Stars in Shorts (ShortsHD, NR)

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The unifying themes of the evening are stars, good storytelling, and variety.



I’ve always liked short films. They can pack as big a punch as a full-length feature, and offer a gifted director to show what he or she can do without an investment of two hours of the viewer’s time. Unfortunately, film distribution is geared around feature films, and only occasionally does a short get theatrical distribution. There are the packages of Oscar-nominated films that come around once a year, and occasionally a short will get paired with a feature for distribution, but otherwise, you have to catch what you can at festivals and on YouTube. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have access to it, on ShortsHD, a cable channel devoted to short film.

You now have another option, as ShortsHD is distributing a new collection, Stars in Shorts, to movie theaters around the country. As the title promises, this is a package of short films starring big-name stars, and it’s hard to think how else you would get to see so many doing what they do best in a single evening—that is, contributing to a well-told story rather than making cameo appearances in the manner of Garry Marshall’s New Year’s Eve. The unifying themes of the evening are stars, good storytelling, and variety; with so many genres and varied talents on display, these films offer something to please just about every taste.

The Procession, directed and written by Robert Festinger, is a black comedy starring Lily Tomlin and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell Pritchett on Modern Family) as a bickering mother and son whose efforts to do the right thing when asked to attend the funeral of their sister’s friend send them on a series of misadventures. Jason Alexander is the central character in Not Your Time, written and directed by Jay Kamen, but the Bob Fosse-inspired dance routines carry the day. Alexander plays a show business wannabe who is nearing the end of his rope, as his creative efforts meet with continual rejection. Judi Dench tries to decipher the rules of internet dating with the assistance of her best friend (Penny Ryder) in Friend Request Pending, directed by Chris Foggin.

Colin Firth plays a puzzling character in Steve, written and directed by Rupert Friend. Firth’s character seems at first to be the shyer younger brother of Caspar Milquetoast, and yet he keeps finding ways to insert himself into the lives of his upward neighbors, played by Keira Knightley and Tom Mison.

Things take a science fiction/thriller turn in Prodigal, as a young girl (Jade Pettyjohn) finds that the genetic mutations that give her special powers may be more of a blessing than a curse. Written by Benjamin Grayson and Travis Crim and directed by Grayson, Prodigal stars Kenneth Branagh and Jennifer Morrison (Dr. Alison Cameron on House). Two Neil LaBute-written shorts, After School Special and Sexting, offer up the writer’s trademark dialogue and focus on the less delightful aspects of human behavior. After School Special, directed by Jacob Chase, is a three-hander set in an indoor playground and stars Wes Bentley, Sarah Paulson, and Sam Cohen. Sexting, directed by LaBute, stars Julia Stiles as young woman confronting the wife of her married lover. | Sarah Boslaugh

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