Films By Robert Todd (US)
The opening entry of this years' Uncharted States of America strand featured three films by marathon filmmaker Robert Todd For better or worse, he makes about a dozen films per year, and this is a choice selection, apparently.
Dangerous Light (US) - You can sort of see why he is able to come up with such a quantity of films. This is basically all the lightsabre fight scenes from (I believe) all six Star Wars films, but with the contrast turned up high and the brightness down, and set to the rousing operatic score of Wagners Tannhäuser. It went on too long, and I question whether Todd's knob twiddling to change existing footage a bit was worth the 7-minute run time. 4/10
Habitat (US) - At least Habitat managed to share something with the main film of the feature, but any point that this film was trying to make could have been conveyed in 30-seconds worth of booming, rumbling soundtrack set against scenes of large, angular buildings floating over each other with only the occasional glimpse of tree. Instead, it took ten, long minutes. 3/10
Master Plan (US) (site)
Initially, and to my dismay by this point, Master Plan began much as the other two did - grainy, out of focus and saturated footage of houses being demolished and rebuilt, and I didn't fancy an hour of that. Fortunately, the film style slowly matured and it clear the overall theme of this documentary - giving voice to various residents and architects to talk about their living spaces; how they lovingly restore and care for them, and how city planners are learning to redesign the problematic living spaces so blighted by the high-rise apartment experiments of the past.
That all sounds terribly dry and boring, but it was quite interesting, and as it went on, began to hold the attention more and more, despite the deliberately appauling quality of the muffled sound, which acted as a barrier stopping the viewer becoming emotionally invested in the film until you got used to it. Still, it was varied and rather than getting too preachy about how homes should be, just let different people with different styles tell their stories of what they have now and why it makes them happy. 7/10
Foxes (Ire) - Deep in a near-deserted urban sprawl, a young couple continue their sterile relationship, the last souls to leave the abandoned housing development. James does his best to bring in the 9-5 cash, but Ellen can't get a job, and is increasingly distant about trying. Her side passion - taking photos of the nature slowly reclaiming the streets around them begins to be an obsessional refuge for her. A desolate and depressing meditation on our isolated existence. 7.5/10
The Last Dogs of Winter (NZ) (facebook)
What with a cute and adorably troublesome new puppeh at home (who is now fully grown by the way), the prospect of ultra-fluffy dogs playing with Polar Bears couldn't be missed. A construction boom in the 1970's drew a thin and reedy hippy-like Brian Ladoon to Churchill, Manitoba, and after some time stowing away on merchant boats to see the world, came back and was inspired to begin looking after the Canadian Eskimo Dog - the Qimmiq. Numbers dropped off massively from their peak of ten thousand in the fifties to just a few hundred today, mainly because of the Canadian government initiating a mass cull around the time to keep the Inuit from roaming the lands, and build communities. No longer requiring sleds for roaming, and skidoos did the hunting work, the dogs were no longer needed. Ladoon has his fair share of critics and admirers, and one or two who help him in his task. In recent years, and by strange happenchance, The Tribe actor and one-time pinup boy Caleb Ross travelled the length of the country to answer a job advert for an assistant for a month or so. He's been there ever since.
The filmmaker is as aware as Brian and Caleb of the criticism they face from those who see the setup they have at face value. A few hundred dogs spread over a couple of sites beyond the town boundaries, some chained up and all without shelter in the harsh wind and weathers, and with a contingent of polar bears roaming between them at will. After some time introducing the environment, Brian is allowed to give his voice to the critics, which underatandably by this point may include the audience, to explain why things are the way they are, and for the most part, makes sense. It's certainly difficult to ignore the results, and his evergreen enthusiasm cast starkly against the inhospitable backdrop.
The Last Dogs of Winter is a fine documentary highlighting a quirk of coincidence met with a passionate, enthusiastic individual, and the result is very pleasant, occasionally humerous, and never less than beautiful to look at. 8/10
Little World (Spa) (review)
I missed the short film Mothlight beforehand due to some anti-clockwatching, but I am so glad I managed to see the rest of this. Albert is 20, and since he developed leukemia as a kid which developed complications, he has lost the use of his legs and is wheelchair bound. He also travels the world. On his own, and with almost no money, and has been at it for several years. His slight, elfish, girlish appearance hides a worldly wise and savvy traveller, who relies a little on the kindness of strangers, and a little on the apparent helplessness his appearance suggests to others.
