Friday, November 28, 2014

Vengeance (2009 film)




Directed by Johnnie To and written by Wai Ka-Fai, Vengeance is the story of a former gangster who learns that his family has been attacked by a triad gang as he travels to Macau with three hitmen to help him get revenge. The film is a simple tale of revenge as it plays into the world of triad culture and influences in Asia. Starring Johnny Hallyday, Anthony Wong, Lam Ka-Tung, Lam Suet, Simon Yam, and Sylvie Testud. Vengeance is an evocatively stylish yet intensely powerful film from Johnnie To.

Following the attack of a French woman and her family in Macau, a former gangster who has reinvented himself as a chef goes to the city to avenge the attack on his daughter as he hires three hitmen to aid him. While it’s a premise that is simple and could be told in a very conventional manner. It’s a film that plays more into a man who is trying to find redemption as he hires these three professional killers who part of a triad gang as they learn that the job they’re asked to do would have complications involving the men they’re targeting and who they work for. Adding to the turmoil is the fact that the Frenchman known as Francis Costello (Johnny Hallyday) is losing his memory as he uses Polaroid pictures as reminders of who is friend and who is foe.

Wai Ka-Fai’s screenplay does have a traditional structure in the way it explores vengeance where its first act is about the attack on Francis’ daughter Irene (Sylvie Testud) as Francis sees the work of three hitmen who had just killed with wife of a renowned triad leader in George Fung (Simon Yam) under Fung’s orders. The script uses flashbacks of what had happened as the hitmen who are hired to work with Costello have an indication of how things happened. Though these three men in Kwai (Anthony Wong), Fay Lok (Lam Suet), and Chu (Lam Ka-Tung) who are professionals who will do jobs for money and whatever they’re asked for by their boss. They are men of morals as they know on what not to do which is something the men that attacked Irene and her family aren’t. A showdown does occur in the second act but once it becomes clear who these men are and who they’re working for. Complications begin to emerge which adds to some of the dramatic stakes of the film’s third act.

Johnnie To’s direction is very stylish in not just the way he presents the world of crime and gunplay as it’s set in Macau and in Hong Kong. It’s also in the way the impact of the film’s violence that helps drive the story as it opens up with this very innocent scene of Irene cooking as her husband and their two children come home getting ready for dinner. Then comes this moment where a break-in occurs as Irene and her family are attacked as it’s swift and intense. To’s approach to action and suspense is very slow yet deliberate as it would include some amazingly choreographed gunplay in the showdowns such as the first showdown involving Costello and the hitmen against the three men involved in the hit on Irene and her family. It’s among one of several sequences where To’s direction has this flow in the way the action is presented that feels very poetic in its rhythm and scope.

Much of the direction involve some elaborate uses of crane shots to capture the look of Hong Kong and Macau as well as scenes where To uses a lot of wide shots as well as some compositions in the way he would frame his actors in a shot. While in the dramatic moments, there is an intimacy in To’s approach to close-ups and medium shots as well as scenes that play into the suspense such as the lead-up to the first show down that is set in a park at night. Even in the set-ups of the hits that are unveiled showcase how efficient and professional these characters are as To uses a lot of stylistic shots to play into the set-ups and momentum as it would have this major pay off. Overall, To creates a very thrilling yet exhilarating film about a man who joins three hitmen to seek vengeance for his daughter’s near-fatal attack.

Cinematographer Cheng Siu-Keung, with additional contributions from Hung Mo To, does brilliant work with the film‘s stylish cinematography from its usage of colorful lighting in some of the nighttime location scenes as well as the use of shadows and lights for some interior and exterior scenes at night as it is among one of the film‘s highlights. Editor David M. Richarson does fantastic work with the editing with its rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s flashback sequences as well as these intricate slow-motion cuts and fast-paced cuts to play into the action as it has this air of poetry that is entrancing to watch. Art director Silver Cheung does superb work with the set pieces from the look of the home of Irene in its destroyed state as well as the ragged home of Kwai‘s cousin on the outskirts of the Macau.

Costume designer Stanley Cheung does nice work with the costumes from the lavish clothes that the women wear to the suit that Costello wears along with the clothes of the men including the triad men. Visual effects supervisor Ken Law does terrific with some of the minimal visual effects that involve some of the film‘s violent moments as well as the showdown at the park at night. Sound editor Martin Richard Chappell does excellent work with the sound from the layer of gunfire that occurs in the gunfights to the sounds that happens in the many locations as it help plays to the film‘s suspense and action. The film’s music by Lo Tayu is incredible for its mixture of jazz, electronic, and bombastic orchestral music to play into the drama and suspenseful moments in the film.

The film’s phenomenal cast includes notable small roles from Maggie Shiu as a police inspector trying to solve the case, Vincent Sze as Irene’s husband, Gwendolyn Chen as Fung’s wife, and Michelle Ye as a pregnant friend of Kwai who would watch over Costello late in the film as his memory loss becomes severe. In the roles of the three men who did the attack on Irene and her family, there’s Cheung Siu-Fai, Berg Ng, and Felix Wong in superb performances as they each display a very dark presence as three men who find themselves being confronted as they manage to be formidable opponents for Costello and his men. Sylvie Testud is wonderful as Costello’s daughter Irene who is severely wounded from the attack as she asks for her father to get revenge.

