his epic adaptation of Henry V, Sir
Kenneth Branagh’s third Academy Award nomination came for a short film—a treatment
of Chekhov’s Swan Song. Although he has now reinvented himself as a
tent-pole director, with the new Jack Ryan thriller on the way, Branagh periodically
returns to shorter forms of filmmaking.
That is indeed Branagh appearing as the villain in Benjamin Grayson’s Prodigal, which screens as part of
Shorts International’s Stars in Shorts program (trailer here), opening this
Friday at the IFC Center.
Branagh is a delight as Mark Snow, the head of a shadowy research group (and namesake
of the X-Files composer), Prodigal (trailer here) largely recycles a number of the themes and motifs familiar from Chris
Carter’s television series. David O’Neill
regrets entrusting Samantha, his young daughter with powerful telekinetic
abilities, to the Prodigal institution.
He enlists the help of a secretive branch of the federal government, but
in retrospect, this is probably a further mistake. Aside from Branagh, the cast is a bit
colorless, but Prodigal certainly
looks like a polished production. Fans
of Winter Ave Zoli (from Sons of Anarchy)
will be also interested to see her as David’s wife Angela.
the funniest short of the block is Robert Festinger’s The Procession, starring Lily Tomlin and the sort of starrish Jesse
Tyler Ferguson as the shallowest, most self-centered mother-and-son tandem you
would never want to be trapped in a car with during a funeral procession. It basically plays like an unproduced episode
of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it works.
of the standouts of the program, Rupert Friend’s Steve also starts out in a somewhat comedic vibe, but takes a
decidedly dark turn. A couple’s
bickering is interrupted by a neighbor’s seemingly reasonable inquiry about a
leak. However, the title character will
be back, with weirder complaints. He
will also expect tea. Colin Firth is
memorably off as Steve, while the glammed down Keira Knightley is convincingly
harried as his reluctant host. It is a
nice short acting showcase, fittingly helmed by Friend, recognizable as the
protag-journalist in Renny Harlin’s 5 Days of War, among other big screen roles.
and sound editor Jay Kamen’s Not Your
Time is pretty amusing as well. Featuring
Jason Alexander as Sid Rosenthal, an editor who always wanted to helm a Busby
Berkley musical, it mines Player style
laughs by featuring a cast of Hollywood insiders as themselves. Music students will also appreciate Kamen’s
send-up of atonal avant-garde classical composition. While the humor is distinctly dark, Alexander’s
shticky persona best fits brief running times, like NYT’s twenty five minutes.
LaBute continues to seek redemption for his The
Wicker Man remake with two characteristically cutting contributions. Jacob Chase’s After School Special, written by LaBute, is an ironic twist kind of short, with its name “star,” Wes
Bentley, not really factoring in the business end of the film. Nonetheless, the closing scene definitely
stings. Sexting, both penned and helmed by the playwright, builds to a more
obvious punchline, but Julia Stiles is deliciously catty as the other woman,
burying herself in a mountain of LaButian dialogue. It is smart gig for Stiles, who was terrif in
Shakespeare in the Park’s Twelfth Night years
ago, but seems to get the dumbest parts offered to her.
the slightest constituent film is also the one with the greatest built in
audience anticipation. In Chris Foggin’s
Friend Request Pending Dame Judi
Dench and her crony engage in a bit of social networking and cyber flirtation,
presumably before they nip off to India’s greener retirement pastures. One of the floating heads on the program poster,
Tim Hiddleston also eventually appears in a jokey cameo during Pending’s closing seconds. A harmless reunion of My Week With Marilyn assistant director Foggin and co-stars Dench
and Penny Ryder, it will probably endear itself to the Marigold Hotel set.
Though shorts programs are often inconsistent by
their aggregated nature, there is no out and out clunker in Stars.
Steve might be the high point,
but it notably represents a good way to see Branagh, Stiles, and LaBute doing
their thing. Recommended for fans of
short films and LaBute, Stars in Shorts opens
this Friday (9/28) in New York at the IFC Center.
Labels: Colin Firth, Julia Stiles, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Neil LaBute, Short Films