Address Is Approximate (2011)
Such a great idea so delicately and cleverly done
This short film is barely 3 minutes long but yet it managed to grab me and charm me within seconds and leave me feeling better than I did at the start. Essentially it is a stop-motion animation where some action figures/toys in a typical tech office come to life after the employees have headed home. This doesn't tell you the beauty of the film though because what these characters do when they come to life is that a robotic figure drags a model of a classic American car in front of the computer and sits back while another figure goes to Google Maps' Street View and furiously clicks forward while the other experiences the sensation of driving.
This is such a simple idea but like so many simple ideas it is a great one when done right, and this film does it right. The concept alone is worthy of note but the manner of delivery is great. The character sits in front of a screen and the google view is stop-motion animated which, in itself is a good idea, but the film also adds animation to the "real" world so potted plants in the office move by when he "drives" through a forest, desk lamps rotate as he drives through a tunnel and so on it is a clever second layer and it adds a great deal.
The use of the Cinematic Orchestra track "Arrival of the Birds" is a great choice of score as it conveys wonder and development at the same time and I loved how it set the mood. The robot character is simple but when the whole product comes together you cannot help but put emotions onto this character and I felt for him and his experience. It is such a great idea and so well delivered in a total product that it is hard not to love; it is not easy to totally win over a viewer in a few minutes, but this short more than managed that with me.
It is a pitch and a derivative scenario but has good delivery and tension
I recently watched a sci-fi short from Al White called Choose; it had been made in less than 48 hours and although it had its limits, I had quite liked how well he had made it and was interested to see more of his work. This short film is also sci-fi and is set in a future where humanity has pretty much come to an end with major cities broken and so much reclaimed by nature. We hear something of an infection and attempts to control it but now we join a man and woman alone in the world with little other contact they are seeking something admit the dangers of the natural world, although they are not the only ones as a much, much better equipped force is after the same thing.
The film ends with some words after the credits about this film being just a taste of the world of Beneath and then provides information about how to support it being developed into something bigger; this is a noble goal and White deserves credit for what he did here and what he wants to do, but the "first step" feeling does limit the film a bit. To speak to its strengths, the film is very nicely put together and it seems for really very little money. Although it is derivative, the sense of the world being ended is well conveyed by the location shooting in Scotland (no offence Scotland). The use of effects in the distance also tends to be the familiar buildings etc that we have seen before, but in this short they are easier to forgive due to the constraints. What I liked the most was that it did have actual tension in it and in particular some disorientating scenes of unknown threat and limited defences added to the sense of being alone and with little hope. It is a shame then that the narrative is to be revealed in a bigger project rather than here, because although it hints at the nature of The Cub and the nature of the remains of society, it doesn't do too much with them so you do end the film feeling a little disappointed that it couldn't have been more self-contained but this is a common problem with these "think what I could do with more" short films.
Ishida (also in Choose) does a very good job in the lead, he is convincing in his urgency, thus helping the film. With Wadsworth I felt the opposite she never really sells the scenario as well as Ishida and this shows. White's direction, use of effects and music are all good and it is impressive what he did here when you read how little resources he had available. It is still a rather derivative scenario that is a pitch for a bigger project, but while it has those weaknesses it does still work well thanks to the overall delivery from White and an engaging turn from Ishida.
Too clever by half deliberately pushes you away just to grab you with nonsense (TOTAL SPOILERS)
This is a very odd film and, just like the title it is in two parts and it is impossible to discuss without spoilers. I stress this early on because the only way to come to this film is without any knowledge about the content. The setup is this: the first half of the film is a bad art film a man adrift in the sea with his belongings all around him, lost, middle-aged and just drifting through life. So far, so teenage poetry. This goes on for the majority of the running time before it abruptly cuts to the second act which is in color and is the making of the first half of the film, but a shark attack sees the actor attacked and mauled even though the crew frantically try to get rid of the shark by throwing eggs at it.
