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Unless you spend a lot of time at film festivals (or glued to the Sundance Channel), odds are you don't get to see many short films. And that's kind of a shame, both for filmmakers and film-lovers. That's not to say that short = awesome; you'll find just as many rotten shorts as you will quality ones, it's just that they're a lot shorter than, say, xXx: State of the Union, and therefore even if they suck, the pain doesn't last very long.
Fortunately, Vanguard DVD has pulled together a quintet of short films that don't wallow in pretense and abstract psycho-babble. Hollywood Stories consists of five short flicks, all of which allegedly have some sort of connection to the world of Tinseltown.
Chris Hume's 10-minute Sammy the Screenplay is a snarky little look at the life of a new screenplay. From spec to sold to butchered and re-doctored, Little Sammy is forced to contend with a whole lot of stress, but he also gets to meet cameo performers Jason Alexander, Rob Schneider, Pierce Brosnan, Tia Carrere, and Chris Columbus.
Who's Kyle is Gerald Emerick's 19-minute visit with a guy who holes up with a rather eccentric family. Gary Oldman pops up to play an intimidating greasy guy -- one of his many calling cards.
From writer/director Jeff Cooper comes Cut, a clever little story about a celebrated horror director, an overzealous film school student, and an "audition" that goes gorily awry. Runs just around 20 minutes.
Margaret Harris' Exit 8A is a great mini-flick that I remember seeing back at Sundance '04. It opens with a ferocious young man who's just absorbed the beating of a lifetime, and so he heads home for a frenzied visit with his estranged father. About 21 minutes long, this one, although kinda bleak, just might be the best of the bunch.
Don't Give Me the Finger is a 15-minute adaptation of the old Hitchcock story that involves a wager, a cigarette lighter, a knife, and a pinkie finger. Writer/director David Rikki Balcorta keeps the tension flowing pretty well, plus he was able to get a rather malicious performance from Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (a.k.a. Welcome Back Kotter's Freddy "Boom Boom" Washington). Fun, familiar stuff.
Looking back over the five mini-features, I now realize that the "Hollywood" theme is a tenuous one at best. Only two of the five shorts have anything to do with the movie-world, but hey; anything that helps to get short films out and into the public eye is just fine by me. This collection is absolutely worth visiting at least once, although it's tough to say that they'd stand up to repeat viewings.
Video: Sammy and Finger are presented in fullscreen, while Kyle, Cut, and Exit are all of the widescreen persuasion. Picture quality varies from short to short, but if you're even remotely familiar with the world of micro-budgeted short-filmmaking, then you know not to expect anything too sleek or flashy.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, although volume levels fluctuate wildly from film to film. (If you're watching with the "play all" feature, be sure to keep your remote handy!)
Call them abstract weirdness or call them "film student calling cards," but there's tons of short films out there, and so few that manage to crack through to the surface and find an audience. The five short films collected in Hollywood Stories might not be the absolute cream of the short-crop, but each one's pretty darn solid in its own right.