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I’m not sure why shorts so often turn to overwrought drama, because they lend themselves so much better to comedic sketches and jokes with slow-build punchlines. DC Shorts’ Showcase 10 presents some great examples of when that works. Its strongest material appeals to those of us who prefer stories with more than a little bite to them—-like a swift kick in the pants as you turn to make your exit.
Man of Letters: Scrabble Tournaments provide a prime venue for cinematic wedgies—-and this film set at a Scrabble tournament does take a few jabs at the nerdy culture. (The announcer: “I hope you all become Letter Day Saints and Scrabble on!”) But the humor in this story is also structured a bit like the game itself, with each piece laid down for the final victory. Our protagonist is playing a young girl, who is clearly less studied than he is. How this leads him to begin cheating is hilarious and believable. By the time he says of a blank Scrabble tile, “That’s a hyphen,” you’ll be waiting to see him fall. And, in a rare treat, the ending pays off.
Le Chevreuil: We know this character well. The grown man who lives at home, does nothing but smoke weed and listen to loud music, who calls himself an “artist” and makes his family think he’ll never amount to anything. Here, that archetype gets tasked with driving a hearse through the drab, snowy Canadian countryside. And of course he’s going to fuck it up. Each scene is framed to show us just as much information as we need at each moment. And the actors, who speak French, are so natural, you sometimes forget how macabre and absurd the plot is becoming.
Mile High Pie: A cute documentary about Ed and Kay’s Restaurant, a small country diner in Benton, Ark., that features some legendary pies. They make every variation under the sun: peach, fudge, raisin cream, even one called “PCP” (you know, pineapple coconut pecan). The title comes from the mountain of meringue created with a cup of egg whites per pie. “They just got bigger and we sorta got famous for it.” My favorite moment is when the interviewer asks the owner what her favorite is and she says, “Well look at me, honey. I like ’em all.” A short and sweet slice of life.
Ringwood: This Australia work actually caught me by surprise. It starts off with a scared-looking dweeby white collar office drone stuck at a train station filled with cartoonish white trash stereotypes (like a woman with her child’s name tattooed on her lower back, visible just above her thong). I won’t ruin it, but it doesn’t go where you think it will, and resembles a Down Under Portlandia. It also includes what could be the best line of the film festival: “I stabbed a guy in the face… with my own dick.”
Loot (pictured above): OK, so there are mimes in this one, but chill out: It’s pretty charming. With sinister harlequin faces and bowler hats, a man and a woman mime—-like Bonnie and Clyde meet Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand—-rob a bank using just their hands as guns. But the twist is that everyone believes it. The teller quakes in fear and the cops, with very real guns, are rendered helpless. The South African film makes use of an amazing set, playful sound effects, and talented performers, particularly in the lead pair (a good mime is hard to find). Only at the end do we learn that not everyone in this world has an imagination big enough to participate.
Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity: This piece attempts to illustrate the futurist theories of Ray Kurzweil, author, thinker, inventor, and director of engineering at Google. The theory itself is pretty interesting, but in quick, animated form, it is mostly just pretty to look at.
The Commitment: This piece, one of the longer selections of the festival with an approximately 20-minute run time, is a flawed but heartfelt story about the very real difficulties and heartbreak involved in adoption. A married gay couple meets with the woman carrying the child they hope to adopt, and discuss their fears around parenting. And while the script can feel forced at times, there are surprisingly touching moments.
Vanished: This unusually violent selection follows a hard-boiled investigator—-whom I suspect was supposed to seem like a modern Philip Marlowe but is really just a giant douchebag. In Vanished, he screams at a rattled witness who saw all of her coworkers murdered, “THEY wanted to go home, too!” At times, it comes across as a Saturday Night Live parody of 24 or Criminal Minds, with an ending straight out The Usual Suspects. These clichés are fat. I mean like, orca fat.
Caution, the Doors Are Opening!: This “Russian Federation” production recreates the busy Moscow subway system using buttons found in the Moscow subway system, set to cheery theme music from Thomas the Tank Engine. They go through a gateway (made of scissors), and up and down the escalators. Then some weird stuff goes down: A button with hammer and sickle falls down and gets carried out. (“What are the political implications?” my brain screams.) A seemingly “drunk” button gets swept out of the frame. Disturbing stuff. Then some music starts with what sounds like the yangqin—-the recognizable dulcimer-type instrument from China—-which plays over a group of yellow buttons with slanted button holes, who move around in a group and snap pictures. Racist as hell. Of course, as far as animated films go, the overt racism puts it right up there with Disney, I guess.
Sept. 21 at 4:30 p.m. at E Street Cinema Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. at E Street Cinema Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. at Angelika Film Center Sept. 28 at 3 p.m. at U.S. Navy Memorial