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The Life of P

Tag: films (page 3 of 7)

Succinct Cinema

It’s been around six months since I last rounded up a collection of the best short films I’ve seen recently, so let’s have another. If you missed them, be sure to check out the last set too. As always, point me in the direction of any that you would recommend.

Borrowed Time

Following the release of Wall-E, I considered it evidence of an imminent split in Pixar into a family-friendly team and one dedicated to adult-orientated animation. That it did not happen is, I think, a shame — and perhaps in part to blame for Pixar’s recent reliance on sequels. This out-of-hours project from a few Pixar employees exemplifies what could be achieved, in the story of a sheriff returning to the scene of a painful memory.


From visual-effects guru Joe Sill, this short about a solo female astro-miner is immediately reminiscent of Duncan Jones’ Moon. It explores choice, regret and the powerful need for cathartic redemption.

The Talk

Broaching the truth in a father-daughter conversation in a diner.

Lost Face

Based on a Jack London story, a fur thief caught by natives must think fast to bargain for his life. As humans, we seek what control we can.

Uncanny Valley

If this is the year that virtual reality starts to become a commodity, here is a film that serves as a timely warning about the social implications of addiction and abuse of such all-consuming technology.


A Kickstarter-funded live-action short based on Penny Arcade’s fantasy world in which young scouts are trained to protect their villages from the creatures in the forests. A troop on their final trial is ambushed by the basilisk they hunt.

Planet Unknown

Having started with a reference to Wall-E, it makes sense to end with this animated short. It is a tonally similar piece about two robots testing for a life-supporting planet. Visually they are a combination of Wall-E and the Mars rovers, and the animators have imbued them with remarkable character that demonstrates a touching friendship.

And I will leave you with the words of Truffaut, as I think each of these shorts serves one or other of his desires:

“Today, I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between; I am not interested in all those films that do not pulse.”
-François Truffaut, The Films in My Life

Fleeting Film

Long time readers will know that I’m a sucker for good short films, particularly the distilled exploration of a single idea and the experimental creativity they a free to express in just a few minutes. Recently I spent an afternoon binging on short films and, since it has been a long while since I shared any, here is a selection of my favourites from the past few years. If you have any recommendations that I’ve missed, be sure to let me know!

The Answers

If the point of death gives you complete perspective over your life, and grants the answers to all your questions, what would you want to know? Which questions are really the important ones, and what difference does it make to know at the end?


Girls’ Alex Karpovsky runs into his ex on the street and they spend a spontaneous afternoon together. The film explores that lingering desire and resentment between ex-lovers, the way in which people hurt each other and the need to understand how someone could do that to you.

The Boy with a Camera for a Face

The longest film here by some margin at 14 minutes, it is also one of the best produced. It may have a title like a Mitchell & Webb parody of an exploitative Channel 5 documentary, but this narrated story actually has more in common with Edward Scissorhands, as an unusual outsider seeks connections with other people. The second half of the film shifts into an attack on the hypnotic allure of reality TV and the associated price of fame.

Voice Over

Three layered, seemingly disparate, stories woven together by a gravelly French narration that culminate in the most French ending possible.

The Maker

The level of detail in this stop-motion creation is astounding, and its allegorical tale becomes more profound by the conclusion than it initially appears.

Stanley Pickle

Notable more for its creative visual style than it’s content, this prime use of pixilation, whereby still cameras are used to shoot individual frames of live actors like stop-motion puppets. Its cheerful vibrancy is a pleasant contrast to the typically dark quality of most short films.

Magic Diner

More of a mood piece, this Vogue short gets a mention primarily for Alicia Vikander’s involvement, both starring and working on the script. Based on the Twilight Zone episode Nick of Time, a girl sits alone at a table, feeding quarters into a machine that dispenses fortunes in response to her questions, gradually wearing down her cynicism.

The Present

A cute animated film about a child who is unimpressed with his new puppy, it did not particularly win me over until the payoff at the end.

Well that’s a wrap for now, but I will endeavour to share recommendations more frequently.

