The Last Five Years

Posted in Drama, Comedy, Musical, Music on February 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Last 5 Years photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Last Five Years begins on an elegiac note. Anna Kendrick’s beautifully sung “Still Hurting” is a mournful ballad about the breakup of her marriage. Yup, the couple breaks up….in 5 years according to the title.  You would call this production a romantic musical.  Although the tone for this genre is usually buoyant, you realize right from the start that this going to be anything but a happy tale.

Kendrick is Cathy Hiatt. Her story begins at the end and is told in reverse as we progress to her happy beginning. Actor Jeremy Jordan is Jamie Wellerstein. His account is told chronologically and reaches the same conclusion but in the opposite direction from her. Technically there are other people on screen, but the drama only involves these two characters. Back and forth their sagas are interwoven. When she’s singing, we’re going backwards. When he’s crooning, we’re going forward. In the middle they sing a duet. It chronicles the few ups but mostly downs in a five-year relationship between the rising novelist (him) and the struggling actor (her).

The Last Five Years is based on a 2002 Off Broadway production written by Jason Robert Brown, a 3-time Tony Award winner (Parade, The Bridges of Madison County). Forget the story because this one is absolutely rote. That doesn’t have to be a problem. Some of the greatest musicals of all time (Singin’ in the Rain for example) are nothing more than a fabrication designed to highlight a bunch of great songs. The tunes in this case are good, but not great. The best belong to Anna. Beside the aforementioned “Still Hurting”, there’s “I Can Do Better Than That” about her friend who ended up in Smalltown, USA.  There’s also a delightfully ubeat ditty “A Summer in Ohio”. It’s imaginatively staged as she’s talking from afar with her hubby via video internet chat. The creative number is performed with backup dancers practicing their routines at the theater .

The strength of any musical rests on its music. These melodies are odd. They’re not fabricated using a typical song structure made up of an intro/verses/chorus components. Instead they’re sung dialogue that propel a weak story. Sort of like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but obviously not a film as sacred to aesthetes. What The Last Five Years has going for it is a nice showcase for Anna Kendrick to sing. She could sing the dictionary and it would sound delightful. She’s got a fantastic voice and she interprets the hell out of these songs. She employs just enough vocal interpretation to be interesting, but not so much that seems like she’s showing off. The play embraces its own artificial theatricality. The issue is that their “love” is never uplifting. There’s precious little chemistry between the two leads. This is partly due to the fact that they’re portraying a fighting couple through most of the picture. Their disenchantment with each other kind of rubs off on the viewer. However the sheer singing talent of Ana Kendrick compels me to give this a pass.

02-24-15

Predestination

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction with tags on February 22, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Predestination photo starrating-3stars.jpgOw! My head hurts. After watching Predestination, my brain is trying to come to terms with the conclusion of this wackadoodle film. It’s actually kind of nifty at first. Ethan Hawke plays a time-traveling agent who attempts to prevent an elusive terrorist before he strikes. The thug is known as the “Fizzle Bomber” and his deadly explosive, if successful, will kill thousands of people. Right from the start we see our hero is badly burned in an attack. After reconstructive surgery he is sent back in time to March 1975 to stop the criminal.

The movie captivates your attention rather quickly. The proper drama really begins with Ethan Hawke assuming the role of a bar keeper. He strikes up conversation with an odd young man named John. Whether this gentleman is the Fizzle Bomber or not isn’t really clear. He is a writer that writes confession stories under the pen name Unmarried Mother. John tells the barkeep that he’s got an incredible story. He’s heard a lot and so the two make a bet over whether it tops everything he has heard before. When John begins with, “When I was a little girl…” you know it’s going to be a doozy.

That there’s something a bit off about this “man” (Sarah Snook), is immediately obvious. John’s revelation appears just 15 minutes into the picture so it‘s not a key plot point. However his tale will unite the two on a quest that will eventually lead them to a finish that will have not one, not two, but three revelations dropped in the final third. This reveal is so preposterous that it feels as if the writer came up with the convoluted ending first and then thought backwards as to how they could make this head trip a reality. Predestination is based on a science fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein called  ‘—All You Zombies—’.  I suppose we might credit the author known for Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) as the root of this silliness, but ultimately the blame must rest with brothers Michael & Peter Spierig who not only adapted Heinlein’s work but also direct.

