Friday, August 29, 2014

Hustle & Flow


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 2/10/07 w/ Additional Edits.



Written and directed by Craig Brewer, Hustle & Flow tells the story of a pimp from Memphis decides to become a rapper hoping to find a better life for himself. A film about starting over and redemption, Brewer explores the world of Memphis hip-hop as well as the culture that surrounds it. Starring Terrence Howard, Taryn Manning, Anthony Anderson, Taraji P. Henson, D.J. Qualls, Paula Jai Parker, Elise Neal, Isaac Hayes, and rapper Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. Hustle & Flow is a superb film of music and redemption from Craig Brewer.

Hustling through the streets of Memphis as a pimp, Djay (Terrence Howard) is still trying to make ends meet. Though being a pimp has brought him a bit of power and money, it only covers barely of what he is doing where he still lives in the ghettos of Memphis with a couple of prostitutes, Nola (Taryn Manning) and Shug (Taraji P. Henson) who is pregnant. Helping to make money as well is Lexus (Paula Jai Parker), but is often ungrateful towards him. While Djay is still a down-home boy to the locals, including bartender Arnel (Isaac Hayes), he ponders life without having to be a pimp. Even when he learns that a rapper he knew years ago named Skinny Black (Ludacris) has now made it big. After getting a little keyboard from a customer for cheap, Djay starts to become obsessed with music.

Running into an old school friend named Key (Anthony Anderson), he learns that Key is a recording producer who often produces church music to make a decent living. Djay realizes that Key is the chance he needs where he goes to his house and plays him a demo he made from the little keyboard as Key decides to be involved. Though Key's wife Yvette isn't sure about this, she understands it's a break from the monotonous job he’s doing. With help from a white musician named Shelby (D.J. Qualls), Key and Shelby create beats while Djay begins to flow whatever comes out of his mouth. Though Lexus didn't thing Djay's new thing would happen, Shug and Nola are intrigued. Eventually, Djay begins to evolve more despite some creative tension that’s settled by Shug. Shug's presence helped things where she created a hook for a song they've been working on and it becomes great although Key realizes they need better equipment to make it sound better.

Djay does some hustling with Nola to get a new microphone but Nola feels useless and frustrated with her role. Djay tells her that if they make it, Nola will become someone more important. With a new microphone, things start flowing as Djay's demo is nearly completed. Learning that Arlen is going to throw a private party that Skinny Black will be attending, Djay feels it's his chance to get that demo sent to Black. Arriving at the party with a new look and a gold chain, Djay hopes to make a chance thinking there's some history between him and black. Yet with the reality and Black's crass behavior, Djay wonders how far will it take for his dreams to come true.

The theme of redemption is a big engine that drives the plot of this film where it revels in its realism but also offers hope to audience. Writer/director Craig Brewer understands what it takes to make it into the music business in all of its harshness. Yet, it's really more about a man who makes a living dealing drugs and pimping hookers trying to see if there’s something more. Sure, Djay isn't a nice guys at times, making women vulnerable or being abusive towards them. Still, he tries to make something of himself and find some support from the people that surrounds him. Even if they’re dysfunctional, which is common in the South. Plus, Brewer's vision of a pimp reveals that not all of them wear suits or look intimidating and aren't always abusive towards their women. There's a complexity to the character of Djay while the support he has are characters that audiences can relate to. It's in Brewer's script and gritty, observant direction that really holds true.

Even in the environment of somewhere like Memphis, it really presents of what it's really like in the ghettos. There’s moments where it's crazy and it can be peaceful at times. Brewer shows both sides while he explores the world of music where in Memphis, it's very diverse. There's hip-hop, country, blues, and soul in this melting pot called Memphis and in parts of the film, there's a conversation of Southern hip-hop in relations to the blues and it makes perfect sense. Even in what D.J. Qualls character says that there's really a lot of similarities to a song like Backdoor Man to Back That Ass Up. While it may be a debate about the purity of Southern hip-hop among its fans and purists, it can't be denied of where it roots come from. Brewer understands that immediately and hip-hop is true definition of where that culture comes from. Even to the film’s plot where the music carries it to bring some excitement and entertainment to its audience.

Cinematographer Amy Vincent does excellent work in capturing the look of Memphis with it gritty, colorful camera work where it's not all bright or flashy. It's very real as is the art direction from production designer Keith Brian Burns and art director Alexa Marino. The look of the film from the dark bars, the streets, and the home of Djay where cup holder trays are used as sound proof walls are a fantastic touch to the film's authenticity. Costume designer Paul Simmons adds to that grittiness with these leather, short skirts that Nola wears or the kind of dirty, torn clothes that everyone else with the clean-like look that Key and Yvette wears. Editor Billy Fox does excellent work in the film's editing including a sequence with a lot of jump-cuts that involved Djay's supposed association with Skinny Black. Sound editors Greg Hedgepath and Frank Smathers with sound designer Brian W. Jennings do excellent work in capturing that atmosphere of recording and the world known as the South with train horns blaring and cars which speaks true to its environment.

