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bob the moo

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Brady (2013)
A delicate little film which gives a small insight into the struggle of a single mother-come-carer (SPOILERS), 20 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Brady is a young boy who is confined to a wheelchair. He lives with his mother and, on a set interval he has aquatic therapy in a swimming pool with a young man and the physio. Although he is the title character, I did feel that this film was really not so much about it as it was about his mother – it was just that we come to her through him. In this way I found the film quite affected because, although it uses some heavier touches, it is generally quite understated in how it delivers the character of the mother – giving us a lot with two or three simple scenes.

You feel for her because you see the effort she puts in but also the strain that it takes on her as a person. To a certain extent it feels like her love for Brady has maybe gotten mixed up with all the other "things" she has to do and in a way there are small things that suggest that maybe even him as a person has become a task or object rather than a son; this is not overly stressed or harsh, but rather just part of her character. We see that in her exhaustion and simple desire of any relief from her work, she turns to a person who seems interested and enthusiastic about her and Brady – even though this is a teenage swim instructor and not someone who would be interested in her or settling down into something more. This moment is nicely doe as we see it from a distance (again, via Brady) and it isn't overplayed but rather just allowed to be as awkward and poorly judged as it is – but yet relatable because we know what brought the mother to this point. The end of the film comes not too long after this, but it is with a nice moment where the mother is reminded that she is not alone. It comes after another small moment where we feel she doesn't maybe see him totally as her son so much as part of her work, because she breaks down in front of him with as much consideration as she gives to the furniture in the car (none), and it is him that reaches out to her, providing intimacy and support albeit in the limited ways in which he can provide it.

All of this is very nicely done and, because of this, I did wonder why the film needed to perhaps overplay some of the style of the delivery; the shots of wine being poured merging into the pool, or sun-swept shots all seemed to be a bit overdone in comparison to the lighter and more telling hand regarding the characters. If anything these aspects directed from the more delicately handled material. In the lead role, McColgan is really quite good – although the direction helps her be effective, she is convincing in her struggles, which is really the big part of the film working for me. Caeden is good as Brady although more of a simpler character and device for the viewer.

Overall, the film is very delicately delivered apart from some unnecessarily stylish aspects. It creates and presents the character of the mother very well in only a few simple movements; telling us of her struggle and the need for her to find relief. In contrast to this, and bringing in the title character, it ends with a nicely hopeful tone, as we are reminded that Brady is there and, while he is a challenge, he is not a burden – something we see that the mother values being reminded in such a small way. It is a stripped down film that leaves a lot to be seen rather than told, but it is one that I found quite touching in what it gave me regarding the mother.

Dust (2013/VII)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Button pushing dark material on way to silly conclusion – not worthy of the cast or the attention (TOTAL SPOILERS), 20 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm not really sure where to start with this, but I'll for sure be spoiling it. The mostly dialogue free short film sees an older man follow a young mother and her child home. When he sees the child has gone to bed, he creeps into the house, checking that the mother is naked in the bath before he then sneaks into the girl's room and embraces her as she sleeps. He then mixes up a fine white powder and sniffs it up his nose off her bedroom mirror, before then getting out of her window in a drug-induced frenzy. If that sounds weirdly awful as an idea then you should consider that the man is none other than Alan Rickman and the young mother Jodie Whittaker – two people whom it should be said it is good to see still giving their time to British short films; so it suggest there is something smart or interesting about the film that must have drawn them to it.

The twist is that, the man is a fairy (in the winged, tooth-collecting meaning), and we are meant to be caught off guard by this fantastical twist at the end – which you will be, because it comes out of nowhere. Problem is, up till that point the film has delivered some very odd feelings and images and the idea that the man is a fairy really doesn't address the obvious question of why the film felt the need to play quite so dark throughout, pushing emotive buttons all the way? Is there commentary here? No. Is there a link? Not really – it could be argued that the film reinvents the idea of the fairy as being more sinister and needy than kind and female, but if it is trying to do that it doesn't do it well. It bothered me that it so much went for the shock value of showing us things that all but the most innocent of viewer will immediately jump to obvious conclusions about – the child abuse aspect, the abduction aspect, the obvious drug use and so on – why push all these buttons just to have no reason or payoff for them?