Predestination is the belief that everything that will happen has already been decided by God/fate and cannot be changed. The film utilizes this idea intelligently. The carefully constructed tale that Jane tells the barkeeper is a fascinating narrative that draws the viewer in for most of the adventure. The Spierig Brothers have fashioned a nifty little drama. “The most incredible story you ever heard” is indeed pretty bizarre. Yet the script thinks it’s smarter than it really is. A turn of events in the final third undoes an intelligent account until it becomes almost a parody. I wish I could explain it because it makes me laugh just taking about it, but trust me, it’s pretty ridiculous. Michael & Peter could have manipulated the source material utilizing any method they saw fit. As the resolution is presented here, it doesn’t earn these revelations honestly, but rather in a way that is desperate to shock more than it is trying to tell a coherent tale. True, these time travel sagas never add up upon close scrutiny but this aggressively exploits a gimmick ending. As a result the narrative falls apart to problems that other time travel movies do not. Watch Back to the Future or Looper for the gold standard.

02-20-15

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy on February 15, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Kingsman: The Secret Service photo starrating-3stars.jpgKingsman: The Secret Service is best when it focuses on the superlative training of applicants for an elite agency. At one point new recruits are tied to tracks while an oncoming train is speeding toward them down the path. They will be released only if they divulge the true nature of their organization. The image is particularly apropos when describing the ridiculous way in which Kingsman ends. It’s a great film for most of its run time.  I mean really wonderful. Then it goes completely “off the rails” in spectacular fashion.

Kingsman is a comic book update of a James Bond thriller but with the snotty attitude of director Matthew Vaughn’s own Kick-Ass. Colin Firth plays an impeccably dressed, well mannered spy heading a group that trains young men and women as deadly assassins. After a really marvelous action sequence, I was almost hoping Firth would remain the star. The well choreographed fight where he takes down a room full of combatants is sensational. The same goes for the gadgets, like when he uses his umbrella as a shield. He’s got the prim and proper manners of Mary Poppins with the physical prowess of Lennox Lewis. When a key member of his secret organization dies in the line of duty, he must seek a replacement. Among those being considered is Eggsy, the son of another murdered agent from the past. As portrayed by Taron Egerton he’s sort of a working class hooligan without any direction in life. Cue Harry Hart who’s there to help. They have great chemistry. It’s buoyant but the stakes are high. For three quarters of the film, the story concerns the organization and the development of talent. There is a series of tests designed to select adept individuals that surpass expectations.  When one of the team is given a faulty parachute after the group has already skydived out of a plane, it’s a real nail biter. You never know if an applicant is going to get killed in the selection process.

For about 80-90 minutes this movie is a blast. The picture is a well crafted adventure that delights the senses with eye popping action and colorful set design. Unfortunately the production doesn’t maintain that upbeat sensibility. A villain in the form of a lisping Internet billionaire hijacks the narrative. Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) believes humanity is a virus and global warming is the fever. So to stop this threat to the environment, he will exterminate people by distributing free SIM cards that will explode at his command. That could be fun, but then the lighthearted touch devolves into parody. There’s also an undercurrent of hate that invites us to cheer in the widespread genocide of human beings. I guess because the script has depicted these people as beneath contempt, it‘s supposed to be ok. They happily kill some stereotypical Arabs too with Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” blasting in the background. When it’s not being offensive it gets incredibly zany. It winds up being closer to Austin Powers than a James Bond flick at the conclusion. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing but the deviation in tone is so jarring with everything that came before.  Pity, because Matthew Vaughn sets up a really enjoyable thriller that engages the viewer….only to throw it in a dumpster during the final quarter.

02-15-15

Red Army

Posted in Biography, Documentary, History with tags on February 14, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Red Army photo starrating-3stars.jpgRed Army is a documentary about hockey in the Soviet Union. More precisely, it concerns a nearly unbeatable unit known as the “Russian Five” on the national team. But even more specifically it profiles one member, hockey captain Slava Fetisov. It’s his point of view that shapes the perspective.  The film is essentially a chronicle of how cold war politics played a role in his life.

