Thoughts On: December 2018

30/12/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #90



Today's shorts: Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India (2001), Batman Ninja (2018), Rang De Basanti (2006), A Star Is Born (2018), Yardie (2018), Madagascar (2005), Rampage (2018), Ocean's Eight (2018), Bad Times at the El Royal (2018), Overboard (2018)



Truly spectacular; a cinematic great.

So simply and elementally human, Lagaan is an endless blast of character and triumph. This could not have been better structured and organised. Each and every character is given time and place to grow on you; even without exposition you can feel the stakes and conflicts, the symbolic weight of the narrative; Aamir Khan's presence as a hero is simply earth-shattering; an aesthetic wonder, this is a joy to be immersed in; the scale, the palpability of crowds, formulates an expressionist spectacle of moral depth; in total, a physically demanding masterwork. One can find imperfection in the character of Elisabeth and a little too much of a focus on her romance, but there is next to nothing to be faulted here. I implore any and everyone to watch this.



Batman invades a Power Rangers movie, and all feudal Japan can do is wonder what on earth they've got to do with the entire mess.

Batman Ninja opens snappily with a pretty fascinating premise, but all quickly reveals itself to be for nothing. The high concept simply seems to want to bring together the world of anime and comic books as to create opportunities for a hybrid style that is apparently supposed to support a whole film. The aesthetic result is somewhat spectacular, but the manner in which story and character suffer is ridiculous. With no depth or scope, no logical structure, Batman Ninja's narrative jumps between so-so action sequences at an absurd pace with little patience for the plot holes left in its wake. A waste of time through and through, I don't understand how someone wrote this.



After 1 unbearable hour, I had to tap out.

Each and every character is insufferable and self-righteously cliched in the most annoying, young adult manner. I could not bear the thought of three hours with the likes of Sue despite narrative arcs, character changes, etc, etc. This review cannot count for much but a warning: don't bother.



Hmmm...

Cooper casts and directs himself into a world-class role; his character is so thoroughly human that the plot becomes predictable--not because of genre trope, but because of the clarity of his character's psychic being. Such is a thing of characterlogical mastery. However, Gaga beside Cooper only serves to accentuate his character's complex brilliance. Never facing hard questions, never caught in a psychological maelstrom around a question of herself (which is what Cooper's character is largely immersed in - how could she not tell?), for some reason appearing nude a bunch, Gaga's character is only ironically a star; a negative comment on such a phenomena. This deepens Cooper's character and does the film some service, but - especially seeing as the music isn't great - is a slight slap in the face of Gaga and her blind non-arc-having character. Much more could be said, but I'll end with: a brilliant movie - one that maybe doesn't understand itself or isn't generally understood very well (from what I can tell).



To fail to see, to fail to act - all in truth... the stuff of many stories.

Yardie confronts the timeless conundrum of the human soul struggling to see, hear or speak the truth and, simultaneously, act upon it. Stuck in tragedy, lied to by fate, deceived by circumstance, hoodwinked by being, our main character finds himself a spirit only partially present in reality for the crux of who he is lies in history - in his past. The manner in which this story is integrated into a time and place, London/Jamaica/the 1970s, is rather brilliant. And so whilst this does not articulate an age-old story to particular effect, it does present it intriguingly. Highly respectable.



I was in a bad mood when this started and, suffice to say, this did not lift my spirits at all.

With jokes and characterisation so stereotypical and depthless, it's easy to call this a kid's film. It is clearly trying to cater to adults, but I pretty much refused to register this; the 'adult jokes' are as smart as they are childish. I can't then say I have much respect for this film, but I will not hesitate in applauding the natural development of plot and character arcs. This narrative fits together like a puzzle; no need for much contrivance; that leads to that leads to that, and, in a dramatic sense, it works. Granted, there are many plot holes, but, narratively, this flows brilliantly.

In total, the genre elements are lacking, but the story pretty much saves this and keeps things interesting.



