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Rakka is one of several new sci-fi short films from Neill Blomkamp;
seemingly all very well resourced and with a lot of ambition. Rakka
creates an entire world in a very short period of time one where
lizard-esque aliens have taken over Earth and crushed humanity, apart
from very small patches of resistance. The short is in three chapters,
and ends in a way to feel like it is a proof-of-concept for something
bigger, but at the same time it is pretty satisfying.
The narrative is not really where that occurs, because it is a sci- fi idea that has been done many times with different beasts or robots in the lead role. However the world that the film creates in a short time is fascinating from the ideas around the aliens, the nature of the resistance, the experiments conducted, and of course just how impressive and committed the visual elements are. All of this is polished very well, leading the film to feel much bigger than it is. The downside of the short running time is that it perhaps doesn't fully satisfying in particular I thought the ending could have been a bit less open than it was not for the wider story, but just for this 20 minutes.
In terms of that polish; visually it is very impressive, with great design, sound, music, and atmosphere. The effects are impressive (not "for a short film" but just impressive), and of course having someone like Sigourney Weaver in your lead role can only help. There was one element that gave me pause though, and it was the way the film put the humans into the role of terrorists but yet didn't make that horrific or seem like a terrible but unavoidable cost. It is not an unique idea (Battlestar Galactica did it in its third season), but here the imagery is so clear (beheading, suicide vests) that it is an unavoidable meaning and connection to groups like ISIS, that it is a weird feeling that the film just lets it happen.
This aside, it is an impressive sci-fi short, with lots of polish, ideas, atmosphere, and potential.
The plot here is somewhat of a sci-fi/horror staple: an isolated
location (base) and monsters at (or inside) the door. Many shows and
films have done it, but in particular Zygote brings The Thing and Alien
to mind. The delivery is simple too; after some dialogue in a contained
room to set the scene, two survivors must try to make it across the
base to the point they can escape. At first the dialogue was a little
uninteresting, but as the film goes on I realized that this opening
scene did add a lot to the film. Okay it is direct exposition, but the
short running time doesn't give you the freedom to let it play out
another way, unless you use a narrator in the same way as Rakka did, or
a similar device such as the opening footage of Firebase.
This opening scene does ask a lot though, because in addition to the exposition, the male actor is not particularly strong feeling a bit forced and trying too hard to do what he is doing. Once the beast comes though, the film takes on a great pace and sense of horror. The beast itself is a horrific and chilling piece of body horror; the CGI feels real in the way it moves (and moves not just as one creature, but as a horrid composition of people). Through the escape, there are scenes reminding us of what we already heard and there is a real horror here which the film does well to link to even if it doesn't have the time itself. Fanning is good in the lead, convincing in her fear and limits.
As with the other shorts in this Volume 1 of release, it doesn't feel like a whole (because it is not) but at the same time there is more than enough here to make it effective.
As a fan of short films, and someone who wishes that more people would
realize that Vimeo, YouTube, and sites like Short of the Week, all
combine to provide lots of entertaining and creative things to watch,
it was good to see Neill Blomkamp's new endeavor striking out into this
media. Also to see them trying something new by making the film's
assets available to those that buy the films. With this being the goal,
it is essentially a form of proof-of-concept, which means that (like
many of these) the films are not fully-contained pieces that deliver
everything you may want.
Firebase is of this ilk. At its heart it has a terrific creature in the River God. The root of the creature suggests something more than a Predator style foe, but at the same time the power and destruction is on an impressive scale. Visually and design-wise, there was a lot to like in this element of the film. Around it though, it struggles to put a lot of exposition which asks more than the actors can deliver in terms of keeping it natural and engaging. Additionally the rest of the film is a tad too generic, and does feel like a cut- scene from Call of Duty Black Ops (again something that the cast can't help with as they deliver rather generic characters). It still is well worth seeing however, with plenty of action and style in the delivery; but it never stops being generic, and the potential in the main character/monster remains just that throughout.
Neill Blomkamp's Oat Studios released a handful of short films
recently, billing them as creative playgrounds of sorts. This film is
probably the most creative of the bunch (the others, although good, are
built on very generic bases), whereas this one has a clever idea and
also an interesting commentary on the nature of God. With that in mind
though, it is unfortunate that it doesn't work as well as it should and
ends up feeling like a missed opportunity.
