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Frenzy Shorts Reviews

Coming Attractions: Shorts

A Consumer Guide to MFF 2001

Film Fest Frenzy 2001

Lights, Camera, Action Film Fest Frenzy Introduction

Coming Attractions: Features A Consumer Guide to MFF 2001

Coming Attractions: Shorts A Consumer Guide to MFF 2001

Posted 4/25/2001

The Accountant
Directed by Ray McKinnon
May 5, 6:30 p.m. (part of the "Slamdance #1" shorts program)
David O'Dell's (Eddie King) farm is failing, so his brother Tommy (Walton Goggins) summons an accountant (director Ray McKinnon) to help save it through insurance fraud. But this is no ordinary accountant; rather, he is a crusader against the conspiracy of modern-day carpetbaggers--big corporations, Wall Street, Hollywood--to crush the small farmer. Chugging beer, bourbon, and caffeine at an inhuman rate, the accountant turns David's farm, family, and life into "facts and figures" that pose a moral dilemma: How much is the farm worth to David? Is he willing to kill his wife or maim himself so that he may pass the farm down to his sons? This keen, surrealist 38-minute satire twists numbers into a complex knot of morality, nostalgia, and paranoia, leaving you wondering whether Southern tradition was saved or buried on the O'Dell farm. (Jaimie Baron)

The Ballad of Little Roger Mead
Directed by Mark Carter
May 5, 2 p.m. (part of the "Slamdance #2" shorts program)
A small-town boy risks paternal and community disapproval in pursuit of creative self-expression in this mildly gross yet endearing comedy, an understandable crowd-pleaser at this year's Slamdance Film Festival. The revelation of Little Roger's special skill, unveiled when he takes the stage at a local talent show to perform a nonsense ditty aptly titled "Pitch and Catch" (warbled on the soundtrack by writer/director Mark Carter in a Frank Black-ish wail), is jolting and hilarious, especially when it's repeated. But Ballad's true payoff is the sweetly comic denouement between Roger (played in perfect deadpan by cherub-cheeked Liam Kearns) and his understanding mom (Mary Woolever). A real charmer. (Andy Markowitz)

Bean Cake
Directed by David Greenspan
May 5, 2 p.m. (part of the "Slamdance #2" shorts program)
A boy attending his first day at a new school runs afoul of his stern teacher but finds an unexpected ally in this lovely adaptation of an old Japanese folk tale, "The Red Bridal," updated here to 1930s Tokyo. Filmed by an American director working with a Japanese-American cast in Southern California, Bean Cake nonetheless feels like an authentic re-creation of its time and place, with a quiet grace and shimmering black-and-white cinematography that consciously recall the classic domestic dramas of 1950s Japanese cinema. (Andy Markowitz)

Directed by Greg Durbin
May 5, 6:30 p.m. (part of the "Slamdance #1" shorts program)
Angélica (Elena Jordá-Langfeldt) is a Mexican woman trying to visit the United States. Stranded in a small village south of the border, she crosses paths with a marching-band trombonist (Navid Negahban), whose mode of expressing his interest in her begins to drive her bonkers. Based on "El Hombre del Paraguas," a short story by Fernando Sorrentino, Greg Durbin's 20-minute short tries hard to charm audiences (and its surprise ending does), but some viewers may find the musician's obsessive attentions as tiresome as Angélica does. (Heather Joslyn)

Directed by Hollie Lavenstein
May 6, 10 a.m. (part of the "Short Shorts" program)
This hilarious, original revenge tale begins with a man named Dennis (Jon Jolles) kidnapping his estranged wife's dog, Abe. Dennis' ex, Helen (Wendy Salkind), responds by leaving a series of messages on his answering machine--at first frantic, then pleading, finally angry and resigned. The captive, meanwhile, comes down with a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome. Lavenstein, a resident of Ellicott City, compresses vivid characterizations into Cleave's 15 minutes and makes clever dramatic choices that pay off. (We hear Helen but never see her; vice versa for Dennis.) Best of all is the uncredited greyhound who plays Abe; whether through thespian instinct or just good obedience training, he's the warm heart and wet nose of this bitterly funny, disturbing short. (Heather Joslyn)

