Thoughts On: January 2019

31/01/2019

Ernest & Celestine - Simple Brilliance

Quick Thoughts; Ernest & Celestine (Ernest et Célestine, 2012)


Made by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, this film fills Luxembourg's position in the series.


Ernest & Celestine is a measured work of excellence. A synthesis of sci-fi-esque world design and subtextually driven character relationships, this is as warm as it is conscious. Set in a world in which mice and bears live in segregation - bears in the world above and mice in the world below - Ernest & Celestine explores fear between two beings made alien to one another. In such, this can be read as a film about class and/or racial divides. Fundamentally, however, this is a film about alienation and curiosity catalysing friendship; about truth being expressed through ties, not cuts. And so it sees a strange mouse and an outcast bear become friends through crime, confront prejudice and reveal the uncanniness of segregation. There is certainly a good degree of sentimentality associated with this tale. Its pseudo-political commentary is far from complex - and in such a way that it is difficult to know how exactly to construe this; is it a film aiming towards kids, or not? Certainly, there is a 'family friendly' element to Ernest & Celestine, but it struggles to find a balance between complexity and simplicity. Thematically and subtextually, this seems all too simple for an adult audience, but likely challenging for younger viewers. Aesthetically and tonally, this is universally evocative. And such dampens the intensity of this conflict between audiences, but it nonetheless remains difficult to speak about the subtext of this narrative without realising its limitations.

In short, a perfect encapsulation of a simple idea, Ernest & Celestine is a work of great imagination. The McLaren-esque sound-montage, the world design, the animation style, the narrative juxtapositions, are all products of brilliance. And so whilst this may not be a masterpiece of storytelling, it is whole and highly enjoyable.

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27/01/2019

End Of The Week Shorts #94



Today's shorts: Sebastian Maniscalco: Stay Hungry (2018), Force Majeure (2014), Go Fish (1994), Django (1966), Canyon Passage (1946), Le Corbeau (1943), Bucking Broncho (1894)



The first special of Sebastian's whose title doesn't ask a question - and it's pretty good.

Very understated, there are no huge bits - no real opener or closer; the separate bits merge into one, loose ends are all over the place; we're told a few stories - and they're very amusing. There aren't any huge laughs, but Sebastian's stage presence is simply great. The worst thing I could say is that the venue seems to be a bit too big and Sebastian's outfit a bit too tight. Beyond that, a good time.



Second watch: truly brilliant.

I can't help but love this as a subtle hero's story, one that presents us with a character arc just about away from the absolute depths of the pathetic and embarrassing. Truth hurts, but it doesn't go away: it stares you in the face. (Maybe that's why it hurts so much). Ostlund has such a succinct understanding of just this and manages to ever so minutely inject universal drama based on this principal into a modern setting with Force Majeure as to, in an indirect manner, explore the changing/unchanging roles men and women play in a relationship in the modern day. The result in ridiculously funny and unbelievably human.



On one level, this is alternative, independent, underground, experimental, art-house, niche cinema of the 90s to a grating, pull the hair on your arms out, scratch the back of your throat, degree. On another, Go Fish kind of works.

Tonally reminiscent of masterpieces (*irony*) such as She's Gotta Have It, Go Fish is rife with pretentious intellectual babble. This leaves the narrative bloated, but without the amateurish performances and meandering dialogue, this would be a short film about two lesbians meeting and then having sex. I don't think this does anything particularly special narrative, aesthetically or formally, but Go Fish certainly interrogates the mainstream rom-com and bends it for a lesbian audience. Maybe this makes the film praise-worthy, but, in my books, this is far from a must-see.



Fantastic. Everything about Django simply screams: iconic. I'd never heard about the film before, never seen clips or any images, but nonetheless, this feels like an event - something special.

Confining the Leone-esque epic-scale western seen in the likes of Once Upon A Time In The West into a narrative more the size of For A Fistful of Dollars, Django's melodrama is bombastic and unbelievably - almost ridiculously - stoic. The simple symbolism of the coffin and the cross strike across what you might call an inane narrative, uplifting a laconic shoot-em-up with the warm mythologising felt in classical westerns. The dubbing is an issue one simply lives with in the Spaghetti Western - but Leone does it better. That said Django is a truly brilliant movie up there with The Good... and Once Upon A Time In The West. Highly recommended.



A classic - through-and-through.

The western is long dead - at least its classical incarnation is - and it will never be again. Canyon Passage is a shot from the past that all at once showcases the importance of the western, narratively and culturally, and its more poisonous sentiments. In such, as audiences did and have, one has to surpass the strange moral athletics to come to support the settlers and empathise with their Indian-despising selves. Once this is asided, it's rather difficult to not fall into the melodramatic love triangle and the ethical struggles of our stoic hero. The simple silence and subtlety of the drama is Canyon Passage's greatest strength. For the way in which many plot strands are solved without attention and left loose and character-relations are almost mimed, I have to recommend this. More than sentimental, mythologising tosh, Canyon Passage is well worth the watch.



Le Corbeau is an enigma of sorts. Emergent from Nazi-controlled France, this simultaneously resents the truth as a small town's greatest troubles, yet also its only source of hope - in the end, a miserable saviour of sorts. The truth, in Le Corbeau, is beyond the grips of humans. And in such, this narrative presents itself as the inverse of that in Fritz Lang's M. Where M is about a mesh of lies and deceit, Le Corbeau is about an excess of truth. And where action in face of truth is M's central conflict, action precedes truth in Le Corbeau. The two films alongside one another reveal the impossible mechanisms of knowing, of seeking to discover and to cause without the interruption of something approximating fate.

Well constructed, though markedly dry, Le Corbeau is eerily inconclusive and utterly sceptical of simple humanity.



How curious it is that the Western immediately begins to struggle onto screen during cinema's inception via Edison's kinetoscope. With Bucking Broncho, a key element of the the genre's being is put onto film: its rodeo-esque spectacle. Here one begins to see implied the imperative influence the travelling vaudeville Western show and rodeo had one the cinematic Western. The display of foolhardy skill, of the beginnings of man's mastery of animals, all seem to symbolise a foundation of the American identity for Western filmmakers, writers, etc. Dickson and Heise screen this without ever knowing that, for the first half of the 20th century, the Western would be one of the most important forms of American cinema whose impact is still rather relevant and tangible today.





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22/01/2019

Bumblebee - A New Start

Thoughts On: Bumblebee (2018)

The story of Bumblebee's first venture to earth.


I have developed a strange affinity for Michael Bay's Transformer films, but it seems his era of insanity has come to a close. Bumblebee is what you think a Transformer movie should be. I don't know anything about the original Transformer toys or the cartoons; if I'm reminiscing correctly, my childhood was composed of Disney films, people screaming about bogeys on the TV, morning cartoons that no one gets nostalgic about and 80s teenage melodramas. I do not care about the original Transformers lore and its relation to this revision of the Transformer films. All I can say is that Bumblebee is ok.

Very much so a harsh revision of Bay's Transformers, Bumblebee is far more kid-friendly, politically correct and inclusive (as you expect the modern blockbuster to be), and self-consciously disruptive of the basic masculine hero narrative. Moreover, this has greater touches of realism and is far less melodramatic. Good and bad emerge from this. Starting with the good, the humour in this film-  whilst far from sophisticated (the puke joke got me best) - works and does not try to repulse. The realism (of a narrative not necessarily aesthetic kind), too, makes for a warmer, less intense experience. You see this best with the function of transformations. Throughout Bay's Transformer films, the narrative usually has to take a slight pause to emphasise the spectacle in the transformation process an Autobot or Decepticon takes. There are, indeed, many 'transformation shots' in Bumblebee, but there are a huge number of transformations spotted throughout this film, and not only are they varied and beautifully executed, but are subtle and often undemanding. This brings us closer to Bumblebee, allowing us to see him as a functional and sentient being, less a device always trying to impress. That said, the greatest positives of Bumblebee are the action scenes. I would not say that they trump those seen in Transformers in every way. There is a focus in Bumblebee on hand-to-hand combat; the sequences are focused and extended. Bay's sequences use more gun-fire, explosions, destruction, weaponry and are relatively brief - though, in my opinion, are brilliantly helmed. In short, Bumblebee's action sequences exist closer to the world of martial arts and Bay's sequences closer to dog fights. Each excels, but there is a slickness and ingenuity to the choreography in Bumblebee which I can't say I have seen before and very much so enjoyed.

