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Thread: Variety's Critics Weigh In

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    FORT Fogey razorbacker's Avatar
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    Variety's Critics Weigh In

    Critics…gotta love em, I guess.

    Variety.com - Reviews - On the Lot: The Shorts

    On the Lot: The Shorts
    (Series -- Fox)
    By VARIETY STAFF
    Produced by Mark Burnett Prods., DreamWorks Television and Amblin Television. Executive producers, Mark Burnett, Steven Spielberg, David Goffin cq; co-executive producers, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank; supervising producers, Andrew Frank, Nancy Gunn; producers, Dana Buning, Zach Green; director, Michael A. Simon; writer, Dan Perry.

    Host: Chelsea Handler.
    Judges: Carrie Fisher, Garry Marshall, Brett Ratner.


    The Variety staff take a gander at the shorts from the contestants of "On the Lot."
    "Replication Theory," Sam Friedlander
    In the right hands, flatulence can be funny. Generally speaking, however, fart jokes carry with them the smell of desperation. That's certainly true of Sam Friedlander's "Replication Theory," a not very amusing short devoid of humor or insight.
    Pic starts with an airplane passenger seemingly caught breaking wind. As others on the flight disapprovingly stare him down, the passenger quickly realizes the only way to avoid embarrassment is to make it seem like something else caused the sound-- i.e., the replication theory.
    It all goes horribly wrong when he's accused of being a terrorist after pointing to his shoes as the cause of the stray fart. As he's tackled to the ground, we find out that a cute female passenger was actually behind the "crime." Had the male passenger chivalrously taken the blame for the gas, "Replication Theory" might have produced at least a minor smile.
    -- Josef Adalian

    "Lucky Penny," Will Bigham
    In "Lucky Penny," finding a penny results in a series of unfortunate events for one man. He plunges down a manhole, gets hit by a bus and then gets crushed by a piano. It takes a lot for our hero to finally die. But the ways in which he's tortured are trite, clichéd and not very funny. The ending featuring an old lady with a walker is no more original.
    There are some nice shots, particularly one moment when our hero--having survived the impact of being hit by a bus-- is seen riding a couple blocks down the street with his face pressed against the vehicle.
    -- Josef Adalian

    "File Size," David May
    Using a setting and hook straight out of "Office Space," David May's "File Size" chronicles a character thwarted by both technology and a smarmy co-worker.
    Protag is an ordinary office worker trying to staple a collection of papers that refuse to stay together. Through a series of increasingly desperate moves--and over the sneers of his colleague--he ultimately finds even 21st century electronic methods can let him down.
    May has an astute sense of camera, capturing the frustration from an assortment of clever angles. But the film adds up to less than the sum of its realist parts. The succession of office difficulties feels like an inefficient use of limited time, and the payoff is inadequate for the buildup. "File Size" is a critique of office banality that doesn't avoid banality itself.
    -- Steven Zeitchik

    "Danger Zone," Zach Lipovsky
    In "Danger Zone," Zach Lipovksy's absurdist story of a particularly accident prone lab, characters are always knocking things over, setting each other on fire and generally creating a mess.
    What's billed as the "world's safest lab" is anything but, as one mishap quickly leads to another. Conceit of the film is that a chaotic domino-effect can take hold in a place normally ruled by order.
    Lipovsky has little more on his mind here than a series of visual gags, but he pulls it off with style. If the Rube Goldberg conceit drifts a little too much toward the slapstick, it's rescued by a keen sense of fun. The sets and costumes are playful, giving the dour setting of a hazmat lab a pleasant sense of whimsy, and making the film an unexpectedly satisfying experience.
    -- Steven Zeitchik

    "Getta Room," Jason Epperson
    The joke never quite connects in "Getta Room," Jason Epperson's film about a nerd whose life, and death, are turned upside down when he misunderstands and misuses the titular phrase.
    Premise is set up nicely in the opening movie theater scene and special effects are impressive in the final scene but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Had Epperson coaxed more subtlety out of his actors, particularly the lead, the resulting piece may have left more of an impression.
    -- Kathy Lyford

    "Dance Man," Adam Stein
    Adam Stein puts an interesting, if awkward, twist on the story of an outcast looking for love in "Dance Man," about a man who communicates only through dance.
    The lead does a fine job with the acting and a respectable job with the dancing, while the supporting players are adequate, although it seemed unnecessary to have the narrator onscreen in the final shot. Stein manages a complete arc in just one minute with humorous flashback sequences satisfyingly fleshing out the story.
    --Kathy Lyford

