Shorts #19

Today’s Shorts: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Mother (1926), Enthusiasm (1931), Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Within Our Gates (1920), Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), Mean Machine (2001), Miss Congeniality (2000), 28 Days Later (2002), Dazed And Confused (1993), The Secret of Magic Island (1957)

Not a very good movie. Whilst the world-design and the scope are highly captivating, the main problems with this movie are the characters and the cast. Almost every single character is bland and played awfully – the main three protagonists especially (McAvoy is ok as he projects some semblance of personality). This drains all tension and drama that is almost built up, which leaves many scenes and shots inadvertently funny, and the rest just plain mediocre at best.

Really nothing more than a throw-away movie with a source that will draw in young audiences, the only positives of this movie are the balls all involved had to put to screen a film of such scale. And, credit where credit is due, the CGI, whilst it isn’t amazing, isn’t too bad at all – and after 12 years.

Just like every Soviet Montage film I’ve ever seen, Pudovkin’s Mother blew me away. The understanding of the cut and the use of mise en scène throughout this narrative is profoundly spectacular; never does Pudovkin relax his artistic rigour and let through even a slight implication of a style that does not belong his culture and age. For this, Mother is, formally, a film like few others and a masterful representative of a lost, yet overwhelmingly powerful, approach to cinema.

If there’s anything that the Soviet Montage films lack, it is an intricacy and emotional depth in their stories. Whilst there is always an outcry of injustice and inhumanity, these films always feel slightly detached from their characters – and this is quite true of Pudovkin’s Mother. So, whilst this is one of the most captivating Soviet Montage films I have seen in regards to story, it is nonetheless lacking.

Despite any faults, however, I have to recommend this film to anyone even slightly interested in editing and the formal construction of films. Pudovkin’s Mother is a truly great film.

An immensely inventive documentary by Dziga Vertov, one that ‘documents’ the Five Year Plan in action and the intense labour that fuelled it. The first Five Year Plan was an economic scheme set up by the Soviet government in 1928 to increase their heavy industries for fear of war and conflict from the West (which was made up of far more industrialised countries). This plan was entirely reliant on the work of the people and was responsible for vast economic growth, an establishment of the working class as well as an industry that would make Russia’s incredibly important contributions to the Allied forces of WWII possible.

Despite the immensity of Vertov’s formal design, this is only a shade of a documentary – and largely propaganda. This is because, despite showing the intense labour and the successes of the Five Year Plan, the devastating famine, forced labour and other tragic effects of the poorly conceived collectivisation of agriculture and expansion of industry are not acknowledged.

So, whilst this is nowhere near as brilliant as Man With A Movie Camera as well as heavily biased towards concealing the true state of Russia in this period, Enthusiasm is an intriguing insight into history and an impressive example of how Vertov confronted the advent of sound with his montage.

Whilst it is not flawless, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was immense fun.

To get the negatives out of the way; many jokes don’t hit, there are quite a few moments of bad CGI and awkward physics, some bad shots that try to call back to the 70s/80s style of genre filmmaking and the writing around the first act especially is pretty bumpy. More minor issues concern the look of this film – sometimes wondrous, some times questionable – and the same can be said for some of the song choices (a few just didn’t seem to work).

Negating much of this are numerous surprisingly hilarious scenes, brilliant characterisation and a perfect tone that puts the majority of the serious superhero films to shame. Most of this is motivated by the pleasant exploration of family as a theme which, whilst it isn’t overwhelmingly profound, gives this film a good dose of intelligence. There’s then little more to say other than this is an awesome blockbuster and almost impossible to dislike.

P.S. End/post-credit scenes seem to be getting out of control. Not only are they endless, but many seem pretty important, and so are awkward bookends to a narrative. It’s quite strange to see how their use has evolved.

This is a film by Oscar Micheaux, not the very first, but the first significant African-American filmmaker who had a decades-long career contributing hugely to the cultural expansion of American cinema. With Our Gates is then an early example of the “race film”. This was considered a genre of film that lasted from the late nineteen-teens until post-WW2 (around the 50s) that would be made with minorities (the small studios and crews would often be all-white – though, this isn’t the case with Micheaux) and for minorities in the unambiguously segregated South and the de facto segregated North as a prevalent and successful form of independent or alternative cinema in the America’s studio era.

