Mini-Review- The Academy Award Nominated Short Films, Live Action

This past weekend there was a screening of the live action short films that are nominated for an Academy Award. I have decided that since overall the category is so strong that I would include a still image from each. These are films that deserve to get their recognition beyond just the five minutes of the Oscar broadcast that they occupy. So these screenings arranged by Shorts International and the theatres that screen them are to be commended. They are a bit long but there has to be some way to include the documentary shorts in a broader way next year, here’s hoping.

As for the films like I said I was resoundingly impressed with the strength of the field but I most definitely have a favorite.

The Confession

Lewis Howlett in The Confession (National Film and Television School)

And here it is. It is so shockingly rare to see a short film that is so layered and plays on so many levels as this one does. There are moments of genuine comedy, horror and drama in this film. It is a beautifully shot and composed film that shows the tragic consequences of the combination of real guilt and “Catholic guilt.” It’s a film I’m not ashamed to say brought me to tears at the end which is a feat that’s unprecedented in my limited experience with shorts.

Wish 143

Oliver Arundale and Dolya Gavanski in Wish 143

What Wish 143 does well is to create a serio-comic tale. It is not a greatly nuanced tale but it works. How well it works is where most of the interpretation comes into play. As I watched it the thought occurred to to me that this is what Holden Caulfield would be like if he was a cancer patient. Specifically, I recall the scene where he hires a prostitute and all he really wants is company. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but gives you the gist of this tale as it is centered around a young man seeking to lose his virginity in the time he has left.

Na Wewe

Floris Kubwimana in Na Wewe (A PRIVATE VIEW)

This a simple tale that subtly demonstrates the stupidity of genocidal tendencies. It concerns a bus traveling through Burundi in 1994 at a time where the Hutus and Tutsis were at war. The passengers are all taken off and then questioned regarding their background. There are a few great twists and good jokes in the tale as well as moments of drama. Furthermore a pretty good original (to me anyway) song to end it and underscore the message of the film.

The Crush

Olga Wehrly and Oran Creagh in The Crush (2010)

This is a pretty funny, dramatically well-executed and honest portrayal of a boy’s crush on his teacher. It’s deceptively simple as it does have a few surprises in store. It can be easily be described as the most charming and charmingly told of the short film nominees and it also deals with a universally relatable concept, most of us have has a teacher who fits this mold and it’s not only a wish-fulfillment tale but also concludes rather logically.

God of Love

Tim Matheny and Christopher Hirsh in God of Love (2010)

The funniest of the nominees, this is the fantastical tale of a modern-day cupid. It’s told in such a way, however, that it reminds you both a little of Magical Realism but also of the Early-Career whimsy of Woody Allen such that it is also a very entertaining entry.

In conclusion, I would not be disappointed in any of these films being given the Oscar but I do think that The Confession is the most special film of the group.

Advertisements

Review- Megamind

Megamind (Paramount)

The phrase “flip the script” has become a part of the vernacular as an expression of a 180-degree change in the expected course of action. Oddly enough, even though there is a cinematic connotation to this expression you rarely see a film that exemplifies this expression. Megamind is that kind of a film. While you can’t claim it’s wildly original it does set up certain expectations and exploits them very well.

What is refreshing is that not only do you get a villain-turned-hero but you also have a new villain emerging from an unexpected source. You also have a reluctant hero who fades completely into the background and doesn’t make a triumphant return.

The film absolutely refuses to be overly-simplistic and didactic in showing why those who turned villainous did and why there was a change in our protagonist and how. It also nicely implies that heroism was, in fact, Megamind’s fate, as we never learn what his parents said to him before sending him off to Earth. It ended up being circumstance and not reacting to it well that lead him down the path he took.

What is also good to see is that as Megamind disguises himself to try and gain a new rival there is a great treatment of the “Bad Friend Plot.” This occurs with a rift between Megmind and Minion. There is no failed attempt to reconcile and when they do reunite it is surprising and satisfying, avoiding unnecessary convolution of the story.

While the film clearly excels in dramatic terms it is also rather successful on the comedic side of the equation and the comedy excels more often than not. Megamind’s mispronunciations, while hit-or-miss, do play a key role in the film.

While this is yet another animated film that insists on boasting name recognition in its voice talent with Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt, they do all commit themselves to their character work enough that eventually you do think of them in terms of their character and not the performer. It just takes a little time.

Which is also a tribute to the writing in this film. Aside from the many interesting variations on themes that you get there are also clearly defined characters with struggles, needs and wants that you identify with and this is true of all the significant personages.

The animation in this film is quite impressive with the great cityscapes it creates and in terms of the 3D there are worst purchases you could make at the movies this year.

8/10

Megamind is out on DVD today.

Review- Due Date

Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis in Due Date (Warner Bros.)

If you’re trying to decide whether or not you should see Due Date it boils down to one key question: How big a fan of Zach Galifianakis are you? As a film it passes marginally. As a showcase for Galifianakis and all his quirks it soars. So that is really what’ll tip the scales for you one way or another.

The epitome of this is shown through the fact that his character who is an aspiring actor seeking to move out to LA. A doubtful Downey Jr. asks him to play out a scenario for him. On his second chance, after another false start, he really shines and it’s a great moment.

Before getting into some of the issues that do face this film it does need saying that this is indeed a very funny film. The three men who deliver the largest doses of that comedy are, of course, Galifianakis, Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Some of the situations are also rather humorous so that helps buoy the film along.

The major hurdle this film faces is the question of how forgiving are we as an audience and in turn should our protagonist be. Some of Ethan’s (Galiafianakis’s) mistakes are through sheer ignorance and naivete but towards the end you learn something that really changes things and you stop for a second and wonder how it would really pan out or how you’d prefer it to pan out, depending on your level of outrage.

Granted Galifianakis’s character does not have bad intentions he is just very socially maladjusted and awkward but still everyone has a breaking point and perhaps this had exceeded it. Only the logic that he does have to get there for the birth of his child and he’s already gotten so far really makes it feasible.

The baby brings to mind another quibble: the film plays up the “Is she cheating subplot?” a lot. Such that you think it’s a definite only to squash it. It only ends up being good for some humor but it went too far in terms of circumstantial evidence to be brushed aside so simply.

There are many good laughs to be had in this film it’s just the form it takes and some of the decisions that it makes along the way that are counterproductive to it reaching maximum effectiveness.

6/10

Due Date is out on DVD today.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Extended Cut Coming this Weekend

Justin Bieber in never Say Never (Paramount Pictures)

As previously reported Paramount is poised to release an extended cut of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never this coming weekend, for one weekend only.

Reports vary between sources about how much content would be added but estimates are between 30-40 pushing the running time over two hours.

The film will include music which is not seen in the current cut, more friend footage and other things which were suggested by fans and already existed but were excised pre-release. What’s perhaps most compelling is that the film will get somewhat reflexive and include footage of fans watching the sneak preview of the film on February 9th, which truly brings the story of the film full circle. Jon Chu, director, in the video embedded below talks about how this film fits the mold being made by the current artist.

Ultimately, it is quite likely that the correct decisions were made for the initial theatrical release as it was quite a successful that told a well-rounded tale and didn’t just shoot concert footage all fancy like but it would be interesting to see what was left out and how an extended cut change things. Again it’s something you can look at a few ways: either crass or a team and crew going the extra step to thank the fans who made all of this possible. With all the suggestions and the technology available (as Chu mentions it’s screening in 90% digitally-capable cinemas) these were easy request to accommodate and documentaries offer more flexibility.

It is also being reported that the film will be released on DVD in August. That has yet to be confirmed by Paramount and clearly details don’t yet exist about it.