Magnolia Home Entertainment // 2005 // 162 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // September 4th, 2006
A long awaited opportunity is here...
While the Academy Awards are popular, there is always a problem for viewers at home: most of us haven't seen many of the films in competition. Since the advent of DVD and the rising popularity of foreign and independent films, we now have better access to some of those nominees that we've never heard of before.
Even in recent years, however, there are some categories that remain out of our reach. Short films don't show often (if ever) in North American theaters, and few of us have access to these little gems. Because of that, the short film categories aren't cared about much. It's a contest between five films we've never heard of, and will probably never have the chance to see.
Magnolia entertainment had the brilliant idea to collect as many of these shorts as possible, and release them on a single DVD. Now, we have a chance to sit down and watch some of the best short films created in 2005. That can only be a good thing. Short films, like short fiction, accomplish very different things than their longer counterparts, and have something unique to offer. This disc includes both live action and animated films, which I will describe and judge individually:
* Our Time is Up
Rob Pearlstein's addition to this anthology is a funny, slick look at life and routine. Dr. Stern (Kevin Pollack, Hostage) is a well respected psychologist who has long since lost any passion in his life and his work. When he finds out that he is terminally ill, he makes some drastic changes to his practice. Those changes produce exciting and unexpected results. Our Time is Up has many typical moments, but the creativity of the filming and the quality of the performances make it feel completely fresh. Sometimes, it takes a crisis to turn things around for the better.
* The Last Farm
The Last Farm is a fascinating, heartfelt, and crushingly sad exploration of old age and death. An elderly man in Iceland is being pushed by his children to move to a home with his wife, away from the coastal farm that he has called home his whole life. When his wife dies, he finds himself completely lost. The farmer has a plan, though -- one he will need to execute quickly before his children arrive to take him away. While The Last Farm is impressive, it gives away some of the plot developments too early. It could have been even more touching and heartbreaking, though it remains a film that can stick in the mind for days.
A savage short set during a supermarket night shift, Cashback is a meandering examination of contemporary labor and the way we survive menial jobs. Ben (Sean Biggerstaff, Harry Potter) is an art student who works the night shift at a local supermarket in order to pay his way through college. Each of his fellow employees has a different way of coping with the boring work. Ben's coping mechanism is unconventional and, for some, quite unnerving. Although Cashback is clever and stunningly filmed, it has a long second half that feels like a completely different film. Both halves are great, though, and the film boasts a fun soundtrack. Apparently it has now been expanded into a full-length feature. I'm interested to see how Sean Ellis makes this work as a longer film. As a note of warning, this collection has been rated PG-13, but Cashback contains some very graphic content.
* The Runaway
A young German architect named Walter (Peter Jordan) has an important interview today, one that could kick off his career. His plans are ruined by a young boy, who keeps turning up and slowing him down. At first he tries to ignore the child, but his good heart gets the best of him, and he finds himself late for his interview. It's not long before he realizes that the child just might be his own. The Runaway has a quick, light tone, and has been brilliantly filmed. It accomplishes quite a bit in its short running time, but never tries to be more than a short film. It's an absolute delight, both whimsical and heart-rending.
* Six Shooter
The Irish seem to like their comedies dark. Six Shooter is so dark that it can barely be classified as a comedy. Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart) stars as a man who just lost his wife. He sees the body in the hospital, then takes the train home. On the train, he meets a young couple that just lost a baby, as well as a foul-mouthed young man (Ruaidhri Conroy, Deathwatch) who seems enjoy the pain of the people around him. Gruesome and astonishing, Six Shooter deserved the Oscar it won.
Badgered is a cute little environmental fable, simple and often quite funny. A badger trying to hibernate is annoyed by crows until some humans arrive and create a much larger distraction. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really do anything that hasn't been done before. It is cute and funny, just as intended.
* The Mysterious Geographic Expeditions of Jasper Morello
My favorite animated short in this collection didn't win. This gothic sci-fi horror tale is narrated by Jasper Morello, the captain of a flying ship, as he and his shipmates search for the cure to a strange plague that is killing off his flying city. The fascinating animation style places the characters in silhouette, creating the illusion of a Victorian picture book come to brilliant life. It is part adventure and part mystery. We have now moved past the initial industrial revolution and the scientific excitement that came along with it, but this film sweeps us back in to that excitement and the dangers that were ignored for far too long. This is fantastic stuff, and I would gladly join Jasper Morello on more of his adventures.
* The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation
The winning animated short last year was the most personal by far, as animator and director John Canemaker comes to terms with his father's life and death. It's a very personal work, and the animation touches one more deeply than any live-action recreation could. Although this isn't the film that I enjoyed the most in this anthology, I think it did deserve the victory it had at the Academy Awards.
Two of the nominated animated shorts could not be included in this anthology for copyright purposes. To make up for that, Magnolia has included two other animated shorts instead. Unfortunately, I have no idea whether they are any good or not, because they were not included in my screening disc. Still, the eight films included here represent some of the best short films that I have ever seen, and deserve to be experienced by a much wider audience.
This brings us to the technical quality of the disc. The video transfer varies from film to film, as each one was shot in completely different conditions. Some of the films look excellent, and others do notlook as good, but it's hard to tell how much of that can be attributed to this DVD release. Inexplicably, Magnolia presents all of the films in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, even though they were shot in a variety of aspect ratios. This means that shorts shot at the 1.33:1 ratio have black bars on top, bottom, and both sides (on standard televisions, anyway), while those shot at the 2.35:1 ratio are letterboxed within the 1.85:1 frame. High-end players with advanced zoom functions may be able to minimize these ill effects, but not without severely compromising the image quality. Magnolia should have transferred each short at its original aspect ratio.
The sound is acceptable, with each film presented in stereo. I'm sure that some of the films were mixed in 5.1, but it hasn't been included here. Still, none of the films are difficult to understand, so it's a minor complaint. Aside from the two bonus films, there are no extras on the disc.
If it wasn't for the video transfer, A Collection of 2005 Academy Award Nominated Short Films would be an easy recommendation. It's a type of collection which is long overdue, and I hope to see more high profile collections of short films hit DVD soon. Hopefully, future installments will deliver the films properly. As it stands, I still recommend that film fans rent a copy of this disc: there's a whole lot of entertainment to be had here.
All eight defendants are free to go, but Magnolia Home Entertainment is called to chambers for their video transfer fiasco.
Review content copyright © 2006 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 162 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Two Bonus Short Films
* IMDb: The Mysterious Geographic Adventures of Jasper Morello
* IMDb: Six Shooter
* IMDb: Cashback
* IMDb: The Last Farm
* IMDb: The Moon and the Sun: An Imagined Conversation
* IMDb: Our Time is Up
* IMDb: Badgered
* IMDb: The Runaway