Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #51


End Of The Week Shorts #51

Today's shorts: The Prince Of Egypt (1998), Icarus (2017), Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), Baahubali: The Conclusion (2017), Killer Condom (1996), A City Of Sadness (1989), Amy (2015), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), 300 (2006)

Probably DreamWorks' most ambitious picture, The Prince of Egypt seems to have been an experiment for the company - one they, probably rightly so, never dared to try again. 
Though this is and was welcomed quite warmly, this is a very questionable film. The voice casting is mediocre at best, but so often bad (a few big stars don't make for a great cast); the comedy is null, the characters are... eh; the structure is weak and the story lacks dramatic vigour and emotional drive due to all of these unharmonised working parts. And the main song.... why would you sell the film with a solid version by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston and then have us listen to a terrible version in the actual film? In the end, the few terrific shots don't save the story and the CGI has not dated too well, so it's hard to even say that this is an aesthetic spectacle. Though this has much potential, Prince of Egypt is just plain mediocre.

Russia's government is one of the dodgiest institutes on the face of this planet. The world's collective answer to this seeming fact: ...? 
I've heard so much about this documentary for months - I basically knew all the facts that it had to state - yet it still surprised me and has left me somewhat speechless. Not only does Icarus somehow manage to stumble into one of the most complex and confounding conspiracies of the modern day, but its (somewhat) subtle commentary on Russia's doping programme impact on the world is tremendous. The commentary via Orwell's 1984 is certainly on the nose, but the visuals and the character building that silently present the futility of the investigation, the overbearing weight of the seemingly innocuous conspiracy and the deep impact and ambiguous scope of politics meeting sports is simply silencing. Incredibly conceived and executed, Icarus is an absolute must-see. 
P.S. A great supplement to the film:

Baahubali is epic, hyper-masculine, super-tacky nonsense. It's good fun. 
To state the obvious, this is rife with highly questionable CGI and some iffy action; the character construction is pretty cheap and the use of the female form is often even cheaper. What's more, this seems to be very concerned with making sure the audience knows that animals weren't harmed in the making - so much so that it will tell us when CGI is in use (sometimes we're even lied to) - but certainly doesn't care about human life; human death is a cornerstone of spectacle here, and I'm pretty sure this holds the world record for mass-blackface. 
That said, some of the action is awesome - though, the best directed scene is undoubtedly a musical number - and the archetypal story makes for a brilliant entertainment. What more is there to be be said other than this is empty-headed fun?

A definite improvement upon Baahubali: The Beginning, The Conclusion doesn't change much at all, it is simply structured differently. There is a 3 hour backstory that sits in the middle of what turns out to be a 5 hour story. The backstory is a classical tale of kings and deception, highly reminiscent of the classic Mughal-e-Azam. It is framed with a similar tone as Mughal-e-Azam, anchored down by the same themes, but given a more complex sense of drama and conflict and, of course, updated action sequences. Without equal directorial control and poise, this backstory does not trump Mughal-e-Azam. What's more it is cheapened greatly by the surrounding 2 hours - which sometimes feel like a ridiculous parody of the better parts of the film. 
With The Conclusion being two thirds backstory, it is the better film. The ending is a slight let down, but, overall Baahubali is great entertainment and maybe a classic in the making.

An insane German comedic horror, sometimes funny, always absurd. Killer Condom is seemingly a parody of American detective films, one that tries to carry a convoluted social commentary on the suppression of sexuality both in the real and cinematic world. This is then a Freudian drama, rife with innuendo and sexual nonsense that seemingly has roots in psychological truth; a fear of emasculation, of ones own sexuality, of love. Killer Condom would have benefited hugely from being shorter and cutting out all attempts at a commentary on the wider world. Its strength seems to be bound to its main character - a gay detective with a nutty transvestite ex and a new potential lover - not its imprecise and ham-handed pokes at politics and religion. 
It's Almodóvar meets Gilliam and it lacks heart and focus; probably worth the watch, but not a brilliant film.

Following the outbreak of scar-literature, or scar films, that emerged from China in the late 70s and 80s that dealt with the tragedies of the Cultural Revolution, A City Of Sadness is one of the very first films to deal with Taiwan's 20th century history and the 'white terror'. 
Far more subdued than the likes of Farewell My Concubine, A City Of Sadness is consumed by distant, silent melancholy. This is a film about unknowing and minute details, many of which are very hard to catch. As we watch one family through convoluted and complex times, we are then confined to lingering wide shots that refuse true familiarity, that refuse to imply any certainty or known direction. The wandering drama is difficult, but nonetheless silencing. More than living up to its title, A City Of Sadness is a forlorn sculpture in time just as subtle as it is poignant.

A well-constructed documentary whose weight and punch lie entirely in its subject: Amy Winehouse. 
In putting together a chronology of Winehouse's career, Amy reveals a celebrity that was seemingly too human for her talent. Putting the meaning of her lyrics, the true events they describe, directly on the screen, this documentary allows her music to portray a picture of who she was before all else. Whilst we see private pictures and video, see her televised and public performances, there seems to be no better voice for Winehouse than her own. Depicting how she was tortured by the inevitable end she seemingly always saw coming, Amy is just as much about the shit storm that is celebrity as it is about the personal nightmare that it exacerbated. Whilst it's inspiring to see a musician so true to themselves, Winehouse's art when revealed for what it truly is disconnects more than it connects - and in an unspeakably melancholic way.

A truly tremendous film, one of the great Old Hollywood pictures--a picture that stands as testament to the immortality of an impeccable movie with its heart in the right place. 
A stoic romance - something that is about as rare as a proper musical in the modern day - Only Angels Have Wings is a study in subtle change and acceptance. With characters that have long understood their hubris and imperfection as their humanity, personalities are all formed and inflexible. They nonetheless resemble puzzle pieces that, with a push, pull and a squeeze, may slot together; a true, real and poignant depiction of love, however Hollywood-ised, one that does not suggest we have to all go through hell and transform entirely for endless bliss, instead, simply fall, trust our feet to land well, if not, a helping hand to catch us. The kind of romance Hollywood as long forgotten how to make, Only Angels Have Wings is an absolute must see for all.

Enjoyable... but so hard not to see bullshit in. 
300's primary value is in its visual spectacle. The CGI hasn't held up too well, and Snyder's style has become slightly tiresome after seeing it thrown all over DC nonsense, but the direction, the meeting of fight choreography, slow motion, liquid long-shots and computerised CUs do what they intend to do very well. 300, you may say, is true comic book cinema at its best. Its commentary on stoicism, individualism and sovereignty, however, is poisoned by some unquestionably questionable motives in a post-9/11 era. Though you can say this is a story from the perspective of Spartans, and so will inherit their views of their enemies, the anti-Asian, historically skewed sentiments are jarring, and they certainly overwhelm any attempts for substantial commentary. Not one to see this complete eclipse the film, but also not one to be blind to what is obvious, I can say 300 is well-designed nonsense worth intermittent attention.

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