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Short attention spun 

A new generation spots trains, while Oscar shorts make a rare theatrical bow

Spun

Jonas Akerlund's Spun is a movie for and about Generation Now--the restlessly and relentlessly hip--and all too fittingly, it will have an exceedingly short half-life in our collective cinematic memory.

Unlike the more successful Scottish film Trainspotting, which had a believable social milieu and the ornately arcane and profane prose of Irvine Welsh, Spun's white trash setting seems flagrantly false, a hip conception of a New York magazine editor. (Much of the time, the film's production design resembles a smart-alecky spread in Details.) The editing is predictably jumpy and the camera flies all over the place, terrified of losing the nanosecond attention span of its target audience.

We're introduced to a merry crew of white junkie kids: Ross (Jason Schwartzman, best known for Rushmore) is the smart kid taking a walk on the wild side; Spider Mike (John Leguizamo) is a comically explosive drug dealer whose girlfriend Cookie (an unrecognizable Mena Suvari) doesn't appear to have kept a dentist's appointment in decades; Nikki (Brittany Murphy, hamming to the heavens) is the ditzy stripper whose boyfriend The Cook (Mickey Rourke) supplies the gang with their crystal meth.

There's not really a plot as much as a single, slender question: Will nice boy Ross clean himself up before drugs and sleazy friends kill him? Being an outlaw is an ancient middle-class white-boy fantasy and Spun prefers to indulge it, rather than investigate it. In any event, we have a baggy, episodic film--albeit one with a frequently lilting score by Billy Corgan, late of Smashing Pumpkins. The film is occasionally quite funny, as when the hot-pants clad Murphy makes a desperate trip to the veterinarian with her dog, after the pooch's coat had been dyed pink due to a close encounter with The Cook's drug paraphernalia. Murphy, one of the more talented young comic actresses working today, milks this particular moment for all it is worth, but too often there are scenes that shoot for cheap gross-outs, as when Suvari's Cookie squats on a toilet seat to take a dump. Spun's "outrageousness" is so calculated and predictable that it's no surprise when Akerlund cuts to a close-up of Cookie's turd plopping into the water.

Spun isn't really a movie; it's a lifestyle accessory with which consumers can proclaim their coolness. But frankly, that may be all that is required of a movie, for consumers of a certain age. Spun's targeted viewers have to be old enough to see this unrated movie (too many cuts were required to bring it down to an "R") but not old enough to remember Trainspotting from 1996 or the 1999 film Go or even 2000's Requiem for a Dream. A narrow demographic to be sure, but one can't imagine a much wider one for Spun.

The 2003 Academy Award Nominated Shorts

The short film is a bit of an orphan genre. Distribution of them outside of the festival circuit is virtually non-existent. Still, they get made, but rarely by established directors. Instead, they are usually made by film students who are both learning their craft and hoping that their efforts will open doors for them at major studios. Despite the limitations of the genre, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out Oscars every year to the best live-action and animated shorts.

Now, Apollo Cinema has put together the nominees for this year's Oscars for a feature-length program. Though it's an entertaining show, it's hard to believe that these were the best shorts in the world last year -- indeed, an above-average evening at a bi-monthly Flicker screening in Carrboro offers a comparable level of entertainment.

Apollo Cinema has put together the nominees for this year's Oscars for a feature-length program. It's a decent show but it's hard to believe that these were the best shorts in the world last year. An above-average evening at a bi-monthly Flicker screening in Carrboro offers a comparable level of entertainment.

The standout among the live-actioners is the raw, primitive Inja (Dog), an Australian student production that is set on a South African ranch. Co-directors Steven Pasvolsky and Joe Weatherstone imagine an apartheid-era setting that seems to owe as much to the grimmer short tales of Chekhov or the cinematic pulp of Sam Fuller as to the realities of life in South Africa. Another worthy effort is the film that nabbed the Oscar, a Danish short called This Charming Man. This film turns out to be a clumsy but earnest mistaken-identity comedy that tackles anti-Arab resentment in Europe. The two other live action films that were available for review are less successful--they must have been singled out for attention because of their "gotcha" endings. The Dutch entrant Fait d'Hiver (Gridlock) is a passable black comedy but the French offering J'attendrai le suivant (I'll Wait for the Next One) is predictably and pointlessly cruel.

Only three of the five animated shorts were available for review, but they suggest a stronger side to the program. Perhaps at the economy-sized filmmaking of this shorts program, animators produce better work because they have complete control of their films' environments; they don't have to contend with bad weather or bad actors. At any rate, the Polish animator Tomek Baginski's The Cathedral is one of the standouts in its representation of an extravagant Goth-fantasy world. From Japan, Koji Yamamura's Mt. Head shows that the unpretentious lines, playful surrealism and zany wit associated with such Westerners as Bill Plympton and Shel Silverstein are also present in the land of sleek and violent anime.

The program of 2003 Academy Nominated Shorts will run for one week only at Durham's Carolina Theater, beginning Friday, May 9. EndBlock

  • A new generation spots trains, while Oscar shorts make a rare theatrical bow

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