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By KJ Doughton | February 16, 2005

The youthful Dastoli Brothers have spent five years turning fanboy geeks red with envy, releasing enough “Star Wars”-inspired short films to pack the Millenium Falcon. These college-age, twin directors (who also produce, write, edit, and act) are obviously gifted at the technical art of CGE and editing – their movies look great.

In the real world, however, imitation may flatter George Lucas, but it doesn’t equate an inspired career vision. That’s why their “Winter/Spring 2004 Catalogue” DVD, comprised of three short films that abandon sci-fi action to tackle other genres, is a refreshing, encouraging change of pace.

“Occupational Hazard” is so short you’ll miss it if you blink. To describe the film’s one scene would be a spoiler. Suffice to say, it drives the planted car-bomb staple of the gangster flick towards a clever comic punch line.

“The Bottom Floor” is even better, welding surreal Coen Brothers and Kubrick imagery together for a creepy, “Twilight Zone”-styled morality tale. The Dastolis create the most drab, washed-out look this side of “The Machinist,” then continue squeezing out color until the short’s strikingly bleak finale. And there’s something besides great visuals to decorate “The Bottom Floor” – fine acting. Past Dastoli outings like “Evasive Maneuvers” might be fun rides, but the wooden performances are a liability. Not so in “The Bottom Floor,” where smug Justin Lader nails the role of an a*****e white-collar executive who tells his cab driver, “Buddy, you mind speeding up a little? In our country, we like to get to work on time.” Before you can say “Yuppie Scum,” this heartless prick has fired his secretary, insulted an office receptionist (“Don’t you have a Rolodex to file?”), and belittled a business partner. Equally good is Dominick Viccarolo as a stogie-chomping secretary with the cynical, underlying insight that Lader’s villain so sorely lacks.

Last, but not least, is “Errand Boys,” a tight Tarantino homage that runs out of steam only in its disappointing final scene. Again, we have capable Lader playing a cynical, Vincent Vega-style hit man. This as pure “Pulp Fiction” parody, but it’s funny and well acted. When Lader and a fellow killer review their assigned hit list, they can’t make out one of the entries. Is it “Donnie Copeland,” or “Danny Copeland”? To decide which is the correct name, they do what any pair of perfectionist, accuracy-seeking gangsters would do – they flip a coin.

The Dastolis have jumped to lightspeed and traveled beyond their initial Jedi ‘n light saber roots, to really spread their wings with this latest collection of digital shorts. Now, let’s watch them fly away from their nest of influences and shoot for something completely unique. Who knows? They could be on James Cameron’s production staff before they’re of drinking age

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