Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #57


End Of The Week Shorts #57

Today's shorts: Red Sparrow (2018), Sanjuro (1962), I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932), Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Port Of Shadows (1938), Le Corbeau (1943),  The Big Short (2015), My Darling Clementine (1946), Evolution (2001)

I'm quite befuddled by most of the responses to Red Sparrow. Many seem to have gone in with expectations of entertainment and/or a political commentary in respect to gender; an Atomic Blonde 2. Seemingly disengaged with both the classical spy-thriller entertainment and gender politics, Red Sparrow is quite a simply film about a specific dichotomy in spy films that juxtaposes love as meaning and duty as deception. Characters are then lost in a world of constant illusion whilst trying to access value and reason; plot becomes a rouse and romance the subtextual weight. Lawrence then seems to be carrying over an exploration of the exploitation-value syzygy in celebrity (or person of importance) from mother. And whilst this doesn't foster deep human character or a message of profound clout, Red Sparrow is a solid film, one I respect for not bending to expectations, for its tight writing, its complex and round characters and its weighty, realistic and minimal action sequences.

A great nation flows down
To be the world's pool,
The female under heaven.

This line from Tao Te Ching does well to encapsulate the fundamental meaning of Sanjuro. A film about lowering oneself to be the successor, this is brilliantly earnest and charming. Capturing fantastic performances through masterful direction and some impeccable mise en scène this is, in one sense, just Kurosawa being Kurosawa. But, this is a notably light and funny film that is somewhat reflective of Red Beard in that this is a story about learning. Alas, I can't fault a minute of this. Pure gold and a must-see for all.

Based on the true story of Robert Elliott Burns, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang depicts the incarceration of Burns after he is caught up in a robbery amounting to under $6. He serves his time a leased convict, working on a chain gang. Unable to bear serving more years than dollars he stole, Burns escapes. The presented story deviates from reality here with Burns becoming a successful engineer (in truth, he became an editor in a magazine, which is how he initially got his story out). Nonetheless, the job become a metaphor for the building of a new life towards... who knows where?

Burns is eventually caught and sent back to prison - where he escapes again. And the film ends in the aftermath, coming out in the same year as Burns' autobiography whilst he was still a fugitive. Unsurprisingly, the film was received so well that it helped protect Burns from re-capture. With excellent performances and brilliant direction, this still holds weight and is certainly a must-see.

A re-watch today ironed out some of the faults I saw in this movie previously. On the first watch, I was certainly more critical of everything, and whilst I can still see the faults in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, almost all that was negative was overshadowed by just how much fun this is. What's more, a second watch opened up some of the somewhat comical, but nonetheless expressive symbols. (Things like Ego's ship resembling sperm and his planet an egg that he fertilises himself and that bears at its core his own brain; the ego is stroking itself silly here). In addition to this, I was impressed by how strong and rounded the characterisation is. Things get slightly corny and a bit too on-the-nose at points, but this is a characterologically and thematically coherent movie; certainly a step above basic popcorn-in-face fun. So, all in all, this was well worth the re-watch.

I can't put my finger on it, but there is something hauntingly cyclical and harmonious about the melodrama of Port of Shadows, something that might just be described as it so often is; as poetic realism.

Almost prototypically French, Port of Shadows sees Carné revel in every stereotype of French cinema one could - all that is missing is a mime in stripes. The grungy, inherent melancholy, the distance and hopelessness, the fleeting romance, the futile passion, the dry humour, the looming tragedy all build a world of foggy mystique, one in which happiness is only ever illusive and meaning too heavy to carry. Much of this is attributable to the aesthetic wonder that drenches every frame in a heavy drapery weaved of dark tones and existential themes. On this first watch, I can only admit to being lost in the world and feel of the film. But, I will certainly be re-visiting this soon and may have a lot more to say then.

Le Corbeau, or The Raven, is a film about the truth as an entity and concept that can be used for evil. For this, The Raven is a deeply unsettling film that manages to depict a specific class of truths, truths dark, convoluted and painful - sometimes so dark, convoluted and painful in fact that the most moral response seems to be to suppress them. It's final question is then an extremely difficult one: Can justice be found in living a lie and concealing the truth?

At its heart, this is a mystery - and I always have a difficult time settling into mysteries because they are so plot-centric. But, whilst I wrongly assumed the end, a slight relief, the value of this film lies not in its twists and turns, rather, its depiction of human relations, the dissemination of information and its impact on judgement. It is exactly this subtext that makes this such an affecting and worthwhile film, so I more than recommend it to any and all.

I have to admit that the first time I saw this, I did not get a thing. I didn't know anything about the financial crash and honestly thought this would be a film about making short movies (I usually don't watch trailers or read things, I just watch the movies). But, having recently learned the tiniest thing about the financial crash, I thought I'd give this a go, and it really opened itself up to me. Or maybe the better way to put it is that it explodes outwardly.

Whilst it is obnoxious and almost mind-numbingly jittery, The Big Short is an absolutely fantastic movie; everything that is ridiculous and crass about it makes for a movie that is, itself, fool's fodder. It shows, to a degree, how immensely ludicrous the financial crash was, but nonetheless managed to make fools out of millions - and the film, with what can only be described as an awkward smile, does the same. An uncanny and immensely depressing tragedy, The Big Short is a movie I'm glad I came back to.

Truly tremendous.

Watching classical Hollywood Westerns such as My Darling Clementine is like flipping through pages of old mythology. Formulating a stoic and fundamentally dire story about the emergence of good in a place of abjection, My Darling Clementine exists in an almost primitive state of civility, which is to say, its ethics and morality are tied to a simpler, much more brazen and ruthless time and place. In turn, this doesn't feel like a product of the 40s, but of the late 1800s. And the value that comes from this is a sense of fundamental truth. For My Darling Clementine, the world is made up of the good who struggle before dying and the pure who struggle before losing. They struggle against all that is corrupt with intentions not to succeed, not to win the girl or become the hero, but to merely do what is meaningfully good. As tragic as the ending of this story may be, it then resonates powerfully; a representative of a kind of storytelling and filmmaking all too alien in the modern day. A must-watch.

Why have I seen this so many times?

Evolution is a sloppy sci-fi comedy. At many points it'll leave you wondering if this was made for TV or direct to video, but this was a big budget blockbuster. I suppose you can see this in the expanse and complexity of the dated CGI, but... I'm not sure how well the money was spent over all. The acting is mediocre and the writing is so blankly sub-par. Almost every joke is based upon childish and all too obvious observations that very quickly boil down to either "you have boobs and I'm starved of sex" or "you're black and I'm white". The laughs don't come easy.

I can't say that this is particularly annoying or grating, but it's just not that good. I should make better efforts to avoid this in the future.

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A Chinese Torture Chamber Story - Category III

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