Saturday, January 19, 2019

2019 Blind Spot Series: Gilda

Directed by Charles Vidor and screenplay by Marion Parsonnet from a story by E.A. Ellington with adaptation by Jo Eisinger and un-credited work from Ben Hecht, Gilda is the story of a kingpin’s wife who is caught in a love triangle between her husband and a former lover who manages her husband’s casino. Set in the casinos of Bueno Aires, the film is a noir picture that play into a woman whose sex appeal drives two men to a breaking point as the titular character is played by Rita Hayworth. Also starring Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia, and Steven Geray. Gilda is a dazzling and exhilarating film from Charles Vidor.

A gambler meets a casino owner as he is hired to manage the man’s casino where he finds himself meeting the owner’s wife who was an old flame of the gambler. It’s a film that play into an uneasy love triangle of sorts yet there is this love-hate relationship between Gilda and the gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) who hide their past from Gilda’s husband in the casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready) who eventually becomes suspicious about them. Marion Parsonnet’s screenplay is largely told through Farrell’s perspective in a traditional film-noir style of voice-over narration and a language that features stylized dialogue that add to the tension in the film. Notably as it play into this tense atmosphere in the casino in Buenos Aires where Farrell is helping Mundson watching over the casino as it relates to cheats and such.

Still, Farrell does become concerned about Mundson’s business as it relates to German businessman who want to work with Mundson following the aftermath of World War II. Mundson’s business would also attract the attention of Argentine government agent Obregon (Joseph Calleia) who is also suspicious about Mundson’s dealings. Things get more complicated during the second half as it would relate to Farrell trying to steer Gilda away from other men believing that Mundson would get hurt if he knew the truth. Yet, it would play into an uneasy alliance between the two during its third act that would create more tension and intrigue.

Charles Vidor’s direction does have some style in terms of the lavish presentation of Buenos Aires though it was shot mainly in studio lots in Hollywood. While there’s some wide shots of the streets as well as interior of the casino, Vidor aims for something much simpler as it play into the dramatic tension between Gilda and Farrell through close-ups and medium shots. Vidor would also use some intricate compositions as it would show what Mundson is seeing in the casino on the second floor while it has this air of controlled chaos unless something goes wrong where Farrell would take care of the situation. The scenes between Gilda and Farrell have Vidor play up the sexual tension with Gilda being quite forward to get Farrell to do something as a scene of her singing and playing a guitar late one night is a key example of this romantic interplay.

Things would get more exhilarating during its third act due to a couple of musical numbers involving Gilda who would try to wow men just to get attention or to rile Farrell up who feels immense loyalty to Mundson. It would lead to revelations about Mundson’s business as well as why so many people are after him as Vidor would play up the suspense in the third act with Gilda and Farrell being forced to work together to stop Mundson. Overall, Vidor crafts a scintillating yet exciting film about a gambler dealing with a former flame who is married to his new boss at a casino.

Cinematographer Rudolph Mate does amazing work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it help set a mood for some of the scenes at the club including the musical performances with its usage of light and shadow. Editor Charles Nelson does terrific work with the editing as it is straightforward with a few fade-outs to help structure the story along with rhythmic cuts for the suspenseful moments. Art directors Stephen Goosson and Van Nest Polglase, along with set decorator Robert Priestley, do brilliant work with the look of the interior of the casino and its bar as well as the Mundson home and his office overlooking the casino.

Costume designer Jean Louis does excellent work with the costumes that focuses mainly on the clothes Gilda wears including the iconic strapless black dress for the big musical number. Makeup artist Clay Campbell does nice work with the look of Gilda to play into her glamorous persona as well as the steely look of Mundson. Sound recordist Lambert E. Day does superb work with the sound as it play into the raucous atmosphere of the casinos as well as the exterior scenes involving cars. The film’s music soundtrack supervised by M.W. Stoloff and Marlin Skiles is wonderful for its mixture of orchestral-based stock music that is used sparingly along with some big-band music that include some of the songs that Gilda sings.

The film’s incredible cast include some notable small roles from Ludwig Donath and Lionel Royce as a couple of Germans, Joe Sawyer as a hood of Mundson in Casey, Don Douglas as a lawyer Gilda goes out with late in the film in Thomas Langford, Mark Roberts as a man flirting with Gilda in Gabe Evans, and Steven Geray in a fantastic performance as the washroom attendant Uncle Pio as a man who isn’t impressed with Farrell as he calls him “Mr. Peasant” as he’s someone who is a lot smarter than people give him credit for as he’s an observer with some philosophical views about what Farrell is going through. Joseph Calleia is excellent as Detective Maurice Obregon as a police investigator who is suspicious about Mundson’s business dealings outside of Argentina as he believes that Farrell knows something while is a man that is incorruptible and wants to help Farrell.

