Archive for the Shorts Category

Valerie

Posted in Biography, Documentary, Shorts with tags on May 2, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In the 1970s the definition of feminism was changing. The idea that a woman could reclaim her sexuality by exploiting it to her advantage was becoming a thing. Few women better embodied this ideal than Valerie Perrine. The actress was certainly comfortable in her skin. She was never afraid to flaunt raw, unbridled sensuality. This documentary short does not shy away from that reality.

Born in Texas, Perrine began her path to stardom as a Vegas showgirl. Early on, she was cleverly cast as stripper Honey Bruce in the 1974 biopic Lenny. It was a raw, credible performance. In fact, she was so memorable she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Later parts would also often rely on her physical assets. She was fully aware of this. However, she was much more than a voluptuous beauty. She gave authentically earthy performances in many movies and held her own alongside some of the biggest names of the decade. These include Dustin Hoffman (Lenny), Jeff Bridges (The Last American Hero), Robert Redford (The Electric Horseman), and Jack Nicholson (The Border). I was a child in the 1970s. She will always be Miss Teschmacher in Superman and Superman II to me. She made the character iconic.

Valerie is the celebration of the life of a star. She is currently 78. Perrine would continue to act well after her 1970s and early 80s heyday, but would ultimately fade from the limelight. In a heartbreaking development, Perrine was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. The chronicle opens with her voice narrating how she ended up in the hospital. We see a daily struggle with illness. The film then flashes back to the beginning of her Hollywood career. The contrast between the past and the present can be jarring. Yet she consistently remains a vibrant and compelling personality.

Valerie is a complimentary account — occasionally excessively so. In archival footage, photos, and memorabilia, we are presented with a flattering homage. Interviews with celebrities including Jeff Bridges, Angie Dickinson, George Hamilton, Stacy Keach, Richard Donner, Loni Anderson, and David Arquette attest to a life lived on her own terms. What comes through is the humanity of a talent who understood her charms and utilized them to the fullest. I now understand what made this woman tick a little better than before. Director Stacey Souther (an actor in his own right) presents this intimate portrait as a friend. This warm and loving memoir is like hanging out with Valerie for 36 minutes. It was time well spent.

Valerie is streaming Tuesday, May 3 on Amazon, iTunes, AppleTV, YouTube, and Google Play. Available for pre-order on DVD through Amazon.

04-19-22

2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Drama, Shorts with tags on March 2, 2022 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences since 2006. The 17th-annual theatrical rollout of films nominated in the live-action, animated, and documentary short categories began on February 25. To learn more about the participating theaters and how to purchase tickets, visit the website here. The program will play in theaters only for the first four weeks. They then will be released to VOD via iTunes, Amazon, Verizon, and Google Play beginning March 22.

DOCUMENTARY

A pioneering basketball player, a high school for the deaf, life in Afghanistan, homelessness, and bullying: the topics covered in the documentary shorts are an eclectic assortment, although perseverance is a common thread. The shorts programs have long focused on depressing subjects and the documentary category is often the bleakest. These certainly depict adversity, but they affect a more hopeful mood than in years past. I’ve ranked them in order of my favorites but all five nominees are compelling. This collection is my favorite of the three short programs this year.

THE QUEEN OF BASKETBALL
USA | 22 MIN | 2021
DIRECTOR: BEN PROUDFOOT

Lucy Harris is a trailblazer. She played basketball for Delta State University in the 1970s and won three consecutive National Championships. Then she represented the U.S. team in the first women’s basketball tournament at the 1976 Olympic Games and won the silver medal. She was later drafted by the New Orleans Jazz in the seventh round in 1977 — thus becoming the first and only woman “officially” drafted by an NBA team. Despite her immense talent, Harris did not express an interest to play in the NBA and declined to try out. She focused on raising a family instead and had two sons and twin daughters. This makes her even more intriguing. Luisa Harris is such a warm and self-effacing woman. Her humble persona belies a charming personality that shines throughout. I’m pretty confident that what “will win” and what “should win” the Oscar in this category is the very same thing.

AUDIBLE
USA | 38 MIN | 2020
DIRECTOR: MATT OGENS

Amaree McKenstry is a high school student at the Maryland School for the Deaf. The football team has a forty-two-game winning streak. Then they lose a game. The tournaments have a cinematic grandeur with a rousing score. Friday Night Lights director Peter Berg is one of the producers. Yet it’s not just about football. It’s a coming-of-age story about Amaree, the whole school in general, his group of friends, a tragic suicide, an absentee father, bullying, and sexuality. The uplifting account is a triumph over layer upon layer of hardship. The massive scope of the various narrative threads portrayed is so wide. It touches upon a lot of weighty themes within a brief runtime. There’s enough subject matter to sustain a 2-hour feature. Heck, it could be a miniseries. That’s a tribute to how engaging these stories are. These kids are so amazing the portrait captivates through sheer magnetism.

WHEN WE WERE BULLIES
GERMANY/USA | 36 MIN | 2021
DIRECTOR: JAY ROSENBLATT

Bullies feel regret. Writer/director Jay Rosenblatt’s film is a recollection of a bullying incident. It happened 50 years ago when he was a child in the fifth grade. He was one of the perpetrators. Indeed the entire class was complicit in the taunting he recounts. All except the victim — whose name was Dick. No last name is given. Jay includes sound bites of the classmates he was able to interview. They share their memory of the event. Even his ninety-two-year-old teacher is interviewed. Not surprisingly, Dick does not particulate in this chronicle.

