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February 19, 2009 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, February 19, 2009 - 3B

Short films, high hopes

Hard days for
print media

By ANDREW LAPIN and
EMILY BOUDREAU
Daily Film Writers
Every year around Oscar nomi-
nation time, there are at least 10
recognized films the general pub-
lic will have never heard of: the
five live-action and five animated
shorts nominated in the Acad-
emy's "Best Short Film" catego-
ries. But it doesn't have to be that
way anymore. The Michigan The-
ater is currently screening all the
2009 Oscar-nominated short films
in two separate programs or one
combined, discounted program.
The Daily picks apart the best and
worst from this cinematic smor-
gasbord.
ANIMATION:
"Oktapodi"
Short but sweet, this two-min-
ute French CGI lark follows an
octopus as he attempts to save his
significant other from the clutch-
es of a restaurateur. The film's
slightly insane pace makes it play
like a deleted scene from "Find-
ing Nemo." Superb art direction is
on display as the characters race
through a gorgeously designed
hilly seaside village.
COURTESY OF TALANiS i
"Pieces of Love" ("Le Maison
en Petits Cubes")
Every frame of this exquisite
Japanese film could be sold as a
watercolor painting. The concept
is engrossing, if melancholy: An
old man lives alone in a flooded
village, and he must constantly
add new floors onto his house to
survive above the rising tide. As he
scuba dives through his submerged
home, he recounts happy memories
of his family from years gone by. Of
the five nominees in this category,
"Pieces" is most deserving of the
prize.
"This Way Up"
Considering two hallmarks
of British comedy are slapstick
and making fun of dead people, it

should come as no surprise that
this short (concerning two bum-
bling morticians who must trans-
port a recently deceased woman
to her grave by foot) comes out of
the United Kingdom. "This Way
Up" is morbidly hilarious as the
heroes get caught in one ridicu-
lous obstacle after another - it's
like Tim Burton by way of Rube
Goldberg.

story of the same title by Andre
Dubus, tells the classic tale of the
new kid in class. But this time, the
"new boy" is a refugee from Africa
who is isolated from his country
and peers. The boy carries a heavy
secret in addition to the tradition-
al "new school" problems (bullies
and the annoying girl who decides
she has a crush on him). He flashes
back to memories of his home in
Africa, his school and his father
to create a piece that is both funny
and powerful.
"On the Line" ("Auf Der
Strecke")
Yes, Lance Bass of "NSYNC is in
a 2001 movie with the same title.
No worries, though: This German
film is much better. A department
store security guard is madly in
love with a girl who works in the
book department. He is so enchant-
ed by her that he watches her on his
surveillance cameras. He is a lone-
ly man - most of his interactions
with others are based on what he
observes through his camera. He
wants to find a connection with
somebody who is not barred by a
camera lens. After a preventable
tragedy strikes on the subway, he
finds the relationship he seeks but
is ridden with guilt.

her son's innocence by telling him
his Jewish best friend is taking a
trip to Toyland. The boy packs his
suitcase in the middle of the night,
determined to follow his friend
there. The plot seems like a repeat
of "Life is Beautiful" at first, but
the endinghas arather unexpected
twist. This German film has a rath-
er tired feel, though. Its plot, shots
of black and white photographs,
and theme of perpetual innocence
have all been worn out.

"Lavatory - Lovestory"
In this minimalist Russian short,
a lonely public bathroom attendant
finds mysterious bouquets in her
tip jar and tries to deduce her secret
admirer from the many gentlemen
occupying the toilets. (It seems tip
jars in bathrooms and restroom
caretakers of the opposite sex are
commonplace in Russia.) The film
is cute, but the black outlines of
characters on white backgrounds
tend to resemble a Red Bull com-
mercial.
"Presto"
The Pixar short-making
machine strikes again with this
zany magician-versus-rabbit tale
(which opened for last summer's
"WALL-E" in theaters). It's laugh
out loud funny, with more exces-
sively violent physical humor than
the studio has perhaps ever dared.
While "Presto" doesn't meet the
imaginative heights of "For the
Birds" or "Geri's Game," it works
wonders as an extended Tex Avery
homage.

