The following six mini-reviews were pulled together from four set series published in the Thursday "Prospector" of The Union newspaper, leading up to the ninth Nevada City Film Festival. "Aquarium," "Be Good," "Birthdate," "Ctrl Z," "Fact Checkers Unit," and "Hay Cosas que Nunca Olvide" are all short films. The dates indicate the date of initial publication. The four part series also included a review of the feature length "Like Dandelion Dust" on Aug 6, 2009.
Aquarium (Aug 20)
In the opening scene of “Aquarium” a young teen drowns his old dog. This kid, whose hobby is his pet fish, is on display. His family and others have their eye on this kid. More than most young teens, he is warily watched and evaluated. The independent choice he made to put his dog out of its misery seems to make him a prime suspect for weirdness, perhaps suicide.
“Aquarium” is a satisfyingly nice film, bumped up from ordinary by what happens in that opening scene. The kid is a normal, growing-up kid. The way he and his friends are nerdy-normal is not exaggerated for yuks. The growing-up kid makes friends with a girl. It's sweet. “Aquarium” underplays its creativity to good effect.
Be Good (Aug 13)
Excellence is probably a harder threshold to cross in a funny short, especially in the slacker tradition that garners so much easy box office in feature length films. “Be Good” — another standout in the film festival lineup of shorts — is hilarious. It is not a small point that the filmmakers right-sized this slacker short where feature films typically stumble early or stretch unavoidably into relative mediocrity.
In “Be Good,” a party animal wakes up after his thirtieth birthday celebration and decides to turn his life into something more substantive. He decides to do good in the world. He implements his sincerely lame and shallow ideas ineptly.
True to slacker film framing, unlikely romance is in offing. However, savvy scripting relegates getting-the-girl to a proportionately incidental aspect of the laugh-out-loud fun.
Birthdate (Aug 13)
You might not think of a short film being excellent. At least, it might not enter your mind that a 10 minute film would stack up to the impact of a full length feature. In this and other ways, aspiring short films face a tougher challenge than feature films.
That said, “Birthdate,” is an excellent short amongst several inviting programs of shorts at the ninth Nevada City Film Festival, Aug. 20-23.
Throughout its 10 minutes, you care how a middle-aged woman and a young man handle themselves and where the connection will lead. You care how emotional and controversial the sparks are in “Birthdate.”
The woman has contrived to reenter the life of the son she gave away when he was a newborn. The confident college student advances what he thinks is a chance encounter with an alluring older woman.
Everything in this compact story works: Not only the casting and the acting, the story's arc and its conclusion, but also the low key effort to travel this filmmaking edge.
Ctrl Z (Aug 30)
On a personal computer, pressing the “z” while holding down the “control” key undoes the last thing you did. Doing “Ctrl Z” several times undoes several successive actions.
What if some mysterious short circuit altered the Ctrl z function on some office nerd's computer? Suddenly, he can undo the last thing that happened in his office and another “Ctrl Z” can undo the last thing he said to someone.
This ripe premise for comedy is right-sized fun. Its mild finishing twist lets you know the filmmakers were attuned to how far they should take their cute contemporary foray.
As you'll find with many short films at the Nevada City Film Festival, you get in, you get out. You multiply that by six to 10 little movies in a program, and you're bound to find untypical satisfactions in more than half of them.
Fact Checkers Unit (July 30)
It's a coup to get a big name star to appear in a short film. It certainly ain't about that star making money or fanfare. The scrappy independent filmmakers of “Fact Checkers Unit” probably are friends of Bill Murray, enough to plead that he do them a favor.
Or maybe, having been cajoled into reading this script, which was written for him playing himself, Murray thought it was too much fun to turn down.
Two crackerjack verifiers of the facts in magazine articles break into Bill Murray's home to see if he really does drink warm milk before going to bed. It's a small kick before the Bill Murray gambit and a downplayed big kick once they factor him into the script.
Porque Hay Cosas que Nunca Olivde (Aug 20)
In “Porque Hay Cosas que Nunca se Olvidan” (Because there are things you never forget), a gaggle of kids playing with a soccer ball revenge an old woman.
“Porque Hay Cosas” presents a sharp and clever visual style. Because of it, the story teases you well enough. Several boys play soccer-like games in the streets of their small town. They seem disproportionately focused on annoying the crotchety old woman on the other side of the wall they kick against.
Let's just say the woman and the kids definitely need lessons in how to coexist. Shrug aside any need for a moral compass for 10 minutes and there's fun and style to enjoy in this film.
It might be a stretch to suggest that these two films that are about children are films for children, but the Nevada City Film Festival is not trying to cater to that audience.
“Porque Hay Cosas que Nunca se Olvidan” wags its short film vision at you.