Thoughts On: March 2019

31/03/2019

Blog News



Today is the day the shorts are supposed to go up. We have done this for around about 100 weeks now. But, after a while of contemplation, I have decided that the shorts cause more strife than they do help the blog. This has nothing to do with the amount of time it takes to pull the shorts together; shorts or no shorts, I try to watch at least 7 films a week. Rather, I have felt myself leaning on the shorts and writing less of the longer reviews. This has become so apparent and so pertinent of an issue because I feel a growing inability to write the longer form reviews/essays. For this reason, I have decided to end of the End of the Week Shorts. They may return after some time. But, for now, I am trying hard to re-configure the blog for numerous reasons. So I thank everyone that has followed the shorts and hope you have enjoyed them.




30/03/2019

Await Further Instructions - The Evil Spirits In The Television

Thoughts On: Await Further Instructions (2018)

A divided home is locked in quarantine on Christmas day.


Why are so many British films and television shows in a time warp? If one watches a British film closely - especially a genre film - or worse so, a British television show (like Eastenders) you will notice that all of the technology within is about 5, 10 or even 20 years old. This is most apparent with phones, televisions and tech alike. The only answer I can think of as to why this is the case would concern product placement. Maybe using outdated models helps avoid this, or maybe allows companies avoid certain legalities. I would love to have a real answer. Alas, Await Further Instructions is just one example of a British film set in 2017/18 with fat TVs from 2003, no wifi, mobile data, only landline, phones more than 5 or 6 years old and a home computer from 2007. And this is all in a middle class household that would undoubtedly have much better tech than what we see.

Beyond its strange anachronisms, Await Further Instructions is a rather good film. Its greatest downfalls concern acting and dialogue. I feel I am far harsher on British acting than any other kind because, not only is there no language barrier, but my ear is naturally attuned to the accent and all of its inflexions. So much easier it then is for me to see a bad performance from a British actor or actress in a British film. With American acting, because I am (we all are) so accustomed to it, I feel I can be pretty vigilant. With non-English performances, this gets a little harder. I then find myself rather nonjudgmental of acting in French, Indian, Japanese, etc. films. There is a line, however. I recently turned away from Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil due to shoddy performances - as I almost did with Await Further Instructions. However, though the performances aren't great - and nor is the writing - I stuck with this to find a rather abrasive 80s-esque tech horror. Tonally and thematically reminiscent of the likes of Repo Man, Videodrome, Poltergeist and your average trapped-in-a-house horror, Await Further Instructions is a deliberate and self-conscious allegory about politicised media.

The film opens with a man and his girlfriend travelling to his estranged family home for Christmas. He is British, she is Indian. His family is racist - not entirely and not to the degree that they will actively shun the girlfriend, but more than enough to make staying with them very abrasive and very awkward. As the unpleasant proceedings grind on as the girlfriend meets the family - mother, father, grandfather, sister and to-be brother-in-law - news coverage of what seems to be the 2017 London Bridge attack comes onto the television. This catalyses a more serious conflict in the family. The grandfather and sister speak down upon immigrants, a general "they" and those of different religions. The girlfriend speaks up. An outburst ensues. Such establishes the fact that this is a film both about the influence that television exerts and the malleability, the capacity for conformity, that the average Brit apparently holds; the average Brit apparently watches mediocre news coverage of persistently negative events and draws out material to reinforce naive, fearful and spiteful views of the world. Such is Await Further Instructions' basic assertion--and there is certainly some truth in it, but that is not to say that this deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for profound social commentary.

If one understands the basic triggers of the social commentary present in this film, it does not take much insight to unpack it and associate it with recent political drama in and around Britain concerning manipulative politicians, media, immigration, terrorism, etc. The family name of our cast is Milgram. Stanley Milgram is of course the developer of the infamous Milgram test, one that was established in the aftermath of WWII and the Nuremberg trials that sought to test the degree to which people will conform under a certain authority. Await Further Instructions re-dramatises something approximating the infamous experiment with aliens in televisions that serve as the great authority - an authority that aligns itself with the Christian religion and the government. These are apparently the forces that the evil spirits in all of our TVs (the media) use to control us. The only force that can combat these spirits is free and liberal thinking. Again, these are Await Further Instructions assertions--they make sense, but, again, maybe don't grant any awards.

Whilst this film is rather open to close analysis, I will leave that in your hands having opened the gates. A film that would work well alongside Await Further Instructions is The Stanford Prison Experiment. But, with that said, have you see Await Further Instructions? What are your thoughts?






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Us - A Mire Of Many Possible Readings

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27/03/2019

Us - A Mire Of Many Possible Readings

Thoughts On: Us (2019)

A family is haunted by an identical 'other' family.


This review is full of spoilers and will make sense only to those of have seen the film.

Us is Jordan Peele's second feature-length film. It follows, of course, Get Out, a film I have respect for and have seen (I believe) three times, but nonetheless think is overrated. I went into Us openly, expecting a solid piece of filmmaking, but with Get Out in the back of my mind. The opening pounded its vibrations out from the screen and I felt some place familiar. A Lanthimos film? A Carax film? The counterpoint of image and sound - a wall of caged rabbits and abstruse, neo-classical symphony - struck out as uncannily meaningful. And, indeed, much could be said of the opening in regards to the wider narrative. The rabbits may be clones - they are also food to be eaten raw. They have been institutionalised, pets in the back of a classroom no one learns in. What are the rabbits but complacent and unknowing - trapped? Such resonates with the population of the underworld; soulless zombies, pets, food, experiments, institutionalised, all at once and meaninglessly so. The ringing soundtrack makes emphatic this queer predicament, implying a cacophonous melee of conspiracy, of uprising, to come. Much is expressed with indecipherable ambiguity in the highly affecting opening; it sits in the bones and stirs the chest. However, the film unfolds toward dissatisfaction from this point onward.

