Most Recently Rated
Great idea and delivery, only the conclusion lets it down (perhaps understandably) (MILD SUGGESTIVE SPOILER)
Billy walks up on the day of his 3-year anniversary to find that his girlfriend is terrified of him seemingly unable to shake off a nightmare she just had which featured him doing unspeakably terrible things. A bit shaken up but yet willing to let it pass, Billy heads off to his workplace only to find that his girlfriend was not the only one who had this nightmare, and it seemed everyone he meets recognizes him from the same terrible dream they had the night before and cannot shake what they saw him do from the reality of him in front of them.
It is hard to believe that this idea has not been done before but if it has I cannot find an example of it; the reason I even bothered to check this was because the base idea here is not only a great one, but it is also one built on an universally familiar thing of someone having a dream involving us, and waking up angry as a result. This short film takes that idea and expands it to the whole world in a way that is engaging, frightening and offers great things. As it builds, it does deliver on this, and the unspoken nature of the dream, and the suggestion of some sort of unseen hand controlling things, does raise the stakes and tension really well. Okay the engineered robbery sequence is a bit forced, but it still works thanks to the core idea. The short runs for almost 20 minutes, and it held me for the entirety of it well, almost.
The ending is a bit of a letdown in some ways; perhaps understandably the downside of the great idea and buildup is that the payoff doesn't totally satisfy in many ways. I mean, it is certainly memorable as a conclusion (and, as a result, the end credits include a "thanks" to Society director Brian Yuzna) however it doesn't totally deliver on the great idea; maybe nothing would have though which is testament to how good the idea was in the first place. It is convincingly sold by the cast in particular Hursley in the lead role of the subject of the dream. Direction is also very good from writer/director Torrens, really building up tension and fear throughout the film with a very clear, bright look to the cinematography.
In the end, Sequence doesn't totally deliver in a way that totally satisfies, but this is mainly down to how well it sets itself up with a great idea, a great delivery and such an overall engaging story it is understandable perhaps for the ending to be a bit of an anticlimax, but it does still work and, as a whole, it is a really great short film.
S9E3: Death on the Nile: Generally good production although too sign-posted early on, and not enough intrigue/tension in the rest (SPOILERS)
Wealthy British heiress Linnet Ridgeway and new husband Simon Doyle are on their honeymoon in Egypt, but unable to relax as Simon's former partner Jackie De Bellefort seems to be following them everywhere to bother and berate them. Of course one could see reason for Jackie's spite since only 3 months ago she introduced her beloved Simon to her best friend Linnet, only for the two to chuck her and fall for one another. Also holidaying on the same cruise up the Nile is Hercule Poirot, who sees the danger in the spiteful path of Jackie and, in response to a plea for help from Linnet, attempts to defuse the situation.
Although I am reasonably sure I have seen the 1970's film version of this same story, I cannot remember it well as it has been many years and for sure I did not remember the details of the murder or the solution. I say this because I think this version maybe gave too many clues and winks early on about the possible victim and who would be involved; and as much as I would like to suggest I worked it out from the clues along the way my correct assumptions about the solutions were mostly based on some rather obvious material in the first third. Particularly the setting up of the characters early on was clear what roles they would take in the mystery however it was the specific stating of the crime to Poirot, and the "is someone listening" moment that seemed too clumsily done; in theory it should have put Jackie in the "suspect" seat in a very heavy way that then makes Poirot know it was not her, but the manner in which these moments are done here actually did the opposite for me.
Related to this, although we had lots of potential suspects and clues around the Nile cruise, I never really felt too much sense of tension and urgency around the resolution. This is not really the fault of the material but more the delivery, since the tone does lack a sense of curiosity and intrigue or at least lacks it at a level I would have hoped for. Maybe this was just me though, because I did always feel that through the other suspects, it was too apparent that we were avoiding looking closer at what seemed obvious. Aside from this aspect of the production lacking, the rest looks very good. The feeling of location is well conveyed, and it does feel quite lavishly produced. This is added to by the casting; Suchet of course is good in the lead, but the support is good and recognizable with Fox, Soul, de la Tour, Blunt, Malin, Donovan, and others all giving roundly good performances although I thought that the mystery would have benefited from Blunt playing Linnet to be harsher and less sympathetic than she did.
As a production it is a solidly enjoyable one, but for me it was one rather dented by the fact that the early clues seemed too signposted, while the others were delivered with relatively little intrigue or tension. It still plays out well, but this aspect, plus the lack of real bite in the delivery did make it feel like maybe it could have been more than it was.
