Thoughts On: February 2019


SDU: Sex Duties Unit - Defiance In A Libidinal Adventure?

Thoughts On: SDU: Sex Duties Unit (飞虎出征, 2013)

Made by Gary Mak, this is the Macanese film of the series.

SDU is a raunchy action comedy, Hangover infused into American Pie. It then feels generically familiar; an escapade into debauchery motivated by basic pleasures. Such is often wrapped up in Hollywood teen movies whose central characters want base fulfilment - to have sex (American Pie), to eat (Harold and Kumar go to White Castle) or have a party (Superbad). SDU self-consciously falls into this loose genre of the 'libidinous adventure film'. It follows a small group of special force officers in Hong Kong who are all obsessed with sex; they decide to sneak into Macau to find prostitutes, but in doing so find themselves in a heap of mess that reveals much about the individuals composing the team. Much of the conflict of the film is centred upon the team wanting to hide the fact that they are going to Macau from their work place as Macau has a reputation a little like Bangkok, Las Vegas, Amsterdam, etc. do as sin cities. It is here where you can begin to gain a little more incite into the minor significance attached to SDU as an East Asian film.

Macau, like Hong Kong, is an autonomous region attached to China with a colonial history that came to a close in the 90s. There are a myriad of cultural and political connections (some contentious) between these regions and mainland China that emerge from similarity and difference. One pertinent difference that SDU has us focus on is prostitution. Prostitution is legal in both Hong Kong and Macau. It is not in China, but of course it exists (Dongguan is a city with something of a reputation). Though prostitution is legal in both regions, brothels and similar institutions are not. The industry must then function discreetly. It appears that the industry is more developed in Macau - which signals part of the reason as to why the characters in SDU decide to travel from Hong Kong (where they could legally find prostitutes) to Macau.

This information alone is rather inane. SDU emerges from a wave of popular raunchy, sex-focused comedies - vulgar comedies. This wave began around 2012 with the likes of Vulgaria. SDU may be seen as something of a cash grab, a foray into a suddenly lucrative and trendy genre of film. But it has been suggested that the film represents something of a rebellion against China and its values. Not only does SDU represent acts and an industry deemed wrong by Chinese law with irreverence and acceptance, but it is also a something of an illegal document. I have not been able to confirm the following definitively, but SDU is a Category III film and so likely never got released in China (was banned). We can rather safely assume that SDU never got an official release in China as the Hong Kong film industry operates with a different rating system and censorship practices. In China, there is no official, legalised rating system for films - it is, to my knowledge, one of the only countries not to have one in the modern day. This is never a good sign as, if a country has no way of rating films, their censorship practices will be black and white; a film is allowed or banned; it must be suitable for everyone or will be seen by no one (at least in a cinema or on official streaming sites, DVD, etc). We have explored the Hong Kong rating system previously through A Chinese Torture Chamber Story, but SDU can only be seen by audience members aged 18 or above - which doesn't give it a good chance at all of not being banned in the mainland. Furthermore, SDU contains a gay character and a plot strand that not only celebrates and supports him finding a prostitute, but he has a visible erection for the vast majority of the film's run-time. In China, whilst homosexuality is not illegal, the expression of homosexuality is pretty much illegal on film and television. It is then this that apparently makes SDU, much like others in the wave, defiant in some way.

I am somewhat sceptical of the assertion that SDU and other vulgar comedies defy Chinese culture, politics and its norms as Category III movies (some of which make SDU appear childish) have been extant for decades now. It is possible that the film's popularity signifies a growing acceptance of Hong Kong's industry laws and its freedoms, but my general knowledge on the industry and culture is far too limited to speak much to this. Alas, seen as such, SDU does open up a space requiring more research and thought.