Most Americans knowledge of US-Soviet hockey centers on what went down at Lake Placid in 1980. Gabe Polsky’s documentary certainly addresses the American hockey team’s victory at the Olympics. However that is presented as merely an aberration in “ the most successful dynasty in sports history.” The Russians won nearly every world championship and Olympic tournament between 1954 and 1991. The groundwork was set by coach Anatoly Tarasov. His development of innovative training techniques centered on passing. The intricate maneuvers of the Soviet team are compared to the grace of the Bolshoi Ballet. Their mental strategies correlated to that of a chess player. Indeed watching the Soviet team skate circles around the cruder tactics of the Americans is a startling contrast. Then in 1977, the coach that everyone loved was replaced by former KGB agent Viktor Tikhonov – the coach everyone hated, at least by the athletes. He was even more successful making the Soviet team the most dominant in the world. Despite his accomplishments, he does not come across well. Their life is a nightmare under a totalitarian regime. He puts the players in training camps isolating them from their families for 11 months out of the year. Yet there is a link between his dictatorial methods and the well oiled machine that he elevated under his tutelage. Not surprisingly Tikhonov declined to be interviewed. He died on November 24, 2014 so his voice remains silent here.

Soviet Player Viacheslav Fetisov or Slava, as he is known, is front and center in this documentary. His transformation from national hero to political enemy is the dramatic arc of this tale. He’s a cantankerous old man and director Gabe Polsky doesn’t hide this fact. Right from the start, Slava keeps his interviewer waiting while he fiddles with his cell phone, even flipping him off (and the audience) when asked a question. It’s a defiant behavior that pops up occasionally throughout their conversation. A former KGB agent trying to speak about politics is constantly interrupted by his young granddaughter playing nearby. It’s these unexpected asides that make the account a bit odd at times. Mostly the parallels between sports and politics are highlighted. The rise and fall of the Red Army team with that of the Soviet Union forming the underlying background for everything that happens. Their success was proof “that the Soviet system was the best system”.  Fetisov’s career is profiled with various ups and downs. Through it all he remains a very patriotic fellow despite remaining embittered toward his past coach. Perhaps the “bad old days” of the brutal regimen under which he trained weren’t really so bad in his eyes after all. You’ll understand when you see how this ends.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on February 12, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgSpongeBob still matters. Perhaps this movie’s lasting legacy will be that he was the one to finally take out American Sniper at the #1 position at the box office. Granted director Clint Eastwood’s production held the spot for 3 weeks but still you’ve got to hand it to the little sea dwelling invertebrate. The Nickelodeon TV series, currently in its 9th season, has been around since 1999 so the novelty factor is gone. A first feature, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, was released in theaters in 2004. Now 11 years later we get a sequel that thankfully doesn‘t rely on having seen the original feature. Regardless of what naysayers griped about the supposed decline of the TV show, it didn’t seem to affect reception to the film. A $55 million debut weekend is pretty impressive. Even the final installment of The Hobbit debuted to less.

The plot is totally ridiculous. It starts off in the real life world with a human pirate (Antonio Banderas) who obtains a magical book. As he starts to read we enter SpongeBob’s animated world and begin another story. Fans acquainted with the series will be greeted with familiar elements: the city of Bikini Bottom, fast food chain – the Krusty Krab, his friends: Patrick Star, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy Cheeks. Arch nemesis Plankton wants to steal Spongebob’s secret recipe for tasty Krabby Patties as per usual. They have a tug of war over the paper containing it and it magically vanishes because uh, because uh, it just does. If you’re asking how or why then you might have an issue with this nonsensical adventure.

All things considered, Sponge Out of Water is an entertaining flight of fancy. I couldn’t follow the story but then again I don’t watch the cartoon. I’m clearly not the target audience. It’s not that it’s complicated. It’s just that it’s a really slapdash, haphazard affair. This is one of those films where you must put your brain in neutral and delight in the pure zaniness up on the screen. For example, the absence of delicious Krabby Patties thrusts the town into a post apocalyptic state. The plot includes time travel and meeting a talking dolphin named Bubbles. Pharrell Williams contributes 3 songs to the soundtrack including “Squeeze Me” which plays in the background whenever they zip through time. The two worlds, one featuring Burger-Beard the pirate and the other, SpongeBob, ultimately intersect. It spoils nothing to reveal this because the title, the poster and trailer all promise this event. The extended sequence where SpongeBob and his pals take to dry land in the physical reality of real people is indeed enjoyable. I must admit that in the beginning, I was thinking too much for this story. However once I had bought into the craziness, then I was up for anything. That’s when I enjoyed it.

