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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Every Year In Film #20 – Maple Leaf Viewing

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