"The Pig"
An old man has to suffer the
indignity of having gastrointesti-
nal surgery (or as he puts it, "sur-
gery in the butt") in this Danish
short film. The situation is light-
ened slightly when he notices the
rather odd picture of a pig on his
wall with a smile he describes as
"just like the Mona Lisa." The man
comes to believe the pig to be his
"guardian angel" and causes a fuss
when the painting goes missing.
The film is thoroughly enjoyable
and perhaps the most Oscar-wor-
thy of the bunch.
BONUS FILMS:
To give your buck added bang,
the Animated Shorts showcase
also includes five "extra com-
mended" (not nominated) films
from 2008. Four of these are ani-
mal tales. Two of them, "Gopher
Broke" and "Hot Dog" (both
from the United States) are goofy
slapstick; one, the U.K.'s "John
and Karen," is cheeky and dia-
logue-based; and one, the U.K.'s
"Varmints," is just bizarre (a
humanoid dog attempts to pro-
tect his meadow from the evils
of urban sprawl ... and giant jel-
lyfish). The remaining film,
France's "Skhizein," shows a man
who's struck by a meteor and
finds he's literally beside him-
self. It's the best offering of all
the shorts. Why this engrossing
and darkly humorous work didn't
receive an actual nomination is
mind-boggling.

D ear reader: I know you're
tired of column after col-
umn, in print or online,
about the death of print media. Or
how subscrib-
ers no longer
care about the
written word
or the printed
page, or liter-
ary criticism
takingup
space in news- KIMBERLY
papers readers CHOU
no longer want
or can afford to buy.
I'm tired of it, too. So let's just
get this over with: I hope you're
reading this on your 2nd-genera-
tion Kindle, several months in the
future. Because if the big-name
newspapers start going the way of
the big-name banks, the ways in
which the general reading public
receives books will change - more
than they already have. (My God.
I can't believe I just wrote about
journalistic and financial institu-
tions in the same sentence.)
Let me explain.
These days, cities that his-
torically have been known as two-
newspaper towns are in threat of
losing one or both of their major
papers. Once-mighty dailies are
cutting or severely limiting home
delivery (hello, Detroit News and
Detroit Free Press) and even the
bastions of old-media culture
are looking a little shaky these
days. In the most recent issue of
The Atlantic, Michael Hirschorn
wondered out loud - to the ire
of The Gray Lady's execs - what
would happen "if The New York
Times goes out of business, like,
this May?" Hirschorn suggests
that that the Times, revamped as
solely nytimes.com, could come to
dominate digital journalism, to the
point where it "resemble(s) a big-
ger, better and less partisan ver-
sion of The Huffington Post."
So, we can assume that the
Sunday Book Review will still
exist as a separate entity online.
We can also assume that readers
who faithfully read the Sunday
Book Review - who actually seek
it out instead of picking it up after
they've already read the other sec-
tions, flipped through the maga-
zine and skimmed through the
wedding announcements - will
still seek it out. But what about the
casual Sunday readers who pick
up the Book Review because it's
in between two sections they are
already going to read? What hap-
pens when there's a significantly
lower chance that a book section
will catch your eye, because it
doesn't actually exist in print any-
more?
The Washington Post's decision
to cease printing its weekly Book
World as a distinct section, divid-
ing the book content into two other
sections after Feb. 15, provoked
more tired sighs from the literary
community.
"There is a lot of great online
coverage, but you go and look for
it," said novelist Meg Wolitzer, a
regular reviewer for Book World,
on the nytimes.com ArtsBeat blog.

"For people who get it on their
front step, books are honored there
and the loss of that seems like a big
mistake."
By affording this monolithic
category of"books" (reviews, pre-
views, author interviews) its own
separate section instead of tacking
it onto the end of another section,
as the Los Angeles Times has done
since cutting its Sunday stand-
alone in 2007, newspapers are, to
borrow ArtsBeat's words, "sym-
bolically prioritizing" literary pro-
duction and culture. But they're
also makingbetter-rounded people
of their readers - or encouraging
that thought, at least.
A guest speaker once said dur-
ing a lunch not geared toward
newspapers about the importance
of architecture in print media:
how where you place stories on
the page, where in the section
and in what section, is goingto
affect the chances the stories are
going to be read. It's very much
common sense, right? Technol-
Difficult times
call for digital
publishing.
ogy is changing the influence
newspapers can have on readers.
When you're reading a newspaper
online, it's much easier to bypass
stories or whole sections you're
not that interested in; with news
aggregators like Google Reader,
readers can further tailor their
media intake so that they really
don't encounter much outside their
interests at all.
If newspapers continue to cut
sections to cut costs, or cease
printing altogether, readers who
want their dose of literary culture
with the Sunday paper will have
to do some more searching online.
Readers who were absorbingthe
occasional extra book review
because of its proximity to other
content of interest might not be
quite as inspired as before to seek
out other book-related reading.
Certainly the idea of "literary criti-
cism" has certain connotations -
"pretentious" comes to mind. But
wrapped into the everyman insti-
tution of a newspaper, the "book
review" appears accessible to most
everyone. But that accessibility
might not save them.
Of course, there are other
reasons why books may be los-
ing their place on the newspaper
page. With the slumping pub-
lishing industry acquiring fewer
new books, and some companies
issuing such alarming notices as
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's in
November (when it announced it
would stop acquisitions until fur-
ther notice), at some point there
may simply be fewer books to
write about.
Chou is unable to use the Internet.
E-mail her at kimberch@urich.edu
and hopefully she'll be able to open it.