The fact Jay — the oppressor — is reconstructing this horrible experience to assuage his guilt makes him a lot of things: insensitive, self-indulgent, callous. He acknowledges this. “When I began making this film, I didn’t consider how it might make you feel, ” he addresses the victim. “I guess I’m not as sensitive as I thought.” The document is like an autopsy on a dead body completed by the murderer himself. Jay isn’t someone to be commended or admired. The overwhelmingly negative reactions on social media would agree, its Oscar nomination notwithstanding. Yet it still doesn’t make the reconstruction any less fascinating. It’s a psychological window into human behavior. This is real-life horror and it happens on playgrounds every day.

LEAD ME HOME
USA | 39 MIN | 2020
DIRECTORS: PEDRO KOS, JON SHENK

Over 500,000 Americans are homeless on any given night. This profile humanizes that statistic with the specific stories of people in three U.S. cities on the West Coast: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. This slickly-produced account is filled with stunning cinematography and music that sometimes verges on making the environment too beautiful. The presentation doesn’t delve into the roots of the problem or come up with any solutions. This is merely a sympathetic plea for help with a problem on a daunting scale and scope. What ultimately comes through amidst the crushing details of their lives is the humanity of these people.

THREE SONGS FOR BENAZIR
AFGHANISTAN | 22 MIN | 2021
DIRECTORS: GULISTAN MIRZAEI, ELIZABETH MIRZAEI

Shaista is a newly married young man to Benazir. The couple lives in Kabul in a camp for displaced persons and they’re starting a family. His wife is expecting their first child. Nevertheless, he wants to be the first of his tribe to join the Afghan National Army. His desire to leave her for the army is difficult to support. Everyone tells Shaista to remain with his wife. “Go poppy harvesting,” his father implores. But that’s not the driving force behind his ambitions. The fact we never hear what his pregnant wife thinks speaks volumes. Shaista seems like a sweet guy and his love for Benazir is evident. We flash forward four years. The bleak ending does nothing to alleviate my distaste for Shaista’s decisions in life. This chronicle ends on a sour note.

02-21-22

2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Drama, Shorts with tags on February 24, 2022 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences since 2006. The 17th-annual theatrical rollout of films nominated in the live-action, animated, and documentary short categories begins February 25. To learn more about the participating theaters and how to purchase tickets, visit the website here. The program will play in theaters only for the first four weeks. They then will be released to VOD via iTunes, Amazon, Verizon, and Google Play beginning March 22.

LIVE-ACTION

American singer Nina Simone once said, “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” So if aliens wanted to understand the human experience through the Oscar-nominated live-action shorts this year, they would have to conclude that life on planet earth is pretty awful. That’s not to say there isn’t some interesting work here, but every single one is blighted by misery. As a personal challenge, I tried to list them in order of enjoyability.

PLEASE HOLD
USA | 19 MIN | 2020
DIRECTOR: KD DAVILA

In the near future, a young man is informed by his phone that he is under arrest. A police drone apprehends him without explanation. He’s brought to a holding facility using a fully automated system without a human being in sight. This portrait of an American justice system gone wrong takes the frustrating experience of navigating a computerized phone-system maze to its horrific extreme. A perfectly realized idea is masterfully executed. I guess I should watch the British anthology series Black Mirror (itself based on The Twilight Zone) because I’m told this melding of science fiction technology and a dystopian society is like an episode of the TV show. I was captivated throughout. This is director Kristen (K.D) Davila’s directorial debut.

ON MY MIND
DENMARK | 18 MIN | 2021
DIRECTOR: MARTIN STRANGE-HANSEN

A forlorn chap goes for a walk and winds up in a bar. He orders a quadruple pour of whiskey. As he’s about to leave, he spies a microphone. “Is that…karaoke?” he asks. This 18 minute short is all set up which unnecessarily draws out a simple idea. He wants a recording of himself singing the classic “Always on My Mind” for his wife Trine. The story is pretty lethargic, but it admittedly builds to a touching conclusion in the last 3 minutes. The somewhat clumsy execution feels like the work of a student filmmaker. However Danish director Martin Strange-Hansen won in this category for This Charming Man back in 2003.

ALA KACHUU – TAKE AND RUN
SWITZERLAND | 38 MIN | 2020
DIRECTOR: MARIA BRENDLE

The Academy adores films that highlight “barbaric behavior that is the normal practice of a certain country.” They usually appear in the “Documentary Short” category, but this Live Action short continues the perpetual tradition. 19-year-old Sezim wants to study in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek through a college scholarship. However, her plans are thwarted when she is forcibly kidnapped by a group of young men and taken to the hinterland. There, she is forced to marry a stranger against her will. If she refuses she will become a social pariah. Sezim is tormented by the traditions of Kyrgyz culture. She desperately seeks a way out. “Ala kachuu” is a form of bride kidnapping. Sources suggest that currently a third of brides are taken against their will in Kyrgyzstan. My respect if you can pinpoint that country on a blank map. This admirably exists to highlight an appalling practice, but it’s a chore to watch. The extreme length doesn’t help. If it were 2 minutes longer, this 38 minute “short” would have to compete as a feature.