Simon Yam is excellent as the triad boss George Fung who runs a lot of the crime syndicates in Macau and Hong Kong as he is a man with no sense of moral nor any sense of remorse. In the roles of the three hitmen, Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, and Lam Ka-Tung are brilliant in their respective roles as the intelligent Kwai, the comical yet dangerous Fay Lok, and the chameleon yet cool Chu. Finally, there’s Johnny Hallyday in a remarkable performance as Francis Costello as this former gangster who reinvented himself as a chef as he tries to get revenge for his daughter’s near-fatal attack while coping with his own memory loss that becomes very severe as the film progresses as it’s a very quiet yet engaging performance from Hallyday.

Vengeance is a tremendously gripping and rapturous film from Johnnie To. Armed with a great cast, a compelling script by Wai Ka-Fai on the idea of vengeance, and some amazing technical work. The film is truly one of the most riveting and stylish presentation in the crime film genre. In the end, Vengeance is a magnificent film from Johnnie To.

© thevoid99 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mistaken for Strangers




Directed, shot, and co-edited by Tom Berninger, Mistaken for Strangers is a tour documentary on the indie rock band the National as the band starts to gain momentum as they take vocalist Matt Berninger’s brother Tom to document the tour. Along the way, Tom deals with the expectations of the road as well as doing everything to please his older brother whom he always felt been living under his shadow. The result is a fascinating and enjoyable film from Tom Berninger.

Since their formation in 1999 that led to the release of their debut album in 2001, the National had been this critically-acclaimed indie-rock band that blended post-punk with somber songs that is sung by Matt Berninger whose bass-like vocals have given him the comparisons of the late Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis. With the release of their fifth studio album High Violet in 2010 where the band is getting more exposure and experiencing their first taste of commercial success. Matt invites his younger brother Tom to join him as a roadie as the young aspiring filmmaker also documents the entire tour. While interviewing band members in guitarists in Aaron and Bryce Dessner, bassist Scott Devendorf, and drummer Bryan Devendorf, Tom deals with the chaos of being on the road as well as the expectations that is laid upon him.

It’s a film where a young man who is more into heavy metal than indie music deal in seeing his older brother becoming famous as well as realize that this is a band that is getting bigger. Yet, the expectations to keep up with the rigors of the road and wanting to have a good time does take a toll on Tom. Even as he has to deal with his brother who has all of these demands and such. While Tom is a goofball, he is a very likeable guy as he is just trying to create a film that shows the band in a good light though his relationship with Matt is complicated since Tom is quite immature and Matt is often very impatient and bossy. Matt’s bandmates definitely attest to the fact that Matt is difficult though Tom isn’t making things easier with some of his screw-ups. Even as Tom does feel like he’s letting his brother down as it includes a moment where Tom screens a rough cut of the film which is a disaster.

Also serving as the film’s cinematographer, Tom Berninger does create something that feels simple while getting some unique shots the band’s performances as well as some scenes backstage where there’s a few celebrities that are present in the film. Much of it is shot in handheld to get a feel of a video diary that plays into Tom’s enthusiasm as well as being this observer of a band becoming famous. With help from sister-in-law Carin Besser (who is also in the film) in editing the film and sound editor Paul Hsu, Berninger does create something that is a mixture of both but it’s really something that showcases a band coming to prominence in the world of music while the singer’s brother captures this rise with a sense of excitement.

Mistaken for Strangers is an excellent film from Tom Berninger. Not only is it an enjoyable documentary about the National and their rise but also in how an aspiring filmmaker goes along for the ride while trying to please his older brother. It’s a film that isn’t just a nice introduction to the band but also something that fans of the group will enjoy as well as be entertained by. In the end, Mistaken for Strangers is a superb documentary from Tom Berninger.

© thevoid99 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Basquiat




Written and directed by Julian Schnabel from various stories by Michael Thomas Holman, Lech J. Majewski and John F. Bowe, Basquiat is the story on the life of the famed post-modernist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat who rose to fame in the 1980s with his take on painting and art. The film is an exploration into Basquiat’s desire to make art as well as growing disdain towards the middle class as he is played by Jeffrey Wright. Also starring Dennis Hopper, Claire Forlani, Gary Oldman, Benicio del Toro, Michael Wincott, Parker Posey, and David Bowie as Andy Warhol. Basquiat is a mesmerizing yet exhilarating film from Julian Schnabel.

The film is a bio-pic of sorts about the famed street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat who came from the world of graffiti art in the late 1970s to become one of the most revered post-modernist painters of the 1980s New York City art scene until his death at the age of 27 of a drug overdose in 1988. Yet, what writer/director Julian Schnabel does is create a film where a young man rises up from the streets to the get attention of many only to struggle with fame as well as the need to rise above many including the middle class who saw him as a sellout. It’s a film that does play into that rise and fall scenario but it’s more about the idea of being an artist and having to struggle with all of the temptations of fame.

Even as there are those who are exploiting him while there are others who are just drawn to him like Andy Warhol who becomes a mentor of sorts for Basquiat. While the script does use that scenario, it is also a character study of sorts in how Basquiat does things as an artist as an act of rebellion only to lose himself in a world of commerce and admiration. It all plays into this high-octane world of art as everyone wants a piece of him yet there are those like the esteemed art critic Rene Ricard (Michael Wincott) who felt betrayed by Basquiat as well as old friends of him who aren’t interested in that high-class world of New York City art.

Schnabel’s direction is quite simple in terms of compositions but it has elements of style in the way it plays into the world of New York City art with its galleries and presentation which is exciting at times but also has this air of elitism. There are elements of styles that includes footage of a surfer on a wave that Basquiat often sees in the sky as it plays into Ricard’s article as he talks about Van Gogh and how a new generation of art enthusiasts must not have another one since Van Gogh in his lifetime only sold one painting. Yet, what would happen if Van Gogh was discovered in his prime and would gain fame as these are some of the questions that Schnabel asks. Even as he uses art to help tell the story where it would emphasize many of Basquiat’s struggles with it as he isn’t just seen as a major African-American who breaks into the art world but someone who is redefining the idea of what art is.