It doesn't help that the payoff in the film is the rather absurd sight of a grown man flapping away on tiny wings that don't look connected to him at all; all it made me think of was that the last time I saw Rickman fly through the air it was in a much better film than this (Die Hard - albeit not so good an end for his character). I have no idea what attracted him to this project. Was more promised that wasn't delivered on the screen in the end? He seems bored throughout and has nothing to work with apart from the obvious. Whittaker likewise – with a lot of big roles under her belt, this short film seems such an odd and random thing to put her name and time to.

I guess some will love it for the twist and the fact that it puts a dark spin on the mythology of fairies, however for me it put too dark a spin on the whole thing – pushing buttons, playing on fears, showing overly familiar scenes, all on the way to a silly image of Rickman with tiny black wings which really makes it seem silly and therefore makes all the very dark suggestive material seem like just audience baiting. It is a mess and it doesn't deserve the cast it got not the attention that they brought to it.

Nice darkness to it, and a good concept but some of the acting is poor this hurts it more than it should (SPOILERS), 20 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A group of 4 suburban kids meet up in a disused building to drink some beers and take some new drugs they recently purchased off the internet. While the fourth one of the group refuses, the other take the mushy drug called 'Black Sugar' and soon are mentally transported to another state, while the fourth looks on. Within their drug-induced state though, is something much darker and more dangerous than they could have imagined.

This short film is a very nice idea and a very nice attempt at something good. I came into the film only knowing that some kids try a new drug, so the sudden introduction to a world of demonic figures, real physical danger and giant worms feeding on the drug users, really did take me by surprise and I found it pretty engaging. The dark world is filled with tension and urgency which contrasts very nicely with the sunny open building in which the trio stand almost totally still. The special effects are perhaps not totally convincing, but for a low-budget short film, they are effective. I liked that the world of the drug feels like it is a horrible, horrible reality and that it seems to have a function to present and feed its victims; okay it didn't flesh it out, but there is enough here to make sense in the context of this short.

The film really falls down though when it comes to the execution of the idea – specifically in the acting stakes. The worst two are unfortunately the two characters you need to make it work. The first is the 4th boy, the one who wisely says 'no'; he is clunky and unconvincing throughout – really robbing the real world scenes of the urgency and horror that they needed. The main role is not quite as bad, but he is also a little bit too simple and heroic in his performance – and it is made worse that he seems to just flick a switch into this, without involving the fear he had early doors.

It is a shame, but as an idea and as a short film, it does work, producing a dark world of horror which we are thrown into very quickly. The limits of the effects I was willing to accept because the director does a good job with the atmosphere, but the weak performances really hurt it when really they should have been what made it even more gripping and real.

1.4: Tour de France by Neil LaBute: Well written personal opinion piece which is naturally and convincingly delivered by Cannavale, 20 August 2014

The fourth film in this series returns to a piece of writing that is more of a discussion, albeit one side of the discussion, rather than a piece we watch. In the style one may expect from LaBute, the tone is gruff and it is well played by the actor Bobby Cannavale, best known at the moment probably for Nurse Jackie, Blue Jasmine, Boardwalk Empire and other such memorable roles. The piece is very conversational and LaBute gives the actor a very natural voice to deliver; he greets the question with a certain amount of impatience before actually giving a very good answer as to what America is – which is its fundamental freedom and the changing attitudes in the country.

He illustrates this with the image he saw recently of a big African- American on a sports bike in Central Park, suggesting that in his father's time, his father would have yelled for the police on the assumption that the rider had stolen the bike and was getting away – an opinion which now in the same place would be absurd to the point few would think it far less yell it! The delivery of the piece has energy and directness which helps it make the point because it does feel like a real thought or example that the actor thought of, not a performance per se. It also means that the logic is less critical because it is just one guy talking, not an entire theory being put forward. I say this because the freedom to do what you want is rather dependent on the resources to do it – I have been to the US over ten times now, and I always come away with the conclusion that it is an amazing country to be in, as long as you have money. Nor is the perception/feeling that you can do whatever you want necessarily a good thing or an actual reality.