Fun; the destructive spectacle certainly provides and the elements of comedy and light-hearted character relations build something worth attaching to, but, Rampage suffers from its conventionalism. I cannot name one sci-fi or fantasy movie that doesn't background its spectacular, other, characters and foreground humans. This is, one could say, the dominant 'human cinema'; a cinema that understands it can only ever explore questions of humanity, but confronts this with a mind-set far too literal. In over-emphasising the place of actual humans as opposed to the humanity in the creatures of this narrative, Rampage only manages to give itself problems that make ever more silly the bombastic drama that this is. Plot holes and lapses in logic are then in abundance. The antagonists are terribly pointless - reduced to comedic deaths by the end - and greater thematic questions are simply never asked. In short, Rampage, like every other titan movie, hasn't the courage to break harmful convention. It is, however, very watchable.



Solid. It's business from the start; plot leads the way, characters are distinct enough (none are really explored in much depth, but such is not necessary - their comedic purposes are apt) and everything in the technical department works well. Whilst spectacle's focus (fashion, jewellery, etc) is not very eye-catching to me, I very much so appreciate the directness and simplicity of Ocean's Eight. More precise than I remember any of the other films in this series being, there is little time wasted on side-stories, romances, action sequences, double-crosses and more. What happens happens, we go along on the ride and then the movie claps its hands clean. Very much so appreciated. Not award-worthy, but a good movie.



Tonal perfection, Bad Times at the El Royal is my favourite film of the year so far.

To what degree can you not know someone, can time be murky and space dark? How far down does the void go in every stranger who passes? How uncanny it is that light pulls one away from all that is sable whilst simultaneously revealing the infinite ink from which you have just emerged. As unfathomable as chance may be, as the realm of shadows seems, good - what you may call light - manages to pierce all. And the harmonic bliss that persists - angelic as the hardy traveller is full of potential. The point: good does not merely trump evil, good is deeper than evil, and only redemption can reveal such truth.



I don't know how I found myself watching this, but, despite its shoddiness, I was hooked from start to finish.

The performances are bad, the writing is cliched and goofy, but there is something enticing about this film. I can't say that it is the characters, but something about their circumstance and journey is uncannily harmonious. That isn't even to suggest that the film's message completely makes sense. At the very least, this is just dramatically cohesive. But, over all, I'm lost as to why I enjoyed it. Low quality, high visibility fun, Overboard somehow works as a sentimental, cheap melodrama; try it if you dare.





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29/12/2018

The Terrible Movies I Watched In 2018

The end of the year is approaching, so it is time to put 2018 into review. We will open lightly with a look at some of the worst movies I came across this year. As last year, we are not going to just list off bad movies from 2018. There a thousand lists out there doing just this. We're going to look back at some of the bad movies covered on this blog and in the End of the Week Shorts. I hope you enjoy...



Lady Bird (2017)

Empathy is hard when it comes to stupidity; it's even harder when you're being told that this is you.


The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)

A chillingly sad insight into a certain man's mind, The Immoral Mr. Teas may as well be anti-pornographic.


The Astounding She-Monster (1957)

Alluring poster, mind-numbing film.


The Greatest Showman (2017)

Just thinking of this film fills me with odium. A great embodiment of human weakness, emotional frailty and logical farcity.


Cinderella (1977)

Entertainingly lewd. If you don't know what a snapper is, Cinderella has much to teach.


Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

An exemplar of wasted cinematic potential, Pacific Rim is just a disappointment.


A Chinese Torture Chamber Story (1994)

Well-constructed trash, A Chinese Torture Chamber Story doesn't just boast exploding penises, but drops the mic with wuxia-style sex-fights that can but be pounded into memory.


Pulgasari (1985)

Beyond the man waddling about a set in a plastic costume is symbolism of a somewhat interesting character... but still a man waddles about in a plastic monster costume.


The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

French New Wave pretence ruins the musical. Jazz sucks. What did you do Gene Kelly?


The worst from The End Of The Week Shorts...



The Room (2003)

Not as bad as everyone wants you to think it is; far from as funny too. Plain terrible; nothing special.


Wings of Desire (1987)

As lauded and respected as Wings of Desire apparently is, I cannot lie and say anything other than this is a sentimental bore.


Jailhouse Rock (1957)

Fascinating, but trashy nonetheless. Who knew Elvis was such a knob?


Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Russ Meyers lays himself bare again with his absurd cinematic self-gratification. Prime American trash.


Killer Condom (1996)

Maybe more absurd than the premise is the German perspective of New York.


They Came From Beyond Space (1967)

So boring, it takes the fun out of obscure obviously-not-great-movies part 1.


