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bob the moo

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Pilot: The randomness of it all makes it an experience, but this is not the same as saying that it works, 15 October 2014

I'm not against zany and random humor; indeed it is not uncommon for me to enjoy things that I partner watches with a semi-confused sneer on her face, before explaining to me why I will not be allowed to make the decisions for a while about what series we watch. I have had this with everything from the Might Boosh through to the children's cartoon Adventure Time. I watched the short film (or series pilot, depending on how it goes) 'Your Honor' on my own, but I watched it with this same confused sneer, since even for me this 12 minutes seemed entirely random.

We have a courtroom scene where a man and a woman appear to be in dispute about a small amount of money, however just as much time if not more is taken up with the judge throwing a man in jail for being overly orange, watching a Max Headroom aside, questioning the race of people, or having flashbacks to his rather odd family background. As an experience it is hard to walk away from it because in some ways it is something you need to stick with because it is hard to really know what will happen next. The unnamed supporting Gallery Members are a fine example of this since they feel like even John Waters would have rejected them for being 'a bit much'. We have homeless people, old people, larger people, bronzed people, heavily tattooed people – and so on.

This approach is seen in the material and the court design and in the writing; it is all entirely random – even at one point having the judge refer directly to the director, who then edits in the gravel in post. All of this insanity has a certain appeal, but it also shows that actually, 'random' comedy is not as easy to do as it looks. When I consider Mighty Boosh or Reeves & Mortimer, these seem random around a basic structure, but actually they are tightly written and produced so that what appears to be random and all a bit mad, is actually very well done comedy. Here it feels like they were just hoping that the sheer oddity of it all will appeal in and of itself.

And, to be fair, it works on that level and for some viewer the madness of it all will work – but not for me. Personally I found it lacking discipline and any time it wasn't just randomly throwing stuff at the viewer every few seconds, it didn't work as well. There are a few moments of extended material where it has a nice awkward or funny air, but mostly it does not work unless viewed as an 'experience'. To me this would limit the appeal as a series since I had no desire to see more of this but rather just chalk this one down to experience, but who knows – perhaps to some this will be the most awesome thing they have ever seen; it does take all sorts – but for me it was just a wonder to sit through, but only once.

Wonderfully engaging and delightfully surprising, 9 October 2014

In October 2012, Ireland switched off the old analogue television signal and went fully digital. In a small pub in South Galway, a camera crew is there to discuss this change with the patrons – and whatever else is on their minds.

I was quite interested in this film because I have a friend of my partner who was involved in the publicity and awareness raising work for the switchover in the UK, plus I have been inside a few pubs in my home country, so know the sort of characters you can get. So I approached it very much at face value and was really held by it as the film gradually had other subjects and surprises across its 14 minutes (a time that really flies past). At the start and throughout, we do have discussion over the change, the lack of choice to remain on analogue, some grumbling about it being a money- making scam, technological confusion about what it actually means for some older TV sets and whether or not you'll still get RTE1 in the kitchen or not. All of these discussions are entertaining, but the film is most delightful in where else it goes.

Since we have a load of blokes gently drinking and discussing themselves into the day, there is a certain relaxed spirit to the conversations and it is fun to see where they go to. There are discussions over changes in life generally, about how old ways seem to be being pushed away, about reincarnation and the nature of death, about how to retune a television and Einstein's Theory of Relativity (the conclusion is Einstein was a "fecking eejit" by the way). The key thing is that it never is just a load of drunk people spouting off but rather it has quite a poetic spirit to it – and indeed the film perfectly encapsulates this as one of the subjects bows out the film with a piece of prose apropos of nothing and off the top of his head!

It is a documentary which is not really about the subject of the television switchover, but rather about the culture, the people and the place – and as such it is wonderfully engaging and delightfully surprising.

"Run" (2013)
S1: Well acted but overly 'gritty' in its material and presentation, 9 October 2014

This four-parter is set in and around an area of poverty in London; we have four stories that do not intertwine so much as bolt together at either end, with one character connecting to the next in a way. The four stories sees a mother struggling with two teenage boys and a history of male violence; a recovering junkie trying to get back with his estranged daughter; a Chinese illegal selling DVDs to pay off a debt, and forced to do much worse when she falls short; and a Polish cleaner who finds herself needing money and turning to arranged marriages to help. All of the stories are very gritty and downbeat in their tone; there is not a lot of cheer or joy in these films and as the free paper The Metro observed at the time, it was very odd scheduling to show the series in the height of the summer in 2013, which had great weather, sporting achievement in Wimbledon and the Ashes and generally a great positive air to the country – into which these tales of misery were dropped.

