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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jena Malone: 10 Reasons Why She's the Best in the World

For anyone who has read my blog for the past few years know that I am a massive fan of Jena Malone who is my favorite actress as I would often call her the Best in the World. Back in 2011 in honor of her 27th birthday, I made a list of her finest performances from that point on at the time. Since then, she’s getting more attention for her work in The Hunger Games series while is appearing in Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film Inherent Vice. Plus, there’s rumors that she could be appear in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman film in a role that is undisclosed. Instead of making another list of her best performances, I decided to make a different list about why she is so fucking awesome. So in celebration of her 30th Birthday, here are 10 reasons why she’s the Best in the World:

1. One of the few child actresses who has gained legitimacy as an adult.

Transitioning from being an actor as a child into becoming an adult actor hasn’t been easy as some managed to rise to the occasion while others are forced to live off their past glory. Fortunately, Jena has been someone that has succeed but not through conventional means. Succeeding early on through films like Bastard Out of Carolina, Ellen Foster, and Stepmom in the late 90s, Jena took her time to transition herself as she would do such offbeat indies like Donnie Darko and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys as variations of troubled teenage girls. By doing some indies and a few studio in the 2000s, she gained credibility which then lead to playing age-appropriate roles in films like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and an Internet short series known as WiGs where she played a mother with a gambling problem.

2. The ability to not be typecast and play all sorts of different characters.

Most actors tend to be stuck in playing characters that had made them successful to the point that succumb to parody. Though Jena is still young, she has managed to cultivate a wide range of performances that has won over audiences and given her a devoted following. While she had played variations of troubled young girls in her career, she has managed to do different things with those roles. Recent performances in films like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Messenger, and the TV miniseries on Hatfields & McCoys showcase that range. Especially in Hatfields & McCoys which shows she can have a very dark edge that will definitely make people uncomfortable.

3. She’s a natural born ass-kicker.

While Sucker Punch was a film that wasn’t well-received nor made any waves in the box office, Jena was one of the film’s bright spots as she managed to have some scene-stealing moments as she would play with guns and knives while kicking some serious ass. Yet, it is her role as Joanna Mason in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is where she shows her ferocity by carrying an axe and killing people with no qualms. Her performance as Mason wasn’t just her stealing the show but she is someone that even someone like Katniss Everdeen couldn’t even deal with.

4. She’s sexy and she fucking knows it…

She doesn’t have a model’s body nor does she convey the idea of sexiness from a conventional standpoint. However, the attitude that she displays and her willingness to quite playful and showcase aspects of her body is very damn sexy. The fact that she seems comfortable with her body and feels confident in wearing skimpy underwear while not being afraid to do nude scenes just makes her much cooler. After all, if you’ve got it. Flaunt it!

5. An absolute scene-stealer.

There’s aspects about playing supporting roles that allows actors to do things and often standout. Jena is among those that is very good at where she would have these small moments in film and leave an unforgettable impression. One notable scene that is a favorite of mine in Pride & Prejudice is a dinner scene where Jena’s Lydia character just married Mr. Wickham as she reveals to Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennett that Mr. Darcy was the one who discovered them and paid Wickham’s commission. Elizabeth wants to know more as Lydia makes a line that shuts Elizabeth up and takes a sip of her wine. That’s a moment I can watch forever and never get tired of it. She was like… “my wine bitch!”

6. Fashion… Turn to the left! Fashion… Turn to the Right! Fashion…

Jena definitely has a very unique yet offbeat taste in the clothes she wears. On the red carpet, she can look very glamorous as she proves to have some amazing taste. Off the set, she definitely has a style of her own that is casual yet cool. Some of these clothes she wears definitely plays to her sense of individuality while having something that everyone can enjoy and wear.

7. Her music is actually pretty damn good

There’s a sense of vanity whenever a film star tries to make it into music to the point that they make fools of themselves. Some manage to do it for fun and not care about people’s opinions. Jena is fortunately part of the latter as her recent project in the Shoe with collaborator Lem Jay Ignacio is very interesting. While it isn’t for everyone, the album It’s Okay I think is an excellent record with some amazing songs.

