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bob the moo

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Enjoyably brisk character-driven quirkumentary even if it doesn't amount to much more than bemused curiosity, 28 April 2015

It is normal to think of documentaries as being about particular subjects or people of note, but there is a sub-genre where really it is about getting a peek into other lives, many of which may be odder than your own. This type of film can be called a quirkumentary because it is essentially focusing on that oddity; such films can do this in a cruel way, but the best manage to get the viewer inside the quirk and meet the people – and it is this aspect that Reinvention of Normal does well, and thus succeeds. The subject is Dominic Wilcox, an artist and inventor who sets out to force himself to be creative, and try to invent and test things daily – not all useful perhaps, but he is constantly trying to stimulate and inspire himself to think and create.

For those of us with jobs, the idea of a man seeing how good a smoothie he can make by putting fruit inside a football is perhaps a nonsense that seem like a luxury, but the film helps capture Wilcox's sense of wonder at the world and his desire to try things out rather than just accepting it. There is a certain childlike wonder to him which I found quite infectious – the best example being him wondering what happens if the noise from different directions enters into the "wrong" ear. The film plays this out with nice contributions from him, footage of him playing around with lo- fi creations, and some nice little animations.

Generally the tone is one of light bemusement, which fits well with Wilcox, since this curious bemusement seems to be something he actively seeks as part of his process. The film doesn't tell us much about him or how he lives his life, so ultimately it doesn't amount to a great deal, but it is brisk and amusing anyway.

Looks great and has beautiful framing, but the sense of superficiality extends to the subject himself, which is a shame, 28 April 2015

I think this is the third short film that I have seen from Joris Debeij. All of them have been documentary shorts and all of them have had the same strengths and the same weaknesses; the mix of which is more than enough to keep me coming back to his work, but at the same time still frustrating me with where the limitations exist. In the case of The Bull Rider, the film focuses on Gary Leffew, a bull rider and now coach for others, who focuses very much on the mental state required to do this activity.

To begin with what Debeij does well; this film is consistently beautiful in its cinematography (here with Nate Hurtsellers) and its selection and framing of shots. Like his other works, if you are looking for a screenshot to use as a promotional tool then you will be spoilt for choice as almost every frame is fit for hanging. I do not mean to overdo this, but personally I find it to be the case now across all the films I have seen from him – he has a great eye for design. The problem is that he does not have such a good eye for people, or at least delivering their stories. I guess the extent to which the visual sheen is presence extenuates this, but it is still an issue regardless.

Leffew is a case in point. He is a cowboy who seems to love the old ways, but yet also appears to have adopted meditation and other such mental exercises as a key part of his approach and coaching on an activity which, to the layman such as I, involves holding onto a bull for as long as you can – although usually just a few seconds. His narration covers the whole film, but yet I felt like I ended the film with only generalities and nothing beyond the superficial. On one level I guess the film does a function and introducing us to an odd character, and chatting at a level that we personally would chat if we only met him for 7 minutes while we waiting for someone else in a bar, but it does feel like a missed opportunity that the film seems so happy to stay at this level and not push below.

At some point I acknowledge that this is more about my opinion than the film itself, and I think it is clear that as an introductory documentary, it works well, with great presentation and an engaging enough character to provide a reason for watching the great images – however I would be lying if I said that I didn't struggle with the lack of more, and that the high gloss superficial delivery does rather limit the film as something that can last or can satisfy.

Stray Dogs (2015/I)
Absurd but the delivery sells it and mostly it works on its own terms, 28 April 2015

A man waits for a bus in the sweltering heat. A woman pulls up to a payphone and, finding it not working, approaches the man to use his phone drawing him into whatever the hell is about to happen.

