2005 Beverly Hills Film Festival Shorts

By Natasha Theobald
Posted 05/04/05 19:25:14

If you enjoy short films, it seems the Beverly Hills Film Festival may be the festival for you. If the sixteen BHFF-selected short films I was fortunate enough to see this year are in any way representative of the quality in general, I can guarantee you won't be disappointed. From family friendly animated shorts to stark drama and tense, reality-based horror, there is something for every taste and many things which appealed to mine.

The 73 Virgins
W/D Jubin Joseph

Not afraid of the political, the religious, or the scary state of affairs in the world today, this film takes it all in and turns it on an ear. The story tells of the promises made to young men about to give their lives for their cause, suicide bombers, and the types of manipulations and encouragement used to keep them firmly on the path to their goal. One such promise features a heaven in which the young man will be gifted with 73 virgins. What this movie wonders, then, is if that would really be so great. The answers play out in a deft and humorous way which made me grateful for whatever mind took all of this in and conceived this wry and knowing film as its synthesis.

The Adventures of Big Handsome Guy and His Little Friend
W Hayes Macarthur & Jason Winer; D Jason Winer

How do you think it might feel to be inside a friendship and suddenly realize that your counterpart is the superhero and you are, and always will be, the sidekick? Such is life for Buddy, the guy who doesn't breeze past bouncers or find himself gifted with the underthings of random women. That all might not be so bad, though, were it not for his best friend, Guy, the one who not only gets the panties but whatever came in them. Can friendship bear the strain of such inequality? Will it only take a shining moment when Buddy feels himself to be a winner to make things right? The film follows the unlikely pair to a bar and sees what transpires within. The background is filled with familiar faces, and the story plays with both sympathy and hints of truth.

Behind the Curtain
W/D Alvaro Ron

Talk about an interactive theater experience. Second City's got nothing on this. Peter MacNicol, an actor I can't help but love, stars as a podiatrist stuck in a bit of a rut. We watch as he picks at peoples' feet and cringe as he apparently takes a shot of something foot related in the face while he picks. We empathize when he seems to think life has maybe turned out to be less than he had hoped. Then, a patient offers tickets to a play as a payment alternative to actual cash. Needless to say, this play will change his life. The story here is clever and interesting and completely unpredictable. MacNicol is funny and brilliant and real, as always. The combination of talent brings a breath of fresh something or other to the screen, to be sure.

W Gabrielle Conforti; D Vincent Spano

We can safely add this to the list of jobs I never want. It is Angela's job to troll around the casino for bets on horse races. She must gather as many bets as she can and get them to the window before the race has started. It's a fine time line to walk, and people tend to get pissed when she must return their bets unmade. Already on such an edge, it doesn't take much for Angela to start skimming, perhaps, not making bets that she thinks won't come in and then pocketing the money. It can be a dangerous game and one she is not likely to always win. The casino action is deliberate and realistic. Angela's character earned little sympathy with me, though it didn't make her any less interesting.

Catching Kringle
W Adam Himoff; D Jeff Wadlow

A clever Christmas caper, this film follows as Santa and his crew of elves endeavor to get the presents to the kids. However, it seems that security measures have made it next to impossible for Santa to continue his yearly trek, but he continues in the spirit of the day, getting presents into the homes of 'nice' girls and boys by any means possible. When a military man with a grudge finds a way to take Santa out of the equation, it is up to the elves to discover a way to bring Christmas back to the best it can offer. The ideas are fine-tuned, but the appeal is broad. This is an engaging and entertaining look at the world around us, wrapped in the colorful paper of a holiday tale.

W/D Mark Marchillo

This film is modern noir, shot in sumptuous black and white. It knows from whence it came, and we sense a hint of the familiar as we watch a glass fall to the floor and shatter or see faces obscured in part by darkness. At the center is Flynn, played by Jonathan Trent. Flynn is an all-American seemingly trapped by the very sort of society folk who embrace him so desperately. At the heart of it, the movie is not only a mystery but also a character study of this young man and his possible unraveling. Tension is ably created with atmosphere, music, and overlapping dialogue. Trent has an open face which seems to welcome the camera, as well as the darkness and the light.

Fight of the Fly
W/D Shoe Schuster

This movie about karma has great wit, even though it is a little bent. I am a person who never kills a spider. I carry it on a piece of paper safely out of the house or just leave it where it happens to be. It's not so much that I love spiders. I just don't want its spider friends and family seeking revenge, in groups, upon me. This not very interesting anecdote tells you something about this film without taking any of the joy out of seeing it for yourself. I will say that it moves along at a good pace and makes the most out of its moments. It's not just laugh out loud funny; it's also the clever kind of funny that resonates after the fact.

Gidoo's Cosmis Crisis
W/D Shivani Khanna

Ah, Fate. This story plays as a modern myth about destiny. In it, Gidoo is told by a friend that, according to a chart of the stars, he will die the next day. Stricken, he sets off on an adventure in an effort to change the alignment of the stars and, therefore, his destiny. His journey takes him through some amazing atmospheres, filled with dramatic colors and vivid textures. We really start to feel for this odd little character as an audience. The story is wise and sometimes wry. The music and sound are fitting. Everything about this animated feature has a feeling of magic to it.