8. She’s a really amazing and imaginative photographer.

She can act and she can sing. She’s also got a great eye as a photographer as she makes some nifty collages and photos that are very interesting. Some of which has her using some photoshop and other techniques to create something that is abstract. Much of it is in display of her Instagram account yet she also has a Tumblr page that she uses as her work as a photography I think is just superb.

9. One of the more interesting people on social media.

I don’t have a Twitter nor a Facebook account but she is definitely the one person I follow where she would often have interesting things to say. Her posts are often funny as well as touching whether it’s about aspects of her personal life or stories that she creates. Plus, she proves to be a very cool person who does respond from time to time. Here is her Twitter page.

10. Her aspirations to become a filmmaker.

While she lists herself on her Facebook page as an actress, musician, and a photographer, she also lists herself as a director. While she’s only made a few short films so far. They definitely show promise as it’s more about visuals and doing something that is more in tune with what she wants to do personally. Though it’s been some years since she last directed a short, it is clear that she has an eye for celluloid.

Well, that is all for reasons why Jena is the Best in the World. Wait, she’s turning 30.… there’s 20 more reasons into why she is the Best in the World…

11. That ass! 
12. Armbar! 
13. She’s the Rock to Scarlett Johansson’s Stone Cold Steve Austin. 
14. Her favorite film is Mouchette
15. Armbar! 
16. She can tap dance. 
17. She went naked in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
18. She’s funny on the talk shows. 
19. Armbar! 
20. She can play Jenga and turn it into… Jena! 
21. She knows karate! 
22. Her super-ability to make anyone laugh and cry! 
23. Armbar! 
24. She can change her hair into many colors and look cool. 
25. She has yet to work with Scarlett Johansson in a lesbian-buddy film. 
26. Oh you didn’t know! Yo’ ass better call somebody!!!! 
27. Have a nice day! 
28. She’s in a Paul Thomas Anderson film… let’s hope she gets to be a regular. 
29. Don’t piss her off or she’ll cut your fucking head off! 
& 30. Armbar!!!!

Well, that is all. So as one final note. Here is a birthday song courtesy of the Ramones.

(For those that didn’t get the armbar joke, watch this clip and fast-forward to 6:12)

© thevoid99 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

2014 Blind Spot Series: Spirited Away

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away is the story of a young girl who moves to a new neighborhood as she encounters a magical world where she encounters dark magic and hopes to find ways to free herself and her parents back to the real world. A mixture of fantasy with elements of drama and humor, the film is told in an anime style that is filled with dazzling images that play into the world of fantasy and reality. Featuring the voices of Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, and Bunta Sugawara. Spirited Away is a spellbinding and evocative film from Hayao Miyazaki.

The film revolves around a young girl who enters a fantasy world filled with spirits as she is suddenly trapped in that world, along with her parents who turn into pigs, where she tries to find ways to get out and save her parents. It’s a film that plays into this young girl not only dealing with new changes in her life but also being forced to grow up as she enters this new world that is full of mysticism and wonder. For this young girl in Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi), she has to do things by working in a bathhouse where its guests are strange creatures as it’s run by an old woman named Yubaba (Mari Natuki) in order to find a way to free herself and her parents. In this world where there’s frogs and creatures that talk along with all sorts of strange things where humans are sort of frowned upon. Chihiro would endure the struggles she takes while helping the woman’s apprentice Haku (Miyu Irino) who is trapped in his duties as he also tries to help Chihiro.

Hayao Miyazaki’s screenplay is filled with ideas of a fantasy world where it begins with Chihiro feeling sad over the fact that she’s moving to a new town as her parents are suddenly lost on their way to their new home. By stumbling into a mysterious tunnel and a place that they think is an old amusement park, things suddenly go wrong where Chihiro’s fears definitely come true as she realizes she can’t escape and is trapped. While Haku would help her and try to keep her away from Yubaba, she has trouble adjusting to her new situation as she is also given a new name where Haku has to remind her to not forget her old name. While there’s a few individuals that do provide Chihiro with some comfort, there’s also these strange creatures she encounters as it’s part of this world of fantasy with elements of reality due to the severity of the situation she‘s facing.