The central issue of Us, in my view, is its demand to be interpreted, yet, simultaneously, refusal to be about one thing. It seems apparent that some people appreciate this, but Us appears to merely be appealing to the audience member tantalised by an implication of implication. The joy of watching a David Lynch film as a teenager and understanding nothing is a unique one; to sense meaning but have almost no ability make sense of the feeling is a transformative experience that I personally found addictive when I first began to watch films seriously. However, as you mature and as you watch more films, this sensation dissipates and the experience becomes more of a rarity. Much of this has to do with the fact that convention is something that you must continually uncover, discover and further understanding when watching a vast array of films. Convention reveals a landscape of a film, its logical constraints and modal limitations. That is to say, a film tells you how it wants to be read and viewed (this does damage to your capacity for awe, surprise and naive wonder). It is a director's job to know when to listen to what their film demands and when to play deaf. Us doesn't work too well because Peele doesn't demonstrate an ability to listen very well, but he is nonetheless seemingly trying to play deaf.

The opening of the film tells us that genre should play little to no part in this narrative. Why the ambiguous evocation of thriller conventions dictate exposition, character-centricity, back stories and the framing of entertainment (horrifying and thrilling sequences)? Why make us watch rabbits if you are going to provide rather standard comedic play, are going to have a big twist in the end, are going to waste our time with meaningless chases, fights and nonsensical details?

I ask these questions because there is no dramatic cohesivity binding the many disparate parts of Us. Let us try to analyse some of these parts. We shall start with the implication of class conflict. The family of the over-world are affluent and money is a constant point of reference - consider the father's competition with the family friend (who has more money than him) and his boat. The family of the underworld emerge as those who have not where the affluent family have. Is this then a film attempting to comment on an underclass neglected by the majority of the world? Is this why the uniting of America via the chain of people holding hands is such a prominent feature of the narrative? A new unity must be established?

The discourse on class can be associated with race. Are the elements of the film juxtaposing an under and over class directed at black America? Is this a film that sees affluent black people confronted with a shadow on their culture? The red jump suites worn by the other family are somewhat reminiscent of clothing worn in prison - prison being a pathway to the realm of the underclass. (Fuck the police). The voicelessness, the lack of education, clothing, the obedience and yet the physicality of the others capture elements of the underclass so thoroughly that the mind is made to drift toward one of the causes of extreme poverty in black America: slavery. Are these valid topics to discuss in regards to Us? You could make a case for this if the only family to have an other was our central black family, but this is not the case.

One may then make something closer to a Jungian reading of Us. Is the collective consciousness of America seeing a shadow rise from an underworld? Does the coming of the others symbolise a terrifying step taken towards individuation? It could be argued, taking into account the consistently broadcasted idea of division in American culture, that Us speaks on the apparently hellish period of change America has recently experienced--is currently experiencing--one that has brought out their ugliest sides. The mass killings at the end of the film, one could argue, resonate well with many items in American news at present.

If you re-introduce class and race to the discussion at this point, you can understand the argument of Us being about xenophobia and the "other." The underworld is the 'America' America, in its divided state, has failed to acknowledge. It is at this point that you could argue that the ending says much. With it being revealed that our main character is one of the other, then we can speak on the idea that every American is am immigrant, is an other. However, it would confuse me to see Us speak about xenophobia, yet make the others a murderous cult of mind-washed tyrants. And why the government conspiracy that explains their existence? The government is to blame for xenophobia? This is all too muddling.

The element of the twist ending that catches me is the sudden humanisation of the 'other.' The reveal makes clear that this is a narrative about the potential in the others to live normal lives, to love, to have a family, be successful, etc. This explains why our main character begins to show compassion toward her 'other' children; she realises that, whilst they are not biologically hers, fate once had it that they were to be hers. Furthermore, this emphasises exactly why the over-world mother trapped underground is so profoundly hateful; she knows that her fate was stolen away from her. Alas, all of this humanisation does not resonate very well with the meandering discourse on class, xenophobia and shadows. Not in my view at the very least.

Us is loosely about a great many things - probably more than what I have outlined. It suffers due to its inability to make cogent one subtextual discourse. I would have liked to have seen this focus more on one character (our main character - I would have loved to be able to sit and write about just her), ignore the conventions of the thriller to a greater degree, and not try to force relevant, conscious social commentary onto the narrative. It is the over-consciousness of Us that I can't help but recognise and can't hep but dislike. I have, however, only seen this film once. Maybe a second watch will reveal more. With that said, however, what are your thoughts?







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End Of The Week Shorts #100

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Await Further Instructions - The Evil Spirits In The Television

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25/03/2019

End Of The Week Shorts #100



Today's shorts: Pola X (1999), First Man (2018), Ritual In Transfigured Time (1946), Suicide Squad (2016), What Women Want (2000), What Men Want (2019), Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)



French cinema. A place of lost souls, meandering struggle, grit, futility, sexuality and greyness. Pola X reinforces the stereotype, casting us into a world that refuses to be made sense of. Too dense to be more than a whirr of sensation during the first watch, I found this to be a haze of mild affect.

Known as an example of extreme French cinema, this is indeed trying to be provocative with its central incestuous relationship - which is brought to the screen with an unsimulated sex scene. Personally, however, I did not find this at all shocking as the scene is entirely undemanding and contextualised by unending ambiguity. Are they really siblings? Why did this all start? Where is this going? These are questions too pressing for any 'shocking' material to have an effect.



Whilst First Man is very clearly a solid piece of filmmaking, it feels ever so slightly lackluster.

A realist depiction of the first moon landing, First Man does away with much of the melodramatic nonsense you may come expect if too familiar with space movies like Armageddon. The core focus is the subtle emotional impact that this journey has on a rather broken, imperfect man and the quandaries faced by a governmental system with uncannily high ideals. There is then a dryness to this, also a distance at which we are kept from characters--which, one could easily argue, is more than necessary for this semi-impressionist exploration of subjectivity in the midst of a hugely significant historical event. Yet, whilst this has its logic, has its technical brilliance, First Man didn't grip me. And that's all I can really say about this film.