THE LONG GOODBYE
UK | 12 MIN | 2020
DIRECTOR: ANEIL KARIA

Islamophobia in a post-Brexit UK is the topic at hand. Riz and his family are in the middle of preparing a wedding celebration when a far-right rally arrives on their doorstep. After they shockingly kill everyone in his life, he starts beatboxing. It’s an odd development until you realize that The Long Goodbye is also the name of actor and rapper Riz Ahmed’s second album. This long-form music video of sorts is a collaboration with director Aneil Karia. A political statement with a raw, brutal, and depressing view of contemporary British society. Racism is quickly becoming the topic to win in this category. Skin and Two Distant Strangers – the respective winners in 2019 and 2021 — both focused on the subject. If current predictions hold, this frontrunner will also take home the gold.

THE DRESS
POLAND | 30 MIN | 2020
DIRECTOR: TADEUSZ ŁYSIAK

Julia is a lonely maid in a Polish motel who just wants to be normal. As truck drivers come and go, she meets a handsome fellow who becomes the object of her desires. He likewise expresses an interest in taking her out on a date. She now must find a nice dress that will fit her. The 30 minute short has moments of poetic beauty. Given the setup, I suspected this would be a poignant tale. It’s not. Unpredictability can be an asset. Still, it’s hard to award points for upending expectations when a development is so disturbing it destroys any initial feelings of goodwill. The portrayal of an abusive act is hard to watch. Of all the shorts, this epitomizes what critics have derided as “misery porn.” Actress Anna Dzieduszycka is a charismatic presence in the lead, but she deserves a better film.

02-19-22

2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Drama, Shorts with tags on February 22, 2022 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences since 2006. The 17th-annual theatrical rollout of films nominated in the live-action, animated, and documentary short categories begins February 25. To learn more about the participating theaters and how to purchase tickets, visit the website here. The program will play in theaters only for the first four weeks. They then will be released to VOD via iTunes, Amazon, Verizon, and Google Play beginning March 22.

ANIMATION

Family-friendly entries have long dominated this category for decades. However, this year’s selection of animation shorts came with a boldface warning: * for mature audiences only. They’re not kidding. With one exception, the collection of nominees this year is NOT for children. I was originally dumbfounded when Us Again from Walt Disney Pictures somehow failed to get a nom on the morning of February 8th. It now makes perfect sense. Unlike 4 out of the 5 nominees, it doesn’t feature nudity. First time since 2009 that Disney is omitted from the Top 5. Nothing from Pixar was nominated in this category either. I’ve ranked these shorts in order of their ability to inspire. It was difficult.

BOXBALLET
RUSSIA | 15 MIN | 2019
DIRECTOR: ANTON DYAKOV

A lithe ballet dancer and a hulking boxer meet and fall in love. Obviously, Olya and Evgeny live in two very different worlds and this chronicle explores that contrast. Opposites attract. The idea may be as old as time itself. There are no words. The intersection of the worlds of their realities is purely visual. Their tour of an art museum à la Ferris Bueller is delightful. A 1986 song called “Balance” by Soviet new wave group Kofe is now my current jam. Olya makes a questionable decision. Meanwhile, the boxer behaves admirably. The portrait is intellectually unsophisticated, yet it has a whimsical style that ultimately champions love so it’s hard to resist. I suspected these two might have a future together right at the outset. Simplicity is the short’s greatest asset.

ROBIN ROBIN
UK | 31 MIN | 2021
DIRECTORS: DAN OJARI, MIKEY PLEASE

A young robin –appropriately named Robin — is raised by a family of mice. She questions where she belongs and sets out on a fearless journey to figure it out. Robin meets a materialistic magpie who tells her about Christmas. It’s worth mentioning actress Gillian Anderson purrs seductively as a cat. The title character is cute but I’m more fascinated by what makes the single dad mouse tick. He’s admirably raising four child mice and a bird all on his own. The chronicle is a heartfelt, sweetly rendered fuzzy-felt creation that really takes a lot of time to tell a predictable tale. At 31 minutes, it’s double the length of the other nominees in this category, but it’s also the only one you can show your kids. This Christmas special from Aardman Animations is a co-production with Netflix. Aardman has been nominated 8 times in this category and won 3. Their last win (in this category) was 26 years ago in 1996 for Nick Park’s claymation short A Close Shave featuring Wallace & Gromit. Prognosticators are predicting that animators Dan Ojari and Mikey Please will change that this year.

BESTIA
CHILE | 16 MIN | 2021
DIRECTOR: HUGO COVARRUBIAS

Based on a true story, a woman works for the secret police of Chile in 1975 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Her intensely close relationship with her dog suggests a highly disturbed individual. This demonic woman trains her German shepherd to do unspeakable acts. To be fair, it’s unclear what this unsettling short is really trying to teach us. It prompted research on my part. I learned things I wish I hadn’t. To present depravity without the historical context of who Íngrid Olderöck was, renders this short incomprehensible at best and exploitative at worst. Hey, I’m well aware there is unmitigated evil in the world. I suppose I wasn’t prepared for a stop motion cartoon to capitalize on the idea.