George Macready is brilliant as Ballin Mundson as a casino owner who gives Farrell a job to manage the casino while he is also trying to do other things while becomes concerned about Gilda and questions about her past as it’s a chilling yet engaging performance from Macready. Glenn Ford is amazing as Johnny Farrell as a gambler who is hired by Mundson to manage the casino where he feels indebted to Mundson but is troubled by the presence of Gilda as he copes with his feelings and disdain for her as it’s one of his great performances. Finally, there’s Rita Hayworth in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as a woman who is married to a casino owner as she is someone trying to get attention and to be loved while also riling up both her husband and former love as it’s a performance full of charisma and oozing sex appeal along with this air of ferocity that makes it an iconic performance from Hayworth.

Gilda is a spectacular film from Charles Vidor that features great performances from Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, and George Macready. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous photography, dazzling costumes, and thrilling moments of suspense and drama. It’s a noir film that manages to hit all of the right notes while being a study of emotions and temptation between two former lovers who both have a bad history in this love-hate relationship. In the end, Gilda is a sensational film from Charles Vidor.

Charles Vidor Films: (The Mask of Fu Manchu) – (Sensation Hunters) – (Double Door) – (Strangers All) – (The Arizonians) – (His Family Tree) – (A Doctor’s Diary) – (The Great Gambini) – (Romance of the Redwoods) – (Blind Alley) – (Those High Grey Walls) – (My Son, My Son!) – (The Lady in Question) – (Ladies in Retirement) – (New York Town) – (The Tuttles of Tahiti) – (The Desperadoes) – (Cover Girl) – (Together Again) – (A Song to Remember) – (Over 21) – (The Loves of Carmen) – (Hans Christian Andersen) – (Thunder in the East) – (Rhapsody) – (Love Me or Leave Me) – (The Swan) – (The Joker is Wild) – (A Farewell to Arms (1957 film)) – (Song Without End)

© thevoid99 2019

Friday, January 18, 2019

First Reformed

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, First Reformed is the story of a Protestant minister who deals with a declining attendance in his church while coping with his own identity and faith in these trying times. The film is a study of a minister who is dealing with his crisis of faith as well as what faith is becoming in a world that is ever-changing. Starring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Victoria Hills, Michael Gaston, and Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles. First Reformed is a haunting yet evocative film from Paul Schrader.

The film follows a minister, whose church is about to celebrate 250 years, is dealing with a crisis of faith not just with his own being as well as his health but also a declining attendance of the church as one of its visitors comes to him for help as it relates to her husband. It’s a film that play into a world that is ever-changing as this minister is trying to deal with the reality around him but also this sense of hopelessness in this world. Paul Schrader’s script follows Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) who runs the First Reformed church at a small town in upstate New York where he notices a declining audience as many of the locals go to a nearby megachurch run by Pastor Joel Jeffers (Cedric Kyles) who owns the historical landmark where the First Reformed is where Toller goes to Jeffers for counsel. The main bulk of the narrative revolves around Toller trying to help a troubled environmental activist in Michael Mensana (Philip Ettinger) who is wracked with despair about the world as his wife Mary (Amanda Seyfried) was the one who suggests that Michael should go to Toller for help.

Toller would get close to Mary in helping her as she is also pregnant which adds to Michael’s despair while Toller is trying to understand what Michael is seeing. Throughout the film, Toller would write down the recollections of the day in a journal as it would include voice-over narration that play into Toller’s own feelings as his plan is to write out his thoughts for a year. Even as he is dealing with loss from the past and has trouble trying to connect with others aside from Mary where he also becomes troubled by his surroundings as well as the ideas of climate change which makes him question the world around him.

Schrader’s direction definitely evokes a lot of visual style and themes from those he admire like Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Yasujiro Ozu, and Andrei Tarkovsky as he aims for something that is meditative and simple. Shot on various locations in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn with the Zion Episcopal Church from the former being the film’s centerpiece and in a 4:3 full-frame aspect ratio. Schrader would use Ozu’s static camera approach to medium shots and close-ups where he doesn’t aim for any kind of camera movement except in a few scenes or in some zooms for close-ups. Still, Schrader uses this approach of not moving the camera to get a lot of coverage including some wide shots of the locations to play into this growing awareness of the ever-changing world that Toller is encountering. Particularly as he does what he can to help others and offer assistance to Jeffers’ church yet becomes troubled by his own reliance on alcohol and other health issues. Schrader’s direction would maintain that sense of discomfort in Toller as he copes with the world at hand where he question his own faith as he would position the camera in a wide or medium shot whenever he’s writing his journal.

