SXSW 2014: CHOCOLATE HEART, ONE ARMED MAN, RANDOM STOP Shorts Reviews

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Below the jump you’ll find capsule reviews for three of the shorts we checked out at this year’s SXSW Festival.  The films are Chocolate Heart directed by , Random Stop directed by , and One Armed Man directed by .

Chocolate Heart

Harrison Atkins’ Chocolate Heart is sure to raise eyebrows as most viewers will be wondering just what it was they were watching.  Is it a comedy?  Is it a metaphorical tale?  Was it a satirical allegory?   Is it all the above?  Well, in the end the only reaction it elicited from this viewer was a sigh and a “huh?”  Through voiceover, Owen describes how his parents turned into cats and that there was nobody around to tell him about sex.  He finds that when he thinks about it all he can envision is a beating, chocolate heart.  One day Mary offers and he is unprepared for the feelings and emotions welling up inside him and he runs off.  The events that follow can either be perceived as funny, peculiar or just plain dumb.   It’s certainly a short where what is taken away from it will be different for each viewer.  For this viewer it was intended to be all of the above but ultimately it didn’t leave any sort of impression, wasn’t that funny and raised more questions than it probably should have.

Editor’s Note: This had one of the best posters at the SXSW poster gallery, which was a shadow box that contained a glass etching of a heart.  It was badass.

 

Random Stop

Wow!  What starts as a trivial gimmick turns into a powerful piece of filmmaking.  Benjamin Arfmann’s Random Stop tells the story of a Sheriff’s Deputy and a traffic stop he makes at the end of his shift.   The entire film is done in first person point of view.  You are seeing the events through the Deputy’s eyes as they happen in real time.  The events that transpire in the beginning are rather banal and perhaps that was intentional because it seems to lull the viewer into a false sense of security and they let their guard down.  When the traffic stop occurs viewers may not be prepared for the range of emotions, tension and shock that may arise from the film’s final minutes especially when you read certain facts about the story.  The use of first person POV takes the “you are there” experience to the next level.   You may even find yourself talking, or yelling, at the screen.  The film will hit you in the gut, it may very well leave you with a pit in your stomach and it will stay with you after the end credits conclude.

 

One Armed Man

Director Tim Guinee’s early 20th century drama is a slow-burning rumination on debt.  The monetary debts we owe, the monetary debts owed to us, the metaphorical debts owed to or by us, ie a debt to society.   The characters in One Armed Man all believe they owe or are owed a debt.  A cotton gin executive is confronted by a disgruntled worker who lost his arm to the cotton gin machinery.  For days he has visited the office and would ask for his arm back.  The executive would kindly give him some money to go away and that was that.  However, this time there’s something different and this man wants to collect.   This is a well-acted and sometimes tense drama featuring solid performances by Charles Haid as the executive and John Magaro as the One Armed Man, Ned.  Adapted from the late playwright Horton Foote’s early eighties play it proves to be a topical examination into how debt can eat away at one’s soul.  Even a generation later his words sill resonate today.  Of note, this film was executive produced by the late Philip Seymour Hoffmann.