February 21, 2013

Indie Film: Long story short: 'Curfew,' 'Adam and Dog' take Oscars

Space Gallery presents two nights of Oscar-nominated short films.

Looking to win the pool at your upcoming Oscar party? Well, Space Gallery (space538.org) has got you covered, presenting two nights of Oscar-nominated short films. The animated shorts screen at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and the live-action shorts at the same time Friday. Admission each night costs $8 ($6 for Space members and students with ID).

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Dennis Perkins picks “Adam and Dog” in the animated category.

Fuzzy Logic Pictures

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In the live-action category, Perkins favors “Curfew.”

Courtesy photo

COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

BUDDHIST MOVIE NIGHT

Sacred Heart/St. Dominic Parish Church, 64 Mellen St., Portland

Saturday: "Amongst White Clouds." The Maine Buddhist Gathering continues to present the best in serenity-friendly films with this documentary about masters and students living in ancient hermitages on an isolated Chinese mountain range. The show starts at 7 p.m.; feel free to bring a snack.

SPACE GALLERY

Tuesday: "TV Show -- Episode 5." The free-for-all variety show features "a silent film about a hat chase, a horror movie about a possessed eye doctor, a multi-perspective piece on bullying, an animation about a skunk who tries to make friends at a zoo" and more. Doors at 7 p.m.; all ages. $5.

ANIMATION

"Paperman" is a charmer from the house of Disney, a (mostly) black-and-white love story about a pair of office drone commuters whose meet cute seems doomed by the forces of nature and capitalism until fate lends a hand. Downright adorable, with an effectively winning score and a nicely observed minimalism to the proceedings -- at least, until some of that Disney cuteness sneaks in at the finale.

"Fresh Guacamole," a two-minute goofball stunner, combines a stunningly crisp realist animation style with the very simple task of making a great batch of the titular dish, lovingly created from unusual ingredients. In its short running time, I laughed about six times at the unexpected turns (which I won't spoil here).

"Head Over Heels" uses its central predicament as a moving metaphor, as its claymation middle-aged married couple's emotional estrangement has literally turned their lives 180 degrees. Disenchantedly coexisting in their ever-floating house, one is always on the ceiling; the other always on the floor -- at least until each makes a small gesture to find their way back to each other.

"Adam and Dog" employs a fluid, hand-drawn animation style reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki ("My Neighbor Totoro") to visit the Garden of Eden, where the first man and the first dog are the real original love story. Sure, its gender politics are as messed up as the source material's, but the film's precisely observed rendering of the unnamed canine protagonist is achingly beautiful, suggesting that at least a dog's love is eternal.

"Maggie Simpson: The Longest Daycare" sees the littlest Simpson sent to the cruel Ayn Rand Day Care, where she rebels against the school's determination that she's "unexceptional" (she's shunted into the dingy "Nothing Special" corner), and her nemesis (that creepy mono-brow baby) as he seeks to smush the caterpillar she's befriended.

In its wordless five minutes, the short, while identifiably "The Simpsons," boasts more lavish visuals and a great final twist. Could this be the year "The Simpsons" take home an Oscar?

MY PICK: Nope -- I say the irresistibly loyal pooch of "Adam and Dog" will win over the voters.

LIVE ACTION

"Henry" follows the harrowing day of an elderly pianist (a remarkably affecting Gerard Poirier) who discovers that his beloved wife is missing. Full of twists (albeit predictable ones) and shamelessly manipulative, but heartbreaking nonetheless.

"Death of a Shadow" is a stunningly inventive, haunting tale of a man with a mysterious camera, his ghoulish errands on behalf of a spectral collector and love across the ages. From its gorgeous, steampunk gadgetry to its tragic, poetic end, this is like the best "Twilight Zone" episode Rod Serling never wrote.

"Curfew" writer/director/star Shawn Christensen crafts a stunning showcase for himself and his young costar, Fatima Ptacek, in this morbidly funny and moving tale of a suicidal junkie screw-up charged with taking care of the precocious niece he hasn't seen in years. Two great lead performances and a touch of magical realism make this a real winner.

"Buzkashi Boys" is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale about two young boys in Afghanistan whose friendship and dreams of becoming champions at the titular sport (where riders battle over a dead goat) are sorely tested by the hazards of their war-ravaged city.

"Asad" presents yet another example of how hard the world is for a child, as the titular Somali refugee (the energetic Harun Mohammed) must decide on the path of the fisherman or the pirate in his war-torn village. Bleakness and humor blend into a realistic, yet not hopeless, fable of growing up.

MY PICK: I'll take "Curfew."

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.

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