While the film doesn’t feature any actual art of Basquiat due to rights issues, Schnabel and artist Greg Bogin do create paintings and such that play into the style that Basquiat would define. Since the film is shot on location in New York City, it does play as a character in the film where it has this mixture of high-society and high culture where everyone who is anyone can participate but there’s also an element of street culture that Basquiat is from. It adds to the dramatic conflict that is prevalent in the film as it’s third act plays into Basquiat’s own descent as he tries to find answers through many including Warhol who is convinced that Basquiat is a much better artist. Yet, it’s not enough to help the young artist who would cope with drug addiction as Schnabel brings in elements of surrealism as well as a story that plays into everything that Basquiat would endure as a famous artist. Overall, Schnabel creates a very stylish yet captivating film about the young life of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Cinematographer Ron Fortunato does excellent work with the film‘s very naturalistic photography for the exterior scenes in New York as well as some unique lighting for some interior scenes as well as scenes set at night. Editor Michael Berenbaum does brilliant work with the editing with its stylish usages of dissolves and jump-cuts to play into Basquiat‘s unconventional approach towards art. Production designer Dan Leigh, set decorator Susan Bode and art director C.J. Simpson, do superb work with the look of the apartments and studios that Basquiat would live and work at as well as the galleries where his art is often in display.

Costume John A. Dunn does nice work with the costumes from the posh clothes of some of the people in the world of art to the dresses that some of the women wear. Sound editor Ira Spiegel does terrific work with the sound as it‘s mostly low-key to play into the sense of silence in how some create paintings as well as scenes where Basquiat tries to play music with his band. The film’s music by John Cale and Julian Schnabel is wonderful as it‘s very low-key with its emphasis on piano and guitar-based music while music supervisor Susan Jacobs creates a dazzling soundtrack that features music by the Rolling Stones, Public Image Ltd., David Bowie, Tom Waits, the Pogues, Bill Laswell, Them, Iggy Pop, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, and many others.

The casting by Sheila Jaffe and Georgianna Walken is fantastic as it features some notable appearances from Vincent Gallo as an artist, Sam Rockwell as a street thug, Michael Badalucco as a deli counterman, Willem Dafoe as an electrician early in the film, Courtney Love as a woman Basquiat would have a tryst with, Tatum O’Neal as a rich woman looking to buy one of Basquiat’s paintings, and Christopher Walken as a journalist who interviews Basquiat as he tries to understand the meaning of his work. Elina Lowensohn is terrific as the art enthusiast Annina Nosei who wants to expose Basquiat to the art world while Parker Posey is wonderful as the art gallery director who would help expose Basquiat to the public. Dennis Hopper is excellent as the art dealer Bruno Bischofberger who would become the agent that would make Basquiat rich as he is also friend of Andy Warhol. Benicio del Toro is amazing as Basquiat’s friend Benny who is part of Basquiat’s circle early on as he tries to cope with his friend’s success and how it’s changed him.

Gary Oldman is superb as the artist Milo who is a friend of Basquiat as he tries to help him cope with fame. Claire Forlani is brilliant as Gina as Basquiat’s girlfriend from the early 80s who also desires to be an artist as she also tries to cope with his sudden fame and changing attitude. Michael Wincott is incredible as Rene Ricard as the famed art critic/poet who discovers Basquiat as he presents him to the world only to feel betrayed. David Bowie is phenomenal as Andy Warhol as Bowie manages to convey many of the quirks and voice mannerisms of the famed pop artist as it is definitely Warhol coming back to life. Finally, there’s Jeffrey Wright in a remarkable performance as Jean-Michel Basquiat as this brilliant artist who would change the landscape of art as he copes with fame and later being admired as Wright bring a charisma and energy to the character.

Basquiat is a tremendously rich film from Julian Schnabel that features a marvelous performance from Jeffrey Wright as the late street artist. Featuring a brilliant soundtrack, compelling ideas on art and commerce, and a supporting cast that includes David Bowie as Andy Warhol. It’s a film that explores the life of one of the finest artists of the 20th Century and the dichotomy he would fact that became the source of his work as an artist. In the end, Basquiat is a majestic and evocative film from Julian Schnabel.

Julian Schnabel Films: (Before Night Falls) - (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) - (Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse) - (Miral)

© thevoid99 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Maps to the Stars




Directed by David Cronenberg and written by Bruce Wagner that is based on his own book Dead Stars, Maps to the Stars is a story set in Hollywood revolving around an aging actress dealing with her career as well as the presence of her late mother while a therapist tries to get his young son to return to the world of celebrity culture. A film that explores the world of celebrity and its emphasis on Western culture, it’s a film that is satirical as well as having commentary on a world lost in fame. Starring Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, and Sarah Gadon. Maps to the Stars is a visceral and ominous film from David Cronenberg.

The film is an exploration into the world of fame and celebrity culture through a multi-layered narrative involving a young child star trying to return to the world of celebrity culture while an aging actress copes with painful memories as she is haunted by the presence of her late mother. It’s a film that plays into people trying to be part of a culture where there’s a lot of expectations and demands in order to succeed. At the middle of this is a young woman named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who arrives from Florida as she would work for the aging actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) as an assistant. Segrand is coping with demons as she seeks the help of self-help therapist Dr. Strafford Weiss (John Cusack) whose son Benjie (Evan Bird) is a teen child-star that is trying to remain sober while dealing with the pressures of stardom as he endure strange hallucinations.

