I, Pet Goat II (2012)
Visually and thematically striking and full of detail even if the viewer may not swallow a word of it
I came to this short film with absolutely no clue as to its content not the theme, not the genre, not even if it was an animation or not. The opening of the film sees a George Bush figure in a dunce cap in a classroom (which is unmistakably "that" classroom) and we hear one of his Bushisms played as he tap dances and entertains. At this point I thought this would be a lazy piece mocking Bush since this is how it had looked to me at first glance. This impression lasted seconds though as I was thrown into an 8 minute ride of symbolism, challenging images and chaos on my way to a feeling of "what the hell did I just watch". And I'm sure I'm not alone.
The good thing is that you will jump right back into this film not to try to figure it out, but rather to figure out how it makes you feel and why. With 9/11 imagery, politicians as entertainers/distracters for children, Bin Laden and an army of humanoid bombs, Al Qaeda as a wing of the CIA, religious figures and deities, humans suffering under control of TV screens directly plugged into their brains and lots of Illuminati symbols, this is a short film that has much more in it than the simple title suggests.
The best way to watch is to try to set aside your views on such things as Illuminati, religion and politics and let the film have its time because even in terms of "spot the reference", this is something you'll want to watch again. To give examples your eye will go to Bin Laden on a boat sailing against America and instinctively it made me feel uncomfortable that he would be shown in this way on second viewings I saw the human weapons behind him but also the CIA badge on his jacket. Likewise even on the opening scenes it is worth pausing and looking around behind the Bush caricature to see the detail of an "evolution" chart which is the norm is schools but this one seems to contain an "enlightenment" stage, while on the blackboard the children appear to be playing hangman with the word evolution being spelt out. Heck it even took me a while to spot that the goat in the opening few second was not a production company logo as I first thought, but actually in a detainment camp, boxed up, with a bar code on its forehead, and of course the title is a reference to the children's book that Bush was reading while planes flew into the towers in New York on 11th September.
Even with slower viewings there is so much in this short film to catch that I know most of it still went over my head. Whether you agree with the material or just laugh at it for its conspiracy theory nuttery, it has to be applauded for the construct and the detail; after all, Pixar put some background pop culture references in their films and everyone is falling over themselves with praise, so this short deserves the same. It is worth saying that animation is also beautiful polished, professional and full of small detail. Content wise it may well be an old man on the bus babbling about lizards and third eyes, but it is fascinating and beautiful to watch.
Personally I thought some of the ideas within the film were nonsense (but then, I'm a goat in a box, so what do I know) and some of the images and themes made me feel uncomfortable with their use, but this is fine it is good to have a short that grabs you, overwhelms, challenges and makes you think even if the outcome of those thoughts might be "yeah...but no".
Time Travel Lover (2014)
Good material made better by sharp delivery and pacing
Matt and Hannah have been seeing each other for about 2 weeks and tonight is the night that they return to her apartment in order to have sex. A world of possibilities lie in front of their young relationship, but none of that is in their minds as they mutually undress one another or at least it wasn't on their minds until Matt returned from 2 weeks in the future to warn his horny self of the road ahead.
There is a certain freshness to this short film. It is there at the start with the visually cool apartment, the good clean shots and look of the film and it continues with the plot development. The writing takes all stages of a relationship, the good and the angst, and compresses them into a short scene keeping it light to be funny but still undeniably pretty smart. The script has plenty of chuckles and energy to it but it is the delivery that makes it work. Of course it helps that you have the writer in the lead role, so he knows the good material that he wrote, but this shouldn't take away from the performances.
Yaffe's multiple roles gives him plenty to do but he does well to stay in character for all of them, making small changes that are comic and nicely done. In the middle of all of the hims is Hunt, who has a harder role with a constantly shifting reaction-mode (often I guess, reacting to air or stand-ins), but she is also funny with her facial reactions and delivery. The pacing of the film in the studio and in the editing is appropriate and effective, making it work well for what it does. It is a really enjoyable little scene, with a lot of energy but also control as it has good pace and timing throughout.
Follow Your Fears (2014)
Professionally made but the delivery produces too much of a genre and pre-packaged feel
I'll be honest and say that I am not target audience for this and in many ways my slightly negative views will for sure not be the opinion of many others primarily because, aside from issues of personal opinion and taste, the film is professionally made, does what it needs to do and delivers the goods to the viewer, which is pretty much all you can ask of it.