There must be something smart in here but I will leave it for the "keen to be in the know" type viewer to gush about it. I'd guess there is a comment here about self important art films as well as the nature of internet viewers of short films to need excess and impact to keep their attention. However for me this film just didn't work, primarily because it made no sense at all and offered nothing apart from a bad art film and then an empty jump punch-line. Even if there was a point to the first half, it does still mean that you are spending about 4 minutes watching a dull, pretentious image that really doesn't change too much. The impact of the shark at least breaks the monotony of that but it feels empty and just a spectacle for the sake of it and the "egging" of the shark just adds more nonsense to the table, presumably so that even if you are tempted to try to find some sublime wisdom or meaning, the teenage prank of "egging" should warn you off from even trying.
I really have no idea what the makers were trying to do with this but there is really nothing here unless you are looking for a film that has an extreme juxtaposition of tones and content (and nothing else) because then this film delivers. But without any substance or meaning the film is a dull 4 minutes followed by 1 minute of essentially cinematic trolling.
The Arctic Circle (2010)
The narrative is a little soft and direct, however the animation and tone is well delivered
Brutal and unforgiving the Arctic Circle where all that grows in abundance is .temptation. A man out working for the small amount of fruit his labor will return in this desolate land, finds just this in the shape of a box that appears, seemingly offering him more than he needs.
This is a very simple story and as a narrative it is very much a sense of a slightly satisfied "huh" at the end because it does deliver a start/middle/end but perhaps this is not the strongest aspect of the film. The delivery makes it work though, through a combination of efforts. The first is that the film does not have dialogue but instead uses title cards to describe the action just like silent films used to do. This is a nice device and I liked the feel it gave the short. The most important part of the delivery is the animation, which is stop motion. In this regard the film is both simple and attractive the simple set of the Arctic environment works well and you buy into it from the feel.
The animation of the main character is particularly good not only is his movement fluid, but the degree of expression in his face (particularly the eyes) is impressive, he opens them wide, narrows them, all while moving in some cases and it must have taken an age and a lot of attention to detail to get that to work as well as it does. Ultimately the plot sees it be a curio of a tale that works for what it is but no more, but it is very well animated and delivered, making for an enjoyable few minutes.
Engaging but the ending is too "that happened" and feels lacking in substance and context
A deaf boy struggles with communication when not using his hearing aid but experiences painful feedback and distortion when using it, leaving him feeling constantly cut off from the life of others. A trip to the zoo sees him inspired by the majesty of the lions and he decides that he will live as one of them sleeping on top of a wardrobe, eating without using his hands and so on.
There is a certain beauty to this film because throughout the film the viewer feels the separation of the character from his family and from the world of the others who can hear. This transitions nicely into the feeling the boy has when he experiences something where he makes a connection and from there the struggle between the two is short but clear. All of this is nicely done but the problem I had was that the ending was a case of "that happened" rather than having any meaning or substance to it. This was a shame and it was such a strong and clear ending that I wondered why it felt like it was just a thing that occurred whereas the rest of the film had been effective in talking across themes and lines.
The animation is good though and I very much liked the sound design OK it was tough at the start but it very much put me in the mind of the character to have the muffled dialogue or the howl of the hearing aid. Generally it is a very nice piece that appears to warn against escapism and isolation, but for all that I liked, I really did wish that the ending had more meat on the bone (sorry, bad choice of words).
The Secret Number (2012)
Has the gloss but is lazy in the substance
Dr Tomlin is a psychiatrist. One of his patients is a former professor (Prof. Ersheim) who is convinced that there is another whole number which is meant to exist between 3 and 4. While Ersheim is sectioned and struggling to work out this number, Tomlin experiences some strange things and a memory from his youth of a car crash is triggered.