Director Marcel Barrena joins Albert and his recent girlfriend Anna, just as they are about to embark on his latest adventure - travelling to the opposite side of the world - without cash - and surprise whoever lives there by just turning up unannounced.
This should give you an idea of the sheer force of nature that Albert is, and not even his girlfriend can keep up at times. We follow them through central europe and the middle east, before taking unexpected detours and having the odd near fatal hospital visit. Against all this, Albert and Annas' bewildered families attempt to explain what they have unleashed upon the world.
A celebration of the human spirit rather than a piece concentrating on someone in a wheelchair doing something you wouldn't expect them to, Little World is an intensely inspirational debut film. I've been travelling, but I see now I am one of the 'posh backpackers' Albert refers to jokingly as they enter the far eastern part of their journey. Travellers and those with trepidation about heading out of their comfort zone alike need to see this film, it is truly an exceptional and inspirational work. 8.5/10
Last Night (S.Kor) - A quiet, reserved clothes shop clerk waits patiently for her lover to arrive and take her away from her old life. But fate, a needful son and a clutch of her more outgoing drinking friends force her to make a choice. A nice but underwhelming film. 7/10
Kill Me (Ger/Fre/Swi) (facebook)
A young girl stands on a beautiful precipice unable to jump for the umpteenth time. Adele is suicidal and only her menial task as a worker at her parent's farm is stopping her from taking her tendencies all the way to fruition.
The stalemate is broken when Timo, an escaped convict from the local prison stows away in her room, and sensing a chance to flee from the life she is unable to take herself, makes a pact with him - help him get over the border to France, and he must do it for her - push her over a cliff.
Events conspire, rather conveniently to push the grim event further and further into the future as the pair trek the forests evading detection and capture; and predictably, they end up becoming closer, although more as a father-daughter pairing than the more usual lovers in this sort of setup.
The film would never be able to escape the fact that the audience would know exactly the outcome - i.e. they both find solace in each other - but I was disappointed to find no unexpected twists at all in the film, and worse still a few rather clumsy attempts to pull the audiences' opinion in a certain direction at times. It is an entertaining film and another variant of the Stockholm Syndrome mechanic, though more of a slow burner than an action flick, and you know exactly what you're going to be getting as soon as you read the plot. 7/10
Hotel Room (Austria) - Erm.. well. The 'hotel room' consists of a chair, table and bed. Slowly they get covered in some strange growing substance. Then you realise they are dolls furniture in a freezer compartment. You are literally sat there watching ice form. 3.5/10
A Hijacking (Den) (site)
From the same people who brought us Borgen and The Killing, comes something similar set on the high seas. Mikkel is the ships' cook aboard The Rosen, a Danish cargo ship heading back from Mumbai when it is hijacked by Somali pirates. Ignoring the pleas of Connor the hostage expert brought in from the UK, hard-nosed and go-getting shipping CEO Peter takes on the challenge of negotiating ransom monies in exchange for the lives of the seven people aboard - the captain of which has fallen gravely ill.
You can tell that this was written by the danes, rather than it being an American flick. There, the ships cook (who forms the centrepiece of the show) would be like Steven Segal in Under Seige, somehow managing to off all the pirates and steer the ship back home again with his teeth. Here, Mikkel is weak and afraid like we all would be in the same situation, and just does what he can to stop the people around him from getting killed.
If you enjoyed the various other Danish crime thrillers, and prefer your tension to manifest in a brooding undercurrent rather than full on hot lead justice, then it's a safe bet you won't want to miss this one as well. It even has the advantage of large sections of it spoke in English (as per the pirates' demands). Some action buffs may become frustrated however at the lack of a clear winning side, and the boardroom scenes where awkward and stalling negotiations take up much of the runtime. Personally, I thought it was a great addition to the swelling collection of thrillers from the north. 7.5/10