With the major positives noted, we're left with the fact that Bumblebee is a rather ineffectual movie. That is to say that its mediocrity and throw-away-ness is acceptable. For all that the Transformer films can be criticised for, they're not easily ignored - they're far too loud and bombastic for that. Bumblebee is a crowd-pleaser (a crowd-easer), and so falls short in the narrative and character department in ways that are all too familiar. Whilst the narrative realism in this film provides a nice, simple and whole tone, the drama suffers. In such, much feels inconsequential as you watch this film. What is more, character arcs feel rather contrived (the film has to try absurdly hard to integrate diving off a high platform and into water into the plot). Bay's Transformer films do not waste their energy in such departments - and such is part of what makes them so dramatogically fascinating. Bumblebee is mundane in this respect. Also, I must say I do not like the way this has been designed. Aesthetically, this is best called cute (and such defines the intentions of the narrative - it wants to create cute moments). Bay's films were harsh and brash; the design of the Transformers slick, curvaceous, dangerous, real and ugly in an impressive way. The Transformers here feel cartoonish and like midgets in comparison to what we have become accustomed to. Some may appreciated this; I respect the Baysian designs.

In total, I can say that Bumblebee is pleasant enough of a film. I'm content to see Bay's series put to an end, and whilst I won't avoid the sequels to come from the remodelled franchise, I'm not eagerly awaiting anything. With all of that said, I turn things over to you. Have you seen Bumblebee? What are your thoughts?






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End Of The Week Shorts #93

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20/01/2019

End Of The Week Shorts #93



Today's shorts: Damon Wayans: Still Standing (2006), Damon Wayans: The Last Stand (1990), The Hurt Locker (2006), Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (2013), Alpha (2018), Nocturnal Animal (2016), Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)



The first stand-up I've seen from Damon Wayans, and I couldn't have guessed he'd be so good.

Quite ruthless and far too brash by standards ten years later, Wayans hits all the low notes quite well. The material is not particularly imaginative, but it is performed with some great act outs and a lot of energy. If it makes you laugh, it makes you laugh - and I laughed; his daughter learning to swear is gold.



The jump in quality between this and Wayans' 2006 special is quite substantial, but that doesn't mean The Last Stand is bad. The notes, you could say, are bluer, the comedy harsher, but it mostly works. The laughs aren't as big here, but they are infectious. The act out of handy man is beyond ridiculous; the laughter can't be suppressed. I always like not knowing some of the references a comic makes, and a bunch went over my head here (not as much as in Still Standing), but such is something of a unusual plus in my books. In total, this is watchable, but Wayans here is just not as good as his older self - again something of a plus.



I can't not see The Hurt Locker as a fundamentally sad story.

A reckless, almost unshakeable, bomb disposer only finds meaning in being close to death. He seems not to be very focused on his country, on his men, on the citizens he tries to save. Of course, he forms bonds, but these only snap back upon him, leaving rather deep scars. A father and a husband loves only one thing: almost dying. In Freudian terms, he's possessed by thanatos, and this is merely celebrated. There is no bittersweetness; all exploration, all realism, is shrouded by patriotic fervour. And such is rather damaging as The Hurt Locker's only true draw is its realist presentation of a side of war not-too-often explored. One can't help but see this as subservient to an "America!" kind of ending and thus an uncomfortable source of spectacle. In short, this has no reason to be so acclaimed in my opinion.



My first contact with Dragon Ball Z; never watched it as a kid, always had an intrigue, but didn't have the channels to watch the TV show. Having recently been allured to the huge screams and bright colours of this mysterious world again, I finally decided to watch a Dragon Ball Z movie.

I didn't know what to expect, but I certainly felt let down by Battle of Gods. The action feels limited, and all entirely incidental. There is something to admire about a film that does not attempt to contrive conflict, rather contrives buffers to prevent conflict from occurring, but the effect on screen is less fun and more dopey. Of course, this wasn't a great place to start with Dragon Ball Z, but the least I was hoping for was some ludicrous action--and I just didn't feel it here.



Alpha is an immersive tale that not only explores the emergence of self-dependence and heroism in a young man, but the integration of animals into the human world; indeed, the latter is a symbolic allegory of the former tale, but both narrative strands can stand independent of one another. What this does so well is balance those two narratives, presenting a fascinating period in the evolution of society alongside an affecting coming-of-age narrative.

The limitations of Alpha concern the intensity of drama and the execution of certain elements of action. Whilst this then looks rather breath-taking, the aesthetics do not always enhance drama. And the CGI, whilst acceptable, is sometimes too noticeable. In all, this simply does not exude mastery and does not maximally affect, but is certainly an impressive piece of cinema.



In short, Nocturnal Animals doesn't work. I'd go as far as to say that it is pretentious.

A mismatched relationship stressed by anxiety erupts with betrayal. The betrayed man overcomes this (apparently) by writing about the death of his family and the birth of a new self within his body with strokes of deep naivety and nihilism. What does Nocturnal Animals then reveal? A woman is lost in life - what was once a bright alternative path for her is what seems to be a sensitive asshole. It seems she should not return to him. It seems she has wasted her life. It seems that she has nowhere to go. How dismal and how meaningless... what more can be said?



Made for the songs, but with what to explore? This puts back on stage Freddie Mercury, revealing all at once the moors of his celebrity and the triumph of his performer's philosophy. I can't say, however, that Bohemian Rhapsody is a particularly effective character-study due to its bio-pic spectacle elements (which distract to some degree). At best, one may say that the values of Bohemian Rhapsody are the values instilled into Queen's music by the band (emphasis on Mercury). However, to what depth are these values investigated and questioned? Unlike a documentary such as Amy, this does not try to reveal what goes into an artist's songs - and this is what I was hoping for. Without this, Bohemian Rhapsody is a mediocre mesh of musical sequences and bio-pic stitched together with unsatisfactory sound-montage. Not bad, but far from great.





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18/01/2019

Forest Of The Gods - Hush

Quick Thoughts: Forest Of The Gods (Dievų Miškas, 2005)


Made by Algimantas Puipa, this is the Lithuanian film of the series.


Forest Of The Gods is a war/prison movie that attempts to reveal the absurdities of imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp. Unlike realist dramas, such as Schindler's List and The Pianist, that explore similar subject matter, Forest Of The Gods has a distant gaze. This then means not to project the horror of unthinkable conditions, rather to emphasise their almost uncanny malevolence; the peculiarities of will and the drudgery of survival. In addition to this, we move between war and post-war times, to see how our protagonist, a so-called opinionated professor and political disturbance, reflects upon his years of torture by theatricalising memory. From this comes the narrative's cold edge. It matters not if characters survive--such is not a narrative question: we are told how most characters die - if they do - as we meet them, and we see that our protagonist makes it through. This film cares not for tension of such a kind. Matter-of-factly, Forest Of The Gods presents what was alongside the lamentations of a professor unable to present to the world his torture on the stage due to the corruption of his communist government. There is then a cycle of doom embedded in this narrative, the mid-20th century in Central and Eastern Europe presented as an abysmal cage patrolled by a great hush and many thousands of small stabs.

The verisimilitude that Forest Of The Gods is so dependent on as a projection of apparently uncanny sadism has been called into question by a survivor of Stutthof concentration camp, who calls the film inaccurate nonsense (link here to the interview). This does damage to the impact that Forest Of The Gods has, but I leave things here with you. Have you seen this film? What are your thoughts?

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Mirror - See, Like A Child

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15/01/2019

Mirror - See, Like A Child

Quick Thoughts: Mirror (Зеркало, 1975)

A film we have covered many times before.


