This Week In Cinema: July 07-13, 2013

a movie

I’m pretty sure that the soundtrack to my life would be all wacky and mournful at the wrong times!

A lot of movies this week, and be forewarned, I’ll be reviewing a lot of short films in the coming months. If that’s not your bag, then you’re in for a rough ride,

The Crimson Permanent Assurance (1983, Terry Gilliam, United Kingdom) ***

Very funny, and very smart, with an ingenious usage of props and natural surroundings. The only complaint I really have with The Crimson Permanent Assurance is that I wanted it to be longer. I realize that’s a double edged sword, and that adding to its length would most likely detract from its bite. Still, I wanted just a bit more than this short film was willing to give me. That being said, what Terry Gilliam did give me was really funny in an intelligent manner. The cultural commentary is present, and prescient to these modern times. Most of all I was impressed by the ingenuity shown in the usage of office supplies as props, something I doubt I’ll ever see in a film again.

Der 90. Geburtstag Oder Dinner For One (Dinner For One, 1963, Heinz Dunkhase, West Germany) *

Terminally unfunny, but that’s what happens when a one trick pony of a joke is trotted out over and over again. I did chuckle a bit at the first run through of the joke in Der 90. Geburtstag Oder Dinner For One. But, the second, third, and fourth times that the joke was trotted out I sat stone faced. I wasn’t given a reason to laugh, as it was the same joke on repeat. This appeals to some, as I understand it’s actually a New Year’s regular in some European countries, but it didn’t appeal to me in the slightest.

The Snowman (1982, Dianne Jackson & Jimmy T. Murakami, United Kingdom) ***

I enjoyed The Snowman, and like most I found its final moments touching, poignant, and thematically rich. It’s the getting to the end that eventually wore me down. There came a point when I realized the short film no longer felt short and instead felt overlong. It keeps going and going, and could easily have had ten or so minutes shaved off and been a much better and more succinct film. The animation is pretty neat, I liked the watercolor style. And, like I said, the final message is a good one, but it took too long to get there.

La Rivière Du Hibou (An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, 1962, Robert Enrico, France) ***1/2

An interesting experiment that turns into a haunting film. This is a great example of how horror isn’t always scary, or at least it’s not always scary when it’s happening. Everything the lead character in La Rivière Du Hibou goes through is a form of horror, even if we don’t know it’s horrific until the final frame. A chilling anti-war message, with each passing second showing how war strips away everything that makes a person human. Love and happiness are torn to shreds by the machine that is war, and by the time the human body dies it doesn’t matter because war has already destroyed Peyton’s soul. The filmmaking is top notch in this one, and when you combine that with a great story you have one great film.

Despicable Me 2 (2013, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud, United States Of America) ***

About on par with Despicable Me, and still a lot of laughs. Look, I enjoyed this film, that much is true. I laughed a lot, I really dig the Minions, and overall I find this universe that Universal Animation has helped to further with Despicable Me 2 to be a fun universe to spend time in. But, the target audience is someone like my seven year old daughter, and she absolutely loved this film. She laughed and laughed, sang along with the film, and had a grin on her face throughout. I could do without all of the fart humor, and some aspects of Despicable Me 2 did fall flat for me. I do have to respect the fact that two adults and one child went to see this film, and all three of us had a good time.

The Music Box (1932, James Parrott, United States Of America) **

This is my first time seeing a Stan Laurel or Oliver Hardy picture. I didn’t really know much of anything about the comedic duo prior to The Music Box beyond their reputation. After The Music Box, well, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about? I chuckled a few times in the opening minutes of The Music Box, but the further along the short went the easier and more obvious the gags became. I know that laughter isn’t all there is to a comedy, but it’s a big factor for me in whether or not a comedy is above par. By the end of The Music Box I wasn’t laughing at all, and that’s why my first exposure to Misters Laurel & Hardy resulted in an extremely below par experience.

Where The Red Fern Grows (1974, Norman Tokar, United States Of America) ***

A simple, and very pleasurable family film. It’s interesting to view this in light of the majority of Hollywood family films on the market today. Where The Red Fern Grows hits all the same targets- family, growing up, responsibility, loss, and so on. But, the difference is that Where The Red Fern Grows doesn’t sugar coat anything. People get hurt, characters die, bad decisions are made, and hard decisions are made based on family circumstances. The ending did get to me, but in a “that was done well,” way, not in a negative sense. Where The Red Fern Grows is a worthwhile family film that offers a bit more than the majority of present day family films do.

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966, Bill Melendez, United States Of America) ***

Similar in tone to all the Charlie Brown short films I’ve seen. This was fun, lighthearted, and breezy to watch. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the adventures of Charlie Brown, but I do appreciate the majority of the shorts based on the Peanuts comic strip. It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is no different. I appreciated the short more than anything, but that’s not really a bad thing. There’s a simplicity in Bill Melendez’s work that I can never really connect with, so I almost always end up appreciating more than loving.