The Connection Genre


A couple of days ago, Disney uploaded the entirety of their new Oscar-nominated animated short Paperman, which opened screenings of the feature-length Wreck-It Ralph. It is a beautiful six and a half minutes about a chance connection between two office workers with a little swelling Disney magic thrown in by the end. It’s interesting to note that that the impressive 2D style is actually the result of 3D modelling.

The first half of the story may seem rather familiar to long time readers who will have seen the utterly charming live action short Signs — about a similar connection between two office workers in opposite buildings — when I mentioned it a few years back. I am evidently not the only one to make the connection with the video generating a great deal of traffic over the past few days, along with some unwarranted criticism of Paperman for likely taking a little inspiration from it.

Watching the two on my way into work yesterday (other than providing a surprisingly positive boost to my morning) made me realise that, whilst I have developed an ingrained aversion to genre labels, perhaps my favourite genre of films is best described as “Connection”. It’s different to romantic drama or comedy in that there is no reason the connection need be romantic or even limited to humans. The nebulous connection between Bob and Charlotte in Lost in Translation is precisely what I love about the film, whilst the bond that forms gradually, uncertainly between Hiccup and Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon is both stronger and more nuanced than most romcoms I have seen.

The corollary to this sadly unrecognised genre would be the “disconnection” or “failed connections” found in films like Blue Valentine, Le Mepris and even Casablanca as couples’ lives together fragment or as people simply slide past one another without ever quite achieving their collision, planets forever in parallel orbits.

It makes me wonder what other potential genres might exist beyond the standard ones into which we try (and fail) to separate our media entertainment.

The Shawshank Resurrection

Oak Hampton State Prison

Whilst I appreciate the sterling work Secret Cinema does, it is the “secret” part that tends to put me off. If I am to dedicate the best part of a day and a reasonably hefty ticket price, I would at least like to know what film I am seeing. As a result I am a big fan of Future Cinema‘s recent initiative to roll out their acclaimed production of The Shawshank Redemption to a wider audience. If the idea of an interactive theatrical experience themed around the film followed by a screening is appealing to you, please stop reading now and book tickets for February (when the run will probably end). Whilst the description below contains sizeable “spoilers” for potential attendees, it has been heavily enough covered by the press that I feel I am hardly spilling new information.

For those of you still reading, allow me to share a little of my spell behind bars. I will assume a certain level of familiarity with the film but suffice to say that Shawshank is the brutally disciplined fictional prison in which protagonist Andy Dufresne is imprisoned. Resurrected by Future Cinema as Oak Hampton State Prison, for several hours on Saturday Rav and I found ourselves similarly incarcerated.

Having followed the strict dress code, we arrived in suits shortly prior to the Court hearing in which we were sentenced in short order. My assigned alter ego, Ricky Kelley, was convicted of the illegal sale of medical drugs, and the tantalising opportunity for role playing was too hard to resist. As we were marched by abrasively insulting guards and boarded onto a bus, Ricky came together as a well-mannered kid, not too bright but street smart enough to take advantage of his friendship with a pharmacist to make a tidy bit of cash on the side. Being caught came as a shock, but his plan was to do his six years quietly and to go unnoticed as far as possible.

As we marched off the bus into the resurrected Shawshank prison — a former Huguenot hospital which had been meticulously redecorated with open wards turned into confined cell blocks — the intimidation began almost immediately from both guards and inmates. Inside, we were stripped down to the long johns we had been instructed to wear, and assigned our prison uniforms. After a freezing introduction to the prison, during which we witnessed briefly a brutal beating in the showers, we were locked in cells and able to dress. At first dutifully buttoning himself up neatly, Ricky soon began tweaking the outfit into what he hoped appeared more confidently casual: an unbuttoned jacket, upturned cuffs. The “library cards” we had purchased earlier came into play as  the only means to purchase food and drink inside the joint. A hidden pocket sewn inside the jackets would prove particularly useful for concealing beer from the guards.