Balancing contrasting things is a feat that always impresses me when it can be pulled off; I guess that I have seen it not work more often than I have seen it work, so it is obvious to me that it is not easy to do while shooting scene by scene. As a result Stray Dogs is engaging in the way that it captures the feeling of a day, injects a tense situation into it, but yet delivers it with absurdity throughout. The crushing heat of the day comes through the screen really well, and you get the feeling of the impatience and frustration that people develop when the heat is inescapable. Into this we get some sort of standoff between two people, which builds well before spiraling off into absurdity. This absurdity though is just about well managed because it doesn't totally come from nowhere, and it does fit with the crazy heat and events of the day.

Although I was not totally taken by the ending, the strength in the delivery is what makes it work, because the film has very good control over the absurdity – so it is not a punchline so much an extension of the oddity that had built throughout. Credit to writer/director Farthing-Kohl, because the pacing, the framing and the delivery all come together to produce a scene that is at once absurd but yet also gripping and serious. This is not to say it is a wholly successful film, or that it has no issues, but just that it works well on its own terms – and is strong enough to make the viewer meet the film there.

S10: The Green Death: A bit too busy and lacking cohesion, but entertaining and with a good finale (SPOILERS), 26 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The tenth season of the show comes to a close with a very mixed bag of a serial, with a lot going on (not all of it good), lots of ideas (not all of them working) and plenty of events. With a Chamberlain reference, a mine is promised to be reopened while, deep underground, a man flees something in fear – a green growth on his body. Something appears to be going on down there, and is it related to the waste from the nearby Global Chemicals company? As the Doctor and UNIT get involved, things go from bad to worse as some form of creature is emerging from the mine, threatening the area and, ultimately, humanity. But why does Stevens over at Global Chemicals seem so nonplussed by it all?

There are ideas here of environmentalism and corporate greed and these at first seem to form a perfectly reasonable base for the narrative, leading to the appearance of the maggots without a huge leap. This narrative gets muddled though as we find a new villain in the form of the self-aware computer BOSS, who it turns out is behind everything over at Global Chemicals. I didn't think the additional enemy was really required or worked well – there was not enough time to really make this foe into something interesting, and it sort of feels like a distraction when really it is the centerpiece. The maggots themselves are good effects and they do tend to have more of a threat than they first appeared; some of the effects showing them in crowds are poor – and there seems to be a lot of model work and back-projection, all of which looks consistently poor.

The writing is also a bit variable. At first I liked the humor of the opening episode, with the Doctor heading off on holiday to Metebelis Three, only for us to frequently cut to him up to his neck in trouble, which I found pretty funny. The use of Welsh miners and well-meaning new age liberals means that too many characters are caricatures with little to do but reinforce stereotypes. Some the cliffhangers are good, but then at the same time we also get nonsense such as the Doctor sneaking into the base as a milkman, then further evading capture by dressing as a cleaning woman. Add to this the way that the maggots are defeated by mushrooms, while the next stage in their lifecycle (the big threat to earth) is somehow killed by throwing a coat over it.

An aspect which the show does do well is the exit of Jo from the show. I had commented in the last serial that she had steadily grown since she first joined as a bit of totty whose lines either involved screaming or asking for something to be explained; she had come quite a way from just that, and it is fitting that the "fledgling flies the coop" as the Doctor observes. Although it happens quickly at the end, the link to the Doctor is good, and the ending has restraint and a real sense of emotion about it; helped in my case by me not knowing that this was her final episode. Manning works it well, and it is a good way for her to end. Pertwee works well alongside her in these scenes, and also does the action well. Courtney is a welcome return to the show with UNIT, however most of the supporting cast is only so-so, with the bigger performances tending towards ham more than anything better.

The Green Death still has more than enough to make it interesting and entertaining – even if some of the bits are unintentionally entertaining by virtue of how silly they are (poor effects, the Doctor in drag). The narrative is muddled by too many ideas trying to exist in one plot, but the way Jo exits is well handled and memorable, with extra impact for being reminiscent of Susan all those seasons ago.

The "Snowman"-esque presentation gives way to a quite satisfying bleak conclusion which impacts emotionally despite the heavy message (SUGGESTIVE SPOILERS), 26 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A fox is being chased by a hunter and, within a few seconds of the film opening, he is shot dead. His spirit continues to run though, and he finds himself in a whole new realm, with other animals recently deceased also experiencing the same.