That said, to return to the film itself and its content, SDU is not particularly special or competently constructed. As implied in the beginning, this is generically familiar, and so appropriates tropes, a tone and plot beats from Hollywood libidinal adventure films that have risen and fallen in popularity cyclically since the 50s. SDU shares a particular connection with the contemporary incarnation of the libidinal adventure à la the teen, stoner and party comedy. It then predictably and sarcastically takes an outcast and failing group of people, sets before them a goal emergent from the 'norm' and desire (everyone seems to want to have sex, to get drunk, party, etc.) that challenges persona constructs, revealing more subtle struggles of self that unify the band of friends. The basic assertion of the narrative is that the higher self is discovered by indulging in the chaos of pleasure and social pressures constructed without regard for the personal psyche. In such, SDU - like American Pie, Hang Over, Eurotrip, Superbad, Wedding Crashers, Due Date, etc. - use pleasure, vice and stupidity as a fire that burns away the frailty of a weak individual whilst catalysing the strengthening of their irrevocable self. Put more simply, chaos teaches characters in libidinal adventures how to be themselves. Where SDU falls short in this respect is in its inability to construct particularly human realisations for characters and particularly striking or funny chaos for them to fall into. In short, this is merely satisfactory in all aspects, but nonetheless a potentially significant film that gives some insight into its cultural and industrial context. For that, SDU may be worth watching.

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End Of The Week Shorts #96

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Blog News

This is a short post to let you know that I will be going abroad shortly and do not think I will not be able to post any reviews - or even the shorts. I apologise, but look forward to posting again the week starting on the 25th.

Thanks for reading.


End Of The Week Shorts #96

Today's shorts: Aquaman (2018), Glass (2019), Pixels (2015), Zookeeper (2011), Blue Steel (1990), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Velvet Buzzsaw (2019), No Country For Old Men (2007)

A longer review may be required, but I have to say I'm impressed. Aquaman has its faults - it is rather cliched and uninspired. But, this is still the best product DC has put out in recent years. What this captures above all else is the impossible. Aquaman could not have been made 15 or even 10 years ago, and almost every frame oozes with this fact. Wan does a tremendous job in doing something rather inconceivable here; I'm reminded of Cameron's endeavour to make the impossible world film that is Avatar, and can't help but feel Wan's effort is more successful than Cameron's in a frontier, world building manner. Highly reminiscent of Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, a modernised Arthurian legend, Aquaman's attempts in the narrative department are valiant - and I much appreciate the touches of melodrama. Its success here is limited, but, by DC standards, this is a revelation.

I had had a long day before going to see this, so I was tired - but I still put some blame on Glass for me almost falling asleep.

I knew this was going to subvert expectations of the superhero genre-film, but I could not anticipate just how hard Glass would push its subversion. I can easily see an argument for this aiming to frustrate and bore above aiming to do something new. There may be some value in a filmmaker antagonising their audience, but what substance emerges from Glass? I suppose there's some questioning around sanity and self-belief that is intriguing on a dry and abstract level. But, there is little that is affecting about Glass; lax characterisation, so-so writing, good performances, satisfactory direction. More could be said, but I will simply end with an... eh.

I stress the following: I did not watch this in full. I stress this so you don't feel the need to question my mental and physical health; I was exposed to enough to feel the sting, but I was not hit with an unbearable dosage of poisonously shoddy cinema.

Pixels needs applause; objectively, the must un-funny film ever constructed. Adam Sandler's cinema is like Baby Brent from Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs; when the thing gets old, it gets ugly; the more the thing matures, the more hideous it becomes. What is most surprising about Pixels, however, is the action and the constant sexual puns. Both are as jarring as they are childish. I wash my hands of this trash.

Kevin James, from my perspective, is that goofy yet popular guy in school who everyone thinks is just a great person, but that you can't help but want to spit on; from a distance, you profoundly dislike him without a real reason and without a care for getting to know him; you like that you dislike him, and that's how things will stay. Sorry, not sorry, but screw Kevin James. I refuse to justify this. Apologies for the cynicism.