Most valuable as a historical and a cultural document, Within Our Gates gives insight into this kind of filmmaking and the purpose of independent forms of cinema over the ages. A must-watch for anyone interested in such topics.

Partially fun, partially boring, Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein mediates between dud jokes of various kinds and genuinely amusing madcap moments. The direction and edit throughout has many hiccups, like basic continuity errors, but nonetheless, the cinematography and set-design are pretty excellent – and the integration of animation; probably the best part of this movie. The comedic performances are highly repetitive and predictable and there’s not much to say about the more serious roles. But, if this film does anything well, it exposes the ridiculous nature of the classic monster movies – though this is the element of spoof and satire movies that just gets under my skin; instead of bringing something else down, why not say and do something of worth yourself?

All in all, Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein is not a terrible movie, but it’s also not a great one. Some may enjoy it, some won’t.

This is just one of those movies that I can’t see the faults in as I’m too busy having a good time and laughing like a moron. Whilst I don’t like the intro much, as soon as we’re in the prison, this movie is golden. What makes this so is that it’s bursting at the seams with so many brilliant caricatures – I say ‘caricatures’ because it’s easy to argue that the characters within aren’t very well-rounded or provided with much depth, but this works so well. The simplicity of the emotional drive, the simplicity of the plot, the simplicity of the characters all imbue this story with unrelenting energy that explodes with the brilliant final act. I don’t think there is anything more basic in logic and in heart than a good, heated football match – and Mean Machine captures this with class (of a very idiosyncratic kind).

I can see why people would hate this movie, but I don’t. It’s dumb, but it’s good fun. If you would like a more senseless and silly film in the same vein as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, maybe give this a go.

I should probably be calling this a guilty pleasure, but I won’t. Miss Congeniality is a cheap-at-heart, high-concept movie that knows what it’s doing and pulls it off brilliantly. There is nothing special about this movie apart from the fact that it does what you know it will do flawlessly and without letting you down. Miss Congeniality is then like an athlete, or, to make a better comparison, a beauty pageant contestant, who works really hard and it’s incredibly technical, but was never born with talent, perfect genetics and originality. It’s got good personality and spirit though, which makes up for the second or third place that it rightly earns.

All of this means that the script it tight, the performances are strong and the direction is competent, leaving this movie a really pleasant 2 hours or so sat quite mindlessly in front of the T.V.

Despite Boyle’s highly inventive direction, this is an incredibly ugly movie. And, unfortunately, the digital camera work doesn’t provide the aesthetic grit and realism that everyone involved were probably going for. Instead of making things feel more visceral and real, the cinematography in this movie is actually detrimental to verisimilitude; everything feels incredibly contrived. So, it goes without saying, but this movie hasn’t, stylistically speaking, aged very well at all.

Whilst I really appreciate the spin that 28 Days Later presents on the zombie movie, the writing, acting and general design of this movie leave a really bad taste in my mouth. This is because it just feels like terrible, low-end, early 00s British T.V – something that I’m too familiar with and really despise.

All in all, this is just a movie that has never worked for me.

There are a plethora of rebellious teen, end of high school, coming-of-age movies. Everything from Rebel Without A Cause to American Graffiti to Grease to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink, American Pie to Mean Girls follows the same basic paradigm with the same fundamental themes. Dazed And Confused is no exception to this rule, though, it is one of the most unique and individual of these archetypal teen movies. This all comes down to Linklater’s building of his 70s Austin hippie world, and his population of it with reams of memorable and instantaneously likeable characters.

Whilst, like basically all of Linklater’s films, some will say this is a little pretentious and talkative at times, there’s nothing I can wholeheartedly fault with this movie. Maybe I could point out a few bits of bad ADR, but this is entirely overshadowed by Linklater’s ability to embed innumerable subtle emotional layers into every one of his scenes. For example, whilst the hazing sequences are horrifying, tense and confusing, they too are thrilling, joyous and eventually heartwarming. Much like high school this film is then a jungle of torment and maybe also the encapsulation of some of the best times a person can have, rife with absurdity and discombobulation.

A film I could watch endlessly Dazed And Confused is pure brilliance.

I came across this strange film when reading an André Bazin essay that attempts to explore “The Virtues and Limitations of Montage”. Bazin uses this film as an example of montage in the children’s film genre, noting it as a movie that, though it is impressively and meticulously designed, is faulted for its contrivance stemmed form the use of montage (editing). To understand what Bazin was talking about, I decided to watch this movie – the only version being in French.

