Shortlisted BAFTA Short Films (Part 2)

Lucky Break ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: John Addis. Cast: Jessye Romeo, Steve Oram, Diana Weston

A comedy about a girl who works in a remote service station and is bored out of her mind when a suspicious stranger enters the station, things start to get interesting… This is definitely a silly one, but nonetheless pretty enjoyable. It does however feel a bit more like a well made student film that anything of weight worth of a Bafta awards.

Lizard ⭐️⭐️

Director: Akinola Davies. Cast: Pamilerin Ayodeji, Osayi Uzamere, Charles Etubiebi

I really had no idea what was going on here. I watched it for all its 18 minutes hoping that everything would become clear… but all of a sudden the credits started rolling and surprise surprise… I was really lost: a young girl expelled from a Sunday service, an armed attack in the streets of Laos… a giant lizard! It’s moody, well shot and given the short length it sucks you in… but by the time it all ends you feel like it was a wasted 18 minutes as it was just too impenetrable. I really had no clue what was happening. Here’s the trailer

Miss Curvy ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Ghada Eldemellawy

A short documentary about a beauty contest for “curvy girls” in Uganda and all the controversy around it (does it challenge the stereotypical idea that only slim girls can take place in beauty pageants or does this sort of things dehumanises and humiliates women?)The film follows a mother as she chases her dream to be named the country’s first Miss Curvy. It is personal and yet universal, charming and dark at the same time. The film would actually deserves more time to develop the characters as the beauty contest gets closer and closer. As it is it’s just a little bit tantalising, but in the end slightly fluffy and a bit superficial. Here’s the trailer:

My Brother’s Keeper ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Laurence Topham. Cast: Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Steve Wood

After seeing the “Mauritanian” with Jodie Foster just a few days ago, this short documentary about what happened next feels like a gift. A little post-scriptum to the story of Mohamedou Ould Salah who spent 14 years in Guantánamo prison for being a suspect behind the 9/11 attack, but who never actually got charged. Of his time there he remembers very few good moments, but one of them is the relationship with his American guard, one of the few people who treated him as a human and who he felt safe with. Years later Mohamedou is going to him again. It’s an interesting coda to a story which I am now familiar with, but I wonder I would feel if I had not seen the Mauritanian first.Also I though it was all a bit too tame and didn’t quite go deep enough in exploring the relationship between captor and prisoner. You can watch this here:

The Present. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Farah Nabulsi. Cast: Saleh Bakri, Mariam Kanj, Mariam Basha

A short story about Yusef, a Palestinian man who set out with his young daughter in the West Bank to go shopping for some groceries and to buy his wife a new fridge for his wedding anniversary. Clearly not as easy as it sounds as going through checkpoints (both ways, in and out) is never a walk in the park. The film feels so real and immediate that after a while you might think you’re watching a documentary. Everything is seeing through the eyes of the young daughter which makes it all even more powerful, a real achievement considering the very condensed time. This has also being shortlisted for the Oscar. Here’s a trailer for it.

Shortlisted BAFTA Short Films (Part 1)

The Birth Of Valerie Venus (⭐️)

Director: Sarah Clift. Cast: Jane GuernierPaul HunterMohd Aslam 

A rather frustrated, lonely and long suffering vicar’s wife suffers a little accident which cleaning a statue of the Virgin Mary as a result of that her had becomes “possessed” for lack of a better term and begins to have a life of its own, with strange and supposedly funny consequences. Well, I have to say, not only I did not laugh once (the timing of the comedy seems to be off most of the time and every single scene goes on for twice as long as it should), but also the filming of it seemed to be very student-like and quite pedestrian. Very disappointing.

Dad Was (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)

Director: Barnaby Blackburn. Cast: Cameron Kerr, Seylan BaxterNicholas EllardPaul Ellard 

The story of young boy somewhere in Scotland who is to give a eulogy at his father’s funeral… It is a heartfelt, beautiful and gentle piece with an unexpected twist at the end which makes everything even more weighty. This is the best kind of short film I can think of: simple, direct and which will stay with you long after they’re over. The little 8 years old boy, Cameron Kerr is wonderful. The pain and grief clearly visible in his eyes and felt in his voice. Beautifully photographed too with its black & white sepia(ish) look matching the mood of the entire piece. You can watch it here.