About Zookeeper; mediocre, sentimental, contrived and childish. There is something to be said for its lunacy - it puts a smile on your face that you want to wipe off. But, this is more guilt, less pleasure in my books. Stick to podcasting Gale. You embarrass yourself.

Beyond all else, Blue Steel feels like a film struggling to reach a certain minute mark. Everything about the pacing and the plotting just feels bloated and stretched. This leaves the film open to many plot holes and silly moments. Why hit a guy with a car and then shoot him? Why does everyone constantly shoot one another in the chest and arms? Who invited Michael Meyers into a cop-thriller?

It is hard to see more in Blue Steel than just this. The direction, acting and characterisation are not terrible, but nonetheless all exude forgettability. And such is what Blue Steel is; rather forgettable.

Is it possible to have a camera stare at a story with less care?

Zero Dark Thirty is the epitome of procedural. All that occurs feels as though it has been directly transcribed by an uptight bystander who has to document all that they have seen. This documentary approach to narrative seems to be a mechanism of neutralising its many controversial and loaded elements; it also constructs a facade of verisimilitude. I'm slightly sceptical of how true this 'true story' is and what the intentions are in putting this story on the big screen (especially in the way that it has). There is no celebration of Bin Laden's capture (probably not necessary) and there is no real criticism or questioning. With some contrivance, this shows the event and the many struggles leading up to it objectively. Maybe the hope was that this would reveal much in and of itself. Alas, what do we learn about characters and the American governmental system? I'm not sure.

Far from perfect, but somewhat provocative, you might describe Velvet Buzzsaw as Ring meets The Square. We are taken into a cliched vision of the art world - an industry rife with emptiness, money, deception, sexuality and self-absorption. We are shown characters who create and facilitate creation via self-corruption. They are, one by one, picked off and destroyed by genuine art that was never meant to be discovered. A judge and punisher, this truthful, unintending art reveals the insipid and malevolent nature of its spectator's intentions. The final assertion; art should be like life; it should be constructed on sands that erode under the ebb and flow of waves like time that will always forget, will always obscure the past. Live and let yourself die; live well enough so you can die honourably. Such is Velvet Buzzsaw's assertion. It isn't articulated very well, but maybe there's some substance under it - maybe there isn't.

The cowboy stares at a frontier approaching his home after having forgotten that he is supposed to be in motion, that the wild west was supposed to be a movement into the unknown and the treacherous. The dark cloud that always rested in the depths of the unknown seems like a new predator on the boarder. The cowboy has forgotten. Did he ever know?

No Country For Old Men is too much and all at once. Simultaneously an exploration of the elemental and undying good, bad and outlaw moving betwixt the two as well as an investigation of fate, reason and determinism, this is a film that silently guffaws. Uncannily precise and revealing, this is a film that can be seen 20 times over and still need more views.

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Thoroughbreds - Act Without Intention

Thoughts On: Thoroughbreds (2017)

Estranged friends come together and plot a murder.

Thoroughbreds is about as nihilistic as a film can be. Though all is masked by a patient gaze of the camera, an inactive look that presents the already desensationalised drama as stilted and inconsequential, this holds a deeply saddening, a troubling and even horrifying, story at its core. I will have to use spoilers as to speak about this, and since this is a somewhat new film, you have been warned.

There are two central characters operating at the dark core of this film; two former-friends, a self-absorbed rich girl who hates her controlling step-father (and not long ago lost her biological father), and an outcast who cannot feel any emotion. The outcast, Amanda, is on trial for animal cruelty - she messily euthanised her mother's horse. She is reunited with her old friend, Lily, through her mother. Initially, the dark, sardonic and inhumanly emotionless nature of Amanda is frightening and off-putting to the young rich girl, but a bond forms when something sable in Lily figures out it has a lot to potentially learn (or gain) from re-acquainting Amanda. Such is signified by a scene in which Lily opens up about her sociopathic techniques of 'blending in' whilst watching movies; she critiques the genuity of an actress' crying, performs a highly convincing fake cry and begins to teach Amanda how to do just so before admitting that, because she never cries - cannot cry - she was using 'the technique' with Lily at her father's funeral. As Amanda never does, Lily does not recoil at this betrayal of sorts. Instead, she is firstly accepting and then is drawn down an amoral path of logic.

