May 2006

Transformed

Transformed DVD Transformed tells you exactly what sort of film it is going to be with an opening scroll that informs us that, back in 1830 a comet crashed into the Earth, killing most of the people in the surrounding area. But one man survived – and was transformed into a young and vibrant being who collected the debris so he could repeat the process.

This is a martial arts transgender body swap film with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.

The film proper starts by introducing us to Alan (Matthew Jacobs), a man who doesn’t enjoy the happiest life in the world. But he gets through, largely with the aid of excessive amounts of alcohol. And it’s following one such binge that he stumbles – at exactly the wrong time – into the scheme of Hilda, the film’s resident mad scientist.

Hilda is getting on a bit and wants to regain her youth by swapping bodies with April (Leigh Jacobs) who her henchmen have just kidnapped. And, of course, it all goes horribly wrong with Alan ending up in April’s body and Hilda ending up in Alan’s body.

What follows is an essentially McGuffin driven plot, with everyone chasing everyone else. But it works. The film moves along at a fair old pace, the dialogue is refreshingly free of excess exposition and often funny, and the acting is never less than competent.

As mentioned at the top of this review, Transformed is – as well as everything else – a martial arts film. The fight scenes all flow very smoothly, are certainly very well choreographed and consistently impressive. So much so that it didn’t surprise me to see Matthew Jacobs being described as a martial arts expert on the Siren Tales website. My only gripe is that some of the fights did feel a bit staged. But this is a very minor complaint given that the vast majority of scenes – especially where Matthew Jacobs is involved – are faultless.

However, it is Leigh Jacobs and her portrayal of Alan as April that really makes this film something special. She does a fantastic job of getting across Alan’s initial confusion and then his slow coming to terms with his (or her?) situation and, in doing so, she manages to keep the audience fully involved in what is happening on the screen.

Transformed is an above average action comedy with a set of genuinely engaging and often sympathetic characters. The direction is lively, the plotting is nicely free of any unnecessary padding – and throws out a few twists as the film progresses - and the editing keeps the film moving at a cracking pace.

All in all, this is a fun film that pushes all the right buttons and one that is well worth getting hold of.

Caught in the Headlights

Caught in the Headlights still According to the scroll at the stat of Caught in the Headlights, an animal is killed on the US roads every 11.5 seconds. The film then goes on to explore the America’s car culture and its impact on the local wildlife from the people who are regularly and directly involved.

Denley Loge and Bruce Friede are both employed by the Montana Department of Transportation and have the unenviable task of removing the roadkill from the roads. Both men have a dry wit and a matter-of-fact approach to their jobs which keeps them sane amongst the roadside carnage they have to deal with on a daily basis. Between them, the two men very effectively get across both the scale of work involved in clearing dead animals from the roads, and how much it costs.

Marcel Hujser is a Dutch road ecologist whose discussion of how best to ensure that the animals can cross the roads safely reveals, very effectively, the number of factors that need to be taken into account. He also has much to say and made more fascinating by his digressions into the past, present and future of transport infrastructure that is both interesting and illuminating.

Richard Huffman is a car body painter who gets to see both the cause (during his hour long commute) and impact (on the cars) of car-animal collisions. Interestingly, much of what he has to say – about driving at a more reasonable speed and being aware that animals may run out in front of your car – echoes many of Hujser’s remarks.

Roads provide an open space, teeming with things like mice and squirrels, which inevitably attract birds of prey, the majority of which will wind up dead. And this brings us to Kate Davis who runs Raptors of the Rockies, a non-profit raptor education and rehabilitation project.

A wold crosses the road with some found food Peter Bevis is an artist who turns road-kill into sculpture in an attempt to bring people face to face with the effect that car dependency has, not just on wildlife, but on society as a whole.

C. Wolf Drimal, Margot Higgins and Doug Hawes-Davis combine the six peoples’ stories to create a consistent and engaging narrative which manages to thoroughly investigate their subject without becoming either preachy or histrionic.

It also helps that the film is beautifully shot with some arrestingly beautiful nature photography used both to cut from one speaker to another and to underline exactly what the film is talking about.

Overall, Caught in the Headlights is an understated and intelligent documentary which has much to say about car culture that is applicable not only to North America, but to any developed country.

The vast majority of us - no matter where we are - drive too fast, too often and without enout attention. And this is why this film, which really brings these facts home, really does deserve to be seen as widely as possible.