This is strangely amusing and a very surreal kind of fantasy through which Tourane creates the illusion of dogs, mice, birds and foxes living and interacting on a magical island. This is done through a very clear trick of cinema that, as Bazin suggests, does act as a wall which holds off believability. Nonetheless, despite not understanding what on earth was going on, this film intermittently captivated me.

So, I wouldn’t recommend (or maybe I should) you watch this on drugs as it is quite trippy. Soberly watched, however, The Secret of Magic Island is maybe worth it in accompaniment to the Bazin essay.

 

 

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Annabelle: Creation – Structure & Pacing: The Real Tension

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Annabelle: Creation – Structure & Pacing: The Real Tension

Thoughts On: Annabelle: Creation (2017)

We just covered this film, essentially delving into its subtext, or hidden meaning, with spoilers. What we will be concluding now is the critical analysis of this film’s formal cinematic design.

Annabelle Creation 3

Annabelle: Creation is a film that I grew to appreciate quite a bit thanks to the intelligent storytelling that comes out of the script. However, this is a film that is incredibly rife with bad horror tropes. To the film’s favour, I wouldn’t say that this is any more of an assault on the idea of originality than most average horror films. Moreover, there was a clear attempt in this narrative to embrace the tropes whilst dishing out some genuinely horrific imagery doused in some well-earned atmosphere and tension. There was one thing that really got on my nerves with this narrative, however, and that concerned the atmospheric crescendos that come to a dead stand-still at their peak. To better explain, something strange will happen: a door will open off its own accord. The camera then has us stare straight at it, the character in the scene wary and confused as they close the door and then walk away… it happens again… the door creeeeeeks open… the music starts to swell… the person edges towards the door… the camera has us stare for an age more… the music grows louder and louder… their fingers come to the door handle… small pieces of sound design are emphasised… the character starts to doubt their actions… the music’s coming to its peak… something is gonna happen–BANG. Another door slams shut, all tension and horror are gone as the person pushes the door and runs off. Whilst this exact scene doesn’t exist in Annabelle, you see this paradigm repeat itself again and again and again and again throughout this narrative. Even when supernatural beings actually start chasing characters, the tension will continue to build, only for–BANG–a door to shut and the problem be done with.

This is so incredibly frustrating as this movie’s slow pacing never goes anywhere and all the built potential of atmosphere and tone add up to nothing. This is actually something that I began thinking about when sitting through the trailer for the up-and-coming It before this movie started. (Trailer watching is a practice I try to avoid). The trailer for the King adaptation seems to imply prolonged scenes in which children interact with clowns, meaning highly tense scenes that don’t end abruptly with false scares or loud noises. Whilst I have no faith in trailers at all, I began to think of a movie that had us stay in a horrifying situation that played out to its full extreme. The perfect movie in this regard would then start with a door opening and then, without jumping through time or having any unnecessary breaks, horror just flowing from the screen in a constant crescendo until the final climax in which everyone’s nails are bitten clean to the bone as they lie several feet from the edges of their seats.

With this unrealistic ideal movie in mind, I began to search my memory for examples of already-existing films that do force their characters to stay in a moment, letting the horror play through to its very extreme. After finding a few sparse and loose examples, like REC, The Exorcist and The Shining, I suddenly realised something: there is a whole genre in which this is the goal. This genre is commonly referred to as exploitation. We’ve talked about exploitation and video nasties (the British-named counterpart) before. In case you don’t know what these films are though, we’ll define them quickly. You can skip this next paragraph if you already know…

Exploitation films emerged from New Hollywood in the late 1950s and evolved across the 60s and 70s, coming to a dead end around the early 80s. These movies are the product of filmmakers that took advantage of the new cencorship infrastructure in Hollywood as well as the changing economic environment – which was far more accepting of independent films that came from outside of the big studios. Many exploitation films are horrors that focus on one idea to the point that it is ridiculous – and this is a kind of game that the audience and filmmakers play. However, whilst almost all exploitation films are highly sexual, violent, torturous and grotesque (seemingly with the goal of the filmmakers being arrested for obscenity, animal cruelty or after being accused of murder) some are also heavily racial (Blaxploitation for example), and so they can all be characterised by a focus on the lewd and the socially unacceptable. Video nasties serve as a cousin to this genre of film as they are a breed of exploitation films that reached markets through the new VHS technology that emerged from the 70s.

