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Short Starts: The “Your Highness” Edition

Short Starts: The "Your Highness" Edition

Usually this column is dedicated to looking at a single short (or two) by the director or star of an upcoming film. As fun as that may be, however, there’s an opportunity I just can’t pass up in next weekend’s new comedy “Your Highness.” Director David Gordon Green, writer/actor Danny McBride and stars James Franco, Zooey Deschanel and Natalie Portman have all been involved in the world of short film in the past, and so we’ve got a great opportunity to spend a bit of time with each of them. Besides, when is it ever not a good idea to take a break in the day and watch something hilarious (or moving, or somewhat disturbing), especially if some favorite talent is involved?

I’ll start with James Franco, if only because he and shorts were in the news last week with the announcement of his impending teaching gig here in New York. Something tells me, however, that when he gets in front of his short film class at NYU’s MFA program he won’t be bringing along this particular short, which he did back in 2001. After “Freaks and Geeks” but before “Spider-Man,” this is vintage teen misanthrope James Franco, perhaps at his most kitschy. “Mean People Suck,” written and directed by Matthew Cole Weiss, is a surprisingly dark look at the lives of a few high school students, played by Dominique Swain, Eric Christian Olsen and James Franco’s mildly embarrassing haircut. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” is the conceit here, a competition over who’s got the meanest story. And if you’re thinking that high school kids couldn’t possibly have particularly morbid pasts, just take a look. Watch the film after the jump:

Mean People Suck
Tags: Mean People Suck

I am actually dying to know what people think about that one. That ending, do you think it’s clever and creative, or just a lame way to punk the audience? Maybe something we all wish we’d seen before Christopher’s April Fool’s discussion post from last week? That’s how I feel anyway.

Next up is Zooey Deschanel in “House Hunting,” a 2003 short by writer/director Amy Lippman. Deschanel and Paul Rudd play a newlywed couple; she’s kind of neurotic and he’s a bit too obsessed with reading into the psychology of the people moving out of the houses. It’s witty and not exactly sober but it’s still far from Deschanel’s manic pixie dreamgirl or Rudd’s typical bro-comedy fare. There’s also a great turn by Terry Kinney (of “Oz”) as the broker, kind of unhinged himself. On the whole it’s well-constructed and the tone is right on point; here it is, in two parts:

The following video is not so much as short film as it is segment in a short web series, but we’re open-minded here at Spout. “Drunk History” is a truly delightful piece of internet comedy, created by Derek Waters of “Funny or Die”. Volume 3 features Danny McBride as George Washington, lip-synching flawlessly to the inebriated historical babblings of Jen Kirkman. It’s one of those great comic collaborations brought about by the confluence of sketch comedy and the web, and you can enjoy it here:

Oh, and Zooey Deschanel also did one of those, playing Mary Todd Lincoln in Volume 5. Pretty funny.

Director David Gordon Green has also done a few short films, though they’re less available online. “Physical Pinball” was his second, done while he was a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts. It’s an interesting meditation on womanhood and growing up, following a young girl as she and her father navigate her adolescence. Candace Evanofski, who would later star in Green’s debut film “George Washington”, gives a compelling and tempered performance as a girl learning the world through her inept dad and warmhearted cousin. The film, while small in scope, certainly hints at Green’s upcoming accomplishments in his early feature work and its quiet tone is surprisingly compelling in the end.

Oh, and unfortunately that end is all that’s available. The embedded videos made available by New York Magazine are a bit mixed up, and only the second half is posted. It’s a decent second half, but also a shame that the rest isn’t around online. Here’s what we’ve got:

And then there’s Natalie Portman. Really it’s saving the best for last, and the short film work of this newly-minted Oscar-winning actress really deserves an extensive post of its own. She’s great in Wes Anderson’s “Hotel Chevalier” and her turn as an Orthodox Jewish diamond buyer in “New York, I Love You,” as well as her first ever screen appearance in Marya Cohn’s “Developing.” She’s also directed shorts, another segment in that New York City anthology film and her own film “Eve.” For now we’ll take a look at Tom Tykwer’s “True” from “Paris, Je T’aime,” a fiercely fast-paced glance at love.

The balance here between the rush of a whole relationship and the stillness of its opening and closing moments is perfect, a rhythm maintained not just by editing and music but also by the performances. In a way Portman’s very presence is the most significant thing she brings to the film, her ability to add to a moment just with the timbre of her voice or the way she carries a fluorescent blue wig, wrenching up the emotional impact of this intense seven-minute crescendo. Melchior Beslon is absolutely fantastic as well, and he’ll leave you with something to think about as you wait for “Your Highness” to open this weekend.

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