Soon afterwards, we were free to roam the prison interior, an atmospheric place with various themed rooms for work, recreation, education and medical treatment (Rav’s decision that his own character had syphilis was an amusing touch, the nurse noting she’d know who to come to if she discovered an outbreak). Roaming actors (as either guards or fellow inmates) would routinely “interfere” to provoke or to discipline, whilst impromptu set pieces would occur sporadically, and if nearby often one would find oneself carefully funnelled into an area shortly before one began. These often involved music but were as varied as a guard-endorsed brawl between two inmates whilst others crowded to watch and bet on the outcome (Ricky had a good eye for the winner in a fight but only liked to gamble with those he knew, for the apparent intelligence he believed his winning would demonstrate to them).

Medical Experimentation

Whilst the parole board took a liking to the seemingly contrite and always polite Ricky (he never missed a “Sir” or “Ma’am”, though Rav later complained my ready-made Southern US accent was “cheating”), the infirmary staff were particularly unimpressed as soon as they saw papers indicating his crime. It turned out they were right to be suspicious as Ricky pretended to swallow his medication before quietly pocketing the pill. Never know when it might come in handy to trade. It seemed he had not really learned from being caught and, even on the inside, planned to use what skills he had to make his time more bearable.

As the evening drew to a close, a riot broke out with shots fired before everyone was herded into a gym whilst those in charge dealt with an escapee. This set up the film screening which, by this point, was almost superfluous to the experience itself. However, it is notable just how much of an impact the previous few hours had in this viewing. I watched Dufresne’s arrival through both his eyes and through Red’s (having watched a later batch of arrivals — fresher fish — enter wide-eyed whilst we roamed free). Brooks’s letter was far more moving having heard it read out in the chapel earlier, so that one knew the words as he spoke them. Red’s final appearance before the parole board raised a hearty cheer from the crowd, most having experienced a fake one already (with a similar certainty that the game was fixed). And sharing in the free suds Andy procured his fellow workers was certainly a nice touch!

The result was more a themed experience than a film screening, and one that grew in quality the more “audience” members were willing to interact with the actors. Indeed, had I known his charge in advance, in some ways it would have been nice to prepare Ricky in advance rather than on the fly. I chose not to take a camera and am glad as it would likely have limited the immersion, but for those interested there is a decent set of photos from the Secret Cinema run. I am intrigued to see how seamlessly this larger-scale experience can translate to other films where perhaps the location is less confined, but I think the real key is evoking the atmosphere rather than the detail of the films. At least on the basis of this and last year’s La Haine, atmosphere appears to be Future Cinema’s forte, so I look forward to their next endeavour and cannot recommend highly enough that you attend.

Musically Sociable

Today I am plugging a couple of musical selections linked predominantly by their social effect on my life. First up is a new music video from jazz singer/pianist Anthony Strong, For Once In My Life from his Delovely EP. Anthony is an old school friend of mine (as in we went to school together, not that he is old school). Anthony is the sort of person whose talent would be infuriating if he were not such a lovely, unassuming chap. He was also responsible for my initial introduction to some of London’s top burlesque performers, while he performed on that circuit. That has certainly led to a few of the more memorable nights out in the past few years. Unfortunately we seem to have reached a point where his releasing a CD or video is what reminds me that we are long overdue a drink. Therefore it is terribly important that you support him so that he can keep making great music and I can remember to catch up with him.

Next up, Amanda Palmer is again using Kickstarter to crowdsource funding but this time it is a little more ambitious: raising funds outside of a label to produce and promote her new album and an accompanying artbook, and to embark upon a worldwide tour with a new band. Any donation above a dollar nets a copy of the album, and backers have access to the first single now. This return to a patronage system (albeit a distributed one: people have donated anywhere between $1 and $10,000 each) is, she proclaims, the future of music and I am inclined to agree. I am always fascinated by the varied fans she has hidden amongst my friends, who crawl out of the woodwork whenever I mention her, whilst the crowds at her gigs are amongst the easiest to strike up a conversation and connect with if I find myself there alone — after all, at least half of them are guaranteed to be Neil Gaiman fans too. This summer she plays a sold-out London gig the day Jenna and her family arrive. Having been able to witness Jenna’s first real gig experience back in New Orleans (it was A Perfect Circle), accompanying her to her first London gig is almost as enticing a prospect.