However, despite this it engages because, like I say, it is performed very naturally and convincingly by Cannavale, making it much more of a discussion than an entire philosophy to be picked apart. The whole thing is done in one take which I greatly enjoyed since a few of the films so far have been a bit jarring with the way that the edits break up the flow (even if only visually). I also continue to like the "no fuss" locations for the shoot – basically a room in New York with nothing really in it in this case; it again allows focus on the dialogue and performance.

Really great one-take satire of the 1950's American ideal, 17 August 2014

Just in case Mad Men hasn't already filled you in on this, the cookie cutter image of the wholesome and perfect 1950's America of adverts, Fallout and many other films, games, TV shows and references, may not quite exist. It is something we have seen before in films such as Revolutionary Road, where the wholesome and happy veneer is seen to be just that – a veneer. In this film we do not quite get that exposed so much as played with, in a film that is comical but yet really darkly engaging. A housewife comes home from a neighborhood party that her husband has ducked due to "illness"; she is bubbly but it is soon clear she has worries over his ability to be the husband she sees in other couples. As she chats about the life, he gets irate, soon turning to violence while she remains very much focused on the ideal they need to achieve.

Narratively I really loved the pacing of the film as well as what it did. The plot sees the couple retain the 1950's veneer while also letting it totally fall down to reveal darker stresses. The domestic abuse will get the attention but this is a film that smartly does make this the only issue being raised, and although the woman is being victimized, she is allowed to remain in the comedic side of the film and keep control of her situation. It does mock the scenario where such violence is accepted as normal to the point that even the woman treats a slap like a harsh word being said as opposed to a strike (which is what it is). I liked very much that the film escalated this to the point where it was comical, but yet at the same time never let us not feel tense about it. On the flip side we see a man who is meant to be providing for his family; it is clear he is ashamed at his lack of employment and empowerment, but he cannot do anything about it – thus he takes it out on his wife. The film doesn't "show his side" on this, but it is clear that he is also a victim of the veneer that he has to have.

The delivery of the film in one take is daring but also a risk worth taking because it is so effective. The film opens with a static camera and it only starts its movement as Kenneth rises – the position of the camera as he advances it adds to the tension and this continues throughout. The one-take effect also means we don't have edits in and around rooms – so while we wait outside of a room it adds to the tension, not knowing fully what goes on and fearing what might be. The work of the cast should be noted too, as this is a demanding film, especially for Riesgraf – yes, Beth Riesgraf, a woman who I love more and more. For years her Parker was one of the best parts of Leverage and since then she has supported shorts like this and internet fare such as Caper; here she gives a great performance, consistently staying in character and getting the tone right, with good 1950's energy and present regardless. Baybak may have less in the showy department to do but he has to deliver a violent man without losing the viewer totally, which he does well – while his actions cannot be defended, he prevents that they cannot be understood in terms of their root cause.

It is a very dark satire, but it is really well done as it nicely captures the sense of time and place in the 1950's ideal, and then maintains this while destroying it – that the film does it all in one consistent take is really all the more impressive and, more than just an impressive feat, adds to the tension of the film.

Good Grief (2014)
Dark but oddly engaging and comedic, 17 August 2014

When Molly learns that her mother has died, she returns to the family home to find her father living outside in a tent and a lock on the door of her mother's room. She reaches out to her father to be let into the room, but he refuses – although when she does eventually get in there, it is the least of the family secrets which are revealed.

I found this short film on a blog I frequent and on there it was mentioned that the story was inspired by a real funeral that writer and actress Stubbings went to, where a friend had secrets revealed but was not there to put his side of his life forward, leaving those present with a lot of hurt and anger and nowhere for it to go. It seems that Stubbings has harnessed that but also seen the comic side of it and the result is this film, which is incredibly dark, but never plays it for emotional points but rather in an oddly comic way that is not funny but is amusingly weird. The plot sees Molly discover a side of her mother's life that she was not aware of – in a rather graphic and undeniable way. This sets the stage for other bombshells as her father, although much more stable, is not really the most emotionally considerate.