Schrader also would create moments of surrealism as it relates to a meeting between Toller and Mary who reveal this non-sexual yet physical intimacy she and her husband did as it’s a moment that play into the fears and hopes of what the two want for the world. It’s a moment that does recall some of the visual ideas of Andrei Tarkovsky as it would play into Toller’s awareness of a world becoming more unruly. The film’s final sequence plays into Toller’s response as it would climax with this celebration of the church as it celebrates its 250th anniversary with Toller being part of the festivities. It is a moment that has Toller display his disdain of what faith is becoming and his act of defiance towards the modern world and how he believes is ruining God’s creation. Overall, Schrader crafts a riveting and rapturous film about a minister dealing with his crisis of faith as well as helping a young woman with an emotionally-troubled husband.

Cinematographer Alexander Dyan does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography by emphasizing on simplistic and natural visuals for many of the interior/exterior daytime scenes along with some lighting for scenes at night as well as a shot during dawn at a decaying location. Editor Benjamin Rodriguez Jr. does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward in terms of its rhythmic cutting as well as not playing to anything remotely stylized in favor of letting shots linger for a while. Production designer Grace Yun, with set decorator Nadya Gurevich and art director Raphael Sorcio, does fantastic work with the look of some of the interiors at the house that Toller stays in next to the church as well as the home that Mary and Michael live in and some of the rooms inside Jeffers’ church. Costume designer Olga Mill does nice work with the costumes as it is largely casual for its winter-time look with many of Toller’s clothes being his black minister clothes and white robes as well as the casual look of the other people in the small town.

Visual effects supervisors Justin Cornish, Brian Houlihan, and John Mangia do terrific work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects as it relates to the fantasy sequence involving Toller and Mary that play into their hopes and fears of the world. Sound editors Ruy Garcia and Michael McMenomy do amazing work with the sound in creating a sparse yet effective atmosphere for much of the locations including these little moments in the quieter scenes and settings. The film’s music by Brian Williams, in his Lustmord pseudonym, is wonderful for its low-key electronic score that only appears in the film sparingly for much of its second half while music supervisor Dina Juntila provides a soundtrack that is mainly music played on location includes rendition of traditional music as well as an acapella cover of a song by Neil Young.

The casting by Susan Shopmaker is superb as it include some notable small roles from Bill Hoag as a worker at the First Reformed church in John Elder, Michael Gaston as a corporate figure in Edward Balq, Victoria Hill as a church worker in Esther who becomes concerned for Toller’s health, and Philip Ettinger as Mary’s troubled husband Michael as an environmental activist who is becoming uneasy about the world around. Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles is great as Pastor Joel Jeffers as a preacher who runs a megachurch in the small town that is trying to counsel Toller about his troubles while also supervising the organization of the First Reformed church’s 250th anniversary celebration.

Amanda Seyfried is incredible as Mary Mensana as the pregnant wife of an environmental activist who is concerned for her husband as she turns to Toller for help as well as befriend him as someone she can go to for guidance as it’s understated and radiant performance from Seyfried. Finally, there’s Ethan Hawke in a phenomenal performance as Reverend Ernst Toller as a pastor that is troubled by his own health, crisis of faith, and the need to help a troubled activist where it’s a calm yet eerie performance from Hawke who displays an anguish as a man trying to do what he can to help people yet is troubled by the world around him as it’s a true career-defining performance for Hawke.

First Reformed is a tremendous film from Paul Schrader that features a tour-de-force performance from Ethan Hawke. Along with its ensemble cast that includes a phenomenal supporting performance from Amanda Seyfried as well as gorgeous visuals, a simplistic presentation, and compelling themes of faith. It’s a film that play into the ideas of the world at large and a man asking big questions about his surroundings as well as the need to help someone in need. In the end, First Reformed is an outstanding film from Paul Schrader.

Paul Schrader Films: Blue Collar - (Hardcore) – American Gigolo - Cat People (1982 film) - (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) – (Light of Day) – (Patty Hearst) – (The Comfort of Strangers) – (Light Sleeper) – (Witch Hunt) – (Touch) – Affliction - (Forever Mine) – (Auto Focus) – (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) – (The Walker) – (Adam Resurrected) – (The Canyons) – Dying of the Light - (Dog Eat Dog)

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks: 2018 Releases

For the third week of 2019 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We focus on the year before as it relates to films that were released in 2018. It’s been a whirlwind year although there’s been several films that played in film festivals that have yet to be seen. Here are my three picks of recent 2018 films that I think audiences should seek out:

1. Roma

Alfonso Cuaron’s intimate tale of the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City told from the perspective of one of its maids is a very touching and gorgeous film that definitely deserves a lot of the praise it’s been getting. While it is clear that it’s not for everyone as it is long and doesn’t aim for conventional shooting styles in favor of lingering long shots. There was something about the film that appealed to me personally where I found myself looking back at my own childhood during my visits to my parents’ home country of Honduras. That air of nostalgia I think was what sealed the film for me as it definitely played into those sensibilities as it’s really the kind of film that fans of Andrei Tarkovsky, Federico Fellini, and Carl Theodor Dreyer would enjoy instead of casual filmgoers.

