Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Short Package 3

Seen 11 September 2004 at Loews Copley Place #1 (Boston Film Festival)

Rule of thumb for theater owners: If at any point during the presentation, the movie stops - especially if it happens twice during perhaps the best short of the festival, and we're already getting a little less value for money because a short that was expected to be about a quarter of the package's runtime didn't show - you hand out free tickets on the way out. Especially if your theater is Loews Copley Place and you need all the goodwill you can get.

"The Shabbos Goy" - * * ½

I'm not a religious person at all, and I tend to be amused by the demands churches make on their members that don't seem to do much to further what I figure is the purpose of religion, encouraging people to be nice to each other. Those sorts of rules figure prominently into "The Shabbos Goy", as Avram, a Hasidic Jew living in Venice, CA finds his marriage suffering because of them. When he turns out to be infertile, the rules tell him that artificial insemination is apparently out, and since sex is supposed to be strictly for procreation and he's not capable of that, then he must be celibate. Hence the issues with his marriage.

Ah! But the rules apparently also say that a non-believer can do the work of an Orthodox Jew during Shabbos. Feeling quite clever about finding this loophole, Avram sets this plan into motion, while his wife justifiably feels he may be worrying too much about the letter of Talmudic law and not the intent.

It's an okay short. I think the concept of it is a lot funnier than the execution; it's a case where absurdity doesn't automatically translate into comedy. We also don't learn much about the characters outside of this incident, so they don't feel like fleshed-out, whole people (perhaps this will be remedied in the feature that filmmaker Rachel Ann Pearl is writing based on these characters). It also suffers by being filmed on 16mm stock and being something of a chore to watch due to its graininess.

"The Invisible Hand" - *

Okay, I get it. Corporate crime is bad and so are the people who commit it. I won't argue against it being a worthwhile point for Lori Hiris's animated short to make. Her execution is pretty ham-fisted, though. She uses a style that combines the court artist with the chalkboard, and the latter makes this feel like something of a condescending lecture. Many of the facts that get written on this chalkboard also disappear too quickly to be read in full, and her message is diluted somewhat by jumping back and forth between executives stealing or despoiling the environment (bad) and being paid a lot and buying expensive homes (tacky).

Like a lot of overtly political works of art, I can't see this having any effect on its audience's hearts and minds other than making those who already agree a little more smug.

"Fate" - * * ¾

Qian Qian Sun's short is colorful and nice-looking, although the story is kind of thin. A man visits a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles and is caught by surprise when he recognizes the Chinese nun standing at the gate (and vice versa). From that sentence, you can probably guess the twist ending. Nice cinematography, though.

"Rent-A-Person" - * * * *

Perhaps the only 12-minute black-and-white musical comedy ever to have to rhyme "smells like ass" within its lyrics, Kurt Kuenne's hilarious short tells the story of a mild-mannered men's room attendant who strikes it rich by running a business where he rents homeless folks to solitary commuters who want to use the carpool lane, only to come crashing back down to earth without meeting the girl that his job doesn't give him a chance to meet.

Simply flat-out funny, from its Golden Age Of Hollywood opening credits to its silly premise to the absurdity of a chorus of men on the john. If the end is kind of corny, well, that's the idiom that the director is working in. I fully expect to be quite ticked when this isn't Oscar-nominated.

"Rosa" - *

Nothing happens. Seriously, nothing happens - a woman cleans her apartment, dresses up, and gets as far as opening the door before backing away, afraid. This is in black and white and interspersed with color footage of the city outside, which Rosa never sees.

Yes, I get the point the program makes about being trapped by one's own fear of the outside world, but, geez, do something.

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