Bruce Wagner’s screenplay definitely plays into not just people’s desire to wanting to make it in Hollywood but also how far they will go to the point that they lose elements of their sanity as well as their own identity. While Agatha is just an outsider who would befriend a limo driver named Jerome (Robert Pattinson) who is trying to make as an actor and a writer. She is someone that manages to have some connections to be part of that world yet is more of an observer who has an element of innocence but with a dark edge as she wears gloves and lots of clothes as she is a burn victim with a past of her own. By working for Havana Segrand, she gets access to the world of productions and places but is also aware that there is a lot more going on. Especially as Havana is a woman living in the shadows of her late mother Clarice (Sarah Gadon) who was a famous star until she died of a car crash when Havana was a child.

In the hopes to star in a remake of a film that her mother did years ago, Havana is hoping for a comeback but Clarice’s presence haunts her. By going to Dr. Weiss, she tries to exercise her demons as well as get a role in order to fulfill her own ego. The Dr. Weiss character is also a representation of egotism as he is a man that is making money through is own self-help books as well as exploit his own son while his wife Cristina (Olivia Williams) is Benjie’s manager as she does whatever to get him a part in a sequel for a film that made him a star. Benjie however, is struggling with trying to stay sober as well as be out of the public eye as he is succumbing to peer pressure as well as the need to be this teen sensation as he starts to see strange hallucinations involving the dead. It’s a film that features a lot of characters who are despicable while the Jerome character is the most normal as he is also an outsider who is just trying to get his break no matter how humiliating things are. Though there’s aspects of Jerome that makes him unsympathetic, it’s only because he has to do things in order to be part of this very turbulent and troublesome world.

David Cronenberg’s direction is very mesmerizing for the way he depicts the world of Hollywood as this place of conformity and expectations that seem unreal. While a lot of it is shot in Los Angeles and Hollywood with a few interior scenes set in Toronto, it does play into a film that has a very warped view of what Hollywood is as many of the characters, with the exception of Agatha and Jerome, live in these spacious mansions and are invited to the biggest parties around. While there’s some wide shots in the direction, much of Cronenberg’s approach to the compositions are simple in terms of close-ups and medium shots. Especially in scenes involving Agatha where her close-ups play to how she looked with her burned scars around parts of her head to play into a sense of realism that she has while everyone in Hollywood is trying to look young or be part of that culture.

The direction is also full of dark humor that plays into aspects of satire such as the commercials that Dr. Weiss has as well as his approach to therapy which is quite odd. Even as it’s clear that he’s just a man that will do anything to be famous and use his son’s stardom to become famous. Once there’s some revelations about his own past as well as his family starts to emerge, it adds to the sense of drama that emerges as well as to the issues that Havana is going through. Havana’s story has elements of surrealism as it relates to the presence of her own mother which is similar to the hallucinations that Benjie would go through. All of which play into demons that they face with Agatha being caught in the middle as this observer as she is connected to these people in some ways while keeping herself at a distance. Overall, Cronenberg creates a very captivating yet harrowing film about celebrity culture and people dealing with their demons in that world.

Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography to play into the sunny look of the locations in Hollywood along with some straightforward lighting for some scenes at night including some of the interior shots. Editor Ronald Sanders does excellent work with the editing as it‘s straightforward while using some unique rhythmic cuts to play into some of the surreal moments of the film. Production designer Carol Spier, with set decorators Sandy Lindstedt and Peter P. Nicolakakos and art directors Edward Bonutto and Elinor Rose Galbraith, does fantastic work with the look of the homes of the Weiss family as well as Havana to play into their personalities as well as the offices to showcase that world of celebrity culture.

Costume designer Denise Cronenberg does terrific work with the costumes from the long leather gloves that Agatha wears to the different array of clothes that the other characters wear as it‘s very posh in its look. Visual effects supervisor Jon Campfens does nice work some of the film‘s minimal visual effects which includes a chilling scene late in the film that plays to the drama. Sound editor Michael O’Farrell does superb work with the sound to play into the atmosphere of the party scenes as well as the smaller moments such as the screams that Havana would endure in her moments where she‘s tested. The film’s music by Howard Shore is amazing for its mixture of somber orchestral music with a mixture of eerie electronic pieces that play into the sense of dread and dark drama that looms over the film.

The casting by Deirdre Bowen is phenomenal as it features some notable small roles from Carrie Fisher as herself, Jayne Heitmeyer as a rival actress of Havana, Domenic Ricci as that woman’s son, Kiara Glasco as a young girl Benjie visits at the hospital as she would haunt him later on, Gord Rand as a director that Havana hopes to work with, Sean Robertson as a young co-star of Benjie whom is seen as a threat, and Dawn Greenhalgh as Havana’s agent who tries to get Havana the role that she is coveting. Sarah Gadon is terrific as the ghost of Havana’s mother Clarice who is a manifestation of the bad memories that Havana has. Olivia Williams is superb as Benjie’s mother Cristina who also manages her son’s career as she tries to make sure he stays sober while dealing with some demons of her own. Robert Pattinson is excellent as Jerome as a limo driver that Agatha befriends as he tries to make it as an actor/writer as he tries to find ways to make it where he does things that he knows he isn’t proud of.