I have seen Tarkovsky's Mirror more times than I know. I have watched it for the first time, impulsively, in parts, I have read before watching, read whilst watching, I have watched The Mirror without subtitles. I still have no real grip on what it means. Every time it begins again - every time those green vistas gleam and pull, so impossibly textured, grass and soft light like unfathomable meshes of some ethereal life speaking to the wind; every time that brown water shines, silk, solid, untouched, rippling and undulating placidly - I am lost and see the film like it is almost new, almost as if it were a recurring dream. I know not all of the references to history and art that this makes, and I see not the logic of Tarkovsky's montage. In feeling ever so helpless as always, I sensed that the only way in which this can be watched is with a child's unknowing eyes. For, if anything, Mirror means to explore something intangible and unknown. And such defines the symbolic quality of Tarkovsky's work here. Unlike Andrei Rublev, which contains symbolism of a sometimes accessible and semi-known quality, Mirror, so personal and so abstract, is unintelligibly symbolic. Images so clearly emerge from the archetypal region of the psyche, but are contrived for the screen, contorted through time, in such a way that they are anomalously affecting. More words could be uttered, but to what end? Mirror is poetic mastery, but like breath on a cold window, its meaning is at once evidence of life and of its disappearing.





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13/01/2019

End Of The Week Shorts #92



Today's shorts: Chicago (2002), Pacific Rim (2013), Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (2013), Green Book (2018), Upgrade (2018), Christopher Robin (2018), Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)



A struggle like no other.

Chicago's commentary is crystal clear, yet in articulable; its spectacle and visual subtext... intensely mind-boggling. We step into the mind of a psychotic woman in a psychotic world. Sexuality is at the epicentre of all chaos, a black hole into which unfathomable neuroses a drawn; want for nothing but the pleasures of the moment plague sense and demolish morality. Zombified by shining lights and poison promises, the world dances. Like a Von Trier movie, this is hard to look at, the melodrama like a roller coaster ride you've woken up on already charged to vomit. I can't say it any other way: a struggle... maybe a work of brilliance for just that, but a struggle through and through.



There's so much that could be criticised about Pacific Rim, but all that I want to say, I have already said about Pacific Rim: Uprising. Returning to the first film in the series after so many years (I vaguely remember seeing this in the cinema when it first came out... 6 years ago... damn), I was first and foremost surprised by how terrible it is. The dialogue and characterisation are almost unforgivably terrible - to the extent that this sounds like it was written by someone not only imitating how they think big action Hollywood blockbusters should sound, but are doing so without a familiarisation with the English language. This alien nature of Pacific Rim's writing produces the queerest melodrama conceivable and comedy so out of touch with the idea of funny I was left at so many points scratching my head in confusion. I am always wanting to give melodramatic expressionistic tosh edge, but I see nothing that Pacific Rim executes slightly well, meaningfully or not. I can only say I'm glad we never got to see Del Toro's Hobbit.



I don't understand why Kevin Hart feels he has to load the front end of his stand-up specials with mindlessly trashy skits (I could be much more severe here, but I'll save you the profanities). Not only are the first 15 minutes of this not very funny, but they drag... a lot... and are pretty much entirely irrelevant. That said, when this actually becomes a stand- special, it works - it works brilliantly. Of course, Kevin Hart's comedy and stage persona were well-established by Let Me Explain, which leaves so many of the bits somewhat predictable (maybe he's trying a bit too hard with the Deerbra), but he still manages to deliver. Indulging his own celebrity just enough, Hart does what he does best - comedy on the stage. I'm then almost in tears as he screams HELP ME... and freaks out over bum's hands. And whilst I can't say I care for his career in film, here he shines.



A perfect synthesis of realist drama and comedy, Green Book is undoubtedly the most immersive filmic experience I've had in a while. I cannot exaggerate when I say I could not pull away from this film. Viggo Mortensen's is Tony Lip impossible magnetic, impeccably written and incredibly performed. Mortensen becomes a gateway into the initially aloof, shielded and hard to sympathise with Don Shirely. And it is the way in which Ali and Mortensen reveal one another's character's humanity that is, for one, subtle and tremendously affecting, and for another, what makes Green Book work.

There is a clear socio-political side to this film, and it certainly tries to keep as many people happy as it possible can. This leaves it a little forced and sentimental (maybe melodramatic in comparison to reality), but nonetheless whole and nourishing. A pure pleasure to watch.



The plot--ripped form the likes of RoboCop--is nothing worth paying attention to and character building isn't at all imbued with depth, but Upgrade manages to do an awful lot with the limited set of positives it has.

Upgrade excels in two respects: dramatic and aesthetic execution. The means through which action is shot (with a precise, rigid, seemingly robotic eye) and our protagonists moves (equally precise; convincingly two entities in one body) is so uniquely ingenious that the recycling of a narrative we have seen in many times before is wholly justified. The romantic set up is profoundly contrived and fake, plot holes and lapses in logic are rather abundant, the bad guys and twists left me rolling my eyes, but the brilliance surrounding the main character kept me invested in all Upgrade wanted to do. For this, I only have respect.



I couldn't help but be smitten by Christopher Robin. But, my objective eye tells me that this is not very good.

I read Winnie-the-Pooh books and watched the films when I was young, but never really connected to them until my perspective was entirely changed by the fascinating but not thoroughly perfect Tao of Pooh. Feeling the familiar in Christopher Robin, that sense that what is slow, what is simple, what is flexibly infragile can be most meaningful and is an ideal best striven towards, put me a state of subtle rapture. However, there simply is not aesthetic unity achieved by the director here. I don't like how this looks, the editing is very choppy and unselective, I am not a fan of the voice casting (especially for Piglet and Rabbit), the direction is too rugged, the cinematic language is inarticulate and the applications of realism is jarring. It is this that leaves me certain that this feels good, but objectively isn't.



I am still fully-body buzzing from the tremendous experience that is Into The Spider-Verse. The humour, the action, the music, the editing, the look, the tone, the energy - all perfectly tuned. I cannot call this a masterpiece due to slight plot deficiencies and characterisation that left me wanting a little more, but in no way does this fail in doing anything - at all. Into The Spider-Verse even understands where fun is to be had and where to draw the line; Spider-Ham may have his moments, but he is rightly marginalised, as is Spider-Man Noir. Alas, what this succeeds most in doing is, I have to be honest, entirely stripping me of any desire to see another live-action Spider-Man movie. I just can't bring myself to care. Why can't Peter Parker die in Civil War: Part 2 and an animated Miles Morales take his place? I'd be more than eager for for phase 2,200 of the MCU then.






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Ralph Breaks The Internet - Political Posturing?

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11/01/2019

Ralph Breaks The Internet - Political Posturing?

Quick Thoughts: Ralph Breaks The Internet (2018)

Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope venture into the internet to find a world of incitement and tension.


Ralph Breaks The Internet is simultaneously one of Disney's most firm and deconstructed narratives. I can't say I'm sold by it. The facade of the film, its premise, is inane and rather uninteresting to me. Its characterlogical explorations, however, are provoking. Like no Disney film before it, this very literally tells kids to let go for good and get over hopes for close (true?) friendship. I believe this assumes we identify more with Vanellope, and so may be trying to simply emphasise the importance of freedom and being allowed to do as one wishes. There is virtue in this; this is a very hard lesson in life; one of acceptance and loss; of blinding oneself to a brighter alternative as to sustain what another wants. A hard lesson indeed - maybe too simply presented. Maybe.

That said, whilst there is good comedy to be found in this film's disavowal of Disney's filmic history, I don't care for its snarkiness. Ralph Breaks The Internet presupposes that Wreck-It Ralph was about a princess being saved by a hero (even though the two so clearly save each other). It highlights this with the appearance of all the Disney princesses who all claim that they were just saved by men in their narratives. This deeply cynical view of Disney films is so readily accepted today, and such honestly unsettles me to my core. Why do we accept this? The feminist problematising of Disney narratives has come to be perceived as axiomatically and singularly valid. Indeed, Disney narratives can be called into question from a political perspective, but this political perspective does not represent the foundations of narrative at all wholly. Furthermore, its problematising can so often be moronic. True, for instance, Disney princesses wear dresses and come to embody something of a feminine ideal. This serves narrative purposes that can be explored symbolically. Why should Disney princesses be required to be you, to be me, to be normal; a mundane ideal? Such commentary is provided with the criticism of the princesses dresses. As comedy, this works - as political posturing, I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth. The best joke in this section of the film is the heart of the political mess that Ralph Breaks The Internet, to some degree, is. Merida is the Disney princess that pretty much defies all of the basic, inane political comments made by the writers. However, her accent is thickened, her dialect is made alien; her voice, in effect, is taken away and she is laughed at; made, very literally, other: 'that princess from the other studio'. How hypocritical it is that the only princess that holds up under the superficial political problematising that the film postures with is asided so harshly. Again: I laughed at the joke, perceiving comedy above all else. But seen as political, this comment is shameful.