02-08-15

Blue Ruin

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller on February 7, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Blue Ruin photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgBlue Ruin had been on my “movies to see” list for the better part of a year. The American independent debuted at the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film festival in 2013. It later toured the festival circuit where it racked up accolades in the form of positive word-of-mouth.  It got an extremely limited theatrical release coupled with a simultaneous video on demand (VOD) release in April 2014. DVD release followed in July 2014.

Dwight Evans is a sad sack of a man. He starts off looking like a homeless vagrant. Perhaps a “beach bum” is a more poetic way of describing his situation. He sleeps in a “blue ruin” of a car – a broken down old Pontiac Bonneville. Actor Macon Blair is Dwight, an unknown lead chosen because of his longtime friendship with the director since childhood. That’s not to say the unassuming fellow isn’t well cast because those unpolished qualities perfectly define this character. As the chronicle develops we realize there is much more to this man than meets the eye. For long stretches of this efficient 90 minute thriller, it’s virtually dialogue free. Blair is given some horrific news and he decides to act on this information. He’s a shell of a man, and so we can’t help but care.

A straightforward account of getting even is all this is but it’s imbued with such humanity. We are emotionally wrapped up in the stakes. How will Dwight accomplish what he wants? Can he get away with it? Will he survive? Much has been written about this classic tale of revenge from movie pundits. Some going so far as to mention director Jeremy Saulnier in the same breath as the Coen Brothers. There’s certainly a similarity with the Coens’ debut Blood Simple – that is, extracting dark comedy from a criminal plot. His plan goes horribly wrong in every way that a plan can go wrong. For example, he slashes the tires of his enemy’s car then realizes he must steal that car after leaving his keys at the scene of the crime. That’s tragic, but it’s also funny. when Dwight can’t hit a target that is only 2 feet away, it can relieve some of the tension, even in the most intense situations. The production strikes a nice balance between the two.

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier understands the viewer should sympathize with the “hero” in order for us to be invested in his plight. You can appreciate Dwight’s emotionally damaged vagabond. I’m not so sure we should be rooting for him, but we do. He has suffered deeply. Now he is tormented by deep sorrow and so he has our sympathy. Yet his quest is made more captivating in the way it’s told, giving the audience pieces to make us root for the protagonist without really knowing everything. Even by the end, we never really know the complete story, just enough to understand what’s happening in the moment. Bursts of violence are used. Blue Ruin occasionally falls victim to excess. More restraint in the bloodshed department would’ve been appreciated. An extended scene where Macon digs an arrow out of his leg is gratuitous in its desire to shock. Storytelling is a craft. Blue Ruin does indeed have an artistic way of telling an uncomplicated tale. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre. It’s a simple saga, artfully told.

02-04-15

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

Posted in Animation, Drama, Fantasy with tags on February 5, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya photo stars-3_zpsdbd867b4.gifA bamboo cutter find a tiny nymph inside a plant stalk. The child grows at a rapid rate into a beautiful young woman, desired by many. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is the latest offering from Studio Ghibli. This is rumored to be Director Isao Takahata‘s swan song who hasn’t directed a film since 1999’s My Neighbors the Yamadas. You’re forgiven if you don’t remember that one. He co-founded the legendary Japanese animation house with long-time collaborative partner Hayao Miyazaki. Savvy moviegoers will likewise remember Miyazaki’s farewell The Wind Rises.

The animation is unlike the majority of what is being produced today. The look is reminiscent of the delicate approach of pre-war Japanese watercolor artists.  Hand drawn minimalist style – read unfinished – recalls the preliminary sketch cartoons that Disney commissions before making the actual feature. You know the ones. They’re often featured in the DVD extras in those behind-the-scenes featurettes. It is steadfastly old fashioned when compared with the cartoons of today. In fact the visuals have a traditional quality that make linking it to our contemporary times seem like an anachronism.  Takahata certainly doesn’t rely on comic relief either.  The saga is taken from an ancient Japanese text so it makes the timeless design most appropriate.  The story’s seeming existence in another time and place is one of its most positive attributes.

There is a magical credibility to the drama which is based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a Japanese fable.  Princess Kaguya has moments of genuine poignancy. There are also long stretches where the languid narrative is simply allowed to rest. There’s something admirable about an account that is unconcerned by time.  It’s akin to watching the undulating ripples of a pond. If gazing at the quiet beauty of nature can captivate you for 2 ½ hours this will surely enchant your senses.