Exploitation films such as Cannibal Holocaust, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House On The Left and Pink Flamingos all have a sadistic fixation with prolonging scenes, or ensuring we see the most extremely gratuitous and tortuous things occur as quick as possible. Are these the height of my ideal horror cinema? I don’t think so. Whilst exploitation films often take things to their extreme, milking a concept for all it has, they lack technical prowess in regards to the writing; they lack tension and atmosphere.

What then seems to be the solution here is a meeting of the exploitation film and the high-end modern horror film; the combination of atmosphere and tone with an exploitative fixation on horror. But, this solution, whilst it’s a nice idea and piece of motivation, comes with many of its own problems. Where is the line between prolonging tense scenes and exploiting concepts, reducing them to absurdist gore-porn?

This is a very difficult question to answer as there’s one lesson that Spielberg seems to have taught most modern filmmakers: don’t show the shark until you absolutely have to. Jaws works because the imagination can often be stronger than reality; a horrific thing not seen can be far more terrifying than something horrific played out right before your eyes. This is because potential, the unexpected and possibility are harder topics to grasp and comes to terms with than what is before you. Knowing this, filmmakers imply horror instead of striving to think up the most horrific images like those apart of the exploitation movement did. Thus, when we consider the pacing and structural issues of dud and anti-climatic horror scenes in movies such as Annabelle: Creation, there develops a tension in these scenes beyond the anxiety we may be imbued with as we wait for a jump scare. This tension is between the sophisticated soft-core horror and the hardcore, balls-to-the-wall, all-on-show exploitation horror. As a result, the line between these two contrary approaches to is called absurdity. Some filmmakers know how to embrace absurdity, Wes Craven and Sam Raimi are pretty brilliant at this, whilst some are better at keeping away from it, James Wan and David Sandberg seem to be quite good at this. There doesn’t seem to be anyone, at least, no one who comes to mind, who can negate absurdity and push their horror scenes to their utmost extreme, drawing every ounce of terror out of them. This leaves us in a place that’s not too better to that which we started at.

I’ll then have to leave with a few open questions to you. Can you think of any horror movies that take their scenes to their utmost extreme without becoming ridiculous and before having to cut things short with a door slamming or a false scare? Do you think the line between exploitation and atmospheric, jump-scare horrors is insurmountable? How do you think this element of filmmaking could be improved upon?

 

 

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Annabelle: Creation – The Horrifying Toy Doll

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Annabelle: Creation – The Horrifying Toy Doll

Thoughts On: Annabelle: Creation (2017)

A group of displaced orphans move into a household haunted by tragedy.

Annabelle Creation

Quite inadvertently, I’ve seen every single one of the Conjuring Universe films. Whilst I don’t think this series is particularly good or bad, much like the Paranormal Activity films, they just seem to find themselves in front of me. The weakest Conjuring film, in my view, was certainly Annabelle as it was so forgettable. So, going into this movie, I wasn’t expecting much at all. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by a well-constructed and intelligent picture. There are major downfalls in this film’s design however. We will not get into the most significant of these, but, I will say that what initially brings this movie down is its bland characters – not one of them are particularly interesting or emotionally engaging. This is something that I believe most people will pick up on, and so will be the biggest hurdle to enjoying this narrative. That said, the scares, whilst predictable and heavily reliant on the sound design alone, mostly work to a satisfactory degree it seems – my girlfriend jumped quite a bit. What’s more, the direction is pretty flawless. Sandberg, quite like Wan with the first Conjuring, uses his camera in the way that seemingly all horror movie directors would love to if they had a big enough budget; he often has us float through, above and across the sets, a ghost like Kubrick’s camera in The Shining, but with a distinguished modern aesthetic. However, this can draw too much attention to itself at times as the camera movement is often unmotivated, yet not impressive enough to really justify itself. But, this isn’t overwhelmingly distracting and, especially by the mid-point, this film ultimately finds its footing and works pretty well.