Tales From The Crypt (1972)

So boring, it takes the fun out of obscure obviously-not-great-movies part 2.


Funeral Parade Of Roses (1969)

A film so artistically opaque, I can't recall a single frame.


Reptilicus (1961)

My head still rattles with the repetitious clapping of crappy war scenes.


Orgy of the Dead (1965)

So boring, it takes the fun out of obscure obviously-not-great-movies part 3.


The Greatest Showman (2017)

I would serve time in jail just so I could make peace with this movie. Just give me a room, some time and a heavy object.


Slashdance (1989)

Better than The Greatest Showman.


Amy Schumer: The Leather Special (2017)

A great low in stand-up comedy. My sense of humour may have just been scarred by this indefensible trash.


The Valley of the Gwangi (1969)

It's Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs... and I don't remember who won, I do remember a horse jumping dozens of feet into a tiny swimming pool though - and with a woman on its back.


Ishq (1997)

"Mr. Lova Lova" destroys what little credibility and fun this has about it - no amount of Kajol's eyebrows can save the day.


Animal House (1978)

Ugh.


Red Desert (1964)

What a pretentious, boring fart this makes Antonioni appear to be. Incredibly bland and asks for too much.


The Book Of Life (2014)

Self-righteously scummy, The Book of Life is deathly annoying - it also makes me want to watch bulls being killed.


Ator The Fighting Eagle (1982)

Alluring Poster, Mind-Numbing Film Strikes Back Again.


Krrish (2006)

I still can't articulate how terrible this is. What a fool Roshan is.


The Legend of the Fist (2010)

The film I regret putting on this list most. Simply not Donnie Yen at his best.


Sausage Party (2016)

Couldn't even finish it.


Foxy Brown (1974)

Something has gone terribly wrong when an exploitation film just makes you sad. Poor Foxy. Too much rape.


Meet The Blacks (2016)

As bad as this is, it works. Can't say I care for the sequel, however.


Mac and Devin Go To High School (2012)

Another Snoop Dogg cinematic work... and wow. If any more people see this, weed may be illegalised globally.


Raja Hindustani (1996)

New-born babies can't be involved in fight scenes. They can't.


Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000)

Roshan is such a fool.


Batman Ninja (2018)

Who invited Batman into a Power Rangers movie?


Rang De Basanti (2006)

Another one that I couldn't finish. Fuck Sue.


Overboard (2018)

Eugenio Derbez and Anna Faris provide some of the worst performances in a watchable film possible. It's almost respectable.






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23/12/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #89



Today's shorts: A Perfect Day (2015), Kahoo Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000), Space Jam (1996), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017), Whitney: Can I be Me (2017), Vir Das: Losing It (2018), Padman (2018), Chennai Express (2013), Padmaavat (2018)



Through the grim emerges light and the perfection in a day of constant tragedy becomes the fact that everyone survived, that everyone coped, that a downpour washes away troubles as it brings new ones.

Composed of some brilliant performances, A Perfect Day puts us in the Balkans at the end of the Yugoslav War with a group of aid workers, each as subtly troubled as the next. One of the film's best achievements is its ability to manage each and every character in a way that shows a spectrum of traumatised figures with subtlety. This frames an exploration of futility of a sometimes strongly comedic character; and it is the juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy that says most - and it's for this that I'd recommend this movie. Easily missed, but well worth the watch.



A struggle.

Characterisation is entirely subservient to plot, and plot entirely subservient to exuberance. All is set up for cliche narrative purposes - he's poor, she's rich, they both have lost a parent, there's an evil uncle and a blind father, etc, etc - as a means of transitioning between songs (that are ok, I guess) and between costume changes that reveal as much of Ameesha Patel's legs as possible. The melodrama then becomes lude and absurd; and with visual purposes all too clear, story becomes a strange aberration, conscious, yet vapid. Whilst this may be an interesting film to study for the fact that it is one of the most successful Bollywood films (and so an exemplar blockbuster of the times), simply trying to enjoy it for the first time today proved an impossibility.



The stuff of childhood - which isn't necessarily a good thing.