THE WINDSHIELD WIPER
SPAIN | 15 MIN | 2021
DIRECTOR: ALBERTO MIELGO

A man sits inside a cafe, smoking a pack of cigarettes, and ruminates over the question “What is love?” He is merely a framing device for a collection of fragmented vignettes ostensibly presented to provide an answer. A woman wearing nothing but a bikini bottom sits next to her fully clothed boyfriend at the beach. Two Tinder users in a grocery store inadvertently select one another on the app — oblivious they are standing side by side. A homeless man is captivated by a mannequin. A woman commits suicide by jumping off a building. This may be director Alberto Mielgo’s first Oscar nomination, but he is well regarded in Hollywood. The animator is known for his visually distinctive contributions to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) and the adult animated anthology TV series Love, Death + Robots (2019). The hyper-realistic animation featured here uses keyframe software to animate characters into digitally painted backgrounds. I wish the heady visual style — which resembles rotoscoping or motion capture — had something interesting to say. It’s a nihilistic view of relationships by someone who has seemingly never been in a positive one.

AFFAIRS OF THE ART
UK/CANADA | 16 MIN | 2021
DIRECTOR: JOANNA QUINN

Beryl is obsessed with drawing and holds determinedly grand artistic ambitions. This is filmmakers Joanna Quinn and Les Mills’ fourth short starring the 59-year-old working-class Welsh housewife and the first to get nominated. In Beryl’s latest adventure, we are introduced to her eccentric family. The depressing lot provides a window into Beryl’s unpleasant personality. It begins and ends with her husband descending a staircase nude à la Duchamp. As a child, her sister Beverly abuses animals like a future serial killer. The hand-drawn character designs are grotesque which matches the subject matter I guess. Originally, I thought the nadir was when Beverly tortures a mouse to its eventual death on a toy train set. The short manages to go even lower. She later gets into taxidermy and stuffs the family dog — through the rectum. Absolute dreck.

02-17-22

2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Documentary, Drama, Shorts on April 9, 2021 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (documentary, animated, live-action) available to audiences for over a decade. This year you can watch them online or via VOD or in a theater where they’ve been playing since April 2.

DOCUMENTARY

This is my 9th year watching the documentary shorts. I’ve seen every Oscar nominee in this program since 2013. I must say, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses. The Oscar voters in this particular branch overwhelmingly favor stories of hardship. Topics of this year’s nominees include the Holocaust, civil unrest, starving children, discrimination and racism. Injustice is an underlying theme in all 5 docs. I did rank these, but I appreciated them all more or less equally, so my order is somewhat arbitrary.

A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA
USA/19 MINS/2019
Director: SOPHIA NAHLI ALLISON

The life of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins is celebrated. She was shot to death in March 1991 after an altercation escalated between the owner of a South Central Los Angeles store. She believed Latasha was stealing a bottle of orange juice. Many believe the tragedy — which occurred just 13 days after the videotaped beating of Rodney King — partly fueled the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The portrait is focused on the joy of Latasha as a human being. Her best friend Tybie O’Bard and her cousin Shinese Harlins recount touching memories in gentle narration. Fictional and non-fictional storytelling elements unite in a reflection of what could have been, in order to remember the young girl. More of a meditation than a conventional bio, the flow of thoughts and feelings are presented in a stream of consciousness. Actors, animation, and music converge in a visual pastiche. It’s somewhat disorienting but undeniably poetic.

A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION
USA/13 MINS/2020
Directors: KRIS BOWERS, BEN PROUDFOOT

A discussion between jazz pianist/composer Kris Bowers and his grandfather Horace Bowers Sr. sheds light on Kris’s career. Kris scored the Oscar-winning Best Picture Green Book. He also had a successful premiere of his violin concerto “For a Younger Self” that was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on January 28, 2020. Kris himself co-directs this conversation on his achievements made possible by the life of his 91-year-old grandfather.

The African American business icon left Jim Crow Florida by hitchhiking across the country at age 17. Years later in 1960, Horace purchased the small dry-cleaning plant in South Los Angeles where he had worked. Today he owns the entire block. A two-hander featuring admirable protagonists separated by over six decades. The sacrifices of one undoubtedly contributed to the advance of another. The most upbeat entry in the program.

COLETTE
USA/25 MINS/2020
Director: ANTHONY GIACCHINO

Another year, another entry about the Holocaust. Colette Marin-Catherine is a 90-year-old French woman and one of the last surviving members of the French Resistance. She came from a family of fighters that included her older brother Jean-Pierre who she last saw in 1943.

Lucie Fouble is a young history student who is investigating the story of Jean-Pierre. At her behest, Colette begrudgingly agrees to visit the concentration camp in Germany where he died. Colette is an irascible individual. She most definitely has every right to be bitter. I’m just surprised because these docs so often feature individuals with sanguine views on life and Colette is a bit edgier.

HUNGER WARD
USA/40 MINS/2020
Director: SKYE FITZGERALD

One minute longer and this short would have had to compete in the FEATURE category.

Unflinching portrait highlights the admirable efforts of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi, a couple of health care workers who tirelessly dedicate their lives to help starving children. The two pediatric malnutrition wards are unquestionably a blessing in war-torn Yemen. However, seeing hunger-stricken kids so frail they can barely stand is a horror few people will be able to bear. Days later and I can still see the heartbreaking faces of these youngsters.