Then there's the music that is a big part of the movie. Score composer Scott Bomar adds a moody, rhythmic texture to the score that adds the sense of tension and melancholia of where the film is. The rest of the film's soundtrack is dominated by touches of country music, blues, and soul music courtesy of the likes of Al Green and Buddy Guy. Then there's the hip-hop which features tracks written by Al Kapone, Lil' Jon, and Three-6 Mafia. The stuff that is performed by Terrence Howard like Whoop That Trick and the Oscar-winning It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp are catchy and memorable. The music is definitely inspiring and will make any audience go “Aww yeah!!!”

Then we have the film's cast that includes notable small performances from Josey Scott of Saliva as a store clerk, members of Three-6 Mafia as locals, and the legendary Isaac Hayes as the sympathetic bartender Arlen. Elise Neal is good as Key's supportive wife who doesn’t understand the ghetto world and believes to be neglected only to realize what's going on. Paula Jai Parker is pretty good as the combative, ungrateful Lexus who serves as an antagonist for Howard. Anthony Anderson and D.J. Qualls, both of whom are known for their comedic talents, give excellent performances that show more of their range in drama. Anderson as the more moralistic, cautious Key and Qualls as the more experimental, pot-smoking Shelby are two excellent, memorable characters that show the good and the bad of creativity.

Established rapper Ludacris gives a fine performance as the crass, egomaniac Skinny Black who seems friendly though he seems to be distracted by his own fame. Ludacris, who also appeared in Paul Haggis' Crash with Terrence Howard, proves that he can be a solid actor. Even in this performance of a rapper who seems to have betrayed his roots. Taryn Manning is wonderful as Nola, Djay's top earning hooker who is trying to find her footing as her character develops from a naive hooker to a woman who finds her own footing. Taraji P. Henson is great as the pregnant, supportive Shug whose vulnerability in her usefulness proves to have power when she sings. Henson shows a lot of development as someone insecure to someone who feels empowered when she sings.

Finally, there's Terrence Howard in what is truly an amazing role of not just 2005 but one of the best of the decade. Howard's complex, realistic, and engaging performance is truly inspiring to watch as a man who goes into this mid-life crisis and then, finds hope. Howard brings in all of the struggles, swagger, frustration, and warmth to a character that could've been sleazy since he is a pimp/drug dealer. Howard manages to find the humanity in the character to the point that he is relatable. When he's rapping and doing music, there is such joy in the performance that it looks like he's having a lot of fun. It's a fantastic performance from the talented Terrence Howard.

Hustle & Flow is a fantastic film from Craig Brewer that features a riveting performance from Terrence Howard. The film is definitely not just an inspirational story of redemption but also one that explores the world of Southern hip-hop and the world that is the American South. In the end, Hustle & Flow is a phenomenal film from Craig Brewer.

Craig Brewer Films: (The Poor and the Hungry) - (Black Snake Moan) - (Footloose (2011 film)

© thevoid99 2014

Thursday, August 28, 2014

2014 Blind Spot Series: Satantango




Based on the novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Satantango is the story of a collective farming community closing down in the final days of Communist Hungary as a group try to leave only to be stopped by strange circumstances. Directed by Bela Tarr and screenplay by Tarr and Krasznahorkai with a screen story by Mihaly Vig, Peter Dobai, and Barna Mihok, the film is an meditative exploration into a world that is ending as they endure a series of events that would change their lives. Starring Mihaly Vig, Putyi Horvath, and Laszlo Lugossy. Satantango is a mesmerizing yet ominous film from Bela Tarr.

Set in the final days of Communist Hungary, the film explores a group of people living in a desolate farming community that is in absolute ruins as they learn that two men who were presumed dead have returned and to reclaim the community. It is told in twelve chapters where a group of people deal with the return of two men as well as the bleakness of their surroundings as they try to pull together all they have left. While coping with the arrival of Irimias (Mihaly Vig) and his friend Petrina (Putyi Horvath), a lot of things occur where a lot of mistrust and tension begin to emerge as Irimias would make his arrival with news about his plans causing a lot of suspicion. It’s a film that doesn’t have a traditional narrative as it essentially follows the steps of a tango which is six steps forwards and six steps back which is odd for a narrative structure. Yet, the film’s script prefers to play with that structure and to tell this story of a world that is collapsing as the people who live in this farming community have no idea what is going to happen.

The film is told from several perspectives such as six couples, a child (Erika Bok), an ailing doctor (Peter Berling), and several other characters. It all plays into this world set in this desolate farming community that is very removed from the rest of the world as they’re dealing with heavy autumn rain and gathering whatever money that is left. Unfortunately, there is also distrust as Schmidt (Laszlo Lugossy) is suspicious that his friend Futaki (Miklos Szekely B.) is sleeping with Mrs. Schmidt (Eva Almassy Albert) who has grown tired of the farming life as the other residents would cope with alcohol at one point in the film. Yet, the film’s script also have these moments where there’s a scene that is happening while something else is happening at the same time but in another chapter such as the doctor’s encounter with the child Estike who would watch the residents dance in a drunken manner. Plus, there’s a sequence where residents would leave their farming community following their meeting with Irimias as he would walk back to the city with Petrina and their friend Sanyi (Andras Bodnar) about their plans.

