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bob the moo
(list no longer kept up-to-date....sorry)
Rectify: Jacob's Ladder (2013)
S1: Engaging despite (because of?) the slow pace, patience with the characters, and lack of spectacle
I came to this show having never heard of it until I saw the name topping critics lists and being ranked as one of the highest TV scores on Metacritic; so a little bit of pressure there on the show to amaze out of the box. I put this to the back of my mind, knowing such a thing is not fair to expect plus it is not really that type of show that grabs you and gets you fully on board with some spectacle or fast paced action scene. Instead the drama is very small and personal. Okay we have the bigger legal case, and the political maneuverings around the small community, but mostly this is about the individual people within this scenario.
As such it engages because there is enough within the characters as written and performed to make us interested. At first the season does play up the bigger picture to set the stage well, and after this it settles back down somewhat. Despite the universally positive reviews, I did not find this to be an approach without a cost. The benefits are clear, because it gives a sense of the slow life, of the small community, of the heat, but the cost is that it does meander somewhat. There is not a huge amount of development in narrative, and as a complete season it is a little unsatisfying for it to end where it does without more to show for it. That said, the show works well as one to settle into rather than look for the next 'thing' to happen, and it is engaging.
The cast do really well. Young's lead performance is a very tough one, but mostly he pulls it off. Of course his character is a mess after so many years waiting for his own death, and at times he is a different character to focus on but this is well done thanks to the nuance of Young. In support you have characters who seem simple but have some edges to them that come out gradually Clements, Smith-Cameron, Crawford, Spencer, all do very good work. There are some characters in the smaller roles who do feel a little bit more clichéd in how they are delivered, but even these are pretty solid with quite a few recognizable faces. In terms of production values the show looks great throughout, everything is polished and has that warm haze to its light that convinces of the place and heat. The only aesthetic element I found a bit distracting was the two stunning female leads (Spencer, Clemens) who both seem almost too effortless to exist in this small world.
Rectify season 1 may not have knocked me out the way the praise suggested it would, however it is an engaging slow burn, which takes the time to let the characters and scene breath. It does this within a convincing world which is easy to spend time in. I do hope though, that the second season can maintain this while producing some more motion forward in other areas.
S4: Uneven season which entertains but mostly lacks direction and purpose
By coincidence I had just watched season 12 of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, shortly before I watched this fourth season of Quantum Leap. The connection between those two shows being the opening episode of Sunny featuring a musical, race-based, body-swap narrative which also touches on Quantum Leap (and features a brilliant cameo from Scott Bakula). The thing that brought it to mind though, was that the opening episode (and quite a few others) had me saying 'what are the rules?' as some of the writing seemed to be making up whatever they needed to get through an episode. There are perhaps not too many of these, but they bothered me by their focus on sudden exposition of things that come and go for the sake of convenience.
The second type of episode that this season produces is the overly serious but well-meaning 'issue' episode. The show has done these before of course, but in this season so many of them felt too burdened by their sincerity but yet not really delivering a satisfying message/conclusion; for instance both the KKK, and the rape episodes are commendable for their attempt, but have odd content and ending). Outside of these episodes, there are far too many which are just functional 'moral situation of the week' episodes, which ask us to buy into a situation and then watch it resolved. This is bread-and- butter for the show, but in this season they seem too isolated from the main characters. In the first and second season the writing managed to keep us engaged by virtue of Sam and Al, their relationship, and their connection to the plots. At times the coincidences (and Al's myriad of life experiences) stuck out, but at least they kept the players in the game; in this season there is significantly less of that, and too many episodes are 'okay' but do not really deliver.
This is not to say that they are bad, just that they feel fairly run-of-the-mill, and the gimmicks thrown in to spice things up do feel very much like a gimmick (in particular the soul-singing gender crossover doesn't really seem interested in doing much other than having Sam in a dress again). The chimp episode is a total gimmick although that one did work for me, despite the 'message' element. Otherwise though it seems like a season without a strong direction; it continues to do what it did before, trying some new things in ways that don't convince, and throwing the occasional hail-mary to see if it can pull it off. The leap out of the season finale suggests that this will continue as indeed will the 'what are the rules?' feeling. I'll have to see, but this fourth season isn't good enough to make me happy with it continuing in this way.
