Special Delivery

Born Again

by Hope Madden

What opens as a slyly comic take on a familiar horror scene turns – with a blinding light and the sound of a garage door – into something more silly and broadly funny. Born Again, Hands Off Productions’ 6 ½ minute visit with the “worst Satanists ever,” wastes no time and packs a comedic wallop.

Written by director Jason Tostevin and co-star Randall Greenland, the film’s success relies on a clever turn. Most of the pair’s collaborations, including 2015’s impressive (and award-bedecked) gangster short A Way Out, benefit from a similar subversion of expectations. But Born Again takes the team back to horror, and the sensibility here is much more enjoyably goofy.

Regular Tostevin collaborator, cinematographer Mike McNeese, lenses an impressive effort. The two handle the shift in tone beautifully, opening with sumptuous colors and tight close ups, then pivoting to a visual style that feels in on the joke.

Production values throughout impress, while performances – though brief – are strong. Tiffany Arnold, whose work relies almost entirely on facial expressions, is a riot, but the scene stealer is Greenland.

With sharp timing and a panda mask, Greenland perfectly represents Born Again: it’s so wrong, yet endearingly hilarious.

Oscar Nominated Shorts – Animation

by Rachel Willis

This year’s batch of Oscar nominated animated shorts are varied in both style and subject matter. They run the gauntlet of emotion from tortured to heartwarming to comedic, and the heart of each story is reflected in the animation. Each film succeeds in marrying the story to the art so that none of the films would feel right without their particular style of animation.

Borrowed Time
Directors: Andrew Coates, Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Run Time: 7 minutes

Borrowed Time follows a sheriff as he reflects on a dark and brutal moment from his childhood. The minimal dialogue and bleak animation highlight the character’s inner turmoil. It’s a poignant piece that effectively utilizes the medium to explore the sadder side of human emotion.

https://youtu.be/2iDCfsQfst4

 

Pearl
Director: Patrick Osborne
Run Time: 6 minutes

A sweet tale, but overall bland in style and substance, Pearl tells the story of a single father and his daughter as they navigate the ups and downs of life. A song about home connects the story, as the audience is shown vignettes from the small family’s life. The animation is simplistic in style, but it works for the narrative. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to set Pearl apart from other films.

 

Blind Vaysha
Director: Theodore Ushev
Run Time: 8 minutes

Blind Vaysha blends a unique story with gorgeous visuals. A faceless narrator tells the story of Vaysha, a girl born with one eye that can see the past and one that can see the future. Blinded to the present, Vaysha can see the beginning of creation and the destruction of the earth, or the beginning and end of the same day. The animation highlights the terror the future holds for Vaysha, as well as the staid limitations of the past. Blind Vaysha is a marvelous, even flawless film.

 

Piper
Director: Alan Barillaro
Run Time: 6 minutes

Piper is also superb. The animation is stylized, but it offers hints of realism in the movements of the sand pipers as they dart back and forth across the sand dunes. The story of a young sand piper that overcomes fear with the help of a friend is reminiscent of the most touching Pixar films. At times both comedic and heartwarming, Piper is a worthy addition to the Pixar line up.

 

Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Director: Robert Valley
Run Time: 35 minutes

Techno Styles is the character at the center of Pear Cider and Cigarettes. With gritty graphics, Rob narrates the story of his friend Techno, a man seemingly larger-than-life. The imagery matches the story, from dull yellows to highlight Techno’s failing liver, to golden silhouettes to illustrate Techno as a mythic person. For a short film, Pear Cider and Cigarettes feels long, with moments of redundancy that slow the pace of an otherwise solid film.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

Oscar Nominated Shorts – Live Action

by Hope Madden

This year’s Oscar-nominated live-action shorts take on an international flavor. Entries from Hungary, Switzerland, Denmark, France and Spain talk culture, loneliness, oppression and racism in a spate of lovely dramas, comedies and romantic bits.

Enemies Within (Ennemis Interieurs)
Director: Selim Aazzazi
Running Time: 28 minutes

Enemies Within (Ennemis interieurs) from France’s Selim Aazzazi intimately examines a power struggle between two men – a French inspector interrogates an Algerian-born Frenchman looking to formalize his citizenship.

McCarthyism knows no geographic border, nor does terrorism, paranoia, or the fallout from all three. Two nuanced performances keep the work – also written by Aazzazi – riveting.

 

La Femme et la TGV
Director: Timo von Gunten
Running Time: 30 minutes

Switzerland’s La femme et le TGV, a slight but insightful pseudo-romance, follows an aging woman who clings to things as they are. “I’ve never sent an Internet and I never will,” she declares. A charming and sometimes poignant look at embracing change, the film also looks great.

 

Silent Nights
Director: Aske Bang
Running Time: 30 minutes

A holiday piece on loneliness, longing and belonging, Denmark’s Silent Nights is the most sentimental of the shorts. Written and directed by Aske Bang, the film follows an immigrant from Ghana (Prince Yaw Appiah) and the homeless shelter volunteer (Malene Beltoff Olsen) who loves him.

Strong performances, especially from Olsen, buoy a solid if too tidy film.

 

Sing
Director: Kristof Deak
Running Time: 25 minutes

Kristof Deak’s entry from Hungary is equal parts sinister and triumphant as the new kid in school gets to join the country’s most successful children’s choir. Sing (Mindenki) follows Zsofi (Dorka Gasparfalvi). Befriended by popular Liza (Dorka Hais) and invited – as are all students – to join the world famous choir, Zsofi couldn’t be happier. Until she – and, by extension, Liza – learn something not quite right.

Deak articulates the logic of a child in a drama that offers as much tension and as welcome a resolution as most full-length films.

 

Timecode
Director: Juanjo Gimenez Pena
Running Time: 15 minutes

Spain’s Timecode is the most charming of the lot. Two parking garage security guards see each other in person only at the beginning and end of each shift. Regardless, they develop a very particular friendship – one that is fun, funny, endearing and full of welcome surprises.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

Unlikely Oscar Contender

For the first time in – perhaps ever – a full-on horror short appears to be in the running for an Oscar nomination.

Shant Hamassian’s one-take wonder Night of the Slasher offers a clever, funny, self-referential look at slasher films and manages to tell a complete tale, develop a character, scare, and entertain – all in about 12 minutes.

The pacing is wonderful, and with each passing minute Hamassian unveils another piece of information we didn’t realize we were missing. A protagonist (Lily Berlina), for reasons unexplained but certainly suggested, appears to be trying to unravel the slasher’s formula. Her goal is certainly to defeat the killer, but she may turn into a monster herself in the process.

A couple of very funny lines, a handful of perfectly placed visual gags, and camerawork that never feels like a gimmick separate Night of the Slasher from other horror comedies. Certainly the story follows the same path as Scream and, more recently, The Final Girls, but Hamassian finds new ground to break. Efficiency is on his side. Nothing is belabored, everything compels attention.

The masked maniac brings with him the film’s cheekiest joke, but Berlina plays the heroine with a raspy desperation and tenacity that elevate the film above spoof.

The short was carved from a full length screenplay and filmed as an attempt to get funding for a full feature. Here’s hoping!

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