each other. Krumping takes the form to a more intense level, and music video director David LaChapelle certainly knows how to package the resulting product in a compelling form. A great short, almost documentary in information, almost a music video in style, and funny just enough to make the 22-minute running time feel short.
CP: 5/5

SANGAM
A slow starter, interesting middler and slow finisher, this 28-minute HD short features a pair of Indian men, one who has emigrated to the US as a youth and another who has been in the country only two weeks, as they ride the subway, recount memories of home and get a little too close for comfort. When Sangram is going hard, it’s a great short. The film details not only the differences between American culture and Indian, but also how things change while that which we remember does not. As Cusack once said, “you can’t go home.” Nice work by director Prashant Bhargava, though if he had cut five minutes out of this film, it would have been genius.
CP: 3/5

FLYING
A bored group of Japanese kids realizes that their humdrum existence has been interrupted by the absence of one of their number. Where did he go? What’s he up to? And is he the mysterious ‘flying man’ seen on the News? A beautifully shot but interminably long and random short, Flying is 25 minutes of 35mm grace, combined with a whole lot of yawning.
CP: 2/5

EXIT 8A
Far more hardcore than most Sundance short films you’re likely to see, Exit 8A follows a bald-headed psychopath as he encounters a Hispanic family, makes big threats against them and ends up having seven shades of shit kicked out of himself. An emotional wreck, he then decides to find his deadbeat dad and find out why he didn’t love him… with the help of a shotgun. Whenever this 22-minute short seems to be heading somewhere new, it soon takes a swerve back to the standard as it essentially passes on the message that we ape the mistakes of those who raise us, but does it in such a round about way that any real effect on the audience is dulled.
CP: 2/5

DYSENCHANTED
Terri Edda Miller directs this 8-minute tale of a group therapy session for storybook characters. With an all-star cast including Jaime Bergman, Alexis Bledel, Sarah Wynter, Laura Kightlinger, Amy Peitz and Jim Belushi, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Rapunzel and Cinderella have never been funnier ("You gotta lay of the hookah, Alice"). This is a consistently funny little flick that seems as much ad-libbed as scripted. Very enjoyable and worth hunting down.
CP: 3/5
SW: 4/5
EC: 4/5

WHO'S YOUR DADDY?
A woman gives birth to a plastic doll, much to the chagrin of her husband. When all the other couples in the neighborhood start having similar situations, the husbands join forces to find out who the father really is... A mildly funny short, well put together but not exactly ground-breaking, this four-minute flick goes straight into the one-joke category, which usually means one laugh to boot.
CP: 2/5

DANGER DR POISON
This is a weird short. Two Mexican Mask wrestlers, Lince and Lone Eagle, win a big pro wrestling match and duly get an invite from a fan to attend a celebration dinner at a stately mansion. But when they get there, one of their girlfriends disappears… oooh! When the others go to investigate, they find that their host is the evil Dr Poison, who killed one of their sisters “some years ago.” Dr Evil-style antics ensue. Featuring a 1960’s B-grade Mexican style that dances between genuinely funny and ‘what the hell is going on’, this extremely well-produced 13-minute flick is one that you really have to experience to understand. And even then you might not understand. I’m struggling, but I liked it.
CP: 3/5

LITTLE BLACK BOOTS
A modern day retelling of Cinderella, with a high school lesbian goth chick as the heroine of the piece and the Homecoming Queen as her prince… or is it the other way around? Closer aligned to She’s All That than Romeo + Juliet, this puffy 16-minute HD piece features cliché dialogue, dodgy acting and an ending that you could see coming a mile away. Hey, I’m all for jazzing up old stories with a new twist, but when your ‘undateable loser’ character is in actual fact better looking than most Hollywood teen starlets, you might have a little trouble from the outset.
CP: 2/5

BOBBYCRUSH
Bobby is a boy with a problem. He has a friend, Dylan, who he has a crush on. But Dylan doesn’t have any such crush in return. When Dylan gets a girlfriend, depressed young Bobby learns what unrequited love is all about. Mostly a hit and miss affair, Bobbycrush has two things going for it in a huge way. The first is the music, the second is some of the most beautiful imagery you’ll see in a low budget urban short, courtesy of cinematographer Aaron Platt. Director Cam Archer makes the most of every frame of this 10-minute piece, but the story doesn’t have the same level of intrigue that the production values do. More’s the pity.
CP: 3/5

TALKING WITH ANGELS
A 10-year-old UK boy with a mental mom tries to deal with the fact that the woman who gave birth to him is a neighborhood embarrassment. Imagine Angela's Ashes had sex with Shine while Ratcatcher videotaped from the closet... the ensuing child would be far more interesting than this.
CP: 1/5
SW: 2/5

