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Shorts (2009)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/24/2009

All Ratings out of:
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/26/2009

Get it on Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand & Digital Download November 24th.

Every so often, a performer will appear in a family film and claim that they did so that their children could finally see their work. OK, so some people make movies for their kids, but Robert Rodriguez makes movies for his kids. The director has reached a point in his career where he splits his time between adult fare such as Sin City and Grindhouse and children's films like the Spy Kids series and (the abysmal) Sharkboy and Lavagirl. Those latter projects are often a family affair, as Rodriguez casts his children in the films and Sharkboy and Lavagirl was based on an idea from one of his kids. While juggling several news projects (including overseeing a reboot of Predator), Rodriguez was able to crank out another family film, the unpredictable Shorts.

With Shorts, Rodriguez takes a cue from his old friend Quentin Tarantino and attempts to make the Pulp Fiction of kids movies. The story is an anthology of sorts, and as the title implies, it's told through a series of short vignettes. Despite this fact, the plot is fairly easy to follow. The story takes place in a community which is centered around the company which makes the Black Box, an iphone-like device that can do practically anything. Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) is a lonely boy who is constantly being questioned by his older sister, Stacey (Kat Dennings). At school, Helvetica Black (Jolie Vanier) and her brother Cole (Devon Gearhart) (the children of the Mr. Black (James Spader), the creator of the Black Box) pick on Toe and put him in trash cans. This all changes when neighborhood kids Loogie (Trevoer Gagnon), Laser (Leo Howard), and Lug (Rebel Rodriguez) find a rainbow-colored rock which can grant wishes. When their attempts at making wishes fails, Toe gets the rock and tries to better his situation, both at home and at school. But, when "Nose" Noseworthy (Jake Short) and some greedy adults get the rock, the power of wishing gets out of hand. The community must then come together to right everything which has gone wrong.

The trouble with most kid's movies today is simple: they aren't made for kids. (I actually went to the theater today and saw Fantastic Mr. Fox and trust me, that's not for kids.) Knowing that adults are going to accompany their children to the theater, filmmakers insert jokes and moments just for the adults. Typically, one of two things happens here -- we wind up with a risquť joke which is inappropriate for the kids, and we get a mature idea (such as worrying about the mortgage) about which the kids donít know or care. So, we can have a situation where the kids are bored or where the adults are horrified by what was just said.

This isnít the case with Shorts. This is truly a movie for children. In fact, the target audience is between 8-12 years old. Some may find it weird that Rodriguez takes input from his kids when making a movie, but clearly it lets him know what children want. This is a bright, vibrant, silly movie which never talks down to the children, nor does it go in any needless directions. The movie is about kids using a magic power which gives them anything that they want, and while the movie is certainly far-fetched, when the kids wish for things like a fortress or for their braces to be off, it rings true. Also, the movie isnít afraid to be gross without necessarily going for the gross-out -- thereís a story concerning a booger which is certainly unsavory, but never vile (in other words, pre-adolescents will love it).

The only true mis-cue here is a chapter which focuses on Toe parents, played by Jon Cryer and Leslie Mann. They are competing project managers for Black Box and their overuse of technology has left to a rift in their marriage. Through a run-in with the wishing rock, they learn that they must start communicating again. Trust me, kids will get bored with this segment, so thankfully, itís brief. (Rodriguez went through a divorce in 2008, so maybe this section was therapeutic or a message to other couples who are struggling.) This part of the movie never gets ďadultĒ, it simply doesnít feel like the rest of the movie, and I donít think kids will like it. The good news is that Shorts is free from any unnecessarily mature content, and other than a few uses of ďsucksĒ, I didnít see anything which bordered on offensive.

The drawback of Shorts is that except for a certain audience, the movie is simply too lightweight. It has some positive messages and other than the aforementioned chapter, rarely slows down. The movie shows kids in heightened, but not unrealistic situations, which are pushed into the realm of the fantastic. But, teens and adults may find all of it a bit too silly and whimsical. However, my 8-year old loved it and laughed out loud on many occasions. Reminiscent of his short film Bedhead, Shorts shows that despite his earlier family films, he does have a grasp on showing that he can deliver material to children which works on their level. Silly, goopy, and fun, Shorts is a nice distraction for kids who arenít ready for the dark nature of things like Harry Potter.

Shorts doesn't understand telekinesis on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 17 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. I have to presume that like his other recent films, Rodriguez shot this on HD. The image looks fantastic here. The colors are very bright and natural looking, most notably primary tones. The image is never too dark or bright. The level of detail is very good, as we can see textures on objects. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects are very good during the action scenes. These effects are nicely detailed and accurately match the on-screen action. The subwoofer effects are good, but never great.

The Shorts Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. Director Robert Rodriguez discusses the visual effects of the film in "The Magic of Shorts" (9 minutes). We see how particular shots in the film were done, and Rodriguez also explains the importance of pre-visualization. "Shorts: Show and Tell" (5 minutes) has the kids from the film interviewing one-another. They discuss their favorite aspects of the production and share what it was like on-set. Rodriguez brings us another entry into his "Cooking School" series, this time turning to sweets with "Ten-Minute Cooking School: Chocolate Chip Volcano Cookies" (10 minutes). "Ten-Minute Film School: Short Shorts" (9 minutes) has Rodriquez sharing his home movies (aren't all of his movies home movies?) and shows how sound effects and simple visual effects can enhance a film. The piece then looks at the origin of Shorts.

Warner Home Video has also brought Shorts to DVD. The disc contains both the widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. Again, assuming that this is coming from an HD source, the picture looks good. It isn't as sharp as the Blu-ray, but it looks good. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects are effective and nicely placed. The subwoofer is pretty good and adds to the finale.

The DVD contains the two "10 Minute Schools" found on the Blu-ray Disc.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long