This plot detail recurs at many points throughout the film. The most significant generates the following formula: Lily hates her step-father; if he were dead, her life would be better; Amanda has 'killed' before; she seems more than able to contrive or even execute a plan to satisfy Lily; Amanda does not object. Put on display here is seemingly a similar kind of logic centralised in Heathers. The films have strong points of relation. Both concern themselves with apathy-drenched, upper class suburbs, outcasts, liars, emotionless amorality, anarchism, nihilism and a highly disaffected and venomous kind of hatred. Many find Heathers comedic and incisive for this and the manner in which the core vindictiveness of the film interplays with the melodramatic, expressionist and absurd form. Thoroughbreds has been categorised, like Heathers, as a dark comedy - likely due to its use of nihilism. Maybe there is a hint of shock-comedy about Thoroughbreds, but I sense no real attempt in the film to be particularly funny. Dry it is indeed, absurd also, but funny? Such is a major point of distinction between the two films, which is why I'm hesitant to stress the connection between the two. Alas, we can certainly see that stories have used nihilistic logic as a means of plot-construction and characterisation before. Heathers is just one example, but comedies such as Deadpool use this, too; some of the best examples of an amoral gaze emerge from art cinemas, such Yorgos Lanthimos'. Lanthimos' films are not subsumed in nihilism, but there is an antiseptic, curious amorality about how the film investigates - both aesthetically and narratively. Thoroughbreds is somewhat unique due to its impressionistic form. Lars von Trier's recent The House That Jack Built is a film we can draw upon here. Like Man Bites Dog, The House That Jack Built not only follows a serial killer, but the camera engages him, for the most part, as he wants to be engaged. The cinematic language of the likes of The House That Jack Built is then indicative of how a serial killer looks (to some degree at least); we can call this impressionistic. To a more extreme degree than even The House That Jack Built or Man Bites Dog Thoroughbreds impressionistically looks like a steely serial killer.

The key difference between all of the amoral films we have so far discussed - Heathers, Man Bites Dog and The House That Jack Built in particular - is Thoroughbreds' absence of consequence, most confrontationally in the form of police. Authorities and comeuppance always play on the perimeters of the mentioned films, and almost always manage to invade the diegesis, leading to a final act in which the killers are captured or killed. There is an implicit and inevitable commentary that emerges from this: killing is amoral. Thoroughbreds manages to subvert this.

Lily, our self-consumed rich girl, is never caught. She develops a plot to kill her father through a local want-to-be drug dealer with Amanda, but this fails. Lily then decides to drug Amanda and kill her step-father herself before planting the knife on her sleeping 'friend'. This plan almost fails, too. As Amanda drinks her tainted drink, Lily can't help but tell her the truth after questioning why her 'friend' would even want to live if she has no emotions. Amanda nonetheless ambiguously agrees to being a scapegoat and Lily gets to kill her father and get away with all. It is at the very end that we see some presence of the law and consequences through Amanda's incarceration. Alas, there are two devices at play that undermine the invasion of authority. Firstly, Amanda voluntarily enters the system; Lily, the true killer, stays where she wants to be. And secondly, we do not see prison represented at the end of the film. Instead, Amanda is sent to a psychiatric hospital (for criminals we can assume). This completes a subtextual strain of the narrative which has much to say about mental health and its medication as a failing practise. As opposed to highlighting consequence - upholding the ethics of 'the system' and the law - the presentation of the psychiatric ward emphasises the holes in a governmental system. Looking at Thoroughbreds as a whole, we can then begin to see just how isolated and insular its world is. The gaze and world construction is not only amoral and emotionless, but it is solipsistic; the only people who exist and matter are our main characters. Such is displayed in some of the cinema of Lanthimos. In Dogtooth in particular, the subversion of law, the system and the complete disregard of authority is key and a defining element of the aesthetics of the film.