God and his butler sit in the library while on the table in front of them, a scene plays out on a miniature of the Serengeti, with Neolithic man. Mostly disinterested in what these funny little men are doing while he reads, God allows himself to intervene to prevent their advancement, grant them kindness, but also unleash cruelty on his subjects. It is a nicely odd, comical, but yet serious film, and one that is interesting for the way it presents God. The one thing that is clear is that he sees humanity as amusing at best, but otherwise he is totally apathetic towards us just in the same way as we'll go on a rampage in Grand Theft Auto etc, they are not real people to our view.
The downside of the film is that this simple point is delivered quickly and without much finesse. It makes it punchy perhaps, but I did wonder why it was so short when the other films were much longer; there was certainly scope to expand on this to make the same point but in a more gradual and impacting manner. Still interesting and polished enough to be worth your time, but it does feel like it could have been more.
I find this show fascinating and satisfying to watch, and this third
season continues on what has made it that way from the start. On the
very base level, the linkage to the Breaking Bad stories is coming on
very well, with clever shading and constructing of the situations and
characters. On this level the show does its job and there is a certain
pleasure in that. If that was all there was though, it would be a much
lesser beast. With greater focus, the show fills in around these
isolated dots and connecting points, and puts lots of character, and
smaller moments in there. The narrative is really something I marvel
it; here we have a show that has back-to-back scenes which involve drug
dealers making potential fatal moves within their organization, then in
the same breath we have a scene involving a broken fraternal
relationship, or the smoozing of old women for their business.
The marvel is that it all works as well as it does. On top of this challenge, the show does have a slow pace; there is really no ratcheting up of the tense or stakes as the story continues but rather it continues doing what it has been doing thus far, letting everything play out. This slow pace and sense of breathing room pays off in the characters. There are plenty of small moments which add character and detail to each person within the show it takes patience at times, but it generally pays off because we understand the characters better, and are engaged with them even when we maybe don't like or support them. This patience is asked for, but is helped by the style of delivery. For example Mike has many long sequences of minimal but important plot movement scenes where we watch him working or waiting (or both), trying to figure something out; done badly these scenes would be awful, but in the way they are delivered here it works well.
This high standard of delivery continues across all the other aspects of the production. The writing is great, and the cast respond well to it, with strong and consistent performances across the board. Odenkirk brings so much to his character, and makes the most of such a complex character. He is well supported by Banks (more and more off on his own threads), although the two performances could not be more different in nature. McKean is very good throughout could have been one-note, but there is a lot there. Seehorn is solid but perhaps not as well served by the writing. Mando's Nacho has a lot more to work with in this season, and does well with it while Margolis, and Esposito are as reliable as you expect.
As a total package it is a stylish but well-filled drama, which does ask patience as it takes the path it wants, but it is consistently engaging and rewarding as it does it.
A documentary which tells the story of a man (Otto Bremerman) who
served in the Navy in the 1950's and had the duty to write the
discharge papers for servicemen who were found out to be homosexual.
This he did despite himself being gay. The film uses audio tapes of
Bremerman talking about this time, as well as old footage and
background reenactments to tell the story.
The device is a good one because it gives the true voice of the subject, avoiding the risk of hammy melodrama, or the person being lost in the reconstructed events. This is a plus to the film, and it is the voice that holds the attention. The downside is that the audio also limits the film by virtue of it not being particularly searching or insightful. The most interesting element is not really touched which is the conflict of Bremerman having to discharge gay servicemen while himself remaining in the closet. There is dramatic interest there, because it is a mix of necessity but perhaps also guilt; as a result I wonder if a really well written scene could not have been used within the frame of a select few moments of audio to let the man himself set the scene, but to inspect the heart of the matter more closely (although I guess that takes it out of being a factual piece).
Bremerman's is an interesting story which highlights a struggle which seems so foreign now, but that is different that saying it is a great film it is interesting, but leaves a lot unexplored.
The concept here is an interesting one. A couple ride to the hospital
in the back of a taxi, unsure whether or not the woman is having a
miscarriage or not. Mostly the journey is wordless, with the characters
lost in their own thoughts looking out the window. The viewer also
looks out the window, at scenes that represent life and death. The
concept had me pressing play very quickly.
