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bob the moo

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Over Time (2005)
Plot is "The Muppets Weekend at Bernie's" but yet delicate and moving, 19 April 2014

Delivered in black and white with touches of slow motion under a moving score, this film has a quality that really doesn't match the plot if you were to describe it. To do it a disservice, the death of an old man leaves all his puppets at a loss until they decide that they can carry on by propping him up and essentially pretending he is still alive and well. Given that the puppets have a bit of the Kermit about them, essentially what we have here is, put crudely, is The Muppets Weekend at Bernie's. Of course this is a stupid way to say it, because if it really did go down that road it would be a very different film and it probably wouldn't have been quite as touching.

Instead what we get is a very delicately done story where the puppets try to carry on and we see their efforts. At the same time we have a very beautiful score which is played by the puppets – in arty, nicely lit shots. These shots are extended into the film where we get slow- motion movement of the characters as they react with sadness and respect. Considering that these are computer-animated puppets without too much scope for emotion in their face, the use of body language, shot framing and music is important and very well done. It is surprising how affecting it all is for such a small odd film.

Probably best not to try to describe it but even as the film initially feels weird and unusual, the strengths of the film soon make such things fade as the clever delivery draws you in and is quite touching overall.

Great flowing fight sequence but you have to wade through 7 minute of some wooden model whining to get there, 19 April 2014

A young model living in Japan feels depressed and slightly paranoid (thinking people are following her). Going to see her model friend she has to stiff an already lethargic cab driver because she has very little money on her. Arriving to her friend's flat she is confronted by yet more betrayal and hurt from those she thought she could trust. Fortunately her situation seems to be just the thing that cab driver Kazu needs to jolt him back from apathy.

This really is a film of two halves and it is totally clear that the second half is the one that the whole film is about, since it is a pretty impressive fight sequence. To talk about this first, the sequence plays out with a fixed side-on view and the camera moves up and down the street as the fight itself does. Although there is no amazing wire work or effects, the fight is engaging because it flows very well and appears to have been done in one take (although I suspect some of the lampposts etc mask an edit here and there). This technique drew me in really well and impressed me with the choreography and how fluid and natural it all felt (well, as natural as a 1v10 fight can be). The film concludes with a little moment which is meant to give it context, but really the fight sequence is all you care about.

With that in mind, one does have to wonder why we have to have such an unnecessarily long walk to get to the fight. We join the model as she gets into the cab – this is necessary because we need the connection with the driver. After this we need some event to trigger the action, but given that there is really no connection between the fight and all the stuff with her friend and the man, I am not sure why we have to have that. If it had worked then no problem, but it is so clunky and unnatural and uninteresting that it just serves to push people away and I suspect many of the target audience for the second half will have been bored out of it by then. The writing is a problem but to be honest the single biggest problem is Shpak, who is terrible. She is wooden, stiff, unnatural and her English dialogue just adds to this. It is not all her fault though and the script doesn't help by giving her whiney words to say, instantly putting many viewers' backs up I suspect. By contrast Ichiyama is really good, a nice narration to open and a good physical presence throughout the fight – but not to the point where we think he is superman.

McFay's direction of the fight scene is really good although I guess a part of it belongs to the choreographer. The fighters all hit their marks very well throughout the long take(s?) and this part of the film works very well. Why we have 7 minutes of some whiney model being upset and moaning about it, I have no idea. I don't like the idea of skipping to the "good bits" of films, but to be honest if you were to start this film around the 7 minute mark, you really would have missed nothing.

A commercial, but one with a nice flow and message, 19 April 2014

I'm not sure if they are in Europe or not, but if they are I have never heard of fast-food chain Chipotle but this short film is produced by them to highlight what I am told are their sustainable farming methods (or the methods of those they source their ingredients from). I am not sure if the reality is totally as the film shows it, but the plot here sees a traditional farmer move towards much more industrialized and mechanized methods of food production before he regrets his decision and longs for the old days back.

The message is a nice one (although again I would say the film is a commercial so may not fully be representative of the reality) and the film is nicely engaging in how it delivers it. The film flows to the right in terms of space but also in terms of time and we see a farm turn into a factory and then back again. It is cheerfully animated so it is easy to forget that ultimately these cute pigs we see are just raised for slaughter, but it is an understandable look and feel. The invention is there in the small detail and I very much enjoyed the look of it throughout. Under the visuals we have a Coldplay track, but wait, it is a cover sung by Willie Nelson, which is perhaps a little bit too heavy on the "reflective" and "good ol' days" buttons, but it still works and it does set the mood.

I cannot comment on the content of the message as it relates to Chipotle (after all, they paid for this to be made – it wasn't the case of Kelly being inspired by their methods to make this short) but although it is a commercial, it does work anyway. The animation is very smooth and cleverly done, the use of Nelson sets the mood well and ultimately the message is a good one and one worthy of supporting – whether you support it specifically at Chipotle or not.

Ormie (2010)
Funny even if the use of music and the basic look is not great, 19 April 2014

Ormie is a pig who wants cookies – unfortunately the particular cookies that Ormie wants are in a jar on top of a fridge/freezer and just out of his reach. That said, a bit of clever thinking and he should be able to get them no problem, right? Sure.

