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bob the moo

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Just amazingly impressive in its scale and delivery, 18 April 2014

The story of the big bang starting life which leads to different creatures at different times ultimately leading to the creation of man; except the whole story is played out using stop-motion animation which is drawn onto sidewalks, buildings, beaches, pipes and basically flows all across a city.

The second half of that paragraph is the important one because although the film does have an overall narrative and point, the thing that makes it so watchable is the manner in which it is delivered. Stop-motion animation in itself always impresses me due to the work involved and the ability to plan ahead and "see" your film one step at a time – to do it with models in the controlled environment of a studio with fixed cameras is enough to impress me. So to see it played out across a living city, flowing onto roofs and back down to street level is just awe-inspiring.

The creatures we see developing from one to another are very impressive in their design and their scale – at times we have creatures animated across the side of a two-storey house. The patience and imagination to do this is something but the work involved is also hard to understand since I can only imagine it involved constantly removing previous drawings and then adding the next – which on a small scale is quite something but when you see the scale of this it is hard to really appreciate how much it must have taken. There is a downside to film in that the slight shift in camera position can give it quite a jerky effect rather than a smooth flow but this is a very minor quibble because otherwise this short is just a marvel of effort and imagination coming together to make an amazingly impressive piece of animation.

RPG OKC (2013)
Very clever, funny and animated, with plenty of love for the gaming period and genre, 18 April 2014

Although I was never a massive fan of role-playing games (apart from what my hundreds of hours in Skyrim would suggest), I do fondly remember the Zelda games and things like Faxanadu from the NES 8-bit days and I have enough familiarity with them to instantly love this short film. Set in two different worlds of 8bit RPGs, the plot sees an online relationship growing into something with potential – although of course events in both their worlds are conspiring against them – even though he is a soldier and she is fair.

Although the convincing and affectionate animation is much to write about, it would really just be a reference point to better things if it were not for the content of the short. The dialogue is funny and engaging throughout, with good jobs with work well in the context of the setting. On top of this the world does play out like a convincing RPG world – for example with the soldier describing his day (guard duty) and other aspects making me chuckle. It delivers nicely as a plot and is added to immensely but how well Carmichael knows this video game world and understands its little quirks and the like. The animation compliments this greatly because it looks for all the world like one of these games – right down to the speech boxes and the way the characters move and of course the way the story behind their relationship unfolds.

Maybe it would not work as well for you if you do not know much about the gaming period and genre being referenced, but I suspect there is more than enough here so that it will work for the majority of viewers. I found it very clever, very funny and very well animated – well worth a look.

Engaging delivery via narration and impressively cinematic stop-motion animation, 18 April 2014

Peter's life begins in the womb like everyone else. At age four he is told he will not be allowed another birthday party for a quarter of his life. Years later he finds an insect in the backyard and is so taken by it that the next years are empty and dull in reflection. Time passes and he becomes obsessed by the idea of time passing and in particular speeding up with no hope of stepping back. His work as an entomologist brings a discovery that excites him with possibilities.

The Eagleman Stag is a film that really is hard to describe and being honest part of that is that ultimately I am not sure where the narrative leaves us at the end and it did rob a bit of the joy from me that I didn't have more of a satisfied feeling at the end. The upside of this is that I have another reason to watch it again – although to be frank, there are many of those anyway. Although the destination is not as strong as I would have liked, the journey and the telling of the tale is quite something. To focus on the story, the narration from Peter is wonderfully dense and engaging, helped a great deal by great voice work from David Cann. The flow and pace of dialogue and the clipped nature of his words is just great.

As a base for the whole film though, is some quite wonderful stop-motion animation and model work. It is hard to describe but everything flows so well and is filled with great cinematic touches. So we have small moments between a father and son which contain great animation but are also incredibly atmospheric with great lighting, but my personal favourite is a move through a building only for it to become apparent that it is model within the world of Peter (who himself is of course a model). It is stuff like this that impressed the most and makes the film beautiful to watch and compelling as a story but also as a work of sheer technical mastery.

Yes, it is a shame that for me the narrative shook me off at the end, however the telling of the tale and the delivery of it is really engaging and visually the film not only has great animation and model work, but also make impressive use of them with a real sense of the cinematic and the creative.

Season 2: Clearer forward motion and more engaging and involving than first season, although ending is defined by cancellation, 18 April 2014

I'm sure even absolute fans of this show would acknowledge that it really doesn't help the casual viewer to get drawn into it – and in particular the first season was very much a case of trusting it to see where it was all going. Of course as we know this strategy didn't pay off and the ratings never justified the high cost to keep it going. This is a shame because although the show continues its comparatively slow pace and rather dense tone and material, the second season is built on a lot more knowledge and understanding of what is going on, as well as more willingness on the part of the viewer to continue to go with it, because generally we have seen it steadily pay off, albeit in a manner and pace that is of the show's dictating.