The other strengths of Annabelle concern its subtext – and this is the element that really made this movie worthwhile for me. To delve into this, be warned, because we will be using…

**SPOILERS**

With this second Annabelle film, Dauberman (writer) constructs a pretty expressive narrative about sisterhood, femininity and the dynamics of a female social group. He does this with the use of the Annabelle doll and the generationally diverse cast of women. A question we must ask to understand how this group functions is: why are toy dolls anything from lovable to pleasant to weird to creepy to horrifying?

As many people may already know, there is a theory that places particularly creepy human representatives (like dolls and robots) into an “uncanny valley”.

This is a very interesting tool with which you can understand horror movies, but sticking with Annabelle, it’s clear that the doll, because it is constructed so well, but not well enough, fits quite snugly into the uncanny valley. However, realism isn’t the only determining factor of its creepiness in my view – and this film attempts to emphasise this. There is an emotional connection that people, girls especially, can develop with their dolls (baby dolls in particularly). This is because, once they hit a certain age of maturity, girls’ biological functions as well as surrounding social mechanisms motivate them towards empathy, care and compassion for young humans. When this emotional symbol of emotional attachment – the toy doll – is pushed down the uncanny valley, the after-effects are pretty poignant – hence a plethora of Chucky-like movies that have been made over time. Dauberman seems to be somewhat conscious of this concept and so uses the symbol of Annabelle to test his group of females with age-old tropes of horror.

As has been made fun of time and time again with spoof movies that make use of virgin teens alone surviving the killer/monster of a given movie, horror is classically pretty puritanical in its often unforgiving application of religious themes. There are then heavy motifs throughout the horror genre of women being punished, tested and used as cautionary tales of sin. Whilst many will find this distasteful, I believe that this can have a significant place in a horror film if used well. Relating this to the film at hand, not only does Dauberman punish his corrupted female characters in Annabelle: Creation, but he does so for the sake of building his story.

So, to begin the dissection, there are three females in this story that are really put on trial. They are the mother, who lost her daughter and, with her husband, used satanic forces to bring her spirit to life again; one of the oldest orphans, Nancy, who pushes around and bullies (passive-aggressively) her younger house mates; and, finally, one of our main protagonists, Janice, who has broken her leg and fears being treated differently by her friends because of the injury. It is the devil that resides within Annabelle’s (the dead daughter’s) doll that is used to punish all of these women. Because they express no faith – as is made clear by Sister Charlotte – these three figures are then susceptible to the whims, and in turn the punishment, of the devil. To provide a secular explanation, because these figures hold no concept of a higher, transcendent (of basic understanding) and archetypal good that they remain loyal to, they leave in themselves a sympathy towards the bad – which is a slippery path towards self-destruction. Further contextualising this, however, is the use of a feminine symbol: the Annabelle doll. This uncannily horrifying doll is then representative of these women coming into conflict with, or neglecting, their female values.

We see this paradigm quite clearly with the parents of the dead Annabelle. They chose not to accept the death of their little girl and instead fixate on the impossible. By neglecting a trust in a higher ideal of goodness, they, with vanity, turn away from a positive perspective to wallow in their sorrows by bringing their daughter ‘back to life’. The mistake that this is, is made clear by the fact that the devil (ultimate darkness) inhabits their daughter and later takes the mother’s eye – her perspective – a wound she masks with a portion of a doll’s face (which is not too different from what she does by remembering her daughter through her doll). When the parents attempt to provide penance – which is reversing their previous negative actions by trying to move past their daughter’s death and by opening their home to a group of orphans – they come into conflict with themselves. We see this through the sinister and uninviting atmosphere captured by the ‘welcome’ the girls receive; the parents are struggling to move on – the evil, possessed doll still lingers in their home – and this eventually kills them.

It is Janice who exploits this weakness in the couple by going into Annabelle’s room. She knows that this is socially wrong (a sin) and so she is possessed – possibly by the parent’s own negative attachment to their dead daughter. However, this is something that is never expressed too clearly, which could have easily been done through the parents being put in a trance of sorts by the possessed Janice, which in turn indicates that Dauberman doesn’t have a full grip on his subtext. Nonetheless, Janice’s punishment through the doll seems to be two-fold. Not only is she punished for committing a sin, but she also seems to act with too much pride; like the parents, she doesn’t want to accept help in her weakened state, so instead isolates herself. Again, this idea isn’t expressed very well as Janice’s actions around this element of story are portrayed as rational, not irrational. But, despite this weak element of writing, it is clear that Janice’s conflict concerns obeying authority and establishing/maintaining sisterhood. By failing in both of these regards (ignoring her elders and losing her friend) she is eventually consumed by the doll.