The chronicle is a legend full of fanciful flourishes that myths are known to have. Princess Kaguya is a mysterious protagonist compete with a secret back-story like the heroine of any good yarn. However she isn’t a particularly warm person. When her childhood friend Sutemaru is beaten in front of her, she does nothing to help him.  She gives would-be suitors false hope by demanding they fetch items to court her favor. The kicker is she has no interest in any of these men to begin with, so her requests are for impossible to get items. One even dies in the process. At least Kaguya gets depressed about it. At first she seems to praise the simple value of her previous country life over her more exalted existence in the big city, but then the fantastical ending kind of throws that idea out the window. Fairy tales always have a moral and I’m sure this one is no exception. I just have no idea what that is given the bizarre resolution. I still enjoyed The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. It’s different and that’s saying something in today’s cookie cutter world.

02-05-15

Cake

Posted in Drama on February 2, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Cake photo starrating-3stars.jpgClaire is an embittered forty-something struggling with chronic pain as a result of a car accident. She attends a support group for other women dealing with the same issues. One of the group’s members, Nina (Anna Kendrick), has committed suicide and her death is only one of the tragedies with which Claire is trying to deal. There’s another which we don’t discover until much much later into the story. Beware of reviews that spoil this, because it’s a big component of understanding this woman.

First and foremost, Cake is an understated character-driven drama that highlights a really solid portrayal from Jennifer Aniston. Cake garnered Oscar talk at the Toronto Film Festival in September of 2014 when the actress received accolades for her work. Yet the movie debuted to rather mixed reviews in January. The thing is, her performance is indeed very good. I’ll concede it’s bolstered by two things: (1) Her totally unglamorous appearance, including faint scars on her face, and (2) that we are familiar with Jennifer Aniston’s career. A star most identified with the TV show Friends, she has never really stretched beyond the role of playing “woman from Los Angeles” or at least someone who could be from there. (Her role in 2002’s The Good Girl is an exception.) Cake is no different, she’s playing a contemporary woman from southern California. However this time she is able to extract more nuance. The role allows her to downplay her usual lively attitude and exposes a world weary frustration that is so sincere, it seems like an element of her actual personality. Without her enthusiasm to get you to identify with her, she has to work harder to cull the audience‘s emotion.

Cake isn’t a monumental achievement in film. It‘s small, quiet and a little maudlin. What’s admirable about Cake is that it doesn’t feel the need to make its main character warm and fuzzy. She’s a prickly individual damaged by grief and her temperament reflects that. Whether that element is a part of Aniston’s own personality or just something that she uncovered for the role is irrelevant. She is this woman and embodies her with authenticity. She receives strength from Silvana, her hired caregiver. You may remember actress Adriana Barraza from her Oscar nominated role in Babel. Her role is kind of similar here. They even take a trip across the Mexican border. But Silvana provides such genuine warmth that it nicely balances Claire’s understandable irritability with life. Even Sam Worthington turns up in a small role that permits him to act and not simply be the human actor in a special effects-laden spectacle. But in the end, this is Aniston’s picture. She makes you care about this grieving woman and that’s not easy to do.

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Documentary (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Documentary, Shorts on January 31, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Oscar Shorts 2015ShortsHD™, the Short Movie Channel (www.shorts.tv), celebrates its 10th anniversary of its Oscar shorts release by opening “THE OSCAR® NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2015 in a record 450+ theatres across the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America on Friday January 30, 2015. Some features available On Demand and/or on iTunes.

I must say that the Academy’s documentary branch must be a very despondent group. Without question, the 5 most deeply depressing films in any category this year, and perhaps of any year – at least since I‘ve been watching. The takeaway in all of them is that through great suffering, there is hope. Even the most emotionally devastating short highlights altruistic individuals. The movies are listed in order, starting with my strongest recommendation. People already haunted by a negative outlook on life should proceed with caution.