The short follows Brad O'Neal who is a professional motocross rider we are told, and he has had a dream for many years to build a ramp big enough so that he can go high enough so that he can basically base jump from the apex of his trajectory. It is a very specific goal and one that, to be honest, left me on the outside and not really able to reach beyond it and get to the 'life lesson' which is not 'let's all jump off bikes', but rather about living life, making the most of it and not letting fears hold us back from what we want to do. It probably doesn't help that the very American spirit of optimism both inspires me and grates on me and this spirit is very much the focal point of the film (although it is not presented as a national trait here).
We see this recently when the US fought in the World Cup; the attitude of "of course we can win" will be seen as arrogance by some but on the other side it produced a wonderful fighting spirit in the team, and belief and cheerfulness in the fans, both of which in stark contrast to the typically more downbeat (realistic?) English fans. So for me the message in this short sort of grated as much as it engaged. Technically it is very well put together, very nice clear shorts, good use of the GoPro cameras on the bike and Brad, but I did have an issue with some aspects of the film which appear to come with the genre.
The 'go, live your life to the fullest' genre of shorts can be focused on people living on boats abroad, people skating in slow motion or all sorts of things, but generally they seem to touch on similar approaches in music, shot selection etc. With Follow Your Fears it does feel like it is made in kit form, with everything unpacked and done as per instructions for making a genre film in this way. The music is the best/worst example of this from the start it says "live your dreams" and it continues throughout. I would love to play the soundtrack stripped of video and other audio and see what type of story is being told here I would guess many people would guess very close to this genre. This feeling isn't helped by the use of 'stare off into distance' shots and other images like being on a beach at sunset etc it started to feel just too generic as a style.
Like I say, I think a lot of this is personal taste because there will be many more people punching the air with joy and inspired zeal, perhaps wiping away a tear inspired by the music. For me it didn't do this though and, while I see the message and appreciate the professional and technical levels with which it is delivered, it really felt too obvious in what it does, with a genre and pre-packaged feel throughout.
Season 1: Squanders a good foundation with passive-aggressive digs and partisan presentation; even liberals will be embarrassed by elements of this
This show opens with Oliver Stone stating that his motivation for making the show was that he was shocked by how little of actual history his children were being taught at school. This suggestion of going back to basics and really laying down a good foundation interested me. Being honest, for the first episode or so, I shared Stone's shock because most of what he covered just seemed like basic information but I think this is more to do with being European and our schools being more focused on our region conversely my knowledge of US history is pretty poor once you go back more than a few decades. After this first episode though, I started to understand what Stone meant by his children not getting taught history he seemed to mean they were being taught basic facts rather than commentary.
I write this as a liberal who is shamefully quick to boo Bush and applaud Obama (even as he sets drone-strike records), but Stone's presentation of history here is a messy mix of history and commentary most of it unwarranted commentary. It starts very early in the series and it only gets worse as time goes on. The commentary aspect is actually okay, it is just a bit out of place; I really don't mind documentaries based on opinion because if they are well structured and lay their case well then they can be thought-provoking even if I do not agree with them. The problem here is that his commentary isn't well structured and the series never makes that step to become a real presentation in this way, so it sits awkwardly. Aspects that covered material that I have seen covered elsewhere (eg all elements of Iraq) seemed lazy and half-baked; still interesting to a point due to the material, but there was very little here of value. And then there are the passive-aggressive digs.
If you are in a relationship, you will know these little things or phrases dropped into a sentence which are sort of innocent but carry weight, they are usually followed by the person saying "what? What did I say?" while playing innocent. Throughout the series Stone does this; mentioning things that have no relevance to the subject just to make a dig. The examples are almost endless, but instead of just relating numbers of terrible acts of an unrelated country Stone has to say "although this number pales compared to US interventions " just to remind us how bad the US administration was. "In words that could have been spoken at Nuremberg" is a great sentence to accuse someone of war crimes without actually saying it ("What? What did I say?"). Linking the Bay of Pigs to Colin Powell's performance at the UN; pointing out that Condie Rice had an oil tanker named after her (and giving the technical details too!); "like Obama, JFK was the candidate of change"; the list goes on and the vast majority of them have no intelligence behind the connections aside from digging at one side or flattering the other. Again, I say this as a liberal for whom such things should be great, but it was embarrassingly juvenile and damaged the series badly. Conversely Stone seems happy to let other things slide despite pouring into detail and speculation over some aspects of history, the infamous 1960 election of JFK is covered with the mid-sentence phrase " perhaps stolen election " and nothing more.