Bela Tarr’s direction is truly entrancing not just in the way he would compose the film but also maintain a sense of minimalism in his presentation. Yet, it’s a presentation that will not be everyone’s cup of tea as Tarr strays away from many of the conventions of cinema as a film with 432-minute running time only features a total of under 200 shots and shots that range from 8-11 minutes in total. Much of it involves a lot of gazing shots of these dreary and damp locations set in a world that is just completely removed from the modern world. Tarr’s direction includes a lot of these very stylized tracking and dolly shots to capture the world such as the opening eight-minute shot of a herd of cows walking into this desolate land as it would set the tone for everything that is to come from the film.

While there are a lot of close-ups, medium shots, and some beautiful wide shots, it is presented in a manner that is quite meticulous in its approach to framing yet there’s a looseness in how some of the actors would play out in a scene such as the drunken dance at this small restaurant. Some of it would include these elaborate crane shots that are very entrancing to watch as it plays into not just the lives of people that might seem ordinary but also in how they cope with their situations and the impending uncertainty of what is to come. Many of the shots and presentation do take a while to get things going as it’s pacing is very slow where it definitely isn’t for everyone. Especially as there’s moments in the film that doesn’t feature any dialogue while the music score is only used sparingly as it adds to this unconventional presentation that will annoy the most impatient viewer.

The direction definitely broadens itself in the many stories and characters that it has where Tarr definitely goes to great lengths to flesh out many of the characters as well as fill as many ambiguities into the actions of Irimias and the struggle of the doctor who is only seen briefly as he is sort of this outsider that either doesn’t know about Irimias or is in denial of what is happening. There is so much that occurs in the story that includes Estike trying to torture her cat in an act of rage because she’s being neglected. It is Tarr showcasing a world that is removed from everything else as time doesn’t even exist in some cases where they would all embark into an uncertain future while many of Irimias’ intention becomes more ambiguous as it goes on as it relates to what is happening behind the scenes. Overall, Tarr crafts a very chilling yet intoxicating film about the final days of a farming community in Communist Hungary.

Cinematographer Gabor Medvigy does amazing work with the film‘s very grimy black-and-white photography to not just find beauty in this very ugly and depression location but also in the intimacy in some of the lighting as it is one of the film‘s major highlights. Editor Agnes Hranitzky does terrific work with the editing as it‘s very straightforward with very few elements of style as it only cuts to capture some of the dramatic impact. Production designer Sandor Kally, with set decorators Sandor Katona and Bela Zsolt Toth, does excellent work with the set design from the look of the homes many of the residents live to the restaurant and city offices that are present in the film.

Costume designers Janos Breckl and Gyula Pauer do nice work with the costumes as it‘s mostly ragged with the exception of Irimias who carries this look of coolness with his Fedora hat. Sound mixer Gyorgy Kovacs does fantastic work with the sound to play into the texture of the sound in its locations as well as the sense of dread and uncertainty that looms in the film. The film’s music by Mihaly Vig is a largely electronic score that definitely recalls the music of Russian composer Edvard Artimev in terms of its melancholia as it is truly mesmerizing in its dissonant yet ambient presentation while the soundtrack also includes some accordion music played on location.

The film’s remarkable cast includes some noteworthy performances from Alfred Jarai as the intellectual Halics, Erzsebet Gaal as Halics’ wife, Owen Calvert as the village fool, Andras Bodnar as Irimias and Petrina’s associate Sanyi, Janos Derzsi as the skeptical Kraner, Iren Szajki as Kraner’s wife, and Erika Bok as the young girl Estike. Peter Berling is superb as the ailing yet reclusive doctor who often observes everything from his house as he is troubled by his alcoholism and his poor health. Miklos Szekely B. is terrific as Futaki who conspires with Schmidt into collecting money to do something only to be stopped by Irimias as Futaki also tries to hide his secret affair with Schmidt’s wife. Laszlo Lugossy is fantastic as Schmidt as a farmer who is trying to gather money so he can start on his own unaware of what to do and what Irimias is planning.

Eva Almassy Albert is amazing as Schmidt’s wife who tries to hide her affair while comprehending everything that is happening as she is the most reluctant to trust Irimias though she doesn’t speak out about it. Putyi Horvath is excellent as Irimias’ partner-in-crime Petrina who questions what Irimias is doing while getting things done for Irimias. Finally, there’s Mihaly Vig in a phenomenal performance as Irimias as this man of great charisma and power who seems like a reincarnation of Satan himself as he tries to sway the residents into giving him money so he can rebuild their community while being very cagey about his intentions.

Satantango is an incredible film from Bela Tarr. Armed with gorgeous visuals and an ambitious presentation that defies the concept of what cinema could be, it’s a film that is very challenging but also engrossing in its exploration into the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. While it is definitely not a film for everyone due to its slow pacing and very minimalist approach to storytelling. It is a film with a very bold take on a story of a world that is changing in a place that is very removed from that world. In the end, Satantango is a tremendously evocative film from Bela Tarr.

Bela Tarr Films: (Family Nest) - (The Outsider (1981 film)) - (The Prefab People) - (Autumn Almanac) - (Damnation) - (Wreckmeister Harmonies) - (The Man from London) - (The Turin Horse)

© thevoid99 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Waitress


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/10/07 w/ Additional Edits.