Miyazaki’s direction is definitely magical which sort of understates exactly what he’s trying to do. In fact, it’s beyond that since is full of dazzling images and landscapes that is created where it has this mixture of reality and fantasy all rolled into one. Much of it involve these wide shots of the locations along with compositions and angles into the world that is set which includes this extravagant bathhouse that Chihiro has to work at. With the help of animation director Masashi Ando, Miyazaki creates images and creatures that play into the world of fantasy as there’s elements that can be funny. Plus, there’s these moments that are thrilling as well as exotic in its imagery and the texture of the animation. Especially in some amazing sequences in the bathhouses that is extravagant as well as full of adventure. All of which plays into a young girl dealing with her situation and finding a way to return home. Overall, Miyazaki creates a truly sensational yet touching film about a girl who enters a mysterious world.

Cinematographer Atsushi Okui does excellent work with the lighting schemes for some of the interior sequences in the film to play into its rich look. Editor Takeshi Seyama does brilliant work in creating some unique rhythms including a few montages that play to some recurring dreams that Chihiro would endure during her journey. Production designer Norobu Yoshida and art director Yoji Takeshige do fantastic work with the look of the places that Chihiro goes to including the town and the design of the bathhouse. The sound work of Kaz Hayashi does superb work with the sound to play into the sound effects in the film along with some mixing to convey the sense of adventure that is prevalent in the film. The film’s music by Joe Hisaishi is amazing for its quaint yet majestic piano score with some lush string arrangements and traditional Japanese percussion music as it’s a highlight of the film.

The film’s voice cast is incredible as it features notable voice performances from Takashi Naito and Yasuko Sawaguchi as Chihiro’s parents, Ryunosuke Kamiki as Yubaba’s baby son Boh, Yumi Tamai as the worker Lin who helps Chihiro, Akio Nakamura as the mysterious spirit No-Face, and Takehiko Kamijo in a funny role as the bathhouse assistant manager. Bunta Sugawara is excellent as the spider-like man Kamaji who runs the boiler room as he helps out Chihiro. Mari Natsuki is superb in dual voice work as the greedy witch Yubaba who runs the bathhouse as she hopes to own Chihiro as she is also the voice of the more generous witch in Zenbiba.

Miyu Irino is fantastic as Haku as a young apprentice who helps Chihiro in coping with her situation as he tries to figure out how to help her while being trapped as Yubaba’s apprentice. Finally, there’s Rumi Hiiragi in a brilliant voice performance as Chihiro as this young girl who enters a fantasy world as she tries to get out as she later gets the courage to do whatever it takes to free herself and her parents.

Spirited Away is an absolutely magnificent film Hayao Miyazaki. Not only is it one of the finest films from Studio Ghibli and in the world of animated films. It’s also a film that manages to be so much more as it has something for everyone where it’s adventurous, romantic, and funny as it’s supported by some of the finest work in animation. In the end, Spirited Away is an outstanding film Hayao Miyazaki.

Hayao Miyazaki Films: (The Castle of Cagliostro) - (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) - (Castle in the Sky) - (My Neighbor Totoro) - (Kiki’s Delivery Service) - (Porco Rosso) - (Princess Mononoke) - (Howl’s Moving Castle) - (Ponyo) - The Wind Rises

© thevoid99 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mud (2012 film)

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Mud is the story of two boys who meet a strange man living on a boat stuck on a tree as he is hiding from bounty hunters while hoping to return to his former flame. The film is an adventure in which two teenage boys meet up with this man as it’s set entirely in Arkansas where they try to help this man who is carrying some secrets of his own. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Michael Shannon, Joe Don Baker, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, and Sam Shepard. Mud is a riveting yet towering film from Jeff Nichols.

The film is a simple story of two teenage boys who meet a mysterious man in an island on the Arkansas River as he is living on a boat on top of a tree that the boys want. It’s a film that explores this complex relationship between this man who is on the run from authorities and bounty hunters while he befriends these two boys as he asks for their help in getting the boat down from the tree and fix it. Even as it is a film about men and young men where this man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is hoping to reunite with his old flame whom he went to jail for. While Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) help bring some supplies, Ellis encounters things in his own life that he’s unprepared for while understanding the fallacies of love.

