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Short stuff The 57th Annual Rochester International Film Festival THURSDAY, APRIL 23, THROUGH SATURDAY, APRIL 25 DRYDEN THEATRE, 900 EAST AVENUE ROCHESTERFILMFEST.ORG

Thursday, April 23, 8 p.m.

In the wryly comedic “Tuning Oscar,” a couple’s conversation about death leads to an ill-advised promise which proves to be exceedingly difficult to keep. A desperate killer stops at a gas station for some much needed supplies, but is held up by a chatty cashier in the amusing “Open 24 Hours.”

[ PREVIEW ] BY ADAM LUBITOW

Oh, throw in a little “Weird Science,” too: “Ex Machina” is surprisingly funny, with most of the zingers courtesy of the deadpan Isaac, who is lately establishing himself as one of the best of his generation. Swarthy and muscled, with a scar at the top of his shaved head through which his brains might erupt, Isaac’s blunt, fast-talking Nathan stands in stark contrast to the lanky and fair Gleeson, whose Caleb is our surrogate into Nathan’s paranoid existence. We come by information about Nathan as Caleb does, puzzling out disturbing motives that begin to seem less based in the quest for knowledge than they do in the need for control. Just don’t think too hard about the logistics of Nathan’s largely solitary life, such as things like groceries and housekeeping. It ain’t a documentary. But delete all the technological stuff, and you’ve basically got “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Body Heat,” or some other film noir in which a beautiful, but possibly manipulative, woman pits a gullible chump against a controlling brute in the name of self-preservation. In this instance, however, the question is whether Ava actually has a self to preserve, and it’s easy to see how Caleb might get caught up in her as she flirts, pouts, and allows Caleb to project his knight-in-shining-armor fantasies onto what is essentially a next-level blowup doll. And Vikander totally sells it: her Ava blends the languid grace of a dancer with tiny whirring movements and nearly imperceptible reactions that nonetheless speak volumes. It’s the polar opposite of showy, yet she’s mesmerizing.

For 57 years now, the Rochester International Film Festival has been must-see viewing for local film buffs. Better known as “Movies on a Shoestring,” the annual event holds the remarkable title of being the oldest continuously running short film festival in the world. Presenting four unique programs of short films over the course of three nights, this year’s edition will be held Thursday, April 23, through Saturday, April 25. There’s something for everyone to enjoy in the festival’s lineup, which mixes narrative, documentary, experimental, and animated short films from around the world. And admission is free. I viewed a number of this year’s selections, and what follows are a few of the highlights. For more information on the festival and to view the complete schedule, check rochesterfilmfest.org.

Makis (Mihalis Marinos) contemplates how to die in the short “5 Ways 2 Die,” screening Saturday, April 25. PHOTO PROVIDED

A surprise pregnancy reveals the fractures in a long-term relationship in the dramatic two-hander, “Plato Para Dos (Party For Two),” from director Eugenia Llaguno. Mixing stop-motion and computer animation to lovely effect, “Between Times” acts as a conversation of sorts between a cuckoo clock and the street clock its observes through the window of the bakery where it hangs.

Friday, April 24, 8 p.m. “OMUL” is German director Brigitte

Drodtloff’s tender fable about a mysterious man who arrives at street market but whose presence agitates the other vendors when he begins to give away his possessions. Directed by Tim Guinee and executive produced by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, “One-Armed Man” isn’t a retelling of “The Fugitive,” but is instead a well-acted period drama about a hopeless man’s urgent request to his former employer. In the enigmatic “Keeping Time,” a tribal dance ritual inspires a power station worker to find his own inner strength. Directed by Minji Kang, “The Loyalist” tells the unsettling story of a North Korean general forced to make a decision between the wishes of his only daughter and those of his leadership. An aging, out of work actor reluctantly takes a job chaperoning a young boy to a costume contest, in the charming “Cowboys,” from Spanish director Bernabé Rico.

Saturday, April 25, 4 p.m. An international lifeguard competition

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becomes the source of much strife for a young Iranian woman in Sarah Saidan’s beautifully animated “Beach Flags.” In the deadpan and darkly funny “5 Ways 2 Die,” a morose man works his way through various methods of offing himself, though his motive remains unclear. I’m a sucker for films about old movie theaters, so Adam Carboni and Tansy Michaud’s loving documentary “Enjoy Your Intermission,” about the Hi-Way Drive-In Theater in Coxsackie, New York, had me at hello.    Animal lovers will get a kick out of “Foster Dog,” from director Lisa Alonso Vear, which takes a “Look Who’s Talking” approach to its story of a disabled dog learning the ins and outs of adoption. The idiosyncratic “Hsu Ji (Behind the Screen)” is somewhat difficult to classify but its story, about the daughter of an illegal immigrant who gets some unexpected help from some silent film characters, is utterly captivating.

Saturday, April 25, 8 p.m.

In the gritty drama “Jaya,” from director Puja Maewal, a young girl struggles to survive the streets of Mumbai by posing as a boy. Jon Noble’s harrowing “Nzara ‘76” tells the story of the first outbreak of Ebola in Sudan. Tensions rise as the virus claims more victims and tradition butts up against medical protocol. Traveling to Geneva, four strangers are forced to share a ride with an eccentric taxi driver and a chicken named Power in the entertaining farce, “Taxistop.” “Drone Strike” is split into parallel stories between an RAF drone pilot and a father in Afghanistan. It’s not hard to see where the film is headed, but that doesn’t make its shattering climax any less effective. The closing day of a beloved movie theater proves a catalyst for relationships both new and old in the bittersweet Spanish drama, “The Last Session.”

NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY

SUCKER PUNCH

Sunday, April 26, 2 p.m.

Tuesday, April 28, 8 p.m.

An embittered law student commits a double murder; a family man takes the fall and is forced into prison; a mother and her two children wander the countryside looking for redemption. Lav Diaz’s epic reimagining of Crime and Punishment is both an intimate human drama and a cosmic treatise on the origin of evil. “For many people, length is an issue... But not an issue if we remember that there are small and large canvases; brief ditties and lengthy arias; short stories and multivolume novels; the haiku and The Iliad. This should be the end of the argument.”—Lav Diaz (Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan, Lav Diaz, Philippines 2013, 250 min., DCP)

Sucker Punch is a horribly underrated explosion of pure cinematic joie de vivre, written and directed by an equally underrated contemporary master Zack Snyder. The subject of this kinetic masterpiece is really cinema itself—a magical apparatus that has been generating the most vivid and impossible dreams for well over a century now. And like dreams themselves, Sucker Punch is absorbing, elusive, imperfect, excessive, and unsettling, but the world without it would be more than just a little bit grayer. (Zack Snyder, US/Canada 2011, 110 min., 35mm) Part of the series The Legacy of James Card.

Film Info: 271-4090 | 900 East Avenue | Eastman House Café—stop in for a light dinner or dessert before the film. | WIFI Hot Spot rochestercitynewspaper.com CITY 29

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