"Manon on the Asphalt"
This French film is not nearly
as dismal as it sounds. Manon is
involved in an accident and, as she
is dying, she experiences flashes
of past evenings with friends and
old boyfriends. She wonders how
each of these people will handle
her death, and she ponders the
times they'll have after she's
gone. The jazzy soundtrack and
the bright summer light create a
dreamlike atmosphere that some-
how manages to reassure the con-
tinuation of life even after Manon
is gone.

LIVE ACTION: "Toyland"
"New Boy" In pre-World War II Germany,
This Irish short, based on the a Gentile mother attempts to save

Stimulating American art

By SARAH CHAVEY
Daily Arts Writer
Anyone who has been abroad k:
about crazy street performers, artist
their works in crowded squares an
wafting through quaint alleys. But
around Ann Arbor, the only music to1
(save for that guy by the UGLi) is cor
our individual iPods. What's more, t
nomenon isn't just local; Europe has
times the number of publicly fund
phony orchestras per capita than the
States. It's clear our country falls fa
the rest of the world in the area of pu
- but why?
As usual, the answer comes down
tics, money and long-standing cultur:
ences perpetuating this dichotomy.
for instance, harbors a more collecti
ture than the United States, which dr
ple to participate in and support pul
Success in keeping such a culture a
come about via employing artists -1
humbly - through the public sector.
This is made plausible by (gasp
government spending in the area of
culture. Such spending is a luxury
for in European governmental mo
not in the United States. Here, fun
the arts is handled mostly on
the state level and through
several separate federal insti-
tutions, the largest being the
National Endowment for the
Arts. Regrettably, the NEA's
budget has been cut over the
years, from $175 to $125 mil-
lion annually. But more prob-
lematic is the lack of cohesive
goals among such public cul-
tural institutions as the NEA,
National Public Radio and Pub-
lic Broadcasting Service.
Most nations solve this con-
fusion by establishing an arts-
and-culture cabinet position to
guidegovernmentspendingand
offer the overarching guidance
these organizations need to
make substantial changes. Such
a position provides the author-
ity and resources required to
effectively impact the way the
country approaches the arts
in the long run. This is just
what several arts enthusiasts
are hoping President Barack
Obamna will do - and they have

nows all
s selling
d music
walking
be heard
nfined to
his phe-
over 20
ed sym-
e United
r behind
blic arts
to poli-
al differ-
Europe,
vist cul-
aws peo-
blic arts.
live has
however
p) heavy
arts and
allowed
dels, but
ding for

history on their side.
During the Great Depression, Franklin
Delano Roosevelt funded (through the Farm
Security Administration) photo documen-
tation of America's strife and strength. The
great works generated through this program
are still heralded today as triumphs in Ameri-
can art. Struggling through the Civil Rights
Politics and politicians
have a great effect
on how the arts
are cultivated.
Movement, Lyndon B. Johnson created the
NEA and the National Endowment for the
Humanities. Obama could continue this
national tradition of overcoming daunting
times, not only in tax plans, defense strategy
and diplomacy - all imperative components
- but also by invigorating the American spirit
through a strengthening of our common bond:
our culture.

It's also worth noting that, historically,
some of our most celebrated artistic works
emerged from times of strife. "Gone with the
Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz," two of Hol-
lywood's highest rated masterpieces, were
released in 1939, a trying time for an America
suffering through the end of the Great Depres-
sion and possibly on the verge of war.
Many argue that, in these troubled econom-
ic times, the arts should be the least of our wor-
ries. But it should be duly noted that cultural
products are some of America's most valuable
exports. American movies, music, books and
art (as well as our actors, actresses and musi-
cians) have become cultural commodities and
are extremely marketable abroad.
Creating a position in the presidential cabi-
net for arts and culture would allow public
cultural institutions to work together more
easily and efficiently. More scholarships could
be awarded to budding artists. More theaters
and performance spaces could be built, and
more community orchestras, choirs and the-
ater companies could be funded.
America is often known as the world's cul-
tural center. We have the potential to culti-
vate a great arts culture, but we're missing
the boat. With a little guidance and a decent
effort, the benefits to be reaped could be just
what we need.

"Recognizig Ann Arbor's Greatest Accomplishments"
Austin Kloske Lindsay Darin Ben Righthand
Successfully went on two Works at a CAT scan at Applied to 7 law schools
valentine's dates on the UM hospital and scanned in 1.5 hours.
same night. a guy with a maglite in a
very comprimising
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