'Stars in Shorts' Review: Mixed Results
San Francisco Chronicle, 27 September 2012
Seven short movies of varying length and quality are being released theatrically by ShortsHD, the cable channel behind the annual "Oscar Nominated Short Films" presentations.
"Stars in Shorts" lives up to its title by offering the likes of Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Jason Alexander, Keira Knightley, Lily Tomlin, Kenneth Branagh and Julia Stiles in films ranging from eight to 25 minutes.
The best of the longer segments is "Steve," a piece of Pinter light starring Firth as a passive-aggressive neighbor from hell who repeatedly turns up at the door of a bickering couple (Knightley and Tom Mison) to register a series of baseless complaints, which he tops off with an infuriated demand for tea and biscuits.
Branagh's sinister side comes to the fore in "Prodigal," a sci-fi tale about agents struggling for control over a girl with daunting psychic powers. This piece has the air of an old "Twilight Zone" episode.
"Friend Request Pending" is an amiable comic short with Dench as a mature woman tiptoeing her way into the world of online romance.
Jay Kamen's "Not Your Time," starring Alexander, may try your patience with its heavy-handed comic take on the shopworn subject of the tribulations of succeeding in Tinseltown, but it boasts cameos by a large number of real-life Hollywood agents and producers, and Valarie Pettiford as a singing and dancing Angel of Death.
Rounding out the program, and in general less successful, are: "The Procession," with Tomlin, a comic tale of a mother and son who get lost on the way to the cemetery; and a pair of Neil LaBute offerings - "Sexting" with Stiles and "After School Special" with Wes Bentley and Sarah Paulson - that amount to little more than nasty one-liners. (Warning: the transgressive content of "After School Special" may offend some viewers.)