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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

Oscar shorts range in theme and style


Two of the Oscar-nominated shorts programs open in Spokane today. Following is the preview of them that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Sooner or later, the Inland Northwest gets most of the big-name Oscar-nominated films. In recent years, they’ve tended to play here even in the year in which they were released – which wasn’t always the case.

Time was, some of the Oscar nominees – Woody Allen movies, say – would never screen anywhere near the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene corridor. Or if they did, it would usually be at one of the gestations of the old Magic Lantern – versions that sported tiny screens, poor sound, uncomfortable seats and wretched sightlines … even if, perhaps, the best popcorn.

Now, though, it’s different. Ignore the fact that the more enterprising among us can find a way to screen pretty much anything they want over the Internet. Those of us who prefer to see our movies legitimately, not to mention in an actual theater, may have to wait a bit – but, for the most part, the movies do come.

Part of this is due to demand. Yes, most movie fans still clamor to see movies in which superheroes save the day, animals soothe their masters, nerds discover their mega-powered inner-selves – all occurring, preferably, in between things blowing up real good. But theaters need a lot of product, and in recent years enterprising producers have found ingenious ways of providing it.

One way is to package all the Oscar-nominated shorts into individual programs. The five nominated animated shorts, for example. Or the five nominated live-action shorts. Even the documentary shorts, which tend to be longer, are being released in two separate programs.

Beginning this weekend, the Magic Lantern Theater and the AMC River Park Square will screen both the animated shorts and live-action shorts programs, both of which explore a wide range of topics, themes and styles.

The animated shorts, for example, hail mostly from North America, with three U.S. entries and two from Canada. One of those Canadian films, Robert Valley’s “Pear Cider and Cigarettes,” is both a UK co-production and the longest of the bunch at 35 minutes. In most ways, it is the most ambitious, being a graphic-novel-influenced, real-life story of a friend trying to save his self-destructive buddy.

But the competition in this category is tough, what with the program including the Pixar short “Borrowed Time,” the Disney Studio short “Piper,” the father-daughter study “Pearl” and even “Blind Vaysha,” a visual kaleidoscope adaptation of an old folk tale that just screened at the recent Spokane International Film Festival.

In the live-action program, the themes are darker, with arguably the best – the French-made “Ennemis intérieurs” (see embed below) – being a face-off between an Algerian man seeking French citizenship and a French official. The Danish entry “Silent Nights” is another tale of immigration, the Hungarian short “Sing” explores a youth choir’s rebellion against its teacher, while Spain’s “Timecode” and Switzerland’s “La Femme et la TGV” offer wry yet touching looks at intimacy.

So, OK, you won’t find an exploding car in the bunch. And maybe the overall quality doesn’t quite match that of years past. But both shorts programs are well worth a view.

Especially since it’s only these days that we’re afforded one.

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