Sunday, February 10, 2013

Oscar Shorts 2012 - Live Action (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Oscar Shorts: Live Action

This year's pool of Live Action shorts are all interesting but few are as quirky as the on-screen host, Luke Matheny, who won last year with his Jim Jarmuschian entry,  "God of Love". Matheny's self-deprecating manner provides the perfect smoothness as he takes us on a tour through the short films, which makes a nimble Prismacolor safari through many diverse cultures.

First, from Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele of Belgium, there is the Sci-Fi entry "Death of A Shadow". Granted, the film's logic circuits are a bit over-loaded but it retains a provocative, anachronistic texture as a hybrid of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" and George Miller's "The Road Warrior". Yes, we are in some sort of post-apocalyptic netherworld where actual shadows cast at the moment of one's death are collected and hung on the wall with the covetous envy of a rare Rothko. A Kafkaesque man slinks about with a kind of shadow-collecting camera that looks like an old clock mixed with a 1970s Polaroid. Our brooding hero is overwhelmed by the remembrances of firing-squads past and is ambivalent about whether to join his lost love, Sarah or to stay a clerk at his post while staring at all things bronze. Although my brain failed to grasp the poignance of the plot,(our man in the grey shadowy suit confusingly switches back and forth between the corporeal world and back again)it is the visual style that held my interest. Here is a world driven by the last remaining posture that is held in death. And just what is symbolized in all the bronze and gold colors and gyrating machines. For all the opulence that has gone into this terminal Taj Mahal, it is a very grim palace indeed.

The ghosts of memory also play a strong role in Canada's "Henry", directed by Yan England. The story focuses on a romantic pianist who desperately tries to hold on to the people he loves while in the throes of Alzheimer's. While the film is a bit somber, it has an eerie and haunting tone that recalls the iconic Twilight Zone serials together with a strong blend of "A Christmas Carol" and Billy Wilder's noir classic "The Lost Weekend".

A standout in the selection is Shawn Christensen's "Curfew" (USA) which scores just the right balance of dark comedy and compassion. It tells the story of Reggie, an emotionally challenged man who gets an unexpected call to visit his self-centered niece. The color red is never so frightening here or as funny, while the film's spirit will sneak up and hold you long after the next short.

Then we are in Afghanistan with "Bazkhashi Boys" directed by Sam French. This film which recalls "The Kite Runner" in theme and tone, tells the story of two childhood friends who yearn to escape  Kabul's confining mountains and become (at least to them) romantic heroes engaged in the sport of Bazkhashi, specifically a kind of relay game on a horse in which a goat is dragged to its death. No laughing matter, if you happen to have hooves. Okay. The film is a heartfelt character study of the bonds of friendship. That's all well and good, but I found the rhythm of the camera a bit lethargic. For a twenty-eight minute film, it spends a great deal of time in a blacksmith's shack with longing, pensive and wistful looks in the camera. This makes the outing in Kabul appear longer and more interminable than it actually is and with an invariably gray palate, I felt too steeped in Kabul's conundrum.
Also, I could not get past the goats.

The group concludes on a high note however, with the wonderfully vivid and ever-shifting "Asad" directed by Brian Buckley. This South African / American entry has a refreshing irreverence that entertains as much as informs, and it will terrify and delight you all in one jolt. The film illustrates that the world, while festive and motley, does have teeth that hurt and that all creatures have the capacity for base desire. "Asad" is a rollicking half-moon crescent of a story, betraying the savage underbelly of "The Life of Pi" with more than a bit of Carl Haaisen thrown in the Somali coastal waters.

Overall, the live action films make for an eclectic and satisfying mix befitting any optical sojourn or tri-color tryst that you might crave this Oscar season.

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