F is for Friendship (2017)
Enjoyably catty, but with interesting flaws
On the surface, this film features a catty dinner party where a superficial woman gets her comeuppance. On this level I quite enjoyed it, although did not totally get all the interactions until I'd watched it a second or third time. The writing brings this element out well, and the performances latch on it, with fake performances and insincerity presented in a way that is convincing in the same way as it attempts to be in real life. Below this level though I found the film to be flawed but yet perhaps more engaging as a result.
Emily has shut herself off as a result of the book of a former friend, and the dinner party sees her given a chance to clear her name, In doing so she regains confidence in herself, and in this way her character is encouraging (we almost see her grow physically during the film) but at the same time I was never totally on her side. The film embraces the catty, but Emily seems just as insincere as the others so I was not sure why the film wanted me to side with her in particular. In this 'flaw' of the film though, I found interest, because I didn't like Emily more or less than the other characters indeed I found her to be petulant and just as insincere (albeit in a different way, as she bottled up her real feelings and hid away).
The tight focus of the film helps, and covers from the lack of the fuller picture, or the weakness of a structure that does rather drop you into the middle of the narrative; but even if it is flawed, these engage while the catty element entertains.
Edifício Tatuapé Mahal (2014)
Enjoyably odd little world
A man discusses his career, and the moment where the discovery of his cheating wife caused him to leave home and seek a way to restore his manhood. In this case though, the character is a scale-model figurine, who works in architect's models of proposed developments.
The tone of the film is what makes this scenario work very well. It dryly plays out its world in a way that is fully accepting of how it works it is not played 'big' at any point, and within its own logic all of it works. There is a lot of pleasure in seeing the animated figures within this world, and it is consistently amusing even if there are no 'big' laughs. The Spanish narration is well delivered throughout, and it is this that sets the tone with the dialogue and the delivery. The animation is excellent as it mixes these crude models with good stop-motion work and clever visual gags. I wish it had managed to deliver the ending in a sharper way, but even with this I still really enjoyed it for its enjoyably odd creation.
Too broad and excessive in its tone, and is silly but not funny enough with it
The title tells you the style of humor of this badminton-themed short film, which to be fair does mean you know what you're getting. However to pull off the sort of big silly comedy in the way that Dodgeball did so well, the film needed to be more consistent with this, and build up to bigger moments of excess in a better, more controlled way. Instead the film is quite mixed in what it does, and it can't sell the excess as well as it wants to. I understand the attempt to contrast the smallness of the game with the excess of the action, but mostly this doesn't work (although I did like the occasional cut out of the frantic sounds and edits to reveal a very slow and lob-heavy match).
I guess too much of it felt derivative and dated, with its flashbacks, its Matrix references, and stuff like this. It is a very fine line between silly funny and silly stupid, and too often this film is on the wrong side of that line.
Afternoon Class (2015)
Well captured animation
A student sits in a classroom in the afternoon, fighting to keep their nodding head from the desk. In terms of narrative this is about the extent of it, but the short running time and clever animation makes this a good little watch. Without dialogue the film gives us a lot to relate to by the ways it depicts the feeling of the heavy head, and the wider fight to stay awake. It is not hilarious but it is cleverly amusing, and the flow of the images is very well done, with plenty of detail and slickness in the production. I watched it in lunchtime on a day at work when I had not had much sleep the night before, so although not as bad as the character here, I did have a similar feeling and it is this ability to understand the struggle from the visual depiction that makes the content work, even if it is a pretty simple little film.
Wallander: The Troubled Man (2015)
S4: First two episodes are so-so, but the final one lands closer
The first season of this show didn't really work for me, although the second and third engaged me more; the cases were better, the tone was better judged, and the grim atmosphere had something behind it in terms of narrative and character. The fourth season doesn't return to the superficial feeling of the first season, but there is something that doesn't quite work about it.
The cases do not seem to flow quite as well; in particular the first episode set in South Africa didn't really work in terms of being dramatically engaging, and the second episode seemed a bit messy in what it was doing. The third and final episode works much better because it has a lot of focus on Wallander himself, while also producing a case that is intriguing and has personal stakes. In this case I also liked the destructive nature of 'success' in the context of the investigation this returned to the feeling of Wallander being a destructive force, spreading the grimness beyond himself. This element gives Branagh something to work with, and he rewards the episode for it. By contrast the other episodes he is more functional in his delivery, which is perhaps why they did not work as well for me.