2. If Beale Street Could Talk

A film I just saw this past weekend is definitely proof that everything that is said about Barry Jenkins is indeed for real. This is a man with immense talent as well as being a storyteller that is willing to go into places not many are willing to go into. While the film is sold as this love story between a young woman and a young man in early 1970s Harlem as the latter is in jail for a crime of rape he didn’t commit. It’s so much more than that as it is a film about family as well as the need to keep a family together no matter how bad things are as well as what they have to do to make things right. It’s a film that should be seen by a wide audience and it’s not just because it’s a compelling story. It’s a film that offers so much more and with the buzz for Regina King’s supporting performance as the young girl’s mother. There’s a damn good reason why she’s getting a lot of deserving accolades.

3. Blockers

This was a film I saw late towards the end of the year as I didn’t think it was going to be anything exciting but rather a good and watchable comedy. Instead, it’s a film that ended up exceeding all of my expectations and more in ways I couldn’t imagine. It’s a comedy that has gross-out moments as well as scenes of three adults in awkward situations but it’s got heart. Ike Barinholtz, Leslie Mann, and John Cena are actually great in this as these parents who are shocked by this pact their daughters made to lose their virginity on senior prom night. In the hands of other filmmakers, it would’ve been gross but Kay Cannon manages to hit all of the right notes and more while giving audiences a film that is funny but also a film that cares about the characters.

© thevoid99 2019

Sunday, January 13, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk

Based on the novel by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of a young woman who turns to her family for help in trying to free her lover who is wrongly charged with a crime as she hopes to free him before the birth of their first child. Written for the screen and directed by Barry Jenkins, the film is a period drama set in early 1970s Harlem as it play into a couple who meet and fall in love only for things to go wrong due to a false accusation. Starring KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, and Regina King. If Beale Street Could Talk is an evocative and touching film from Barry Jenkins.

Set in early 1970s Harlem, the film revolves around a young couple whose life is in disarray when the man is accused of raping a young woman as those who know him are aware he’s innocent. Adding to the plight for this young man is that his girlfriend is pregnant as her family is trying to get him out of prison and prove he’s innocent in a world that is getting more complicated. It’s a film that play into the plight of two young lovers as they deal with the arrival of a baby as one family is willing to help yet the other, with the exception of the man’s father, chooses not to help. Barry Jenkins’ screenplay aims for a reflective narrative of sorts as it relates to the character of Clementine “Tish” Rivers (KiKi Layne) who looks back on her life with Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) as well as the moment they conceived their child while cutting back to the present where Fonny is in jail as he just learned Tish is a few months pregnant.

The film moves back and forth to the times when Tish and Fonny were a couple as they knew each other since they were kids although Tish is a few years younger than Fonny. Their relationship is one filled with innocence and dreams as Fonny does whatever he can to learn a trade while also discovering his passion for being a sculptor. The flashback scenes also showcase moments of darkness such as a visit from Fonny’s friend Daniel Cartee (Brian Tyree Henry) who had just been released in prison as he reveals what he had seen as it would play into Fonny’s worries for the future following a terrible encounter with a racist police officer named Bell (Ed Skrein). The present narrative that play into Fonny’s time in prison as well as the impossibility of what had happened to this young woman in Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios) who suddenly returned to her home in Puerto Rico. While the Rivers’ attorney in Hayward (Finn Wittrock) is trying to help the family, there are complications prompting Tish’s mother Sharon (Regina King) to find Rogers herself as it present revelations about the severity of what happened to Rogers.

Jenkins’ direction definitely has this poetic tone to the film as it play into Tish’s recollections of her life with Fonny through voice over narration as well as playing into the ideas of the life she and Fonny could have but also be aware of the dark realities around them. Shot on location in New York City with Harlem being the predominant location as well as additional locations in the Dominican Republic as Puerto Rico. Jenkins does use wide shots to establish the locations but emphasizes more on close-ups and medium shots in carefully crafted compositions to maintain an intimacy between the characters. Most notably the scene where Tish and her family ask Fonny’s family for a drink where Tish’s father Joseph Rivers (Colman Domingo) and her older sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) are excited about the news of Tish and Fonny’s baby as is Fonny's father Frank Hunt (Michael Beach). Yet, Fonny’s mother (Aunjanue Ellis) and his sisters Adrienne (Ebony Obsidian) and Sheila (Dominique Thorne) aren’t happy with the news.

