This Week In Cinema: January 05-11, 2014

pas de deux

I’m about as far removed from graceful as one can get!

A lot of short films this week,

Robot Chicken: Star Wars (2007, Seth Green, United States of America) ***

Some bits are funny, and some aren’t. There’s actually quite the gulf between funny and unfunny in Robot Chicken: Star Wars. Such is the nature of the beast with something like Robot Chicken I suppose. There’s a segment like Palpatine on the phone with Vader that is hilarious. Then there’s a series of bits involving George W. Bush becoming a Jedi that are painfully unfunny. That gulf between good and bad exists in Robot Chicken: Star Wars, and yet the good outweighs the bad and there’s slightly more funny than there is unfunny.

Pas de deux (1968, Norman McLaren, Canada) ***1/2

The human spirit as one, or as many. The human spirit as power, as grace, as unadulterated beauty. Norman McLaren uses the animated form to show how mesmerizingly beautiful the human form can be. There’s picturesque beauty in the motion of the human form, the way it can create its own lines, and its own angles. There’s symmetry at play, there’s manipulation, but there’s also a kind of freedom that comes from a visual medium mixed with the reservoir of the human mind.

Oskar Langenfeld. 12 Mal (1966, Holger Meins, West Germany) **

A series of small moments in the life of a common West German man. Those moments are presented in as mundane of a fashion as possible. Essentially, one has to find Oskar interesting on his own merits to find this documentary about moments in his life interesting. Maybe it’s callous of me, but I found Oskar droll and boring, which is the same feeling I had towards this short film.

O Dreamland (1953, Lindsay Anderson, United Kingdom) ***

We look to the future but we’re stuck in the past and can’t get beyond the present. A theme park is the near perfect distillation of how crass a race we are, or have become. We present new ideas that are simply dressed up old ideas, and we somehow think that the new dressing makes us a better people. We’re more civilized in our own minds, but in reality we’re still one step removed from the apes we all came from. And, we have a fascination with theme parks, unhealthy though they may be.

Les jeux des anges (The Games of Angels, 1965, Walerian Borowczyk, France) ***1/2

An attempt to silence an entire people gives way to defining said people based on what happened to them. One horror begets another horror, and the end result is even more horror. But, can a people truly be silenced? Can they definitively be defined based on something that was done to them? The answer to that is no, and Les jeux des anges is about trying to take back your human dignity and power when the world tells you that you aren’t deserving of any. Also a fantastically animated short, Les jeux des anges is just as much style as substance.

Guernica (1950, Robert Hessens & Alain Resnais, France) **

Alain Resnais and I are not meant to get along cinematically. He’s one director whose work I simply do not see the appeal of, or the reason for all the praise from others. Guernica is no different, as I found it absolutely uninteresting. What little camera work there is did not grab me, and the storytelling method was pretty dull. The painting itself is pleasing to look at and thought provoking at the same time. Monsieur Resnais and Robert Hessens’ film on the other hand feels inert, like a dead log floating along a river. I’m sure there’s something with Monsieur Resnais, it’s just not something for me.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928, James Sibley Watson & Melville Webber, United States Of America) ***1/2

A nightmarish version of the death of a family. It’s all too easy for a family to fall when they have lost their handle on reality. The Fall of the House of Usher takes the viewer into the nightmare that the Usher’s are experiencing, all too vividly. There’s plenty of experimentation going on in this short film, but it’s experimentation with a purpose. The film is constructed like a dream turned nightmare, and the longer the film goes the deeper into the nightmare the viewer is dragged. As far as early avant garde cinema is concerned The Fall of the House of Usher is something special.

Charlotte et son Jules (Charlotte and Her Boyfriend, 1960, Jean-Luc Godard, France) ***1/2

Charlotte et son Jules is full of manic energy, supplied by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Paul Belmondo. The direction of Monsieur Godard is tight, right on his characters as they go round and round in their little dance. Monsieur Belmondo is on target as Jean, delivering his dialogue rapid fire and not allowing Charlotte a second to speak. The manic energy of the film is appealing enough, but then the end of the film comes and Charlotte delivers the punchline. Her last line brings the entire picture together and makes everything funnier. I don’t usually associate Monsieur Godard with being very funny, but Charlotte et son Jules is a very funny motion picture.

The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912, Harold M. Shaw, United States of America) ***

A dream a of a better place leads to fantasy fueled melodrama. The melodrama in The Land Beyond the Sunset is perfectly fine melodrama, but it never moves past being melodrama. I had hoped there would be a point when Harold M. Shaw’s film would aim for something higher, but that time never came. There’s nothing wrong with fine melodrama though, I suppose I was just hoping for something a little more.

Wrap-Up:

A strong week with a handful of great films. It’s the Canadian animator who impressed me the most, and that’s why Pas de deux takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!

Cheers,
Bill

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