    "Wack Alley Cab," Kenny Luby
    "Wack Alley Cab" is over-stylized strangeness, original in the lunatic sense of the word. The film has no apparent purpose other than to depict madness (or randomness) as an end in itself, and it's all too grating for us to even enjoy the ride.
    Editing is sharp enough and the performers certainly commit, but it's a bit like the funhouse nightmare where the clowns cackle a little too wildly and a little too close for comfort.
    "Wack" positions itself as a trailer for a would-be film coming to a dubious screening locale, thus accounting for the piece's lack of any discernable structure, but even so, the challenge of sitting through just the single minute of "Wack" doesn't exactly entice one to see more.
    -- Jon Weisman

    "Soft," Mateen Kemet
    Quickly getting its story moving with the first two-word line of dialogue, "Soft" is an engaging, clever sketch that sets up at least two characters worth exploring in a longer format.
    The humor is ever-present but rarely over-the-top, except for a single moment at the climax that Kemet earns the goodwill to include, whether it completely works or not. Kemet might be better off creatively staying with the drier humor - the execution of the short's big twist is coyly realized -- yet his willingness to go broad arguably opens up his commercial prospects.
    Kemet draws out winning performances from his entire cast, no matter how small the part, and the production values are solid.
    --Jon Weisman

    "Check Out," Shira-Lee Shalit
    The tradition of air travel-based cinema is a grand one indeed. "Airport," "Airplane," "Snakes on a Plane" "Airport 75," and the Lee Majors tour de force "Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land" are but a few of the films that have touched us all. Now writer/director Shira-Lee Shalit offers her own addition to the air-travel movie genre with the sublime "Check Out," involving one of the more memorable scenes to take place in a security check boarding line. Who hasn't stood in a lengthy queue awaiting the dreaded metal detector and not let their mind wander?
    Shalit's blond, female and very single passenger allows her thoughts run amok, turning the annoying act of removing belt, shoes and jacket into an erotic pas de deux with a good looking young chap in front of her. Just as the imagined groping's getting good, the lady in question reaches back into reality to fondle a security guard's invasive, beeping wand. A succinct, satisfying, well-shot little saga that spoils a flight to the Mile High Club before it leaves the ground.
    -- Peter Gilstrap

    "Bus #1," Hilary Graham
    Right off the bat, writer/director Hilary Graham sucks us in with a basic human crisis: the need to urinate where to do so is seemingly impossible. In this case, a suffering young woman with a severely challenged bladder finds herself on a bus trip with an hour to go. Crowded with a mixed bag of passengers, the vehicle is, for some reason, a yellow school bus. Budgetary restrictions? Metaphor? Who knows?
    The wonderfully surly driver--"It ain't my problem you got a bladder the size of an acorn"--is no help, though a sweet old lady offers solutions in the form of an adult diaper she deploys from her purse and an empty coffee cup. The need to relieve getting the better of her, our hero opts for the cup, which is ultimately tossed from a window, into the path of a jogger.
    Effective editing makes the short work particularly well, and the featured actress evokes the everyday, base horror of it all quite realistically. Nice piece of business on a universal theme.
    -- Peter Gilstrap

    "To Screw In A Light Bulb," Jessica Brillhart
    A little too much Ingmar Bergman, and a lot of reaching for comic absurdity infects this short about a bathrobe-clad man trying to enjoy a late night bowl of cereal when the light bulb in his kitchen goes on the blink. A crazed clutch of characters, from a pirate to a knight to clown to a doctor in a surgical mask, suddenly materialize, moving frantically around him as the up-tempo symphonic music and overlapping dialogue swells. The brevity required here doesn't allow for the symbolism to make any impact. The lighting is the best thing about this piece.
    -- Cythia Littleton

    "The Big Bad Heist," Marty Martin
    Marty Martin gets credit for taking the logical approach to the onerous assignment of making a cogent piece in 60 seconds. But that's part of the problem. Everything about his faux TV teaser spot for a B-grade heist flick is incredibly derivative, from the four guys banding together to make a killing to the gun-toting girl in lingerie to the mob boss "Ten-Finger Tony" to the bit with the exploding paint canister in the getaway car. Nothing unique here, though this clip would help Martin find work at one of the town's trailer houses.
    -- Cynthia Littleton

    "Blind Date," Claudia La Bianca
    The fart humor herein is excused by a strong, virtually dialogue-free performance from the unidentified lead actress. She's waiting for her blind date in a bar, downing a half-dozen martinis after he text-messages her to inform that he's running late and that he's wearing a yellow shirt. Of course, the next few seconds find her running into all kinds of men in yellow shirts, none of whom are looking for her. Star makes this work with expressive, emotive reactions. We feel her urgency, and light-headedness, through her expressive gait when nature calls after all those martinis. Snappy editing, good soundtrack punctuation allow for making the most of the forced brevity of the piece.
    --Cynthia Littleton

    "A Golf Story," Trever James
    Spoof of TV's tendency to over-hype coverage of showdowns between hot-shots and veterans at major golf tournaments has a cute twist at the end. But there's no directorial flair to speak of. "Golf" plays like a leftover shoved onto the end of a weak episode of "Saturday Night Live." The cocky young golfer and the been-around-the-links older golfer are 1-dimensional caricatures, as are the faux TV announcers. Not much here that you can't find on YouTube.
    -- Cynthia Littleton