It’s among these simple yet tense scenes where Jenkins play into this tension as well as the severity of what Fonny is enduring as well as some of the fallacies into what he’s charged with as it relates to the different parts of New York City. The scenes at the prison where Fonny and Tish meet have Jenkins use some extreme close-ups but also medium shots for the setting as the latter is dealing with her pregnancy while there’s repetitious images of her at the subway. The film’s third act that play into Sharon going to Puerto Rico to find Rogers as it is this poignant sequence that play into Sharon’s desperation to get Rogers to tell the truth about Fonny and prove his innocence but it ends up being an uneasy task with lots of emotional repercussions.

Even as Jenkins reveals that what Fonny and Tish would deal with play into the fates of many others through pictures of African-Americans living in the ghettos during the 1970s and beyond but also show that they would find a way to maintain a sense of hope for their child. No matter how bad the circumstances can be and the injustice that many African-Americans have to suffer in the past and in the present as Jenkins reveals that despite all of these troubles. There is always hope through love. Overall, Jenkins crafts a rapturous and intoxicating film about a young woman hoping to free her lover from prison so he can be proved innocent and be with his family.

Cinematographer James Laxton does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of lights for some of the daytime/nighttime interiors and nighttime exteriors as well as the usage of natural lighting play into the beauty of the times despite some of its ugliness. Editors Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders do amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts as well a montage involving Tish dealing with her pregnancy and other stylish cuts that play into the drama. Production designer Mark Friedberg, with set decorators Devynne Lauchner and Kris Moran plus art directors Robert Pyzocha, Oliver Rivas Madera, and Jessica Shorten, does excellent work with the look of the family home of Tish’s parents as well as the home she and Fonny were eager to live as it would be something really special plus the Puerto Rican restaurant they like to go to. Costume designer Caroline Eselin does brilliant work with the costumes in terms of the stylish clothing the characters would wear to play into the times while Fonny’s mother is presented in this very uptight demeanor in her clothing as if she represents this false idea of purity.

Visual effects supervisors John Bair and John Mangia do nice work with the visual effects where it is largely set-dressing for some of the exteriors to help play into the period of the times. Sound designers Odin Benitez and Bryan Parker, along with sound editor/mixer Onnalee Blank, do fantastic work with the sound in capturing the atmosphere of the locations as well as the sound of records being played from a record player and other sparse elements that is key to the film’s sound work. The film’s music by Nicholas Brittell is phenomenal for its rich and intoxicating orchestral score that has elements of lush string arrangements as well as operatic tones and other subtle themes as it is a major highlight of the film while music supervisor Gabe Hilfer creates a soundtrack that is filled with a mixture of blues, jazz, soul, Latin music, and other contemporary pieces of the time.

The casting by Cindy Tolan is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Dave Franco as a landlord who shows Tish and Fonny this big loft home, Diego Luna as a Puerto Rican restauranteur who is a friend of Fonny, Finn Wittrock as the Rivers’ attorney Hayward who does what he can to help them knowing that he’s up for a big legal battle, Pedro Pascal as a local Puerto Rican hood in Pierto Alvarez who meets with Sharon about Rogers, Milanni Mines and Ethan Barrett in their respective roles as the adolescent versions of Tish and Fonny, Ebony Obsidian and Dominique Thorne in their respective roles as Fonny’s sisters Adrienne and Sheila who aren’t excited about the news of Fonny’s new baby, and Emily Rios in a terrific performance as Victoria Rogers as a woman who had been raped and believes that Fonny is the one who raped her.

Michael Beach and Aunjanue Ellis are superb in their respective roles as Fonny’s parents in Frank and Mrs. Hunt with Beach as this man that is ecstatic about the arrival of a grandchild as he is eager to help his son get out of jail while Ellis has this chilling presence as a woman who is convinced her son is in jail because he sinned greatly against God. Ed Skrein is fantastic in his small role as the racist police officer Bell as a man that confronts Fonny one night and tries to get him arrested as he would later play a part in Fonny’s incarceration. Brian Tyree Henry is excellent as Daniel Carty as a friend of Fonny who had been paroled as he talks about his experience in prison as well as what he saw during his time. Colman Domingo and Teyonah Parris are brilliant in their respective roles as Tish’s father Joseph and older sister Ernestine as two people being supportive of Tish as well as do what they can to get Fonny out of jail and prove his innocence. Regina King is incredible as Tish’s mother Sharon as a woman that is supportive of her daughter as well as wanting to prove that Fonny is innocent as it’s an understated yet riveting performance from King who really is a major highlight of the film.

The performances of KiKi Layne and Stephan James are phenomenal in their respective roles as Tish and Fonny. Layne’s performance is one filled with innocence as a 19-year old woman trying to understand what Fonny is going through as well as deal with her pregnancy as it’s a calm yet radiant performance from Layne. James’ performance is one that is full of sensitivity and care but also someone who is aware of the dark aspects of the real world as he does show some anger during a confrontation with a man trying to harass Tish as well as the struggle he is having in prison. Layne and James together just have this natural chemistry in the way they spend time with one another as well as deal with the pain of being apart as they talk together in prison.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a tremendous film from Barry Jenkins. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, Nicholas Brittell’s gorgeous score, and themes of love and family trying to help one another. It’s a touching drama that play into the period of racial injustice and unfairness during 1970s Harlem as well as show what some people will do to provide some hope and love in these troubled times. In the end, If Beale Street Could Talk is a spectacular film from Barry Jenkins.