Evan Bird is brilliant as Benjie as this teen sensation trying to cope with fame and the need to be sober as he also deals with strange hallucinations that play into his fascination with death. John Cusack is amazing as Benjie’s father in Dr. Strafford Weiss as this self-help therapist who is trying to become famous while doing whatever to make sure his son stays famous as he’s a really despicable character. Mia Wasikowska is remarkable as Agatha as this young woman with burned skin who arrives to Los Angeles with some mysterious motives as she finds herself fascinated by celebrity culture as she works for Havana while dealing with things about herself as it’s a performance that is quite engaging but also very dark. Finally, there’s Julianne Moore in an incredible performance as Havana Segrand as this aging actress that is desperate to make a comeback while coping with issues as there’s a sense of vanity and smugness in Moore’s performance that is mixed with high-levels of insecurities as it’s Moore in one of her best performances to date.

Maps to the Stars is a rapturous yet exhilarating film from David Cronenberg. Armed with a great cast led by Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska as well as very unique insight into the world of celebrity, its culture, and all of the trappings of fame. Especially as it’s a film with some revelations about people and twists and turns that showcase how much people are willing to sacrifice to be adored only to fall apart by their own undoing. In the end, Maps to the Stars is a riveting and tremendously haunting film from David Cronenberg.

David Cronenberg Films: Stereo - Crimes of the Future - Shivers - Rabid - Fast Company - The Brood - Scanners - Videodrome - The Dead Zone - The Fly (1986 film) - Dead Ringers - Naked Lunch - M. Butterfly - Crash - eXistenZ - Spider - A History of Violence - Eastern Promises - A Dangerous Method - Cosmopolis

The Auteur #26: David Cronenberg: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2

© thevoid99 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Tempest (2010 film)




Based on the play by William Shakespeare, The Tempest is the story of a duchess who has been exiled to a remote island with her daughter as she seeks revenge through magic as well as uncover the conspiracy by those who betrayed her. Written for the screen and directed by Julie Taymor, the film is a different take of the Shakespeare play where the Prospero character is changed from a man to a woman as she is played by Helen Mirren. Also starring Russell Brand, Felicity Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Ben Whishaw, Reeve Carney, Tom Conti, Chris Cooper, Alan Cumming, David Strathairn, and Alfred Molina. The Tempest is a grand and stylish film from Julie Taymor.

Set in a remote island, the film plays into an exiled duchess who is seeking revenge through magic against those who usurped her as she hopes to reclaim what is hers as well as what her daughter is supposed to have. Much of it plays to Prospera’s thirst for vengeance as she had been wronged by many that includes the King of Naples Alonso (David Strathairn) and her own brother Antonio (Chris Cooper) as the latter was the mastermind for her exile. For 12 years, Prospera and her daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) remain on this island as Prospera learns that Alonso’s ship is on route towards the island with his party as she sees this as an opportunity to exact her revenge. While she gets help from her spirit Ariel (Ben Whishaw), she deals with circumstances that are beyond her control once Miranda encounters Alonso’s son Ferdinand (Reeve Carney).

The film’s screenplay does retain much of the dialogue that Shakespeare wrote while Julie Taymor does create new interpretations in order to play into this drama about betrayal, conspiracies, and redemption. Even as Prospera is dealing with the betrayal from her brother as she was supposed to be in power as well as Miranda. Through a shipwreck that Prospera would cause from her magical powers, the survivors in Alonso, Antonio, Alonso’s brother Sebastian (Alan Cumming), and Alonso’s counselor Gonzalo (Tom Conti) go on a journey to find Ferdinand who was shipwrecked on another part of the island. There’s also another subplot involving a disgruntled slave of Prospera in Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) who would conspire with two of Alonso’s servants in Stephano (Alfred Molina) and Trinculo) into overthrowing Prospera. It all plays into people trying to get something while underestimating this duchess who finds herself dealing with not just her thirst for revenge but also for the future of her own daughter.

Taymor’s direction is definitely ambitious in terms of its visual scale while she would shoot the film entirely on islands in Hawaii and Lanai to play into its rugged look as well as its different settings such as woods and blacks sands. While Taymor’s use of wide shots are very prevalent, she does maintain a sense of intimacy in terms of the presentation of the performances. Notably in the use of close-ups and medium shots along with some inspiring usage of low-angles to play into the location where the actors use it as a stage and more. Taymor’s approach to directing actors doesn’t just have them recite Shakespeare but also in allowing the actors to create their own interpretations to those roles where there’s a looseness in the direction that is quite engaging to watch. Overall, Taymor creates a very thrilling and evocative film about a duchess seeking revenge from those who betrayed her.

Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the usage of lights for some of the interiors along with some of the nighttime exteriors as well as some colorful scenes set in the forests. Editor Francoise Bonnot does brilliant work with the editing with its usage of fast-cuts, dissolves, and other elements of style to play into the looseness of the film and its offbeat rhythm. Production designer Mark Friedberg and set decorator Alyssa Winter do amazing work with the look of Prospera‘s home and her workshop where she would create her own spells. Costume designer Sandy Powell does fantastic work with the costumes from the white dress that Miranda wears to the lavish cape and dress that Prospera wears.

Prosthetics makeup designer Mike Marino does superb work with the look of Caliban in his rugged look to play into his personality as well as the look of Ariel. Visual effects supervisor Mike Cooper does wonderful work with the visual effects as it plays into the world of mysticism and magic that surrounds Prospera. Sound designer Blake Leyh does nice work with the sound to convey the atmosphere of the locations as well as the sound effects from the spells that Prospera would make. The film’s music by Elliot Goldenthal is terrific for its mixture of bombastic orchestral music with elements of rock as it plays into its extravagance and some of its humor.