Written, directed, and co-starring Adrienne Shelly, Waitress tells the story of a young woman who works as a waitress in a small-town diner whose life isn’t going so well with a bad husband. Things get worse when she learns she is pregnant and she decides to make a change by entering a pie-making contest while falling for the town's new doctor. The film's mix of humor and drama along with Shelly's themes of female empowerment create a film that is sweet and entertaining. Starring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Eddie Jemison, Lew Temple, Jeremy Sisto, and Andy Griffiths. Waitress is a charming, funny, sweet comedy from Adrienne Shelly and company.

Jenna (Keri Russell) is a waitress at a coffee & pie diner that is owned by quirky businessman named Joe (Andy Griffiths). Working under her grizzled boss Cal (Lew Temple), Jenna is known for making numerous pies that is a hit at the diner. Joined by Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly), she works and often mulls her dour existence with her only hopes to escape her dreary life and her obnoxious, controlling husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) is to win a pie-baking contest. Then one day, Jenna receives the worst news of her life as she learns she is pregnant with Earl's child and all of her dreams is now confronted by a new reality. Checking to see if she really is pregnant, she goes to the doctor's office where her regular doctor is taken a break and is temporarily replaced by Dr. Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).

Dr. Pomatter brings a new sense of comfort to Jenna while trying to deal with her own dreary life while Dawn is being courted by a man named Ogie (Eddie Jemison) whom she met a blind date. While Becky is keeping a secret from her two waitresses, Jenna's desperation to leave Earl and her life, she makes an attempt while trying not to tell Earl that she’s pregnant. Another meeting with Dr. Pomatter brings an unexpected romance despite the fact that he's also married. The romance suddenly brings new things for Jenna despite the fact that Earl knows her pregnancy and is hoping that she will love him more than the baby. Writing a diary to the baby about her feelings, Jenna is still trying to find some hope as her affair with Dr. Pomatter is taking its toll. Turning to Joe for guidance about life, Jenna learns what she must do for her child and future.

While the film is set in the romantic-comedy genre, the film is also a feminist statement of sorts about a woman trying to find out her future without the support of a man. While the film at times does play to conventional plot structures, the development of Jenna as a character is strong as Adrienne Shelly makes the audience go along for her journey as she is treated awfully by her husband while her affair with Dr. Pomatter despite its sweet moments is mired in the fact that he's married. Shelly's script is filled with a lot of stylish yet witty dialogue about pies, love, women, and all of the things in life as it's done so well that it gives the film an energy and style that is engaging to watch.

Shelly's direction works to convey the moments of humor while adding bits of subplots for each supporting character to have their moments. Still, it's the story of Jenna and her question of morality as well as trying to figure out if she wants to be mother that remains the key story of the film. Shelly's direction shines throughout the entire film from the way she places the camera to capture the drama and humor while showing moments of pie-making which is an art in itself. Overall, Shelly's writing and direction is superb.

Cinematographer Matthew Irving does some great work with some of the film's lighting in the interiors which were dark and intimate, notably in the nighttime sequences that are very low-key while many of the exteriors on day time are wonderfully colorful. Editor Annette Davey does some excellent work with the film's pacing that is very leisurely while taking the energy of the film's development in one scene to convey Jenna's happiness. Production designer Ramsey Avery and art director Jason Baldwin do great work with look of the diner that is very intimate and colorful along with the messy look of Dr. Pomatter's office. Costume designer Ariyela Wald-Cohain does fantastic work with look of the waitress dresses, Earl's grungy look, and Joe's suit to give that small town feel. Sound editor Frederick Helm does some great work with the film's sound to convey the world of diners as well as Earl's car honks to know he's coming and such.

The film's music by Andrew Hollander is very dream-like to convey Jenna's dream-sequences of making pies that is very innocent while the soundtrack features some fine music from Mozart, Richard Wagner's Ride Of The Valkyries for a great sequence, a cover of Howard Jones' No One Is To Blame by Emile Millar for a romantic scene, some mix of country and pop music, and a great use of Cake's Short Skirt/Long Jacket in a very funny scene.

The film’s cast is wonderfully assembled with small performances from Sarah Hunley as Jenna's regular doctor and Darby Stanchfield as Dr. Pomatter's wife along with an appearance from Shelly's young daughter Sophie Ostroy as a toddler. Lew Temple is funny as the dirty, insulting boss Cal who just orders people around while having a bit of a sensitive side underneath his bossy exterior. Eddie Jemison is very funny as Dawn's new boyfriend who constantly follows her while professing his love to her as Jemison's performance is fun to watch. Adrienne Shelly is also funny as the mousy Dawn who is trying to help Jenna about her problems while giving her the notebook that would play a part of the film.

Cheryl Hines is great as Becky, the other waitress who is trying to deal with her own breasts while keeping a secret as she has some hilarious one-liners throughout the film. Jeremy Sisto is excellent as Earl, Jenna's obnoxious, abusive, and jealous husband who believe a woman is supposed to serve the man while being all nasty and such as Sisto's performance is fun to watch for all the wrong reasons. Andy Griffith is superb as the cantankerous, grouchy Joe, a businessman who always have specific orders and such while providing Jenna with some wise advice as his performance is a joy to watch.