Whilst we may understand Thoroughbreds through its nihilism, there are limitations. To truly understand and 'see' this film, we can reflect on something spoken about as we looked at The House That Jack Built. Art is inherently moral and moralising. Such is made obvious via Thoroughbreds' theme of solipsism. This is certainly a film that looks impressionistically; the cinematic language and general dramaturgy (what is shown/not shown, what is done/not done) seems to imitate the way a serial killer may look, think and act. Alas, we do not see the world as our 'sociopath', Amanda, does. As we first experience the film, this may seem to be the case, but, any consideration of Amanda's role in the narrative - her psychology and emotions - will reveal how unexplored and fundamentally used she is. Impressionistic this film is, but it is Lily's not Amanda's, psyche that is impressed upon us.

We have already outlined the general logic of this film - Lily hates her step-father; if he were dead, her life would be better; Amanda has 'killed' before; she seems more than able to contrive or even execute a plan to satisfy Lily; Amanda does not object. This is how the murder fuelling all drama occurs. Whilst we can begin to see how Amanda is used by Lily by making obvious the thinking that pushes forth action in our story, we must question Amanda's identity as a sociopathic 'killer' as to reveal the depths of her exploitation.

One can very easily argue that Amanda never exhibits malice and certainly never kills anything either within the narrative of Thoroughbreds or beyond it. As established, she definitely does not kill Lily's step-father. And, as is made passingly apparent, Amanda does not just 'kill' her mother's horse. Emotionless as she is, the horse was injured and suffering. She tries herself to end the creature's pain - she does so without being affected by the gruesome and harrowing nature of her act (which signifies something very off about her), but the morality underlying her logic is rather sound despite the actual euthanisation of the horse being messy. This act is, to some degree, compassionate. Not only does she do something for the horse, but maybe this is also for her mother. Importantly, the euthanisation is also for herself; it provides her a sense of closure and peace knowing that someone close to the horse ended its life. This element of--self-satisfaction is not the right word, but it translates roughly to what I mean to say--this element of self-satisfying compassion reveals that Amanda is not an uncomplicated character. She feels. She feels responsibility, she can sense morality, she feels a need to act and requires, not just being close to others, but serving them. This translates directly to Lily. Amanda and Lily were once good friends. There is an absurd degree of loyalty at the base of their relationship - which is precisely why Amanda is not only willing to kill for Lily, but will sacrifice herself for her (some may even point to this relationship as homoerotic). There is then a certain purity about the amorality of Amanda that is corrupted by Lily. Amanda acts on impulses. All the impulses that she is shown to act upon are compassionate and truth-seeking. For instance, there is a scene in which Lily initially asks Amanda to kill her father. A knife is put in her hand and she is made to wait whilst Lily confronts him. The step-father argues with Lily. He has caught her smoking, but will not tell her mother; he does not like her selfish attitude and believes that she cannot see the world as others can (solipsism); he has arranged for her to go to a new school, but will not help her anymore. Amanda hears this, she hears the truth, and so she does not kill the step-father despite Lily wanting her to (especially in her heated and emotional state). Lily resents Amanda for not killing him there and then. Amanda, too logical, too compassionate, does not care. She would rather allow Lily to act out her fantasies and dark, selfish impulses and take onto her shoulders all the blame.

