JWR Articles: Film/DVD - HollyShorts 2014 - Opening Night (Director: Andrew Wilson, Luke Wilson, Bill Plympton, Nick Peterson, Stephanie Laing, David Martin-Porras, Renny Maslow, Edoardo Ponti) - August 17, 2014

HollyShorts 2014 - Opening Night

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Reviewed at the 2014 HollyShorts Film Festival
Long on art, short on organization

For the opening night of its 10th Anniversary Festival, HollyShorts served up a fine array of shorts, a pair of alumni sneak-peeks and handed out a variety of awards.

Knowing how other festivals are frequently full to overflowing on their first nights, dutifully wearing my badge—which barely drew a glance from what appeared to be a gatekeeper at the entryway of TCL Chinese Theatre, Cinema 6, I arrived 15 minutes ahead of start time. I was astonished to find myself nearly alone in the crimson-red seated film emporium. No worries, I scouted out a preferred aisle seat and awaited the onslaught of the rest of the crowd. (Perhaps, I reasoned—not unlike openings at the Shaw and Stratford Shakespeare Festivals—the pre-performance sponsor event would miraculously swamp the venue with fed-and-watered patrons, perhaps just a few minutes beyond curtain time.)

Much to my astonishment, an amiable hostess, clipboard in hand, informed me that I was occupying a reserved spot (there were perhaps a dozen such spots clearly marked, employing sheets of paper attached to the back rests).

“How could I have known that?” I innocently inquired.

“Oh, I’m the one who knows that,” was her steadfast reply.

Happily, the seat one row behind was, apparently, open so I staked my claim with all the weight I could muster (the “reserved” row in front of me never did fill up).

Sadly, it was the other “wait” that dominated the next 45 minutes.

It seemed that those sporting silver wrist bands were in the wrong theatre and had, accordingly, shunted to Cinema 1 by an all-smiles accomplice of the clipboard custodian.

While members of the crowd were either removed or re-seated, I wondered how on Earth HollyShorts ever managed to survive the terrible twos much less reach this milestone year.

Thankfully, the requisite speeches were brief and the awards despatched with far greater efficiency than filling the hall (curious, nonetheless, to announce the winner of the Youth Short Film Challenge $40K Scholarship Competition—a year of film study at the Boston School of Fine Arts was snagged by identical twin brothers Adam and Daniel Cooper for The Fourth Wall—prior to the next-day screening of all of the finalists, effectively robbing that audience of putting their critical skills toe-to-toe with the jury’s).

All that remained before the lights went down and the program began—following a cavalcade of sponsors’ commercials and, unusually, trailers from other films—was for management to react to the audience’s several pleas to “remove the podium,” which remained at centre stage in pixels’ way. Just in the nick of time and, ironically, in the dark, staff trundled the viewing impediment away and the show finally began.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (clip)
Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Work in progress.

Get ready for a wild ride

The co-winners of the 2014 Visionary Award (who traced their roots back to early success at SlamDance) feted the crowd with an extended action sequence from their upcoming installment of the Captain America series. CGI fans and those who enjoy frenzied editing are bound to savour every frame if the entire film can keep pace with this sampling. It’s still amazing what power a seemingly small shield can have, but Achilles knew that weaponry blessed by the gods (heavenly or powered by the inventiveness of comic book  and screen screenwriters) most certainly support the notion that size doesn’t matter. JWR

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Trouble and the Shadowy Death Blow
Stephanie Laing
2014, 22 min.
Four and one-half stars

Beware the mediocre man

Laing’s nicely paced realization of Patrick Somerville’s highly inventive, Walter Mitty-like script comes across better than it might read due to the superb performance given by Tony Hale as the delightfully named Jim Funkle. Losing his well-paying product-research job due to the untimely death of a flock of ewes, Funkle retreats to a housecoat existence now filled with the scorn of his wife (“Get a fucking job!”) and the sad eyes of his young son.

One last kick at the employment can occurs during a scientific conference where the desperate man is ridiculed with phlegm on public transportation then drinks from another cup of humiliation poured by a former work “colleague” who redefines the term bully.

Magically, incredibly, a health-saving trip to a pharmacy may well provide the beleaguered sad sack with a weapon of revenge that permanently settles accounts and leaves nary a trace of justice done.

Anyone who has ever dreamt of finally asserting themselves and shedding the garb of mediocrity that they wear endlessly will want a large slice of this richly crafted pie. But be sure to pay close attention as the credits roll… JWR

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Voce Umana (Human Voice)
Eduardo Ponti
2014, 25 min.
Five stars

Ah, a “last love” dashed

Also decked out in a housecoat (cinematic coincidence of the highest order) Sophia Loren gives a bravura performance as Angela, a gracefully aging woman who comes unplugged as her “last love” fails to, once again, turn up for dinner at eight. Ponti has marvellously transformed Jean Cocteau’s play into the ideal vehicle for his mother’s considerable acting skills. Largely set in Angela’s house, on the party-line telephone, her lover, Signore (Enrico Lo Verso) is glimpsed but never really seen; his end of the emotional conversations are left to viewers’ imaginations.