Nathan Fillion of Firefly/Serenity fame is wonderful as the romantic yet simple Dr. Pomatter who changes Jenna's life while trying to find the lost passion he needed in his life in both Jenna and her pies. Finally, there's Keri Russell in an amazing performance that should give her some big-star attention. Russell manages to mix her cynicism and humor in a performance that is engaging and a joy to watch. Russell not only carries the film but she does it very naturally that it's truly her best work to date as she has many great scenes with her supporting cast.

Waitress is a lovely, charming, and funny film from Adrienne Shelly and company featuring great performances from Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion. Fans of romantic comedies and light-hearted films will no doubt enjoy this little gem for all of its humor and sweetness. The film is also guaranteed to make anyone hungry for some pie. In the end, Waitress is a remarkable film from Adrienne Shelly.

© thevoid99 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Day's Pleasure




Written, directed, edited, scored, and starring Charles Chaplin, A Day’s Pleasure is the story of the Tramp and a family trying to spend a day together where everything goes wrong. The film is a simple slapstick comedy where Chaplin plays the role of the Tramp as he tries to get his wife and children a chance to have a good day. Also starring Edna Purviance and Jackie Coogan. A Day’s Pleasure is a delightful film from Charles Chaplin.

The film is a simple story of a family spending the day together where a lot of things ensue in the course of an entire day. All of which involves the Tramp in a series of gags relating to his car as well as being on a boat with his family as Charles Chaplin explores everything that could go wrong on a family outing. All of which told in a simple manner as Chaplin’s direction keep some of the compositions to the point while creating some inventive gags in the process. Even as it involves a scene with a car that doesn’t really work or how someone would get seasick as the sequence in the latter is among one of the finest presentations of humor ever. Especially in the way Chaplin would create the idea of what it would be like on a boat as he would capture some of that humor through his rhythmic approach to editing. Chaplin’s score would also maintain that sense of humor as it’s often exuberant and bouncy which plays into the many misadventures of the Tramp. Overall, Chaplin crafts a very charming and fun film about a family outing.

Cinematographer Roland Totheroh does fantastic work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to capture the sunny look of a family outing on the sea where the Tramp and his family are on the boat. Production designer Charles D. Hall does superb work with the set pieces from the look of the car as well as the design of the boat when it rocks back and forth. The film’s cast features appearances from Henry Bergman in a trio of roles as a large policeman, a ship captain, and a big man in a car, Tom Wilson as a large husband on a boat, Babe London as the large husband’s seasick wife, Loyal Underwood as an angry little man on the street, Marion Feducha and Bob Kelly as the Tramp’s eldest son, Jackie Coogan as the youngest child, and Edna Purviance as the Tramp’s wife. Finally, there’s Charles Chaplin as the Tramp as it’s another enjoyable performance in the way the Tramp tries to start his car or adjust to being on a boat as it’s one of his funniest performances.

A Day’s Pleasure is an excellent film from Charles Chaplin. It’s among one of his finest shorts as well as one of his most entertaining in the way it explores a family outing and how it can go wrong. In the end, A Day’s Pleasure is a splendid film from Charles Chaplin.

Charles Chaplin Films: (Twenty Minutes of Love) - (Caught in the Rain) - (A Busy Day) - (Her Friend the Bandit) - (Mabel’s Married Life) - (Laughing Gas) - (The Face On the Bar Room Floor) - (Recreation) - (The Masquerader) - (His New Profession) - (The Rounders) - (The Property Man) - (The New Janitor) - (Those Love Pangs) - (Dough & Dynamite) - (Gentlemen of Nerve) - (His Musical Career) - (His Trysting Place) - (Getting Acquainted) - (His Prehistoric Past) - (His New Job) - (A Night Out) - (The Champion) - (In the Park) - (A Jitney Elopement) - (The Tramp) - (By the Sea (1915 film)) - (His Regeneration) - (Work (1915 film) - (A Woman) - (The Bank) - (Shanghaied) - (A Night in the Snow) - (Burlesque on Carmen) - (Police (1916 film)) - (Triple Trouble) - (The Floorwalker) - (The Fireman) - (The Vagabond) - (One A.M. (1916 film)) - (The Count) - (The Pawnshop) - (Behind the Screen) - (The Rink) - (Easy Street) - (The Cure (1917 film)) - (The Immigrant (1917 film)) - (The Adventurer) - A Dog's Life - (The Bond) - Shoulder Arms - Sunnyside - (The Professor) - The Kid - (The Idle Class) - (Pay Day) - (The Pilgrim) - (A Woman in Paris) - The Gold Rush - The Circus - City Lights - Modern Times - The Great Dictator - Monsieur Verdoux - Limelight - A King in New York - (A Countess from Hong Kong)

© thevoid99 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

Once (2007 film)


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 2/4/08 w/ Additional Edits.



Written and directed by John Carney, Once is the story of a a street musician who meets a young piano player as they make music together. The film is an exploration into the power of music and how two people bond through the world of creativity. Starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Once is an enchanting film from John Carney.

