Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #49


End Of The Week Shorts #49

Today's shorts: I Am Not Your Negro (2016), Over The Top (1987), Lionheart (1990), Sansho The Bailiff (1954), Ricky Gervais: Humanity (2018), Wings Of Desire (1987), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Bombay Talkies (2013)

Undoubtedly the most sincere and true documentary and statement on black history as American history that I've ever come across. 
Inspired by/adapted from James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, I Am Not Your Negro collects footage of Baldwin and of American films to explore the face of American culture as a persona - one that has been disavowed by and disavows the American self. Not necessarily about hatred and/or love, I Am Not Your Negro is about moral poverty and wilful blindness. This absence and imperception is not commented on at the individual level, but at the macroscopic and societal level. Placing fault above the head of a culture, I Am Not Your Negro asks all individuals within to change, to look up and look within, and dare to speak, hear and do honestly. 
Like a chisel to wood, this documentary opens - what and how much is a question you'll have to answer after you watch this.

Over The Top is cheesy, meat-headed nonsense - but, it works. 
With one of the most ridiculously on-the-nose soundtracks ever put together, pulled from the deep, dark recesses of 80s pop rock, Over The Top assumes it needs no real writing or acting: Sly makes faces, the kid moans, and a song tells you how to feel. That's about the depth of the drama. Everything else that this movie is made up of is simple. Firstly there's the American philosophy of ceaseless persistence guided by higher morals being the formula for all redemption and success. How true this is, I won't comment on. Second is just pure, sweaty, bulgy, greasy, bloody, slobbery, slow motion, extreme close-up, squealing, bellowing, moaning, roaring, off-sync V.O, mano-y-mano (literally), aggressive, hyper-macho spectacle. For what it is... it works. Though you'll laugh and roll your eyes, you'll also feel your rectum tighten and twist. And when it does, you'll also have to admit that this works.

As Van Damme movies go - as 80s and 90s martial arts/action pictures go - Lionheart (or A.W.O.L) stands up pretty well. 
With a surprisingly rounded set of characters and an unexpectedly strong story, Lionheart subverts many of the more grating clichés and tropes of the genre and actually attempts to take its characters seriously, to give you a reason to care about them and find their humanity. That said, there are still some horrible one-liners, some iffy performances and no grand narrative or intricate drama to speak of. And, of course, this is a tournament film - so there is absolutely nothing that will surprise you about the structure . I'm on the fence about the editing, which uses multiple angles of the same action over and over. This kind of works, allowing the fight scenes to be slow and impactful. It's also lazy and pretty noticeable. And I have to also say that the action scenes aren't too impressive - the same old kicks and spins. All in all though, this is unquestionably one of the better representatives of the genre and Van Damme.

Sansho The Bailiff is a strong film, one that focuses the function of mercy in the world. Whilst it is shot beautifully and forms a powerful allegory around redemption and following in the footsteps of the good as to continue their legacy, I found this to be slightly lacklustre. 
This follows the son and daughter of an exiled governor into slavery, where they are made to wait for a decade before any chance of escape. Without much of a debate around the core theme of mercy put to screen through our two main characters, the drama is rather one-dimensional. There a moments in which we recognise an argument against the moral of the film - one immersed in hopelessness - but they don't bear much force. The ending, if it not a literal one, instead, one that mimics that of Ugetsu Monogatari, complexifies the film greatly. But, I would have to sit down and watch this again to see if this deserves the title 'masterpiece'. As of now, I can only say that this is a strong morality tale.

Starts off shaky, but as Gervais gets into the middle 30 minutes, he excels. Having always been pretty excellent at crafting jokes that would only work on the stage, Gervais says some ridiculous things about babies and how rich he is; subject matter that shouldn't be that funny and that certainly wouldn't translate as a sketch or written piece. 
After a sequence of these brilliant jokes, everything flattens out. It has been at least 3 or 4 years now that comedians have not shut the fuck up about people getting offended. It's nothing new, but I suppose social media makes them think otherwise. Comedians have always made these jokes, but recently they've taken over whole acts and hearing the same old shit just gets boring. Gervais takes this to new heights, not only basing half his set on this, but choosing to consistently explain how comedy works. It gets tiring. Just do your job. Be funny. Don't tell us about the difficulties of comedy.

A real let down. 
Wings Of Desire opens powerfully, sustaining an austerely magical tone as it explores the concept of angels on earth finding their meaning and purpose in the best, or the most human, of human thoughts and actions. And, it needn't be said, but the direction and cinematography are entirely awe-inspiring. The camera flies, textures emanate richness, light exudes full crispness. 
Unfortunately, all turns sour after the first hour when the film attempts to engage its characters and see a romance flourish. In short, neither the writing or the performances inject any heart into characters. They are all dry shells, clearly constructed - and drably so. Despite all that Wenders does so well, this film is let down by a selection of shoddy, ill-constructed characters, and so often boarders on pretence. A real pity considering this starts so well.

It's so easy to say this is a masterpiece - and it is. However, is it perfect? 
Today, I decided to watch 2001 with a hyper-critical eye, and when you don't invest yourself in the film, a few faults do arise. First and foremost, I don't think the pace and structure are entirely justified. Not only do we not need the early talking sequences (let's not pretend that most of the human characters actually matter much), but the space-movement-orchestra isn't as symphonic and musical as it maybe could be. There is a constant drabness about the humans that serves a purpose, but needn't be lingered on to the degree that it is. I think 20 minutes could have been chopped off of this and it would not only still be a masterpiece, but would be more accessible and poignant. Finally, this could have striven to be more visual, as in the astounding intro (which may be my favourite part of the film). 
All in all, I can't tear this to pieces, but, whilst I think this is a masterpiece and pretty much love it... I know why this isn't my favourite movie.

Put shortly, a disheartening celebration of Indian cinema. 
Bombay talkies is made up of four episodes, each helmed by a leading director of contemporary Bollywood cinema. (There is also a rather grating musical ending - a bad note to end on). I've never seen much worth in episodic movies with multiple directors. Whilst the shorts may be thematically linked, you're inevitably going to compare directorial styles and wish the entire film was based on one of its parts. Such is true of Bombay Talkies. The second episode, Star, is an excellent look at what it means to have a talent or passion which stands alone beautifully. The other episodes are underdeveloped social dramas. 1 and 3, the most lacking episodes, are clearly trying to welcome a new era of Bollywood film with controversial subject matter, but fail to produce anything at all substantial. All in all, this is a blundering mess and, frankly, a weird way to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema.

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