The problem is that the delivery is not as good as the idea. This is not to say it is an unsuccessful film, but just that the majority of it (the symbolism out of the window) doesn't deliver as much as it should have. Perhaps it was just too subtle or arty for me, but the scenes out the window did not carry as much meaning or emotion as I would have hoped, which means that the majority of the film feels empty and a bit dull. It is a shame because there is plenty of interest in the few character moments; the presence of a very old- fashioned and male dominated view/attitude is there from the start and it pays off in a brutally simple couple of lines once the couple return to the car. That moment is great but the film doesn't build enough around or after that.
Strong aspects to it then, but in the end the concept is better than the film itself.
Two sons and an aging mother. One son is essentially her full-time
carer, the other does little but is more successful in his life and
career. This short film looks into these lives, which are created in a
mix of paint on walls, and real objects, delivered in stop motion.
The most immediately impressive thing about his film is the craft of course. It is loaded with awards and praise, and many have said it already, but the stop-motion approach is really impressive as it uses full-sized characters painted onto walls, has real objects, and lots of creativity in the delivery. Simple touches are great, but of course the more complex movements are most impressive (for example, where depth and perspective exist on the flat surface). If this was the only craft involved then it would still be worth a look, but it is not and the characters are just as well painted in who they are as in terms of their creation. The dynamic between the brothers, as well as individual feeling and action are all convincing created and delivered. Technically the animation allows these small touches to expressions, but the writing and voice work is what helps it most. I was caught off guard by the degree of honesty and realism in the characters and the narrative.
These qualities combined tell you why the film has been so successful, and certainly it is a memorable watch with a lot of crafting in all the places where it matters.
Bill and Karen present a series of infomercials on the newest cooking
appliances which do it all for you although usually at a high cost.
These short films are a stark contrast with the other material currently released from Neill Blomkamp's Oat Studios. The main two shorts are over 20 minutes long, and feature incredibly high production values; Cooking with Bill is a 1980's infomercial on VHS tape. The 'joke' is the same in each episode which is to say that the cooking demonstration goes horribly wrong. Often I would phrase that "hilariously wrong" but these films are better for not playing it as a joke, but instead letting it be dark and disturbing. The presence of hair, organs, and other tragic outcomes all are strikingly lacking in laughs, and there is a real sense of horror and repulsion in the two presenters even though they know they have to do their jobs and sell this stuff.
As simple moments of horror, the shorts work on this basis, however I do wish that there was more obviously to it than that. The harm done by technology, but yet the push of companies to sell what they know are imperfect or incomplete products there are elements of these in there, but the moments of horror dominate and if there is a subtext, it is very 'sub'. This leaves the shorts as curios to add to the mystery around Oat Studios but there is a reason that these films have a fraction of the viewers of films like Rakka, Firebase, and Zygote.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Before this season began there was lots of talk about how it could
compete with the drama of the real White House, and in many ways it is
good that it doesn't really try to one-up reality. Of course there are
plenty of links to real life narratives and situations, but generally
it doesn't feel that pressure to compete with the 100mph of the news
cycle at the moment. The downside of this is that the season seems too
settled into a steady pace and familiar aspects. As a viewer I found
some comfort in that familiarity, the way I knew the ebb and flow of
the scenes, and the usual high production values. However at the same
time I couldn't not see that this was a limit too.
The fifth season is solid, but little more than that; and there is plenty about it to dislike. It moves quite slowly and often does little of consequence or at least of consequence outside of moving to the next plot moment. In this way, the season does have lots of events, but far too many things involve criminal violence of some form; in particular the Underwoods are up to a lot themselves, which breaks the feeling of internal realism that previous seasons sort of sold. It also reduces the shock value of them which is a problem because some of them are clearly done just for that impact. A lot is done which doesn't last either and indeed it appears that the whole season is somewhat like that, as so much of what we thought was happening to Frank, was happening because of Frank, and it was only the final few twists at the end of the season that are likely to carry over, the season as a whole didn't do that.
This feeling of lack of consequence is backed up by the parade of characters who serve functions within the narrative, and how easily they are removed etc once that function is complete. It doesn't feel like a complex place that the Underwoods maneuver cleverly within, it actually feels pretty straightforward. The writing makes this more apparent by how effortlessly they are able to make things happen, whether it total surveillance of everyone using only a few people, dispatching people with ease, or just moving around without any care or worry.
The cast, the production values, and the general tone all still make it solid television, but it is not more than this. The fifth season has too slow a pace, but more importantly it doesn't feel like much in it really matters or is difficult. House of Cards was never as smart as it thought it was, but at least it tried to present itself as such now it feels much more ordinary when really it should be more savagely cutting than ever.
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