The film’s marvelous cast features some notable comic performances from Alfred Molina and Russell Brand in their respective roles as Stephano and Trinculo as two men who are eager to gain the riches of their employers while conspiring with Caliban in overtaking Prospera. Ben Whishaw is terrific as the spirit Ariel as he brings some humor as a figure who helps Prospera while Djimon Hounsou is excellent as the disgruntled slave Caliban who feels unappreciated by Prospera as he hopes to get rid of her. Tom Conti is superb as Alonso’s counselor Gonzalo who was a mentor of Prospera as he tries to make sense of the situation. Alan Cumming is wonderful as Alonso’s brother Sebastian who is a conspirator of Prospera’s exile as he is coerced into trying to do the same to his own brother.

David Strathairn is amazing as King Alonso of Naples as a king who is concerned with finding his son while dealing with some issues in the past as it relates to Prospera. Chris Cooper is brilliant as the devious Antonio who masterminded the exile on his sister as he tries to maintain some power for himself in the hopes that he can be important. Reeve Carney is fantastic as Ferdinand as Alonso’s son who meets Miranda and Prospera as he tries to win over the latter as he reveals to be a good person and a worthy match for Miranda. Felicity Jones is an absolute delight as Miranda as this young woman who falls for Ferdinand while trying to aid her mother in the plans as she knows the role that she is destined to play. Finally, there’s Helen Mirren in an incredible performance as Prospera as Mirren is just so commanding in everything she does while bringing a lot of gravitas to a woman betrayed and seeking vengeance while displaying some sensitivity as it relates to her daughter as Mirren is the star of the film.

The Tempest is a marvelous film from Julie Taymor that features a phenomenal performance from Helen Mirren. The film isn’t just a unique and stylish take on the William Shakespeare play but also a dazzling interpretation that manages to be funny and dramatic. In the end, The Tempest is a rapturous film from Julie Taymor.

Julie Taymor Films: (Titus (1999 film)) - (Frida) - Actross the Universe

© thevoid99 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

2015 Blind Spot Series



As I'm now one film away from completing my Blind Spot Series for 2014 which will be Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom. The time has come to look at what is ahead for the next year as I'm going to do something very different with the Blind Spot Series. For the 2015 series, I decided to do films that came out before the year I was born which is 1980. Much of it will involve films in different genres where half of these films will be American films as another half will be from other countries or filmmakers from other countries. One of these non-American films will be a trilogy as I'm taking part in a different project that I want to do which relates to trilogies as I will make an announcement on that next month. Here are the 12 films that I will do for the 2015 Blind Spot Series:


The General

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Man with a Movie Camera

Scarface

Sullivan's Travel

My Darling Clementine

Singin' in the Rain

The Human Condition Trilogy

Charulata

Alphaville

The Long Goodbye

Suspiria

© thevoid99 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The 15 Essential Performances of Scarlett Johansson




If there is one American actress right now who has managed to cultivate not just a body of work that is great but also creating performances that is really like no other. It is Scarlett Johansson. A woman who began as a child actress that was wise beyond her years as she would become one of the finest sex symbols in recent years. Johansson has managed to back that up with performances that are really unlike anything. While not all of her films and performances haven’t been winners as she did struggle to be taken seriously. It was in 2013 where the actress finally made her doubters bow down and remind everyone why she’s damn good. In honor of her 30th birthday, here is a list of the 15 Essential Performances of her career so far:

1. Under the Skin



If a lesser actress was to play this role, it wouldn’t work because it’s a performance that requires discipline, the ability to not really say very much, the willingness to be detached, and to actually bare all literally and figuratively. It’s the reason why Scarlett is so perfect for this role where she strips down not just her clothes but her persona as this sex symbol. In playing this alien whose job is to tempt men and kill them, she plays a character that needed to be alien-like as well as observe humanity in all of its complexities. There’s moments in the performance that is just shocking while the scene where she looks at herself naked in the mirror is among one of the most compelling moments in cinema. It’s a role that only she can play and no one else can.

2. Lost in Translation



The film and performance that would essentially put her in the world spotlight. It is truly a career-defining performance from someone who was only 17 when she made the film as she proved to be very believable as an aimless college graduate. Johansson’s chemistry with Bill Murray is the heart and soul of the film as she brought a lot of depth to a young woman unsure of what to do with her life as her marriage is on the rocks. It’s a really a performance that has Johansson be so full of life and also display a sense of charm as well as being comfortable as a foil for Murray.

3. Her



Though she doesn’t appear in the film, Johansson’s voice role as the operating system Samantha is truly something that is out of this world. It’s a performance full of personality as it’s very funny but also manages to find soul inside a machine. Though Samantha Morton was supposed to do the voice for that role, there’s something in Johansson’s voice that managed to be so exuberant and engaging as it is clear that she is perfect for that part. Nothing against Morton but it’s just that Johansson’s voice has a personality that feels extremely compelling as she manages to do so much for Joaquin Phoenix’s part.

4. Ghost World



One of the strong aspects about Johansson as an actress isn’t just playing a foil and be comfortable with it. It’s also in the fact that she is willing to take on a supporting role and do wonders with it as her role as Rebecca is one that is funny but also in playing it straight. While Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi get the meatier parts in their respective roles as Enid and Seymour. Johansson’s performance as Rebecca is full of wonders as she is someone who resigns to dealing with reality in getting a job while not be afraid to grow up which was something Enid has a hard time accepting.

5. Girl with a Pearl Earring



While the role was originally meant for Kate Hudson in its initial production under the direction of Mike Newell until things fell apart where Samantha Morton and Kirsten Dunst were in consideration. The resulting film that has Johansson in the titular role showcases how good she is in conveying a young woman who becomes an unlikely muse to Johannes Vermeer. Though it’s a role with very little lines, Johansson manages to make it of her own as this quiet observer who is amazed by Vermeer as a painter while being wooed by Cillian Murphy as a young butcher. There’s elements of eroticism in Johansson’s performance such as the scene where Vermeer puts a pearl earring on her ear where it is touching but also very sensual which showcases why Johansson can do so much into a character by doing so little.

