Time seems to be the central theme of the animated shorts for the Oscars this year, as all of the animated shorts have some semblance of the theme of time. Most of the shorts spend their story examining the beauty of the past and the present, while others examine the tragedy of the past, the present, and the future. As with most years at the Oscars, you won’t always find typical animated entries, but this year’s crop have been quite special and incredibly thought provoking. I take a second glance at the shorts this year, and what I am voting to win come February 26th.
Deborah Stratman’s experimental film considers the wide scope of the American experience through a narrow prism of eleven chapters from Illinois history.
The production considers the eerie near-erasure of the land’s ancient inhabitants – the Cahokia Mounds are shown with scant explanation of their relevance, while Native American culture is viewed in the tacky stagnation of a museum diorama and the expulsion of the Cherokees is encapsulated in a street sign called “Trail of Tears Road.” The rise and fall of outsider communities is also considered in the relatively brief period of the Icarian utopian commune of French immigrants and the rise of Joseph Smith’s nascent Mormon movement (as well as Smith’s death and the burning of the Mormon temple in Nauvoo). Stratman brings in archival footage of the devastating 1925 Tri-State Tornado and stages a re-enactment of the televised re-enactment of the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by law enforcement.
“BC Butcher” was made by Ms. Bowling when she was seventeen and she poured all of her resources in to making an hour long feature that paid tribute to the B movies of the sixties. Bowling has a clear cut love for drive-in trash like “Teenage Caveman” and “Eegah!” and delivers a schlocky indie film that also doubles as the first slasher film set during the caveman era. Filled with a lot of call backs to the sixties, and absolutely no attention to historical accuracy, Bowling has an obvious goal here, delivering a movie that’s more a practice in tongue in cheek, rather than straight up horror. You really can’t bash a film that features a supporting role by Kato Kaelin, and is narrated by Kadeem Hardison, too heavily.
Director Patrick Rea’s horror thriller “Arbor Demon” (Originally titled “Enclosure”) is a quite compelling and eerie tale of supernatural interference during what can usually be a tumultuous time. As per the usual with Patrick Rea, “Arbor Demon” is a much more human approach to the typical survival horror movie. His movie is set primarily within the closed in quarters of a tent in the deep woods. But he’s able to derive a lot of terror from the surroundings, and derives some great performances from his cast. In particular there’s Fiona Dourif who impresses once again in a role she dives in to and commands with a lot of pathos and charisma.
One of the most influential figures in post-World War II architecture was the Finnish-born Eero Saarinen, whose neo-futuristic vision created some of the most striking design accomplishments of the 20th century. Peter Rosen’s documentary, which aired on PBS’ American Masters, offers a satisfactory oversight of Saarinen’s career.
Kohl Harrington’s documentary takes a harsh look at the questionable ingredients and frequently shabby quality control in today’s pet food industry. The film argues that too many dog and cat owners gets distracted with user-friendly marketing to notice that many of the canned and packaged foods being served to their pets are nutritionally dubious and fail to meet the basic dietary needs despite generous promises of being healthy. Even worse, the lack of care in the processing of these foods resulted in the poisoning deaths of pets and the uncontrollable grief of the owners that felt guilty in feeding their beloved creatures contaminated food. But it appears that no one is keeping an eye on this sector.
Let’s cut to the chase: Chad Ferrin’s “Parasites” is easily one of the best movies of 2017. It’s culturally relevant, very creepy, compelling, gritty, and packs a punch of a climax that is both incredibly evocative and promises to keep audiences debating for days. Set in Los Angeles, three college friends are on the way home accidentally find themselves stranded in skid row. While there, they become victims to the predatory Wilco, a vicious and violent homeless man who leads a massive army of wayward individuals. After terrorizing the trio of youths, events spiral out of control prompting Wilco to scramble to conceal his crimes. When character Marshal survives out of pure chance, he flees for his life, prompting Wilco and his army to track him down and hunt him in the middle of the city. Now Marshal has to fight for survival, and look for help.
ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE – Kahane Cooperman’s short documentary “Joe’s Violin” is a touching, emotional, and pretty extraordinary portrait of the value of objects, and how music can touch us and bind us together as human beings. Centered on Holocaust survivor Joe Feingold, director Cooperman explores how Joe spent most of his young life struggling to survive in concentration camps. Despite all logic indicating that he bring along bare necessities like food or clothing, Joe kept his beloved violin with him throughout his life. A now 91 year old Joe donates his violin to a Bronx music school, and he reflects on his life as young Brianna Perez prepares to perform with it.