Wastes great access, emotive material and a worthy cause
With the country already on its knees from the earthquake, an outbreak of cholera caused even more deaths and, although it was never proved, it was suggested that the source was sewage from the base of Nepalese soldiers working for the UN. This film explores this story while also following the story of Joseph, a Haitian boy who loves his life, his family and baseball. It is a good mix for a documentary because the natural structure gives you the chance to explain the scale of the problem but also to put a specific face to it, thus making it more engaging and moving. So why then does the film fail so spectacularly to do that?
I wish I had an easy answer because I reached the end of the film genuinely surprised by how botched the job seemed to be throughout. With the access, the story, the right choice of subject in the warm Joseph and family (and specifics of his story) it seemed like an open goal to get the most from it but the telling of the story is off. We muddle around in some politics and scandal, then we see Toronto, then have a personal face, then we have a law-suit. The story doesn't flow through these things and, although they are of course connected, the film seems to be doing its best to fragment them. So what we get is a real lack of journalistic sharpness and instead it is replaced by a good heart. This "good heart" does try to tell us how to support the cause and also gives some moving footage but it lacks the ability to make a really compelling film.
It is not a terrible film but it is made worse by the potential to do so much better with such a topic, subject and level of access. The story deserves to be told, but deserves to be told better than this.
The Naturalist (2012)
For the most part it is obtuse and subdued to the point of not existing
I had seen some emotive reactions to this short film and, although I try not to read the views of others until after I have seen a short for myself, I did assume this short film would be rather impacting in what it delivers. The plot sees a future where genetic perfection is the goal and those without are driven out. A homosexual couple live in this world and one of them considers genetically modifying himself to be able to become heterosexual and thus accepted.
The short film opens in such a way that it is really made clear where the film is coming from; instead of being a thoughtful world it is one of obvious "baddies" and "goodies" and this is presented in the opening credits which are as blunt as they are well edited. This opening made me think I was in for more of the same but, for some reason, from this point it almost seems afraid to speak above a whisper about anything. Director Hurley delivers the film in a way that reminded me of those people who talk deliberately low and quietly in a meeting making people lean in or assume that what is being said must be heavy in wisdom and depth it feels this way because this is the style of the film, very deliberately obtuse and subdued with very small moments scattered throughout. The goal I guess was to be intelligence and not spell things out but the result to me was that the film felt a bit too full of itself, like it couldn't be bothered to make the effort.
This is in the pacing, the content but also the cinematography, which in some ways looks really good, but in others seems like it has taken the east route of being folded in, dusty and dingy in the visuals. Performances are limited and, in fairness to the cast, I think this occurred because the director didn't share the characters enough with them, so they match the deliberately folded-in style and have little else to work with. Politically there is an interesting idea in here about genetics and whether it is a good thing to have the choices or not, but such themes are lost in a film which is obtuse and subdued to the point where it hardly does anything outside of the opening credits.
The Event (2012)
All about the chilly, desperate atmosphere in the ordinariness of the poem and the desperation of the images
A couple talk about love and their experiences while underneath the animation shows an apocalyptic scene of destruction, desperation, survival and love. I do enjoy the short form as a particular branch of film but will be honest and say that if there is going to be a specific style of film that makes me wonder what the hell I just watched, it will mostly seem to be animated short films. This is the case here as we have a poem that deals with the smaller issues of life (a defrosted fridge, commuter towns, shopping, a cruel word against a mutual friend) but at the same time is delivered with a hushed and frightened tone.
This tone matches the animation which is more clearly about the end of everything with our focus on a couple in the world of death and survival. This animation is at once disturbing but also quite beautiful to watch. It is full of haunting images that are cartoony in nature but yet work with the chilling tone the whole thing has. I will not pretend to fully understand what it all means or why Pott managed to make this from Chivers' poem, but it is very short and it works on tone and atmosphere. It does feel deliberately obtuse as a "story" but it has enough in the way it delivers to engage and draw the viewer in.
If it speaks to you, you'll love it, but for me it was pretentious, overly deliberate and didn't convince in the energy, freedom, passion or dance
Short films are really no different from feature films in the way that people will love them for the same reasons that others hate them. Momentum has the potential to be divisive in this way because it really depends on how you react to Patrick as to whether or not you'll like this film. We open with Patrick talking to camera about his experience at a disco where he was not dancing but, with the help of the chips and dips table, suddenly he was moving and dancing and loving it. This opening scene then leads into dance sequences mixed with effects and Patrick's (onscreen) mother.