    "Love In The Year 2007," Shalini Kantayya
    This piece is too busy stuffing itself with up-to-the-minute pop culture references to work on character development. All we really know about our protagonist is that she's reading how-to-keep-a-man self-help books, has "over 2,000 MySpace friends" and that her last boyfriend broke up with her by singing telegram. Lead actress is engaging in flashes here and there, but there's no material for her to hang on to.
    --Cynthia Littleton

    "Deliver Me," Carolina Zorrilla De San Martin
    This piece strives to skewer our cultural obsession with cell phones and other communications gizmos by portraying a pregnant call-obsessed career woman in a delivery room who refuses to put down her phone long enough to push. As the anesthesia is being administered, the frame goes gauzy and dream-state, but to no effect whatsoever on the characterization of the woman or her disconnected husband. "Deliver Me" tries to do too much in the time allotted, and never really brings home the point in a meaningful way. Direction is flat, treading familiar ground in delivery room and dream sequence.
    -- Cynthia Littleton

    "Spaced Out," Andrew Hunt
    There'S Too Much Of "Men In Black" In This Bit To Be Anything But Derivative. A Solo Patrol Officer Pulls Over A Spaceship For What The Cop'S Body Language Indicates Is A Routine, Even Boring, Traffic Stop. Two Standard-Issue Alien Beings In Hawaiian Shirts Tumble Down The Shaft Of Light That Leads From The Ship To The Street. Crudely Made Extraterrestrials Are Staggering Drunk, And Projectile-Vomit A Whitish Concoction All Over The Cop'S Uniform. And That'S About It. Unidentified Actor Who Plays The Cop Pulls Off His Part Just Fine, Until The Gross-Out Stuff Takes Over.
    -- Cynthia Littleton

    "Please Hold," Phil Hawkins
    Standard short film fodder of thriller-turns-comic stuff here, not particularly well executed. Opens with woman's gasp, half-light falling on her face as she bolts up in bed with the sounds of breaking and entering behind her, etc. etc. Her emergency call to 911 descends into automated-operator hell, i.e. "Press 13 if you've been shot in the left leg." She finally gets to the "burgled" option, then, of course, gets put on hold with cheesy music. She comes face to face with her black-clad male tormentor, but the moment has no punch to it whatsoever. Overall, the piece is as boring as the hold music.
    -- Cynthia Littleton

    “Replication Theory,” Sam Friedlander; “Lucky Penny," Will Bighamll; “File Size," David May; “Danger Zone," Zach Lipovsky; "Getta Room," Jason Epperson; “Dance Man," Adam Stein; “Wack Alley Cab," Kenny Luby; “Soft," Mateen Kemet; “Check Out," Shira-Lee Shalit; “BUS #1," Hilary Graham; “To Screw In A Light Bulb," Jessica Brillhart; “The Big Bad Heist," Marty Martin; “Blind Date," Claudia La Bianca; “A Golf Story," Trever James; “Love In The Year 2007," Shalini Kantayya; “Deliver Me," Carolina Zorrilla De San Martin; “Spaced Out," Andrew Hunt; “Please Hold," Phil Hawkins;

    Variety is striving to present the most thorough review database. To report inaccuracies in review credits, please click here. We do not currently list below-the-line credits, although we hope to include them in the future. Please note we may not respond to every suggestion. Your assistance is appreciated.

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    Anarchist AJane's Avatar
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    Re: Variety's Critics Weigh In

    Thanks, razorbacker - I found that very interesting reading. I was suprised to see good reviews for Hilary and Claudia. And I'm glad that Andrew's film got panned - I really didn't get the rave reviews from the OTL judges.
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    Re: Variety's Critics Weigh In

    Whew! Those Variety critics are tough to please!

    But I think they were right on the money about Kenny Luby's Wack Alley Cab and Will Bigham's Lucky Penny - the first was a disaster and the second was highly overrated. I also didn't like David May's File Size - though I liked his visual style, the storyline sucked.

    Mateen Kemet's Soft received a great review - his short was the best of the bunch imho and should've been in the top three but what does the average American viewer know about filmmaking? Apparently, not much...

    I wholly disagree with regards to Shira-Lee Shalit's Check Out - I found this one dull and unsatisfying.

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    Re: Variety's Critics Weigh In

    Very interesting read. Thanks for posting it. It seems like Cynthia hated every one. Granted some of them were bad she reviewed, but it seems like she started writing in order to trash every short she could, to make an impression. As for Peter, I'm shocked he could find anything nice to say about Bus #1. I think he took the opposite approach and tried to say something nice to make an impression since it was so univerally panned by the judges and viewers alike.

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