PRETTY DEAD GIRL
Two doctors in love... only one of them is in love with a cadaver. A funny, if a little long, musical comedy schtick featuring dozens of sexed up dancing cadaver girls, this odd take on Romeo and Juliet starts with a guffaw and peters out pretty quickly to a yawn. Fantastic production values help things, as does the crystal clear 35mm format, but someone needs to tap director Shawn Ku on the shoulder and advise him that you need far more than one joke to maintain 22 minutes.
CP: 3/5
SW: 3/5

PHASE 5
A group of Orange County housewives get together to hear about the Blendermatic Phase 5 - a new gimmick to give homebodies all the vitamins they need, as well as a nasty drug trip. The fact that the capsules are also maggots seems to be of only minor importance. Stars Mink Stole and Honey Lauren and... well, you'll be tempted to hit the fast forward button before long.
CP: 1/5
SW: 2/5

KRUG
The story of the son of a God-bothering Christian nutbar, Krug's life isn't the greatest. His mother (Saffron Burrows) stays up all night writing out God pamphlets by hand, and has no money or time to give Krug the kind of attention he requires. School life isn't much better, as his lunchbox doesn't so much contain food, as a pile of yellow pamphlets. Insanely sad, with a nearly-happy ending that really isn't so happy when you think about it, credit director Bryan Buckley for making one great and moving eight-minute short, and being brave enough to take a stance on the issue of those who feel the need to convert others.
CP: 5/5

HARVEY KRUMPET
This 22-minute Australian short film, created entirely in claymation and narrated by Geoffrey Rush (with a guest voice cameo by Aussie octagenarian lounge singing heartthrob Kamahl), follows a dim-witted European doofus as he grows up experiencing the worst luck you could imagine. His travels take him to Australia, where he splits his skull, gets a steel plate in his head, is hit by lightning (which duly magnetizes the plate) and adopts a Thalydamide baby. Sad, but also darkly funny and very clever. Shot on 35mm, there's little doubt this film cost some cash, but it's all on the screen.
CP: 4/5

49?
Native American writer Sherman Alexie (Smoke Signals) directs this short film, a part of the Seattle International Film Festival's annual Fly Filmmaking Series, about the generally unknown tradition of the '49' song. Alexie explores what a 49 is, why it was called a 49, and brings a sense of humor to a topic that could easily have been preachy or cloying. A good film, and a great example of the many great shorts that the Seattle Film Fest has brought to fruition over the last several years.
CP: 4/5

DAVID MAMET'S GUILDED STONES
Points should immediately be given to director James Dodson for duping us into believing this was actually a long-lost project of Pulitzer Prize winning wordsmith David Mamet. After Saul Rubinek introduces us to the films history, supposedly thought lost in a 1998 MGM fire, we are treated to Rosanna Arquette and Elizabeth Perkins spouting Mamet-esque dialogue about how a “cunt” babysitter failed to live up to her responsibilities. Credit the filmmakers for refining their words so carefully that even after you realize it’s a satire, you wouldn’t be surprised if Mamet penned it. The cleverness of the short expands further as the lost project is handed down from A-list director-to-director in an attempt to save it, each adding their own signature style (from the camerawork to the conversation) which ultimately hits a 12 on the lampoon scale.
EC: 5/5

99 SCENTS
Directed by Keir Serrie, this 3 minute HD video short follows a Japanese door to door salesman on his first day on the job, as he attempts to convince strangers to pay $20 for knockoffs of famous perfumes. His luck isn’t looking good for most of the day, but sometimes sales technique isn’t as important as timing. A fun little flick, but mostly harmless.
SW: 2/5
CP: 3/5

THE 100 LOVERS OF JESUS REYNOLDS
This 7 minute short follows a woman that many of us would call a dire slut, as she recounts several of her 100 lovers while sewing a fin for the following day’s mermaid parade. While the story isn’t riveting, director Ilya Chaiken does turn her lead into a three dimensional character in near record time. You might not like Jesus Reynolds, but you’ll certainly have met her ilk before. Shot on Sony HD Cam, this is an up and down affair doesn’t inspire much debate, but it’s a well done portrayal of a sad individual.
SW: 2/5
CP: 2/5

AMERICAN NUTRIA
Following the short history of the Nutria as an element of the American wildlife scene, American Nutria skirts the line between el cheapo PBS nature doco and clever humor. The Nutria is a formerly fur-farmed rodent that was left to die when people decided that rat fur wasn’t a great social statement. It was believed the Nutria, which had been introduced to the country from warmer climes, would die in the American winter. Instead it spread like wildfire, causing untold damage to farms and ecosystems. So what was Louisiana’s answer to this problem? Put ‘em on the menu. With music by the Postal Service and shot on an HD cam, Matt McCormick’s American Nutria looks a lot cheaper than it should, but it at least tells an interesting story.
SW: 3/5
CP: 3/5

Stay tuned to this space for more shorts as we see them...


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=936
originally posted: 01/17/04 03:35:08
last updated: 03/17/04 18:06:40
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