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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, February 09, 2013

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


Put some shorts on

By Dennis Hartley














A few weeks back, I lamented about how I’ve only managed to catch 2 of the 9 films up for Best Picture at the upcoming Oscars. Funny thing, though…I have managed to catch all of the (traditionally more elusive) Oscar nominees for Best Short Film-Animation and Best Short Film-Live Action. And the good news is you can, too. The five nominees in each sub-category are currently making the rounds as limited-engagement presentations; each collection runs approximately the length of a feature film, with separate admissions required. The films are playing now in Seattle; you can check for dates in your city here.

(Reads woodenly off teleprompter) And the nominees for Best Short Film-Animation are:

Adam and Dog- Clocking in at 15 minutes (making it the lengthiest offering in this category), this is an impressive debut for writer-director Minkyu Lee. With the Garden of Eden as a backdrop, Lee gives an alternate take on the usual origin tale, suggesting Man’s Best Friend may have forged a primordial bond with this Adam fellow before he hooked up with Eve (behold the invention of “fetch”!). Dialogue-free and beautifully animated, it’s a lovely piece. Dog lovers might find themselves getting a bit misty-eyed by the end.

Fresh Guacamole- A cleverly assembled stop-motion feature from Adam Pesapane (aka “PES”) that seems to be over as quickly as it begins. Still, it leaves quite an impression. Pesapane mixes common everyday objects, well-orchestrated sound effects and a Salvador Dali-ish sense of surrealism to create a rather interesting guacamole “recipe”. PES seems to share artistic sensibilities with Pee Wee’s Playhouse set designer Wayne White and claymation artist Bruce Bickford (best known for his work with Frank Zappa).

Head Over Heels- This is the other stop motion piece of the quintet, written and directed by Timothy Reckart. An elderly couple (voiced by Nigel Anthony and Rayyah McCaul) have quite literally grown apart over the years-he lives on the floor of their modest little house, and she lives on the ceiling. After the house takes flight one day and makes a topsy-turvy landing, the couple tenuously begin to reconcile; of course the main hurdle is going to be reaching a mutual decision as to which end is up (in a matter of speaking). It’s a clever metaphor about the ups and downs of a long-term relationship. I liked this one; it’s kind of like a re-imagining of Up-if Harold Pinter were to write the screenplay.

Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare- As you can likely glean, this amusing short is a spinoff from The Simpsons, directed by David Silverman and co-written by series creator Matt Groening, along with James L. Brooks, Al Jean, David Mirkin, Joel H. Cohen and Michael Price. Little Maggie gets dropped off for the day at the “Ayn Rand School for Tots”, and…God help her. After processing, Maggie is determined to be of “average intelligence”. She is whisked past the “Gifted Area” and gets unceremoniously dumped in a room with the rest of the kids who are ghettoized as “Nothing Special”. To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of the show (can’t get past the cheap animation) but anything that jabs a (satirical) thumb into the eye of the Randroids is A-okay in my book.

Paperman- There has to be at least one Disney Studios offering in this category every year (I believe it’s a rule), and this is it. Directed by John Kahrs and written by Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer, it’s a simple but effective black and white charmer (in the vein of Amélie) about a shy, love-struck Mad Men-era office worker who shares a fleeting I Saw U moment with a young woman while waiting for the subway. Distraught that Fate will never put him in proximity with his dream girl again, he receives assistance from Cupid, in the form of a squadron of paper airplanes (oh lighten up…it’s a cartoon).











And the nominees for Best Short Film-Live Action are:

Asad- Initially, as I watched this South Africa/USA co-production from writer-director Bryan Buckley about a Somali boy who is torn between pursuing the life of a fisherman or a pirate, I started to feel uncomfortable that it almost seemed to be reinforcing certain stereotypes about Somalis. However, when this preface to the credits flashed on the screen: “This film is a tribute to our entire cast, who have lost their country, but not their sense of hope,” followed by annotations after every cast member’s name indicating that they were Somali refugees, I came to see what had preceded it in a very different light.  

Buzkashi Boys- “Buzkashi” is a traditional Afghan version of horse polo that substitutes a dead goat for…whatever the usual object coveted by the players is (I’ve frankly never been able to make heads or tails out of the game). At any rate, the two young protagonists of this film from Sam French (who co-wrote with Martin Desmond Rowe) dream of becoming professional Buzkashi players and national sport heroes. The story weighs their hopes against the hard-scrabble realities of life in modern-day Afghanistan (one boy is a street beggar; the other the son of a blacksmith). Moving performances and exquisite location photography (in Kabul) enhance this rare glimpse of life in the war-torn country.

Curfew- This darkly funny vignette from writer-director Shawn Christensen depicts a day in the life of depressed young man (played by the director) who puts a half-hearted wrist-slashing session on hold after getting a surprise call from his estranged sister, who asks if he could watch her precocious 9-year old daughter for the day. Christensen’s tragicomic spin on urban alienation should feel quite familiar to fans of Louis CK’s television series.  

Death of a Shadow- Dutch writer-director Tom Van Avermaet is a filmmaker to keep an eye on, if this impressively assured and visually stunning homage to German Expressionism is any indication. A sci-fi fantasy that plays like a mashup of Dark City and A Guy Named Joe , the film concerns a “dead” WWI soldier, who exists in a purgatory and is beholden to a phantom-like curator, who has captured the soldier’s “shadow” right at the moment of his demise. If the soldier can photograph 10,000 more of these “shadows” for the creepy “collection”, he will be awarded his life back in return.

Henry- Quebecois writer-director Yan England’s short and sweet character study focuses on a concert pianist as he reflects on significant moments of his life. Any further synopsis risks spoilers; suffice it to say that it’s a poignant reminder about why we should savor all the good times, and not sweat the small stuff. You might want to have Kleenex on hand.




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