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Courtesy photo.




Shorts!
The Oscar nominated short films hit area screens

02/09/17
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



Three of the categories at the 89th Academy Awards on Feb. 26 are for short films — live action, animation and documentaries.

Though lesser-known categories, the shorts make for fun viewing, offering a chance to see a lot of kinds of movies and stories at once. 
All three categories of shorts will be available for local viewing starting Friday, Feb. 10, at Red River Theatres in Concord (redrivertheatres.org, running through March 2) and Colonial Theatre in Keene (thecolonial.org, through Feb. 23) as well as at the Music Hall in Portsmouth (themusichall.org; animated on Feb. 17 at 7 p.m., live action on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m., documentary on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.). 
The live action and animated shorts will also screen at Wilton Town Hall Theater (wiltontownhalltheatre.com) and the Flying Monkey in Plymouth (flyingmonkeynh.com, animated on Feb. 11 and Feb. 12 at 3:30 p.m., live action on Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m.), according to shorts.tv. The shorts will also be available online and through VOD starting Feb. 21, according to shorts.tv.
 
Documentaries
Of the five documentary short nominees, four are accessible right now. 4.1 Miles is at nytimes.com. Joe’s Violin is available at newyorker.com. Extremis and The White Helmets are both on Netflix. 
All five documentaries are worth a watch. They are not, I will say, carefree entertainment. All are harrowing in their own ways, but don’t let that scare you away. 
4.1 Miles focuses on a ship’s captain whose day regularly involves pulling people out of the sea off a Greek island. Scenes of children being pulled from the ocean and rescuers desperately attempting to revive them are gut-wrenching, as are scenes of the captain occasionally giving in to the emotion of the situation. 
Watani: My Homeland (the only doc I had to request a screener for) tells the story of a Syrian family who, after the father is kidnapped and believed killed by ISIS, apply for refugee status in Germany. We watch as the three girls, one son and their (probably) widowed mother go from the stresses of a war zone to peaceful life in Germany. 
In The White Helmets, we meet men who have stayed in Syria and made it their mission to save the lives of as many people as possible. The White Helmets come to the scene of a bombed building after an air raid and dig people out of the rubble, sometimes alive, sometimes not.
Joe’s Violin calls to mind a different war and a different refugee situation: a man originally from Poland who purchased a violin in a displaced persons camp after World War II ends up donating it in the present day to a New York City classical music radio station that is gathering instruments for use by area music students. All these decades later, the violin becomes the special prize for a 12-year-old girl from the Bronx who has shown musical promise. 
Extremis is the one short not related to war but it does tackle the difficult subject of the end of life. Specifically, how the end of life is handled in intensive care units, where medical intervention can prolong what is technically life but not necessarily improve the person’s outcome or quality of life. The movie really shows you the weight of the struggle, borne by both doctors and family members, of trying to balance the desire not to cause their patient/loved one to suffer unnecessarily while still giving them a chance at recovery. 
 
Animation
In the animated block, four of the five films — Piper, Pearl, Blind Vaysha and Borrowed Time — are relatively short with one longer piece, Pear Cider and Cigarettes. And, as with all animation, just because it’s illustrated doesn’t mean it’s for kids (Pear Cider and Cigarettes definitely is not).
Piper, a Pixar short I first saw before Finding Dory in theaters, is sweet and beautiful but could easily stand out based solely on the way it renders water. I would call it photorealistic except it’s more hyper-photorealistic; it both looks real and shows you facets of the water (how it ebbs and flows on the sand, for example) that you’d never notice in a video of real water. (The film is available for purchase now from some outlets, including via the OnDemand feature on Comcast.)
Pearl is also a charmer. It follows a musician as viewed in his increasingly aging car and his adventures with his daughter, who is a little girl in early frames but quickly grows older (as they do). The film could also be a music video, scored with the song the dad starts singing at the beginning. (This movie I found on YouTube, thanks to an article on Time.com about where to see Oscar nominated films.)
Borrowed Time also features what I’m pretty sure is a father and child, this one in the Old West with the son revisiting one moment he deeply regrets. These movies are all beautiful, though stylistically very different from each other. This one makes particularly nice use of color on the landscape.
Blind Vaysha is a parable about girl born “blind” to the present. She can see the past out of one eye and the future out of the other — so when men come to court her, she can see only a little boy and an old man. The story has a woodcut look to it, which together with the narration gives the movie a grown-up fairy tale quality. 
Pear Cider and Cigarettes makes good use of its nearly 35 minutes. It gives us the story of a man’s entertaining but troubled childhood friend. They meet while playing soccer and the narrator ends up trying to help his friend survive a dodgy-sounding liver transplant in China. Pen-and-ink-style drawings  also make good spot use of color.
 
Live action
This year’s live action shorts are primarily in languages other than English, which can make the live action block feel like you’re attending a mini foreign film festival.
In Timecode, spoken language is actually less important than the language of dance. A security guard at a parking garage is asked to search through security camera footage to find evidence of a minor accident but instead sees her colleague letting out his inner Gene Kelly. Her response is sweet and the movie ends with the perfect bit of dialogue.
Also infused with a bit of sweetness is La Femme et le TGV, a tale about a woman who spends her days in her crumbling bakery but her mornings joyfully waving a flag at the train that speeds by her house. The movie manages to capture romance, humor, wistfulness and surprise.
Sing, which features primarily child characters, is also sweet but has elements that felt slyly political in 2017. Children in a choir manage to both act like children and demonstrate how to deal with unjust authority.
More directly political is Enemis Interieurs (“Enemies Within”), which shows the hoops an Algerian man must jump through to become an official French citizen. Despite living in France for years and considering himself “French,” the citizenship seeker’s meeting with a government official quickly goes from formality to interrogation. The movie does a good job capturing his despair and the quicksand-like course of the conversation.
In Silent Nights, an African refugee struggles with homelessness and racism as he attempts to earn money in Denmark to send back to his family in Ghana. He frequently ends up in a shelter staffed by a Danish woman who has her own troubles (including a mother who drinks herself into a blackout and then sleeps most of the day). Their relationship is interesting to watch develop. 





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