There are interesting aspects of this series, but only because history is interesting. Sadly as a history show it is poor, but it is also poor as a commentary or opinion piece because it constantly tries to wear the clothes of "proper" historical television while also doing this; a balancing act it doesn't pull off. What kills it though is Stone's constant passive-aggressive connections and phrase and clips which all dig at the Bush administration even in the earliest episodes in the 1940's and 50's he feels the need to do it. This killed it for me I stuck with the series but it is shocking how poor some of it is; he had a great opportunity to use his name to deliver a really smart version of history which would have been cutting, challenging and informative but sadly he uses a foundation of good material and squanders it on conjecture, partisan presentation and childish passive-aggressive digs.
The Badger's Promise (2013)
Aside from a few chuckles, it made me feel like the sober one at a party
There seems to be a trend for the minute for adult films which use casual or infrequent drug use as a jumping off point for comedy, and many of these films have been pretty successful comedies at the box- office. The short film The Badger Promise sort of fits into this genre since it is driven by the fact that all of its characters are on magic mushrooms. I have never done these but I'm guessing that whatever the experience for those involved, that the experience for the designated driver or conscientious objector is roughly the same no matter what the substance. That experience is mostly less fun than everyone else is having, although perhaps it is still fun.
That is the experience with The Badger Promise; it is a funny film in some ways, but generally it is not going to be quite as funny unless you have direct connection to the experience either at that moment or otherwise. In the context of the film, the dialogue is pretty natural and convincing it doesn't feel heavily scripted, but also doesn't feel like random nonsense made up by the actors as they went along. For sure it gave me a few chuckles. The problem is that it never manages to make the casual viewer feel like we are with the group, so for me, despite a few beers, I still felt like the judge-sober one at the party, struggling to see and feel things quite like the others.
The actors are not the fault because they are really convincing, however the dialogue does not have enough moments of accessibility to keep the viewer in the circle. The darker material doesn't work which is a surprise considering this seems to be the central narrative device. It looks and sounds good (an whoever's house it is, I am jealous) but the content is not there to the point of building the comedy and drawing the viewer into the joke, even if there are quite a few good lines and moments along the way.
Behind the Scene (2011)
The content is broad but the one-shot scene is engaging for what it is
I'm sure I do not need to say it, but just in case, I have no technical or creative skills whatsoever but yet I do particularly appreciate some aspects of filmmaking. One of these is stop-motion animation, which regularly blows me away when I see it done well in short films, but the other main one is very long single takes. It is not an unpopular opinion since it is so frequent to be seen from Russian Ark to the thrilling undercover operation of True Detective.
This film may not have the scale of either of those but it uses one continuous take to move us round the set of a commercial. Technically it does this pretty well there are no specific "wow" moments but it manages the movement from indoors to outdoors and many cast members being in the right spot at the right time which is not easy when you consider that the film is on a busy set. The problem with the film is that the material will probably work best if you have direct experience of this world, and perhaps even then it may not be fantastic.
The jokes are basically the walking clichés that inhabit our set; the guys who talk like expert cinematographers but are really just runners; the fed-up and uninspired crew; the self-important 'talent', the direct and unhelpful director and so on. They are all clichés and even without experience myself, they do have the ring of truth to their delivery, but the problem is that because all the characters are broad, and the characters are the joke, then the film too becomes broad in its content. As such it produces a few chuckles but not too much more than that and, the technical aspect, while impressive, is not so spectacular a single take that it makes the film soar on that alone. Worth a look for what it does well, but it is broader than it can sustain.
A comparatively accessible narrative with animation that is beautiful in its ugliness
Having already watched Julia Potts' film The Event, I was better prepared to enter her unique style of film and animation but was grateful that there is at least comparatively more of a plot here that is accessible. Essentially young Oscar loses his elder brother Alex at sea and sets out to get him back, finding that he is in the belly of a whale with maybe only an hour to go before he is digested.
Okay, I'll be the first to acknowledge that the film still doesn't make for easy viewer, but a focus on the basic points will show you a coming of age story where a boy becomes more mature and responsible but in doing so sacrifices a more innocent side of himself. It is a story that will feel accessible and yet it is made darker and more engaging by the creative way it is presented. The world of the story is one of monsters, undersea adventures and whales but it is also one of loss and danger; the feeling given to me by the film is one of an odd sense of fear even though this stage of my life is long behind me.
The animation is ugly and beautiful all at once; as with The Event it is grotesque but in a good way not excessive or gory for the sake of it, but just quite matter-of-fact in the way that unpleasant points of life can be they are out of the ordinary even if they are ugly. It is perhaps not easy to 'enjoy' because of this, but it still works and I found that the visuals were engaging and attractive (in their own way) and the narrative provided enough to draw me into the film in a more traditional fashion.
Walks a fine line in some aspects but works and is professionally made
We are well used to documentaries showing us in the first world just how tough life in the developing countries really is, so the idea of another one is not really something to write home about. However Amar takes a slightly different approach. Presented without comment, the film simply follows the 14 year old Amar through his day which consists of two jobs, and school. Without contribution apart from the occasional on- screen time stamp, the short film simply follows Amar.
