Thursday, February 10, 2011
Review: Oscar-nominated short films
"The Confession" -- Director Tanel Toom makes a confident, audacious presentation in his third film about two young English boys preparing for their first confession. Beautifully shot in the countryside, the film has a clear sense of place and purpose. The boys horse around with a farmer's scarecrow, leading to unexpectedly tragic events. Haunting and poetic.
3.5 stars out of four
"The Crush" -- A spitfire-funny black comedy from writer/director Michael Creagh about an 8-year-old British school boy named Ardal (an intense Oran Creagh) who's got a thing for his teacher. So much so that he challenges her scuzzy boyfriend to a duel. I nearly busted a gut when, assured that a child won't shoot a man, the boyfriend cries, "Have you not seen 'City of God'?!"
"God of Love" -- Writer/director/star Luke Matheny’s comic romance is a tidy gem. It's about a singer in a jazz ensemble smitten with his drummer. Then he gets his hands on some magic darts that make anyone stuck by them susceptible to wooing. Matheny has an offbeat but undeniable onscreen charisma, and is an assured young filmmaker who knows how to craft a story.
"Na Wewe" -- This nerve-jangling drama has a lesson to teach about the ways we divide ourselves into factions, and how useless these distinctions ultimately are. A Frenchman's car breaks down in Burundi in 1994, so he catches a ride with a group stopped by militia looking for Tutsis to kill. Harrowing, with a sly, unexpected humor.
"Wish 143" -- A splendidly-acted comedy/drama about David, a British boy (good year for them) who's dying of cancer and declares his last wish to be losing his virginity. Samuel Peter Holland is wry and affecting as lad with very normal urges caught in extraordinary circumstances. With Jim Carter as a drolly understanding priest.
"Day & Night" -- The shorts that precede Pixar features are a place for the animation behemoth to showcase new talent. Most are clever and fun, but I found "Day & Night" to be a weak example. Night and Day are personified as creatures whose bodies are windows to the world at different times. It's visually inventive, but seems designed more for the animators' pleasure than the audience's.
"The Gruffalo" -- Charming computer animated tale about a little mouse who travels through the woods on the way to an acorn tree, and bluffs his way past three predators -- a fox, owl and snake -- with the story of a gruesome beast. Based on the children's book, rendered beautifully and in rhyme.
"Let's Pollute" -- Cheeky bit of reverse psychology encouraging people to buy twice as much as they need, never recycle and throw everything away after a single use -- all to an accompanying narration in the style of mid-century newsreel announcer, where every sentence is an exclamation. Despite the tongue-in-cheek humor, still comes off a bit preachy.
"The Lost Thing" -- This touching and quirky Australian short is about the things that just don't fit. A boy finds a strange red contraption on the beach. It sprouts octopus arms and legs and befriends him, but doesn't seem to have much purpose in a cold, sterile world of rules and expectations. The imagination and animation, especially in the finale, are dazzling.
"Madagascar, a Journey Diary" -- A visually gorgeous rendering of exactly what the title says. The filmmakers employ a variety of animation styles, including stop-motion, but the dominant method resembles brightly-hued watercolor painting -- all set to a jaunty, infectious musical score employing native songs. Like an 11-minute vacation.