This sequence reflects much about the political subtext of Ralph Breaks The Internet's general narrative. Dissatisfied with the hero narrative in the first film, seemingly repulsed by it, this constructs its characters in such a way that the traditional Princess narrative is entirely reversed; the princess escapes unity with the masculine. I am not so cynical myself to think that this is merely political propaganda that means to do damage to the Disney narrative. There is a real and tangible characterlogical conflict present in this film. Heroism leads to attachment, and attachment may lead to one becoming possessed by an ideal and wanting to possess that which represents it (a friend for instance). The lesson this provides is hard, but pertinent and truthful. However, its framing is just shaky in my opinion. I leave this with you. What are your thoughts on Ralph Breaks The Internet?






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The House That Jack Built - Can Art Be Destructive?

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10/01/2019

The House That Jack Built - Can Art Be Destructive?

Thoughts On: The House That Jack Built (2018)

Episodes from a sociopath's murderous past are juxtaposed with a conversation about art and darkness.


Can art be destructive? This is the question that Lars Von Trier's cinema is entirely subsumed by, and finally, with The House That Jack Built, he directly confronts it. I cannot say I have much of an affinity for Von Trier and his cinema. If I were to be frank, I can only think of Von Trier as the slimiest urchin ever placed upon this earth; a slug ascended from some deep dark place: the intestinal maze of some inky, sludge of hell; as grime imbibed with consciousness and pretence; as the bile of some ego too repulsive to describe. Yellow, black, wheezing and pusing, the auteuristic presence of Von Trier over his films puts a sickness deep in my stomach. What a nasty soul he bears. Yet, the creature makes films, and they are interesting.

Can art be destructive? In my estimation: no. Art is essentially moral. It is nature given form. In being given form, nature is given humanity (what is, in effect, conscious nature). Because nature is transformed, is moulded by human hands, art is inherently creative. However, deeper than this, art communicates meaning; meaning comes not from destruction. There is a complication. Human hands can shape much like they can destroy. If art emerges from human action, why can it not come from destructive action? Again, the answer concerns morality and meaning. Meaning can emerge from the negative. In the same way numbers can be added and subtracted but never abandoned if maths is to function, art can be constructive and deconstructive, not destructive. The issue here is not pedantically semantic. Deconstructive art is rife and deeply pertinent in all artistic forms. The philosophy of deconstruction is seemingly as follows: in pulling a construct apart, new meaning may emerge, a new construct, an underlying construct, may be witnessed. Meaning emerges from this negative creative process, this subtraction of sorts. We see this in comedy all the time. Conventions of all sorts are challenged as to not only create sensation, affect and a reaction (e.g. laughs) in comedy, but often to create meaning. We see this when Charlie Chaplin deconstructs a dictator; he reduces him to something comedic, and then a moral agent. Tragedy, too, is deconstructive. We will see, for example, romance fail so often to speak of that which is meaningful, that which is lost, but also possibly gained. Requiem For A Dream is a pounding tragedy whose deconstruction of three lives highlights their very value. The purpose of these narratives is never to destroy, but to collapse structures as to see something new created. Art is conscious nature, therefore it is always creative.

There is an interesting interrogative that may be injected at this point. Is nature art? My thinking suggests not. Nature, it seems, is autonomic and unthinking. Nature simultaneously bears reason. This reason is distributed without moral inflection, without thought (it seems). The transformative process that is art manages to parse out meaning from, tries to perceive reason in, the unthinking breaths and currents of nature. Nature itself, however, is too much to be so purposeful: it is more than pure reason. A flower is then not a work of art; it can only be witnessed as such: there is nothing inherent to the flower that makes it art beyond the fact that it was created. Because the flower's creation cannot be validated as consciously performed, it simply cannot be art. To suggest this destroys any integrity of a substantial definition of art. Art cannot simple be; art does something productive: it communicates. If a flower is art and simultaneously just is, then art must be entirely autonomic and unthinking. We may make art out of a flower, we may witness a flower artistically; a belief in God may lead you to suggest that a flower is art, but such does no damage to the integrity of art's definition; if the flower is created consciously (i.e. by a god or divine force), then it may just be art. Alas, ignoring theological complication, it can only be sustained that nature's vibrations far exceed that which we can hear and may call music.

Destructive 'art' is amoral; in fact, it does not exist. Dostoevsky's The Possessed is a book entirely about amorality, but, like all functional art, it inherently frames amorality under moral judgement. Art cannot free itself from moral judgement. Exploitation cinemas attempt this, but viewed as more than mere spectacle (something that can be looked at; far from a definition of art), they become reflective and so reveal themselves to be deconstructive of convention and audience expectation. Engaged as reflective, exploitation films, present to us our shadow for examination. Without this, without consciousness, exploitation cinema is reduced to a spectacle of destruction; we see death, we see torture, we see brutality and depravity and we feel, yet we do not think, we cannot think, we will not think. This is not art, this is an act of nihilism. Just like it cannot be destructive, art cannot be nihilistic; it can concern itself with nihilism, can reflect and think about nihilism, but cannot be nihilistic (nihilistic action does not exist; it unfortunately cannot in any true form). We return then to the formulation that art is nature thinking, is nature processed by consciousness. Art thinks, destruction is an action that annihilates thought; destructive thinking is merely deconstruction: the two are very different.

True and real destruction and nihilism may be nothing but a crime and a sin. If an innocent child is beaten to a pulp before oneself, you have witnessed a crime. There is nothing about your consciousness that may transform that initial reality in the present moment. Art allows someone to contrive a separate reality in which memories of a crime are represented as art, as action that may be contemplated, that may be conscious and not a crime. But the reality of the initial event cannot be transformed; it is a product of an unthinking nature; of time, space and amorality. Not all crime, not all sins, are truly destructive, but all true destruction is a crime, is a sin. Moral 'crimes' or 'sins' may exist - what does it mean to kill someone holding 10 at gun point; has destruction be overcome by the created opportunity for life - but art without morality may not.

If I were to stretch my thinking, I may hazard to suggest that art may only ever become destructive given two circumstances that, for all intents and purposes, are practically impossible to conceive of. 1) Art emerges from destructive action and, 2) is witnessed by registered by true nihilism. What would this look like? The House That Jack Built shows us; a self-conscious sociopath destroys and witnesses without moral capacity; he believes icons such as Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Amin are divine when in truth they are demonic. Alas, in witnessing such a figure, his story and his thoughts, we provide a moral framework, and so does Von Trier provide thought. Therefore, though this contains a character, a rare and inhuman specimen, who can witness destructive art, this is merely art that questions the existence of such a phenomena.

What makes Von Trier so pretentious, such an ugly spirit, is often the apparency of his wanting to create destructive art. We see this in the likes of Melancholia. Von Trier aims here, you may argue, to not only destroy, but to have us witness destruction with a nihilistic gaze. The pretence here is two-fold; firstly Melancholia is a work of creation - its images and their aesthetic capacities secure this; secondly, an audience cannot be goaded into nihilism so easily (if at all). I am not entirely convinced that Von Trier aims to only destroy in Melancholia, but there is a smell about the film that insinuates such pretentious intentions.

Alas, what makes The House That Jack Built, much like Anti-Christ and Nymphomaniac, interesting is its fascination with the divide between deconstruction and destruction. Where is the line? When does art become destructive spectacle? Can destructive spectacle think, and in turn emerge as art?

I leave these questions, and one more, with you: What are your thoughts on The House That Jack Built?






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A Prayer Before Dawn - Patient Impressionism

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09/01/2019

A Prayer Before Dawn - Patient Impressionism

Quick Thoughts: A Prayer Before Dawn (2017)

A British boxer is thrown into a Thai prison.