Well delivered short with mostly successful build to a good punch line although it is more amusingly satisfying than hilarious
A popular and confident lawyer takes a simple divorce case with an even simpler remit the wife is happy to pass on everything except one painting which she wants. The lawyer has no doubt this is an easy win, but quickly finds that this painting is item #1 on the husband's wish list too which doesn't cut lot of mustard with his unreasonable client. As he tries every trick in the book to get the painting, his career, marriage, and general mental health all start to suffer in pursuit of this one case.
Although 20 minutes is a bit too long for what it does, this long- walk joke is nicely delivered because it makes the journey as amusing as the conclusion. I use the word amusing deliberately because this is not a hilarious comedy, but it is one that builds its scene well with good touches which have excess while still being grounded in the internal realism of the film. The macguffin of the painting runs for the majority of the film; it isn't important what it is, it is the immovable nature of it as a bargaining chip that is important. Around this the negotiations get harder and harder, while the lawyer's cocky personae is broken down in an engaging but amusing manner it is not overly comic but not overly dark either, so it can be enjoyed as a sort of sketch.
The characters help the film work this angle and help cover the longer than necessary running time. Lawyer Simon is well played out by Leffingwell, who is a broken man by the end of it, and sells the overall punch line even better as a result. He is well supported by colorful characters who mostly work. Eric Roberts was a surprise find, but his screen presence helps sell his oddly-specific character, even if that quirk is not quite as funny as the film thinks it is. The other lawyer, the wife, the secretary all work well. The writing gives plenty of ripe language and description, which is funny for what it is, and again adds to the overall joke. As a whole, it is well made it looks very good, with good sound, locations, and casting throughout.
In the end it is perhaps not as good as the 20 minutes invested and resources on display, however it is still engaging and amusing, and the overall joke is nicely pitched to be satisfying and funny (if, again, not hilarious).
The Sonnet Project: Sonnet #98 (2015)
1.98: Sonnet #95: The design is good, but it is Heyward's convincing and active performance that sells the text and the idea
Following on from the extended narrative of the previous film, sonnet 95 also takes the dialogue and expands it into a bigger scene than the one we see using the dialogue as part of it. In this film we see a young woman waiting out in the rain when she sees her man approaching, but tied up in the affections of someone else. This fits with the tone of the sonnet, which warns the subject that the good points will not conceal the bad forever even if they currently do. This is a nice update as it gives us a cheating man and scorned woman both clear characters in the piece.
In terms of fitting the words into the scene, essentially it is a delivery of the text, however it is much more of a performance in the context of the scenario, which I always enjoy compared to the ones where it feels like a much more straight to-camera delivery of the text. Susan Heyward is the central actress and she does a great job with it; she is nervous, scorned, hurt, outraged, and angry and gets all of this into her body and eyes as well as into the words. While the film is her delivering text, she brings the words to life in the film and really makes it work.
The design of the short is kind of in the 1920's but also modern times in terms of design; no reason for this it seems, although the black/white cinematography maybe buys it some forgiveness in the shooting. The sound is not too bad, but is not good either I don't think it got the mix right, and at times the words are hard to hear. It does look good though, and I liked the movement of the characters and the feel of the wet, grey night within the film. After a run of "okay" shorts, this film and the previous one seem to be more on the right track thanks here to a stylish delivery, a good reading of the text, and a strong performance from Heyward.
The Sonnet Project: Sonnet #29 (2015)
1.97: Sonnet #29: Enjoyably filled out and performed
A man finds that his play has closed early. Turning to the warmth of the Old Town Bar for comfort, the man also finds himself out of favor there left looking in the window at the so-called "In-Crowd" as they celebrate and toast each other's success. From the cold street he beweeps his outcast state.
The recent run of Sonnet Project shorts have not been bad per se, however they have tended towards rather straight delivery compared to the better ones that really do well to contextualize the sonnet, and make the delivery in the film add something to it beyond that which the reader would get in isolation. For this reason I think I liked sonnet 29 probably more than I would have done had it not come along at this point. I liked it because it does set out a story of sorts, or at least a scene which plays out in a way that adds to the words and makes them more meaningful and understandable to the viewer. It fits pretty well with this, and I also liked that the sonnet fits across the short as opposed to flicking a switch to "delivery" as some have done.