Deren's cinema loses its autobiographical sheen with Ritual in Transfigured Time and gains a focus on dance. Though I prefer Deren's first two narrative experiments due to their semi-mythic representations of the psyche, it seems all too clear that their is a certain sophistication in Ritual in Transfigured Time that was built through, not entirely present in, her previous works. More seems to be evoked with freeze-frames, with the circular elements of narrative, with movement and choreography. Alas, this doesn't secure the emotive evocation that At Land or Meshes of the Afternoon does. Much of this has to do with the biographical air that Deren's constant presence gives those films. But, there may be more. Only a re-watch will bring me closer to enlightenment.



I don't know what I took before I saw this for the first time - how high on my own delirium I must have been - but Suicide Squad has to be one of the dumbest movies ever written. The absurd amount of unfathomably stupid plot holes and illogical nonsense is sometimes dumbfounding. There is certainly a way to look past this - I somehow managed to do this on the first watch - but I'm not sure what the rewards are now I've seen this for a second time. All I have to say is... wow...



The first hour or so somehow manage to keep me hooked and then I'm stuck. The technical building of plot and character are, from the Hollywood perspective of cinematics , pretty flawless. I believe I've said it before, but our main character is not challenged enough in this film; he is let off far too easily and should have been pulled through more characterlogical and emotional torment. That said, I'm not the biggest fan of the way in which inner thoughts are used as a dramatic device. Far too strictly do they provide character and comedy. In no way are we ever given a true impression of the thinking mind - and such is a disappointment as much could be done here. Alas, this is most definitely Nancy Meyer's best film - best directed and most competently constructed on the page. Performances aren't bad either.



Far funnier than I expected it to be, What Men Want is less a remake of What Women Want and more a counter-part. The films need not be put into a conflict. What Men Want is undoubtedly less imaginative, but the comedic performances save all. Where Meyers' film has a better grip on the emotional and moral mess that the premise provides, Shankman provides better logic, addressing with more clarity the silliness of the question: What do men/women want? Both films fall short in the same departments: the depiction of a thinking mind is sub-par and simply utilised for comedic and narrative effect. Both films also appear rather naive in their depictions of masculinity/femininity with an over-reliance on stereotype and cliche. But, the laughs come. So, I'd happily recommend you watch this with a good friend as I did.



The endlessly anticipated Bill & Ted 3 just might come into existence in a few years--and I'm sure it will be a terrible mess--but why not use that as an excuse to make a return to a personal favourite.

I know this movie like music, almost every line and gesture, all the phrases and have unabashedly and unironically adopted 'dude' into my every day vocabulary because of this and Excellent Adventure. Whilst it is stupid beyond an excuse at certain points, Bogus Journey is a masterpiece of some class--too fun to be called anything but. Way non-heinous and truly excellent.





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End Of The Week Shorts #99

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Us - A Mire Of Many Possible Readings

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17/03/2019

End Of The Week Shorts #99



Today's shorts: Captain Marvel (2019), Fat Girl (2001), In My Skin (2002), Jimmy Carr: The Best of Ultimate Gold Greatest Hits (2019), Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943), At Land (1944), Widows (2018)



Much more could be said, but, put simply, Captain Marvel is very mediocre.

Boden and Fleck construct a sci-fi world tonally reminiscent of both Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy. Fail this does, however, to successfully utilise melodrama and to hold the audience at an intimate and comedic reach from the central characters. And it is characterisation that fails most in Captain Marvel. The drama is not managed at all well, the conceptualisation of events and situations awkward and unimaginatively brought to the screen, and such leaves Captain Marvel little more than something of a tool. We do not feel her humanity, rather, perceive (with some respect, I must say) her as a symbol of female empowerment. Such leaves Captain Marvel a film without a heart, one or two laughs, some impressive CG de-ageing... and that's about it. Mediocre.



A painful and subtly harrowing product of French 'female cinema,' a cinéma du femme, Fat Girl operates like a clock whose beating heart fears time. Most effective in Fat Girl is its oblique characterisation, a key element of cinéma du femme it seems; we never get to know our central character, but experience her body and being enduring definition after definition by external minds. There is no psychological exposition, no active creation of drama. Themes whirr around our central character and tear at her flesh; her sister an extension of her body, abused and manipulated, self-loathing and deceitful; her parents absent and unloving; male sexuality seemingly a scourge of intent. How food gums up the soul, slows its operation and prevents the reception of feeling. How amorality frees the mind. "He did not rape me."



Body horror of an austere and very French breed.

Slightly pretentious, In My Skin hasn't much to say, but has much for us to indulge in - namely a scopophilic sadomasochism. Organ becomes alien, the limb a disembodiment, ones existential and tangible existence a question and a stare of fascination. Why don't I fall apart? In My Skin has its central character engage in this introspective immersion and pulls the viewer down the rabbit hole. Not far do we fall, however; the hole, quite shallow. In the end, we have felt the sensation of falling, but haven't had much sense knocked into us. Not the most successful foray into self-satisfying self-harm.



I estimate that about 1 in about 35-40 jokes made me giggle.

The timing is an issue; the persona is eh; the faces, too much; I'm very familiar with Carr's comedy and... again... eh.



It is near-impossible to reduce Deren's cinema to anything approximating concrete. Her moving imagery appears above all else introspective, Meshes of the Afternoon an impression of personal experience. But, how do you give more words to this?

The interpretation of this as an exploration of sexuality - the flower, one's virginity (placed into the frame by a disembodied arm like a mother may place a toy into one's cot as a baby) - is fascinating. However, whilst there is an internal conflict in this abstract narrative, is it reducible to a conflict between a man and woman? Deren's imagery is far too consciously manifested for me to want to assume anything--yet simultaneously, what is being said? I still do not know.