A Prayer Before Dawn is a unique boxing and prison film for the extreme degree to which time is entirely neglected. Lost in moments, in the flaws of our main character, this is a film that impressionistically and patiently confronts an ambiguous futility. In so many prison films, freedom and time loom as entities that rain a haze of nihilism and hopelessness; here, alienation and directionlessness dominate. As you watch a foreign boxer struggle in a Thai prison, you then fail to think about what he may be outside, where he will go, what he will do. A nobody beyond the prison walls, life itself manifests as a dim dungeon of sorts around Billy. Battered by images of abandon and brutality, his insignificance becomes palpable, his yearning for self-destruction beyond understandable. Yet somehow out of the shadow there emerges some kind of light. As implied, this is not the light of freedom, nor a light of a future, but simply a potentially tangible whole and able self. This is what Billy fights for; in essence, to figure out how to secure something stable, something homeostatic, something worth being and continuing to be. There is only further alienation to be found here, however; Billy's path is wide enough, it seems, for only two feet to tread. Such is an inevitability when the journey one means to take is towards individual worth. Alas, it cannot be overstated how intimate and real this call becomes. The camera waits and it hears; its eyes judge and its ears listen for woe. And how penetrating this film's gaze becomes, its realism and lack of melodramatic genre constructs like cinematic bliss. A Prayer Before Dawn is undoubtedly brilliant.






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Image In Motion - Autonomy Over The Cinematic Space

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08/01/2019

Image In Motion - Autonomy Over The Cinematic Space

Thoughts On: Image in Motion

An exploration of autonomous functions attached to the cinematic space.


Image in Motion is an essay by Pat Berry that I stumbled across recently. It strikes me as a particularly whole and enclosed piece of work, not too limited, but conclusive and incisive. I am particularly struck by Berry's formulation of cinematic language and the camera's role in relation to the audience's psyche.

The essay opens with a selection of arguments unequal in quality and depth. Written from a psychoanalytical perspective, this readily reduces the experience and place of film to pleasure. Such is a dominant axiom of filmic discourse that has seemingly sat at the core of film theory (in a Freudian casing) since the 60s and 70s. I find the reduction not unacceptable, simply cliched and uninspiring. From the opening paragraphs, it is clear that Berry means to explore the almost infectious and feverish attraction that visual art can become, and comes across a rather eloquent conception of why this is the case:

... the transformation that occurs in the act of filmmaking creates or perhaps releases the "psyche" of the subject... We experience this transformation from nature to art, and are magnetised by it.

Berry goes on to soon after say "the transformation into art provides form and an aesthetic value of excitement: pleasure". The fascinating line of this thought rests in the idea that nature becoming art gives art value. Historically, dramatic theories of mimesis have of course echoed similar sentiments - that art imitates the world, that art emerges from the world, and is therefore stimulating. At its heart, Berry's initial statement is an Aristotelian one - albeit, simpler and more ambiguous in nature and therefore, in my perspective, a little more eloquent. Furthermore, her suggestion that artistic creation releases the psyche sounds somewhat similar to a theory of catharsis, but, is again more fascinating thanks to the psychologically-based articulation. These ideas are, as implied, limited by the reduction of this transformation's 'magnetism' to pleasure in my opinion; however, I find the basic formulation here highly agreeable.

Less agreeable is Berry's exploration of film's birth through Méliès and the Lumières. Here we have another cliched reduction that is neverendingly recycled: cinema begins with the documentarians and the magician. Again, I find this not unacceptable, just inane. Alas, Berry establishes her major point with her discussion of visual attraction and early filmmakers: film is a kind of therapy or psychological requirement. This point is not a new one. Early filmic writers in the early 20th century, like Berry, pointed to film as a new art for the modern age, a new fast art, technological and in motion. The revelation here is not particularly profound, but this is only where Berry's thinking begins.

Having established art's position as a reflection of the psyche, as something therapeutic or pleasurable, Berry indulges yet another cliche and yet finds some piercing insight. In conceptualising the camera as an 'eye,' which was done most famously by the likes of Dziga Vertov, cinema is seen as more than vision, a vision, or even a camera's vision; cinema is seen as a construction of an imaginative eye:

... if we begin with the assumption that imagination/image is primary, then everything we look at will be one or another form of imagining/imagery. Actually the eye, the way of seeing, is what is truly imaginative. But an imaginative way of seeing is imaginative not because it proceeds from a realm or a category designated imagination, or "visionary," but because imagining is how this seeing sees. Thus, imagination exists insofar as the engaged eye is seeing imaginatively. So too, the product of that seeing is a product of imagination, whatever the genre or form.

Berry's language here is rather complicated due to its repetition of difficult to distinguish terminology that require us to, for example, think of imagination in differing ways simultaneously. The indulgence of complicated language is unnecessary as this formulation is complicated enough. The basis of Berry's idea rests in the recognition that images always have to be 'made'; that all that exist in a cinematic image is a 'constructed reality'. Nuance is required here as well as a debate on realism, but it is generally acceptable that the cinematic image is a contrived one - especially in narrative, fictional cinemas. This contrivance is the fundement of cinematic production: an image has to not just be created by a filmmaker, but conceptualised in the imagination of the spectator. We have thought in these terms before:


Cinema is not necessarily something existent in a screen. Cinema exists in between a subject (audience member), object (a screen of sorts) and a mediator (filmmakers). It is the contribution of each of these elements that leads to the creation of the cinematic space as without either an audience, a filmmaker or a screen, cinema cannot exist.

It is this 'imagined' realm that defines all cinema. However, Berry suggests that we require another step into this thinking. It is not just that cinema is imagined, but that cinema has a certain autonomy. Cinema sees imaginatively in parallel to being imagined. It becomes clear what Berry means by this soon after the above paragraph. Cinema seeing is related directly to cinematic language - the way in which a scene is shot; with a low angle, with a moving camera, with certain blocking, mise-en-scène, etc. So, whilst cinema comes into existence when a screen, filmmaker and audience member come together, a film comes to life when the camera moves. There is a prickly complication here present not because of Berry, but because of myself. The camera can be thought of as an extension of a filmmaker, and so cinematic language can be said to be present without this added conception of cinema seeing. It is true that a filmmaker moves a camera, decides, to some degree, how cinema sees. However, in the same way that a writer or actor does not invent or own genre or drama, I do not believe that a filmmaker can own cinematic language (camera movement for instance). Genre, drama and cinematic language are fundamental elements of film form that are pretty much universal. Thus, their being always stretches beyond one film and one filmmaker. They are in turn conceptualised as somewhat independent by an audience and should be in theory, too. We should then comfortably be able to accept the idea that whilst a cinematic space is constructed, is imagined, it also has autonomy; drama is one autonomous function, as is genre, as is sight: cinematic language.

This is an idea I find particularly profound and deserving of emphasis: art has autonomy and is independent of its creators to some degree. This is a structuralist belief that can easily be re-shaped within a Jungian conception of art. Structuralists such as Northrop Frye suggest that literature creates literature; that literature is written by re-writing old literature; it is because of this that genre emerges, that formal rules exist and arts can be structuralised, formalised, understood and allowed to articulate with coherence. There is truth in this, but the theory is limited. Art creates art, yes; as we have emphasised, it has autonomy. Originality, however, has its place in art. And so does reality and the collective unconscious. Art is not entirely autonomous. Art is a human construct, but the human is a projector of their own nature, their own nature a projection of universal law, of God, of Tao, of that which engendered them with life. Art's autonomy arises from this phenomena.

There is an element of art that humans cannot call theirs: this is that you may call essential symbolic and archetypal material. Humans manage, shape and dress the symbolic and archetypal, but they do not--we cannot--create it. We can call our management of the symbolic and archetypal our own if we must so inclined to do so. However, certain systems of management and formulation quickly stop being one individual's. When forms of presenting the archetypal and symbolic become universal and common place, phenomena such as genre, drama and language arise. These are human constructs that become too complicated and too closely associated with the symbolic and archetypal which they manage for them to be individually contrived, controlled and conceptualised. So it then appears that there are two orders of art's autonomy: there is the archetypal autonomy and structural autonomy. Not only is the essentially meaningful independent of human construction, but so are genre, drama and cinematic language (and any other structural elements of cinema I haven't the sight to mention presently). We can now reach a fascinating formulation:



It is not just that the subject (audience), object (screen) and mediator (filmmaker) come together to create a cinematic space, but that each of these three entities stretch out into, or have contact with, the structural and archetypal space. This is a means of visualising the idea that not only is cinema a product of imagination, but that it is a product of, as Berry suggests, art, for one, seeing, and art descending from the transcendent. Art is imagined, is alive and is divine; as is the subject, the object and the mediator. This is to say that not only is cinema a pathway to a beyond, but that technology (the object) has autonomous processes (in Berry's words, film thinks) and that artist and spectator alike have in them humanity that connects them to a great unknown from which they glean knowledge and insight. This is what the above diagram represents.