The resulting famine is a direct result of the Yemeni Civil War which has been an ongoing conflict since late 2014. Most of the world has forgotten about their issues. Luckily this documentary shines a brighter light on this humanitarian crisis. I’ll forewarn you though: “tough to watch” doesn’t even begin to describe the weight of this tragedy.

DO NOT SPLIT
USA/NORWAY/35 MINS/2020
Director: ANDERS HAMMER

Beijing is censoring the 2021 Academy Awards. This inside view of the front lines in Hong Kong’s fight for democracy is the reason why.

Before the British government handed over Hong Kong in 1997, China allowed the region considerable political autonomy for 50 years under a constitutional principle known as “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong enjoys some independence but it is still not full-fledged democracy. These limitations on their freedoms have only gotten worse over time. I’m simplifying things, but the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests focused around an Extradition Bill that Hong Kong citizens believed would further undermine their autonomy from mainland China.

Norwegian filmmaker Anders Hammer often inserts himself in dangerous environments. The clash of citizens and the police is extremely chaotic and confusing. However, a documentary about the revolt shouldn’t be. More detailed background information would have helped to fully comprehend the issues at stake here. Viewers already well versed in the antagonistic political relationship of Hong Kong and China will appreciate this more. Incidentally, the bizarre title refers to a rallying cry of demonstrators. That is, to maintain solidarity against the repressive regime of China.

04-06-21

2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Animation, Awards, Shorts with tags on April 6, 2021 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences for over a decade. This year you can watch them online or via VOD or in a theater where they’ve been playing since April 2.

ANIMATION

I hate to be a gloomy Gus, but this year’s crop of animated films did not enchant me. Sadly Out, the man-dog body-swapping tale and Kapaemahu, the poetically beautiful Hawaiian folkloric tale didn’t even make the cut this year. With one notable exception, this animation program is not for kids. I’ve ranked these predominantly unlikable shorts in order of likability. It was hard.

BURROW
USA/6 MINS/2020
Director: MADELINE SHARAFIAN

A rabbit trying to dig herself an underground home keeps running into her neighbors. She’s confused. Her subterranean tunnels form a delightful labyrinth and the adorable critters are amusing. I get Wind in the Willows vibes. It’s a simple pleasure, but at least it’s pure and innocent. Burrow is from SparkShorts, a series produced by Pixar Animation Studios. It’s undeniably cute. What it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in feel-good spirit. Ironically that quality makes this entry unique by default this year. The rest of the submissions are dour, depressing and frankly a little twisted.

OPERA
SOUTH KOREA/USA/9 MINS/2020
Director: ERICK OH

This one grew on me upon closer study. A pyramidal diorama of a corrupt society is depicted in an overview of tiny figures before our eyes. The people on top have an effect on the humanity below. This would be impressive playing on a massive wall on a loop in a modern art gallery. It is impossible to grasp everything that is happening on screen, but upon further examination (I watched it more than once) a sense of purpose develops. Somewhat reminiscent of the work of Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch and his depictions of hell. This is an animated update for our modern times. It’s supremely unsettling but easily the most innovative of this year’s nominees. It begs your attention.

IF ANYTHING HAPPENS I LOVE YOU
USA/13 MINS/2020
Directors: MICHAEL GOVIER, WILL MCCORMACK

A husband and wife grieve the loss of their daughter — their only child — taken by a mass shooting. Minimalist, expressive black and white pencil sketches are a mediation on violence against children. The worst thing that any parent can possibly imagine is depicted for your entertainment in the form of a cartoon. There’s even a contemporary pop song “1950” by King Princess for your listening enjoyment. Clearly, their motives are pure. The filmmakers are opposed to school shootings which I think (I can safely say) is something everyone is against. The filmmakers worked closely with the American nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety. I can’t see this not winning the Oscar as the filmmakers have literally done their homework with a sanctioned advocacy group.

GENIUS LOCI
FRANCE/16 MINS/2019
Director: ADRIEN MERIGEAU

In the polytheistic religion of ancient Rome, a “genius loci” was the protective spirit of a place. The longest at 16 minutes, this is extremely avant-garde. Reine is a young Black woman who ventures through the urban chaos of Paris. The people and places around her are an ever-shifting collage of surrealism. Is she on drugs? Is she mentally unstable? Are paranormal forces afoot? Who’s to say. One thing’s for sure. She is anxious and dissatisfied with life. Disconnected from her thoughts and body, she even becomes a canine at one point. The most experimental of the nominees which is a nice way of saying, I didn’t get it.

YES-PEOPLE
ICELAND/9 MINS/2020
Director: GÍSLI DARRI HALLDÓRSSON

A group of unsavory residents live in an apartment building. The characters with their exaggerated features are visually grotesque in this portrait of domesticity. Good luck divining a story in this narrative. Their nonverbal dialogue consists of grunts before culminating with moans and screams of ecstasy at the end. These (amusingly?) reverberate throughout the building when one couple decides to get intimate. How on earth is this up for an award? The worst of the lot.