Barry Jenkins Films: (Medicine for Melancholy) – Moonlight

© thevoid99 2019

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Dying of the Light

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, Dying of the Light is the story of a CIA agent who is trying to track down a terrorist as he copes with memory loss that is worsening by the day. The film is a psychological thriller of a man trying to stop a terrorist from doing more harm only to become a liability to himself. Starring Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin, and Irene Jacob. Dying of the Light is a by-the-numbers and unexciting film from Paul Schrader.

22 years after an incident that left him with a lot of bad memories and a severed right ear lobe, the film follows a CIA agent who believes that a terrorist who tortured him is still alive as he is aided by his protégé to help find this terrorist. That is the premise as a whole as it play into this man trying to stop the terrorist who nearly killed him as he is convinced the man is alive. Yet, he is starting to unravel due to the fact that he’s ill with an early stage of frontal temporal dementia as he is seen as a liability to the CIA. Paul Schrader’s screenplay does have a unique premise that seems to work on paper but it is clear that whatever ideas he had to create a thriller that is more about a man dealing with his illness and confront his past falls by the wayside into something that is more by-the-book that is expected in these political-based thrillers.

Schrader’s direction does have some unique compositions and moments that are interesting yet it is clear that whatever ideas he had to stray from convention were tampered with during the film’s post-production. Shot on various locations in Bucharest, Romania, Washington D.C. and nearby locations in Virginia, and locations in Queensland and the Gold Coast in Australia as Kenya. The film does have this worldly feel as it play into the idea of global terrorism as Schrader is also focused on the plight that CIA agent Evan Lake (Nicolas Cage) is dealing with where he would be aided by his protégé in Milton Schultz (Anton Yelchin). The moments of the two having a simple conversation are the most interesting scenes in the film yet it gets bogged down by not just some of the visuals but also these stories and scene that relate to the mission in hand.

Many of the visual elements of the film that include Gabriel Kosuth’s cinematography feel like it’s been given a polished look as whatever idea that Kosuth and Schrader wanted to do visually definitely was changed in the post-production without Schrader’s consent along with the input of one of its executive producers in Nicolas Winding Refn. The photography has something that feels way too clean and emphasizes more on the beauty of a location which is far from what Schrader wanted while its third act that include the climatic meeting between Lake and his dying torturer in Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim) should’ve been compelling but the presentation with its usage of flashback montages end up making it conventional that is followed by a big shoot out that feels like it comes from another film. Overall, the film is a thriller that plays too much into its traditional schematics forcing its director Paul Schrader to not do anything new or break away from its conventions.

Editor Tim Silano does terrible work with the editing as it doesn’t do enough to build up the suspense as well as emphasize a lot of flashback montages while not doing enough to let shots play out longer in some of the film’s conversation scenes. Production designer Russell Barnes, with set decorator Gina Calin plus art directors Adam Head and Serban Porupca, does fantastic work with the look of Lake’s home as well as the Bucharest medical building he goes to. Costume designer Oana Paunescu does nice work with the costumes as it is casual for many of the characters in the film.

Hair/makeup designer Francesca Tampieri does terrific work with the look that Lake would use to play a Romanian doctor to meet Banir. Special effects supervisor Lucian Iordache and visual effects supervisor Danny S. Kim do OK work with the visual effects as it is mainly set dressing that eventually add to the film’s bland look. Sound designer Trevor Gates does superb work with the sound in creating an atmosphere in some of the locations though it gets unfortunately drowned out by Frederik Wiedmann’s score that is mainly a low-key electronic music that gets bombastic to the point of overblown. Music supervisor Gina Amador provides a soundtrack that doesn’t stand out as it is a mixture of pop and world music that never does anything.

The casting by Carolyn McLeod is alright as it feature some notable small roles from Serban Celea as the Romanian doctor in Dr. Iulian Cornel, Silas Carson as a CIA official trying to stop Lake from doing his assignment as well as express concern for the man’s health, Geff Francis as Lake’s doctor who reveals the severity of Lake’s condition, Adetomiwa Edun as a courier of Banir, and Alexander Karim as the terrorist Muhammad Banir as this man who tortured Lake many years ago only to re-emerge as a dying figure who is eager to live so he can plot another major attack. Irene Jacob is pretty good as the journalist Michelle Zuberain as a former lover of Lake who help Lake and Schultz in trying to get information as her character is underused largely due to the post-production work to reduce her performance.