Deren's manipulation of time intensifies incredibly in her second film. The opening shoots of an ocean's waves rolling back upon themselves are truly astounding, our main character washing ashore like Aphrodite emerged from foam. She exits the realm of unconsciousness, climbing from a tree to a wooden table, confined to nature, stuck in a social milieu which we believe she is alien to. Where is our protagonists place in this world?

Maybe Deren's most political film, At Land seems to say much about the place of the female in higher society. But, as always, I have my reservations. There seems to be more.



Solid. Widows is more than the high concept movie I thought it was going to be; one that simply reverses roles as to create an alternative heist film. Widows centralises psychological realism, constructing a rather real and bitter underworld in which criminals operate, and into which our widowed characters venture. This transformative movement into darkness is multi-toned, providing many dimensions of emotion that are associated with each and every character in nuanced and evocative ways. Interestingly, almost all men in Widows are composed as warm yet treacherous, lovable but violent, virtuous yet corrupted. It is this that manifests the criminal and political chaos, and this that our female characters must endure and sort through. There is then a subtle understanding of each and every minor character that makes for a rather brilliant piece of storytelling about, simply put, prevailing against the odds. And, for that, I have to say that Widows is incredibly respectable.






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Phantom Anthem: Album Review

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16/03/2019

Phantom Anthem: Album Review

Thoughts On: Phantom Anthem (2017)

August Burns Red's 8th studio album.


August Burns Red are a flat out tremendous band, one of incredible precision and complexity that, in my opinion, have created indisputable masterworks in the likes of Composure, Meddler, White Washed and Marianas Trench. In addition to manifesting an absolutely pounding sound with impossible pace, August Burns Red have an intensely likeable tone solidified in their more playful work - their covers and Christmas albums. If you haven't ready, you have to check out their brilliantly transformative Britney Spears cover...


... as well as something from Sleddin' Hill...


That said, Phantom Anthem plays on the straighter side. It solidifies ABR as one of the most consistent and focused bands attached to Fearless Records. Many of the bands under Fearless have a more conventional metalcore sound, relying on the clean choruses and breakdowns. Others have changed their sound up quite a bit between albums - Motionless In White being a key example. Almost all bands eventually shift sound, but ABR is evolving slowly (at a pace I very much so appreciate). In addition to not requiring huge dynamic range in the vocal department, such has them stand out significantly from the rather strong roster of bands under Fearless - which is to say, I'm a fan of a whole heap of songs from Ice Nine Kills, Underoath, The Word Alive, Blessthefall, and more, but August Burns Red is undoubtedly the best band among them.

I'm rather terrible at keeping up with bands and so I haven't heard much from ABR since they moved from Solid State Records to Fearless. I'm then most familiar with Constellations and Messengers. However, it was with glee that I sat down and let Phantom Anthem wash over me. ABR is a band that I hold in such high regard for their immense ability to produce unpredictable rhythm that nonetheless pulls you into a storm. This has everything to do with Greiner on drums at the very centre of the sonic landscape. Leading such a huge quantity of each track, Greiner's drums speak to the guitars impeccably well. And it's this rhythmic discourse between guitars and drums that is overseen by understated but relentless vocals that produces works of musical genius. This has not changed in Phantom Anthem; the band have only managed to get better.

King of Sorrow


The album opens with what might be the heaviest track. The heft of the opening and post-solo sections in addition to those confrontational first person lyrics bring this song to the edge of a darker genre that ABR usually exist some way away from. Alas, this works fantastically; I love the prominence of the bass and the blast beats as well as the way the lyrics intermittently rise and lead the sound. The counterpoint between the lead roars and back up screams are sensational. The solos, as always - and especially the second one - fit so uniquely into the track. King of Sorrow blows me away: crushing.

Hero of the Half Truth


A more familiar sound. The beat patterns: why I love this band. The way in which you are required to listen to ABR is rather different from the material emergent from more conventional metalalcore bands. There is an unpredictability motivating each track that centralises the transformation of the sound rather than emphasising its successivity. The strumming patterns of the chugging, palm muted sections in Hero of the Half Truth are so sumptuous to listen to. And the rolling around the set during the solo... yes... The part of you brain that wants to headbang sometimes gets a little confused, but in the very best of ways. Resorted to shaking your face with a disgusted grin, you can't deny that the rhythmic work done here is simply gorgeous. And I can't help but 'whoaaar' during those final minutes. There's no waiting for the breakdown, they scream at you with pace and endless movement. Ingenious; less a breath of fresh air, more a blast that takes your breath away. The grimy tone of the solo has to grow on you a little, but Hero of the Half Truth is relentlessly good.

The Frost


Like no other metal band I know August Burns Red can make a jovial tone work for them. Undisputed kings of the 'happy metalcore' sub-genre, ABR of course perfected the sound we hear under the vocals in Sleddin' Hill. It's fascinating and a pleasure to see them take that sound and find a way for the vocals to resonate with it. The busyness of the guitars as well as the persistence of the vocals exist in harmony with the uncorny motivational, introspective lyrics, making for a track that really stands out from the entirety of the album.

Lifeline


Whilst I would have liked just a little more aggression from Lifeline, this does so well to allow riffs to develop and speak to one another in the rhythmic section. Here we hear a bit more flash than usual with some sweep picking thrown into the mix. And I always find the way in which solo becomes melody immensely impressive in an ABR track. The desperation in the lyrics, the evocation of how to teach and learn soars above all quite beautifully.

Invisible Enemy


The kabuki theatre-esque opening is novel and maybe could have been integrated into the wider song a little better, but Invisible Enemy secures... just an absolutely disgusting sense of melody. The sickeningly complex strumming and double-bass patterns pulls you in deep; the chime of the cymbals guides you; the roaring vocals, the sticky tone of those riffs, those sexy tap sections, the looming, encircling movement over the toms, all put you into a cacophonous void of ecstatic weight. This is more than impressive.