The performance from Degnan is good, but the film is also fine technically. Most importantly, the sound is good (always encouraging to see a sound guy in the credits) and the camera moves well on the street and in the bar. It perhaps lingers on the pen longer than it needed to at the end, but otherwise the short film works well with the sonnet, and I enjoyed how it played out and fitted with the dialogue as most of the strongest Sonnet Project shorts do.
The Paris Quintet (2011)
Nice flow on way to enjoyable conclusion, although not quite the snap it needed to pull it off
Five men live together in a small flat. They coordinate their routines from yoga in the morning, dressing, through to personal grooming; they even work together on a written plan of an afternoon in a Parisian square. This is essentially the plot and it is delivered with a playful tone that suits the odd material. Although there is a specific finish, most of the film really doesn't lead towards it per se, so instead it is very much about the delivery of the intertwining men and their actions. In some ways there is a certain pleasure to this, and it is fun to see them not only be coordinated, but also struggling to work on it and improve it; as an idea it is odd and has potential.
After 7 or 8 minutes of this though, it did start to sag a little bit, and it was not as lively or snappy as it could have been. The coordination is engaging and has a good flow to it in terms of movement and dialogue, but not in a very snappy way that the music and lightness of the film suggested. While I liked it for what it does, the majority of the film does feel like something that is a work-in-progress, that they were working with ideas in motion rather than everything fleshed out, rehashed and agreed. The punch-line doesn't totally fit with the rest of the film in terms of tone, but it is a nice reveal and it adds to the absurdity of what had gone before.
This short does have a nice flow and a good conclusion, and this carries it even though it does lack the snap and wit that the idea really needed to be fully functional.
Life Itself (2014)
The layers make it work as we see the person, the work, the profession, and ultimately, the human
Perhaps it is hard to believe given one of the things I choose to do as a pastime, but I have never really read any of Ebert's film criticism, never seen his show with Siskel, and was not one of his many followers on Twitter. That I am British and did all my pre-20's without internet and with only 4 channels on the TV is part of this, but whatever the reason I don't follow his work. It speaks to his impact then, that I still know his name, still know what he is famous for, and know his various mannerisms and the like. Despite not having an emotional hook in this film, I decided to watch it mostly because I didn't know much about him.
What you find is a more of a tribute than it is documentary although it is both. The film is structured around email interviews and in-treatment footage of Ebert, along with excerpts from his book which are delivered in narration; we also get contributions from those that knew him or worked with him. Considered what a star- filled, sentimental affair this could have been, it is to the film's credit that it builds such an honest but yet affection picture of the man and of his work. We get the background of him as a writer, of him as a person, of his failings, difficulties, and what made people like and love him; all of this is well presented and I particularly liked that the film drew on some smaller names from film, and colleagues, and friends rather than the bigger names it almost certainly could have leveraged in front of a camera for some glib generalities.
I was surprised by how touching this was. Not only did we get an overview of a career, but we also get to see a person and a person who we can see is at the end of his life and certainly knows it. I guess this position is part of the reason the film is touching, but also part of the reason that Ebert himself is so reflective and the commentary so honest. In addition to this it is a tribute to his craft, and recognition that he did come from a different era from the one now where any idiot with an internet connection can spout off about films (hi!) but that he also had a role in popularizing criticism and making it more accessible although the film also allows alternative opinions on his work to be in here too.
Ultimately the film stands as a touching tribute to an individual person, his work, and his profession as a whole. These layers make it much more than the vanity piece it could have been; they make it much more than the sentimental tribute it could have been, or even the celebrity-filled emptiness that would have been a too-easy way to go. Ebert and his family come off wonderfully and the film does well to interest the viewer, and move the viewer even if you know little or nothing of Ebert, there is life here, and that is what makes it worth seeing.
Some aspects could have been tighter, but it is history unfolding and although the focus is Snowden, we also are shown why he was important
It is quite interesting to read some of the discussions here around this film or rather some of the diatribes, since mostly minds seem to be made up and a lot of comments really focus on Snowden before and above anything else whereas those on the other side of the argument would rather not classify Snowden's actions but rather talk about what his release of information told us about the world we now live in. As with many arguments, the truth tends to lie in a grey area in the middle of the two opinions, and personally I think it is as clear that Snowden betrayed his Government as it is clear that it was important he did so.
The film gets that balance pretty well because it isn't really looking back at the image of Snowden retrospectively, but rather it is him as things unfolded in that fateful week. This is important because in providing this access, we see a more honest version of him a slightly nerdy, naïve, and paranoid man who is brave enough to make a step he cannot come back from, but at the same time probably not really aware of what he really is about to be in. The candid footage also reveals a certain amount of self-importance in Snowden too, so although he is sincere when he talks of avoiding being the story, there is a certain amount of him wanting to be of note within it too. Where the film does allow him this space is understandable and forgivable, mainly because ultimately it is history being made and recorded, not a dramatic recreation.