 

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
USA/40MINS/Director: Ellen Goosenberg Kent
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
While 1% of Americans have served in the military, they account for 20% of all suicides in the U.S.  Enlightening look into a crisis center in upstate New York that focuses on calls from military veterans. We hear one side of the conversation – the admirable men and women working at the facility trying to help. However it’s the things I could infer from their dialogue that rattled me most.  For instance, many callers have weapons in hand.  HBO’s formidable documentary division shines a light on an urgent problem that demands attention. The front-runner in this category and rightfully so. (9/10)

 

Joanna
POLAND/40MINS/Director: Aneta Kopacz
Joanna
Mother Joanna has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and this record details the simple, but treasured moments with her family. Her relationship with her little boy is highlighted where they have slight conversations that draw them closer together. A brief but intimate look into her life. Like Our Curse, it has real humanity but the slender window of time presented has more significance for family members than for general audiences. Where does the story go from here? (6/10)

 

Our Curse
POLAND/27MINS/Director: Tomasz Śliwiński
Our Curse
Probably the hardest one to watch. It’s about Leo, a baby with congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS), also referred to as Ondine’s curse. If you cry just thinking about an infant with tracheostomy tube, you’re going to have problems with this one. It’s a punishing watch. I was tearing up just a couple minutes in, but it highlights hope in the form of two parents: Tomasz (the director) and his wife Magda. I thank God that their little baby is in their hands. I feel like he’s going to be getting good care and a lot of love. This story is far from over though. Future episodes are a must for anyone wanting updates on their difficult journey. (6/10)

 

White Earth
USA/20MINS/Director: J. Christian Jensen
White Earth
North Dakota has seen an influx of people seeking work due to an oil boom. This meandering take is mostly filtered through the eyes of children. An immigrant mother is also featured. The chronicle means well, but this account of how the quality of human life has deteriorated in this town, is so vague. Bleak just for the sake of being bleak. (5/10)

 

The Reaper (La Parka)
MEXICO/29MINS/Director: Gabriel Serra Argüello
The Reaper (La Parka)
A man who works in a slaughterhouse reflects on his connection with death. Efrain seems like a thoughtful fellow but what we remember is lots of artistic cinematography of cows being killed, bloody carcasses and racks of meat being processed. Yuck! Turned my stomach. (1/10)

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Live Action (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Shorts with tags on January 28, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Oscar ShortsShortsHD™, the Short Movie Channel (www.shorts.tv), celebrates its 10th anniversary of its Oscar shorts release by opening “THE OSCAR® NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2015 in a record 450+ theatres across the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America on Friday January 30, 2015.

Once again I’ve decided to list the shorts – live action category, in the order that I enjoyed them. Interestingly, the U.S. isn’t represented.  Some of these features are also available On Demand and/or on iTunes.

 

Boogaloo and Graham
UK/14MINS/Director: Michael Lennox
 photo BOOGALOO_AND_GRAHAM_still_zps77367cec.jpg
In 1970’s Belfast, a father gives his sons, Jamesy and Malachy, two baby chicks. They care for their chickens like a beloved family pets – but mom has other ideas. An uplifting tale that celebrates the lengths parents will go to for the love of their kids. The shortest nominee also happens to be my personal favorite. (7/10)

 

Parvaneh
SWITZERLAND/25MINS/Director: Talkhon Hamzavi
 photo PARVANEH_still_zps456eec6a.jpg
An Afghan teen travels to Zurich to send money to her ailing father back in Afghanistan.  A Swiss punk girl agrees to help her. Some poignant culture clash moments in a nicely acted duet of performances. (7/10)

 

Aya
ISRAEL – FRANCE/39MINS/Directors: Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun
 photo AYA_still_zps37f0047a.jpg
Thomas, a Danish man, mistakenly believes Aya to be his assigned driver. Enchanted by the random encounter, she impulsively decides to go along with the charade. On the way to his Jerusalem destination, the reserved pianist and the unpredictable driver have an intimate conversation. Very well written, but you keep waiting for something to happen. Rather long too. (6/10)

 

Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)
FRANCE-CHINA/15MINS/Director: Hu Wei
 photo BUTTER_LAMP_still_zps6c5cc32b.jpg
A nomadic photographer and his assistant photograph Tibetan people in front of various backgrounds. Many of the backgrounds are from other countries. Brief sketch has a striking final shot. A crisp comment on pop culture contrasted with the beauty we overlook around us. (6/10)

 

The Phone Call
UK/21MINS/Director: Mat Kirkby
 photo THE_PHONE_CALL_still_zps368aaeb7.jpg
A shy woman (Sally Hawkins) works at a helpline call center. She receives a phone call from a despondent old man (Jim Broadbent) and the two have a conversation. This is the category front-runner given the fact that it features 2 gifted thespians. The 20 minute short highlights a nicely written conversation. However the payoff isn’t the uplifting coda the filmmaker clearly wants it to be. That closing song is a deal breaker – unless of course you think suicide is a great way for unhappy people to solve things. (5/10)

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