Jeff Nichols’ screenplay is mostly about Ellis as he copes with not just his parents separating but also the idea of leaving the river home he’s spent much of his life. It’s really a coming-of-age tale for both Ellis and Neckbone as the two are becoming interested in women as Ellis would gain the attention of a high school girl in May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant) whom he has a crush on. Yet, their encounter with Mud would give them a chance to do something in the hopes that they could get the boat for themselves as the two also learn about Mud’s intentions as he waiting for his old flame in Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Juniper is this woman who has a past with Mud as she learns through Ellis and Neckbone about Mud as she is also being watched by a bounty hunter whose brother was killed by Mud.

It adds to the drama as well as the severity of the situations where things do intensify on an emotional level in the third act as the warnings that Ellis is getting from neighbor in Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard) starts to seep in. Even as revelations about what Mud did that got him in trouble start to emerge which plays into not just the fallacies of love but also how foolish men are when it comes to women. The script also goes into the idea of loyalty and doing what is right where even though Ellis and Neckbone would do things that are wrong so they can help Mud. They do start to question what they’re doing as well as why Mud hasn’t contacted Juniper himself though they know he’s a wanted man.

Nichols’ direction is very entrancing not just for the way he creates this film as this mixture of thriller with a coming of age drama. He also manages to make something that definitely feels like a very Southern film not just in its many locations in small towns in Arkansas but also in places near its river and the Mississippi River. While many of the compositions from close-ups to wide shots are very simple with some underwater shots and some unique camera angles. There is a sense of naturalism that Nichols is going for as he shoots a lot of places on locations where there is a beauty to the river and some of skylines while there’s also something that feels very grimy such as some of the aspects of nature.

The direction also has Nichols use suspense in some very effective ways as it pertains to the horde of bounty hunters that are going after Mud as well as the warnings that Blankenship has for Ellis about getting too close to Mud. There’s also some humor in the way it plays into the idea of love while much of it is dramatic as Nichols makes no bones that this is a film about men though he doesn’t portray women as selfish beings but rather those who are just complicated. It’s that idea that would spark much of the film’s more intense third act where it isn’t just about Mud facing his demons but also the consequences that Ellis would have that would shape him from boyhood to manhood. Overall, Nichols creates a very somber yet exhilarating film about two boys who help a man trying to get back to an old flame.

Cinematographer Adam Stone does brilliant work with the film‘s gorgeous cinematography from the look of the skylines to some of the nighttime exterior settings in the island as well as some interior scenes where the lighting plays into the dark mood of the film. Editor Julie Monroe does excellent work with the editing as it‘s very straightforward in terms of its rhythmic cuts as well as playing into the film‘s suspense. Production designer Richard A. Wright, with set decorator Fontaine Beauchamp Hebb and art director Elliott Glick, does fantastic work with the set pieces from the river house that Ellis and his family lived in to the design of the boat that he and Neckbone would find that Mud would live in.

Costume designer Kari Perkins does nice work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual from the white shirt that Mud wears to the clothes that Juniper wears. Sound designer Will Files does amazing work with the film‘s sound to convey for many of the film‘s locations in the rivers as well as some scenes in some of the social gatherings including a bar where Juniper goes to. The film’s music by David Wingo is superb for its mixture of folk music with eerie orchestral-like pieces to play into the world that is the American South that includes some country textures in the music while music supervisor Steve Lindsey maintains that world of the South with a lot of music ranging from country to rock as well as an inspired use of the Beach Boys‘ Help Me Rhonda.

The casting by Francine Maisler is phenomenal as it features some notable small roles from Kirsty Barrington as Neckbone’s uncle’s girlfriend, Bonnie Sturdivant as Ellis’ high-school crush May Pearl, Joe Don Baker as a notorious crime kingpin who wants Mud dead, Paul Sparks as the kingpin’s son who wants vengeance for his brother’s death, and Michael Shannon in a superb performance as Neckbone’s uncle Galen who provides some of the film’s funnier moments. Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon are excellent as Ellis’ parents with Paulson playing the mother who tries to talk to Ellis about why she’s leaving her father while McKinnon plays the father who feels like he let his son down. Sam Shepard is brilliant as Ted Blankenship as a former assassin who was a father-figure for Mud as a boy as he realizes why Mud has come back. Jacob Lofland is amazing as Neckbone as a teen who helps Ellis do things for Mud as he would prove to be a formidable ally as he also says some funny things.

