If youth only knew, if age only could. . . .
Tonight, the youth of the USC’s School of Cinema-Television get a chance to strut their celluloid stuff with the first of two tasty programs showcasing the school’s advanced student movie makers. It’s a mixed but lively bill of fare: three vibrant animated works and five promising short fiction films, shown at 7:30 p.m., at USC’s Bovard Auditorium. (The second program, spotlighting the documentary school, will be shown Nov. 7.)
The first cartoon, Mike Roy’s “Whole Lot of Aloha Going On,” has a nice, preposterous cartoon notion: What would it be like to travel through the patterns on a gaudy Hawaiian shirt? Quick as a hula, we’re plunged into a world of flat trees, splashy waters and gyrating islanders, all of which Roy renders with flash and sympathy.
The other two animated works are inventive, dense collages. Alex Albanese’s “Spectacle” and Francesca Talenti’s “Partita,” the latter set to Bach’s piano work.
The narrative films show an encouraging mix of styles. “Tennessee,” written by Ken O’Donnell and directed by Mark Frankel, is a film noir in the quasi-parodistic “Blood Simple” vein. A James M. Cain sort of tale about an existential fugitive and a depraved farmer’s daughter, it mixes “Asphalt Jungle” and “A Bout de Souffle” in a pictorial style that suggest the lurid pulp crime magazine covers of the ‘40s, drenched in European lighting.
“Men on the Moon,” written and directed by Ian Kowell, is an anti-war study of the relationship between a small boy and his shell-shocked brother, set during the Vietnam War and moon-shot era. Kowell gets unusually sensitive performances from his entire cast, especially the children. The other drama, writer-director Robert Jeffers and co-writer Dave Edelson’s “Rude Awakening,” is a lucid little nightmare about a young girl’s phantasmagoric reaction to the death of her father. The acting here is variable, but there are some spectacular, surreal visuals in a mixed Hitchcock-Fellini-DePalma mode.
The last two films are spottier but lighthearted. “Gilbert Lost a Tooth,” directed by Jeff Yonia and written by Karly Kirkpatrick, suggests softened Spielberg mixed with Dr. Seuss’ “5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” The title’s Gilbert is pulled by an inept tooth fairy into a slightly tacky netherworld, with no less than nonpareil Billy Barty as the tooth boss.
“Whatever It Takes,” directed by Jon Turtletaub and written by Turtletaub and Randy Runkle, is yet another tale of making it big in Hollywood, with two more loving aspirants hit by the vagaries of fame and the eternal triangle. The movie could use more irony and less MTV and John Hughes influence. But David Bowe and Mary Beth Kilkelly show talent and sass as the popstar-crossed lovers, and there’s a catchy, “Grease"-style big ballad by Chris Livingston.