03-28-21

2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Drama, Shorts with tags on April 5, 2021 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has been making the Oscar-nominated short films (live-action, animated, documentary) available to audiences for over a decade. This year you can watch them online or via VOD or in a theater where they’ve been playing since April 2.

Live-Action

Cops or prejudice or a combination of the two are the connective themes that unite the majority of this year’s nominees. Incidentally, it wasn’t the subject of Pedro Almodóvar’s highly promoted short The Human Voice starring Tilda Swinton. That may explain why a submission many thought could potentially win in this category, didn’t even get nominated. Regardless, there are some worthy films here. I’ve ranked the nominees in order of best to worst.

TWO DISTANT STRANGERS
USA/29 MINS/2020
Directors: TRAVON FREE, MARTIN DESMOND ROE

Carter James, a black graphic designer (Joey Badass) wakes up in the bed of the girl (Zaria Simone) he met last night. After some chitchat, he leaves her apartment only to be stopped by an aggressive white cop (Andrew Howard) in an altercation that shockingly leads to Carter’s death. Suddenly he’s back in her bed. Apparently, it was all a dream. Yet the cycle is repeated again and again with different iterations but always ending in his demise. What can he do differently to survive? Because I just saw Joe Carnahan’s recent Boss Level, I’ll compare this time-loop nightmare as a clever amalgamation of that film mixed with the social message of Black Lives Matter. Pay attention to how Carter dies each time because you best believe there’s meaning behind each one.

THE PRESENT
PALESTINE/25 MINS/2020
Director: FARAH NABULSI

Yusuf (Saleh Bakri) simply wants to get his wife Noor (Mariam Kanj) a present — a new refrigerator. — for their anniversary. What seems like a simple task is anything but. You see Yusuf lives in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. He must cross a pedestrian bridge before reaching a checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers. There Yusuf must submit to a humiliating detention before being able to cross over. The fact that he has brought his daughter Yasmine (Mariam Kanj) along further complicates matters. Drama elucidates how even the most mundane tasks are difficult for a Palestinian under Israeli occupation. The tone deftly switches from lighthearted to tense back and forth several times in a mere 25 minutes.

THE LETTER ROOM
USA/33 MINS/2020
Director: ELVIRA LIND

Richard (Oscar Isaac) is a kindhearted but lonely corrections officer recently transferred to the prison’s letter room. He must monitor all prisoners’ incoming and outgoing mail. While there he becomes familiar with the lives of two inmates: Jackson (John Douglas Thompson) hasn’t gotten a message from his daughter in two years . He beseeches Richard to verify that the mail wasn’t withheld. Meanwhile, Cris (Brian Petsos) is facing execution. He receives rather passionate letters from his girlfriend Rosita (Alia Shawkat ). Earns points for daring to feature a good-natured officer. That’s almost nonexistent in 2021, but this slight chronicle is not justified by the length. At 33 minutes, it’s the longest “short” in this program. For what it’s worth, this is the handpicked frontrunner to win. The category is also notoriously hard to predict. I initially thought this feature was lucky to secure an actor as talented and famous as Oscar Issac. He’s the husband of director Elvira Lind.

FEELING THROUGH
USA/19 MINS/2019
Director: DOUG ROLAND

Tereek (Steven Prescod) a young black teen wandering the streets of New York. He’s been texting a girl for a possible hookup. Then he encounters Artie (Robert Tarango), a deaf-blind man in need of assistance in locating his bus stop. Their unexpected interaction is the subject of a connection that is almost spiritual. This poignant tale coasts on emotion, not dialogue. Star Robert Tarango is actually a dishwasher from Long Island with no acting experience. The press materials boast that this is the first film to star an actual deaf-blind actor. Hard to believe but kudos to the filmmakers for their consideration.

WHITE EYE
ISRAEL/20 MINS/2019
Director: TOMER SHUSHAN

“White eye” is an affliction of someone who is blind. Ah but to what? Omer (Daniel Gad) discovers his stolen bicycle locked up on a street corner in a squalid quarter of Tel Aviv. Yunes (Dawit Tekelaeb) is a migrant worker from Eritrea who claims to have recently bought the vehicle. Omer angrily demands his bike. His ensuing reaction sets off a sequence of events that ultimately gives him pause. The idea that you should allow others to take things you own because they need them more is an *interesting* moral. Shot in one continuous take, the narrative deals with corrupt cops and the plight of migrant refugees from northeastern Africa looking for employment in Israel. The ending is frustrating, to say the least.

04-04-21

2020 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Documentary, Shorts with tags on February 9, 2020 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV continues to make all three of the Oscar-nominated short film programs (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences around the world. To find out where you can watch this year’s Oscar-Nominated Short Films, visit their Theatrical Release and On Demand pages.

Documentary

This victor in this category has always favored trends.  At one time it was the Holocaust.  Now the direction has been portraits about Muslim women.  I’ve reviewed and ranked these from my “want to win”  to my least preferred.  Personally, I don’t have strong feelings that one should triumph over the other.  I respect them all equally.  Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) has the best title so I predict that will prevail.  The results will be announced at the Academy Awards on February 9th.