I have some issues with this short film – two in particular; however despite these it did still work for me, with the darker ending being particularly memorable and quite moving. The presentation style for the most part feels like The Snowman in the safe images of playing animals (or their spirits) and quite uplifting ideas of the afterlife and such things; it works, but at the same time I felt it was softballing me with what it was doing, and it mostly felt like something produced for an early afternoon television slot during the festive period. However, as the film spends longer in this spirit world, we warm to the fox and the rabbit, while at the same time start to understand how it works. This leads to a conclusion which I was quite surprised by for a couple of reasons.

These reasons are connected because on one hand I was surprised by how much I felt as a result of it, because up to that point I had been quite cynical of the film's approach; but also I was surprised that I still felt this even though it was, in essence, a rather heavy anti- fur statement. This is not to say I am pro-fur, but I am generally anti-emotive political statements, so it is to the film's credit that it manages to have its cake and eat it with me, because I still felt moved despite the rather obvious heart-string pulling of the majority of the delivery, combined with the message of the conclusion.

So, not without issues, and probably these issues will affect more people than would be ideal – it certainly does walk a very line of being manipulative; however for the most part it is nicely done, and does have the emotional impact it intended to.

Well imagined short film which builds well with tension and creepiness, 26 April 2015

Newspaper cuttings of child disappearances, suggestions of a cult being involved, a photograph sent to an investigator from someone called Johnny Hollow – all of the things are connected, and the photograph holds the answers if we can only look closely enough.

I am not really sure what to call this film; for sure it is a type of animation but then we also have real elements, although technically none of it "moves" since the majority of the film is spent with the virtual camera moving in and around the photograph, providing information behind the image of 4 people and a baby seemingly smiling for the camera. Much like the "enhance" feature in shows like CSI, the movement of the camera into and around the photograph goes far beyond what "looking closely" could provide, and it really opens up the image. It is surprisingly compelling, and I did find myself leaning a bit closer to see everything as the camera/eye moved around and in/out. What helps the sense of building immensely is the great soundtrack by, erm, Johnny Hollow (not sure if that is a real name or not!). The music builds tension, and steps up at all the right points.

The Gothic imagery, and the hints of ominous violence in and around the photograph build with the sound, and while there is not a narrative per se, it does engage and start to get quite gripping until the creepy conclusion. A very well imagined short film, with a good idea which is well delivered on with great camera movement and invention. Pleasingly creepy and tense.

Engaging short thanks to good editing, Nick Marsh's presentation, and the subject itself, 26 April 2015

I have seen a few documentary shorts recently which are similar to this one in that they focus on a particular person whose life, job, or experiences are outside of those most of the rest of us would have. With the most recent examples there were some that put a lot of effort into beautiful glossy shots, almost to the point where the person was lost within them. With David Beazley's film we have a much better mix because, although it is well shot and has good images of the craft of forensic photography, the best thing it does is to just let Nick Marsh talk, and for us to regularly see him talking too – not just hear him in a narration.

Marsh works for (or with) the Metropolitan Police and, at time of filming, has worked with them in the field of forensic imaging for almost 30 years, so he probably knows a thing or two. The potential for this to be a dry procedural documentary is right there, but the film avoids this because Marsh is very good at talking about this subject (Google shows he has books and does talks), but also Beazley's editing does well to bring out the key points and have a flow to the film that makes sense. I found it very interesting to hear about the creative aspect of the job, the precision, the techniques, and generally the craft to the work. Also appreciated was that the film did not go out of its way to debunk the way this job is shown in CSI and other crime shows, but rather it just focuses on itself and lets us worry about what other images we may have in our heads.

In the end it is a fascinating little film; it doesn't have the time to go deep into the subject, but it is well edited to interest and inform at a certain level, with an engaging focal point in Nick Marsh.

