A movie for every day of the year – a good one
Kat Dennings born, 1986
On this day in 1986, Katherine Litwack was born in Philadelphia to a scientist father and a speech therapist/poet mother. Home-schooled, she graduated high school aged 14, four years after her first acting role in a commercial. By age 13 she’d turned up in an episode of Sex and the City, then had supporting roles in films of increasing weight until she got her own starring role in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, alongside Michael Cera. Bright and feisty, since then she’s specialised in the sort of girl who can go from geek to goddess with subtle shift of eyewear (see the Thor films), which can be put down to her pale skin (she refuses to tan) or to her reluctance to go down the obligatory blonde route.
Shorts (2009, dir: Robert Rodriguez)
A nerdy kid called Toe Thompson finds a magic wish machine, possibly left on earth by an alien civilisation, and sets about improving his life, starting by messing with the kids of his parents’ awful employer (played with a cackle by James Spader). Made by Robert Rodriguez in an ADHD style familiar from the Spy Kids films, this CG-heavy fantasy with a strong 1960s Disney vibe is aimed squarely at young teenagers, or younger, and also has something for any adult who occasionally just enjoys watching someone work who loves what they do.
Rodriguez is having tons of fun with the technology, as our tweeny hero discovers what his wishing rock (The Adventures of the Wishing Rock is the film’s alternative name) can do – giant frankfurters, pterodactyls, crocodiles on their back legs, snot that grows to giant size.
It’s not so much a story, more a series of sketches, which Rodriguez further fractures by shifting the chronology. This allows him to concentrate on (special) effects, rather than consequences, as the wishing rock is passed from hand to hand, wreaking magical havoc as it goes. There’s also a loaded critique of modern life – it’s all set in a wealthy suburb where parents don’t communicate with their children, where the local employer is a Steve Jobs-like computer tyrant determined to find the ultimate upgrade for his all-purpose black box called the Black Box. Meanwhile, lurking, is William H Macy as a scientist so obsessed with germs that he’s brought his son up in a bubble. Is this what we were trying to build? Is this how we want to live – isolated, obsessed with gadgets, risk averse, out of touch with our natural environment? The fact that Rodriguez is delivering this message via the medium of a massively technological film that must have been made almost entirely in post production is something the viewer is going to have to deal with. And it’s true that there’s very little characterisation here, beyond the level you’d find in your average cartoon, and the storyline is so thin it isn’t really there at all.
But at the level of fun and mad ideas, Shorts works entirely, with Rodriguez using his adults (Macy and Spader are joined by Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer) well, his children better – look out for Jolie Vanier in a “watch this face” mini-me Christina Ricci performance as a girl called Helvetica Black (Hell for short). As I write, Shorts is pulling a majestic 5.0 on the imdb ratings, less than the pointless fantasy flick Eragon or the cringe-inducing Cats & Dogs. That’s just wrong.
- The good cast includes Kat Dennings, James Spader and Leslie Mann
- The ker-ay-zee CG effects
- That Robert Rodriguez energy
- It’s for the inner eight year old
Shorts – Watch it now at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2014