 

Walk Run Cha-Cha
USA/20MINS/2019
Director: Laura Nix
cha-cha
Paul and Millie are in love. They met as teenagers in Vietnam but the war separated them.  Years later they are reunited in California.  The doc shorts category tends to favor heavy subjects with a strong message.  This piece stands out because it’s the only one that’s blessedly upbeat and lighthearted.  It’s simply about love.  That is why it’s my personal choice.

 

In the Absence
US/SOUTH KOREA/29MINS/2018
Director: Yi Seung-Jun
Lavery-IntheAbsence-SewolFerryVid
Disaster footage from overhead shows a passenger ferry sinking off the coast of South Korea in 2014.  300 people — most of them schoolchildren on a field trip — lost their lives.  The official state response is a jaw-dropping document of ineptitude.  If the way this unfolds doesn’t make you angry, please check your pulse.  Watching the victims’ families and survivors suffer the aftermath is heartbreaking.

 

St. Louis Superman
USA/28MINS/2019
Directors: Sami Khan, Smriti Mundhra
superman
Bruce Franks Jr. is a Ferguson activist and a battle rapper who served for two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives.  He is a political powerhouse the likes of which you have never seen.  He fights for a bill critical for his community while contending with overwhelming personal trauma.  This emotional account is unquestionably an admirable portrait of overcoming adversity but the coda at the end feels a bit like a rug pull.  It ends on a depressing note.  I wish the directors had focused more on the positives because there are so many to this man.  P.S. The rap battle should be subtitled.  Highlighting the poetry of his words would have emphasized why he won.  I think he won.  It’s not clear.

 

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
UK/US/Afghanistan/40MINS/2018
Director: Carol Dysinger
Skateboard
An inspirational tale about the status of Islamic women in Afghanistan.  Over the past decade, this theme has frequently won the award (Period. End of Sentence., A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Saving Face).  Noble and important but also unfocused.  The title implies this chronicle will be about young Afghan girls who skateboard but in fact, this concerns a variety of topics including a basic desire to just read and write.  The sports aspect is, unfortunately, a very small part.   At 40 minutes it’s the longest of all the 15 nominees in the entire shorts program.  It feels like it.

 

Life Overtakes Me
USA/37MINS/2019
Director: John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson
netflix-life-overtakes-me-review-3
Many refugee children and their families have fled to Sweden from traumatic experiences in their home countries.  Some still face deportation.  Over 400 have become afflicted with something called Resignation Syndrome.  This dissociative disorder appears to be a coma-like state.  The experience resembles sleep.  The documentary highlights a fascinating affliction but it begs so many more questions than it answers.  Is this real?  Why is this specifically happening to the refugees in this country?  Have the parents asked their children to “fake it” to improve their prospects?  Directors John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson don’t press for explanations.  That’s frustrating.

 

02-03-20

2020 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Drama, Shorts with tags on February 8, 2020 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV continues to make all three of the Oscar-nominated short film programs (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences around the world.  To find out where you can watch this year’s Oscar-Nominated Short Films, visit their Theatrical Release and On Demand pages.

Live-Action

Let’s hear it for Tunisia!  The North African country actually figures in two out of the five films nominated in 2020.

As I do every year, I’ve reviewed and ranked them from my preferred champion to my least favorite.  I really enjoyed my top two picks a lot.  I would be happy if either of those won.  The results will be announced at the Academy Awards on February 9th.

 

The Neighbor’s Window
USA/20MINS/2019
Director: Marshall Curry
190426-neighbors-window-tease_bjkrab
The lives of Alli and her husband are affected when two free-spirited twenty-somethings move into the apartment across from theirs.  Large expansive bay windows without curtains conceal nothing.  Soon they’re immersed into the daily doings of the couple across the street like a TV show.   Actress Maria Dizzia gives an affecting performance as a new mother fascinated by her neighbors’ behavior.  This account was based on a true incident that occurred in San Francisco.  Few portraits can turn from lighthearted comedy into heartfelt drama on a dime and this does it as beautifully as any I saw last year. A real charmer. I teared up.

 

Nefta Football Club
FRANCE–TUNISIA/17MINS/2018
Director: Yves Piat
Nefta-Football-Club4
In the south of Tunisia, two young brothers come across a donkey in the desert on the border of Algeria. Strangely, the animal is wearing headphones over its ears.  Then they make a discovery.   I’ll be honest.  I wasn’t really digging this very sober and meandering chronicle at first.   Then I was on the edge of my seat fearing the worst.  This could’ve gone any number of ways.  It sticks the ending.   By far the funniest entry this year.  The final shot could be enough to actually win this award.

 

A Sister
BELGIUM/16MINS/2018
Director: Delphine Girard
A-Sister
A woman traveling in the passenger seat of a car is in trouble.  She makes a phone call.  Tense thriller doesn’t attempt to detail too much but does exactly what a short should.  This is a simple concept that extracts anxiety from the audience in an efficient way.  I was mesmerized although I had questions.  What kidnapper would let his victim make a 16-minute phone call?  It also loses points for its similarity to Danish crime thriller The Guilty which did this subject first and did it better.