We have strayed from Berry's essay. It is this work that suggests that that cinema has imagination, that the camera sees imaginatively. What she outlines - somewhat muddily - is the dichotomy of cinema having its own perception and being perceived. One can read this here:

... if we begin with the assumption that imagination/image is primary, then everything we look at will be one or another form of imagining/imagery. Actually the eye, the way of seeing, is what is truly imaginative. But an imaginative way of seeing is imaginative not because it proceeds from a realm or a category designated imagination, or "visionary," but because imagining is how this seeing sees. Thus, imagination exists insofar as the engaged eye is seeing imaginatively. So too, the product of that seeing is a product of imagination, whatever the genre or form.

Cinema is seen and sees, it is constructed and constructs, it is dependent on humanity an is independent of it, it is wielded and yet it teaches. This, I believe, is the essence of Berry's conception:

How does film think? Certainly in a way that attempts to parallel, yet also challenge, human perception. Film thinks in many ways, as it reflects and creates human experience. Thus film thinks perspectively - from a perspective.

We are certainly going beyond Berry's thinking in our exploration, but here is the seed of her theory from which ours has sprouted. What is so inspiring about this statement and Berry's subsequent filmic analysis is the description of cinema as conscious and perceptive; a great clarification of the 'camera as eye' cliche. In general, Berry treats the formal creation of cinema (the use of certain angles, cuts, movements, etc.) as a pathway towards the collective unconscious and a means of uncovering the unknown. It is because the camera has a perspective, that cinema has autonomy, that the spectator can look at the world and into themselves anew. Cinema then facilitates and requires pathology; in Berry's words, 'creative arts need pathology'. The assertion here is simple: film explores various perspectives and assumes various identities with which to investigate the world. Consider then the varying ways cinema can 'look' at love.

Love can be presented, can be looked at, by melodramatic epics such as Titanic as a fleeting ideal, as passion, truth, freedom. Love is perceived by Disney films such as Cinderella as an ideal one must sustain under, must strive towards via interior endeavour. In the masculine, action romance, such as Rocky, love is a judge and must be lived up to; one must prove themselves to be a man as to be loved and to love. In teen comedies such as American Pie, love is a byproduct of stupidity and uncontrolled sexuality. In horror films such as The Shining, love is death, is far from enough to nourish the isolated soul. The camera in each and every one of these films looks differently; it can idealise, can hide, can expose, can invade, can linger, can unflinchingly stare. In conjunction with this, drama operates differently and genre bends space and time uniquely; these films may be presented realistically or unrealistically and we may watch them as comedic, romantic, thrilling, racy, horrifying, fantastical, etc. These three key independent structural mechanisms (cinematic language, drama, genre) inform and shape the kind of archetypal space a film exists in; they see varying incarnations of the anima/animus (anima/animus as ideal, as judge, as object, as possessor), they may require a hero, a fool, a shadow and they will have symbology reflecting various pathways of being and confronting meaning. It may indeed be pathological that humans require and yearn for all of these various identities and perspectives. Berry puts things as such:

We can get these pathological experiences precisely because our identities are loose, dissociable. Because we are less centered we can be more multiple. We do not know our point of view surely, how we think, so we take pleasure seeing life through others' eyes, thinking others' thoughts. We learn to know ourselves through being someone else.

It is with these words that I draw our investigation into Image in Motion to a close. We drew some key concepts out of this essay and expanded beyond some with our own theory, but there is still more in Berry's work. I would then recommend you find the essay; I came across it in Hauke and Alister's Jung & Film.






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06/01/2019

End Of The Week Shorts #91



Today's shorts: The Final Master (2015), Hereditary (2018), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Bird Box (2018), Blindspotting (2018), Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India (2001), Wildlife (2018)



Incredibly stiff and unimpactful, The Final Master falls into the 'Ten Thousand Dojos' sub-genre of the martial arts film as uninspired drudgery. This fails as soon as the weapons of choice are brought into play: knives awkwardly stuck onto a stick. It continues to fail as these are hefted about the screen in all too clearly choreographed scenes and a plot of deception, honour and doomed romance meanders about. Story is given so little focus that I have to admit not knowing what is going on for a good majority of the film. Whenever I did manage to gain some insight, I found myself alienated by the clunky fight scenes - which become ever more unconvincing the further they escalate. Without any intellectual, emotional or otherwise connection to this film I ultimately found The Final Master reduced to a series of happenings and that is all.



How easy is it to be lost in this Hereditary's bleak ugliness. I cannot recall a film that captures grief and pain in such a visceral and violently real manner; the scene depicting the discovery of Charlie's demise alone is so wrought and distant that it appears that sorrow has only now been truly captured on screen. But such only embolden's Hereditary's unimpeachable sense of humanity, its understanding of the psyche, of the meeting between the shadow and stubborn virtue.

I struggled, I must say, to see past the rather obvious allegory about mental health on this watch. I sense greater depth in this film, but, whilst the direct reading of this as simply a movie about tragedy triggering mental illness is made difficult by putting certain impossible things on screen, making it ambiguous as to whether the supernatural is in characters' heads or not, I need to watch this again to see and feel more.



I am becoming all too tired of Marvel movies again. Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther won me over, but I can't stand the tone and feel placed into the Marvel universe by Whedon. His writing is impossibly insipid; the quippy lines, the comedy, the self-consciousness, the conception of humanity all just put a terrible taste in my mouth. I still cannot understand how Elizabeth Olsen gets away with her shoddy performance and embarrassing Russian accent and I refuse to accept Hawkeye and Black Widow as necessary or worthwhile parts of these films. I can only come off as a grumpy old fart in being honest about Age of Ultron, but it is simply not to my tastes. Objectively, I can say that not all the comedy fails and that it is an impressive feat of filmmaking, but time will hopefully reveal how good these films aren't--important, yes; great, no.



Bird Box appears for the first act to be a sci-fi/horror maybe a little too aware of its subtext for its own good, but ultimately turns out to waste all of its subtextual potential.

Invisible monsters existent in light, out in the world, show people great tragedy, great fear--something enough to sap their will to live away, something enough to drive them to death. To survive one must blindfold themselves, and behind a blindfold a loner essentially finds a real reason to live and to face all fear. But, never does she face the monsters? Hmm... maybe I like melodrama a little too much, or maybe Bird Box is simply a trendy high concept horror. Much more could be said and done here; characterisation could have been deeper, the journeys more complex, imagery more visceral, subtext more profound, etc, etc. Somewhat disappointing. Too simple.



Blindspotting confronts some heavy subject matter one may think a little too charged to investigate well and to present without mere association to political debate. It sticks the landing, but maybe doesn't get 10/10.

Performances are great; the writing is grounded in characterisation and in an understanding of what makes our characters human, faulted and imbued with sanctity; the direction is smooth; and the script is weighted and light in all the right places. Bindspotting finds most success in its indirect social commentary; its humanisation of an ex-con, its confrontation of his short-comings, its questioning of his virtues, its preservation of his humanity. This alone says more than most words could: we see what it is to be seen for ones facade, understood and misconceived all at once. Blindspotting limits itself in its climax, which simply feels dramatically unearned; a coincidence and scene pulled from the blue for obvious reasons, but not great effect. In total, I can't then say this is perfect.



This has what all good Aamir Khan film's have in common; a succinct sense of what makes a hero. Lagaan simply bursts with character and taps into the very fundamentals of action, heroism and desperation. The comedy is strong, the direction is fantastic, romance doesn't get in the way too much; this is harmonised almost perfectly and is infinitely watchable. Highly recommended,



From scene 1, Wildlife is a high level showcase of visual characterisation and subtext rich dialogue. The performances are tremendous in their rather effortless execution of a somewhat surreal script whose dramaturgy could manifest via melodrama but is rather brought to the screen with simple realism by Gyllenhaal and Mulligan. This emphasises every nuance of their character complications and turns the camera's gaze impressionistic. The narrative and aesthetic result is affectingly human--deeply miserable, but never more so than it is understandable. Wildlife is a sponge of empathy, a well of heart ache and a kick of reality, and for that it is more than impressive. One of the best of last year.