For me watching them in October 2014, they perhaps fit a bit better as the nights close in and the UK settles into a typically grey and wet Autumn. The series itself really doesn't need any distractions from the grim grittiness – because it really goes all out for that tone and needs the viewer to be in the mood for that. From the very first episode we have senseless violence, lots of swearing and very little sense of hope or positive vibes; this continues through the episodes as none of the stories hold back from where they are or where they are going – we are firmly in grim, gritty territory here, make no mistake. If anything I think it really does push it too far; at 45 minutes (without adverts) the plots are pretty contained and really have no space for small moments, so if violence or despair can be unleashed, it certainly will be – and soon. The excessiveness is not necessarily gratuitousness, but it does mean that it is very direct, very full- on and doesn't have many smaller touches or nuance to draw the viewer in – you're either with it or you're not.

Fortunately one of the areas where the film does very well is with the casting, and it is here where a lot of good work is done to offset the blunt grimness of the material. This is most evident in the first film where we have the nation's favorite Olivia Colman showing why she does despair better than most. Okay her character is blunt and has obvious 'look, we're gritty' dialogue full of swearing, but she brings out a great character, showing small things about violence in particular (she is a victim of male violence but also happen to use that fear on others when it suits her). The final scene in her episode in particular is excellent. Lennie James is almost as good, as indeed is Leung, who is a long way from Hogwarts here. Schüttler is okay but the least engaging of the episodes, while below this level the characters are a bit more generic and, while they are delivered well, they have less to work with and are more functional, in line with the material given them.

Run is worth a look if you are after a grim and gritty self- contained drama, because on this front it really does a decent job. However it is very one-note in its material and presentation, and it is only its good fortune to have some very good lead performances in there that rise it above the level it would otherwise have been at.

Interstate (2013)
Needed a bit of polish in the writing, but otherwise it is well made and quite engaging, 9 October 2014

Interstate is a character piece which follows Joaquin, a man who teaches illegals how to drive in the US and then transports them over to Utah, where you do not need to prove citizenship to take the driving test, and hands them over to his boss. Joaquin's life is one of loneliness and work, living alone in the US and running the risk of prosecution even though he himself is legal. Two interactions on one day threaten to change that – the first is with positive and hopeful student Nayeli, the other is with Homeland Security officer, who wants him to give up his boss in return for a pass on the charge of transporting illegals across state lines.

Although a student film, it must be said this is very well made from a technical point of view; the film looks really good, the use of interior and exterior locations is good (many of them in and around moving cars), sound quality is great and generally the sense of place and people is well put across. I don't mention these because there is a 'but', although I do have some reservations. These fall into the writing; generally the story is good and the characters are engaging – which is important since they are where the film is happening. The problem comes with perhaps the limit of the short film as a media – specifically that it is, y'know, short. This lack of time means we get the characters quite condensed – so we understand in broad strokes who the characters are, how they feel and how those various situations and feelings affect one another, however I did get the feeling I was not working at a person level, but a character one.

What I mean by this is that the writing hasn't totally hidden the required functionality of the people; it is most evident in Nayeli, but the same is true of Joaquin, they do have a lot about them that is necessary rather than natural. It is not as big a deal as I make it sound here, because the film still works as a whole, it is just perhaps in need of a bit more shading. The actors show this because, in fairness, their performances don't find it either. Nieves is a solid lead but his character and his changes are played out a bit too obviously. Rodriguez is a nice sparky presence which the plot requires, however similarly, she plays it with a very straight bat.

It is still an engaging character piece though, which is well made (and not just 'for a student film'), and it really is only in the finer aspects of the finish where it shows its limits a bit.

I'm not sure what it was trying to do, 9 October 2014

To give the plot of this film in one or two sentences makes it sound instantly interesting – basically a teenage summer camp are given a game where a third of them are SS guards, the rest are Jews trying to escape extermination. It had my attention just from this because I was interested to see how it sold this as a plot, but more importantly, what it actually did with it from there. Despite this going in, at the end of the film I was not entirely sure what it had done.