Reese Witherspoon is fantastic as Juniper as Mud’s former girlfriend as she learns about Mud returning as she is this very complex person who loves Mud but is also a very flawed woman who plays into the idea of love’s fallacy. Tye Sheridan is incredible as Ellis as this 14-year old boy who befriends Mud as he deals with helping Mud as well as growing up and experience first-love. Finally, there’s Matthew McConaughey in a tremendous performance as the titular character as this man who is on the run as he is eager to return to his old flame as he also proves to be someone that knows a lot about love while being unaware of the same mistakes he’s making.

Mud is a spectacular film from Jeff Nichols that features a mesmerizing leading performance from Matthew McConaughey as the titular character. Along with a great supporting cast that includes Tye Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon, Jacob Lofland, and Sam Shepard. It’s a film that manages to be a lot of things such as a coming-of-age story and a suspense thriller while having so many things to say. In the end, Mud is an outstanding film from Jeff Nichols.

Jeff Nichols Films: (Shotgun Stories) - Take Shelter - (Midnight Special)

© thevoid99 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Memories of Murder

Based on the play by Kim Kwang-rim, Memories of Murder is the story of two detectives who are trying to uncover the mystery of a series of real-life murders that occurred from 1986 to 1991 in South Korea. Directed by Bong Joon-ho and screenplay by Joon-ho and Shim Sung-bo, the film is a mystery that revolves around the real-life killings that gripped a nation as two men try to understand why these people are killed and who did. Starring Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha, Park Hae-il, and Byun Hee-bong. Memories of Murder is a gripping yet evocative film from Bong Joon-ho.

Based on the real-life murders that occurred in South Korea from 1986 to 1991 that gripped a nation into panic. The film revolves two very different detectives who work with each other to solve the case of these grisly murders that often occur on a rainy night where a young woman is wearing red as she is then seen dead and tied up. During the course of the investigation where false leads and incompetence lead to uncertainty, questions begin to arise about the motives as well as odd clues which then leads to a few breaks but also questionable tactics from these two very different detectives. It’s a film that isn’t just about an investigation but also two very different men who come from different backgrounds as they have to work together to do something right.

The film’s screenplay begins with this discovery in the middle of a very rural small town in South Korea as its local detective Park (Song Kang-ho) is trying to lead the investigation as his inability to really get anything going forces his leaders to bring in the more experienced Inspector Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) from Seoul to aid him and Park’s partner Cho (Kim Roi-ha). Though there’s tension between the more reasonable Seo and the more aggressive Park, the two do bond once it becomes clear that the crime is far more complex. It’s a script that is more about two men who come together in this investigation as both of them would use unconventional methods to try and get answers. Seo is a man who relies on documents, facts, and actual clues while Park is more about instinct as he and Cho are notorious for beating up suspects to get answers. Even as they target oddballs such as a mentally-challenged man (Park No-shik) which proves to be troubling as the media gets wind of these tactics.

Once the killings become more gruesome as it leads to various questions involving a major suspect (Park Hae-il) based on descriptions by a few witnesses. It plays into not just the film’s third act but also some major changes into the two detectives as they’re forced to deal with the impact of not just these killings but also in how some of their own methods can turn against them. Something that Seo would struggle with while Park would have a struggle of his own that becomes more existential as well as questions into what could’ve been.

Bong Joon-ho’s direction is truly mesmerizing for the way he opens the film in a very unconventional way. It starts off very innocently as it is shot in these plain fields in rural South Korea that looks like a very different and calm world until a group of kids run towards a police car where Park looks inside this drain where a body is inside. It sets the tone for what is to come as it also showcases Park as this very odd individual who is more driven by instinct rather than skills. Some of the direction involve some very dark yet comical moments involving Park and Cho who would often do things to get answers from suspects. Much of it plays into Park and Cho trying to be the badass cops that the media will love but their antics doesn’t produce results. Some of the compositions are straightforward yet have an ethereal quality in terms of the close-ups of the plain fields as well as some amazing wide shots with the use of crane cameras.

By setting it in this rural small town, Joon-ho creates something that is intimate not just in its police station but also in the small town while using some wide shots to create something that is also big. The moments of the killings are quite suspenseful where Joon-ho knows how to play with its rhythms and the impact of these scenes. Even as the film gets darker to the point that it becomes more about Park and Seo dealing with the consequences of these murders and their attempts to find answers. The film would then have this epilogue involving one of the men as it plays into many aspects about the real killings as well as the fact that some things don’t go away. Overall, Joon-ho creates a very captivating yet harrowing film about detectives trying to find a serial killer.

