March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Reviews of 'The Birds Upstairs,' 'Breadwinner,' 'Missile Crisis' and more

Digital 10 Student Showcase #1

Noon, Saturday, April 16

Old Town Temple Club, 502 E. Grand River Ave.

$5 all seats

"The Birds Upstairs" — Comedy does not get much blacker than this twisted short by Christopher Jarvis. Not for the faint of heart or easily offended, "The Birds Upstairs" at its basest offers bird skeletons — dressed in Old World finery —that consummate their love on screen. Thankfully, the story is less perverted and more cleverly demented than these details. Akin to the visual styling of early David Lynch and Tim Burton, Jarvis tells the animated tale of an aging aristocratic avian couple that give birth to a child. The fully feathered baby bird looks nothing like them and considering it an "abomination," they lock it in their attic upstairs. Narrated in a British accent with crafty lines and visual puns, "Birds" is not as dark as it initially seems; it's delightfully backwards. — P.W.

“Breadwinner” — So much goes unsaid between fathers and sons. “Breadwinner” is about the conversation one son never had with his father — until they finally did. Bitter that his father never was the provider and self-conscious about the businessman he became, the son finally begins to understand what his dad truly valued only after his father’s death. Filmmaker Cornelius Murphy tells the story rather seamlessly, with soft cuts telling the visual history of both men while the son narrates in the present-day. Minimalist music by the group Sigur Ros reservedly conveys the son’s feeling of loss. — P.W.

“Missile Crisis” — A sweet fable about two boys living in south Florida during the Cuban missile crisis who hope to stave off nuclear annihilation—and their parents’ impending divorce—with a little childhood backyard magic. Effective period set design, music and costumes convincingly set the time and place. The child actors are believable enough, with the actors portraying their parents soaking their scenes with the appropriate amount of Cold War dread felt by the nation at the time. Best of all, it’s family-friendly without being treacly or preachy. Neato! — A.R.

“Mr. Henderson” — What could have been a 10-minute tale of desperation and sacrifice winds up as a 30-minute odyssey through too much exposition and too little editing. “Mr. Henderson” follows Paul — recently divorced father and homeowner struggling under debt — as he plans to steal some money from folks shadier than himself to make ends meet. Characters such as Paul’s daughter and the title character feel superfluous to his character’s journey. Production values such as steady camera work and lighting prove that the director has put forth some effort, but poor acting all around depreciates anything else this film could have to offer. — P.W.

“Sharfik” — “Sharfik” is a bleak yet beautiful depiction of the civilian cost of war. Taking its title from the Russian for ‘scarf,’ “Sharfik” follows a young boy from a moment of great happiness and celebration to untimely isolation and death. Creative and crisp animations give the characters life, allowing the audience to immediately connect and sympathize. Motifs like an ominous ticking clock and the hand-knit red scarf weave the simple story together, simultaneously providing suspense. Perhaps the strongest detail is the lack of any dialogue. The images in “Sharfik” are more universal because they are allowed to stand on their own. An evolving color palate and a sad lullaby melody complete this heartbreaking tale with a tremendous impact. — P.W.

"Zlata Rybka (Goldfish)" — It’s a familiar story: Man loves goldfish, man loses goldfish, man negotiates with reincarnated felines about the return of his goldfish. If you enjoy the surreal odysseys of Charlie Kaufman's films, such as "Being John Malkovich" or "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," you’ll probably enjoy "Goldfish"; its musical score is even lifted from "Malkovich." Clean editing and smooth pacing give "Goldfish" polish and the existential musings of the cats (men in bowler hats with wooden whiskers) raise questions about the nature of consciousness and memory. But the real joy of the short is the man’s love of his goldfish. — P.W.