When it comes to Oscar nominations, short films are barely more visible than some of the obscure technology-related fields. They rarely hit the mainstream and often drift into obscurity by the time the next round of shorts get nominated.
Luckily, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been releasing programs of the live action and animation shorts to theatres the past couple of years, and we can see the films before the winners are announced.
This year's field of contenders in the live action category has films set all over the globe: United States, India, Australia, Sweden and Russia. It seems this category always brings out serious subject matter, and this year is no different.
Four of the five films fit nicely into the dramatic world and tackle things such as slave labor, the consequences of nuclear fallout, disturbing childhood events and murder. A couple of "known" actors show up one short (Vincent D'Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan). Don't expect to laugh much in the live action category, though.
The Swedish film Instead of Abracadabra, the only comedy among the five nominations, was my favorite live action short. It really wasn't close. Written and directed by Patrik Eklund, the 22-minute film tells the story of an unemployed 25-year-old oddball, who still lives at home to the consternation of his put-upon father. He loves what he calls, "Gothic, mystery and mayhem." You know, magic. Don't expect sleight of hand work, mayhem is the key word to his style of trickery.
Instead of Abracadabra is quirky, original and funny in the dry, deadpan way Scandinavian sense of humor often is. This short is one of my favorite things I've watched recently, no matter its length or genre. It's perfectly paced, stylish and delivers a couple of twists that make it even more charming. The only bad thing about Instead of Abracadabra is that it is over in 22 minutes instead of being a full-length feature. I wanted more.
The animation shorts are usually friskier, more inventive and adventurous compared to the live action. The usability of technology allows for people working in animation to create fantastical worlds based on their own creativity rather than face the limitation of finances that often face the live action filmmakers.
The two best animated shorts are very different creatures. A Matter of Loaf and Death is directed by the four-time Oscar winner from England, Nick Park.
The film stars his popular Wallace and Gromit characters as they get embroiled in a case involving murdered bakers. Like other things done by Park, this is whimsical, charming, full of puns-a-plenty and great attention to detail. It's not as unique as some of the other nominees because we've seen the characters before, but it's still Nick Park and that means quality fun.
Another animated short that is very interesting is the 16-minute scathing satire Logorama from Francois Alaux and Herve de Crecy. In Logorama, characters such as Michelin Man, Ronald McDonald, Big Boy, Mr. Clean, The Jolly Green Giant and many others live amongst one another in a logo-centric metropolis. Logorama is a humorous, profane attack so knife-edged sharp that I'm surprised lawyers didn't get involved to shut this film down or stop it from being shown. It kind of goes off the rails by the end, but it's a brave assault on the pervasive corporate world our culture is turning into.
Step outside the boundaries of the full-length feature and give some short films a chance. You might just find these films more rewarding, interesting and intriguing than the more attention-getting nominations that get all the headlines.
Out of this World
Blame it on the otherworldly success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those films made unbelievable amounts of cash, were critical darlings and opened up the floodgates for Hollywood to make other fantasy centered material. The horribly titled Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (couldn't someone shorten that mouthful?) is the latest to come to the multiplex. Percy Jackson... is just too silly and absurd to be taken seriously except by the audience it is directed at--kids, teenagers, people who love the book or viewers with very low expectations. Everyone but me.
Percy (Logan Lerman) is a teenager growing up in New York City. He goes to high school, battles dyslexia and has a bullying stepdad at home. He's normal, or so he thinks.
One afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum, he gets bushwhacked by a woman/bird/bat creature called a fury. Percy's world as he knew it is about to change in a matter of minutes. He's actually the son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. (That will make you look yourself in the mirror differently.)
Percy takes refuge at Camp Half-Blood, where all the other human/god hybrids live to train and learn how to harness their powers. Percy leaves Camp Half-Blood with a couple of friends to go after his mother, held hostage by Hades, and to restore a stolen weapon (lightning bolt) back into Zeus' hands. Their quest turns into kind of a fantasy road trip--Tennessee, Las Vegas (where a truly ridiculous sequence occurs) and finally the door to Hell itself, Hollywood. Yes, Hollywood. I might have to agree with that part in the story.
Like most films in this realm, there are lots of showdowns between Percy, his co-horts and the demons they encounter. There is Medusa, of course, four-headed creatures, hell-hounds and things that spit fire and rage. All of the confrontations are too loud, bombastic and are too CGI focused to create any suspense.
Percy Jackson is based on a series of novels by Rick Riordan (note: I have not read them) and is directed by Chris Columbus (who has helmed a couple of Harry Potter films). It has actors such as Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman, Rosario Dawson, Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener and a bunch of indistinguishable teenagers. There's a lot of Greek mythology in the overly-convoluted story, and I couldn't maintain interest in which god did what any more than when I studied the same subject in middle school. I loathed that stuff in 8th grade, and I guess I still do. Make some crib notes if your Greek mythology is rusty.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief wants to be serious with all the talk of Greek mythology, missing parent teenage angst and end of the world doom and gloom. But it's just not a very well made film.
It's, at best, expensively made fluff, heavy on the spectacle, light in the area of substance and suspense. It will only please the aforementioned target audience it is squarely aimed at, which isn't me.
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