Friday, February 14, 2014

Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts: Dark and Brooding

We talked about the nominated animated shorts last week, so I wanted to dive into the live action entries this time around.  I was taken aback by how serious most of the shorts are this year (save for one), but that doesn't mean there aren't compelling stories on display here.  I felt like I was on the edge of my seat for a lot of them.  

Helium is the story of a sick boy named Alfred and an eccentric hospital janitor named Enzo.  Instead of telling the boy that after he dies he will go to heaven, the janitor explains there is another place called Helium.  A big, flying blimp will come take Alfred whenever he is ready to go, and he will be able to live in a beautiful world where all of the houses float on their own piece of land.  Alfred will be able to be as happy as he ever was before in Helium, and because Enzo is just a janitor he can only tell Alfred so much at a time  As Alfred's time begins to run out, Enzo becomes frantic to finish the vision of this alternate realm.  

To be honest, I thought they would put Helium later in the short film lineup, because it has an obvious emotional wallop by the end.  The other films are also serious, but this has a colorful whimsy to it.  The special effects are gorgeous, and it's done very well.  Like, but didn't love.

The Voorman Problem features something that the other shorts don't--famous people.  Martin Freeman (The Hobbit series, and BBC's Sherlock) plays Doctor Williams, a psychiatrist that is called on to examine a mysterious patient at a prison.  The patient in question, Voorman, considers himself to be a god, and the rest of the inmates spend the hours chanting his name.  No one is actually sure what Voorman's crime even was, because all the files in the prison have been lost.  

Tom Hollander plays Voorman, a scruffy fellow strapped to a chair in a straightjacket.  He tells Dr. Williams that he created the universe in 9 days.  Williams shrugs him off, convinced he's a whackjob.  As Williams goes to leave, Voorman says he will prove that he's a god by making Belgium disappear.  I don't want to ruin what happens, because it's only 13 minutes long.  

Voorman has a mysterious quality to it, somewhat menacing actually.  I wish it were a bit longer, though.  Voters may got for its sleekness and humor.  Or they may want to vote for actors they recognize.  

Just Before Losing Everything is the story of a woman who has decided to leave her abusive husband.  Its tension throughout took me by surprise.  

Miriam goes to the Wal-Mart-esque store she works in order to negotiate her termination.  She brings her teenage daughter and young son with her, and she just wants to get out before her husband finds her.  Her boss tells her that he will fire her so she can receive a severance package, and when he asks her if she is going to press charges against her husband, she tells him that there isn't any time.  Miriam's sister is on her way to pick all of them up after she finishes her business at work.  

The short dives right into the action of Miriam fleeing, and that's my favorite thing about it.  We don't see her home life, and we are given the situation from the middle rather from the beginning.  At first, I honestly didn't know what was going to happen or even what the story was, but rather than frustrate me, it intrigued me.  The acting from the cast is very good.  Lea Drucker, as Miriam holds everything together even though you can see her ripping at the seams.  There is a scene where her husband shows up at work, and the entire time you are hoping that he doesn't catch on to what is happening.  It's one of my favorites.

Aquel no era yo (That Wasn't Me) is my favorite short of the five, and I was expecting to hate it. 

Paula and Jaunjo are two Spanish aid workers traveling with a guide named Teniente.  They are making their way through the African countryside, and they are stopped at the border by two child soldiers.  Right when they are about to cross the border, they are stopped by the General who pulls them out of their jeep and accuses them of kidnapping child soldiers.  

The three are taken hostage.  The General asks a large group of children soldiers who is brave enough to kill their captives.  He shouts at them, assuring these kids that they will always be respected when they have a gun in their hands.  What transpires for the rest of the short is truly horrific and unforgettable.  The images of these children with machine guns in their hands is nowhere near as terrifying as the confidence that is seen in their eyes.  

I don't think I breathed the entire second half of this short.

The Finnish short Pitaako mun kaikki hoita (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) is a wise choice for the closing short.  It's only 7 minutes long, and it is a comedic glimpse of a small family hurrying to get ready for a wedding.  

After waking up late, nothing goes right for this family, and every twist is pretty amusing.  The daughters dress themselves in costumes, they lose the present, and the mother takes a tumble while running to the church after missing the train.  Since it's the last short in the program, maybe voters will go for something with less gravitas.  A short that makes people laugh might make people tick their ballot.  It's slight, but very funny.  

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