Fishbelly White
Directed by Michael Burke
May 6, 10 a.m. (part of the "Short Shorts" program)
Writer/director Michael Burke manages more compelling narrative and character development in this 22-minute short than many filmmakers manage in full-length features. Duncan (Mickey Smith, terrific) is a sensitive loner growing up on a farm, where his only friend is his pet chicken. He meets Perry (Jason Hayes), an older boy who befriends him and stirs longings that both excite and terrify Duncan. Burke deftly blends homoeroticism with the sensuous nature of farming life (giving us, among other things, the most hormonally charged cow-milking scene ever filmed). He also offers an organic, unpreachy exploration of a gay teen's sexual awakening and how sometimes the closet becomes protective armor. (Heather Joslyn)

The Good Things
Directed by Seth Wiley
May 5, 6:30 p.m. (part of the "Slamdance #1" shorts program)
Zach (Wil Wheaton, once upon a time the smart kid in Stand by Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation) works at a highway tollbooth near his rural Kansas hometown. We learn his daily routine as he struggles to kill time under the endless heartland skies; we also learn that it is the day of his ex-girlfriend's wedding. Friends and lovers stop by his booth, and in the course of conversation, we learn about the various stresses and expectations pulling on young Zach. Seth Wiley's 26-minute short packs a lot of activity into Zach's allegedly dull day (he has a lot of visitors for a guy who works in the middle of nowhere), but Wheaton convinces as a guy who's passive only because he lacks some essential trait he needs to truly rebel. The Good Things has a lot to say about youth and inertia--and also reveals to us Easterners that there are tollbooths in rural Kansas. (Heather Joslyn)

Directed by Brendan Donovan
May 5, 2 p.m. (part of the "Slamdance #2" shorts program)
Lee Majors, looking like considerably less than 6 million bucks, gives a surprisingly affecting performance as a weary hit man staring down one more job in this wintry short. Aging and paunchy--the puffy bags under his eyes seem to almost crawl up to his lids--the erstwhile bionic man skillfully conveys the matter-of-fact dread of a worn-out tough called back to a place (a dying shithole town near Niagara Falls) and a life he never quite got around to escaping. Writer/director Brendan Donovan makes good use of his setting, and Maryce Alberti's bleakly beautiful cinematography perfectly complements Majors' spare character sketch, but Here undercuts its own modest achievement with a self-consciously ironic epilogue. (Andy Markowitz)

In My Room
Directed by Kristen Anchor
May 6, 10 a.m. (part of the "Short Shorts" program)
This character study lasts only five minutes--and lacks the narrative push to make it much more than a character study--but it gets the details right. Michael (Garrett Wright) is a gay high-schooler who hides in his bedroom to avoid bullies' taunts and his mother's questions about which lucky young lady he'll be taking to the prom. In his sanctuary, he talks to his Kurt Cobain and James Dean posters, writes to pen pals, and obsesses over his favorite film, Pretty in Pink. Director Kristen Anchor's snapshot briskly captures the pent-up emotion of high school lonerhood. (Heather Joslyn)

Island Out of Time
Directed by Hugh Drescher
At the Heritage CinemaHouse, May 5, 11:30 a.m. (part of the "Documentary Shorts" program)
A traditional documentary about a traditional subject, Island Out of Time manages to cover a lot of ground in its 30 minutes. Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker Hugh Drescher profiles the people of Smith Island, the isolated Chesapeake Bay community inhabited by a little more than 400 people. One of the oldest settlements in the United States, Smith Island remains an insular place with its own dialect and no local government or law enforcement. Drescher's film explores the island's relationship to the bay and how pollution and regulation have diminished the crab and oyster harvests upon which the islanders depend for their livelihood; along the way, he finds some true local heroes and a inspiring spirit of self-reliance. He also warmly captures the close-knit quality of life in very small communities. (Heather Joslyn)

I Was a Strip Club Virgin
Directed by Rachel Max
May 6, 10 a.m. (part of the "Short Shorts" program)
Rachel Max's brief animated account of an inadvertent bachelorette-party trip has nothing new or particularly noteworthy to say about the male-stripper experience, but Max makes a wry hostess (the greased-up strippers, she notes, "can't dance--and they can't make a drink either"), and the kids-book-illustration visual style is a cute counterpoint to the sleazy subject matter. (Andy Markowitz)