Production values remain high, and everything has a great atmosphere, although I didn't think the South African episode worked with its location combined with the atmosphere they tried to deliver. The fourth season doesn't return to the weakness of the first season, but for me it was not as good as the middle two seasons although the final episode does do a lot to help it go out in a good way.
So It Goes (2016)
Cheerful but doesn't have the depth or spark needed
This short musical sees a struggling singer heading out of a recording session as she cannot get anything to flow. In the park she bumps into a stranger and the pair get into an impromptu performance which leads her to find her inspiration again.
As a narrative the film is pretty simple, and I guess there is a pleasure in that aspect of it, since it gives more space for the two musical numbers. However at the same time, it doesn't give much space for the film to have nuance it really is as simple as I describe and it steps between moments on the way to the end. The guts of the film is the music. The main song is a cover of Jackie Wilson Says a Van Morrison song. Being Belfast-born, that is pretty sacred ground to be covering, although the film does it reasonably well, and the performance is quite fun. The final song has more honesty to it, and I liked how it was performed straight. However, the two songs really are the film, and neither in themselves knocked it out of the park which does rather leave the film weaker.
The big selling point I suppose is the involvement of Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She is good, has a good voice, and her performance does capture that movement from 'rut' to 'mojo' in small ways, which does add to the film in a way that is not explicitly there in the dialogue. Even with this though, the film was a throwaway piece it has elements of fun and message, but it neither soars enough, or is grounded enough to stick in the mind for long.
Great animation in the detail, but the type of content that makes one dismiss it as 'European'
Simhall is set in a swimming pool which is run by a horse. Two wolves visit (one is clearly the aggressor of the two), and a trio of mice sneak in through the fire exit with the aim of stealing from the safe. That essentially is the plot to the film, and it is probably best leaving that to one side for a moment. The film is best when you look at the animation; it is stop-motion but has great detail in the place and characters, and has a very odd other-worldly feel to it. This superior construction also extends to the characters, who have interesting elements to them in the detail. The wolves ae probably the best example, since there is an odd dynamic to their relationship.
The problem is that all of this is generally stuff viewed as secondary the film still needs a good story to have on top of promising character elements, and good animation. In this case, it doesn't. It is not that nothing happens (there is a robbery, a chemical spill, an evacuation well, two evacuations if you include a biological one), but it is that there is no interest to any of these events. The pace of the film is very slow the dialogue has long spaces between lines, the characters move slowly, and the direction encourages this slow pace by the design. As I was originally won over by the oddity of the film, I stayed with it till the end, waiting for something to interest me, or for me to be struck by the humor or cleverness of it but it never came.
I am European, but even I concede that this is the sort of difficult and cold film that people think of when you say "European animated short film" it is a stereotype perhaps, but this sort of thing reinforces it! There is great work here in some aspects, but the plot, characters, and general pacing of the film all make it difficult and frustrating to watch.
Enjoyable but the message is not as well defined as I would have liked
Interesting to watch this film without having known anything about it; at least, I found it interesting to be carried along by it but also then to have to reflect on it. I read some of the comments here, on Short of the Week (where I saw this) and on the site holding the original essay on which this is based a lot of people taking the title at face value. Maybe this is understandable, because the film does make it look like such an advice film, and it does show the lead actor toning up significantly, but the workout aspect of the film is less about losing weight, and more about time healing.
The character throws himself into something to an almost unhealthy degree (here it is the gym, but it can be anything I think). With time he starts to break out of it, and find a new path for his life that is not defined by the pain of a previous relationship. This is delivered at pace and is generally amusing if deliberately not hilarious. The voicework and performances are all spot on and credit to the editing, which is practically a character here. I wondered if the film hung its hat too much on the value of the person being defined by the presence of a relationship, and on reflection this bothered me a bit; but on the other hand it all rings true for those of us who have been through breakups (whether we went into the gym or not).
I'm still not wholly sold on its message (and the way others genuinely take it as a film about getting in shape sort of confirms that it is not strong on that front) but I enjoyed the energy, the pace, the honesty, and the way all parts work together as a whole.