From the very start this film looks glossy, with a slow-motion car crash which it seems to act out simply for the sake of it. Although it never quite gets that fancy again, this short film keeps the pretty high production values as it plays out the rest of its plot, which is essentially an episode of the Twilight Zone. On the surface all is well and the plot interested me as I knew it must have a kick in the tail waiting for me, but the problem is that the kick, when it comes, is not really connected to anything apart from by the thinnest thread. This means that the film essentially jumps from one scene to the reveal without any real development it is an ending that wants to be Twelve Monkeys or something similar to that but never really gets to it. Instead it really just goes from the suggestion that there is a secret number and that it is a conspiracy by higher beings, to an ending that certainly would suggest something odd happened.
Without the development or build towards this, it doesn't really work and it is a shame that the effort that went into the film didn't focus more on how to play out the idea in a way that engages, intrigues and satisfies even if it does do the first two to a certain extent. In terms of casting both Jones and Nowicki feel like cheaper versions of what the makers were aiming for and generally they are functional but no more. Interesting to note that the director of this film (Levy) was also the director of Blender created Sintel, a very different film and one that suggests a man keen to explore all avenues.
The film does have the gloss for sure, with effects and atmosphere well done, but unfortunately the conclusion doesn't satisfy as it just seems dropped in after the scriptwriters "yada yada'd" everything that led up to it. A shame it wants to be Twilight Zone but ultimately it doesn't make the most of the idea and the tone to develop nicely into a clever and satisfying ending, preferring just to jump to the idea regardless of whether it works or not.
Swimming Pool (2010)
A simple piece which gets by on its charm
A man looks down at an outdoor pool in an urban area, always busy and bustling. At night though it is locked up and he takes his chance to slip down there unseen (paying off the odd bird if he needs to). Tonight though it seems he is not the only one to have this idea and he finds he has company in the form of a female companion with whom he makes an instant connection leading to a magical evening.
I've watched a lot of animation recently and a lot of it has been driven by computers and in this way it was quite refreshing to come to an animation which feels so very hand crafted and "basic", although basic is the wrong choice of words as it suggests it is no good. Here the drawn characters and world are pretty charming and I was drawn into it early on as the man slips a note to a bird to keep stumm. From here the short becomes a series of synchronized swimming movements to the sounds of the Blue Danube Waltz. Being honest I would have loved more visual flair during these sections but with the tone and the music I was rather won over by it.
The ending is pure nonsense but somehow it works because it has charm and a certain sense of magic for the two characters (albeit taken to extremes) and I was rather won over by the sweetness and simplicity of the story but also of the film as a whole. It is a simple piece but it does work, albeit that it relies a lot on its charm and lightness to get by.
Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
The sound engineering is great and the build is engaging, but the delivery is really lacking
There is a pressure associated with watching a film considered one of the best of its year; there is of course pressure on the film to live up to the hype but when it comes to smaller films such as this one then there is a certain amount of pressure on the viewer to be part of the people who "get it" and not one of the dullards who should just stick to blockbusters. Of course this is message board talk but it exists in the mind too and for sure I came to this film wanting to come out praising it. Indeed I felt this to the point that even as it ended I felt like I should have enjoyed it more and thus started to rationalize myself towards that position, but it isn't the case because while I appreciated aspects of this film, generally I found it pretty dull and lacking a sharp edge.
The plot is that a British sound engineer comes to Italy for a project and finds himself doing ADR and Foley for a film containing a lot of graphic violence; as he works he finds his grip on his sense slipping, with his days spent not understanding what is being said around him and acting out violent acts on vegetables while watching women be brutalized on film over and over again. The concept I am fine with and I liked the ideas in the plot of exposure to this material having an impact and I even enjoyed the slow burn of the horror, but it slow burnt its whole way to the end and really didn't deliver too much. It has some nice touches as the plot develops but the "inside a movie" thing feels trite and isn't developed enough here to stand up on its own. I was drawn into the built but then surprised by how little delivery there was at the other end.