Concerning the hostile atmosphere in the house that the orphaned girls move into, we come to the bully, Nancy. She, much like the scarecrow from which the devil that kills her rises from, puts up a malevolent facade as a form of defence. Nancy is not scaring birds away from crops, however. She is, probably out of self-defence, attacking the younger girls – and often as to project her own ‘maturity’. An example of this would be her mistreating Janice’s friend, sending her off to play a game of hide-and-seek which she never engages in, only so that she could ‘talk about boys’. This minor act of obnoxiousness becomes ever more pertinent when she constantly scares the other girls into mistrusting the new house in which they live. As mentioned, this contributes to the already tense atmosphere and so puts further pressure on the still-mourning parents.

As could be expected, this explodes with all of these characters being seriously hurt or killed, but the most compassionate, naive and innocent surviving the coming of the devil. What this transforms this narrative into is a tragic parable about a predominantly female social group failing to unite under an symbolic idea of creation. Creation is an attribute linked heavily to women, after all, we all have mothers without which we couldn’t exist. This idea is expressed through these female figures, which have almost all lost either mothers or children, all coming into conflict through the loss of a child as well as biological maturity. This may stem from the fact that they’ve all forgotten how to properly play with dolls. Considering this idea metaphorically, what I mean to suggest here is that the social mechanisms (like a toy doll) that motivate women to be highly sociable, compassionate and caring – something that would be referred to as archetypal femininity – have been put under much pressure with seemingly irreconcilable after-effects. Again, this idea could have been better expressed with other dolls playing larger parts in this narrative – maybe the older girls bully the younger ones by stealing and throwing away their dolls whilst calling them weird or childish. However, the fact that so much of this clear subtextual conflict revolves around the doll already speaks volumes about each of these characters and their function in this narrative.

To come towards a conclusion, what Annabelle: Creation is quite clearly about puts emphasis on Creation. This is a movie about girls and women coming into conflict with their own femininity and in turn an idea of sisterhood. What this will then make clear is the abstract ending. Why does Janice grow up calling herself Annabelle? It seems that the girls throwing away the doll in the end was not a good thing; they never truly embraced their inner conflicts despite confronting them. What that would suggest is that maybe Janice was exiled from this group and was sent to another orphanage where she grew up with inner demons and insurmountable psychological torment. This was around the important age of 12 – which is about the point at which puberty will start for most young people. For the fact that all of these conflicts arise in the house following a 12 year period after Annabelle dies further implies that this movie is heavily focused on creation, loss and growth as attached to females coming under much duress. Interestingly, 12 years after Janice-turned-Annabelle is adopted, she has a nightmare about killing her parents as her boyfriend sleeps next to her. Again, the mid-20s are another tuning point in people’s lives as this is where they may begin to think about starting a family – a significant point of maturation at which conflict can, again, arise, leaving the final scene of this narrative the last beat if a parabolic tragedy concerning women who can create life and must learn how to sustain it (a child; a doll) through their social practices. All of these conflicts, as said, concern sisterhood and an idea of these women’s sense of feminine self. The fact that “creation” is then the abstract focus of this narrative through the doll then adds a very strong layer of intelligence to this story. The girls in this story all suffer because they do not come together and also show little understanding of, and sympathy for, the highest feminine virtues. This is done through disrespecting Annabelle’s mother and one another which, all too soon, devolves into chaos.

With all of that said, it should be recognised that, whilst this is a very intelligent script, Dauberman doesn’t demonstrate a full control of this subtext and so leaves this story lacking in certain respects. Ultimately, I would then say that Annabelle: Creation is an above-average horror film with quite a few faults. But, as said at the top of this post, the most significant of these issues haven’t been brought into the light. We will then do this in another post on pacing and structure. But, for now I’ll leave you with this question: What do you think of Annabelle: Creation and all we’ve covered today?

 

 

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Tangled – Classical Essence?

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Tangled – Classical Essence?

Quick Thoughts: Tangled (2010)

A stolen princess with magical hair dreams of leaving her tower.

