We grade this year’s Crazy8s finalists

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      It’s a milestone anniversary for Crazy8s, now celebrating 20 years of offering Vancouver's film professionals (and amateurs) an incomparable opportunity to hone their chops.

      The annual competition climaxes with an eight-day scramble to complete an entire short movie. Remarkably, every single finalist in Crazy8’s history has managed to deliver their finished product.

      As excitement builds for Saturday's gala screening and afterparty, here’s how we would grade the six finalists—although it should be noted right up front that 2019's graduating class has probably achieved the most consistent quality in the competition's history. (And needless to say: finishing any film—in eight days or in a hundred—is considerd by me to be a small miracle. Congrats to everyone here.)

      “The Mirror”  Directed by Nessa Aref, “The Mirror” is a neatly staged supernatural tale that boasts beautiful photogaphy, sharp dialogue, and strong performances—particularly from Parmiss Sehat as Olivia, who's suffering, as the film begins, from a raging attack of teen-cynicism on her prom night. She ditches the party to break into an abandoned old house, two yammering friends in tow. Once inside the oddly well-furnished, antique living room, a tall mirror starts to work its alternate reality magic. It might rush to its finish, but there’s lots to admire here, not least of all—since the action is set in May—the film’s on-the-fly solution to Vancouver’s freak weather. B+

      Olivia Leigh Nowak

      “Idols Never Die”  After starring in one fine Crazy8s production (2017’s “Cypher”), Jerome Yoo makes an inspired move behind the camera with this tale of four schoolgirls and the macabre caper they undertake following the death of a K-pop superstar. It’s one thing that Vancouver substitutes for Korea so effectively; it’s another to fill your 15 minute film with so many memorably quirky details, like the rival girl gang that punctuates all its threats with the crash of a tambourine. Kim’s Convenience star Andrea Bang is a co-writer, which might explain some of the film’s off-centre beats, although Yoo frames it all with massive confidence, joy, and style, even touching on Korean horror for a few moments. Great stuff. A

      “Ada”  Writer-director Steve Kammerer aims perilously high with this mini-biopic about computer programming pioneer Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and a woman largely forgotten to history. Kammerer’s film zooms in Ada’s attempt to raise financing for “Charles Babbage’s analytical engine”, from a room full of scoffing Victorian businessmen. Ultimately, it rounds on her gambling habit and unusual “friendships” outside of marriage. So, full marks for resurrecting an early feminist heroine with a scandalous independent streak. More impressive still is the film’s convincing period reconstruction. (Is that a Gastown alley or is it Baker Street in 1851?) Julie Bruns (as Ms. Lovelace), Matthew Kevin Anderson (Travellers), and John Emmet Tracy (iZombie) deliver strong performace. Its key weakness is some clunky dialogue (“Oh, you and your algorithms…”), but otherwise this is quite the achievement for an eight-day production; the equivalent of making a blockbuster with steam power. A-

      “Hatch”  Heather Perluzzo’s film gets off to a very effective start with Sara Canning breaking an egg into a frying pan and reacting with horror to what comes out. In the next scene she’s being fussed over by her mother, played to the hilt by Gabrielle Rose in full, florid British-mum mode. And thus we’re primed for the two extreme and not necessarily complimentary moods posed by this very odd little film. Revealing anything else would be unfair: suffice to say that the next 17 or so minutes unfold as a truly bizarre mix of melancholy psychological horror mixed with Mac and Me—and if I read that about any film, I’d want to see it. Whether “Hatch” works or not, fine performances and technical strengths (with one puzzling and/or amusing exception) aside, is another question entirely. B-

      “Parabola”  With a story stretching over some 20-odd years, “Parabola” is a study in achieving more from less. There’s nothing showy going on; just one economically composed scene after another, each yielding all the information we require in this tale of an aging Yakuza, freshly released from prison, and his relationship with his none-too-impressed adult daughter. Directed by actor Lee Shorten, the icing on the cake is Shorten’s Man in the High Castle castmate Hiro Kanagawa’s equivalently concise but powerful performance as the rueful hitman. A+

      Jan Colango

      "UnKept"  Like “Parabola”, this is a clinic in planting a camera in the best place you can and then letting the scene breathe. It doesn’t hurt that “UnKept” has Agam Darshi as the mother to a Sikh boy, Kamal, with ambitions to play baseball. It takes about a minute of screen-time for Darshi and her young co-star Yuvraj Kalsi to have us believing in this sweet relationship, while dinner with a taciturn dad and game tryouts with sniggering teammates (young Kamal can't fit the helmet over his patka) have the equivalent ring of truth. As Kamal's resentment of tradition builds, the film gradually squeezes him into smaller and more obscure parts of the frame, while Darshi is given a final scene—recognizable to any parent—that steals the entire show. With only two other credits on his resume, director Michael P. Vidler has made a remarkably assured work. A+

      The Crazy8s gala screening takes place at the Centre for Performing Arts on Saturday (February 23)