Quake


What this does so well is run--sprint--forward. Everything about Quake gives the impression of movement. You can truly move your head to this thanks to its heavy stomp. And yet this is a really complex track; very precise; the details get a little lost as the rhythmic plains squash into one another a tad (in addition the general sound is quite wide and spread out) but the described impression is very tasty--very tasty. The lyrics also... yes...

Coordinates


The interruption of that slow opening--yeeeeeesh. Beautiful. The tone of the bass end of this track is awesome. There are very, very, very few bands (in my opinion) that have a better tone than Thy Art Is Murder, but, with this, ABR become a confrontational force; I'd love to hear more bass like this in the mixing of their tracks--tremendous. The stormy busyness of the drums (fuuuuuuuck); we're pushed into a maelstrom and feel like we have to search through the haze. Whilst the dynamic changes that occur throughout are something ABR is quite comfortable with, they push a new, popping, sharp edge into the solo sections with the grit of the guitar and snare-centric drums. The cleans come in over the track as something a little unexpected to my ear, but they pretty much work here.

Generations



Just... yes.. to the rhythmic storm. Greiner is entirely unsatisfied with being static in Generations - and he leans on the double-bass at all the right moments. The sound is almost physically jumping up and down, leaping and bounding, the ripping vocals leading much of the way, but the drums bouncing around in the back like a mad man - tremendous stuff. I'm really happy following the vocals here - that can't be understated. The cleans and spoken words find their place very nicely. But, more than anything, Generations sounds like a thrilling flurry of drum sticks. Wow.

Float


We have a return to the gruff cleans. I never expect cleans in an ABR track (except in Ghosts), but the rough, almost cleans--I'm liking them quite a lot. That said, Float had me stop and just shake my head. It is ridiculous how unpredictable Greiner is. His imagination--genius. I love the organic emergence of aggression in Float. It emerges from the counterpoint between cleans and screams, but also just the growing, fluctuating intensity of rhythm. There is something inspirational that exudes from ABR's lyrics, especially here, and it appears to come from their Christian background. Ambiguous as this is, it feels more than genuine and is such an enchanting element of the band.

Dangerous


The vocals and lyrics come to the fore of Dangerous, giving way only to some pounding double bass and a classic breakdown. Whilst the lyrics are evocative in bursts, more could be said and felt from them (as we feel in a song like Composure). That said, this is a rather ripping track. I'm a little 'hmmm..' about the melody on the whole, but I can't help but smile at those screams.

Carbon Copy


Phantom Anthem doesn't close with its strongest tracks, but I really appreciate the dialogue between guitars in Carbon Copy. Compared to the rest of the album, this is rather consistent and steady rhythmically. There is also a focus on atmosphere with quite a few effects thrown into the mix, but it doesn't give much to the track. I feel, on the whole, that this might have benefited from being constructed around a bpm just a little higher. What's more, I would have liked to have heard a little bit of a closer, more interactive sound that plays off the ear instead of into it.

***

In total, Phantom Anthem is epically good. August Burns Red knock their 8th album out of the park, refusing to venture too far from their established sound, instead, sinking ever deeper into it in the most respectable way. I've got my tickets to see the band later this year and cannot wait. This album and more will be on loop until then. What are your thoughts on ABR and Phantom Anthem?






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Border - In Human

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13/03/2019

Border - In Human

Thoughts On: Border (Gräns, 2018)

A border officer with an acute sense of smell and chromosomal deformations discovers the truth concerning who she really is and can be.


Seeing Border on nothing but a whim left me in a whirr of incomprehension and, dare I say, pain. I would encourage any and all to see this film without looking at posters, trailers, reviews--any material that will give you any incite into what this is. That said, for those who do not care for such advice or have already seen this film, let us delve into it with some spoilers.

Very much so a film about existence on the boundaries of social being, Border's title says more than enough. The beauty of seeing this film blindly is that you are allowed to slowly fall through and establish boundaries as our main character does. Ugliness then plays a pivotal role in this narrative. Harsh though it may be to emphasise, the presence of an 'Other', an ugly Other, sits at the centre of the dramaturgy. Throughout the first half of this film, I found myself attempting to reconcile with the fact our main character, Tina, is so ugly, so alien, yet still human. The fact that she is revealed to be a troll came as a relief to me; suddenly the intimate and sexual expressions of her character became palatable. Disquieting this may be for some to hear said--or maybe even to feel themselves. But, this fascinates me most about Border. Whilst this is very much so a transgressive film, generically and characterlogically speaking, its perturbing qualities - the presentation of an ugly other, of sexuality, the alien and raw, intimate nature - settle into an archetype (the troll) that is, with the conclusion of the narrative, humanised - is complexified with photogénie.

It can then be said that there are three major phases of characterisation in this film. Tina emerges onto the screen as an Other we attempt to familiarise ourselves with, attempt (possibly) to see as ourselves. We sit, then, for an hour or more in tyrannous discomfort. What could this be, however, in comparison to the decades Tina herself has lived through? The central theme explored in the first phase of the narrative concerns silent suffering and complacency. Our main character accepts her lot in life; she is a deformity and anomaly; her pain is an inevitability of her reality. We perceive her as a source of horror, yet sense moral misdemeanour on our own part. This counterpoint foreshadows the succession of events that lead towards a key transformation. That is to say, our sense that we do some kind of wrong in perceiving Tina's pain with disgust aligns with the narrative's affirmation that she suffers unduly. It is when we and Tina together realise that she is a troll that a place in the world (and in our psychic composition) opens up.