Dọlápọ̀ Is Fine (⭐️⭐️)

Director: Ethosheia Hylton. Cast: Doyin AjiboyeLuke GasperJoan Iyiola 

A young Black woman facing pressure to change her name and natural hairstyle as she prepares to enter the working world after school. While this story might be very recognisable to many black girls and it’s certainly not something to laugh about, I found it very forced, full of stereotypes and rather clumsy. I appreciated the effort and some of the filming, but on the whole I found it rather weak. Gina McKee’s final cameo redeems it slightly, but not enough to make it worthwhile for me. On Netflix

Eyelash (⭐️⭐️⭐️)

Director: Jesse Lewis-Reece. Cast: Elijah W Harris, Ishtar Currie-Wilson, Frankie Stew

A powerful adaptation of spoken word poet Neil Hilborn’s poem ‘OCD’ (You really get the full scale of the achievement of this short film once you see the original material). The film turns the spoken words of this sad love story into pictures as if it was the most natural thing in the world. A simple but effective adaptation dealing with mental health and breakups. You can watch it here.

Tic Toc (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)

Director: Mark Waters. Cast: Felix Sanderson, Mike Brompton, Joel Clark

Powerful and affecting short documentary about 16 years old Felix who has Tourette’s Disorder, a condition that affects his brain and nerves and causes him to make uncontrollable movements, tics, sounds and screamsThe film lets him take centre stage as he shares his story to try to break the stigma that his illness carries with it. “The worst feeling in the entire world is not being able to control it” Felix says at one point. There’s a disarming honesty about the piece as the camera gets really close to his handsome face as he confesses “people come to me and tell me “Shut the fuck up”…. He pause… smiles “I would if I could”… then his smile drops and in that moment of silence it’s as if a thousand words are said.“I just feel very pissed off, very agitated… I feel so much anger… but all I’m trying to do is to raise awareness… Because when they tell me to shut the fuck off, it makes my day 10 times worse than it already is. “Here’s the trailer

An American Tail

An American Tail ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Don Bluth. Erica YohnNehemiah PersoffAmy Green, Christopher Plummer

I don’t think I had seen it since the 80s when it was first released. At the time it wasn’t well received as it seemed to go back to old style animation of the 40s instead of trying to push the boundaries forward. It was also a fairly downbeat and dark tale, which lacked the a lot of the humour cartoons were trying to inject at the time (famously Roger Ebert called it “the most depressing children’s movies of all time”) as it seemed to arch back to the mood of Dickens (though transported in America), serving more asa parable for the Holocaust, the Jews persecuted di Russia, and the many stories of immigrants to America. Some of those stories were told to Spielberg (the instigator and producer of this) from his grandfather and a lot of them ended up in this film. All this was clearly a response not just to Disney’s more and more childish and straight forward adaptations of the past few years, but mainly to the cheap techniques from the 70s and early 80s which made Disney animation less magic than it had ever been. Producer and director Don Bluth was actually a key animator on several of those films and often criticise them for looking more and more like TV cartoons. Here the animation, though fairly conventional in terms of camera movements, is beautifully realised, with each single frame painstakingly and lovingly hand-drawn, while the pastel backgrounds have a warm and painterly feel to them in stark contrast to what was being offered at the time.Back in 1986 when this was first released “An American Tail” was the biggest box office of any non-Disney animated feature (It even topped Disney’s The great Mouse detective from the same year) and to a degree its pure existence (and some of the subsequent Bluth’s productions) is credited to be one of the reasons for Disney finally deciding to up their game during what was going to be their golden era (which started with the little Mermaid). In a way the film was a also precursor of what Disney would become with those big Hollywood-style musical pieces (here “There will be no cats in America” is staged and sounds like future Disney hits like “Under the sea” or “Be our Guests”), but also some more care and attention given to the animation, something which had not been seen in a while. It may not be an instant classic nor one of those to revisit over and over again, but it’s certainly an interesting one which deserves to be re-discovered and gain its place in film history. I’ve not seen any of its sequels (one released to the cinema and 2 straight to video) not its TV series (with 13 episodes). Has anyone?

The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian (season 1 and 2) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Creator: Jon Favreau. Cast: Pedro PascalGina CaranoGiancarlo Esposito, Chris Bartlett, Carl Weathers.

I’m possibly slightly late with this review. By this time everyone who’s fan of Star Wars must have already seen these two seasons, but I wanted to watch it all with the family (and my 8 years old in particular, who’s becoming a biggest Star Wars fan than I am) to do my assessment of it.. and hopefully I might be able to convince those latecomers who are not so crazy-maniac-Star-Wars-devotees to give it a go.

Star Wars has been a part of my life since I was 5 years old, for better or worse. I’ve grown up with dreaming of flying the Millennium Falcon, terrorised by Darth Vader’s breathing, in awe of the many different planets, in love with R2D2, wanting to be Luke first and then Han as I grew up a bit more. I’ve been through the 3 trilogies (originals, prequels and new), through the standalone movies, I watched the animated series (loved “Rebels” and slowly going through “The Clone Wars”, which actually is getting better and better I’m on season 4), I’ve even read some books, collected stickers, bought the merchandising… and don’t get me started with the Lego sets, T-shirts and all the rest.

