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Sunday, August 24, 2014

HollyShorts 2014 Highlights

The Movie Report

There's both a certain beauty and burden of attending a short film festival, especially one as large and lengthy as HollyShorts, which just marked its tenth year from August 14-23 at the TCL Chinese 6 in Hollywood. No matter how few of the programming blocks one attends, there will always be plenty of titles to talk about--or, in the case of people such as myself, write about. But given that any block in the festival can feature around no less than, and possibly more than, ten titles, it can be a daunting task to write about everything one sees, especially given the often hit and miss nature of the short film format. So, instead of squeezing out, and in some cases forcing out, a few lines on all that I was able to see at the fest, I will accentuate the positive, as it were, and put a spotlight a few films that I saw that stood out in the best way, listed here in alphabetical order.

Asleep & Awake
Many filmmakers use a short film as a calling card more for their technical skills and less for their storytelling prowess, but when such an exercise is as riveting as Joshua Giuliano's thrilling work, such a complaint is beside the point. As the title suggests, this is a bit of a dual film, focusing on a young girl as she is asleep and awake. For the former, Giuliano shows great skill as a traditional horror filmmaker, building the requisite suspense in a classic scenario of a mysterious presence in a house, which he plays out in long, elegant, creepy shots. As effective as that section of the film is, it's the back half of the film where he fully shows his mastery of mood, creating almost unbearably unsettling dread and tension out of the most deceptively unadorned and seemingly mundane motions of the girl, now awake from her nightmare. Neither half of the film sounds like much, but in Giuliano's incredibly capable hands, it makes for a memorably menacing, masterful watch.

Breuder (Brothers)
Daniel Rübesam's German language drama is everything a short film should be: telling a fully thought-out story and involving, completely fleshed-out character arcs in a smoothly assembled, affectingly performed little package. The brothers of the title, Tom (Aleksandar Tesla) and Mikey (Oliver Zgorelec), both share a criminal past in addition to blood, but when the latter is in a bind and turns to the former for help, it may mean deviating from the peacefully reformed straight-and-narrow path. It's not the most original of premises, but Rübesam brings together all the elements with such craft and care that its suspense and, above all else, emotional impact is genuine.

In the action shorts block in which it was featured, actor Denzel Whitaker's writing (with Barnaby Barilla)/directing debut was far and away the most Hollywood slick--which is not the backhanded compliment it may sound like. While clocking in at an economical 25 minutes, the action sequences and overall visual flair in this tale of a cop (Kevin Phillips) whose personal loss drives him to pursue a path of vigilante justice measures up to the standard of a full feature, if not exceed that of many. The nuts and bolts of the plot may not be original--for, indeed, my brief description is as deep as it gets--but when it comes to genre, style is what generally matters most, and the level of polish Whitaker is able to achieve with limited means, in terms of not only the impressive and assured technical aspects but the solid performances, indicate great promise for his future filmmaking endeavors.

Get Some
If there are two genres in critical danger of exhausted overexposure--that is, if they haven't reached that saturation point already--it's zombie apocalypse horror and reality television, but directors Adam and Joe Horton and writing collaborator Simon Uttley give tired tropes an irreverently invigorated spin in this cheeky satire. Key to the film's success is a memorable lead character in the aptly named Hunter Smith (Warren Brown), larger-than-life host of the titular TV show, a series documenting his gung-ho exploits seeking out and killing those infected with a virus that turns humans into flesh-eating monsters; literally along for the ride is a doctor (John Hannah) who maintains there is still some vestige of humanity buried within the afflicted. As exuberantly executed here by the Hortons, the conceit is ripe for further expansion, whether at full feature or ongoing series length, and that's not just due to the commercial hook and name value of the top-billed stars. While their recognition factor do lend some standout selling point cachet amid a vast sea of shorts, the top-billed pair certainly deliver performances that are worth even more, especially Brown. Best known as DS Justin Ripley in all three series of Luther--but whom I personally most esteem for his terrific lead work in his underseen BBC starring vehicle Good Cop--Brown shows a fearless comic flair and timing heretofore rarely seen, and the fifteen or so minutes of this film whet the appetite for an even greater taste of all the hilariously demented directions he and the Hortons can take Hunter in an expanded context. But as is in its current incarnation, Get Some stands on its own as a smart, self-contained blast of breezy, bloody fun.

For more information on HollyShorts, visit the official site.

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