WSFF: Celebrity Shorts

Friend Request Pending
 Advertised as having “more famous faces than an episode of Celebrity Rehab,” “Celebrity Shorts” boasts more A-listers, Oscar-winners, and top-tier talent than any other program in the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival. Thanks to familiar faces and novelty, “Celebrity Shorts” is arguably the most popular program at the fest. It might also be the best program to introduce casual moviegoers to the world of shorts. And just remember the golden rule of short film: if you don’t like something, there is always the comfort of knowing that it will be over in a few minutes. They’re called “shorts” for a reason, after all.

 “Celebrity Shorts” gets off to a fun start with Friend Request Pending (UK, 12 min.).  Do you ever wonder how courtship exists in an age of IM, DM, FB, etc? Well, it must look pretty ridiculous. Directed by Chris Foggin, Friend Request Pending is a hilarious story of dating in the digital age. Dame Judi Dench stars as Mary, who sits in front of her Mac Book fretting like a teenager as she waits for her crush to sign in to chat. Her friend (Penny Ryder) thinks that Mary should just initiate contact the old fashioned way by picking up the phone. (A landline, no less!) Mary insists that doing it online is easier, more casual, and more likely to achieve desired results. It’s absolutely hilarious to watch the two seniors act like bubbly schoolgirls and riff all the newfangled slang and the dos and don’ts of digital dating. The generational gap of the ladies and their windows to romance makes a great farce of the silly squabbles of the younger members of the audience. Friend Request Pending also features a cameo by Tom Hiddleston, so the young ladies in the audience should not be put off. And you can initiate contact by following him on Twitter, LOL!
The Carrier
Moving from Mac Books to iPhones, “Celebrity Shorts” changes the mood with the sombre short The Carrier (US, 18 min.) Rita Wilson gives a moving performance as Helen, a mother who recently lost her son, Thatcher (Chad Michael Murray), and receives some surprising posthumous information about him. Unwilling to allow Thatcher’s reckless behaviour go unaccounted for, Helen meets with Thatcher’s past/present conquests and delivers the startling news. Anna Paquin appears as Thatcher’s current lover and lends another impressive credit for director Scott Schaeffer, who serves as an assistant director on Paquin’s True Blood. The Beaufort Diaries (US, 4 min.) follows The Carrier and it offers another story of reckless behaviour, although with a much sunnier tone. Beaufort is a funny animated polar bear (voiced by David Duchovny) that dreams of stardom and achieves it, but only to lose it all in a downward spiral of excess. Thanks to the quirky mixed media, witty writing, and the smart casting of Duchonvy, Beaufort is a clever, tongue in cheek fable of addiction. Up next is another funny film, The Voorman Problem (UK, 13 min.) by Mark Gill. Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) stars as Dr. Williams, who is sent in to interview a patient at a maximum security prison. That patient, played by Tom Hollander (Hanna), claims to be God. It’s cause for concern, especially for the farcical quid pro quo that ensues. Clarice Starling got off easy.

The Voorman Problem is followed by one of the better shorts of "Celebrity Shorts" - The End (France, 17 min.). Starring Charlotte Rampling as herself, The End deconstructs the existential meaning of celebrity and of one's ability to endure through art. Rampling discovers that she is being edited out of all her films and being replaced by more attractive young starlets. The End asks how one's star status and celebrity continues throughout one's career and questions whether an actress is only as good as her last work. Should some wrinkles blemish a great career? Rampling is still thriving, and her work in The End shows that she's here to stay. After the existential crisis of The End comes the fleeting Butterflies (US, 2 min.), which is a bizarre experimental short that features John Malkovich and is over just as soon as it began – it boasts impressive tech work, but the credits are longer than the film itself! Continuing the weirdness – but in a good way – is Blitzen Trapper Massacre (USA, 7 min.). The title pretty much speaks for itself: it’s a massacre of Blitzen Trapper. The Office’s Rainn Wilson stars and co-directs this comic bloodbath in which he tries to become a member of the band, but when the Blitzen peeps shun him, he gets Even Steven.
Pitch Black Heist
“Celebrity Shorts” truly saves the best for last, though, by ending with Pitch Black Heist (UK, 13 min.). Michael Fassbender stars as a rugged grifter who teams up with an old fuck-up (Liam Cunningham) to pull off a tricky score. The mission requires them to crack a safe in complete darkness, as the alarm system is triggered by light. The two men rehearse Entrapment-style and then hit the pub while they wait for the cue to go. It’s a lengthy wait at the pub, so, being Brits, Michael and Liam kick back with a few pints. Liam lets his tongue loose as they play the waiting game, but the younger Michael is the strong, silent type. He also has a better handle on the situation, and Fassbender gives another impressive and imposing performance as the mysterious criminal. The real star of Pitch Black Heist, however, is cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Wuthering Heights) who captures the mission is stunning black and white widescreen. Pitch Black Heist won the BAFTA this year for Best Short Film and it’s easy to see why. Not only is Pitch Black Heist another credit for the impressive Film Fasstival of 2011, it is one smart, stylish caper. It's a true A-level film to end this line-up of A-list talent.

“Celebrity Shorts” screens at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema Thursday, June 7 at 7:45 p.m.
Please visit www.shorterisbetter.com for tickets, program/film info, and show times.

And click here for more reviews of programmes at this year’s World Wide Short Film Festival.