There is a simplicity to this short animation that is suitable and in particular children will love the physical comedy. The set and props are limited but Ormie has many tries to get these cookies and they pretty much all fail in one way or another – this is a given. The more important thing though is that almost all of his failures are funny; when something comes at you so quickly as this short does it is easy to have a very hit/miss content but here the jokes really do hit home much more often than they don't – and if they don't then it was only a few seconds wasted.

The downside of the film is that although the simple props etc allow you to focus on the gags, it is not a particularly nice looking film. Not just the animation but movement of the camera and the imagination in the view felt a bit bog-standard and perhaps had potential for more polish. Part of me feeling this is probably down to the horrible choice of music – it is like comedy elevator music and it cheapens the film, making it feel lazy which then adds into how I felt about the look. Fortunately it is still very funny and has a high hit rate for laughs (even to this late 30's man) and this does cover its weaknesses.

Head on (2011)
Nice marriage of animation and music, 19 April 2014

An out of control train rushes forward from the empty rural area into the bright lights of an urban area. The plot here is not really that important because, although there is a general commentary to be had about urbanization if you want it, generally the film is all about the look and sound.

The train and all around it is computer generated and it flows pretty well even if it always feels computer-generated. This is most evident where the animation is repeating (such as moving through a tunnel) or some other areas, and it does feel "produced" rather than created at these points. To try to explain that better, there were frequent moments where I wasn't watching the images so much as appreciating the programming to make it happen – so the camera moving up the side of the train, the smooth city etc. Moments such as smashing signs and more unique interactions break this up a bit, but you do feel like you are watching a student animate, rather than someone making a short film which is animated.

The thing that saves the short is that the music and the animation work very well together. It's not to my personal taste and I'm not about to throw it on my ipod, but the score from Nadav Ravid is very effective – very driving forward and nicely timed to slow and raise in line with the visuals. It adds a lot to the visuals because, being frank, at times the animation is very much a case of "look what I can make my computer do" – but the marriage with the music prevents that feeling from being the dominant one the viewer has.

No tension, no consistency, fragmented and detached action and generally much lower-rent and duller than Carano deserves, 19 April 2014

Despite not really having been taken by Gina Carano's previous film, I decided to give this one a try as I thought that maybe a simpler and more stripped down film may suit her better – she is essentially a b- movie star in the making, so I was interested to see her let loose in a much more genre vehicle where the film would have no interest but to play to her strengths. Any doubts that I may have had that the film would not be a b-movie were dispelled pretty quickly as the film wheeled out the plot with no real effort to fill in backstory beyond one flashback sequences then lots of clunking dialogue to inform us the husband is from a wealthy family and other bits of information. So far so good (in a twisted way) as I assumed we were just clearing stuff out of the way to make more room for tension and action.

Unfortunately this is the tone for the whole film – clunkiness. The plot sees her husband go missing and, with no help from authorities and far from home, Carano has to take matters into her own hands. This she does and the end result is perhaps a few good fight scenes but generally the film lacks tension and (ironically) real impact. I was bored for too much of the film and when the action did splutter into life, it seemed determined not to build any drama and instead left it to the tough presence of the lead to do the heavy lifting. She does this to a point but she needed help that never came and it is a shame to see that she still really hasn't had the chance to turn herself into the female star for the audience that still turns out for Van Damme etc films.

The location and the nature of the film looks a bit too low-rent and this isn't helped by how detached I was from the action. Beyond Carano the cast are an odd mix of so-so turns from people you don't know, but bored ones from people you do. Gigandet seems uneasy with his damsel in distress role and doesn't know who he is. Trejo, Williams and Guzmán feel like they were cast for their names and faces and in return get a bit of a holiday shooting in a nice climate. Nolasco is a decent villain but not made the most of.

If you are in an undemanding mood then maybe this film has enough to distract you for a while, but personally I found it disappointing. The running time plods by and a plot that should be fuelled by desperation and violence is really slowed down too much and action sequences can of "happen" rather than being the result of a strong build up and delivery. Carano is physically impressive and is a decent presence if you don't ask too much from her – I'm still hoping someone can make better use of her than they have so far.

Some reservations about the narrative but still a nicely animated fable, 19 April 2014

When a mouse is captured by a lion he tries to talk his way out of it – with an offer to find better food being the only deal he can make. Returning with fruit doesn't cut it, so the mouse is allowed to go further (while tied to a piece of cord) to get some more choice options. This is a nice little tale which recalls nursery rhymes and fables where the mouse is pitched against a much larger creature. In this case the events play out in a rather odd way since it appears the mouse is not so much a hero of the short film as he is an "out for myself" type, happy to throw others to the lions in return for his freedom (literally).

The conclusion salvages this and we are allowed to end the short with the mouse on the up and the lion outwitted, but it does feel a little bit like it happened by chance rather than being a master plan. Personally it would have been a better fable if the plan of the mouse had been a clearer thing that was done on purpose to get to the conclusion, not just by chance, however it still works. The silhouette animation work very well, making the mouse feel very small to the black figure of the lion; I also like the richness and yet simplicity of the colors and the shapes.

It has some issues in the narrative but generally it was a pleasing little fable with the traditional dynamics.

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.

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