This is a process, a step or jump, that is incredibly intriguing. We are told Tina is a troll and so suddenly can accept her being; she makes sense. This phenomena seems to be something that psychoanalysts have focused on. Often, people struggle during their psychological development when they are confronted with the fact that their emotional, libidinal and existential reach is incredibly limited--that they cannot control or possess others and, indeed, that others are just as much of an independent being as they themselves are. This conflict arises when there is a positive association between an individual and another. For instance, a baby becomes attached to their mother. There comes a point in every child's life in which they must (to some degree or another) let go of mother's hand and, eventually, see her as just as much of a human as they are. This is difficult for many, impossible for some, and so (again, to some degree or another) someone's mother always remains a mother--never again just human in their child's perception. Presented with a negative association as we are in Border - a forced attachment to an ugly other - it becomes incredibly hard to seek and perceive their individuality. This is because the relationship in question does not allow the initial identification process seen in the example of the mother, child relation. A child sees the mother as an extension of themself. It is this installation of the mother into the self of the child that allows for the successful extraction of the whole and individual human once called 'mother' as it seems that, whilst the mother germinates in the centre of the child's identity or psyched, they are given autonomy and individuality. This remains when the child realises that their mother is not them, is not theirs. Therefore, as mother is extracted from the child's psyche she takes a pre-installed individuality with her. This does not necessarily happen in Border - it can't.

If we can never identify with Tina - which is to say - install her into our psyche and see her as ourself, then we can't prescribe to her individuality (something we primarily understand through the isolated perception of our own existence). She remains anomalous then. Until, at least, something triggers the opening of a space in our psyche: Tina is associated with an archetype of the collective unconscious: the troll. The troll is an archetype that represents hybridity. It exists on a spectrum with chimeras, fauns, centaurs, minotaurs and other such creatures that are constructed of animal and human in varying compositions. The troll is relatively far from the likes of a werewolf or mermaid as the animal that they are composed of appears near-human. Like the ape-man - a Bigfoot, a yeti - the troll is a hybrid of the human and proto-human; something estimating a Neanderthal maybe. Nonetheless, what we see the troll fulfil is a psychological tendency and predilection to identify and categorise creatures that are near-human and almost 'us'. And such stages meaningful mimetic exploration.

With Tina positioned in our psyche (associated with an archetype), the function of the hybrid concept produces its meaning. Let us question here why humans, wolves, deer, horses, snakes, fish and many other creatures are often composited in the tales human tell. With a literalist, anthropological perspective, one might be lead to argue that creatures such as the centaur or mermaid emerge from certain cultures coming into contact with either an alien 'other' or engaging in alien contact. It has then been argued that the myth of the mermaid, for example, emerges from sightings of the Dugong - a manatee. To provide another example, Robert Graves has attempted to reduce all of Greek mythology to Grecian culture historicising, abstractly, the transition between a mysterious matriarchal society to a patriarchy. Many gods and creatures in Greek myths then come to represent cultures alien to what became the dominant, hegemonic powers of Ancient Greece. This means of analysis often proves highly problematic and refutable (as in the case of Graves' work), and it furthermore diminishes the significance of narrative; for instance, though it may be argued that the origins of the mermaid rest in sightings of the Dugong, this does not do much in the way of explaining the prevalence of mermaid myths and folklore. Narrative is more than entertaining exposition; gods and mythic creatures, one may argue, do not just naively and crudely explain away the world's mysteries. They seemingly serve this function in some respects, but only because of their capacity to embody values; myths surrounding gods do not just then explain the world's mysteries away, but give meaning to the mystery itself, meaning that provides guidance and cultural values. Does Tina manage to do this?

The final phase of Tina's characterisation sees her move from an archetype to something estimating a character with irrefutable subjectivity. She is solidified as an 'other', a troll, and so we accept her alien nature. However, her self-discovery is catalysed by another troll she comes into contact with; a troll who turns out to be morally corrupt. An avenger of a falling group of oppressed people, this troll deals in child pornography and paedophilic sex trafficking believing that he is facilitating and nurturing human evil. Tina comes to learn of this through helping the police in her own investigations as a border officer. She uses her developed sense of smell (she can smell emotion) and understanding of nature to track down and prevent the human evil that the troll she befriends nurtures. It is despite the fact that the 'male' troll (gender is a difficulty in this film) nourishes Tina's troll side and introduces her to her true nature that she eventually betrays him. She overlooks her biological, phylogenetic connection to her friend, allowing morality to transcend discovery and self-development. Indeed, the only true means of development is moral--this is what Border fundamentally asserts. And it is through this that the hybrid archetype speaks. Tina, the troll, the hybrid, embodies a human ideal despite her physical inhumanity; she, in effect, teach us how to be human. This seems to be the function of the hybrid archetype and such encapsulates the meaning produced by its projection here.

Far more could be said about Border, but having said much already, I leave things with you. What do you think of this film?





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10/03/2019

Gully Boy - Impressive

Quick Thoughts: Gully Boy (2019)

A poor student about to graduate from university develops a dream to become a rapper.


Gully Boy is an inspirational, socio-politically conscious, realist(ish) drama from the same vein as the likes of Dangal. Where Dangal deals with female wrestlers, Gully Boy deals with small town rappers. If one were to crudely simplify Gully Boy, you'd call this Bollywood's 8 Mile. And whilst such a comparison is not incredibly necessary, it is pretty much inevitable. The structure, character arcs and spectacle of Gully Boy is reminiscent of Eminem's rap battle picture. Alas, it is given a more expansive run time, more musical sequences, more spectacle and is quite a bit more lighter. Moreover, the social commentary present in Gully Boy is more pertinent and less subtle than that featured in what you might call the prototype film.

