Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #89

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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