"Shorts for Cats" is a collection of six short films on widely disparate topics which don´t really have any connection with cats! Despite the strange title, it is an enjoyable collection which is well worth a look. As with any collection of shorts, some are better than others, but for me the headliner is the atmospheric "Duel" which I would highly recommend to everyone. "No Menus Please" and "The Big Break" also deserve an honourable mention, but I felt that "The Fight", "Little Wings" and "Don´t Leave Me" were less impressive.
"Duel" is based on a short play written and adapted for the screen by Matthew Rimmer (who also stars as The Drunk) and Dominic Antonio Cerniglio (the director). The supporting cast are Jonathan Fraser (The Soldier), Pauly Hatch (Bar Tender) and A J Bove (The Girl).
A mysterious girl wanders though the misty forest as a lone soldier (and member of the elite royal guard) enters a near deserted village tavern to wait for his lover. However, the soldier becomes entangled in argument between a drunk (who used to be an assassin for the King) and a barkeeper (who has betrayed the drunk by failing to deliver a message). When the drunk exacts revenge on the bar keeper, the soldier enters a duel with the drunk which will change both of their fates irrevocably.
There is limited dialogue, but every word is well chosen. The fine acting of the three men and the artful direction easily convey more than words would clumsily express in a lesser production. The story is both engaging and tragic and even on repeated viewing I could not fail to be moved by the performances. The photography and the high calibre of direction combine to draw you into the story immediately and I found myself thinking about this short a great deal after viewing it. The conclusion is both heartbreaking and beautifully executed. The action is skilfully choreographed and even the fighting styles add to the characters of the drunk and the soldier. Jonathan Eusebio (stunt co-ordinator), Luke Lafontaine (swordsmaster and stunt performer) Dan Lemuex (stunt performer) bringing a level of professionalism and technical expertise which surpassed my expectations.
All in all this is an excellent short film which bears repeated watching and improves with every view. It is beautiful to behold, atmospheric and very satisfying.
"No Menus Please" tells the comic story of Ming (Richard Chang), as a Chinese immigrant in New York given the job of delivering menus to the apartment blocks near to the takeaway run by Vicki (Fannie Chan). However, it is not an easy life for an immigrant with little English and he has to contend with residents harassing him because he cannot read their "no menus please" signs and he has competition from Carlos (Kevin Rivera) who delivers menus for a rival takeaway.
Ming and Carlos have no language in common and initially they fight to ensure that their menus are the ones people will be using. Then Ming realises that he can win favour with Vicki by collecting his opponent´s menus and he takes the opportunity to enter into a truce with Carlos. They swap menus with each other and are each praised by their bosses. Yet, as none of the menus are being delivered, the truce cannot last forever - but who will break first?
Richard Chang (one of the Stars of Windhorse - filmed secretly in Chinese occupied Tibet) is wonderful as Ming. He has little dialogue but his expressive face adds a level of poignancy to the comedy in this highly entertaining short film. Writer and director Edward Shieh won the jury award for the best Director at the 2007 Golden Gate International Film Festival and Live-Action Gold at the Worldfest Houston International for this short film.
"The Big Break" is a comic tale about Diego (Luca Costa), a hit man contracted to kill a film producer who instead runs into Loretta (Pia Shah) an actress who is planning on seducing the producer in order to get a part. In a further comic twist, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems and that Diego has in fact stumbled into an audition for the part of a gangster who is hired to kill a producer and instead runs into an actress planning on sleeping with the producer to get a part!
The story was written by Luca Costa and Piergiorgio Curci and its main strength is the charisma of the two main actors. The dialogue is largely proficient and well delivered, but weak in places. Luca Costa in particular is great as the mafia hit man who may harbour acting ambitions himself. He has tons of comic charisma and definitely leaves you wanting more. Director Matthew Hals also does a good job, applying a light touch which is quite refreshing. It is not a great short film, but is entertaining and worth giving a try.
"The Fight" is about a fighter (Cody Jones) who wants to go to art school but fights mixed martial arts bouts to earn money. His wife (Robynn O. Brooks) wants him to quit fighting and nags him to pursue his artistic abilities instead but he is plagued by self-doubt and fear of poverty and so accepts a match with a Russian fighter (Segel Shisov) set up by promoter (Nicholas T).
The main problem is that there is no real catch to the story. The dialogue is not particularly convincing, although Jones and Brookes do start well and the early scenes with them are fairly realistic. However, there is little character or plot development and the story seems somewhat lacking. The fight scene is fairly poor and unconvincing and although it meant to be no holds barred it feels remarkably tame and there is little sense of jeopardy. Similarly the conclusion feels like a bit of a non-event and I was left wondering what point they were trying to convey. There is potential here, but it remains untapped.
Written and directed by Morgan Rhodes, "Little Wings" is a tale about a young boy named Thomas (Joseph Castanon) living with his mother (Kelly Ann Ford) and abusive father (Robert Gantzos) in a small farmhouse. His mother tells him the Legend of the Butterfly - that a wish whispered to a butterfly is carried straight to god and granted. When Thomas frees a butterfly and whispers to it his wish for help and a mysterious stranger (Ron Canada) arrives who tells him how he can "escape to Joy".
The direction is very good and some of the photography is beautiful. All of the acting is of a high calibre, particularly the performance of Gantzos as the abusive father who only makes a brief appearance but exudes a believable menace without being over the top. Unfortunately, the story is somewhat smaltzy with a slightly unpleasant after tone. Escaping the abuse seems to be equated with disappearing into your imagination and ultimately in not waking up again.
"Don´t Leave Me" is a rather muddled semi-psychological drama about Rose (Amber Coombs) who is finding it difficult to deal with her jealousy and fear that her partner (Andrew Piper) is cheating on her. She tries to live out her domestic role but also has an alter-ego who is a sexually predatory blond haired woman who teases and seduces Charlie (Mark Wilson).
Written and directed by Lyndon Ives, this film may have lofty goals and is clearly trying to comment on the disparity between the monogamous domestic life of the heroine and her more animalistic desires. Unfortunately, the script is poor and the acting fairly standard and so the result is unconvincing. The reveal that Rose is the blond woman is a bit laboured, and not as clever as the filmmaker hoped. This device has been used to great effect by David Lynch, but in this instance is rather wooden.