If you happen not to care about music then, aside from the fact you have no soul, you may wish to check out the following:

A Long Weekend of Films

Even the bumbling Jacques Clouseau would have had scant difficulty identifying overarching the theme to the long weekend: film. Not merely film, in fact, but rather film experiences.

It kicked off on Friday with a screening of La Haine put on by The Other Cinema, the group behind Secret Cinema (about which naturally I can tell you nothing). La Haine (“Hatred”) is a gritty 1995 French film about three young friends struggling in an impoverished housing project in the outskirts of Paris. About a decade ago, Asian Dub Foundation wrote their own soundtrack to the film and on Friday they performed it as a live accompaniment to the screening. Their diverse, multicultural sound was a perfect match with an unsettling score that represented the seething resentment between the protagonists and the police as it rose and withdrew but rarely fell silent. Ravi rightly commented that returning to the original film will be difficult, as it will undoubtedly lack a certain intensity. The themed screening was held out in East London with BMX bikers and break dances showing off their skills. Also shown, on what became a somewhat political evening with various spoken word performances, were the trailer and music video for Plan B’s “ill Manors” project. Whilst not a fan in the past, this I can certainly get behind.

On Sunday afternoon Nick and I switched gears to blockbuster mode for The Avengers. When Marvel announced its intentions five years ago it sounded impressively ambitious but logistically unrealistic. When last year’s precursor films were announced it became achievable but still seemed destined for mediocrity in attempting to wrangle so many big characters and names into a single film. When the film was given to Joss Whedon to write and direct, I suddenly realised the benefit of Marvel Studios producing films themselves: they actually understand their own properties and the players in their own industry. The result is simply spectacular. Whedon’s fingerprints are all over the dialogue which allows for both character development as the Avengers gradually pull together as a team, as well as hilarious conflict and one-liners. I was surprised by people’s concern over Mark Ruffalo’s casting, calling him “untested” as the character, because Ruffalo always seemed perfect for the role (as well as being a hugely talented actor). Someone else described The Avengers as “the best Hulk movie ever made” and it’s certainly fair to say he steals most scenes in which he appears. The only minor downside is that, given Whedon’s talent for writing strong female characters, the male-dominated cast was already fixed. That he managed to make good use of even Black Widow despite her lack of superpowers is testament to his skill.

It is hard to say much more without veering into spoiler territory but, even without its record-breaking box office takings, The Avengers has certainly set a new benchmark for superhero movies in the vein of my previous two favourites Spider-man 2 and Iron Man (there is limited use in comparison to The Dark Knight which is a very different kind of film). As for Whedon, the telephone is sure to be ringing a lot more, as Hollywood hopefully will finally realise what we’ve been telling them all along. Meanwhile, with The Amazing Spider-man and The Dark Knight Rises also out this summer, it will be interesting to see who ends up at the top of the comicbook pile.

Finally on Sunday night Chandara and I went super old school with a silent film night courtesy of Ciné Illuminé.  The film was 1929 classic Piccadilly, about a young Chinese girl given the chance to take centre stage at a London club, leading to an early noir-esque story of betrayal, forbidden love and murder. But the real treat is the atmosphere around the screening with a glamorous but intimate setting, themed cocktails, food-toting usherettes and most notably Luke Meredith’s live piano accompaniment to the film. Seeing (and hearing) the interaction as a musician reacts to what occurs on screen makes a startling difference. Ciné Illuminé looks here to stay with screenings announced for the first Sunday of each month for the foreseeable future.

Another Fine Adventure

Happy commercialised love day, readers! Should you be acceding to social pressure and purchasing a token of affection for your significant other, I certainly hope it is one of these stunning heart-shaped cakes. By comparison anything else can only be considered failure.

Speaking of spending money on things you love, since its inception the crowd-sourced funding site Kickstarter has scaled up from small arts projects to a feature-length independent sci-fi film I helped fund called 95ers: Echoes, which has now released a trailer.

