Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #81


End Of The Week Shorts #81

Today's shorts: Armageddon (1998), Happy Feet Two (2011), Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout The Ages (2016), Bad Boys (1995), Foxy Brown (1974), Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928), Four Weddings And a Funeral (1994), Attack The Block (2011), School Of Rock (2003)

Roger Ebert introduced Armageddon as the world's 'first 150-minute trailer'. It is clear that he meant this sardonically - derogatorily - but, despite the lack of exactitude in Ebert's phrase, he outlines why, it seems, this is such an important film. Armageddon is a significant mile-marker in what I would call Michael Bay's 'Bastard Cinema'; a mode of film unable to generate a pretence of originality and subjective input; a kind of film that has disavowed from the dream component of cinema, that resorts only to its spectacle. Thus, the magic that is cinema is stripped of a mystical quality and reduced to cold, hard illusion. And such is what Armageddon is as a 150-minute trailer; a two hour and a half impression of story, archetypes, drama and symbolism. Much more could be said, but I will hold my tongue. I am struggling to find myself disliking Bay's films of recent. That leaves this respectable in my eyes.

If the first Happy Feet is silly and cheesy - albeit, enjoyable and very well constructed from a technical stand-point - Happy Feet Two is pretentious and rather insipid despite the technical achievements. What this lacks above all else is character establishment and development that engages one in the narrative to a degree that prevents the ensuing melodrama and exuberance from being alienating. Put simply, the first Happy Feet manages to capture the audience's heart, which blinds their higher functionings to the narrative slop. Happy Feet 2 captures nothing and the slop is a challenge to trudge through. With every beat of ecstatic revelation and triumph, of melancholy and failure, I shrivelled in on myself like a metal can having all the air sucked out of it, cringing and yeesh-ing beyond control. In short, Happy Feet Two tries too hard and becomes insufferably pretentious every now and then. Not great.

If D.W Griffith made Intolerance in 2016 instead of 1916, Hollywood would never bother with Michael Bay again. What that specifically implies, I'm not sure, but my gut tells me I'm right.

Intolerance is D.W Griffith's epic masterpiece, one that entirely overshadows The Birth Of A Nation--even if only judged technically (morality aside). Birth is a boring melodrama with two extended action set-pieces. Close-ups, camera movement, gargantuan sets, innumerable extras, cross cutting--you cannot find them in Griffith's 1915 effort if one judges such things by the standards of his 1916 triumph. Intolerance is a truly epic explosion of a new-found HUGE CINEMA; a mountain that was quickly sighted in the late 1800s, one that the Italians began to climb after 1909, one that Griffith summits with Intolerance. Again; a masterpiece, maybe cinema's earliest.

Pretty excellent.

This Michael Bay's feature-length directorial debut, but this is not necessarily a Michael Bay film; this is a Simpson/Bruckheimer film - as was The Rock. Until Transformers (you see glimpses of this in Armageddon where Bay started producing) Bay was a pretty anonymous figure in his films. The Bay genre - fast cars, larger than life characters, even bigger explosions, etc - seemingly grew around him for his first few features. In such, this falls some place in between the likes of Beverly Hills Cop (a Simpson/Bruckheimer film) and Transformers. Comedy motivates all in this action flick; it gives each scene its chaos, its tension, its vibrancy and character. This was clearly written to be a comedy. Through direction and set design, however, action flourishes. Alas, there is a balance found somehow, and so whilst this isn't a masterful character comedy or action film, Bad Boys works brilliantly. An absolute (maybe mindless) joy.

One of the most striking examples of exploitation cinema, Foxy Brown reduces film to its surface components to generate a physical-interactive experience. That is to say that this means to have an audience be physically affected (this goes for arousal) as part of an unspoken agreement to play a game of spectatorship and exhibitionism. Foxy Brown, however, breaks one of the most fundamental 'rules' of exploitation cinema. There is no such thing as character in the exploration film; 'characters' are objects and pawns to be played with. Alas, Foxy Brown gives our titular character a subtle sense of morality and humanity despite constructing her in a Meyer-esque fashion (empowered, yet equally sexualised; a deified oedipal mother). I then found this uncannily trashy and a little too tragic and human to watch as a mere exploitation film. Unexpected (likely unintended too) as it is, I came away from Foxy Brown pretty depressed and unsatisfied.

I don't know how to confront this film, nor really what to say about it. Such, I suppose, is one of its main intentions: to leave one frustrated and speechless. Alas, with imagery of a ticking clock, of floating hats, of violence, directionless movement and guns, this seems to be about disorder and lost civility. Ghost Before Breakfast revels in incoherence and the nonsensical. So, in addition to rousing frustration and , it manages to subject its viewer to disarray, quite possibly to dare us to make sense out of things, to do more than feel.

Four Weddings and a Funeral must be a half-descent rom-com as, as these things tend to nowadays, it gave me half an anxiety attack. I wouldn't, however, say this is particularly good.

Relying heavily upon the space in between romantic meetings, Four Weddings and a Funeral makes a spectacle out of speeches and, at least for the first half, manages to generate quite an ambiguous swelling of failing romance. The latter half of this, however, had me at a loss. Not enough character can be developed on the days we spend with our cast and so they all start strong with clear defining traits, but fail to prove their humanity. So, at first, we fill in gaps with our own emotions, but, by the end, all feels too contrived. I then very much so disliked the ending, feeling unconvinced of the apparent love that always was to be. So, whilst written well as a comedy, as a romance... not for me.

Attack The Block takes a decades-old trope tantamount to Dinosaurs vs. Cowboys - as is seen in The Valley of the Giant Gwangi, and as has been replicated dozens of times over - and contrives something rather genuine. The best parts of this then come from character and the feeling of authenticity (seeing Boyega in this long before Star Wars pretty much ruined his place in the Hollywood blockbuster for me). Stepping into the minds of council-grown teens, this presents the expected hero narrative - an allegory about responsibility and of finishing what one starts - without betraying its foundation. This is to say that we discover a hero narrative as and how our characters do, all revelations theirs, not some screenwriter's. Such is a pretty rare and admirable achievement.

My criticisms of this are pretty much negligible. A great film to re-watch (especially with brothers and sisters a bit too young to be seeing it for the first time). Highly recommended.

Pretty hard to dislike, School of Rock is as silly as it is endearing. It is not the independent and humbly subversive kind of cinema one usually expects from Richard Linklater, but it nonetheless retains the sense of heart and character captured in the likes of Slackers and more, but with added punch, vibrancy and energy.

The performances aren't all brilliant, but the casting doesn't disappoint - could anyone but Jack Black have played Mr. Schneebly? The songs, too, aren't overwhelmingly impressive, but their unfolding in the classroom is brought to the screen tremendously with invisible, but impactful cinematic language. And though I'll probably appear pretentious in saying this, I will: this is really what makes this film work and brings the comedy to life - the editing and camera work. All in all, a Linklater film, and a good one at that.

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