A street musician (Glen Hansard) is singing in the city of Dublin as he does for most of the day where he sings covers. Whenever he is not working for his father (Bill Hodnett) fixing vacuum cleaners, the musician plays in the streets where at night, he sings original songs about heartbreak following a break-up with his longtime girlfriend (Marcella Plunkett). One of those people who pays attention to his songs at night is a Czech-immigrant pianist (Marketa Irglova) who sells flowers in the street by day. The two strike up a conversation about music as the young woman ask the man about his songs. When she learns that he fix vacuums, the budding friendship continues. Then one day while bringing her broken vacuum, she takes him to a music shop where they realize they have chemistry as they perform one of his original songs.

After inviting her to his home, he asks if she can stay the night but she politely refuses until he apologized the next day. He is invited into her home where she lives with Czech mother (Danuse Ktrestova) and a baby daughter (Kate Haugh) as he gives her a CD with an instrumental demo. She asks if she can borrow to write lyrics for a song while he begins to write a new song while watching a video of his ex-girlfriend. Realizing the two have a gift for making songs together, they get a loan to record demos with help from local musicians (Gerard Hendrick, Alistair Foley, and Hugh Walsh) in the recording sessions. While the studio's engineer Eamon (Geoff Minogue) wasn't interested at first, it was until the songs he hears is when he helps them. Yet, as the musician and pianist start to get closer, they realize that forces beyond them are pulling them apart despite their musical chemistry.

Since the revival of the musical genre beginning with Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge, the genre has been known for lavish productions and musical cues that feature choreography and such. While those conventions in the genre do well, writer/director John Carney took a more unconventional approach to the genre by telling a story but without having to make a scene made where a song is about to performed. Instead, there's an improvisational feel that gives the performances a natural feel as if they're sung on location. Plus, the songs that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova create explore the emotions that the characters are going through in their everyday life.

The music which is mostly performed by piano and guitar works in that improvisational, raw feel as the songs that are performed lets the story flow easily. While there's not much of a plot, it's through the music and Carney's intimate direction that really carries the film. Carney uses the location of Dublin and parts of Ireland as a wonderful backdrop for the film's characters while his approach to the relationship of the musician and pianist is more of a collaborative relationship that could've been romantic. Instead, that relationship is told from a subtle approach where if it had gone further, it would've been like any other romantic film. With the use of hand-held cameras for most of the film, Carney definitely goes for a bit of realism in capturing this budding relationship while making it intimate without some grand production or huge dramatic moment. Instead, Carney's solid direction flows smoothly for the entire film for an engaging and touching film.

Cinematographer Tim Fleming does wonderful work on the film's interior lighting designs through hand-held, digital camera as it captures the sense of intimacy and realism of the locations. The exterior shots have a somewhat-grainy look on some of the shots of the city but beaches and shots of the sea are gorgeous to look at. Editor Paul Mullen does an excellent job in the editing without using the typical, Hollywood, fast-cut approach for a leisurely, well-paced style. Production designer Tamara Conboy does an excellent job with the interiors in the look of the home-like worlds of the musician and pianist while costume designer Tiziana Corvisieri also brought that realism in the clothing with its casual-style clothing on its leads. Sound mixer Robert Flanagan does a great job in capturing the atmosphere in the film's locations but most notably in the singing and performances of the film's leads.

The casting by Maureen Hughes is superb with memorable small roles from Geoff Minogue as an engineer, Gerard Hendrick, Alistair Foley, and Hugh Walsh as street musicians who help in the recording sessions, Kate Haugh as the pianist's baby, Danuse Ktrestova as the pianist's mother, Marcella Plunkett as the musician's ex-girlfriend, and Bill Hodnett as the musician's father. Yet, the film's best performances, not surprisingly, is the duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Hansard as the haggard, heartbroken, lonely street musician and Irglova as the curious, feisty pianist are a great pair to watch as the two have amazing chemistry in both their dramatic performances as well as their musical performances. Playing songs they wrote themselves including a couple of Van Morrison covers and a song by Interference, it's the way they played the songs and their chemistry that is more striking. It's an overall enjoyable experience to watch the two actor-musicians play these great songs.

Once is a truly magical and heartwarming film from John Carney that includes the amazing talents of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The film is truly one of the finest stories about music as well as breaking the conventions of what a musical can be. In the end, Once is a phenomenal film from John Carney.

© thevoid99 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Shoulder Arms




Written, directed, edited, scored, and starring Charles Chaplin, Shoulder Arms is a war comedy where the Tramp becomes part of the French army during World War I as he thinks about what he will do in war. The film is a comedy on the idea of war as Chaplin creates a film of what would happen if the Tramp was in battle. Also starring Edna Purviance, Henry Bergman, Albert Austin, Tom Wilson, and Sydney Chaplin. Shoulder Arms is an incredibly witty film from Charles Chaplin.

The film is a simple story where a soldier thinks about what he will do in a war as he deals with loneliness, his incompetence, and some of the actions that would eventually make him a hero. It is a film where Charles Chaplin has the Tramp in these situations as he deals with the silliness of war as well as the duties in being a soldier where he would eventually save a Frenchwoman (Edna Purviance) from the Germans. It’s a script that plays into some of the silly aspects of war and that sense of not knowing what to do when in battle where the Tramp had to do things in order to survive where he would even disguise himself as a tree at one point.