Last week the exponential growth continued when game developing legend Tim Schafer launched a Kickstarter project to fund a small, old-school point-and-click adventure game. Having co-designed the early classics of the genre, Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, this swiftly captured fans’ imaginations and (more importantly) wallets, hitting the $400,000 target in around eight hours. A day later $1 million had been pledged. With 28 days to go, it looks on track at least to break $2 million.

While some hail this as a paradigm shift for the gaming industry, it really isn’t much more than it was for the music industry where veterans have used alternative internet funding in what artists like Amanda Palmer see as a return to the older patronage system. Pay-what-you-like sales, for example, allow major returns for those with established careers over which they have built up a fanbase, all typically within the label/studio system. It is certainly not available to everyone. But for accomplished auteurs, crowd-sourced funding represents a way to maintain creative control and integrity once you have garnered sufficient trust from fans.

Quintupling the funding goal brings its own risks. No longer is this a tiny $400K pet project; we’re already looking at a game with a budget two thirds the size of Schafer’s Grim Fandango, the best adventure game ever made (this is not opinion: it was a beautifully stylised hilarious noir romp through the Mexican Land of the Dead by way of Casablanca — even conceptually how can one top that?). The stakes have been raised by a not insubstantial measure. But they have my money, I’m invested and I really want them to succeed.

Films for 2012

A whole load of films and a whole load of trailers, so just a few words on each. Any major omissions? I’m sure you’ll let me know. Bear in mind I’ve ignored anything due out this year but with no footage yet released.

The Artist — A modern silent film? No one does that. Except the French, obviously. And the Weinsteins prove their worth once more by agreeing to fund it.

Shame — A study in sex addiction, it’s Fassbender as the lead that heightens my interest, with Carey Mulligan as his sister, arriving to disrupt his life. The slow, weighty trailer suggests this will appeal only to a niche audience.

Coriolanus — Ralph Fiennes takes the directorial reins for the first time, setting Shakespearean dialogue against a gritty modern fascist backdrop.

J Edgar — While Clint Eastwood’s undoubtedly proficient directorial efforts have largely failed to connect with me (Mystic River aside), seeing him direct DiCaprio is enough to whet my appetite.

The Descendants — While Clooney’s The Ides of March was great, it is his performance here, struggling to reconnect with his daughters in the middle of a family crisis, that has generated more Oscar buzz.

A Dangerous Method — Exploring the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, again it is Fassbender’s presence that piques my interest.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close — The strange tale of a boy searching New York for the lock that matches a key left behind by his father who died in the 9/11 attack makes a little more sense knowing the novel was penned by the same author as Everything Is Illuminated.

The Muppets — This isn’t for the kids, it’s for the big kids who grew up with The Muppets. Rewatching old episodes of The Muppets Tonight while ill reminded me that this stuff could still air just fine today. And it’s had one of the most fun advertising campaigns in recent memory.

In The Land of Blood & Honey — Reviews have been decidedly mixed for Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, a love story set against the brutal background of the Bosnian War.

Mirror, Mirror — Tarsem Singh tackling my favourite classic fairytale (Snow White, obviously) promises to be a visual treat, but the trailer sparks pretty serious fears this “comedy” adaptation could be a farcical mess.

The Hunger Games — I understand these young adult novels are a pretty big deal in the USA, a grim future in which a post-apocalyptic government requires each district to submit two teenage children for a fight to the death in the wild. A neutered, teen-friendly Battle Royale, then?

The Avengers — While I don’t think the films leading up to this insanely ambitious superhero-filled Marvel event lived up to the first Iron Man, I remain excited (and amazed) that Joss Whedon has been handed the reins.

Men in Black III — From a single line, Josh Brolin seems to have Tommy Lee Jones’ mannerism down, but the real time-traveling marvel is that he and Will Smith don’t seem to have aged at all.

The Dictator — This scripted Sacha Baron Cohen outing has him playing a fictional Middle Eastern dictator ensuring “democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.”

Prometheus — Ridley Scott’s no-longer-really-a-prequel-to-Alien captivates as soon as those letters start to appear on screen. For those who wish to deconstruct the trailer, Movie Line freeze-frames so you don’t have to.