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Roma - Allegory Of Self

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04/01/2019

Roma - Allegory Of Self

Thoughts On: Roma (2018)

A husband leaves his wife; their maid falls pregnant.


Roma is an intricate and beautiful film whose understanding of tragedy as more than pain is haunting. In following the maid of a middle-class family in the process of breaking down when the father leaves, Roma constructs an allegory of self through its sculpting of time and splicing of space.

Narrative inherently constructs an ambiguous 'allegory of self'. Roma does more than the average narrative does, however, by presenting change elementally and symbolically; by punctuating its story with flares of the bizarre and surreal. The self--who one truly is--is that part of the soul that endures all attrition and construction. This essence is defined by endurance as it is what you might call the only miracle of being; the foundation of will - will being the miraculous phenomena of pursuit, of envisioning the future, of creating or recognising meaning to strive towards. Narrative inherently and naturally dramatises life, or rather, contrives elements that converge upon the soul constructively and destructively, hence mining out and revealing a self. Cinderella in Disney's 1950 classic, for instance, is the soul that drama attacks and builds upon during the process of the story. The essence of Cinderella is a dream and heart ache. Never does this die despite all narrative change, succession and transformation; this dream and heart ache is a thematic and emotional representation of Cinderella's self. Cinderella is a story about how one carries this through their life, how one essentially ascends with this as their cross or baggage.

Roma makes explicit this phenomena of narrative exuding an allegory of the self living on, and so very directly presents us with a self symbolised by a brilliant opening image that builds as the narrative unfolds: a tiled floor. This floor is one of a partially roofed drive way or garage that so often stores a luxurious Ford Galaxie that must be parked with great care and patience for it is so wide. When the Galaxie - a shadow of cloud - is not in the drive, the family dogs have their run-about, constantly leaving faeces on the floor that cars will run over and smear all over the place. The maids clean this floor, clear the shit and wash the tiles. These tiles come to be an abstract representation of the movie's core: the idea of a self, Cleo's self. Hard, used, yet unchanging, the tiles are a welcome mat for anyone who so enters the property and overshadows them; they are shit upon by animals; they are bathed in water every day. These three characteristics become, if you care to follow the metaphor, three breaths that blow through the narrative.

The floor as a welcoming ground sees it set as foundationally order that must host chaos. Such is a recurrent idea witnessed throughout the film, emphasised by the stillness or controlled movement of the camera; we move through the world of Roma with placidity, grace and patience: we are, in effect, stone that moves. And whilst the camera is stiff in all its subtlety, the world it captures moves upon its own volition; what enters the frame comes independent of the mood of the camera, its movement and, indeed, its grey, smooth, silken gaze. Kids scream, waves crash, traffic bustles, life crumbles, but the camera watches unperturbed. The camera seems bound, however, to our protagonist: Cleo. It embodies her stillness, her patience, her controlled, leisurely glissando through drama. The camera moves upon waves of Cleo's self's breath, and so like the floor, it welcomes the chaos of life and is that place upon which external personal dramas play out. That is to say, like the garage or drive way is the place where the children welcome and wave off their father, wait for him, where the mother makes her final silent pleas as he leaves for his mistress, Cleo is a person constantly in the background of the family's drama, in the background of her boyfriend's personal drama, a venue, a domain, sometimes an active agent, sometimes human, more so observer. This passivity is what endures, is what cannot be abraded from the self of Cleo; it appears to be who she is.

Alas, where Cleo is like wood baring weather, an observer, she is also used. Dumped upon by a dog destined to become a head on a mantle in a backroom of memory, Cleo is impregnated and abandoned. She, like the many women of this world, is stranded. She, like us all, is shit upon by life. We see this projected constantly by the film, often in surreal interims in which background juxtaposes harshly with foreground (narratively or proxemically), where joy and sorrow are captured in the same frame, life and death, harmony and chaos, tragedy and fortune; a marriage and a broken family eating ice cream; violence and labour; a saved child and a still-birth. Irony, it seems, is the most pungent dropping of all - yet it is rife, yet it is far from shy.

The final breath blown through Roma's narrative is one of resolve. Like dirtied floors may be washed, the soul can be cleansed. There is a deep pit within us all into which the waters of life may drain, and it is into this, the drain at the heart of Cleo, that we fall. Clouds drift, waves crash, planes glide, night descends and yet a great blue perseveres. The self sustains; it is unchanged yet wiser, beaten yet stronger, cleaner yet impure, closer to heaven and yet also demise, all at once and forever more.







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The Favourite - The Lanthimos Film?

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02/01/2019

The Favourite - The Lanthimos Film?

Thoughts On: The Favourite (2018)

A fallen lady vies to become a court favourite.


Though far from a bad movie, The Favourite may be the first upset in what I'd consider a flawless record in Yorgos Lanthimos' filmography. The issues lies in the script and performances. In short, this is not a Lanthimos film - and though I know why this is the case now, I did not know as I watched. A Lanthimos film is not defined by a time or place. One could never call his films Greek or British, nor could they place them specifically in the history of film. Indeed, Lanthimos is said to have emerged from the Greek Weird Wave, but such declarations fall apart under very basic analysis (Lanthimos also decries his contextualisation within contemporary Greek filmmaking). In short, there are no real cultural markers dictating what a Lanthimos film is. His body of work is rather defined by the nature of its drama and certain world rules.

If one considers drama to be more than an abstract means of categorising film, more than a genre, they may come to see it to be the substance through which narrative operates and times finds momentum on film. Drama is that which truly works the machinery of the moving picture camera; drama is conflict, is action, is friction. Conceptualised as such, it appears obvious that there are certain dramatic approaches or certain dramatic forms that actors and/or writers use to bring about action and characters on screen. For instance, there are realistic forms of drama in which characters manifest as 'real' people. Other forms of drama lead to the creation of perfect characters and situations, all finely tuned for what a narrative requires. And yet other forms of drama are uncanny, are strange, are weird; characters and situations are awkward and unreal and do not seem to make sense. Lanthimos utilises this form of drama in all of his works, and I have come to categorise this and label it as tuphlodrama. Terminology, however, is not too important.

In each of Lanthimos' films, characters are given a certain naivety that is pre-loaded with malevolence. It is, however, unsatisfying to describe the family in Dogtooth or David in The Lobster as naive as though they act in ignorance, or operate from within a sphere of helplessness, there is a drive and a cunning within them; an ability to revolt, to conceptualise and pursue their own desires, curiosities and needs. This dichotomy between activity and passivity lies at the heart of their awkwardness and the uncanniness of the drama exuding from them. The eldest daughter in Dogtooth, for instance, wants to, in a sense, win all the games she plays. This competitiveness evolves into a yearning to escape when this development of individuality and self-consciousness comes into conflict with her situation: the fact that she is, in effect, a pet and an experiment of sorts for her possessive parents. It is the eldest daughter's ignorance to this fact that has her play the games she engages under perverse, amoral rules despite the fact that very human drives motivate her. We see this when she tries to gain a favour from her sister by licking her inner thigh. Absurd as this is, the eldest daughter always trades minor pleasures with her sister for favours. Unaware of sex and sexuality, she won a favour off an outsider by following a command to lick her between the legs. Ingeniously perverse this becomes when the eldest daughter realises the depths of this sexual trade. Although it is clear that she is not fully comfortable with the exchange of sexual favours with the fact that she licks her sister's inner-thigh when she likely previously licked elsewhere, the eldest comes to fully realise the dehumanisation this self-prostitution is when she is used as a sex object to placate her brother's desires under the command of her parents. It is this realisation that starts to see morality naturally emerge from what is human in the eldest daughter. And so though her road to an understanding the audience holds is rough, perverse and rather horrifying, it puts her in a place we are familiar with, but may now see with new eyes.