Chaplin’s direction is quite playful in the way he captures the idea of soldier formations and the idea of what happens if the Tramp is guarding in a trench that is rainy where he and his soldiers are sleeping inside a cave that is being flooded. It’s all part of Chaplin’s idea into the silly aspects of war where infuses a lot of humor that includes the Tramp opening a can of limburger cheese where he would unknowingly throw into the enemy trench. Much of the compositions are quite simple yet there’s that sense of energy that Chaplin puts into the humor as he would also capture that energy in his editing as it is straightforward as well as playful. Chaplin’s music score has this exuberance in its orchestral score, which he added in its 1957 reissue, where it plays into the humor as well as the romance between the Tramp and the Frenchwoman. Overall, Chaplin crafts a very delightful and every entertaining film about a soldier going to war.

Cinematographer Roland Totheroh does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to capture the murkiness of the drenched trenches as well as the images of the forests. Production designer Charles D. Hall does fantastic work with the set design of the trenches and camps as well as the German base where the Tramp beats up an army leader.

The film’s superb cast includes some notable small roles from Sydney Chaplin in a trio of roles as a drill sergeant, a comrade, and a Kaiser as well as Henry Bergman as a bartender, a German sergeant, and a field marshal, Tom Wilson as a wood-cutter, Austin Albert as an American officer and two different German soldiers, and Jack Wilson as a German Crown Prince who is the butt of many jokes for his troops. Edna Purviance is amazing as the Frenchwoman that the Tramp would save as she would also aid in the capture of a German officer. Finally, there’s Charles Chaplin as the Tramp where he manages to keep things very interesting in the way he guards the trenches or interact with soldiers and the enemy as it’s another fine performance from Chaplin.

Shoulder Arms is a marvelous film from Charles Chaplin as it’s one of the finest shorts he’s done. Especially as he makes fun of the idea of war and what soldiers have to go through in a comical manner. In the end, Shoulder Arms is a brilliant film from Charles Chaplin.

Charles Chaplin Films: (Twenty Minutes of Love) - (Caught in the Rain) - (A Busy Day) - (Her Friend the Bandit) - (Mabel’s Married Life) - (Laughing Gas) - (The Face On the Bar Room Floor) - (Recreation) - (The Masquerader) - (His New Profession) - (The Rounders) - (The Property Man) - (The New Janitor) - (Those Love Pangs) - (Dough & Dynamite) - (Gentlemen of Nerve) - (His Musical Career) - (His Trysting Place) - (Getting Acquainted) - (His Prehistoric Past) - (His New Job) - (A Night Out) - (The Champion) - (In the Park) - (A Jitney Elopement) - (The Tramp) - (By the Sea (1915 film)) - (His Regeneration) - (Work (1915 film) - (A Woman) - (The Bank) - (Shanghaied) - (A Night in the Snow) - (Burlesque on Carmen) - (Police (1916 film)) - (Triple Trouble) - (The Floorwalker) - (The Fireman) - (The Vagabond) - (One A.M. (1916 film)) - (The Count) - (The Pawnshop) - (Behind the Screen) - (The Rink) - (Easy Street) - (The Cure (1917 film)) - (The Immigrant (1917 film)) - (The Adventurer) - A Dog‘s Life - (The Bond) - Sunnyside - A Day’s Pleasure - (The Professor) - The Kid - (The Idle Class) - (Pay Day) - (The Pilgrim) - (A Woman in Paris) - The Gold Rush - The Circus - City Lights - Modern Times - The Great Dictator - Monsieur Verdoux - Limelight - A King in New York - (A Countess from Hong Kong)

© thevoid99 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Half Nelson


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 2/17/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.



Directed by Ryan Fleck and written by Fleck and Anna Boden, Half Nelson tells the story of a young school teacher in the inner city who forms a friendship with one of his students who has discovered his drug addiction. Taking another relationship drama to a different level, it's a film that explores a young man's chance to try to save a young girl while dealing with his own demons. Starring Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Karen Chilton, Jay O. Sanders, and Shareeka Epps. Half Nelson is a haunting yet mesmerizing film from Ryan Fleck.

By day, Daniel Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a young, middle school history teacher in an inner-city school where he's also the girls' basketball coach. Dunne's unorthodox yet edgy approaching to teaching history has won him over the praise of his students. Dunne's approach into teaching them history by having something they can relate to hasn't fared well with the school's principal despite the fact that it's worked. While his girl's team aren’t the best players, he does try and give them encouragement to get better. After school, Dunne goes to bars flirting with women and continuing on his troubling addiction to drugs such as cocaine and crack. Already, his life becomes out of control when he is caught in a bathroom dazed by one of his students named Drey (Shareeka Epps).

Drey is a young 13-year old student who lives at home while her mother Karen (Karen Chilton) works late as an EMT barely making by. The only help Drey gets in making money is through a drug dealer named Frank (Anthony Mackie) who owes her a favor after her brother Mike (Collins Pennie) is in juvenile hall. Dunne suddenly learns that his ex-girlfriend Rachel (Tina Holmes) is getting married while he starts to feel lonely and finds a kindred spirit in Drey. Drey knows his secret and keeps it that way while he takes her home since her father doesn't pick her up. Dunne is amazed by Drey's strength though she admits that her mother not being home all the time has made it tough. Dunne meanwhile, still revels into his own world of drugs as he is forced to face his own demons.