The second season has a clearer forward motion thanks to the ground work of the first season; I felt I had more understanding of the characters and who they were both in the story but also the bigger picture – so although the show was still slow moving, it didn't feel quite so much a case of "trust me" as the first season did. This isn't to say that the second season suddenly becomes more accessible and easy to follow, because it doesn't; it continues to keep a dark, ominous tone that is rather unsettling but engaging at the same time. The imagery throughout is brutal, violent and disturbing, generally not delivered in cheap jump-scare style but rather being done as a bed of unease and threat. The characters in and around this do not distract from the main thrust either and generally those of the carnival were kept involved and close, with bigger plots and smaller ones generally working.

Of course the downside of all of this is that the show does not get a fantastic ending. The confrontation is good (although does end up with fighting in a field) but the ending was clearly written with the intension of more and as a result it leaves almost everything wide open with nothing resolved. Although this is annoying, it doesn't mean the season is not worth watching because it is engaging in the rather elegant and paced manner it tells the story and, although it was done at huge cost, the production values are high and the ambition of the show shows. For sure it has its limitations in how slow paced it is and how it throws oddity at the viewer often with little immediate explanation, however it does improve on the first season in that regard and generally does reward those that stay with it, even if ultimately the ending is unsatisfactory in light of its cancellation.

Creative, fun and technically impressive, 18 April 2014

This is a very short film and indeed one of the reasons it appears to have had so many votes and comments on IMDb is that it is known for being the shortest film ever nominated for an Oscar. The film is about a man making guacamole, dicing up the ingredients, mixing them and ultimately serving them up with chips. The method of delivery of this is live-action stop-motion animation (for which the correct term is pixilation) and we see other objects being used in the place of the regular food stuffs – so for example a hand grenade instead of an avocado, poker chips instead of potato chips. Additionally when something is "diced" with a knife, it literally becomes a load of dice.

As a short stop-motion film it is very cool and I liked a lot the way it takes odd ideas and runs with them. We all have things flash into our minds at times, whether it is the obvious stuff like a banana being held like a gun, and essentially that film takes these silly connections and makes them work – so the starting point is that an avocado reminds the maker of a hand grenade and it goes from there. The animation is impressively smooth which is very hard to do when working with real people as we are here. The transition to dice and smaller dice is also impressively done.

In terms of the Oscar nomination I'm not sure why this film was selected when there are so many great stop-motion projects out there, but then in fairness I am not really sure how the Academy narrows the field down to a short list for nomination. I take the nomination of a film like this as recognition not just for this specific project, but rather acknowledgement and highlight of the many great little short films out there that are free of the pressure to return big profits and instead can focus on creativity and seeing what works and what can be done. Fresh Guacamole is such a film – short, creative, fun and technically impressive, I hope it serves as a gateway for viewers to other similar cool stop-motion projects.

Foxes (2011/I)
Creative and disturbing comment on modern isolation, 18 April 2014

Where and how I have lived for the past decade has been mostly the influence of my partner but in this way it has been a positive thing as she generally hates places without character such as new builds and estates like this. I mention this because having been on some of them in the past I can relate to the reality of being somewhere so empty, where the inside of your house is pretty much the place to be. That is the setting for this short film but more extreme since the couple are not only on such an estate, but it is also one that was built on a hope that never came, so buyers never came and the housing market collapsed so now the couple find themselves the only people on their estate but with no chance to sell their property, recover their money or get other options.

The trapped hopelessness of this will speak to those of us in the middle classes, since property and negative equity seems to speak to aspirations, risk and fear. Here we have a woman cut off from so much that when she makes even a fleeting connection to a group of urban foxes, she is energized by it to the point of frenzy. Although the narrative takes a horror route, it never loses touch with the base meaning and it is this double thread that makes the film work well. The oppressive shrieking adds a (literal) voice to the feeling of being trapped and, although it does eventually take a leap into far fantasy, it continues to work.

Finnegan's direction makes the most of the emptiness of the estate and the lives, with a very drab and hollow sense to the view. Ruane leads the small cast well, managing to convince in her character whether she is numbed, excited or lost – it is a tough performance to sell but she manages it. Generally Foxes works well as the base subject matter is familiar and the development into more horror territory doesn't lose touch with that base.

Boom Boom (2010)
Rides the idea for too long without adding much to it – Four Lions is far superior, 18 April 2014

If the base concept for this short sounds familiar it is because you're are thinking of Chris Morris' dark feature Four Lions, which is a wonderfully dark and absurd jihadist satire. This short film takes a snippet of that and we see two old friends bumping into one another in a café having not seen each other since camp. They reminisce and chat but then it becomes clear that they are subject to a rather macabre double- booking.

