Robert Rodriguez always gets lumped together with his 'Grindhouse' partner-in-crime Quentin Tarantino, since they were both indie movie bad boys who rose to prominence during the indie boom of the early-to-mid-1990's before segueing into more commercial realms and have collaborated many times over the years. But for my money a more apt comparison is to Roger Corman, a director Rodriguez more keenly resembles, both stylistically and in their similar "I've-got-a-weekend-and-a-couple-of-stars-let's-shoot-a-movie" mentality.
Sometimes Rodriguez's gung ho attitude is a good thing, and persuades big stars to appear in low budget movies because he can get them in and out in a few days, which gives us stuff like the admirable 'Sin City' and his half of 'Grindhouse,' 'Planet Terror.' But often he feels like he's spinning his wheels ('Shark Boy and Lava Girl,' anyone?)
'Shorts,' his latest film, feels like a whole lot of wheel-spinning nothingness.
Inspired to make a post-millennial 'Little Rascals' in the style of his children showing him their favorite parts of movies, constantly rewinding and starting the movie at different points, 'Shorts' is a frenzied, nearly incomprehensible mess.
The title refers to three things - that all the characters are little kids (who are short), that all the little kids wear (you guessed it) shorts, and that the movie is comprised of what are essentially short films. The movie starts and stops, with each section getting its own cutesy title card, and the bits of the short films interacting with each other in various ways.
The story of 'Shorts,' if there is one, concerns a small Texas town that is dominated by the Black Box Company, a kind of evil version of Apple, run by a lugubrious CEO (played by a scenery-chewing James Spader). All the kids' parents work for the corporation, including a workaholic couple in the form of Jon Cyer and Leslie Mann. This is all background for the main thrust of the story, which involves a rainbow colored "wishing rock" that falls out of the sky and into the unwashed paws of the neighborhood kids, who spend the rest of the movie conjuring various craziness with the aid of said rock.
For an 89 minute thing, this feels endless. No amount of mayhem, computer-generated antics (giant robots, crocodiles, tiny alien visitors, a monster made up of goopy snot) or walk-ons by semi-respectable actors like William H. Macy or certifiable super-fox Kat Dennings, can raise your entertainment level above eyebrow-cocking mild amusement.
The movie is a mess, less interested in entertainment than in velocity. For a movie that attempts to provide a technologically sophisticated throwback to those old 'Little Rascals' shorts (I was also reminded of Steven Spielberg's notorious 'Amazing Stories' series), it feels more like an over-caffeinated videogame or something. Rodriguez's one-man-band approach to filmmaking is admirable, but it's hard not to think back to the days of 'Desperado' or even his underrated teenage alien movie 'The Faculty,' when he had real people doing the cinematography and music and visual effects (and back when he was shooting on velvety film instead of his adopted medium of digital). While Rodriguez's enthusiasm for the medium is contagious, and his gusto surely present, it can't help the fact that this movie is one where a bunch of meaningless, hyperactive stuff happens but nothing ever really means anything.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Shorts' is presented on a Region "free" 25GB disc. Also contained is a Digital Copy disc that doubles as a DVD version of the film. The film does play automatically, but you only get to the movie after a marathon of promotional materials - including an ad for the majestic technology of Blu-ray disc; a commercial for a Nintendo DS game called 'Scribblenauts;' an ad for 'Charlie Brown Christmas' on DVD; an ad for 'Scooby-Doo: The Beginning,' a live action direct-to-video prequel to the 'Scooby Doo' movies from a few years ago; an ad for a multi-platform videogame called 'Mini-Ninjas;' an ad for a 'LEGO Harry Potter' game that's coming out next year (I'm actually pretty jazzed about this); and an ad for the home video release of 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.' Once you get to the actual movie, your children will probably be headed off to college.
Technically speaking, the VC-1 1080p transfer (1.78:1 aspect ratio) on 'Shorts' is flawless. It appears to be a direct-from-the-digital source transfer, so there's nothing in the way of grain, pops, scratches, or anything like that. Similarly, there aren't any nagging technical issues that I picked up on either.
That said, the overall "look" of the movie, with its bright brash colors and sun-bleached locations, left much to be desired. I get it - the movie is supposed to be brash and cartoony (and is filled with computer generated effects) but seeing it polished bright in high definition was a little too much. With the picture looking as good as it does, too, the computer effects (many of which were created using over-the-counter software) look even phonier than they did in the theater.
Yes, detail is nice, colors pop (maybe a little too much), and overall things look pretty good (besides skin tones taking on a kind of "glowing" look). But even with its technical perfection, it's a transfer that lacks nuance or depth. Maybe you don't think a movie as zany needs this, but a serious transfer would have really made the movie feel like more than it is - a loose connection of silly gags and special effects.
'Shorts' gets a similarly madcap audio treatment in the form of a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. Like the video on this disc, if you're easily impressed by a bunch of crazy stuff zooming around then you'll find this mix commendable. Otherwise, you'll just find it annoying.
There's a fair amount of surround stuff going on, considering all the wackiness on screen, but like the video section of this disc, nuance isn't something that is considered. Directionality is mostly forgone. Although things are well prioritized, with dialogue and music coming through crisp and clear, there isn't a lot to love about this mix. It seems to favor loudness over all else.
There are no technical issues to speak of on this track - no hiss, hum, crackle, or anything like that. But the general lack of depth or nuance does take its toll. Sometimes being flawless isn't enough.
The additional mixes on the mix are French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, and Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1 with subtitles available in English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
There are a couple of extras on this disc, some that are shared with the DVD, and some exclusive to this disc.
Quite simply, 'Shorts' is terrible. It's director Robert Rodriguez at his absolute worst - indulgent, sloppy, and scatter-brained. This disc has adequate audio and video and a miniscule sampling of special features (which are all in HD). Why any family would subject themselves to this when 'Up' is out is beyond me. Skip it.