The approach is decidedly operatic (that notion beautifully reinforced thanks to William Goodrum’s clarinet-infused score), giving Loren free rein to go over the top just as expert divas are also encouraged by their admirers to do likewise—it’s the thrill of the sound, not the believability of the narrative that counts. Loren never sings a note, but her singular voice can’t fail to touch all of those who have loved and lost, yet continue their hopeless quest for the same flame. JWR

Satellite Beach
Andrew Wilson, Luke Wilson
2013, 27 min.
Three stars

One road too many

The Wilsons have found a somewhat unusual way of documenting the last journey of Endeavour from LAX to the California Science Center. With Luke Wilson also portraying William Flowers (the original project manager) a certain, humourous at times, licence can be taken with the actual trek.

Unfortunately, when the scene abruptly shifts to Florida and the final resting place for Atlantis, the narrative wind is lost, leaving the coda most assuredly stuck in the doldrums. JWR

The Visitant
Nicholas Peterson
2014, 7 min.
Four stars

Always take your pill

Peterson’s scary take on the monster that lurks in many of us also serves as a cautionary tale for all manner of danger that skipping medications can have for those battling severe mental illness. Part one draws everyone in as a terrified mother (Amy Smart plays both of her personas with skill) courageously defends her young children from the razor-sharp claws of The Demon (Doug Jones) whose greedy mouth certainly spews copious horrors thanks to the combined skills of the special effects/design team.

When the tables are fluffily turned in part two, the shot du jour is the last remaining pill slipping perilously close to the realm of consequent murder and mayhem. JWR

Inside the Box
David Martín Porras
2013, 15 min.
Four and one-half stars

When lack of disclosure equals murder most foul

Director/co-writer (along with Julia Fontana) Porras has fashioned a captivating tale around the perils of infidelity, unprotected sex, purposeful lying and playing the “system” for all its worth.

Choosing to have a handsome, somewhat happily married cop at the centre of everything deftly sets up the narrative surprises in a way which succinctly proves how most viewers are likely to accept the stereotype of role models rather than the foibles of the human condition that can come back to bite anyone who’s ever “made a mistake” that they must put under lock and key, even as others’ lives are at risk or ruined.

Wilson Bethel as the stubborn cop has—sadly—a very believable scene with a suspicious D.A., Regina King, who probably understands that when ranks close, only selected versions of the truth will actually be found in public records. JWR

“Opera” and “Bolero” from Cheatin’

Bill Plympton
Five stars

Animated music, indeed

Decked out in festive yellow shorts, Plympton offered a few comments about the value of animation after accepting this year’s Indie Animation Icon Award. It’s “a great art form, a fantastic art form,” he told the enthusiastic gathering. Ninety minutes later he proved just that.

The pair of excerpts from full-length Cheatin’ were a wee a riot of movement and angles with touches of whimsy. “Opera” featured a pair of full-blooded voices along with a veggie chorus to feast upon before an avalanche of newborn babies revealed just how close the couple had become.

Ravel’s Bolero will certainly never look the same again. The muscled hero went to great lengths putting on his armour (eschewing the flowers was a fine bit of understatement; the nipple clamps another wonderful, er, touch) before vanishing most surely with a huff and a puff.

The hunt for Bigfoot was on with a vengeance in Footprints. The bespectacled hero (invoking an immediate echo with Jim Funkle, above) had no fear pursuing his prey—the water sequence is a hoot—before the inevitable confrontation had a result that has to be seen to be believed. JWR

Renny Maslow
2013, 19 min.
Four stars

What are friends for?

Imagine a world without oil and batteries. Imagine seizing upon that incredible disruption and convincing your best friend to abandon his wife and ride thousands of miles on a bicycle built for two in search of reconciliation with your best buddy’s ex. Imagine meeting a curmudgeonly shopkeeper along the way, then being asked to steal his goods and purchase a mysterious woman with a mask. Imagine one of the men getting laid then unceremoniously dumped by the apparent damsel in distress. Imagine discovering the real reason for the in-search-of-ex’s insistence on this road trip. Imagine the long hand of justice finding them both, before a couple of gunshots reduce the trio to a pair.

Writers Ethan Sandler and Adrian Wenner (who also star as the buds) conjured up this truly fantastic tale; Maslow drew largely zany performances from his leads and the supporting cast.

Here’s to more from the lot of them unless they run out of gas! JWR

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