The film focuses on Lizzie as the main character, and we follow her as she rebels against the game, as she tries to make her interest known to a boy she likes, and as she finds herself drawn into the game by how into it others have become. There is a lot that could have been done here but for some reason the film didn't feel like it really went at anything. At times it plays like a rather odd coming- of-age film crossed with an odd role-playing situation, and I'm not sure if the spirit of non-conformance to free oneself was something that the film was trying to fit together or not, but it didn't work that way if it was. There are elements here where the teenagers quickly take to their roles – with some of them huddled in shelters almost awaiting their fate, while the SS guards seem to enjoy their control very quickly – we know this is a real phenomenon, but here it doesn't convince and it isn't really clear what they should be doing.

Perhaps it is my lack of context (having never been Jewish, or a teenage girl in an American summer camp), but for me it was not clear what the film was about – either on the surface or as subtext. It is professionally delivered; looking polished and well made, but the plot left me cold as it didn't seem to have a clear agenda as to what it was trying to achieve and there seemed to be too many things in here to allow that lack of control not to become an issue. It sounds interesting and technically it is well made, but the material needed a much tighter control and delivery than it had.

Overplayed to the point where it loses the intrigue and simplicity that would have been its powerhouse, 9 October 2014

Although the short film will never be a form as appreciated as the feature film, it is a type of film that has an advantage in terms of the running time – so an idea that would need a lot of development and work to be a 90+ minute long film, can often be done better as an isolated scene over 10-15 minutes. That is how this film appears at first. It is about time-travel as the title says, but ultimately it is two men in one set just talking – so really the ideas, themes or images can be as big or as small as the pictures made through these two characters having a discussion.

Unfortunately, the film doesn't play to this strength and rather undercuts itself from the get-go. The film should be simple, realistic and gradually build with a sense of intrigue and humanity, but instead it jumps very quickly into overplaying the drama so that it feels forced and artificial as a scene. It does this through the music (that is heavily foreboding for no real reason); it does it through the character design (where quirks exist for no reason) and it does it through the performances. It is the last of these that hurt it the most; in particular the time-traveler is delivered with too much weight and tension in the delivery, forcing the intrigue to be something it is not ready to be at that point rather than letting it develop. This is not the actor Johnson's fault, he does as he is directed, but it is Cooper's fault as director since it is a problem across the whole film.

As a result the simple scene is overdone so it loses its main strength – the simplicity of the film. The story offers interest but it is overplayed and forced from the very start, so in the end the viewer has not been allowed to be drawn into it as would have been best. Accordingly the film feels like a missed opportunity, delivering very little on the promise it had.

Similo (2014)
Plays a little bit earnestly but is engagingly cold and yet human at the same time, 9 October 2014

Set in a future where global warming has destroyed the planet to the point that one of the few places that remains habitable is an ice- free Antarctica, we join an attractive young couple in the wake of an accident the man has been involved in. His injuries do not appear terrible, but impact to the head has caused memory loss and confusion; the woman attempts to work with him to remind him who she is and, more importantly, who they are.

Technically this short film is very impressive in terms of how it has been made. The choice of locations, with good set design, costumes, camera effects and special effects all come together to create a convincingly sterile world of the future; okay perhaps the detail and background of the world and how it now works is not as good as the visual presentation, but it works for what it needs, because this is only the background to the story (albeit an impressively done background). The short credit for what it actually tries to do, because this is not a 'look at my effects shots' sales pitch, but rather a narrative that looks at the nature of relationships and love in the context of the future. It plays out slowly but in a way that is mostly interesting; I will say that the nature of the plot means that it probably plays better in retrospect, since aspects of the plot are only clearer by the end of the film, but this is a necessary construct.

It does move slowly though, and perhaps feels a little overly earnest as a result – staying with some scenes longer than necessary and perhaps pushing too hard for the cold, sterile world of the future feel. In context of the film when you look back after watching it, most of this is justified and fits with the context, it is just as you watch where maybe it is not as effective. The performances match this tone; both Rios and De Balma come over as attractive but emotionally cold, which at first I put down to stiffness in their performances, although this does again work in context.

