Year Released: 2005 (compiled)
Distributor: Film Movement
Origin: USA/India/Australia/South Africa/Germany/Japan
Running Time: Anthology, 6 short films, 9-30 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG to PG-13
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Short films in general
-This was the first time Film Movement had done an anthology of short films. Anyone who’s seen any other Film Movement DVD knows that each movie features one short film.
-Two of the short films feature musicians as lead actors. The First Three Lives of Stuart Hornsley features the title character being played by Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio while Deathdealer: A Documentary has the main character played by Henry Rollins of Black Flag fame.
-Speaking of Henry Rollins, did all you Avatar: The Last Airbender fans know he played Zaheer in The Legend of Korra?
-Half of the total films were nominated for Oscars.
Short films can be fun to watch. They are a short investment on time to watch, and some can be pretty good. I was fortunate to go to a university that had a film festival where many short films were played every year. I found out about this anthology after discovering what Film Movement had to offer during my teenage years, so I rediscovered a DVD copy I bought years ago at a now defunct music and video store.
The first short film proper is Inja which is an Australian short film that was a 2003 nominee for an Academy Award. It takes place in South Africa where a boy named Thembile works for a cruel man named Johannes who tries to sever the ties between the boy and a dog that he found. It takes place in two separate times as seen by Thembile raising the flag. During his childhood, he raises the blue, orange, and white flag which was used during Apartheid-era South Africa. When he’s an adult, it switches to the current flag. That was a subtle touch to show the times and the culture even though it would be more obvious to someone who’s from South Africa or someone who’s into vexillology. This short piece was very emotional. When Johannes puts the dog in the bag before kicking it, I winced watching this display of cruelty before he tells Thembile to put the dog out of the back while putting him at gunpoint. The visual aspect has shown it’s age, but it still works. While not quite cinema vertite, it certainly isn’t a blockbuster production.
Next is Sangam, which is an American/Indian production. The story starts with a woman’s voice talking about Sangam which is a river in India where people make pilgrimages to bathe there. It’s believed in Indian culture that it gives them strength. It then cuts to Raj, who recently immigrated to New York City from India is is still learning about the culture. He then has a fateful encounter on the subway with a naturalized Indian-American named Virek who works as a computer programmer, but is disillusioned by this society. The scenery is gritty in the New York scenes while the flashbacks to Sangam are almost heavenly with the filters and effects. Once scene I thought was interesting is Raj walking around Times Square while the background consists of Indian pop music as a counterpoint to the blatantly American locales he sees. The acting was hit and miss for me. Raj was just fine in playing this awkward guy who’s desperate to achieve the American dream even though he really comes off as a creepy stalker later on (spoiler avoided). I wasn’t feeling the acting so much from Virek. I thought he was too flat in his role and could have delivered his lines better to really play up this worn down demeanor. The final scene involving Raj touching the water in Coney Island was a nice parallel to Sangam and I got the metaphor there.
Mt. Head AKA Atama Yama is a short anime piece straight from the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s a surreal short film that almost rivals Cat Soup in it’s strangeness even though there’s way more dialog compared to that short. It deals with this disgusting and stingy man who’s apartment is filled with garbage. He eats some free cherries and doesn’t want to waste the whole thing, so he eats the seeds and there’s a cherry tree growing out of his head, hence the title. Despite clipping off the tree, it keep growing back, but with insane results. I won’t spoil it for you, but it gets very weird quickly when it becomes a full grown tree. Mt. Head had a fascinating minimalist soundtrack that revolves around a shamisen and some Japanese chanting that reminded me of some Noh productions. The animation revolves around some cartoonish, yet appropriate rotoscoping which adds to the overall weirdness.
Das Rad AKA Rocks is a shot stop motion piece from Deutschland. The story revolves around two anthropomorphic rocks who are talking about life going on around them as they see all this progress created by humanity while complaining about moss and lichen growing on them. They see neanderthals trying to discover the wheel, medieval carts, rolling around, to paved roads and buildings in a matter of minutes. The stop motion work is very good. One thing I noticed after watching it this time around was how subtle the background changed to reflect time passing by. There were patches of grass growing and shrinking while the clouds were going at light speed. Very subtle, yet very effective as these ageless rocks see the world around them. What I found to be fascinating was a metaphor for progress in both good and bad ways with the rapidly changing environment. I did get a laugh seeing the “built to last” billboard near the end and what it represented in the film’s thesis statement.
The First Three Lives of Stuart Hornsley is the longest film on this DVD clocking in at half an hour. It deals with the main character, Stuart, a former physics student who’s trying to build a time machine to fix a mistake he made in ignoring his classmate Mimi who’s NASA-bound while he’s stuck in present day Brooklyn as a middle school teacher. Stuart enlists help from one of his students Vitaliy who’s working on a science fair project. He tries three times to change the past with varying results. What I liked was how Stuart didn’t have full control of the past even when he would move his finger a certain way to change the outcome to play up the butterfly effect. Not to mention his duct tape-clad time traveling suit was hilarious. While the comedy and film work were good here, I did have some conflicting feelings about the movie and the Stuart Hornsley character. Tunde Adebimpe does a good job in playing this disillusioned character with undertones of regret in his near-monotone voice, but I thought the moral of changing the past was confusing. There is a happy ending as one could guess, but I felt that his efforts to get back with Mimi were consequence-free because he always found a way to go back to change things despite how much he got hurt emotionally and in one case physically.
The final film was my favorite one, to be honest. It was Deathdealer: A Documentary. No, it’s not a real documentary, but a very slick and witty docufiction. The main character is Vincent (they censor his last name) who is a businessman in a suit who goes around and literally kills people when it’s their “time to go”. Henry Rollins just nails that character perfectly with sardonic deadpan humor while realizing that this is the only way he can make money instead of flipping burgers and “manipulating tax codes”. Vincent has a serious look on life in making a living. He gets the names faxed to him after his Palm Pilot broke, so he’s kind of old-school in that way even when this was filmed in the early 00s. This even breaks the fourth wall where there are scenes where you see the filmmakers and cameramen around intentionally. He doesn’t even take vacations or sick days, so one can say that this version of death doesn’t take a holiday (I had to make that reference). The way Vincent kills people is by touching them, but what makes this character very creepy is that he comforts people as he does so. In his first onscreen job, he sees an elderly woman who’s bedridden. He feeds her a bit of her Jello and Vincent holds her hand telling her that things will be alright before she’s dead in seconds. Vincent even tells the cameramen about how and when random strangers are going to die in such a casual way and this was filmed close to the time when the Death Note manga was released in Japan. The ending is shocking, but very darkly funny in a fourth wall breaking way.
I’d say that this collection of short films was a good selection with some being better than others.
If I had to rate these films, they’d go as follows:
Inja: 8/10 points
Sangam: 5/10 points
Mt. Head: 7/10 points
Das Rad: 7/10 points
The First Three Lives of Stuart Hornsley: 6/10 points
Deathdealer: A Documentary: 10/10 points
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like short films.
-Good quality short films
-Various genres and countries represented
-Some subtitle errors in Inja
-Stylistic differences can be jarring.
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: These short films range from varying themes and content. The worst one content-wise would be Sangam which has some strong language, sexual references, and not to mention Raj’s plan to be successful in America will raise eyebrows. Inja has animal cruelty as a major plot point. Mt. Head has a scene where a man is urinating in public. Deathdealer: A Documentary has deaths in a darkly humorous way, so be warned about that. The rest doesn’t have that much as far as objectionable content is concerned.
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