The Amazing Spider-Man — Yes, everyone’s favourite web-slinger is being rebooted already, but with Andrew Garfield taking centre stage I’m more than willing to give Spidey another go. Even after the abomination of Spider-Man 3.

The Dark Knight Rises — Nolan. Batman. Do I really need to sell this? To anyone?

Premium Rush — This action thriller about a bike messenger has me interested largely because of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s brilliant eye for scripts.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — It looks more of the same from Peter Jackson, even if virtually everyone agrees the source material is weaker. I remain disappointed that Guillermo del Toro isn’t helming the project, as it would be great to see an alternate view of Middle Earth a decade later, but this is the next best option. Martin Freeman is, of course, the perfect choice for Bilbo.

Into The Sunset

It’s no secret that Before Sunrise and Before Sunset rank amongst my favourite films and, like many in that nebulous list, rewatching them is like spending time with old friends. Returning to Jesse and Céline some nine years later in Before Sunset was a rare treat, a sequel that hit a rather different but pitch-perfect note and we left them again tantalisingly close to embarking upon a relationship.

With the announcement that a third film is planned for next year, Francesca Steele of The Independent wonders if this is a good idea (warning: major spoilers) and, in particular, whether this romance can survive another outing. Though her suggested title “Before Death” is excessively negative (incidentally, my money is on “Before Sunday”*) she does have a point. Much as I love to think these characters did eventually get together, the reality of their relationship can never be quite as beautiful as the promise of romance. And if it has not yet crystallised some 18 years after they met, while a film about fading dreams may be though-provoking, our shared history together does risk losing some of its sheen.

Nevertheless, the collaborative writing process between Linklater and his actors, Hawke and Delpy, means these are two of the most rounded and real characters ever to grace the screen. So I suspect I am entirely incapable of turning down another opportunity to spend a few more hours in their company and, if the past is anything to go by, whatever insights they may have into their lives are sure to have a poignant resonance in my own.

Meanwhile, various bits I’ve linked to via Twitter lately, which is why you ought to keep an eye on the sidebar (or follow me, of course):

*if only because “Before Sundance” would be unforgivably meta.

The Birthday Barn

Lenka arranged a group “retreat” to a lovely converted barn in the Norfolk countryside to celebrate her, Kate and Viktoria’s birthdays. This sounded like it would be a relaxing, civilised affair. Of course I ought to have known better given: (a) the above average number of Saffers in the group; and (b) the barn in question, I swiftly realised upon recognising an all-too-familiar roadsign, was just down the road from where this transpired nearly three years ago. While there was certainly some drama, as with the trainee weekend away what happens in Norfolk remains firmly in Norfolk. The highlight was the Saturday night masquerade accompanied by a veritable feast put on by Lenka and her sous chefs. As I was handed the mantle of official photographer, a larger-than-usual Birthday Barn gallery is available for your perusal (those masquerade money shots are, naturally, at the end).

This year nearly passed by without a single film review. This is primarily a result of severely reduced cinema attendance, although it was coupled with a rise in home viewing so my actual film watching remained roughly even. However, I am hopeful this trend is reversible, not least since I am now in possession of  Picturehouse membership for the first time since leaving university. This partly due to the convenient proximity of both the Clapham Picturehouse and the Ritzy in Brixton, but also the fact a deal meant the membership sold for less than the value of the three free bundled tickets. My reviewing return begins with the excellent The Ides of March.

Meanwhile some changes at the site.  The Questions section has, once again, become woefully out of date. I have rolled through updating across the board to the current v2.0 beta and, as with all betas, that means I invite feedback: specifically, as always when this section receives updates, any questions? I just might answer them. The major change you may notice is that the site’s content now bears a Creative Commons licence which allows copying and derivative works for non-commercial purposes, so long as an attribution is included, which better suits my general opinion that most information on the Internet ought to be freely to be shared (in other words: it makes me less of a hypocrite). It does not apply to to the Gallery, not for commercial reasons but primarily because many of those photos feature friends or family who have not consented to — and may be uncomfortable with — such reuse. For photos I continue to direct people to the royalty free images shared via my morgueFile profile.

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"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

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