Lowell Blues: The Words of Jack Kerouac
Directed by Henry Ferrini
At the Heritage CinemaHouse, May 5, 11:30 a.m. (part of the "Documentary Shorts" program)
The work of beat-generation bard Jack Kerouac paid tribute to New York, Northern California, Mexico, and Denver, but no place had more influence on him than the place where he was born and buried, the sleepy mill town of Lowell, Mass. This lyrical 27-minute short by Massachusetts filmmaker Henry Ferrini casts gorgeous shots of Lowell against Kerouac's own words (mostly taken from his novel Dr. Sax), read by Johnny Depp, Gregory Corso, Joyce Johnson, and Kerouac himself, among others. (Heather Joslyn)

Making Euphoria
Directed by Lee Boot
At the Heritage CinemaHouse, May 5, 11:30 a.m. (part of the "Documentary Shorts" program)
What makes us happy? And why do we want to make ourselves happy in the first place? This ambitious 25-minute short attempts to answer these Big Questions, and asks a few thought-provoking smaller ones in the process. ("When's the last time," writer/director/guide Lee Boot queries, "you heard someone say, 'I've been sad my whole life and then I bought this new car and I've been happy ever since?'") In between posing such provocative posers, Boot shows some of the things people do to pursue euphoria, which the film posits as "a life-or-death struggle." (Heather Joslyn)

Directed by Mitchell Rose
May 6, 10 a.m. (part of the "Short Shorts" program)
The creator of Elevator World, a witty, Mac-made short that played last year's MFF, returns with moderndaydreams, a witty, multipart short that showcases dancers in a number of the damnedest places (a health club, a country road, a cubicle-filled office). Ashley Roland and Jamey Hampton do most of the hoofing, with a cameo by a John Deere Excavator 690E-LC. (Heather Joslyn)

The Old Man and the Goblins
Directed by Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh
May 5, 2 p.m. (part of the "Slamdance #2" shorts program)
Styled as an homage to Ladislaw Starewicz, the Polish-born inventor of stop-motion animation, The Old Man and the Goblins is a striking piece of cinematic puppetry that also brings to mind stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen (with whom directors Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh have worked). A beak-nosed hermit who lives on a hill is tormented nightly by flying goblins, who finally carry him off to their volcanic lair. Faintly sinister, darkly amusing, and purposefully just a little bit creaky, Old Man plays like a rediscovered relic of the early days of animation. (Andy Markowitz)

Directed by Judy Dennis
May 6, 12:30 p.m. (part of the "Narrative Shorts" program)
Canna (Anne Lange) enlists the help of her friend Mrs. Bagnoli (Ellen McElduff) and a studly, perennially shirtless high school senior named Floyd Day (James Kennedy) to help with the haying on her photogenic farm. They also join her in spouting the film's heavy-handed aphorisms about America and cooperation between the sexes. (Heather Joslyn)

The Transformation
Directed by Barry Strugatz
May 6, 12:30 p.m. (part of the "Narrative Shorts" program)
Guy (Paul Lazar) is a pathetic mail carrier who lets everyone walk all over him. Then, one night, he falls asleep in front of the television and wakes up to the sight of Steve McQueen playing it cool in The Great Escape and is inspired to shave his mustache and become smooth like Steve. This 25-minute short culminates in a boardwalk dance number. (Jaimie Baron)

Directed by Bryan Lefler
May 5, 2 p.m. (part of the "Slamdance #2" shorts program)
The most inspired choice writer/director Bryan Lefler makes in this 12-minute cautionary tale is his setting--a barely developed patch of scrubby Southwestern exurbia, both an arid reflection of the dullness in 12-year-old protagonist Adrian's (Rex Vanderlinden) eyes as he zones out with video games and a blank canvas for the battles that unreel in his mind as he plays war in the backyard with his sister, his friend, and his action figures. When his playmates violate Adrian's rules of engagement, his imagination bleeds into reality, with ugly results. Lefler's well-made short sure-handedly if heavy-handedly maps the territory where boyhood blurs into bullying and anger turns into violence. There's never any doubt where Warplay is going, but in the chill echo of Columbine and Santana, it's a road worth traveling. (Andy Markowitz)

List of shorts is not complete. For the full roster, go to html#shorts.

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