Cinematographer Kim Hyung-hu does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from the naturalistic yet beautiful look of the plain fields as well as some of the lighting for the scenes at night including the interrogation room and the pathway where some of the killings occur. Editor Kim Sun-min does amazing work with the editing as it plays to elements of styles from slow-motion cuts to offbeat rhythms for its element of suspense and its dark humor. Production designer Ryu Seong-hie does excellent work with the look of the police station as well as some of the homes of the characters.

Sound editor Lee Seung-yeop and sound mixer Lee Byung-Ha do fantastic work with the sound to play into the sense of terror as well as the drama which includes some chilling moments in the murder scenes. The film’s music by Taro Iwashiro is superb for its mixture of soaring yet brooding orchestral music and some eerie electronic pieces that plays into the drama and suspense as well as a Korean pop song that becomes a key aspect into the mystery.

The film’s cast features some notable small performances from Go Seo-Hee as female officer who finds a clue that proves crucial to the cast as she would also talk to a witness while Jeon Mi-seon is terrific as Park’s wife who would also give him suggestions to find something. Park No-shik is excellent as a mentally-challenged suspect who seems to know more than the detectives realize while Park Hae-il is fantastic as another suspect who fits some descriptions as he is a very ambiguous character. Song Jae-ho is superb as a chief sergeant who leads the case early one while Byun Hee-bong is amazing as the new chief who runs the investigation as he wonders why they couldn’t get any more results.

Kim Roi-ha is brilliant as the crazed cop Cho Yong-koo as a guy who is very aggressive as he is so eager to get answers as he is this wildcard that proves to be a little much for his partner at times. Kim Sang-kyung is incredible as Inspector Seo Tae-yoon as this educated-based detective from Seoul who aids in the investigation as his methods prove to be helpful early on despite tension with Park while coming to terms over the gruesomeness of the murders. Finally, there’s Song Kang-ho in a phenomenal performance as Detective Park Doo-man as this detective who leads by instinct as he tries to figure out what to do as he starts off as this incompetent and aggressive detective while proving to have methods that work as he later copes with the events around him as he deals with his own future as a cop.

Memories of Murder is a tremendously dark yet exhilarating film from Bong Joon-ho. Armed with a great cast as well as some spellbinding technical achievements, the film isn’t just one of Joon-ho’s finest films but also a key film in the Korean New Wave of the 2000s. Even as it manages to take the mystery-suspense genre and add ideas that feels new and exciting. In the end, Memories of Murder is an outstanding film from Bong Joon-ho.

Bong Joon-ho Films: (Barking Dogs Never Bite) - The Host - Tokyo!-Shaking Tokyo - (Mother) - Snowpiercer

© thevoid99 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dick (1999 film)

Directed by Andrew Fleming and written by Fleming and Sheryl Longin, Dick is the story of two teenage girls who meet Richard Nixon as they become secret youth advisors only to reveal his secrets to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as the mysterious Deep Throat. A fictional take on the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation, the film is a comedic story about the ideas of who Deep Throat in the form of two sweet-natured but dim-witted girls. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, Ana Gasteyer, Will Ferrell, Bruce McCullough, Jim Breuer, Saul Rubinek, Teri Garr, Dave Foley, Harry Shearer, and Dan Hedaya as Richard Nixon. Dick is a truly hilarious and entertaining film from Andrew Fleming.

The film is a fictional take on the Watergate scandal that destroyed the political career of President Richard Nixon who would resign in disgrace in August of 1974 after some revelations over what happened at the Watergate Hotel two years earlier by people in his administration. All of it revolves around two teenage girls where one of them was living in the Watergate hotel as they were mailing a letter to win a contest to meet Bobby Sherman where they run into G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer) and led to the arrest of several men connected to the Nixon administration. Upon meeting Nixon during a school field trip by befriending his dog Checkers, they become secret youth advisors where they would influence Nixon to connect with the American public until they learn who he really is where they would reveal their information to Bob Woodward (Will Ferrell) and Carl Bernstein (Bruce McCullough).