With that said, Gully Boy is never weighed down by its high concept construction. There is certainly some novelty in seeing such a niche milieu put onto the big screen, but the film's dramaturgy is not reliant on it. That is to say that the thematic and characterlogical concerns of Gully Boy are balanced with (arguably outweigh) the focus on cutting lyrics, humorous rap battling and innocuous 'gangster' posturing. At the heart of Gully Boy is a familiar discourse on the rigid social structures that entrap and limit Indian youth. Replacing the cliched route to a commentary on caste divides (she's rich and he's poor/he's rich and she's poor, yet their in love--someone has an evil step-mother or uncle that will split them apart, but their love will be vindicated and accepted by all eventually), Gully Boy injects humour and tenacity into a more realistic relationships between girl- and boy-friends and parents and offspring. There is then a brilliant scene early on in the narrative that entirely subverts the conventional construction. A young man sees a young girl on a bus; their eyes keep locking, but her mother is nearby; the mother gets off the bus; the girl approaches the boy; they sit together and listen to music; they've not just laid eyes on one another for the first time, they've been going out for 9 years. Here we see verisimilitude conjured with a hint of humour and such is carried through the whole film rather well. Sometimes I believe the drama that is developed between the two lovers is unnecessary and cavalier, but the relationship portrayed in Gully Boy is sometimes endearing (though not unproblematic or entirely un-irritating) and a strong element of the narrative. Most importantly, however, this gives Gully Boy the mentioned thematic focus and allows it to be more than a string of rap battles and hip-hop dance sequences. The relationship rendered between our main character, his dreams and his parents is also very well managed. In such, Gully Boy manages to highlight and emphasise the bond between one's social standing and their dreams in an affecting and direct manner with appropriate degrees of melodrama. The most ingenious element of the social commentary may in fact be the portrayed conflagration of problems belonging our main character. His life is not simple; he hasn't got one problem; he has many and they're stacked before him. Such facilitates coherent and cogent social commentary that does not feel banal in juxtaposition to spectacle, humour and escapism.

It is the management of realism and spectacle that must be praised most about Gully Boy. The songs are catchy (mere gully, mere gully, gully, gully mein [my street; in my street, street, street] got me pulled over by the police as I absently mindedly cycled home from the cinema - true story) and sometimes impactful, the humour rolls from the screen in abundance, the cinematography is strong and the script is sharp, but it is the coming together of the serious and playful elements of this film that make this so worthwhile. Ranveer Singh's performance can also be made mention of here. It is quite impressive to see him move from last year's Padmaavat, in which he plays a psychotic, ruthless king, to this, what is supposed to be Bollywood's first hip-hop movie. He is almost unrecognisable in both films and so showcases a true ability to become lost behind a character's facade. Again: impressive. And such is my final word on Gully Boy. This is not a masterwork, but it impresses much. Recommended.






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End Of The Week Shorts #98



Today's shorts: Rush Hour 2 (2001), Eat Pray Love (2010), Pan's Labyrinth (2006), Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho (2019), Vision Quest (1985), Irreversible (2002), Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (1975)



It has been a great many years since I've seen any Rush Hour film and this was something of a pleasant surprise. This finds comedy in low hanging fruit and has no reservations about this at all; all the basic racial stereotypes you can imagine are thrown into a hackneyed stew... yet it is often amusing enough. My funny bones have been fractured of late, so I didn't expect much in the way of laughs, nor in terms of sophistication, but Rush Hour 2 works well enough and I can't deny sniggering at "I will bitch slap you back to Hong Kong/Africa."

The level of action comedy is what is most surprising about Rush Hour 2. Somehow, Tucker convincingly holds in own in all the fight scenes - albeit inexplicably. Chan puts together some stellar choreography as always and all is executed with finesse. I often stay away from Chan's Hollywood films, but Rush Hour 2 is not terrible.



I cannot say I watch this in full (I'm not even sure if I watched the majority of it), but Eat Pray Love is... eh. The humanity at the base of this narrative is somewhat palpable; we are made to understand why our character constantly seeks transformation and the new. Robert's performance (in spite of the so-so script) really pushes this. However, there is a sheen placed over the entirety of this film that just feels icky. Maybe it's the honesty, maybe it's the naivety, the melodrama, the contrivance, the cultural learning, but Eat Pray Love is subtly off putting.



Pan's Labyrinth is a deeply fascinating film. I have never been too big a fan of Del Toro's work, but this always sat at the heart of his filmography as the work that intrigued me most. Re-watching this today, I saw Del Toro packing an awful lot of hefty, self-conscious, intellectual-symbolic discourse behind a facade of a fairy tale. I cannot make any concrete conclusions without pondering the film at greater length, but I do not feel as of now that Del Toro makes a complete film in Pan's Labyrinth - that he manages to say as much as his form and symbolism initially makes us believe. There is much to explore about innocence and a yearning to live about this narrative, however. So, I'll certainly have to make a quick return to Pan's Labyrinth soon.



Yeesh...

When half of your stand-up routine is telling the crowd that you used to be a real, dedicated stand-up comic, something has to be wrong. Ken Jeong is a ludicrous character - that seems to be why so many people love him in the Hangover series (But, did you die... ?? is indisputably hilarious, it must be said). However, he hasn't much of a real comedic presence. And we see this better than anything in You Complete Me, Ho. He has lived a nutty life and such is what he provides as comedy. However, whilst there is something somewhat amusing about him telling his stories, his translation of his experiences into something that is supposed to make you laugh is shoddy. This leaves his special uninspired and all too easy to criticise as a celebrity's mere foray onto the stand-up's stage.



I hold no shame when I say that the only reason I watched this movie was because of Madonna's "I'm Crazy For You," which somehow got stuck in my head recently.

Vision Quest feels like something of a cousin to 1983's Flashdance. Both are teen sports romances - pretty low-class ones at that. They rely heavily on generic trope and their soundtracks, and push political commentary about freedom and independence in the most clunky and cringe-inducing manner. Also, both can't help but fetishise urban work outs. But above all else, each film gets trapped in its own political commentary, manifesting itself as the oozing monster that it maybe means to defame. That is to say that, whilst Vision Quest is about a woman's independence and a boy's growth, it nonchalantly has a near rape scene and mention of a friend's sister letting a wrestling team have their go. The 80s are weird. Vision Quest doesn't work.



