Today’s Shorts: A Dog’s Life (1918), Phyllis (2011), Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998), Pas De Deux (1968), Serpico (1973), A Jihad For Love (2007), Hook (1991), You, The Living (2007), Sing (2016)
A fun Chaplin picture. Though it is not as emotionally charged as The Kid or City Lights, nor is it as action-packed as something such as Easy Street or The Great Dictator, this contains many of Chaplin’s signature narrative elements – all of which are applied well.
Time then flies by as The Tramp stumbles haphazardly through a romantic tale of serendipity, one that is focused on the divide between material worth and a human worth. We see this in the key scene in which Purviance’s character is introduced; though she can reduce a full bar to tears with her song, she only manages to keep her job through a promise of prostitution. This paradigm is reversed in the relationship between the dog and The Tramp – it is a simple friendship based off of camaraderie with no ulterior motive or plans. Because there is this pure sense of friendship, one founded on inner substance, they save each other’s lives and so, with the bar singer (who The Tramp sees the human side of), are seemingly granted a happy, humble life by the forgiving world of Chaplin’s romantic universe.
It is then the “dog’s life” that is a simple one, one that is not guided by self-serving motives and so seemingly deserves, at the least, that happy, humble living.
Phyllis is an experimental Nigerian film that critiques certain Nollywood movies (Nollywood being one of the most prolific film industries in the world). In such, it follows a vampire who is obsessed with Nigerian films and sells wigs to feed her powers(?) – that bit, I’m uncertain about.
This abstract narrative then comments on the terrible weaves and wigs that some Nollywood stars wear as a means of critiquing the manner in which women are portrayed in these films. In such, Phyllis utilises striking imagery to depict the artifice of bigger budget films and suggest then negative effects of this on audiences – namely, impressionable young girls.
Say what you will about the subtext, Phyllis is an undeniably surreal film that, though it is not made very well, is a very interesting watch.
It goes without saying that Gilliam goes above and beyond with every technical detail of this film. And for that, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is a huge triumph and an indisputably remarkable film. It captures an altered reality both through its narrative and formal design in a manner that I’ve never seen brought to a cinematic screen before, leaving it an impressionistic masterclass.
I am torn, however, on the quality of the story. I never found myself locked into what was going on and so possibly need to re-watch it, maybe was subjected to a cluster of finely crafted anarchy, or just sat through empty nonsense. So, without really knowing what my opinion is on this film… I suppose that’s all I can really say.
Despite the unfortunately lacking soundtrack, Pas De Deux is a truly exquisite experimental short. It uses is a rippled stroboscopic effect with black and white cinematography to manipulate a couple’s dance into movements through a fractured spacetime to conjure a mesmerising dream of motion.
Building upon simpler shorts like Canon, which features a similar effect in its final phase, McLaren then demonstrates an immense skill to experiment with film form in an ingenious, yet instantaneously rewarding and aesthetically rich, capacity that, unlike many other experimental films, doesn’t simply rely on concept.
A tremendous neo-noir based on a true story, Serpico captures the nihilistic, the fatalistic and the futility of the policing milieu, one entirely embedded in corruption, in 60s/70s New York.
With an all-time-great performance by Pacino that sees him entirely disappear into his character, Serpico holds a plot and subject matter of astounding force. The only downfalls of this film are centred on elements of sound design and ADR performances which deteriorate elements of drama. But, beyond this, Serpico is a significant New Hollywood feature and undeniable classic.
Though it gets pretty repetitive and banal at points, this is a fascinating documentary that explores the divide/relationship between homosexuality and Islam. In such, it paints several portraits of gay and lesbian Muslims who either struggle with their faith or hold fast to it with alternate interpretations of holy texts.
Its strongest elements are those that delve into this confounding meeting point of religion and sexuality as well as those that depict the real struggles of homosexuals who have fled their country and gone into hiding. This would be a far more remarkable documentary if it managed to sustain these elements and push deeper into the controversial subject matter instead of jumping from figure to figure. Nonetheless, A Jihad For Love is a pretty well-made documentary with some technical draw backs that is quite absorbing.
The gold standard of the family fantasy film. Whilst it has faults and its fair share of cheese, Hook is a brilliant film. The script is perfect, Spielberg’s direction is on-point and the performances by Hoffman and Robinson (Hoffman in particular) are stellar
The main flaws with this movie are technological and have ties to Julia Roberts’, Tink. In short, the special effects (of which there aren’t too many) haven’t aged too well and there is an inescapable artificial aesthetic imbued into the sets through the flashy cinematography that is sometimes a little too vibrant and colourful for its own good. Added to this, the insertion of Tink into this narrative is pretty essential, but simply isn’t executed very well. Giving edge on the technical front, you can still criticise Roberts’ performance as well as the direction in her sequences – and let’s not forget the questionable plot beat that has her explode into a human-sized fairy.
With all of that said, the best family films will have an inevitable hint of cheese and artifice to them and the fact that Hook manages these elements so well to provide an enormous amount of joy and fun makes it one of the greatest ever made.
Absurdly brilliant and quite possibly a new personal favourite, You, The Living is a narrative City Symphony focused on the inhabitants of a Swedish city (Lethe). With silent films aesthetics – simply shot types and some strong mise en scene – this is a ridiculously immersive and subtle dark comedy that has no internal structuring that makes much sense, but pulls together to produce a surprisingly profound commentary on society. In such, You, The Living is focused on mundanity and dissatisfaction in the modern world.
My favourite aspect of the movie features a jaded psychologist who says (paraphrasing) that the people he deals with are mean, yet demand happiness, and so aren’t worth talking to, which is why he just prescribes them pills. And such, speaks to both the tone and sensibilities of this film’s commentary on humanity. It is equal parts beautiful and nihilistic, leaving it poetically inert and freakishly meaningful.
Bergman would sigh. Tarkovsky would groan. Kubrick would roll his eyes. But, this is a good pop blockbuster animated movie.
It executes its formulaic script and characters very well with some catchy tunes, good animation and a plot that does gain a lot of emotive momentum as it works its way towards a finale. To criticise this as anything other than a simple family movie would be pointless, so, for what it is, Sing is actually pretty great – and I’ve seen it about 10 times thanks to my family, so I can confidently stand by that claim. There are some huge plot holes and sequences that make no sense as well as a cliched subtextual drive, but it’s good fun that holds up.
Monsters, Inc. – Inter-Narrative & Super-Narrative
Inception – Lessons vs. Stories: Why Exposition (Sometimes) Sucks
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