Seven shorts with famous faces. Neil LaBute’s black-and-white “Sexting” (8m) exploits Julia Stiles’ earnest delivery for a theatrical monologue, directed toward the wife of a man her character has been seeing, set in shadow-shimmer black-and-white on a Los Angeles restaurant patio: TMI meets O. Henry. In “After-School Special,” (10m) also courtesy of LaBute, and directed by Jacob Chase, Wes Bentley and Sarah Paulson are a man and a woman who meet and mortify at an indoor children’s playground. LaBute’s oppressive emotional equations may work better at longer than sketch length: they’re painful but hardly have the chase to rub the viewer’s face in his premise again… and again… and again. Benjamin Grayson writes, produces and directs “Prodigal,” (25m) with Kenneth Branagh, entertainingly playing a bad actor playing a craven manipulator playing a bad actor who’s trying to prise the “special abilities” of a young girl from her father. An effective small-plane demolition midair and the offhand delivery of “Holy shit. She’s a Prodigal,” as a member of another faction exclaims, marks the capable short as an ideal demo reel for a contemporary episodic TV director. All that brass: Screenwriter Jason Alexander breaks out in song in Jay Kamen’s “Not Your Time” (25m), a sustained in-joke that opens with Woody Allen-style credits and a Bob Fosse-referencing musical number with dour lyrics like “Life’s a bitch and then you die” and Alexander’s voice-over of his character’s embarrassments growing up. Clever, but winds up being more icky than sticky in its cameos from the likes of agent Jack Rapke, producers Stuart Cornfeld and Joe Roth. We see what you’ve seen, but what’s new, Pussycat? Also Lily Tomlin gets lost on her way to the funeral in “The Procession” (12m); Judi Dench tries internet dating in “Friend Request Pending” (12m); and in Rupert Friend’s “Steve” (15m), Colin Firth is Keira Knightley’s unusually needy neighbor. (Ray Pride)
“Stars in Shorts” opens Friday at Landmark Century.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.