Of course the one thing the film does great is the sound engineering. As my partner was studying upstairs, I watched this through a very good set of headphones and it added a lot to the film to be so immersed in the audio aspect. The violence of the sounds and the persistence of them is very engaging and involving, just as it is for the main character, although the screaming gets very old very quickly. The decision to have the majority of the dialogue in Italian without subtitles was an interesting one which cuts both ways; on one hand it disorientates the viewer as it does the main character, but then it does put more pressure on the feel of the film which then doesn't deliver. The cast are solid, with Jones in good form throughout.
I did want to like it more than I did but while the sound and the slow burn pacing is engaging, it goes on too long and doesn't have enough in the way of development of delivery to really payoff at the end. Trust me, I wanted to go with the majority on this and be seen as one of the cool kids, but it really only worked for me up to a point.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
When this reboot came out it felt too close to the most recent series of films and generally it looked uninspired so I gave it a skip but the upcoming release of the sequel made me think that maybe it was worth me checking out. In terms of the plot the majority will be familiar to most people since it is not only a famous character but we only really had this same plot a few years ago. The second half of the film has a different villain than the previous film but really it will all feel like very familiar territory and this is just one of the problems that the film never totally overcomes.
The feeling that the whole film is unnecessary is one that never goes away; it feels superficial and hollow from the very start and even the introductory origin material doesn't scan it is unconvincing and illogical and this continues all the way to the bite. From here the development into Spiderman is not particularly well done, with a comic tone that isn't warranted or supported by the material. The focus on Peter and Gwen Stacey offers potential but it doesn't come through because it also feels overly superficial and keen to be where it wants to be without actually doing any work to get there on its own. This continues for the remainder of the film as it never really has any heart or any sense of real danger or thrill.
The effects do cover for it and there is a natural flow and movement to the characters who are wholly CGI but to be honest, without any real reason to care about what was going on, all I could think was how little you could get these days for over USD200MM. There isn't any grit to it although the bigger surprise to me was that it really wasn't a lot of fun either. Okay we get the wise-cracking Spiderman of old, but it isn't particularly funny and there isn't any wonder, mischief or fun to the character or the action. The performances are fine but mostly wasted because the material isn't there for them; Garfield is fine but Stone doesn't convince and just feels overly flirty. Ifans fails to bring out the tragedy of his character in the way some of those in the previous series managed.
Generally this film never stops feeling unnecessary. The story is overly familiar and this telling is uninspiring and uninspired; it has the money on the screen in terms of the effects but otherwise it is disappointingly hollow and Corporate, with no edge, no fun, no spark and no real reason for it to really exist beyond the profitability of the character. I was genuinely surprised by how totally sterile the entire film was.
Impressive effects frame a commentary on the damaging effects of tourism
Two young men are getting by in Zanzibar by stealing off the few tourists that come through, although they long for more tourism to bring more money to the town and improve their lives. This opportunity presents itself when, while playing around with a stolen camera, the two men get a picture of a giant jumping fish and soon the city is transformed into a place of light, bustle and tourism.
Jonah is a very clever film and it works well enough so that you don't come out of it thinking "they managed to make a story to support those effects" but rather "the effects worked well in support of that story" a big difference and one that too many people making effects showcases forget. The plot here sets up a commentary on the short-term benefits of mass tourism when compared to the longer term damage to the area but fundamentally to the thing that drew the crowds in the first place. Usually this is the natural beauty of a place and in this case that is represented by the fish which, while we see the impact on the city, we later see this manifested in a change to the fish and the seabed itself. It is perhaps not the most subtle message but it is engagingly delivered and it ends with a good conclusion that nature will ultimately go on.
The effects are very impressive but, like I say, the most impressive thing about them is that they are not done in the hunt for a narrative but rather directly in support of one. They are also excellent whether they be the development of the city before our eyes, or the detailed beauty of the fish and the polluted landscape under the sea everything looks great and flows well. The performances are solid with British actors Kaluuya and Kirby feeling natural and convincing early on, drawing the viewer into the film. The direction throughout is very strong with great shots and pacing certainly enough to overlook that the opening sequence feels too much like a lift of Slumdog Millionaire.
An impressive short film which engages with its narrative, commentary and visual effects.