One day when taking Drey home, he takes her to his apartment where they have conversations about his work and his unconventional teaching approach. Helping him make dinner for a date with another teacher named Isabel (Monique Curnen), Drey is amazed at the kind of person Dunne is despite his troubles. While the weekend turned out to be good for Dunn and Drey in their own separate worlds, Dunne's demons get the best of him as he is troubled by a lot of things. The drugs and his weariness begin to affect his teaching and he starts to alienate everyone. When he sees Frank with Drey, Dunne decides to confront him about what he's doing to her. Unfortunately, Dunne's efforts is only troubled when his addiction worsens. During a night with his parents (Jay O. Sanders and Deborah Rush), his brother (Denis O'Hare) and his brother's girlfriend Cindy (Nicole Vicius), Dunne is forced to see his downward spiral while pondering Drey's own future.

While the film doesn't say anything new about drugs or addiction, the story of a young teacher trying to help a young girl escape into her own environment is a compelling one. Ryan Fleck and co-writer Anna Boden create a story that is gritty and very mesmerizing into how a man seeks redemption through a young girl while dealing with his demons. The film's story is simple enough though it's told in two different perspectives in both Daniel Dunne and Drey. While Dunne's world is often filled with a repetitive outlook of going to school on the day and party and do drugs at night. He makes a break for it in trying to help Drey. Drey's own world is just as tough since her mother isn't around much while the only adult that watches out for her is Frank. Though Frank isn't a total villain of sorts, he does watch out for Drey though his own intentions aren't what's best for her. The script is very drawn out by character while Fleck's subtle, observant, and very raw directing style works in conveying the atmosphere and drama that surrounds the situations and moments in the film. Overall, it's a very strong effort from Fleck.

Cinematographer Andrij Parekh is wonderfully exquisite in its realism while many of the exterior shots are haunting and almost dreamlike to convey the spiraling emotions of Dunn. Anna Boden's editing is also excellent for its straightforward manner and non-stylized cuts to draw the sense of emotion and intensity of the performances from the actors. Production designer Beth Mickle and art director Inbal Weinberg do fine work in taking the location of Brooklyn to reveal the location's gritty look but also a realistic feel to the apartment of Drey to the dilapidated look of Dunne's apartment. Costume designer Erin Benach adds to the grittiness with shabby shirts and ties that Dunne wears to the street clothes that the kids wear as well. Sound editor John Moros also adds to the tense atmosphere of the film to the alarm clock that Dunne wakes up on to the basketballs bouncing on the gym. The film's music features cuts from the Marshall Tucker Band, Lisa Vaughn and a few hip-hop artists while the rest of the music features a haunting score from the band Broken Social Scene filled with atmospheric, melodic guitar tracks.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled with some memorable small performances from veteran actors Jay O. Sanders and Deborah Rush as Dan's parents, Denis O'’Hare as his brother, and Nicole Vicius in a funny scene as his brother's girlfriend. Other noted small roles from Collins Pennie, Monique Curnen, and Bryce Silver as fellow teacher Bernard plus a group of young actors like Tristan Wilds, Stephanie Bast, and Nathan Corbett as the students are equally memorable. Tina Holmes is excellent as Dan's ex-girlfriend Rachel while Karen Chilton is wonderful as Dre's hard-working, caring mother. Anthony Mackie gives a chilling yet superb performance as the small-time drug dealer Frank. Mackie brings a charm and danger to his role where he can be caring and do good things yet he runs a business and is doing some bad things so there's a complexity to Mackie's character and the performance is wonderfully balanced. Shareeka Epps is wonderfully amazing as the tough but confused Drey who has an understanding of what the adults around her are doing. Epps brings a strength and fragility that is haunting to watch as this young woman truly gives one of 2006's great performances.

Finally, there's Ryan Gosling in what has to be the performance of his career. Gosling has been known to display charm, a wit, and eccentricity. In this film, he strips it all down to bring a raw, restrained performance as Daniel Dunne. Gosling's sense of minimalism and observance shows the troubles of a man spiraling out of control while in the moment he acts charming only show a fragility to him that is underneath it. There's moments in the performance where his eyes does the acting for him and it's real proof that Gosling is the real thing. There's a lot of sadness and desperation in those eyes while the scenes he has with Epps feel real in how he tries to redeem himself. In roles where he played trouble youths and charming young men, Ryan Gosling proves himself to be one of the most brilliant actors of his generation.

Half Nelson is a phenomenal film from Ryan Fleck and co-writer Anna Boden that features a tremendous performance from Ryan Gosling. Along with strong supporting performances from Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie, it's a film that explores the world of a man troubled by addiction and his desire for redemption. In the end, Half Nelson is a remarkable film from Ryan Fleck.

Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden Films: (Sugar (2008 film)) - (It's Kind of a Funny Story) - (Mississippi Grind)

© thevoid99 2014