My boyfriend and I went to see the Oscar nominated live action short films last week. I had already watched the animated nominees online though I can see after seeing the live action ones on the big screen that it may have also been worthwhile to see the animated ones that way.
Kavi is timely and well-intentioned. It's also a pretty decent short film, even if it suffers from the sort of sentimentalism you might be afraid of... It's about a boy who lives as a slave with his parents making bricks all day in the hot sun while the private school boys play cricket in a small, neighboring field. At the beginning of the film, Kavi seems relatively happy, playing make believe games in his family's domicile, which is basically a brick cell. One morning he's working with his parents, very efficiently like a good boy, when he is distracted by some boys who are, for whatever reason, playing cricket in a small field next to this slave labor camp in the middle of nowhere. He's taken to the boss man and scolded and the boss says the boy is his fastest worker and if the boy can clear away this giant stack of reject bricks, they can play cricket together. As the boy is moving the bricks from one pile to another he overhears one of his fellow slave laborers talking to a couple of journalists or activists or something. They try to get the boy to talk but he runs off with a bottle of soda and his apprehended and punished by the guys in charge. He turns sullen and can no longer enjoy his life there. He gets in trouble the next day for throwing a ball back to the private school kids and the whole family gets beat up on and the boy is chained up in the office. The camp is suddenly evacuated and the cops show up with the two men who were asking all the questions in the woods behind the brick pile but there's nobody there and it seems like the man who runs the camp is going to get away with it but the buy escapes and runs out. There's a ridiculous moment where the boss tries to frighten the boy into keeping his mouth shut and the two activist guys are trying to get the cops to do something other than stand there looking disinterested. It ends with sobering statistics about world slavery. It's well intentioned, pretty to look at, and very engaging but upon reflection it seems kind of forced and manipulative. I mean, I kind of agree with WEB DuBois that any art worth giving a damn about is really some kind of propaganda but I don't think there was enough design here. It seemed simple and lazy, somehow. B
Miracle Fish was the one I had already seen before. I thought it was kind of bad. Both times. When I watched it online it just seemed kind of bland and pointless from start to finish. This time, it was more uneven. The movie starts with a mother dropping her boy off at school. It's his birthday. She has to go see his dad in the hospital. She gives him his lunchbox and tells him there's a surprise inside from his father. He sits in class and the kids behind him throw things at him. He goes outside for recess and finds a miracle fish in his lunchbox. The boys come over to rub it in that he didn't get anything for his birthday because he's poor and he makes up stories about all the stuff he got. They say mean things to him and go off. He goes to the nurse's office but she's on the phone so he shows himself into the sick bay and takes a nap. He wakes up and the school is deserted. He walks around. Finds a book about alien abduction and looks around. Goes to the school store and eats a bunch of candy bars and such. Walks around. You see a bloody handprint on the back of the door when he closes it. He hears a cell phone ringing. He finds and answers the phone and is told to hide. He stands there being difficult. The lunatic who was seen in the background when his mother comes down the hallway and into the room reciting a crazyman spiel like a first year acting student. They have some meaningless chatter. The man is shot. The boy is carried away by a policeman, never loses his composure. This is another movie that isn't thought through enough. This one is even worse though. I can't think of why it was even nominated. There's nothing interesting about this movie. I think this piece here sums it up better than I have. Oh well. D
The New Tenants ended up being my favorite, I think. I liked the weightier The Door quite a bit and I enjoyed the quirkier Instead of Abracadabra but something about this one just worked for me better. It starts with two gay men sitting at a table. One is smoking and reading the paper and the other is eating meat on a stick and, I believe, reading as well. The one who is eating complains about the other one smoking while he's eating and the other one launches into a tirade about any number of things, including Chernobyl, interestingly enough. The movie is basically them sitting there arguing and neighbors dropping by and acting crazy. You realize these guys have just moved in. All hell breaks loose and they do a sort of surreal dance. It's completely implausible but it somehow really works. A-
The Door only falls short of being my choice for the best of the nominees by a hair. It's about this couple and their daughter who are evacuated from their home after the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. They leave their whole lives behind and like many other children, the daughter is lost to radiation sickness. The father defies the law and sneaks into the old apartment to steal the door so that he can carry his dead daughter on the door as they had done with his father (grandfather?) It struck me as a graceful, beautiful, humane film. A-
A friend of mine referred to Instead of Abracadabra as the 'Napoleon Dynamite' one. That kind of sums it up. I enjoyed it. I laughed too loud. It's a dark, quirky comedy about a dweebish man still living with his parents and thinks himself a magician. He convinces his parents to let him put on a show for them and ends up putting the mother in the hospital. He falls for the new next door neighbor and invites her to his father's party that weekend. He convinces them to let him perform at the party by saying he'll get a job. The show at the party is like a twisted take on the dance number in Napoleon Dynamite. It's amusing but I don't know if I really liked it that much, if that makes sense. Maybe it's just sort of quirky and disposable. I can't put my finger on what it's missing for me... B/B+