For me, this film put me on edge from the very start and I never got back to it. Patrick isn't speaking like a regular person but rather in an overly directed and scripted manner which is only made more obvious by the excessive gestures and frequent edits during a simple monologue. The film needs him to speak from the heart and draw us in but for me it was difficult not to see him as rather pretentious. This continues into the rest of the film because although the dancing is full of energy, it is not particularly inspiring Shoko Ito I guess is meant to reinforce the idea of just letting go and enjoying the movement, but the truth is that she dances like me self consciously pulling faces the whole film and generally seemed awkward. The visual effects and the use of leaves etc didn't add much of anything, and the face painting just felt weird.
Not sure what the film was meant to convey but it put me off from the start with its overly deliberate and pretentious air and from there didn't offer much different.
The Promise (2013)
Good banter but gets a little samey after a few minutes
This short starts with a good idea, where a friend draws a gun on another friend because five years ago he agreed to a promise that he would kill him if he was still going nowhere with his life and that was precisely five years ago right now. This kicks off some chatty banter which is very much in the "I know, right" American style and it is pretty amusing because it is done in this friendly way but is also essentially about the prospect of one of them murdering the other. The energy and natural tone of this makes it really fun but for me the problem was that, even at a lean 7 minutes (including titles), it ran out of steam before the end.
The joke doesn't really go anywhere though, so once you have chuckled at the banter a few times, there is nothing new to come really. The conclusion throws in something just to give the film a way of ending (since it wasn't really moving in any way) but this doesn't really work and it also has a very simple but very poor looking visual effect. It is a shame because Neill and Yaffe both give good performances and it is a shame that Molleur didn't give them a better script and story to work within. It looks good and is nicely shot with the simple set and focused cast, but it doesn't really go anywhere and it is a shame how quickly the one joke gets stale.
Has energy and a lot to potentially like, but it doesn't come together particularly well
Yale is addicted to his phone, it is rarely out of his hand apart from when he is having sex with whomever eventually gave in to his barrage of texts and online flirting. One morning he wakes up without it though and, by coincidence, has stabbing pains in his hand, which also starts to rise up in boils. It quickly becomes clear that his phone is going to become an even more critical part of his life.
There is plenty to like about this film and it is unfortunate that mostly is in the manner of delivery rather than the content. The film has lots of energy and in this way it matches the lead character in his fast pace and need for instant attention etc. I've no knowledge or skill in this area so cannot tell you how it was made, but the camera spins around very nicely to create sweeping effects and the sense of movement and time in a very good way. The plot is nothing new in terms of the ideas; perhaps it is new in relation to the modern application but it does very much remind me of Cronenberg's body horror and Videodrome in particular. However the point about the narcissistic nature of social media and the irony of them making connections easier while also causing us all to ignore those around us while inside our own bubble, is really not a new one.
It tries to work as a comment on this, a comedy, a horror and others but I'm ultimately not sure what it was trying to do and the point about connecting to yourself rather than looking outwards for validation is an odd one made in an odd way (although at least explains the misspelled title). Kirkland throws himself into his role and sells it the best he can it is a performance that the film needs and if it doesn't all come together it is certainly not his fault. There is a lot to like in here but it is a shame that the various styles all given an oddly changing tone, while the material is not as insightful or clever as it thinks it is and the comedy, although dark, doesn't work as well as it could have either.
Very effective clash of tones (SPOILERS)
This film is a letter home from a backpacker passing through the UK. The narration tells us the letter in soft tones with are full of reflection and affection while the soundtrack adds to this with a delicate sound which, while a bit obvious, does help set the tone. Under this we see Sam (the narrator) being friendly, meeting a young couple, being friendly and generally being the backpacker type that you would see anywhere in the world his new friends which he speaks of so nicely in the letter also appear to be similar characters, with stories of near- death adventures in far-off places which fits into their safe comfort of their warm flat. It is at this point that the tone of the film changes or, better than that, it doesn't.
I have seen some shorts recently that have very effectively flipped the tone of the film on the viewer and made the impact even greater, but here Mat Johns doesn't do that, even though he does. The trick here is that the narrator keeps the tone even throughout and doesn't vary and nor does the music in the background, however what does change is what we see on the screen. From being a friendly scene of travelers opening their home to a fellow traveler, we see a brutal crime committed by Sam. In terms of what we see happen, it really isn't too different from what we see on CSI etc while eating dinner during primetime, but the manner of delivery makes it more shocking and more impacting. The clash with the cold, calm letter seems to add to the horror of Sam's actions and it also helps that the actual acting and filming makes them feel horribly real.