 

Brotherhood
CANADA-TUNISIA-QATAR-SWEDEN/25MINS/2018
Director: Meryam Joobeur
Brotherhood
The 2nd of two films from Tunisia. This is the apparent frontrunner of the category but I would be shocked if it won.  Narratively opaque portrait of a callous shepherd named Mohammed living on a farm in rural Tunisia.  His oldest son Malik returns from Syria, with a mysterious new wife covered in a burka.  Director Meryam Joobeur doesn’t play fair with the audience purposefully hiding information so we cannot figure out what is going on.  The viewer (and father Mohammed ) is led to believe Malik became a radical and joined ISIS. Honestly, if father and son had simply had a conversation the misunderstanding at the heart of this drama could have easily been avoided.  Extremely frustrating for its inept depiction of the father’s shameful decision.

 

Saria
USA/22MINS/2019
Director: Bryan BuckleySaria
This true story dramatizes an appalling event that occurred at the Virgen de La Asuncion Safe Home in Guatemala in 2017.  A fire claimed the lives of 41 young women including two friends, Saria and Ximena.   This is a shocking violation of human rights.  The fact that real-life orphans are playing orphans is more interesting than the film itself.   The circumstances surrounding their deaths is clearly a tragedy worth telling so it gets credit for that.  However the film’s slick, unemotional presentation doesn’t feel as powerful as it should.  When the severity of these events comes across like a cliche, something is wrong.  Director Bryan Buckley has helmed over 60 commercials for the Super Bowl since 2000 so the cinematography is stellar.  I’ll give it that.

01-29-20

2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Documentary, Shorts with tags on February 21, 2019 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV continues to make all three of the Oscar-nominated short film programs (animated, live action, documentary) available to audiences around the world. To find out where you can watch this year’s Oscar© Nominated Short Films, visit their Theatrical Release and On Demand pages.

Documentary

The documentary short category often relies on certain trends. The Holocaust has historically been a popular subject in this category. Surprisingly, 2019 doesn’t contain a single entry having to do with that theme (neither did 2018 actually).  In fact, the last winning doc to do so was The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life in 2014.

That’s not to say they still can’t be classified. 3 of this year’s finalists [End Game, Lifeboat, and Period. End of Sentence] touch upon humanitarian groups dealing with imperative issues. The other two concern hate groups.

I’ve ranked each one in order from best to worst. In some cases I could have flipped entries next to each other, so don’t get too hung up on the lineup.

 

END GAME
USA/40MINS/2018
Directors: ROB EPSTEIN and JEFFREY FRIEDMAN
end-game
Moving depiction of the final stages of life at two San Francisco Bay Area medical facilities: a hospice and a palliative care center.  Both places comfort and provide for people dealing with end of life decisions.  A handful of patients are profiled.  It’s a poignant examination that forces the audience to deliberate over very difficult choices that we will ultimately have to make some day.  One key doctor B.J. Miller, M.D., is head of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco.  He knows a thing or two about tragedy having lost 3 of his own limbs in a freak accident.

 

BLACK SHEEP
UK/27MINS/2018
Director: ED PERKINS
BlackSheep
Looking directly into the camera, Cornelius Walker recounts his childhood as a black teenager growing up in the largely white London suburb of Essex.  Blending his own firsthand account with reenactments, he describes his dealings with the local neighborhood of racist peers.  Rather than combat them, he details his desire to fit in with the reprehensible group.  He becomes like them and his transformation, both physical and mental, is chilling.  The extreme lengths he employed to earn their friendship is unsettling.  Points for honesty though and sympathy for the obviously difficult environment to which he was exposed.

Hard to predict which of these five nominees will ultimately win, but most buzz surrounds this one.

 

LIFEBOAT
USA/34MINS/2018
Director: SKYE FITZGERALD

thenewyorker_lifeboatVolunteers from a German nonprofit called Sea-Watch conduct rescue missions in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya.  Many of these North African refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape barbarous conditions at a human trafficking prison.  It’s not entirely clear that their life, after being rescued, will be great.  However, at least they are alive in a much better place than before.  The superior cinematography and music are definitely at a higher level than the other submissions.  The visual spectacle of these unsafe vessels overcrowded to the point that people are literally hanging off the sides, is something you won’t soon forget.

 

PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE.
USA/26MINS/2018
Director: RAYKA ZEHTABCHI
period
In a rural village outside Delhi, India, the discussion of feminine hygiene is so taboo that few have access to sanitary pads.  Let’s face it, a documentary about this subject might even be off-putting to some in the U.S.  Interviews suggest that the men in this remote area don’t have a clear understanding of the female reproductive system.  Many women just use an old cloth and discreetly bury it afterward.  We hear personal stories from ladies who have had difficulty pursuing an education or holding a job.  A female-led startup seeks to change all that by producing and selling (it’s a business after all) affordable pads.  A product that Western society takes for granted becomes a major life-changing commodity in the lives of these women.

 

A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN
USA/7MINS/2018
Director: MARSHALL CURRY
German.jpg
Archival film concerning a 1939 rally of Nazi supporters astonishingly held in New York City at Madison Square Garden.  The gathering drew a crowd of 20,000 people in 1939; two years before America began its involvement in World War II.  This frustratingly brief documentary presents jaw-dropping footage inspiring numerous questions.  Much-needed narration would have been appreciated to provide some context.  The throng is addressed by Fritz Kuhn the leader of the German American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization.  This isn’t revealed, but my own curiosity led me to discover that Kuhn was deported in 1945.

02-16-19