The narrative unfolds in an interesting fashion and it engages it what it says about those we think we know but also how we deal with not having really known them. The little detail of the film give it its odd feeling – from the tent that the father lives in, to his emotional detachment, to the "Love is…" tee-shirt that Molly wears for most of the film. It all helps to offset the seriousness of what we are seeing, and the pain it all causes, to produce a film that manages to do both – be oddly comical but also emotionally impacting. As writer and actress Stubbings is really good but Kirk is also very strong in more of an understated and awkward way.

It is an odd film for sure, and very dark in its content, but it does it in a way that balances the emotional damage with the comical ordinariness of British life, making for an oddly engaging short film.

1.3: The Day's Mail by Quiara Alegria Hudes: Less direct than the first 2 films, but makes a small scene to deliver a bigger picture, 17 August 2014

The first two films in this series were quite direct towards the camera in their presentation, connecting directly to the viewer as a piece of writing or thought; this film on the other hand shows us a small scene as a man reads a letter that has come in the post along with a suit. The suit, we learn from the letter, has been handed down and across through six generations of this family, helping people who needed it for weddings, funerals, job-interviews or anything else where a good suit would be required. It is a way of delivering the story as the new recipient learns of this history at the same time as the viewer.

The piece is simple as it is essentially a letter being read out, but with the other letters which remain with the suit and with the context they add, we understand this is a piece about the families coming to America, about the spirit of communities and families to support one another with whatever little they have – they will all make it for the same reasons that even one of them does, or they will fail in the same way. The move to more of a drama piece was a sudden shift after the first two films, but it worked well by not directly connecting to the viewer but rather letting us sit to one side and take it in and understand it.

The delivery from the actor is a little limited by the manner of delivery, since he is basically just reading on camera. He has scope to react to the words he reads or to give his own style on them, but really he cannot be a character so much as just being the guy in the suit reading the most recent letter. It is a less direct approach and perhaps less impacting than the first two films, but it works and I enjoyed it for its own style and the simple and unassuming way which it made a bigger point, even if it did feel a smaller film for it.

1.2: America by Christopher Durang: Liberal-biased and with overly present edits, but engagingly written and performed, 17 August 2014

After the free-flowing self-referential smartness of the first film, the second, while no less interesting, seems a bit more grounded in commentary and modern politics. The writers takes us back to a simple childhood and a simpler time (although isn't it always thus?) and discusses the politics of his older relatives, who did not see his later opinions as "different" but simply "wrong", albeit America gave him the freedom to be wrong. He mentions this but is also clear that although they voted for Nixon, they did not rail against Kennedy and indeed mourned with the nation at his death. From here we mull on the idea of Obama being assassinated – not so much that happening, but more the genuine question, would the country unite in shock, and could we be sure that half the nation would not dance in the streets?

It is a thoughtful question and all the more so for the answer being "no – no I could not for say they wouldn't". This backs up the new toxic America, the one split so totally with liberals on one side and the continuing extremes of the religious right on the other – with not only no common ground in the middle, but no desire to find any anyway. It must be said that such questioning is being delivered from a very obviously liberal point of view and the same could have been said of Bush Jr at his least popular. As a liberal this didn't affect my enjoyment of the film, but it could be a barrier to those not of that persuasion who could rightly say that the writer seems to be speaking as if his side is the innocent party in all of this, which it is not – it takes two to tango (even if someone has to lead!).

The actor delivering the piece is Jack Gilpin and his age and manner convinces as one having a thoughtful discussion over modern politics. The shoot is again in a simple location but again the need for frequent editing bugs me. I'm not sure if this is the nature of the shoot that it was pretty much a rehearsal with freedom and space which would be tightened and closed up in the edit, but the frequent fades-to-black bugged me – at one point I thought it may be better to listen to than watch.