We see now the melancholia that undermines Thoroughbreds' dark comedy. A young woman who cannot register emotion like others finds a friend, and for some unknown reason - likely to do with her mental complex - she becomes so attached that she is willing to not only kill for her friend, but give up her life for her. Into this unwanting, unintending, amoral entity is imbued the nihilism of an anarchistic solipsist wrought with evil - beyond amoral - intent. And so Thoroughbreds becomes a film about the passivity of nature never being allowed to prevail. Amanda is humanity without masses of complication; she has basic virtues that, unfortunately, are not controlled by principals. She is a passive incarnation of human nature we may argue. Lily on the other hand is a construct of intent without basic virtue. Yang finds yin and tries to swallow it. This leaves Amanda passively nihilistic. Her last words emerge from a letter she sends to Lilly from prison. She has a dreams about being a horse, and of upper-class society killing itself, leaving thoroughbred horses to roam about suburbia, unaware of their own value. How transparent and poetic this is - how sad. Amanda is rather indefatigably human in all of its passive goodness. She is used and abused and only her unconscious mind can whisper to her a nihilistic wish for the meaningless active elements of humanity to burn off under the flame of its own invidious passion.

Powerful Thoroughbreds appears to be if seen as more than a dark comedy. I'll then end here and leave things with you. Have you seen this film yet? What are your thoughts?

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How It Ends - Limitations & False Cutesyness

Thoughts On: How It Ends (2018)

An apocalypse dawns and a man is on the opposite side of America to his pregnant girlfriend, so he must journey back to her with his to-be-father in law.

How It Ends is one of seemingly many recent Netflix-distributed sci-fi films. If there is any genre of film I'm somewhat eager to see Netflix support, it has to be the original mid-to-low end sci-fi film - simply because this is a genre that sometimes only needs a good idea to formulate something brilliant. Alas, How It Ends, much like Bird Box, does not impress much - in fact, it has very similar structural and narrative downfalls. However, it is appreciable from a distance and without much expectation.

As mentioned, this fails in a similar way to Bird Box. Both are films that have some ambiguity about them - enough to grant the creation of those always much-needed 'explained' YouTube videos. But, whilst these films can be pondered in layman ways - what is it that causes the apocalypse? what do the monsters look like? - any basic questioning of narrative reveals each film's explicit lack of depth. So, whilst Bird Box could have very easily been a parable about confronting fear (a dark, post-apocalyptic fairy tale of sorts) somewhat reminiscent of psychological horrors such as The Babadook, it resorts to a cheap ending about living blindly. Both symbolically and emotionally, this is disappointing; not only does this mean little of substance in narrative, metaphorical terms, but there is no catharsis or projection of change and struggle that affects. How It Ends doesn't set itself up with a premise as rich as Bird Box, but this is still foundationally very simple - too simple. A film about individuation - the development of a stronger, better, more whole self - through the confrontation of life's darker side, How It Ends is fundamentally a film about being a man--a good one. This tale requires an alienated, unimpressive boyfriend just about getting his life together to live up to the man his lover's father is. There may be some Freudian mess in some dark corner of this film, but let us not venture there. In short, this is about earning a vacant throne - a prince gaining a throne next to the princess after the king dies. The basic elements of this narrative are put into place. The king is shown to be formidable, a man of great struggle and toil, of resolve, knowledge, answers, compassion and judgement; he is a leader, but he is old. The prince has warm virtues, but he lacks the ability to execute and to generate a shadow with which to confront the world without naivety. The apocalypse sees the prince go into training and the rest follows suit rather flatly. There is a little more complication to the narrative, but nothing worth delving into.

How It Ends is limited due to its refusal to engage melodrama and its misuse of realism. Without melodrama, this does not capture moments of emphatic change and meaning. More subtle in form, How It Ends has quiet moments be the most meaningful. We see a good example of this in the way in which the father and boyfriend conflict and connect. This is done through drama suppressed by civility; when the two argue, there is always something putting a lid on anger. Reversely, moments in which the two sacrifice for one another and show compassion as they begin to connect are silent - a moment of laughter, for instance, is the key signification that the two have reconciled. This realism is functional - but that's about it. A melodramatic film would have the father and son point guns at one another, scream, shout, fight and break things; it would have the two cry in each others arms, sacrifice their bodies for one another in slow-motion, etc, etc. We have seen this put on film before. You could argue that it is a net positive that this is not put to screen in How It Ends. But, what is missing from this realistic projection is access to the depths of our characters' humanity. There is just something human missing - something that the realism doesn't allow us to connect with.