Re-visiting Space Jam after many, many years has left me a little disappointed. The visuals are one of the biggest let downs in this film. It is all too easy to comment on the dated live action/animated technology, but weaker than this is simply the aesthetic and directorial choices made to present this. In short, Space Jam doesn't look very good, and the camera moves as if it were the bastard son of a cartoon and a cheesy live-action Disney film. This doesn't help the rather bland performances as it slops onto screen via the brain dead script. Alas, this does still hold some nostalgic value and remains somewhat funny. I can't then hate this film. I simply saw it from a distance today; a kid's film, and that's almost it.



Punchy and dark, Three Billboard remains a tremendous film. I see minor holes in it now, however. The search for sentimentality and pugnacious truth is just a little too on the nose at points. For example, the direct social commentary on police brutality and the Catholic church feels scripted, and such damages the realism and genuine characterisation. It does not hinder the film's overall brilliance from shining through, however.

A search for humanity in tragedy, for honesty in abjection, Three Billboards challenges us to understand the uncanniness of our own being, and indeed that of others'. And in such transformation becomes a question of existential weight and moral fortitude to be perceived and nurtured. It is this that gripped me on my first viewing and sustains on.



A star: the human deified, an archetype embodied and made to walk; a soul who can't die, but a body that will perish nonetheless. That final, central dichotomy is what many tragic celebrity documentaries deal with: a star's undying cultural presence, yet their all too human descent into death. Whitney does not do anything of particular significance--indeed, I have never seen a particularly substantial documentary on a celebrity - apart from Crumb maybe. However, it does well to avoid casting a repulsive gaze upon a person we will never truly know and in sustaining distance. After all, distance--ambiguity--is the only essential tool required when digging into a half-human, half-other entity such as a celebrity. Nothing is known, but something is felt. The feeling is what is not very well articulated or conveyed by Whitney. It is nonetheless insightful at points.



80% mediocre, 20% pretty good.

Much of the political rambling doesn't work too well, but - and I'm finding myself to be a real sucker for these - the act-outs work pretty well. A shining moment of the special is then certainly the Ramayana re-enactment. But, whilst these moments make for a pretty entertaining hour, there's a lot of low-hanging, bright, oozing yellow fruit that is clung to. Such leaves this somewhat inane.



With a story so strong, I can only imagine that the key difficulty of producing this film would concern dramatic scale. Accepting the forewarning of contrivance for the sake of drama, you can see Padman securing a solid place between realism and melodrama. In such, it injects romance into a story that may not require it, but does so to emphasise and embolden themes of, romantically and ethically speaking, self-appointed moral servitude; what is a man who cannot protect his wife? Such makes Padman highly immersive and affecting - albeit a little sentimental.

The downfalls of this film are minimal. The sound track is a little silly, and there is something of a rush to move beyond moments of difficult silence. Dramatically speaking, this could have delved deeper. Alas, exploring more than exploiting an inherently feel-good narrative, Padman is really very good.



Second watch within one week: just as much fun.

Inherently silly, but nonetheless genuine, Chennai Express takes all the opportunities it can to maximise melodrama as to create a sprawling movement from mindless self-centrism to romantic hero in Shah Rukh Khan's Rahul. Embracing cliched plot lines, Chennai Express sets a basic moral/narrative foundation that is built upon by the joyously shadowy Meenamma. It is the conflict between the underworld and the romantic world that creates the absurdity in this film and the ridiculous human nuances that ground this in something of depth. There are moments when a certain rigidity descends upon absurdity, which leaves some scenes feeling contrived and so somewhat difficult to be lost in. But, overall, the rules of Chennai Express' world are tuned perfectly for the silly-hearted adventure that this means to be.



The rather controversial Padmaavat suffers slightly from a certain procedural and stiff sense of storytelling. Everything about this film - the performances, sets, framing, lighting, costumes and colour schemes - have been very clearly meticulously designed. And they have been designed to aesthetically support the glorification of Rajput honour and ethics. There is much political mess associated with this (the portrayal of women and Muslims proving particularly messy), but, from a narrative - not necessarily historical - perspective, the foundations of this story, its portrayal of devotion and stoicism, are rather affecting. Alas, there remains the issue of stiff storytelling. I found myself clinging to the unhinged, evil Sultan as the only character with charisma and something distinct about him. All other characters fit within the formality of the story and, in a way, become barriers to immersion. Such is all too common of historical films, but I can nonetheless say that Padmaavat is solid.






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