As a whole Similo works, although it is not without aspects on which you need to go with it and perhaps do work yourself. It is maybe a little too slowly paced but the tone of the film is at least consistent and, while it looks great technically, this is never allowed to be the core of the film as instead we get an engaging and interesting piece with plenty to think on afterwards.

The gentle sitcom tone and design gives a base for absurd humor which is mostly pretty funny, 9 October 2014

Randall and Dwayne are best friends and run a corner store together. Realizing that the glass tubes of small roses they sell are popular because people use them to sell crack, they decide to stop selling them. This positive move gives them a new perspective and, while Dwayne gets a new set of friends who are not in a gang even though it looks like they are, Randall discovers that maybe the view of crack being bad is all about perspective to, and gets a new friend in the 'crack-inclined' Chub D.

This short film is presented as being part of a sitcom series and it is very much dressed up in that genre, however the credits reveal that it was a student film and as far as I know, a standalone film. In most ways the film/episode is presented in a perky cheerful manner of a sitcom that one would find on network television; the characters are nicely multicultural, the colors and locations are safely bright, and generally all is well and happy. This is an important base because it makes the subject matter a bit funnier because of how it is experienced through this filter. The subject matter involves crackheads, gang members, and a valuable lesson about how to get what you want by being SAD. The absurd tone to it gives it a nicely comic feel and generally it plays very well on this. As a piece of comedy it has scope for being sharper and funnier but it is still consistently amusing with some good laughs in there too.

The animated design helps this otherworldly feel and the cast work well within it. Park plays innocent very well, which again fits this weird unreal feel the film has, while Perkins plays the straightman well even though his material is often not quite as good as that of Perkins. The supporting cast are good but mostly it is the delivery of the main two that gets the most from the script and scenes. I guess the chance of a full series of this never came to be, but as a standalone film or pilot episode, it works well enough because it is absurd, nicely pitched with a good tone, and produces general amusement and a couple of good laughs. I enjoyed it enough to forgive the use of a joke that Father Ted famously did much better.

On Loop (2013)
Cleverly structured and fragmented, 9 October 2014

I tend not to sleep well when I am away from home as I have been the past few weeks, and as a result I have had lots of nights where you lie awake feeling like you see the clock say every single hour of the night, thinking and worrying about stuff, unable to fall asleep and hearing your heart beat faster than it should for someone trying to sleep. It is an odd sensation when it happens and it is one that this film captures well in a way that is entertaining and yet realistic too.

Filmed from the person's point of view, we get a voice-over of their thoughts, while different sections of the view of the room change, fragment, merge to give a constantly changing view which fits with the randomness of the thoughts and actions of the person lying awake at 4am. It is nicely written as a piece because it manages to be quite humorous while also being recognizable as a real experience for those unable to sleep – mind flitting everywhere, not sure what to do, feeling incredibly alert and being even more aware of it etc. This is well complimented by the film which seems to be a mix of animated sections, different segments of film of the same view and so on. Visually it works because of how it fits with the rest of the material.

A cleverly structured film with good writing leading into good production – my only wish was that the situation was not as familiar to me as it often is.

1.23: The 'Go' by Sean Christopher Lewis: A tangible sense of sadness and inevitability, 9 October 2014

This short film is an achievement of writing and performance together, because one without the other in this case really wouldn't work. Based around the experiences of displaced youths, the monologue focuses on a young woman talking about a 'go man'. She does this in a rather sparky and humorous way which one would when the depressing becomes just a factor of life so it no longer stands out as odd or different. The experience of a 'go man', or a partner that drives you to despair to the point where you have to just pack and go, is perhaps not totally familiar to all viewers, however the performance and the writing makes it so, understanding the context thanks to how well told it is.

This extends to the bigger picture to where the world feels like it is doing the same, where the individual feels like this is what is pushing them from one place to another in search of something or to get away from something else. At this point the script doesn't give so much, but rather what steps up is the performance from Brewster. In her there is a tangible sense of someone who looks inward briefly, not in a really showy of obvious way, but just in the way the inflection and poise changes. The words give this to her, but it is her performance that makes it work as it appears on the screen.

I don't think that The 'Go' is a great film as a whole, but it delivers a feeling or a sense of something that works well. We understand the character thanks to the natural way she talks (in words and performance) but then also the feeling we get at the end does more than cover up for the lack of words, which to me is the trip.


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