Tangled

Tangled is Disney’s fast and loose retelling of the classical tale of Rapunzel. For the fact that this is so far removed from the original tale, much of the archetypal subtext has been lost and replaced by a rather basic adventure full of tropes and predictability, and not much depth. If we were to delve into the subtext of this film we would only be re-tracing ground, though with a fair degree of futility, we’ve covered in much detail recently when exploring parent-children relationships and dreams. In fact, when we compare Tangled to films such as Coraline, or even Disney’s 1991 Beauty And The Beast, both of which this is quite similar to, Tangled is, story-wise, quite mundane. This is something that I didn’t really foresee when initially planning this series well over a year ago.

I have always enjoyed Tangled, and still do, even after seeing this film dozens and dozens of times – I have young sisters, so this is nothing close to an exaggeration, believe me. I’ve always liked Tangled for its intricate animation and projection of characters, in particularly, Mother Gothel during the first act and in the ‘Mother Knows Best” sequence (which is undoubtedly the best part of the entire film in my opinion). But, because, much like the majority of the best Disney films, Tangled holds up under a ridiculous amount of re-watches, I assumed that, when the time came, I’d have quite a bit to say about it. This is not really a position I find myself in. Whilst this is a truly gorgeous movie with great characters bursting with personality, the intention with Tangled, as said by the filmmakers, was to transpose the feel and aesthetics of the old Disney films – such as Cinderella and Pinocchio – into a CG world. Put straight, despite clear inspiration and a return to the princess figure, the essence of these films, both stylistically and atmospherically, is lost on Tangled. Whilst I speak from a bias towards the classics, Tangled doesn’t feel like a true Disney film like even the recent Treasure Planet and Lilo & Stitch did. At best, this feels like a rather fantastical CG blend of a 50s Hollywood musical and a romance such as Roman Holiday. This has a lot to do with the direction; the ‘camera’ here functions nothing like it does in classical animated films, instead resembles that of a live action movie. Again, I really appreciate this and think it works for this narrative – though this doesn’t have it contend with the best that Disney has offered.

What Tangled represents, to me, is something that, in 2010, was a long-time-coming. Whilst Disney made major strides away from their classical style in the 1960s with 101 Dalmatians and continued this through the 80s and 90s with the gradual implementation of CGI, it was after a run of CGI films that eventually lead up to Tangled that Disney, maybe inadvertently, made a resounding statement, saying that the classical style is finally, truly and completely a lost art form. With films such as Mulan and Lilo & Stitch, this idea could be looked past as the old, yet morphed, Disney magic still resides within these narratives. This magic is not present in Tangled; because of the irreconcilable distance aesthetically and tonally put to screen with this film, Disney adopted much of what Pixar does best in terms of style, and so have very clearly stepped into a new era.

This shift, if we consider the films we skipped past for the series, films such as Chicken Little, The Wild, Meet The Robinsons and Bolt, has some rather unattractive and forgettable attributes, but, thinking ahead to Wreck It Ralph, also has much promise. However, this will be something that we will have to explore further in later posts. To bring things towards an end, I’ll emphasise that Tangled is a film that I really enjoy, but don’t see much substance in thanks to a very basic narrative that is solely reliant on characters. These are just my thoughts though. What do you think of Tangled, especially considering its place in the wider catalogue of Disney films?

 

 

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Abouna – Irresponsibility

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Abouna – Irresponsibility

Quick Thoughts: Abouna (Our Father, 2002)

Made by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, this is the Chadian film of the series.

Abouna 2

I’m not sure why – I think it’s just because I saw this film at the right time – but, Abouna had a strong impact on me. From the very start, themes of responsibility jumped off of the screen and mixed perfectly with motifs of abandonment, isolation and confusion. In such, we follow our two forsaken main characters, whose father walks out on them and mother sends them to a Koranic school to be disciplined, as they trudge through events that seem far beyond their experience, age and depth. They then have to confront the meaninglessness that life can present when childhood structures are suddenly ripped from underneath them – simple structures like daily routines, but also more complex events like moving schools and watching your family dissolve around you. Without drowning in the structureless landscape that I could only imagine a young teenager would perceive when they look out into the world having endured much of the events depicted in this film, our main characters become the epicentre of a narrative based on strife as a force that would pressure many people into a foetal position in which they would forever remain–but also a force that many manage to stare in the face and simultaneously engage life as it seems we all must do.