Through all this, I’ve obviously been disappointed by some of the outcome more times than I care to admit, but always found a way to forgive the many faults of several of the instalments. It’s Star Wars after all… it’s never meant to be “pure perfection”.And then “The Mandalorian” came along. In the beginning I thought it was all a bit slow and not Star-Warsy enough… I thought it was taking itself a bit too seriously and it seemed to lack the sense of fun and adventure that made me fall in love so much with the whole thing as a child… How short-sighted I was! Having now been to the end of season 2, this has been an absolute joy! Not just a love letter to the whole saga, but a wonderful way to expand its scope without betraying the spirit of not just the films, but the animates series as well as some of the books.It is an incredible achievement, not just technically (some of the sequences are better than any blockbuster I’ve seen on the big screen), but also emotionally: by the last episode I had tears in eyes and my son next to me was clapping his hands like I was when I was his age. What a treat! The magic of the galaxy far far away is back and it feels as fresh and groundbreaking as it felt back in 1977.

I’m in awe at what’s been achieved here and cannot wait to see where it all goes next. Well done DisneyPlus!!

The Little Things

The Little Things ⭐️⭐️⭐

Director:  John Lee Hancock. Cast: Denzel WashingtonRami MalekJared Leto

This wanna-be-Se7en is a throwback to 90s crime films which to be honest adds very little to the genre. There is not a lot here that we haven’t seen before: two cops from different districts getting together to solve a crime, the serial killer playing cat-and-mouse with the police, the seedy dirty room where the victim has been slashed (plus the added gruesome details), the flashlights in the nights, the stakeouts… and I could go and on. In fact, I was so dazed and numbed by the familiarity of all that I found the first half of this film pretty unbearable. Even Denzel Washington looked a bit bored throughout (though arguably that was probably what his character required… who knows? I couldn’t tell). However once the Jared Leto finally came in, things did get slightly more interesting (yet still pretty unoriginal), enough at least to get me through the rest of the film. In fact the second half is a lot more tense and actually I won’t deny that at some point I even found myself midly entertained whether that’s enough to recommend the film, it really depends on your mood. Tonight I feel particularly forgiving… ask me tomorrow and I might tell you to give it a miss.

You can watch this via a digital store such as Google Play or Amazon Prime Video’s store

The Silence Of The Lambs – 20th Anniversary

The Silence Of The Lamb (1991)

(30th Anniversary Review)

Dir: Jonathan Demme With: Jodie FosterAnthony HopkinsScott Glenn

Yes, it has been 30 years since Antony Hopkins appeared for the first time as Dr Hannibal Lecter on Valentine’s day (not your typical date movie, is it?).

Back in 1991 it defied expectations by winning the “Big 5” Oscars (and a year after its release too!!), best film, director, screenplay, leading actor and actress: it was only the third film in movie history to do so (after it happened one night and One flew over the cuckoos’nest) and even more groundbreaking, it was the first horror/thriller to win for best film. 

30 years later, “The Silence of the Lambs” is still a preposterous film, camp as hell, absurdly over the top in its premise and its execution and yet it holds a place in American Movie History as a ‘modern classic’.

With Hannibal (incidentally a character that appears for only 16 minutes in the film) Hopkins became a star (yes, I know…  he was “good” well before this, but oly few really knew him from Elephant Man for example) and created an icon, which lived on throughout (or despite) its three sequels: Hannibal, Red Dragon (which in fact this is both a prequel and a remake of Micheal Mann’s Manhunter) and the very forgettable Hannibal Rising (another prequel, Hopkins-free). And that’s without mentioning the recent TV Series (dark as hell… and probably too weird to survive past 3 season… though I quite liked it). 

All of a sudden, we all started to love the bad guy, or at least we loved hating him: we loved the fact that he ate the despicable Dr Chilton at the end film (“I have an old friend for dinner”, is probably one of the most classic final lines of any film, up there with “Nobody’s perfect” in Some Like It Hot), we loved those over the top lines of dialogue, those chilling looks, his refined taste, his Southern English accent… And somehow we (or at least I) just wanted him to get away, despite the fact that we know he’s not just bad… but he likes to eat his victims. 

This is certainly nothing new, Hitchcock had done it  30 years earlier in Psycho, but arguably this is the film that started off the whole trend of “serial killers” with whom we identify, the whole puzzle solving murder mysteries and the mixture of dark horror and funny one liners. Surely without Silence of the lambs and its Hannibal the Cannibal character, there would have been no Se7en by David Fincher, possibly no Dexter on TV and probably not even Jigsaw from the Saw franchise…  And God knows how many others.