Anton Yelchin is excellent as Milton Schultz as a protégé of Lake who makes a discovery about Banir and the idea that he’s alive as he is willing to help Lake as it’s a reserved performance that has Yelchin provide strong support though he too is hampered by the post-production tampering where it feels like there’s more to his character. Finally, there’s Nicolas Cage in a brilliant performance as Evan Lake as a CIA agent who is dealing with a disease as he is haunted by bad memories where Cage is given the chance to act crazy and be wild as well as display some calm in the way he’s dealing with his fading memories though he too is hampered by the film’s post-production troubles that doesn’t do more with his performance.

Dying of the Light is a terrible film. Despite the performances of Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin, it’s a film that seems to have a good idea from someone as talented and observant as Paul Schrader only for the film to be taken out of his hands and without his input. It’s a film that should’ve felt like a thriller that is also a character study but instead becomes something that never does anything new nor does it bring any kind of thrills. In the end, Dying of the Light is a horrendous film by people who doesn’t understand the language of cinema and take it away in the hands and mind of someone as talented as Paul Schrader.

Paul Schrader Films: Blue Collar - (Hardcore) – American Gigolo - Cat People (1982 film) - (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) – (Light of Day) – (Patty Hearst) – (The Comfort of Strangers) – (Light Sleeper) – (Witch Hunt) – (Touch) – Affliction - (Forever Mine) – (Auto Focus) – (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) – (The Walker) – (Adam Resurrected) – (The Canyons) – (Dog Eat Dog) – First Reformed

© thevoid99 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019

Passion (2012 film)

Based on the 2010 film Love Crime by Alain Corneau, Passion is the story of two women working for a multi-national corporation as they try reach for a prime position only for the competition to get dangerous. Written for the screen and directed by Brian de Palma, the film is a remake of sorts of Corneau’s film with some different interpretations as it play into two women trying to one-up themselves in a game to reach to the top. Starring Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth, Paul Anderson, Rainer Bock, and Benjamin Sadler. Passion is a gripping yet stylish film from Brian de Palma.

An advertising executive takes credit for her subordinate’s idea as she would later try and blackmail her prompting her subordinate to try and one-up her where it would eventually lead to murder. That is the film’s premise as it play into two women trying to vie for position in a multi-national advertising corporation in Berlin as it would intensify with one of them playing mind games over the other. Brian de Palma’s screenplay, which includes additional dialogue by Natalie Carter, focuses on this relationship between Christine Stanford (Rachel McAdams) and her subordinate Isabelle James (Noomi Rapace) as they’re trying to create a new ad yet Stanford would take credit for James’ idea for an ad that she created with her secretary Dani (Karoline Herfurth). Yet, Stanford is a woman that always gets what she wants as her reason to hurt James is due to the fact that James is having an affair with Stanford’s lover in a co-worker in Dirk Harriman (Paul Anderson) who is already in trouble for embezzling money from their company as he’s hoping to pay them back. Stanford’s usage of power and seduction would eventually cause James to break down and the desire to fight back.

The direction of de Palma definitely play into his stylish approach of slanted camera angles, split-screens, perspective shots, and other tricks that he is known for yet he does maintain the importance of the suspense and drama that occurs in the film. Shot on location in Berlin, de Palma avoids many of the city’s landmarks to focus on something that is more intimate in the corporate world that also include these lavish apartments that the main characters live in. There are some wide shots in the film yet de Palma emphasizes more on close-ups and medium shots to not just focus on the characters but in the environment they’re in. Even as he uses webcams and phones for footage as it would play into Stanford’s need to humiliate James in every way she can that include an office party scene that also shows footage of office workers in compromising positions.

The direction also has de Palma maintain this idea of what James might do yet she is already falling apart where she is seen using prescription pills to cope with the humiliation she endured. The usage of split-screen is a method that de Palma is known for where he gets multiple perspectives of what is going on where it focuses on a party Stanford is having as well as who is going to join for an after party while the other focus is on a ballet performance that James is watching. It is a sequence that is offbeat yet it play into the suspense of what is going to happen followed by an aftermath in the third act that is filled with the usual twists and turns over who did it. Even as it raises questions about who and why did it happen where de Palma definitely play with the tropes though it’s ending does get a little over-written towards the end. Overall, de Palma crafts a witty and exhilarating film about a corporate ad executive trying to outdo her subordinate leading to a battle for supremacy and seduction.

Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine does amazing work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of bright and vibrant colors for some of the scenes in the day and night along with blue filters and shades for other scenes to express the mood of the characters. Editor Francois Gediger does excellent work with the editing with its approach to rhythmic cuts for the suspense as well as playing up to the style of split-screens. Production designer Cornelia Ott, with set decorator Ute Bergk and supervising art director Astrid Poeschke, does brilliant work with the look of the offices and homes of Stanford and James as well as the restaurants and places they go to. Costume designer Karen Muller Serrau does fantastic work with the costumes with the clothes that Sanford wears including some skimpy and stylish lingerie to the black clothes that James would wear.