Cops (1922, Edward F. Cline & Buster Keaton, United States Of America) ***1/2

Buster Keaton is his usual great self, and I laugh heartily as a result. The build up was a tad on the slow side, but once the film started to get into the physical gags I was fully on board. Mr. Keaton is a maestro of motion, dashing to and fro with little regard for his body. Cops is a chase film, combining action and comedy in equal parts to create something uniquely Buster Keaton. His face remains stoic throughout, and even as the whole world seems to be against him Mr. Keaton can’t help but tip his hat to a lady. Mr. Keaton delivers something biting, satirical, heartfelt, physical, and funny in Cops. Like usual, Mr. Keaton delvers something pretty darn great in Cops.

Birdemic: Shock And Terror (2010, James Nguyen, United States Of America) 1/2*

My wife said this, “Birdemic: Shock And Terror looked like a drunken baboon was in charge of it and it was painful to watch. In fact, it would have been less painful to have stabbed myself in the eyes with hot forks while also yanking all of my teeth from my skull.” That’s a strong opinion, but it’s pretty much on base. Birdemic: Shock And Terror isn’t so bad it’s awesome, it’s just plain bad. The acting, the sound mixing, the effects, whatever aspect of the film you want me to write about is horrible. I laughed a few times watching Birdemic: Shock And Terror, but for the most part it’s so dull and inept that it doesn’t come close to broaching the territory of so awful that it was a lot of fun to watch.

Partie De Campagne (A Day In The Country, 1936, Jean Renoir, France) ***

If only this were a finished piece, but alas it is not. What is present is plenty interesting, taking a simple approach and adding context to it in the form of what was on the horizon. I got the sense, very early on, that Jean Renoir was using this as a sort of a precursor to World War II. The calm before the storm, where people can still frolic, fall in love, have good times, and lament the happier past. The direction is really great, and the short looks splendid throughout. Still, it’s not finished, and that does shine through as the film has a bit of a patched together feel to its narrative.

A Movie (1958, Bruce Conner, United States Of America) ****

At first I wasn’t sure what I was getting with A Movie. The clips seem to be coming and going with little in the way of sinew connecting them. Then, my brain started to properly function and I realized what Bruce Conner was doing with his film. I wasn’t reacting to the images on screen, I was reacting to the images on screen based on the music that accompanied them. A group of people water skiing all of a sudden became a struggle for survival thanks to the score. My brain wasn’t processing visually, it was processing based on auditory cues changing the integrity of the image in my head. Near the end A Movie does take on a more traditional thrust, as the final two or so minutes felt like a warning against modernism. Triumphant music accompanies images of great mechanical failures and human mishaps. I was surprised to love A Movie as much as I did, but I loved what Mr. Conner did with the form of filmmaking, and I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Judy Moody And The Not Bummer Summer (2011, John Schultz, United States Of America) ***

It’s not the best in terms of a narrative that completely works, but it is imaginative in presentation. I really liked the way that the film dealt with imagination and how the visual style inserted animation and graphics in a way that made sense. I also laughed more than I expected to, and in general ended up digging the characters a lot more than I thought I would have. Judy Moody And The Not Bummer Summer is a brisk family film that is presented in a somewhat inventive fashion, made me laugh, and I was able to enjoy it with said family. That’s a pretty good day for me at the movies, and that’s good enough for me most times.

A Noite (1999, Regina Pessoa, Portugal) ***1/2

An exhilarating work of animation, Regina Pessoa’s film really highlights the beauty of the animated form. The film is done in an ashen style, I’m thinking it was accomplished through some sort of water color or charcoal coloring approach, and it looks magnificent. It’s not just visually appealing, but the way that the animation moves from frame to frame is something to behold. The story of the film is told through the morphing animation in the boy’s room. There’s something deep to the story as well. It plays on the ideas of birth, death, rebirth, and our parents representing the beginning, the end, and the saviors of our universe. Really special stuff, and my first Portuguese film.

Adebar (1957, Peter Kubelka, Austria) **

This is one of those movies that, simply put, isn’t for me. The structured format was an interesting experiment in terms of how to put together a film. However, the experimentation didn’t appeal to me and that’s why I’m not too high on the film. There’s only so much of the same image repeated over and over that I can watch. I know, I know, the images were technically different in the three segments. I do appreciate, as I said, the attempt at experimenting with structure. But, when my interest wanes after thirty seconds, we’re not dealing with the type of film that I much care for.

An Exercise In Discipline – Peel (1982, Jane Campion, Australia) ***1/2

I’ve always been a Jane Campion booster, and it’s interesting in revisiting her first short film that some of her trademarks were present right off the bat. Most notable would be the female character of the Aunt/Sister, who isn’t just a token woman. She propels the breakdown in the car, and she lashes out in a vociferous fashion that the rest of the cast can’t match. The laid back approach of Miss Campion, and her off kilter sense of humor, are also present. She breaks down this family in a very short eight minutes, and manages to peel, pardon the obvious pun, away the layers of their humanity until all that’s left is open hostility. Of course it’s also funny when the kid yells at his dad, or smacks the orange out of his Aunt’s hands. Miss Campion’s short peers deep into humanity, but it does so with a chuckling grin.

Wrap-Up:

A lot of movies this week, including a handful of truly great films. As much as I love Buster Keaton, he can’t beat out the wonderful avant garde filmmaking of Bruce Conner. A Movie takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!

Cheers,
Bill

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