That said, I'll start to bring things towards the beginnings of a conclusion with an observation I can't help but continually make. A plethora of films open with what I see to be a false cutesyness. We have all seen this. A relationship between a man and a woman is perfect; they live in an expensive house, they both have great jobs, they have their differences, but these only ever serve their relationship; they kiss too much, smile too much, joke too much, are simply too nice to one another for their relationship to be believable. We see this kind of relationship established in How It Ends - a cliche of an increasingly annoying class in my books. Another recent film that sticks out to me as opening with false cutesyness is Upgrade. As excellent of a film as this is in the technical and action departments, it is narratively ok. One of the limitations of storytelling in Upgrade is the cliched opening and its blatant foreshadowing of a break in a relationship. When we then see a couple engaging in an unrealistically ideal and perfectly smooth relationship, we know that one of them has to die soon. We know this because the reason why screenwriters use this cliche is clear: an important moment of drama is going to occur early on in the narrative, too early for us to properly care about the characters and events. Because a death within the first 10 minutes of the film isn't going to be particularly affecting, a writer feels they must front-load the story with cute moments all imbued with a sentimental tone. If we are made to like characters before they die, or if we are made to see why something is important before it is lost, then we will care and will be engaged from here on out in the story - this is what screenwriters think, and so this is how falsely cute openings find their way on screen.

What are screenwriters to do if they are to avoid the false cuteseyness cliche? Many films are structured in such a way that tragedy is concealed and only revealed later on in the narrative - after a point which we are already connected to our protagonist. Bird Box is a variation of this kind of narrative. Other examples would be Arrival - we are not allowed to know why our protagonist is so depressed until we are deep into the narrative (though, the revelation doesn't just seem to be emotional effect). One other example would come from the action horror, The Night Comes For Us. A character has a huge change of heart that puts into motion a lot of conflict. We are not allowed to fully understand this change of heart until we are deep into the narrative. It is at the point of revelation that we are invested enough for the moment to have proper impact (though, it is still presented rather sentimentally). Further examples can be found in the likes of Inception and Sophie's Choice, but I'm sure you know plenty. To present the issue more simply, however, there are many films that have tragedy of some sort early in their narratives that do not rely on a false cutesyness. A key example is The Lion King. Musafa is simply presented a symbolic, moral idol in the opening. There is not a real attempt to present him as a character per-se - there certainly isn't too much put in place that forcibly makes us like him. He is constructed as an ideal of sorts - an object archetype. That is the key difference between a cute opening and a strong opening that precedes tragedy. A cute opening contrives an ideal situation that we are (supposed to be) sad to see destroyed. An effective opening will construct an ideal for our protagonist to reflect upon across their narrative journey; it is the start of a meaningful film.

With all of that said, I'll leave things with you. Have you seen How It Ends? What do you think of all we've covered today?

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End Of The Week Shorts #95

Today's shorts: Hang 'em High (1968), Girlhood (2014), The Night Comes For Us (2018), The Raid (2011), Muriel, or The Time Of Return (1963), Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias: One Show Fits All (2019), Killing Gunther (2017)

A classical revisionist Western, Hang 'em High brings to the fore the questioning tendencies of films such as The Ox-Bow Incident to investigate the moral integrity of both the small, developing town and the young system of law implemented in a changing Old West. Still foundationally a Western, Hang 'em High exudes fundamentally American themes via its emphatic focus on the individual perspective. Simple at its heart, much like so many other Westerns, the individual and their sovereign body is presented as the only functional unit of moral decision. All else is too big to succeed; justice becomes spectacle, bureaucracy, crime, politics: the human heart imprisoned within the rib-cage.