As an idea this is a great one with lots of potential for dark satire and cruel laughs; I know I have mentioned it several times already but Four Lions is a good example of what can be done with this sort of thing and I was engaged as the film started. Unfortunately we never really get beyond the basic concept and the comedy or scenario doesn't really build. While I was looking for the film to have much more bite, it was generally sillier than I would have liked. On this level it is still worked and it amused me, but I felt it stayed too light and comic and could have made more of the scenario.

Of the performances Srinivasan is good but I thought that Dabu played it too comically – although this is more to do with the material and direction rather than his decision. Overall this short mostly works as amusing piece riding off the value of the concept rather than the delivery being great. Perhaps I would have liked it more if I hadn't seen it done better elsewhere because this amusingly light but nothing more than that.

The Camera (2011)
A little too floaty for my taste but still hard not to be taken by it, 18 April 2014

Judging by the names on the final credits this appears to have been a family effort since both cast members and the director all share the same surname. The limited scale of the film suggests further that the film was made for a very limited budget – although it is to be said that this is not a negative comment as I didn't think the film was limited by this. The plot sees a young woman find an old Polaroid instant camera in an old beach house but when she takes pictures with it, it seems to capture images that are not there – particularly of a young man smiling and hanging around the house.

Although it is limited in resources, the Lewis' have made the most of this film, doing everything from scoring it through to writing and filming it. The end result is a rather floaty short which will appeal to romantics best since the tone is very delicate and soft throughout. This is in the piano score underneath the whole film as well as in the rather delicate shot selection. In terms of where the film goes and what it is trying to do, I must concede that it is the best way to do it but for me personally I felt it was so overegging this aspect of delivery that I presumed it was heading to a surprise ending where it flipped everything on the viewer – that is how far to one end of the spectrum it was trying to get. It doesn't do this and as a result it works better, even though I still felt it used the delivery to push and drag the viewer to a certain point rather than letting us get there ourselves – but it is only a short film so it is understandable.

So to me it was limited by personal taste, but even still it was hard not to be taken by the idea and the nice charm it had in its style.

En Route (2010)
Bit too obviously played but worthy in is ambition, 18 April 2014

A plane crash. We begin a journey backwards through the life of Harry to a pivotal moment in his childhood.

I have seen a few films from Colin Levy recently and although I have had issues with them, the ambition of the films has never been one of them. Out of interest I came to En Route, listed in IMDb as his first short as director, and immediately you find that same ambition in terms of the film and the story. We open on a massive plane crash with the emergency services responding and this begins a series of jumps back through time in scenes involving airplanes and the goal of building a life for the viewer in only a few moments. Again, in terms of ambition and the technical construction of the production, it is hard to fault and indeed the film impressed in this regard.

Unfortunately when it comes to the narrative, it doesn't work so well. As an idea it is good but the delivery is too pat to make it work. In particular though the flashbacks are too focused on being reflective and meaningful within the context of reflection, rather than being real scenes from our character's life. This fault is matched by the performance of Dor as Harry, because every single scene seems to be filled with a reflective sigh, or some other thing that links to the tone of the film but feels forced and overdoing it. Unfortunately this all transpires to rob the film of emotional impact and genuine engagement.

Levy's technical skills and ambition remains intact and he joins an increasingly impressive list of people working in short film that I will actively look out for work from, but unfortunately while En Route highlights his strengths, it also reminds of his weaknesses too.

Animation mostly very impressive, but the attempt to have commentary as part of the film doesn't work, 18 April 2014

I had recently been pretty taken by Tavares' film Jonah and read of this previous film. The general feeling about this seemed to be it was a great short with impressive animation used in support of an intelligent and political core; having seen it myself I'm afraid I have to be contrary to these. The animation for sure is impressive and I applaud the effort going into it even though it is clear that Tavares' vision exceeded his reach at this time, because that does show at times. The expansion of Brixton to be more of a broken and mechanical future is good and generally the animation of the robots is good although there is a certain clunkiness to some of the movement and some of the camera movements which put me in mine of those limited Saturday morning cartoons you see. Still, for a short film it works very well.

The thing that will make this more than a showcase though is the narrative – and I already saw that Tavares can do that as he did well in Jonah. Unfortunately in this case the message seems to be more tacked on rather than part of the delivery. The robotic riots are linked back to those in the early 80's in Brixton and the suggestion is that things will repeat forever if we do not actually address them – hence badly treated robots rising up in the way the Afro-Caribbean community did then. This is a very simple point and I didn't think the film did it well since it really just delivered some effects on the way to merging into a photograph from the era; to actually deliver it really needed to have more commentary and subtext throughout the short but it didn't and as a result felt fragmented.

It is a shame that ultimately Robots of Brixton is more about what Tavares could do rather than what he did. The impressive effects and the attempt to have a social commentary as part of the film grabbed people's attention but it is a shame that the film as a viewing experience is not all it could be. It was positive to see how much better Jonah was compared to this film as it shows him moving in a very positive direction.


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