It’s hot outside and you want to see a movie for a long period of time to cool off. You could see one of those nearly three hour blockbusters that are still logjamming the marketplace, but you’ve probably already seen all of them or you’re burnt out on them. How about watching several movies in one sitting? How about catching up on some short films that you’ve never seen? How about seeing them in a venue that’s licensed for refreshing booze sales?
Sorry for all the elbow jabbing, but 7pm Thursday night at Carlton Cinemas marks the return of local programmer James McNally’s quarterly Shorts That Are Not Pants screening series. It’s the series’ first installment since the spring, and it’s great to have it back for a summertime engagement. There was a time not too long ago when short films had a more stable home in theatres and festivals (you know, ones that aren’t TIFF or Hot Docs), and it’s nice that McNally has taken up the cause to make sure some inventive short form filmmaking doesn’t fall through the cracks.
Screening nine shorts this time out, the line up finds its biggest gem in the wholly epic Habana, the story of a young man who will take viewers on a personal, harrowing, and lyrical journey through the wreckage strewn streets of a futuristic, wartorn Havana. Shot in gorgeous black and white, it’s a brainy sci-fi film with stunning visuals that will leave viewers taken aback that a short could have that much impact in only 22 minutes.
In the nostalgic and charming documentary, Way of the Dodo, an East London shopkeeper struggles to keep his most beloved hobby and business model alive. 53 year old Umit Mesut sells and collects rare 8 and 16mm films just as the formats are about to go extinct. Liam Saint-Pierre’s film offers up a curious slice of life with some film nerdy goodness in such a way that when the outtakes hit in the films credits, one almost wishes there were a few more minutes to the running time.
A pair of dark Canadian comedies join the line-up this year with The Runner and The Standoff. In the former, a slovenly, slacker, son (played by Jim Little) has been written out of his dead father’s will and tasked with spreading his ashes. Most of the film consists of Little running around like a happy and wonderful kind of nutjob before leading to a genuinely sweet and well earned conclusion.
As for The Standoff, it’s a mostly effective anti-romantic comedy that doesn’t quite stick the landing. A seemingly happy married couple begins bursting at the seams over a perceived lack of gratitude and escalates into a weeklong acrimonious battle of wills. The film gets great performances out of leads Cindy Doire and Ryan Levecque, and their series of escalating arguments works fine. It would have worked better if it doesn’t rush to the conclusion.
Similarly disappointing, but by no means bad is the Spanish language short Cólera, which is an impressive technical achievement at the very least. Told in a single, unbroken six minute take, this story of an angry mob taking to the desert for an unknown sort of revenge looks stunning. In terms of the story, however, it’s a bit disappointing that by the time the twist ending rolls around it has only amounted to a note-for-note aping of the last five minutes of a very recognizable early 2000s horror film. Not bad, but not very original.
Then there’s the matter of Perfect Drug, a lens flaring, neon tinged, gross out, head trip from Belgium that’s admirably batshit, but bound to turn some heads and stomachs. A hoodlum that was part of a team that pulled off a botched drug heist of sorts decides to get high on the neon green liquid that they pilfered. There are bits with chainsaws, tentacles, ice cream cones, and probably the grossest use of a sweaty fat guy in quite some time. It’s certainly not for everyone’s taste, but it’s really earning its crazy sensibilities. It’s like if early 90s Peter Jackson decided to do coke in a dirty bathroom stall with Gaspar Noe and they came up with a film to make together for Troma. Take that for what you will, but I dug it for what it was.
Also on the bill that I haven’t seen are the Finnish short Behind the Curtain (about a young man trying to overcome his fear of public singing) and a pair of shorts from Sheridan College animation grads. Mean Teddies tells the story of one teddy bear’s fight to save his now aging human counterpart from monsters. Never Stop Cycling follows an ordinary, routine oriented guy on a surreal trip to another world.
Advance tickets are $10 and can be purchased online here until 12:01am Wednesday. Tickets are $12 at the door. Air conditioning is free. Refreshment prices vary. You can also subscribe to the remainder of the 2014 series for $35 (either online or in person), which gets you admission to all other screenings this year, including a special secret screening on July 27th. It’s officially shorts weather, so celebrate while you still can and salute some shorts.