6. The Avengers



While Iron Man 2 was the film that introduced Johansson in the role of Natasha Romanov/Black Widow, it was in this film where Johansson really brings her A game and make Black Widow into a full-on badass. It’s a performance where Johansson gets to be funny and cool yet also manages to have scenes where she can be the brains in a group full of men and stand out. Notably in the way she interrogates Loki where she would pretend to be emotional while there’s some moments in how she interacts with Bruce Banner which suggests an attraction of sorts between the two.

7. Manny & Lo



While she was only 10 years old and had done a handful of films by the time she made this little indie gem. It is definitely the performance that proved that a new young star had arrived but one with an edge that sets her apart from some of her peers at the time. Playing the role of Manny as the youngest of the two sisterly-duo with Aleksa Palladino as Lo, Johansson displays a maturity and charm to her character as a young girl who is on the run with her sister as they try to find places to crash. It’s a role that features the first of many instances of the Johansson stare that is something that she would entrance audiences with for years to come. It’s a very low-key performance that showcases some curiosity while it’s also very engaging which shows how far she was going to go at the time. An interesting bit of trivia about the film is that there’s a scene where Manny and Lo watch a family playing miniature golf as that family is actually Scarlett’s parents, her old sister Vanessa, and her twin-brother Hunter.

8. Don Jon



Anyone who is a sex symbol seem to enjoy the attention they have but never really go all the way to show what they got or be taken seriously. What Johansson does in the role of Barbara is just play the sexy woman and have fun with it. It’s a performance that is Johansson at her most comical where she spends half the film chewing gum and looking good while berating Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character for watching and whacking off to porn. Add a New Jersey accent and a love for bad romantic comedies, it is definitely Johansson being funny while not being afraid to be very un-likeable.

9. Match Point



In the first of a trio of collaborations with Woody Allen, Johansson’s performance as Nola is the embodiment of a seductress as she is the lone American in a film set in Britain as she would be someone who doesn’t have it all together to be part of a wealthy British family. It’s a role that has Johansson play the part of someone who is eager to try and fit in but she’s so insecure as she becomes Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ mistress as their affair would lead to trouble as it features Johansson at her most fiery and her most emotional.

10. A Love Song for Bobby Long



While it’s a role that shows the first of many instances of her entrancing sexuality, it is backed up by the fact that Johansson plays a character who has seem to gave up on living out whatever potential she has. That is until she learns that her mother is dead as she travels to New Orleans as she is forced to share her mother’s house with a former literary professor and a writer. While it’s a flawed film that features John Travolta overacting in his attempt to be Marlon Brando, it is Johansson that out-acts him by just playing it cool and display a sense of grace to her performance.

11. The Man Who Wasn't There



In a small but vital role as Birdy Abundas in the Coen Brothers’ offbeat noir film, Johansson manages to do what great actors do which is to steal the show no matter how small the role is. It’s a role that is the embodiment of innocence to Billy Bob Thornton’s Ed Crane character as she entrances him through playing Beethoven piano sonatas as she is good at playing those but there’s aspects of her character which reveals a more complex side. Even as it is clear that everything Crane wants her to be isn’t exactly what she seems to be as it is one of her finest performances in that break-out year of 2001.

12. Lucy



The most recent film that she did isn’t an entirely great film but her performance is an example of someone who is pretty much game for anything while kicking ass all at the same time. It’s a performance that has Johansson be sexy but also a woman who is forced against her will to be a drug mule only to have access to all of her brain capacity. It’s definitely a performance that is off-the-wall but she manages to sell every aspect of someone becoming less human while having access to all sorts of things that makes the world so unique.

13. The Horse Whisperer



A part that was supposed to go to Natalie Portman, the film is another example of Johansson’s promise as an actress at a young age and how she managed to exceed expectations. It’s a role that has Johansson play a young girl who lost a leg due to a horsing accident as she copes with losing her horse as well as live the high expectations of her mother. It’s a performance filled with angst and torment as well as someone who is very vulnerable. Johansson manages to sell these moments as well as steal the film from many of her older co-stars including its director Robert Redford.

14. An American Rhapsody



The third performance as part of a trio of breakout roles that she did in the year of 2001, this was a role in which Johansson displayed a sense of teen angst as well as confusion as a Hungarian-born teenager who copes with not just being homesick but also at odds with her mother. It’s a performance where Johansson displays not just the look of a teenager in the 1960s but also one who felt lost in her identity as there’s an element of acting out while dismissing everything her mother went through to get to America. While it is based on aspects of Eva Gardos’ own real life which she would bring to film, it is Johansson who makes that character come to life in ways that is really unlike any teen role.

15. We Bought a Zoo



After a period of some lackluster films and performances where people thought of Johansson as style over substance. It is this film where the actress definitely returned to form in some respects. It’s one where she just doesn’t play the love interest nor an object of desire but rather someone who cares about animals as well as be someone who can stand toe-to-toe with Matt Damon. Most notably a scene where she has to tell Damon’s Ben Mee character about having to put down a tiger as she displays not just some fierce anger but proof that she means business. There’s also moments in the film where Johansson does display some humility and be cool about it which displays how good she committed she is to playing a role.