The warm cinematography and use of colour throughout this film overlay this narrative with a sense of instantaneous nostalgia and melancholy, making visceral the pertinent themes of childhood. And the technicalities of this film are made all the more impressive knowing the strange shooting schedule: the footage from the end of every day of shooting would have to be sent over 2500 miles to France from Chad. After the film was processed and the crew was told that the footage was good, several days after they had sent it, they could begin shooting another day.

Somehow managing this schedule, somehow putting to screen a well-directed and good-looking movie with a highly affecting and poignant story at its heart, Haroun has clearly done something lasting and spectacular with Abouna. I would highly recommend anyone even slightly intrigued find and watch this film.

 

 

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Tangled – Classical Essence?

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City Of God – Malevolent Archetypes

Quick Thoughts: City Of God (Cidade de Deus, 2002)

Made by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, this is the Brazilian film of the series.

City Of God

Whilst I wouldn’t say that this is a modern masterpiece, I would certainly say that City Of God is a tremendous movie. Primarily, it is a great example of hyperlink cinema and incredible world building. Added to this are a plethora of great characters and an engaging story. The only downfalls with City Of God in my view would then be that there’s too much of a focus on style as opposed to content and story. This isn’t an overwhelmingly damaging negative of this movie, there is just a bit too much of a concentration on form and plot that leaves the aesthetics and brutal nature of this narrative more of a spectacle and less of an artful means of building, commenting and projecting a world.

With that said, City Of God does quite well in constructing a story about the cycle of poverty and violence. However, this is nothing incredibly original and this narrative, in all honesty, doesn’t say much more than films such as Los Salvadorian and Bicycle Thieves – which are undeniably great–even masterpieces. But, utilising the brilliant editing, style and structure of this narrative, City Of God does manage to conjure an incredibly nihilist sense of despair through its projection of endless malevolence, violence and crime. This is by and large captured by Lil’ Z, who is one of the most vindictive motherfuckers ever put to screen. His character perfectly encapsulates a force in society and human nature that is relentlessly violent and destructive. And so it’s despite the order he brings to his City Of God that Lil’ Z represents chaos of the most poisonous kind; he is structural chaos that is embedded deeply into a community and society. Because Lil’ Z encapsulates this archetype with such visceral verisimilitude, there arises that immense sense of meaninglessness and insurmountable evil from City Of God when it ends so openly, imbued only with an unstable sense of resolve.

It’s this that makes City Of God such a worthwhile movie, one that should be watched for its use of this evil archetype. So, whilst wouldn’t say that this is a movie I can revisit often as it is one you dread going into because of its devastating impact, City Of God is undeniably brilliant and a movie everyone needs to see at least once.

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The Seventh Seal – Truth And Lies

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The Seventh Seal – Truth And Lies

Quick Thoughts: The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde Inseglet, 1957)

A crusader returns to his homeland, which is being ravaged by the Black Death.

The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal is probably Ingmar Bergman’s most iconic film, one that is imbued with an incredible amount of religious symbolism and allusions. Whilst I have an ok grip on this film as I have watched it a handful of times, I’m not confident enough to do a deep dive into its narrative just yet. However, what really sunk me into The Seventh Seal on this re-watch is Bergman’s meditation on the purpose of suffering in a world that we say is benevolent, though can manifest itself with overwhelming malevolence. The Seventh Seal thus seems to be a question of nihilism; why shouldn’t we believe, and so live as if, the world is meaningless? This is a stance that can be assumed justified with unshaken rationality. And as this narrative focuses on, the only comprehensible entity that keeps people from nihilism is fear; a fear of isolation, a fear of death, of pain, of the unknown, of perpetual suffering. We thus cling to meaning as to manifest about ourselves a shield – a lie. Now, a lie is not a simple concept as there are lies that serve a purpose, that protect and oil the complex clockwork of living. Truth is nonetheless an infinitely useful commodity, if applied and used right, as it opens up reality to human understanding. And this is the conflict present within The Seventh Seal; lies and truth concerning the existential unknown can tear people apart, especially when the seeming truth is one that cannot be understood and cannot be absorbed.

However, whilst I think this is a major element of The Seventh Seal, there is clearly more to this narrative that needs to be considered. So, I’ll end here by asking, have you seen The Seventh Seal? What are your thoughts?

 

 

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City Of God – Malevolent Archetypes

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