Movie Short Reviews: ‘Ashmina’, ‘Engaged’, ‘Hank’ And ‘Exit’

Greetings again from the darkness. For many countries, tourism is vital to economic stability. For that revenue, there is often a price to pay. It could be overcrowding, destruction of natural resources, diminishing local culture, or even a jolt to pride and self-respect. With majestic Everest within its borders, Nepal has become a popular spot for western tourists to visit and partake in paragliding.

As one of the poorest countries in the world, Nepal and its citizens are forced to cater to the tourists, and that’s where we meet 13 year old Ashmina (played by Dikshya Karki). The young girl spends her days hustling for tips by packing up the parachutes of the paragliders after they land. We hear the obnoxious westerners discouraging their friend from ‘over-tipping’, though he initially has some compassion for Ashmina.

We learn more about Ashmina when we follow her home. She is prevented from attending school like her brother, and is instead expected to work all day and deliver her tips to the family. When her request for pocket money is denied by her parents, her solution provides a moment of enjoyment, followed by a harsh reminder of her place.

Filmmaker Dekel Berenson based the film on his own experiences while traveling, and his 15 minute short film (and its dark turn at the end) is particularly timely given what’s happened recently with some tourists in the Dominican Republic.

Greetings again from the darkness. A really good friend tells us what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear. We don’t all have a friend like that, but Darren (Daniel K Isaac, “Billions”) does. As Darren’s efforts to propose to longtime partner Elliott (Ryan Jamal Swain, “Pose”) continually implode, it takes his straight-shooting friend Lara (Victoria Meade) to point out what the real obstacle might be.

At a very romantic couples’ dinner, Darren’s efforts are thwarted by a hilarious sequence that results in Darren being shaken and unable to pop the question. Then, Darren must accompany Elliott to Kayla’s (Elliott’s sister played by Candace Maxwell) engagement party, where the two of them are forced to participate in a quite awkward “Nearlywed Game”.

Filmmaker Dave Scala makes ‘bad timing’ a recurring theme for Darren, who finally realizes (with help from Lara) that perfection in life – or specifically in a relationship- is a pointless goal, one that can’t be achieved. The mixture of comedy, insecurities, and true love results in 17 minutes of relatable life.

Greetings again from the darkness. Every relationship has its own dynamics, but few are more challenging than the stark reality of an “open” relationship. Hank (Jason Stuart) and Tommy (Jay Disney) have been married for many years and recently moved to L.A. The new town and the new dynamic in their relationship is just a bit too much for Hank to handle.

Hank’s emotional crisis includes the insecurities of a man that is aging, and leads him to a support group, as well as a bar where he drinks too much … including a most unusual beer-drinking style. Hank is a nice guy that trusts others, and that trusting nature leads him to a situation where he is easily taken advantage of. Left vulnerable and embarrassed, filmmaker Hongyu Li leaves us wondering if any long-term relationship can survive such changes.

It’s a film where Mr. Stuart’s performance is grounded in reality, and the topics broached are worthy of further discussion.

Greetings again from the darkness. We open in the desert as Kim (Maria Bello) shoots her handgun in the general direction of empty booze bottles perched atop rocks. Her target practice is obviously more stress release than preparation for sniper action. The joint she lights up puts any doubt to rest.

Soon Kim is inviting her adult daughter (played by Natasha Bassett) to join her in bouncing on a trampoline, and the two ladies giggle at their child’s play. Kim’s nasty cough is our red flag that something is up. Her extra squeeze on the hug as her daughter heads out after the visit, is affirmation to our worries.

Filmmaker Claire Edmondson and Ms. Bello do a terrific job of showing us the multiple emotions that go through the decision-making process. Living life on one’s own terms is difficult enough, but ending it that way is even more difficult. The 15 minute film played at Toronto International Film Festival and provides a snapshot of assisted suicide and some of what goes along with it.

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