Honorable Mentions



There’s no question that for someone who is very accomplished as she is with a devoted fan base that there’s many other performances that fans will cite as among her best. Among them is in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige where even though the character isn’t an inspired one. There are elements in Johansson’s performance such as her first meeting with Christian Bale’s Alfred Borden that showcases how good she is in playing a role for someone who is meant to be a double-agent in a battle against two magicians. That is part of Johansson’s strength in playing a supporting role as another example is in If Lucy Fell where she plays a young girl who tries to get Sarah Jessica Parker to hook up with a quirky Ben Stiller as she manages to kind of steal the film from everyone. Then again, the film was pretty terrible as it ponders why does Eric Schaffer still gets funding for his shitty films.



Another example of Johansson’s strength as a supporting actress is in Iron Man 2 where she does manage to have some moments as it’s really more of an introduction to her Black Widow character. Still, she proves to be funny as makes director Jon Favreau a foil in whom she would work with again in Chef in a small role of sorts as a girlfriend of the titular character as she would urge him to go into his own. 2004 was an incredible year for Johansson as she followed up her spectacular year of 2003 by appearing several films as it would include a series of superb performances like A Love Song for Bobby Long as well as a bunch of diverse projects. The first was in an animated role as a mermaid named Mindy in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie that showed how funny she is.



Three other films from that year which added to her star power is a wonderful supporting turn as a young woman who falls for her father’s new and younger boss in the film In Good Company where Johansson definitely displays the sense of charm that has won audiences over. Another film from that year which didn’t get a wide release which is A Good Woman where it’s a performance that has Johansson display a young married woman still figuring out her role while being caught off guard by the idea of her husband having an affair. It’s not a great film but it certainly showcases the growing sensuality of her performance plus the ability to play someone in a period piece. The fifth 2004 film Johansson was in is Brian Robbins’ The Perfect Score which is the first time she would co-star with Chris Evans as the two are the highlights of a very bland film which was made before Johansson did Lost in Translation but it was delayed due to poor timing as she manages to bring charm to the outsider high school girl.



Then there’s the two other films she did with Woody Allen as it showcased her range as a comedy actress such as 2006’s Scoop and 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona where the former definitely had her try to play a young gumshoe who is quite awkward yet Johansson manages to sell that. In the latter, it’s a performance that has her be the sexy woman who goes into a three-way relationship with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz as it’s a role where her character does find herself as it features some of her funniest moments. One performance that is often considered underrated in some cases is in The Other Boleyn Girl where she plays Mary Boleyn as she does steal the film from both Natalie Portman and Eric Bana by not being very showy while displaying some humility as the sister who is usurped and later resign herself to a simpler life.



Then there’s performances that features some of the best of her work but also can be regarded as minor. The Nanny Diaries is an example of a project with a lot of potential but the results are disappointing. Though she is miscast is in the role, it is a performance that is engaging in the way she interacts with a child and make him feel safe as well as showcase some unique chemistry in her scenes with Laura Linney and Chris Evans. While Eight Legged Freaks isn’t great cinema as it is a B-movie to the fullest, Johansson does deserve some credit for just playing the part of an older sister who is trying to rebel while also be funny at times as it includes her nearly being devoured by a large spider. One notable role early in her career that is very good is the role of Sean Connery’s daughter in the godawful Just Cause where she is best in her restrained performance where she and Jessica Capshaw are being captured in the film’s twist.

The Non-Essential Performances



Not every actor can have a perfect record as some of them have been in bad films as well as display some awful performances and Johansson isn’t immune to that fault. Her debut role in North has her look cute as a young girl but it’s not enough to do anything for a film that is just so fucking awful as it is one of the worst films ever made. There’s also another performance in a film that Johansson did after The Horse Whisperer which is obvious is one that she wants to forget in a film called My Brother, the Pig that features an early performance from Eva Mendes. It’s a horrible film where Johansson is forced to overact and play a snotty teenager who deals with having a brother who becomes a pig. There’s also Home Alone 3 which is nothing more than just a lame addition to the series which had nothing to do with the two films though Johansson does get a nice line here and there where she’s sort of spared.



Another film Johansson is in with Eric Schaffer which she probably wants to forget is a 30-second role as a theater actress in the very self-indulgent film Fall where her little cameo isn’t even worth watching. Then there’s some of the worst films that she did which definitely questioned her choices such as He’s Just Not That Into You as she plays a very slutty character with no depth which is typical of a film that is so horrible. Brian de Palma’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia should’ve been a great project but the horrible script doesn’t really give Johansson the chance to do anything as she and Josh Hartnett don’t have chemistry.



Then there’s two films that are really just downright horrific in which it showcases how not to use Johansson in a film. The Spirit by Frank Miller is a film that wishes it was Sin City but it is downright unwatchable. In the role of Samuel L. Jackson’s assistant, Johansson only gets to play dress-up and show her cleavage as she doesn’t really get to do anything at all. Finally, there’s The Island by Michael Bay which is one of the worst films ever. This is where Bay makes Johansson into someone who is just there to look pretty and be overwhelmed by these mindless spectacles of destruction. Her performance is pretty bad but the entire film itself with its awful cinematography and its attempt to try and be a remake of Logan’s Run but with clones and all sorts of bullshit.



Well, that is it for Scarlett Johansson as some wonder why Hitchcock nor Captain America: The Winter Soldier aren’t mentioned (I haven’t seen either of them) while there is more to come such as Hail Caesar! and The Avengers: Age of Ultron as she is poised to garner accolades in the future. Even as she has the talent to do that as well as the ability to kick some ass. After all, she’s Scar-Jo bitch. Scar-Jo 3:16 means she’ll fuck you up. That’s the bottom line cause Scar-Jo says so bitch!

© thevoid99 2014