Beautifully designed and realized animation which draws the viewer through cynicism to make the simple message be effective and touching, 26 April 2015

A man returns to the home of his once-estranged but now dead father, to find the machine that took the father from the family unit (a memory-powered machine to turn metal to gold), and a letter from the father addressed to the son. From here the majority of the film is the voice of the father reading the letter out to his son.

Mostly this is a cautionary fairy-tale, with a background of darkness but ultimately a warming message of family and what really is important in life; so as a narrative it is pretty simple, but as with all good stories, it is the delivery that makes it rise about the basic bones of what it is. This delivery is strong in several ways, the most apparent of which being the animation. It is technically impressive through, with such a high standard that it is hard to believe it is a short film released for free on the internet and funded by a kickstarter campaign – which is not to look down on either of those things, but just to say that it would not look out of place next to Frozen or a product of much greater resources. However, it is not just the technology but how it is used that makes the animation work. There is a great creativity to the design of the machine, and the way we follow the memories through the various stages, with images and transitions working really well as the camera moves along with them; it is such a good flow and such imaginative images that it is hard not to love it.

The use of John Hurt as the father's voice is equally important as it provides a core of warmth to the narration; it is not just that he has a distinctive voice, but more that he has a great voice, and his performance makes the most of it, feeding the emotional core and the feeling of the fairy-tale. These work together to produce a beautiful piece of animation that is better than the simple moral message it delivers, because it makes it work and overcomes cynicism.

Dark and slightly disturbing imagery supports a weird tale of love and nature, 26 April 2015

Difficult to really describe a film like this since unless one was the creator, I doubt you could really put a finger on what it is about and what it is doing. We join the story towards the end and, through fragmented delivery in several acts, we see the tortured relationship between a dismembered man and a forest spirit. I am not sure if it is about love or about man's relationship with nature (maybe both?) but the film essentially shows a relationship of mutual cruelty which spirals from anything better as a result. The resulting split brings freedom but then an appreciation of the original intertwined benefits of the man and his nature.

I think. There certainly is a heart to the narrative, but at the same time there is a gross, nearly disturbing, collection of images and scenes showing male nudity, dismembering, torture, and the like – which sounds bad but yet it gets away with it thanks to the "dark fairy- tale" tone that it has throughout, so there is that sense of humor rather than cruelty to it all. The narration helps with this a lot, giving a gruff, brooding delivery, while the music is very well selected and used. The animation is not to my taste personally, but the film is not for framing but rather watching, and as such it is creative, surprising, and pleasing in a slight grotesque way.

The lack of a nice clean narrative arc, and the mix of graphic ideas and images to present the central relationship dynamic will put many viewers off and, while it was not totally to my taste, it was engaging at the core and the means of delivery – even if they did not perfectly marry up for me in the total product.

Engaging character piece which is slight but delicate, 26 April 2015

This short is one of light touches and there the feeling by the end that very little really happened but yet the film still engages and informs a lot more than it appears on the surface. The feeling of being isolated and tired is tangible at the start of the film, and we understand the gap that is causing the problem. It is not clear if smoking weed was something Rosemary used to do with her dead partner, or long before, but this is how she decides to try to break the pattern of her life or insomnia and not being able to relax. The quest for drugs takes her onto a rough council estate, where an older white woman does rather stand out.

The majority of the film takes place on the estate and this is where the film is most engaging. The connection between Rosemary and Tyrone seems genuine, with both of them not being the stereotypes that we expect, but at the same time the film never gets anywhere near being "hey, we're all the same on the inside, I mean, yeah?" about it, but again continues to have a delicate touch in the writing and the delivery. Of course there is the sense of it all being a bit light overall, but generally it weathers this because we are drawn into the two characters – in particular the interactions on the estate are engaging, with the performances from Neubert and Tripp making it work.

Technically the film looks good, with the external locations on the estate being well used and well filmed. The conclusion of the film is maybe extended longer than it needed to be, but it still works well in the point it makes and the sense of peace that comes. It is light and it is not without some issues, but I appreciated the delicate delivery from the writing through to the performances.

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