For this and the rather liberal-biased view, the monologue is still engaging in how it constructs and presents its case.

1.1: The Author's America by Lydia R. Diamond: An engagingly smart and clever piece of writing which is well delivered by Thoms, 17 August 2014

Before watching this first film, I watched the series introduction where Kwame Kwei-Armah introduces it by saying that when he came to Baltimore for his new role of Artistic Director of Centerstage, he wanted to understand America so, to do so, they decided to reach out to 50 leading writers with the question who or what is your America? The results were then cast and shot in New York with no props or great sets, just a rehearsal room and a film crew to capture the outputs. It was a weird opening video because Kwei-Armah feels like he is overacting for the camera in an odd way, but at least Susanna Gellert was more natural. Regardless though the project sounded as good as it had when I heard about it online, so I looked forward to the first film.

I'm not sure it could be a better start as we have a fast-moving and self-referential piece from playwright Lydia R. Diamond, delivered by the actress Tracie Thoms (Deathproof). The piece is delivered as written by a writer who knows it will be delivered by an actress in a film, but perhaps doesn't know how. It is hard to describe because of how well inverted it all is, but the film manages to discuss itself while also delivering something that is not this discussion. Specifically it is about race and we hear the author muse about how this film will be cast, who the audience will be and how it will be received by the newly appointed Artistic Director – however he defines himself (although we know for sure he is 'down'). The material then manages to get even more meta by having the actress (albeit continuing to voice words written by the writer) describe a lunch with the writer where they discusses her (the writer) shifts and challenges associated with being used to being in a fundamentally unfair or racist country and then suddenly have a black-identifying President.

It is a very smartly written piece and the pace and internal workings and references of it all really were quite thrilling to be carried along with. Thoms deals with it really well indeed, delivering a very natural and chatty performance which very much fits with the tone of the writing. As we were told in the opening film by Gellert, it is shot without much fuss, props or fancy soundstages, but it is more engaging for it. I think if I had a complaint it would be that it had as many edits in it as it did. A necessary evil, but they did tend to break up the flow even if there is not a pause.

An engaging smart and clever piece of writing which is really well delivered by Thoms. If I doubted that I would continue into this series of short monologues, then consider that doubt dispelled.

S1.75: Sonnet #112: An odd but effective interpretation plays like a chiller more than romance, 17 August 2014

I am almost glad that my opinions on these films will be pretty much never read by anyone because I am sure that for the artists making these films and, in particular, the text coaches working with them, my simple takes on the sonnets would have them rolling their eyes. So it is with 112 because I took away the basic meaning that "you are my everything", but much better stated! The sonnet goes into detail how much this is the case and, while it doesn't read like a romantic piece of poetry due to the discussion of flaws, perception, death etc, it certainly did not occur to me the way that the film plays it out.

I suppose that, without the romantic context, the declaration to someone that they are everything, that only their view matters and that the connection is so strong the world seems dead compared to the subject, well, it is a bit creepy to say the least; and it is this aspect that the film plays to. In the film a young woman is in a snowy Central Par; she seems totally alone – maybe there is nobody left in the whole world, never mind the park. She sits on a bench, behind which she hears a phone ringing from the snow; she answers and a man's voice begins the delivery of the sonnet. While he does this, the camera takes in the young woman who is tense, but also lots of shots of dead forest and snow, while the music adds to the sense of chill and threat.

This sense continues across the film and, while I really doubt that Shakespeare envisaged the text being delivered as if from some serial killer or stalker, it actually works pretty well. With this new context the words carry menace and they do seem eerily suitable for an obsessive crazy to be saying to a beautiful young woman who is trapped in a sort of dead dreamscape world. Kendall's voice work does the trick in that regard, but Hip-Flores is also convincing as a little lost and yet not frightening, strengthening the feeling that the whole thing is occurring in a weird dream-like state.

An odd interpretation of the sonnet for sure, but it is one that works, with all aspects coming together well in a creepy, threatening tone that is engaging and very different than I expected!

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