Special makeup effects artists Tamar Aviv, Goran Lundstrom, and Jorn Seifert do terrific work with the look of the characters including a mask that Stanford has which matches her face. Visual effects supervisor Sarah Moreau does nice work with the film’s minimal visual effects for some of the film’s set-dressing and scenes involving computers and such. Sound editor Jean Goudier does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the offices and some of the places the characters go to. The film’s music by Pino Donaggio is incredible for its lush and eerie orchestral arrangement that play into the suspense with its usage of strings as it adds to the dramatic tension while music supervisor Elise Luguern provide a few classical pieces from Claude Debussy, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as well as contemporary pieces from Archive, Steve Dudas, and Mark Hart.

The casting by Anja Dihrberg is wonderful as it feature a few notable small roles from Jorg Pintsch as a lover of Stanford in Mark, Michael Rotschopf as James’ attorney, Polina Semionova and Ibrahim Oyku Onal as the ballet dancers, and Dominic Raacke as a corporate boss in J.J. Koch. Benjamin Sadler is terrific as a prosecutor who believes that James is a suspect involved in a murder while Rainer Bock is superb as a police inspector who is suspicious of James yet is aware that something doesn’t feel right. Paul Anderson is fantastic as Dirk Harriman as a co-worker of James and Stanford who is sleeping with both women yet is already in trouble for embezzlement that leads to him being blackmailed by Stanford. Karoline Herfurth is excellent as Dani as James’ secretary who takes part in creating the ad that James wants to present while is also aware of the mind games that Stanford is playing where she becomes protective of James.

The performances of Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams in their respective roles as Isabelle James and Christine Stanford are incredible as two women working for a multi-national corporation as they find themselves fighting to be on top. Rapace’s performance is definitely filled with a lot of anguish and humility as someone who feels like she’s not getting enough credit while being used. McAdams’ performance as Stanford is such a delight in how bitchy she is where she uses her sex appeal to get what she wants as well as be emotionally manipulative that has a darkly comic edge. Rapace and McAdams together are a joy to watch with Rapace being the foil and McAdams being bad as they have this amazing chemistry together as they are the highlights of the film.

Passion is a remarkable film from Brian de Palma that features great performances from Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace. Along with its gorgeous visuals, study of multi-national corporate culture, themes of seduction and humility, and Pino Donaggio’s score. It’s a film that has the kind of story that definitely has the touches expected from de Palma while being this erotic thriller of sorts that play into the tropes of the genre. In the end, Passion is a marvelous film from Brian de Palma.

Related: Love Crime

Brian de Palma Films: (Murder a la Mod) – (Greetings) – (The Wedding Party) – (Dionysus in ’69) – (Hi, Mom!) – (Get to Know Your Rabbit) – Sisters - (Phantom of the Paradise) – (Obsession) – Carrie - The Fury - (Home Movies) – Dressed to Kill - Blow Out - Scarface (1983 film) - (Body Double) – (Wise Guys) – The Untouchables - Casualties of War - The Bonfire of the Vanities - Raising Cain - Carlito's Way - Mission: Impossible - Snake Eyes - Mission to Mars - (Femme Fatale) – The Black Dahlia - (Redacted) – (Domino (2018 film))

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks: The Cold

For the second week of 2019 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We venture into the subject of the cold as it is appropriate since it is winter here in America. It’s a subject that can delve into many kind of films and such set in the winter and the feeling of the cold. Here are my three picks:

1. McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Robert Altman’s revisionist western is set during the cold winter as it has this man trying to run a business in this small town where he teams up with a brothel madam and they get rich. Yet, it’s a film that play into a world of change where a couple of people try to create something that is their own and to help a small town with others threatening to ruin that for profit or to just have control. It’s one of Altman’s quintessential films and one of the finest westerns ever made.

2. The Revenant

Set in the early 19th Century, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s tale of revenge and survival is a study of what a man will do to go after another man who left him for dead after nearly being killed by a bear attack. Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in a career-defining performance along with a strong supporting performance from Tom Hardy. The film isn’t just about this man trying to go after the man that left him for dead but also survive the unforgiving environment he’s in.

3. The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 epic-western is probably a film that doesn’t get mentioned very much as it’s a shame considering that in its 70mm roadshow version. It is one of the finest films ever made with the 70mm presentation providing full scope of the cold environment with the sounds of snow and wind being with people stuck inside a cabin as the cold weather just adds to the tension. It’s a film that I think more people should see whether or not they’re fans of Quentin Tarantino.

© thevoid99 2019