This is the genius in all of the films of Lanthimos; he sees certain rules conflict with characters reduced to very fundamental components as to find new paths towards the presentation and realisation of humanity. We find a great example in The Lobster. David is a very simple character; he does not want to be alone, he is short sighted and has a bad back. As uncanny as it may be for him to be defined, very directly, as such, this characterisation integrates into the rules of the world he finds himself in. This world requires everyone to be in a relationship and all who are not to be turned into an animal. The interrogative posed here pierces absurdity: put simply, what is a person if they are not in a relationship; are they any better than an animal? We may all sense the logic in this question - or at least the context in which it may be asked. We may also understand the reason why this question would see humanity simplified and boiled down to brutally direct units. Alas, whilst this could be explored in greater depth, what is of importance is the way in which Lanthimos uses the question that the rules of his world operate under to bring about highly human action in David. This is a character that, essentially, yearns so intensely to be human that profound love emerges out of necessity - the most basic of connections he can make with someone - and leads him to ask himself an impossible question: can the blind lead the blind? Can he be so naive, so faithful, so courageous, as to sacrifice his vision (literally and symbolically) for safety - for what may just be love? How human this quandary is. What is it to love, to be in a relationship? Would you--have you--blinded yourself for love? Why?

I could draw up many more examples of humanity emerging from the uncanny as Lanthimos' collected works burst at the seams with them. However, I have outlined just two examples to begin to explain the ways in which The Favourite is not truly a Lanthimos film. As implied, a Lanthimos film is defined by a specific, uncanny kind of drama and the humanity that this allows narrative to access and make palpable. The Favourite lacks not necessarily this, but this formula and effect's character, intensity and punch as it usually manifests in a Lanthimos film. In short, The Favourite's tuphlodrama fails to conjure a punch of profundity.

Missing from The Favourite is, first and foremost, a world of absurd rules. Missing from The Favourite, secondly, is a naivety and lack of awareness and ordinary cognitive functionality in characters. The former idea is markered by the fact that this is the most genre-defined film Lanthimos has made. Before The Favourite, The Lobster stuck out of Lanthimos' filmography as a sci-fi film of sorts. Alas, due to the tuphlodramatic propensities of sci-fi, The Lobster's narrative did not find itself at odds with its genreism. That is to say that sci-fi films often have a world defined by alien and strange rules. Highly common in the sci-fi film is a corrupt dictatorship or system of sorts - the likes of which is seen in Blade Runner, The Matrix, Ex Machina, Metropolis, District 9, WALL-E, A Clockwork Orange, V For Vendetta, The Hunger Games, Snowpiercer, Equilibrium, Dredd, Minority Report, Maze Runner, Brazil, ect. This system has the potential to create absurd situations; the inhumanity in young adults in A Clockwork Orange, the drudgery of workers in Metropolis, the sedentariness of passengers aboard the Axiom in WALL-E, the conformity of citizens in Equilibrium. Such outlines the potential in sci-fi for the uncanny and, maybe, tuphlodrama - this, we could argue, emerges from a pessimistic gaze into the future inherent to the creation of sci-fi. Alas, where sci-f and tuphlodrama are rather congruent, the period piece and tuphlodrama aren't necessarily so.

P.T Anderson recently used the the period piece for tuphlodramatic exploration in Phantom Thread, as did Park Chan-Wook with The Handmaiden. Fellini thrived in doing just this - Satyricon and Casanova are great examples of absurd period pieces. One could see Bergman to have done such, too, with masterworks in The Seventh Seal and Cries & Whispers. Such goes to show that uncanny drama and the period piece are sometimes functional together. Fellini is likely the filmmaker Lanthimos should have studied for The Favourite as it is his bombastic view of historical custom that comes to define the absurdity in the likes of Fellini Satyricon. All too common is it for the excesses of the rich to create melodramatic expressionism - we see this most famously in Citizen Kane's Charles and his Xanadu. Fellini takes this convention and runs with it in Satyricon. Lanthimos should have followed suit. Alas, the neuroses and excesses of the rich, powerful and royal are projections of near-inanity in The Favourite. The Favourite is to Dogtooth what Amadeus is to Fellini Satyricon. Both The Favourite and Amadeus deal with castes of absurdity and neurotic vanity, but Dogtooth and Satyricon use this corruption to define the way in which societies operate. This is all to say that the genreisms of The Favourite prevent and supplant tuphlodrama. We see this in the performances and general logic/tone of the narrative. The Favourite is very much so the comedic period piece that it is often categorised as; like a Monty Python film, comedy creates anachronism and therefore creates something estimating intellectual farcity and ironic, self-reflexive commentary. The result is morodrama - the kind of drama often seen in Coen bros movies or comedies by the Marx brothers. Funny enough The Favourite is not if it were to exist, tonally and structurally, alongside the likes of Duck Soup, Burn After Reading or The Life of Brian. Dramatically confused, The Favourite not only functions as half a comedy, but has performances that pursue a period piece of excess rather than a tuphlodramatic period piece. Our articulation is muddy, but the on-screen manifestations are clearly distinct. Compare, if you can, the lead performance of Amadeus and that of Fellini's Casanova. Compare also Rachel Weisz's performance in The Favourite and The Lobster.

The Lobster sees Weisz adopt an awkwardly abrasive intonation that remains consistent and is pertinent to all performances throughout the film; indeed, it seems to have been written for just this. Weisz flakes on this performance style in The Favourite like Elisabeth Olsen flakes a Russian accent in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Worse that this, however, the entire cast - Emma Stone in particular - do not seem to be acting as if they are in a Lanthimos film. True, the likes of Colin Farrell has said that Lanthimos does not specifically ask for the particular performances his actors always seem to provide. However, Stone's (and others') seeming ignorance to this approach to character is a key mechanism through which tuphlodrama is shaken and sometimes abandoned for morodrama--for comedy and a more basic conception of an off-beat period piece. I then believe Stone is the worst cast performer. Her performance is not bad, it is merely incongruous with the drama that Lanthimos works so well with. Stone's comedic sensibilities (put on display in so many of her movies) seem to formulate the basis for her approach in The Favourite. She does not descend into something darkly naive like Weisz and Farrell have done so brilliantly before, like Ariane Labed and Angeliki Papoulia can do so masterfully. There is a self-consciousness about Stone's absurd performance that emerges from its comedic foundations and is pertinent to the story (one may argue), but damaging to the world and tone. In short, it aids in the suppression of meaning that strikes out and grasps.

It would be hard not to come to the fact that Lanthimos and Filippou did not write the script for The Favourite at this point. All too obvious is it that this was written to be a racy, controversial period piece a little like the aforementioned Amadeus or The Piano or the more recent Far From The Madding Crowd. There are many markers of just this; many are linked to the discussed failure to manifest strong tuphlodrama. Alas, it is the unsubstantial thematic explorations of The Favourite that are an obvious product of a writer who has written something that has interested Lanthimos, but simply is not Filippou - is not as bitingly insightful as he, as capable of constructing allegory and articulating humanity past stuttering lips.

The Favourite explores power struggles, deception and jealousy. This is something as inherent to the royal period piece as corrupt systems are to the prospective sci-fi movie. Such puts the script on a back foot; whilst one cannot say they feel like they've seen a film like The Lobster, like Alps or Dogtooth, The Favourite feels like Barry Lyndon, Amadeus, Raise The Red Lanterns and more. This is simply because drama doesn't disguise or encompass the theme of jealousy. It is then all too obvious where characters will go in The Favourite. A great virtue of Alps, and indeed all of Lanthmos' films, is that characters struggle to know or decide what they want. There is a clarity about The Favourite that centralises the plot - the means through which a desire shall be pursued and achieved. Plot is key in the likes of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but all is stagnant and unmoving. This could not be more true than in Alps; no one has reason or logic, just a desire. Alps is such a pertinent film for comparison for it deals with surrogacy like The Favourite does. However, the alienation and meandering in Alps is replaced in The Favourite with cunning - and such sees plot become a distraction and lyrosophy asided. Such is a consequence of characters divorcing themselves from naivety and unknowing and leads to the construction of a story that is not only familiar, but rather mundane and far from striking. I will not delve into the details of the narrative for this film has only recently been released and wouldn't want to spoil things, but, put simply, The Favourite doesn't manage to say or project much about wanting to be wanted, to be used; it says something, some things, but nothing whole. I'd like to delve into this more in a separate post, but it is the lack of precision in The Favourite's commentary that left me--I cannot say disappointed--but certainly far less affected than anticipated.

Far more could be said about this film and its shortcomings, but, to conclude having said much about little already, I shall simply say that The Favourite does not feel like a Lanthimos film. The key markers of just this do not build into something cohesive and expressive. I certainly need to see this again, but I have not experienced a Lanthimos film like I have The Favourite - and that's not a positive comment.






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