It is also for this reason that the film can be forgiven for spending too long in the hotel room, and for including longer silent sequences of Snowden typing. However Poitras does do well with her film to keep us in mind as to why what Snowden did was of value whether you agree with him doing it or not. We are shown the nature of the Government's deception, and a bit of understanding of the scale of the domestic and international surveillance and data mining; I think the film could have done more on this, but regardless, it balances this reasonably well so that it is about Snowden at that time, but also presented in context.
As a 2-hour documentary, there are aspects/sections that could have been tightened up and, conversely, bits that could have been expanded upon, however it does well to frame the significance of the Snowden leak, while also keeping the majority of the film on actual history being made. It is an imperfect film in some ways, but yet fascinating in its factuality.
Uses the setting well to create tension, but also struggles with the weight of it too
I will be honest and say that I generally am touchy about films using the sectarian terrorist organizations, the troubles, or other aspects of Northern Irish politics as a base for thrillers or films mainly because when they do, they do so in a rather heavy-handed and thoughtless way such as The Devil's Own, The Jackal, or many other such films. So with '71 there is a certain odd feeling that uses the streets of Belfast in the early 1970's as a launching point for a thriller involving British soldiers, terrorists on both sides of the divide, the RUC, and civilians of the time. This is not only an odd feeling that I had, but it is also one that the film itself seems to be all too aware of.
To talk generally the film does provide some good tension, with its fast pace, shifting ground, and hand-held camera-work; when it is doing this it is fine not perfect, but fine. The sense of being trapped between all sides is apparent, and with the stakes high it does move well with what it does. The need to have all the players be clear and be positioned does rather reduce the pace a bit, but what does limit the film a bit is, ultimately, the politics of it. So, for some of this it is not the film that does this but rather the viewer I guess particularly if you are familiar with the Troubles then it is hard to detach your personal opinions from the drama, which can make some of it harder to get into. The bigger thing though is that the film itself is conscious of this being a real situation, and as such it does know it carries a certain weight with it compared to if it had created this story in a fictional situation.
The cast carry this weight too, although mostly they do play out their characters as a more straightforward thriller which helps the film be just that. O'Connell, Harris, Dormer, and others all play solid roles in the thriller side, even if the weight of the politics stop them just being genre devices, or being too details as real people. The pacing and structure of the film is good, and mostly it does manage to present the city streets of the Belfast roadblocks and no-go areas as oppressive and ensnaring if you are on the wrong side of them.
So as a thriller it mostly does work well thanks to the shifting narrative, and pace of delivery, however it is a film that senses the weight of the real story that it is using for the purposes of the thriller, and this knowledge does make a difference across the delivery.
Father Ted: Flight into Terror (1996)
Season 2: Continues to be fresh, funny and very well delivered; without a hint of being dated
Season 2 opens with an episode that contains one of my favorite sequences as Ted tries to explain to Dougal that the plastic toy cows in his hands are small, whereas the one of equal size that he sees in the fields, are merely far away; I had forgotten this scene was so short and so fleeting as the camera doesn't linger or milk this great laugh at all. This may be a personal high point for the season, but it is all of a high standard because the humor is based around the same sort of nonsense. This is important because all of the episodes are based around an exaggerated and silly situation, so if it is not funny then there is a real risk that it is stupid rather than just silly.
This is not the case here and, as with the first season, the laughs are consistent and mostly inspired. It also helps that they range from the silly through to observational, with good dialogue and physical humor used throughout. The structure also improved with several running or reoccurring jokes my favorite being ringing the mobile phone at inopportune moments. The performances remain one of the best selling points because the delivery makes the most of the material. Morgan is excellent because, on the face of it, he has the "straight" role providing a base for the plot and allowing the more excessive characters to get the laughs, but he is great himself. O'Hanlon is, as we know, better here than probably he will ever be again, and his Dougal is very funny. Kelly commits to his delivery, and McLynn has lot of good moments in this season. Supporting cast members are also good Norton (Tim) and Norton (Graham) standing out the most, but all are funny.
It remains remarkable that it is not only very funny, but is still funny even though it is almost 20 years old the picture quality may date it, but otherwise the material feels fresh, funny, and very well delivered by all.