Made to be a political document of sorts, Girlhood, or Band of Girls, maybe falls short in too many places. Perceived as a piece of narrative work of some degree of political consciousness, the moral and ethical ineptitudes of characterisation and plot become exploratory of something a little more human than ideological posturing. In such, Girlhood's themes of crime and naivety best translate through a frame psychological development. Essentially a story about confronting one's shadow, stepping into the underworld and emerging more whole, Girlhood questions the route a feminine body would tread as to individuate singularly - without classical romance essentially. This makes for an impactful and, above all else, rather unique film that emphasises the virtues of narrative deconstruction and reversal.

An operatic foray into an already highly familiar and conventionalised sub-genre of the Indonesian martial arts crime-thriller, The Night Comes For Us is music. Where the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey are like classical musical, Once Upon A Time In The West like Italian opera, The Lego Movie like contemporary pop, Rocky like 80s rock, The Night Comes For Us is low-grade heavy metal - dirty, grimy; shallow in pitch; disgusting in tone; relentlessly putrid and spectacular for just that.

Simply put, The Night Comes For Us is a storm of screams, gargles, guffaws, breaking bones and splattering, spewing blood. The is not technically perfect, but more than entertaining - a film you half want to watch, half want to watch others watch.

The cinema that has gathered itself around Iko Uwais has leaned towards an imperfect, in-the-dirt, punk form of the martial arts movie, but The Raid, his greatest effort, is so impossibly sleek and tight. Such cannot be over-emphasised.

The Raid seems to have been conceived by precise, computerised minds and performed by androids. The choreography shines in every detail, the camera is hyper-conscious, on the edge of intrusion but never crossing an aesthetic boundary and indulging excess. Upon my first watches, I could not grow to appreciate the first 40 minutes or so because of the gun play, but on this watch, the pin-point accuracy of it all blew me away. And then the physical combat - maybe the best action cinema has ever produced (I'd love to hear a better suggestion).

I have never vibed too well with Resnais. Like Antonioni, I find Resnais too cold, too dry, too presumptuous and too demanding. Alas, as with Antonioni, my first contact with the auteur was rather mystical. In such, as much as Blow-Up pulled me into its existentialism and postmodern malaise, so did Last Year At Marienbad suspend me in unknowing of a very conscious, meditative and emotional kind. Alas, Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Je t'aime, Je t'aime and now Muriel were lost on me. Story and theme are lost between the frames of Muriel. I was put to sleep for about 10 minutes. What this is about can be read in critical essays, but I personally could not feel it. Whilst video/art installations and certain experimental cinemas can rely on artistic exposition, narrative film, in my belief, must speak for itself. Muriel appears dumb to me. Though, maybe I'm deaf.

Gabriel Iglesias' comedy is intentionally inconsequential. I have always felt this to be a defining factor of his stage presence and style, and so have never indulged him too much. Alas, once in a while, I can return to Fluffy's comedy and find a pleasant time. Not an incredible amount of laughs, maybe a little too much of the same voices and impressions, but I suppose that is what you sign up for. One Show Fits All works well enough.

Whilst this suffers ever so slightly from a try-too-hard kind of comedy and an attempt to breathe life into the much recycled and tested mode of the docu-drama (a sub-genre of an equally malleable and exhaustable nature - maybe paradoxically so, but an excess of reflexivity is tiring), Killing Gunther is rather funny.

The stacking of jokes through ridiculous characterisation is what makes this work so well. We are then dealt a band of uniquely absurd characters with nonsensical traits that come to interact in a manner that creates some burning moments of comedy. Being able to see this develop across a narrative is what makes this worthwhile, so go in without expectations of Schwarzenegger, and you'll have a blast.

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