'Short' on time, but not quality

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Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

Every year, the live-action and animated short films deemed the best of the year are brought to theaters as part of the Academy Award Nominated Shorts program. Happily, we no longer have to wait until the weeks before the Oscars in February to indulge in the many pleasures of condensed cinema.

"Stars in Shorts" offers nearly two hours of more familiar faces than you'll usually find in the international films typically nominated for Oscars. With seven very different films, not every entry is a winner -- but a new one will start in 10 minutes or so.

Space here is too short to detail every film. And with some films just a few minutes long, saying much about them would ruin the fun. But even the weaker entries here are worth watching over their short running times. "Friend Request Pending," for example, ends on a distinctly unsatisfying note. But the other 90 percent of the film is clever enough to merit your time. Judi Dench plays a technologically with-it senior who stalks Facebook, Twitter and all the rest when she meets a man to whom she takes a fancy. A friend urges her to make the first move: "Have you sent him a private message? Written on his wall? Sent him a little poke?" When she finally does get the courage to chat the latest fellow, she second-guesses herself: "Maybe I should say 'Hello.' 'Hi' is a bit mid-'90s, isn't it?"

On screen
'Stars in Shorts'
3 out of 4 stars
Stars: Various
Directors: Various
Rated: Not rated (contains adult language)
Running time: 113 minutes

The best shorts here are a pair written by Neil LaBute. Jacob Chase directs "After School Special," in which a man and a woman make small talk at a restaurant playroom. Some might suspect the guy (Wes Bentley) is just pretending to be a divorced dad to pick up the woman (Sarah Paulsen) there with a child. But LaBute fans know better than to expect the obvious from the writer who's most honest about the complicated relations between men and women and so on.

"Sexting," which LaBute directed himself, does actually have a fairly predictable ending. But getting there is so enjoyable, it doesn't really matter. Julia Stiles looks straight at the camera, talking to the woman married to her boyfriend. This black-and-white short is stark, but hilarious. Nobody can make us laugh while confronting us with our own culpability quite like Neil LaBute.

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