JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Shorts for Cats (Directors: Dominic Antonio Cerniglio, Edward Shieh, Matthew Hals, Jordee Eslinger, Nicholas T., Morgan Rhodes, Lyndon Ives) - July 16, 2008

Shorts for Cats

No rating No rating

Something for nearly everyone

This collection of six brief films provides much food for thought and a wide range of filmmaking abilities.

Deadly combat

The Duel
Dominic Antonio Cerniglio
U.S. 2004, 26 minutes
Five stars

The set begins with a spectacular tale of love and death that resonates far beyond the narrative’s surface. A soldier of the king (Jonathan Fraser) rides through a dark forest (accompanied by Tom Jones’ sumptuous score, beautifully coloured with flute and low strings), catching glimpses of a beautiful maiden (A.J. Bove) lurking unattainably in the trees.

In the quiet manner of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, the moody warrior settles into a remote tavern where he’s to wait for his intended. Apart from the affable barkeep (Paul Hatch), only a well-quenched customer (Matthew Rimmer, who shares the writing credit with Cerniglio) is present. His drunken companion is driven by the sense of failure around the circumstances of his sister’s recent passing. The beer guzzler’s also served the crown: as a paid assassin.

Not surprisingly, the two professional killers argue then become embroiled in deadly combat that only one can survive. The pair responds well to Jonathan Eusebio’s fight direction, most ably captured by Bengt Jönsson’s superlative cinematography and crisply edited thanks to Leon Melas’ considerable skills.

Cerniglio weaves the storyline into a sturdy fabric that has much to say about senseless death and impulsive actions. All of which is wordlessly summed up in the closing shot of the gleaming instrument of death spearing the earth, its tri-part hilt standing alone between two wooden crosses that mark the site of the dearly departed.

How to deal with pamphlet rage

No Menus Please
Edward Shieh
U.S. 2006, 15 minutes
Four stars

From writer/director Edward Shieh comes an insightful look at the plight of newcomers as they arrive in New York City and try to find work and pick up the language. Ming (Richard Chang with a marvellously expressive visage that speaks louder than words) and Carlos (Kevin Rivera does well as the co-conspirator) are rivals: they’re both delivering take-out food menus. But with nearly all multi-dwelling buildings locked shut or guarded by vigilante tenants, it’s nearly impossible to deliver the daily quota (and, they’ve both been instructed, toss out the competition’s brochures and replace them with ours!). Inevitably the print-based marketing associates come face-to-face and burst into sudden pamphlet rage. They wrestle to the bottom of a stairwell before Ming has a brainstorm that will “help each other.” Through a nice piece of mime, the two men decide to simply exchange their menus rather than deliver any of them (both of their masters can only marvel at how these diligent employees are devastating their competitors’ business (all the while most deftly underscored via Steven von Kampen’s cool-cat jazz tracks).

True enough, indeed, but the spot-on subliminal message is how Ming has so quickly shunned his Chinese work ethic and embraced the American concept of how business really gets done.

Whatever it takes

The Big Break
Matthew Hals
U.S. 2005, 9 minutes
Three and one-half stars

People will do nearly anything to catch the attention of a showbiz producer. In Matthew Hals’ take on “doing whatever it takes” the scene is a hotel room where starlet Loretta (Pia Shah) stumbles across apparent gangster, Diego (Luca Costa) and the ambitious couple end up in the bathroom where Diego learns to watch his language and Loretta gets squirted.

Having three writers (Hals and Costa as well as Piergiorgio Curci) for such a short flick is probably one too many: the humour is uneven and there seems to be moments of confusion on both sides of Alexander Martin’s lens. Still, the payoff line works perfectly, leaving one and all with a smile, if not a callback.

Just one more fight

The Fight
Jordee Eslinger, Nicholas T.
U.S. 2007, 22 minutes
Two and one-half stars

Here’s a cliché-rich, failed-artist as no-rules fighter that shows promise in the first round (the love-hate banter between Nick—Nicholas T.—and his jazz-loving, long-suffering wife—Segel Shisov—is engagingly fun and frivolous. It seems that the aging Nick may finally be accepted into art school (the admission result letter is due any day). Simultaneously, he’s promised one more fight (with a $5,000 payday) to cigar-toting money man, Silky Dee (Robynn O. Brooks steps into the ring with flair and pizzazz, but the cost-saving plot device of having the punch out at a private gym with no audience just doesn’t make sense: there are too many egos and cash at stake to duke it out behind closed doors).

The fight itself is OK (Cody Jones plays the Russian immigrant who must win to stay in America …), but its conclusion rang no bells. Let’s hope art school warrants a return match.

Thomas and his mother search for freedom

Little Wings
Morgan Rhodes
U.S. 2007, 15 minutes
Four and one-half stars

Ron Canada and the special effects crew combine to create a beautiful fable built on the grim reality of child abuse that should help both the oppressed and their oppressors come to a better understanding of their horrific situations.

Thomas (Joseph Castanon) learns from his equally defenceless mother (Kelly Ann Ford) just how to employ butterflies in the search for freedom (“capture one and make a wish …”) from his too-quick-to-hit father (Robert Gantzos). After doing so—in a marvellous metaphor where nature’s most precious insect is trapped in the proverbial spider’s web—John (Canada) suddenly appears and the magic begins in earnest.

Benedikt Brydern’s orchestral soundscape complements the action with only a few wayward violins missing their mark on the way to the heavens.

All told, lovingly crafted and, perhaps, a useful icebreaker.

Have you lost what you can't lose?

Don't Leave Me
Lyndon Ives
U.K. 2007, 15 minutes
Two stars

Nothing seems to go right in Lyndon Ives’ brief study of adultery: real and imagined. The fragmented scenes never gel into anything of substance: Who could imagine accusing your partner of infidelity then dumping spaghetti sauce all over his shirts for revenge?

Off to the next. JWR

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