Although they are silent, the performances are really effective Stacey is very good in the lead while Herrett and Grey really sell their fear when it counts, making the closing scenes so much more horrible to watch. Run is not different to the "weren't expecting that, were ya?" tone change that is not uncommon in short horror films, but in this case it is very well done because it really doesn't jump at us to say "boo" but rather chills and unnerves.
The Purge: The Morning After (2013)
Such a nice idea but such poor delivery
I've never seen the film The Purge but like everyone I know the basic plot and ideas behind it crime is controlled throughout the year because, for some reason, it is totally legal on one night per year with no legal repercussions for anything you may do. The concept for this short film is a great one because it deals with that morning after feeling awkwardness is bad enough if you only drunkenly tried to kiss a colleague the previous night, but how must it be if you actually broke in and murdered their entire family along with many other excessive acts. I read the summary for this and it sounded great but unfortunately it is not.
The first thing is that the short plays to the excess of the idea, not to the social awkwardness of it. This is a bad decision for the start because it takes away almost certainly the richest seam for comedy in the idea. On top of this the material isn't very good and it plays to excess and absurdity in a way that is brash and basic. The silly excess of it doesn't even go really far enough and by leaving it mostly driven by dialogue (apart from dumb random stuff at the end) it also highlights how much the dialogue falls short of what it needed to be. The performances match the delivery which is understandable since two of the three cast members are writers or directors of the material but of course this means that the weakness of the approach feeds through.
A really nice idea when said out loud as a pitch-sentence, but the resulting short wastes all the potential, has no finesse and is generally poor.
A bit lighter and less engaging than it thinks it is, plus with an unfortunate image in the concept
A man enjoys his days chasing the reflection of his younger self in shop windows and fountains with nary a care in the world. This continues until one day he is approached by other grown adults who help him see the error of his ways. The message here is pretty simple and not delivered in any other way it would be great to keep our childlike innocence and freedom while also becoming an adult, however instead that change is grey, conforming and full of rules and cares. It makes this point and I cannot argue it in the culture the film comes from, but I would say that a more common thing is that childhood (or at least "young adulthood") now goes on for decades with people unwilling to give up "childish" ways and I speak as a man in his late 30s who still loves video games and things from my teens but yet exists in the adult world too.
Anyway, this film aims to deliver this message in a way that is reminiscent of Pixar and in this way the animation is very well done with not only good technical work but a good eye for the "camera" location. The problem is that the message is not as well delivered as Pixar would do it, nor is the character as engaging as he needs to be. On top of this, depending on your level of cynicism, there is a certain level of discomfort that I found with the idea of an adult, dressed similar to a child, chasing a child through the city I totally know this comes from modern life and not from the film, but it is hard to ignore it. It is worth a look for being a bright animation with a simple message to deliver, but the downside is that this is precisely what you will get and nothing more.
You There? (2013)
Amusing but never as clever, funny, charming or insightful as it occasionally suggests it could have been
There is a cleverer, funnier film in here somewhere but unfortunately on this occasion it doesn't get out. We join the film with two beautiful people chatting against a white background; this we soon learn is the visual for them chatting online and this continues until the girl (Annie) asks to meet Brad. Problem is, Brad used a photo of his ruggedly handsome unemployed actor roommate Lance as his profile picture so this may be a bit of a shock. He agrees to the meet and then tries to work out how to salvage a relationship that hasn't even started yet.
The concept of chatting online with people and knowing them away from the insecurities of the "real" world is a timely one and has been/will be for some time. There is a certain appeal in being free of the "real" and being able to be yourself and just talk to people, but at the same time there is that duality of Facebook etc where there can be more pressure to impress with profile pictures, tweets from great places etc etc. This short film sort of comes at that, but only uses it to create a twist on a device that is as old as the 1987 film Roxanne with Steve Martin (that of a fake "front" to the less attractive real person a device never used before 1987 but frequently since Martin wrote it). Anyway, what results is a nicely comic affair that heads towards a nicely "unromantic" conclusion but one that is still honest and cautionary. The white-screen idea is a nice one for the opening but outstays its welcome a bit and isn't helped by the film not being particularly funny it must be said.
Merrigan needed to be a bit more sympathetic while Bledsoe was trying too hard to be a "wide-chested funny character" while Maguire is a bit too awkward and really just a plot device. It is still a nice little sketch and has some good aspects but generally it was never really anything like as clever, funny, sweet or insightful as it needed to be, even if the potential was there for all of that.