This produces the unique effect of both seeing the bad in the situation but yet also the good in the people. Although it never takes a stand or makes a statement itself, the film cannot be criticised for this since it is clear as we watch this child working almost every hour of his day, that this situation is bad. It is a fine line though because the majority of the film is pretty upbeat, but I think it balances it well. The reason it does feel upbeat is that Amar himself is not shown throwing himself in the corner and waiting for death due to his situation; instead he puts his head down and works hard whenever he has to. Again this is a fine line situation because one does not want to take away the message that "see, it's fine, they love a bit of hard work", but for sure the spirit of Amar is encouraging.
It fits with the subtitle of the film, which is All Great Achievements Require Time, because it does offer hope that the spirit of a nation (as shown in the microcosm of Amar) will somehow work their way to a situation where 14 year old boys are not working two jobs while also trying to get an education. Technically the film looks really good with good camera movement no matter the scene and a clear image with plenty of color. It does walk a fine line in some regards but I think it works, making for a piece that doesn't shy away from the reality but shows a positive side to the individual, despite the situation. For an additional feel good factor it is worth mentioning that the director won a £1000 prize for his film and made good on his promise to give half to Amar which is about 40,000 Rs compared to the 1,500 Rs that Amar earns.
The animation is excellent but the content not as good
I do love a good stop-motion animation, whether it is on a city-wide scale of Big Bang Boom or the smaller but emotional scale of Address is Approximate. In this case we have a stop-motion but created like a cross of a film-set and a comic book as it has elements of both in the aesthetic. The plot sees two characters left behind on a space station which has been otherwise wholly evacuated as everyone else has fled to the colony on the surface of Uranus (no, really) and has left the space station to serve as a physical barrier between the colony and an incoming asteroid.
To speak of content first, I didn't find the short as smart or as funny as I would have liked. There are elements of Adult Swim in the look and content of the film with visual and comedy reminders of Sealab and Aqua Teen Hunger Force in there. It has a silly edge to it but there is not enough sharpness to the writing and it seems to take too long to make the jokes, with a few of them not really working when they get there. It is still amusing as a comedy, but not to the extent I was hoping for. Fortunately this aspect of the film is by far a distance second place on the list of reasons to watch this film the animation.
It took me a minute to understand what I was watching because the characters faces seem animated but the rest of the world seemed to be real. The space station itself is a thing of beauty, done in the style of a luxury apartment, it is plush and full of art and comfort rather than the cold metal emptiness of a more cynical design. It not only looks great but it is meticulously made, with so many little touches in the detail that you'll want to watch it again just for that for the individual books on bookcases, but really cool pieces of artwork on the walls things like this. It being "real" also adds to the appeal and it is filmed and lit really effectively.
It is a shame that the material is never as strong as the animation, but like I said it is still amusing with a few good chuckles along the way but to be honest it is a film I have more than happily watched twice already simply because of how impressive the miniature set design is and how fluid and smooth the stop-motion animation is.
Edmond était un âne (2012)
Thoughtful, well animated and touching piece on identity and perception
Edmond is a small, gray man who works in an office block and is generally looked down upon by others if they notice him at all. One day a moment of mockery changes his life forever when a pair of paper donkey ears are slipped onto his head. Seeing himself in a mirror with them on, Edmond is filled with a new awareness of what or who he is, and gradually his character and his life begins to change.
Taken literally, this film doesn't make a great deal of sense but taken as an emotive piece, it is quite the work of beauty and something that is thoughtfully touching. The story concerns a man who seems to lack any sense of himself; his being a target for others doesn't seem to be so much about him having a weak character or presence, as it does about him having no character or presence to speak of at all. The eats change this and he suddenly has an identity for himself in a moment which is quite touching if you are able to go with it. Where the plot goes from there is either silly or moving depending whether it is working for you or not. For me I found it really sweet and thoughtful to see Edmond find himself in a way that, even with a few minutes in the film, understand that he has not up till this point. It is a nice piece about one's own identity and how, ultimately, having peace in oneself is the important thing.
The animation matches this reflective and quite beautiful tone; it is gray throughout and steeping in the mundane but this allows the very small moments of contentment and peace to be clearer while also still being quite small. Although I found the appearance of the characters to be a bit offputting, I did still like the overall construct of the short and the world. It may not be a narrative to follow and it may not deliver a full conclusion in a traditional sense, but this is a thoughtful piece about perception and identity, and I found it engaging, charming and a little moving.