As infamously controversial as Irreversible is, if you can accept its amorality, you can very easily make an argument for this being a masterpiece. Sex and fate. Noe's themes. What is the significance of sex; what are the varying ways it can be of significance? It may be a source of heartbreak, pleasure, existential fulfilment and unfathomable violence. Incredibly human sex is--as a process, act and phenomena. Its meaning manages to stretch forward in time, manages to take possession of the future, and simultaneously disintegrate because it is so human. It is not sex itself that stretches and disintegrates, but the significance of the contact between two humans. Infinitely meaningful and meaningless this contact may be, and so moral and amoral Irreversible is. The dialectic, if one is able to brave it, is deeply affecting.



How is subjectivity created within a film? Akerman, like many realists, suggests that subjectivity emerges from the meeting of objectivity, patience and quotidian. She makes us wait, provides no psychological-emotional exposition; we watch a frail and skeletal syuzhet unfold, mired by the task of formulating a coherent fabula. Does Jeanne ever become more than an object on the screen? Can we understand her humanity? Are we to provide her it?

Melancholy as it is impenetrable, Jeanne Dielman is a film that shows us that routine is a mere illusion of stability and meaning. It is not how one makes their way through the day, but with what purpose, that makes the difference.





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04/03/2019

End Of The Week Shorts #97



Today's shorts: If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), The Handmaiden (2016), The Crucified Lovers (1954), Legally Blonde (2001), It's Complicated (2009), The Favourite (2018), So Blue, So Calm (1996)



Affecting and precise, If Beale Street Could Talk is a solid film. What it does above all else is capture a feeling of alienation and despair, of insurmountable injustice, by putting you in the place of someone who is not free to live their life the way they desire. Such a fact resounds outwardly from the final frames of the film.

If I were to be honest, however, I couldn't watch this film with utmost seriousness as a part of my mind latched on to the fact that Stephan James (not generally, but certainly in this film) looks and sounds quite a bit like Jon Jones. This effected the characterisation of Fonny far more than necessary; I didn't much like his character from the word go. With such silliness put aside, I can say If Beale Street Could Talk is a good film.



Second watch. Second watch...

Plot driven thrillers and second watches don't go well together in my books. I very much so enjoyed The Handmaiden when I first saw it in the cinema, but I found myself simply remembering all the twists and turns on this watch. I could not see much depth in characterisation and thematic exploration, nor could I really enjoy the narrative and its dark comedy. I have grown very tired recently of stories that hold sex as a final and all encompassing goal; the structure and writing just feels lazy, and never do I see much meaning emerge from films like this. Confrontation though they may be, the likes of The Handmaiden shocks and plays with its audience more than anything else. For that, I have to say that it has depreciated quite significantly between now and my trip to a cinema more than 2 years ago.



A social structure so rigid that it destroys humanity; love so persistent that it transcends it. The Crucified Lovers slowly builds an existential romance out of a strict system of social exchange. Quite far from an expressionist melodrama, this has patience of a rather remarkable character. Without building character, without developing much more than a plot driven by ironically functioning themes of the inevitable, Mizoguchi generates a great evil in the abstract. On one level, this then manifests as a fundamentally humanist expression of a debilitating transgression of freedom too common to the human social system trying to come to grips with sexual, social and romantic fidelity. On another, more affecting and personally perturbing level, The Crucified Loves examines both the limiting and unfathomable characteristics of love. The difficult question that this then poses is of love being something worth dying for or love giving one the will to die. How does love bond us in this respect? A question I'll leave open.



A great example of high concept cinema, Legally Blonde's narrative premise is amusing. It plays with conceptions of beauty and brains, advocating that the two are not in counterpoint in a (for the times) politically relevant manner. Interesting this may then be to some as a cultural document, as a convention-questioning exploration of the female coming-of-age and romance. Personally, however, I find this to be little more than amusing. Leaning on its melodramatic expressionist kitschyness as a means of comedic commentary, Legally Blonde is dumb like it is smart and smart like it is dumb. This is somewhat charming, but only to a certain extent. In the end, I can't suggest this is terrible; it is just not brilliant.



How did Meryl Streep's brilliance, mastery and iconicism become an axiom of contemporary cinema? Is she really so great? What has she done to deserve this?

This is my second time watching It's Complicated, and whilst I have a basic respect for this - as I do all of Nancy Meyer's films - it is a highly limited film whose characters have surface level complications and a psychology that doesn't fall too far below the skin. As Alec Baldwin acts out his schlumpy, self-satisfying role, I can't help but reel away, fearing I'll smell his bad breath as he exhales his lines with incredible slime. And have tears on young faces ever been more shamefully naive? It's Complicated is what it is: not great, though sure it is special.



Lanthimos' cinema has now moved into the fringes of the mainstream whilst retaining some of its edge. But, where Lanthimos' cinema evolved between Kinetta and The Killing of a Sacred Dear - each film a new formal investigation of isolation in an uncannily brutal world - it takes a step to the side and backwards with The Favourite in my view.

The themes here are too available and the characters too transparent. In no way does this make for a poor filmic experience, but it strips Lanthimos' cinema of its unique ingeniousness. Alas, the key problem I see here is the absence of Efthymis Filippou. I hope the two team up again for Lanthimos' next project.



So Blue, So Calm is something of an experimental documentary, one that explores the lives of inmates in a French prison. It does so primarily with photographs. The image is not allowed to move where men are incarcerated for impressionistic effect; we are trapped in time much like they are. This is an effective choice made by de Latour, though, admittedly, it makes for a tough watch. Maybe too effective it is to trap us in time whilst inmates enact personal stories and voice interior soliloquies. I was put to sleep. So, despite the intricate work put into the cultivation of sound and still-image language, I have to say I couldn't give this much appreciation.





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