In the Morning
W/D Danielle Lurie

Based on a true story, this drama begins on a deserted street when a man approaches a woman and asks why she is alone. With dread comes the realization that it is his intention to use the isolation of the street to rape her. What follows appears to be a gathering of elders. Men sit around a table in a back room and discuss what must be done. The crime cannot go unanswered. Someone must pay. The dread of the impending initial attack is nothing compared to the growing unease with which we watch. The drama builds with great tension and culminates in a powerful and shocking way that lingers long beyond the final, flickering scene. The film deserves to be seen not only because it is good but also because it has something to tell us that we need to hear.

Mr. Dramatic - see image above
W/D John Stalberg, Jr.

Dating. You answer an ad never knowing just what you will get. But, is there someone for everyone? We can hope. We join Amy Acker of "Angel" fame as she awaits her potential Mr. Right. Before he arrives, though, through conversation with a friend, we learn that everyone in Hollywood has kind of already dated everyone else. This woman, at least, has already dated her guy and dubbed him Mr. Dramatic. Then, there he is, in the guise of Oliver Hudson. This film positively drips with style. It blazes by in a flash, filled with great humor and a strong sense of itself. Bookended by some stunning effects and a witty voice-over, this short uses all at its disposal, including the effects, great music, and a spot-on cast. More, please.

W Nicholas Bianchi; D Norman Lesperance

This movie is frea-ky. There is some very cool visual stuff used to terrify, but I would avoid watching before undergoing any medical procedures. The surgeon scared me. The story here is quite dark, too, unsettling, to say the least. A group of men, friends, join together in a common cause, that of serving street justice in a big heaping pile. They make a pact and, even as they see that events are spiraling beyond their control, they fully intend to keep it. What follows is a harrowing journey, what one man is capable of doing to another. The most grueling part, though, is wondering whether the justice is justified. As I said, the visuals were jarring and memorable, but it was the eventuality of the story that I had to work to shake.

WD Fernandel Almonor
The artwork which accompanies this movie told me all I needed to know about what to expect - terror. The still is of a woman. She is furtively peeking from behind the trunk of a large tree. We only see a portion of her face. Her hair is wet with sweat, and the eye doing the peeking is filled with anticipation and horror. Flash back to the moment in her house when, just as the newscaster is beginning to describe a criminal on the loose, she turns down the set to take a phone call. The movie is pretty good with the scares and makes good use of the newscast for exposition. While it twists the situation to its particular needs, the story steers clear of being too terribly contrived.

Scrambled Eggs
W/D Lorenzo Manetti

"These are the best years of our lives. Can you feel it?" Any teen movie that gets the angst this right knows something. We meet the characters at their college interviews and follow them on adventures ranging from staging a play to trying to make it to a dance. While the dance destination may seem done to death, this story takes us in unexpected directions, mining the surprises for humor and pathos. While the younger talent shines in moments, the single funniest scene features Michael Rapaport attempting to direct a white teenager to an effective performance of Othello. "You are rage incarnate." It's such a great scene, they use the outtakes over the credits.

Sleeping Dogs Lie
W Chumahan Bowen; D Stuart Lessner

Featuring beautiful scenes of desert landscapes, this is the story of a man on a journey to solve a mystery. A package delivered to his apartment happens to contain items which pique his interest in an old murder case. In an effort to learn more, Jeff travels to a tiny town in Texas where the crime took place. There, he tries to gain the trust of local law enforcement and resolve for himself the mysteries which pulled him into the mess in the first place. Nearly every shot in the film could be pulled as a still, so lovely are the pictures. The backstory which led Jeff to Texas is hard to understand in spots, but the story in present time is abruptly satisfying.

Stop Thief!
W/D Soseh Kevorkian

Sometimes it's not worth it to take on the family business. This fast-moving tale tells the story of a little girl raised to be a thief. All of her life, at the side of her mother, it was her place to shoplift. Now that her mom is in jail, though, she faces a future of crime alone - until she gets caught. How is a girl, whose only skills involve stealing, to use them to get a legitimate job? The characters are interesting, the action is often very funny, and the payoff is worth the while. Lead actress Lisa Rieffel has a great face, and I loved the music by Pizzicato Five.

The Tao of Pong
W/D Elijah Craig

Ping Pong, that is. The film starts Paulo Costanzo as a champion ping pong player brought down by another, played by Jake Busey. Because of this, he sets his paddle down and walks away from the sport. By chance, though, the character played by Busey shows up at the car wash where he works, inspiring him to enlist the help of a trainer and give his skills another shot. While this may seem like a single joke concept, it actually continues to find fresh ways for the story to evolve. The script is genuinely funny, and the camera work almost makes ping pong seem exciting to watch. Costanzo gives his character real emotion and drive, and a budding romance offers a nice little detour from the sports premise.

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