However what keeps this film anchored to the ground, despite the absurd (but obviously very effective) performance by Anthony Hopkins, is a combination of a very controlled and calculated direction by Jonathan Demme and the presence of Jodie Forster, who somehow counterbalances the campness of her screen partner.

Jonathan Demme, uses every little (subtle and non-subtle) trick in the book to suck in his viewers and bring them as close possible to the screen. He films the most intimate dialogue sequences between Hannibal and Clarice in extreme close ups, and has them delivering their lines straight to camera, as if they were confessing their inner secrets directly to us. As he does so, he drops the level of any other sound away from the central conversation, he kills the music and as as he slowly zooms in closer and closer into their faces, he very subtly pushes the bars of the prison cells that separate them away from each other until they actually disappear at the edge of frames, thus bringing the two characters even closer to each other.

It’s very effective trick and it works wonderfully!

He even uses the powerful the editing in order to deceive us to believe one thing instead of another. That famous sequence where we are lead to believe that the police is about to break into killer’s house and save the day, only to reveal that in fact they’re all in the wrong place: a trick have been copied over and over again in countless movies and TV CSI-like shows (and even the great 24) ever since, but never worked as well as they did here: it is an incredibly manipulative but just as accomplished moment.

Watching it tonight, I find so many clichés of the genre in it, but  only because most films that came after copied so many of its elements. If the film has aged a bit it’s just because everything that came afterwards drew something from it. It may not be a perfect film and it’s very debatable whether it did merit all those Oscars, but it definitely deserves its cult status and its place in history for paving the way for a new genre of thrillers and many brainer and more stylish horrors film. 


Check out the review of another modern Classic:

Back to the Future (1985)

The Sandlot

The Sandlot ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: David Mickey Evans. Cast: Art LaFleurTom GuiryMike Vitar Patrick Renna, Chauncey Leopardi.

1993 was a pretty good year in movies, with things like “Jurassic Park”, “Schindler’s List”, “The Fugitive”, “Groundhog Day”, “In the Name of the Father”, “In the Line of Fire”, Falling down, Philadelphia, “True Romance”, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and who knows how many others… So you will forgive me if “The Sandlot” had completely escaped me. So much so that I don’t think I even remember it being released. Possibly the idea about kids playing baseball would not have appealed much to me at that time anyway (and on paper it still doesn’t today).But I’m happy I finally got around to see it and even happier I was able to do it with Giovanni, because this is actually the perfect kids movie.The 60s summery settings gives it that ‘Stand by Me’ vibe, which I adore so much (obviously not as profound and emotional as that one, but hardly anything is in my book) and the group of kids feels straight out of stories like “It” or even “The Goonies”, just as nerdy and likeable (Incidentally, the cast here is spot on!).”The Sandlot” might not break any barriers for originality and it’s certainly miles away from being a perfect film, but it’s immensely enjoyable in a superficial sort of way, completely harmless and throughoully charming.

Another Round

Director: Thomas Vinterberg. Cast: Mads MikkelsenThomas Bo LarsenMagnus Millang 

Watching this Danish film tonight I found myself thinking that maybe one day I should start drinking too… 

Jokes aside “Another Round” is a story about a group of 4 high school teachers who decide to follow the theory of a Norwegian psychologist who claims that humans are born with a 0.05% alcohol content deficit in our blood. And so they embark in a rather reckless and “unusual” experiment where they’ll have to drink just enough to constantly maintain that small percentage of alcohol in their blood to be slightly inebriated and free from inhibitions, releasing their full potentials, but obviously without ending up drunk. No brownie point for guessing where it’s all going to go… 

This was sold to me as a comedy, but it’s definitely not one of those laugh-out-loud film. In fact it’s more of a tragicomedy: a parable about over-drinking, addiction, middle-age crisis, friendship and families.

Beyond the fairly predictable plot there are still plenty of small intimate, very human and rather touching surprises along the way. 

The whole cast is perfect, but Mads Mikkelsen’s performance is absolutely spectacular. Throughout the film he manages to play the “looser”, the depressed, the drunk, the man on the verge of a breakdown but also the amazing teacher we would all love to have… and a lot more.

Hard to believe this was the man playing “Hannibal Lecter” just a few years ago!

And then, that final sequence in the film, which of course I’m not going to spoil, which all of a sudden lifted the film up for me to a 4 star rating and left me with a big smile on my face (I actually laughed out loud at last freeze-frame!)

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