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Ranking the festival shorts

April 6, 2014
By
SetupPunch

“Setup, Punch”stars Elijah Wood and Alia Shawkat.

As I mentioned in the OW’s main review article on this year’s Florida Film Festival, it’s the shorts programs that are often the most anticipated. While some of the best features will likely get picked up by distributors – if they haven’t been already – you may never get to see these shorts outside the festival, except maybe on Vimeo or YouTube, and that’s no way to watch a movie.

So which are the best, and worst, programs to see? Of the 10 total, I’ve had the chance to see four so far. I reviewed one (the English-language animated shorts) in the aforementioned article and found it slightly disappointing, though still sporadically entertaining. I recuse myself from passing judgment on the second, Best of Brouhaha, because I sat on the jury. So, without further ado, let’s look at the third and fourth programs: International Shorts and Shorts #1: Perfect Day.

The International Shorts Program feels weightier than the Animated Shorts offering, but it’s almost equally disappointing. A short film must know what it wants to be and what impact it hopes to have, both story-wise and aesthetically, from the get-go, and several of the movies in this program are unfocused, poorly paced and ultimately unimpactful.

Ironically, it’s the worst of the shorts, Requiem for a Robot (1 star) that seems most sure of its artistic intention from the start. Unfortunately, it’s so oddly and poorly conceived, and so technically deficient, that its coolness and quirkiness is totally lost.

There are a bunch of 2 stars, including the zombie Cargo, the socially aware but sluggish Uproot and More Than Two Hours (both of which feel like more than two hours), the cleverly shot but vague Inertial Love and perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch on a purely visual and conceptual level, B-Class Cultural Heritage. But none of these films leaves an impact or really has much point in existing, beyond a few minutes of intrigue.

Rising to the next level are a couple of 3-star offerings. The Parachutist has a great time-travel premise but seems a bit clunky, especially toward the end, and Memorable Moi (Remember Me) is indeed memorable thanks to its fascinating commentary on people who need attention all the time. (I’m talking to you, Facebook addicts.) Sadly, the short goes off the rails at the end with some unnecessary animal cruelty (suggested) and some over-the-top graphic violence (explicit). It’s as if the short itself had adopted its own plot and concluded that the only way it could be remembered by its audience was if it did something outrageous and unnecessary.

The only solid thumbs-up in this group is The Fall. Though not quite worthy of 4 stars, it nevertheless is the most mature and tense of the program. And if you have a fear of heights, this may be the scariest short you’ll see in a while.

Shorts Program #1: Perfect Day, named in tribute to Lou Reed (as are all four of the regular shorts offerings), is not quite perfect, but it may just be the best of this year’s fest. It gets off to a rough start with the ill-fitting, badly acted, overly long and just plain over-the-top Fool’s Day (2 stars), which could have been cut down to a great 5-minute short if the filmmakers had excised everything after the initial head explosion. (Yes, I said head explosion.) Thankfully, after this silliness, the program settles down into maturity.

The simple and sweet Cash for Gold and The Bravest, The Boldest (both 4 stars) are both somewhat predictable but offer more emotional impact than any others films in the program. ZZZZZZZ (3 stars) is a cleverly surreal look at love, while The Immaculate Reception (3 stars) is a unique twist on the famous Steelers vs. Raiders football game from 1972, complete with 16mm photography that brilliantly captures the necessary period feel.

Milk and Blood (3 stars), though shot and paced well, isn’t as impactful as it might have been, thanks to a nothing of a third act (if shorts can really have three acts), but the program ends strongly with the slightly overlong but extremely intriguing Setup, Punch (4 stars), starring Elijah Wood as a stand-up comic delivering his most gutsy set ever.

Shorts Program #1 will screen for the second and final time on Tuesday, April 8, at 7 p.m. at Regal Winter Park B. Don’t miss it.