The film’s screenplay definitely focuses on the antics of Betsy Jobs (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene Lorenzo (Michelle Williams) as they’re just a couple of American teenage girls who love everything that was around in the 1970s. Yet, their encounter with Nixon is one of many accidents that occur as they would be involved in some of Nixon’s great achievements during his second term while be responsible for things such as the 18 ½ minute gap that was missing from one of the tapes Nixon recorded. Many of the people that are involved with the Watergate story are portrayed for laughs such as Nixon’s attorney John Dean (Jim Breuer) as a very innocent man who feels guilty while G. Gordon Liddy is seen as a buffoon. Woodward and Bernstein are also portrayed for laughs with Bernstein as this smallish ladies man while Woodward is seen as the desperate straight man. Even some of the dialogue maintains the sense of humor such as a scene where Arlene asks Betsy about the meaning of Deep Throat which Betsy whispers into Arlene’s ear as it shows how innocent they are.

Andrew Fleming’s direction is quite straightforward in terms of the world that is the 1970s in Washington D.C. as it plays into the lives of these two young girls. Some of which involves antics that are quite funny as it plays to how dim-witted the girls are at times yet they mean well. Even as it includes a very hilarious subplot where Arlene falls for Nixon as she would be the cause that would have Nixon erase 18 ½ minutes from tapes he had recorded. There’s also some dramatic liberties that Fleming takes advantage in order to keep things funny such as the Nixon-Leonid Brezhnev peace accord. Much of the compositions are simple in order to create something that feels naturalistic as well as in scenes to re-create important moments in history. Especially in the idea that a couple of young girls would be the one that would be the one to take Nixon down. Overall, Fleming creates a very witty and fun film about two girls taking down Richard Nixon.

Cinematographer Alex Gruszynski does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it‘s very colorful to play into much of the sunny look of Washington D.C. as well as some of the interiors and lighting such as the Watergate break-in. Editor Mia Goldman does terrific work with the editing as it‘s straightforward with some stylish jump-cuts and montages to play into the film‘s humor. Production designer Barbara Dunphy, with set decorator Donald Elmblad and art director Lucinda Zak, does brilliant work with the look of the Oval Office and some parts of the White House as well as Arlene‘s room and her wall that featured Bobby Sherman at one point only to be replaced by Nixon. Costume designer Deborah Everton does fantastic work with the costumes from the youthful clothes that the girls wear that expresses their love of fashion.

Visual effects supervisors Michael Lennick and Ray McMillan do nice work with some of the few visual effects such as backdrops for some scenes set in the White House exteriors. Sound editor Steve D. Williams does superb work with the sound from the way some of the police sirens sound to some of the things that occur inside the White House including the sound of the tape recordings. The film’s music by John Debney is pretty as it‘s mostly low-key which is just orchestral music to play into the suspense and humor while music supervisor Ralph Sall creates an absolutely delightful soundtrack that features music from the Jackson 5, Yes, Grand Funk Railroad, Elton John, ABBA, LaBelle, George McCrae, Harry Nilsson, Bread, Love Unlimited Orchestra, Redbone, David Essex, Carly Simon, and a couple of covers by Michelle Williams and Sixpence None the Richer.

The casting by Pam Dixon is incredible as it features one hell of an ensemble that includes small roles from Ryan Reynolds as a boy Betsy flirts with at Bob Haldeman’s house, Devon Gummersall as Betsy’s stoner brother Larry, French Stewart as a TV interviewer at the beginning of the film, G.D. Spradlin in one of his final performances as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, Ana Gasteyer as the President’s secretary Rose Mary Woods, Ted McGinley as Arlene’s mother’s new boyfriend, Karl Pruner and Shannon Lawson as Betsy’s parents, Len Doncheff as Leonid Brezhnev, and Teri Garr as Arlene’s lonely mother. Harry Shearer is terrific as the very threatening but buffoonish G. Gordon Liddy while Dave Foley is excellent as the White House Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman who is depicted as a total asshole. Jim Breuer is fantastic as Nixon’s lawyer John Dean who would feel guilty for working with Nixon while Saul Rubinek is wonderful as Henry Kissinger who often feels left out by Nixon while having a great duet of Hello Dolly with Brezhnev.

Will Ferrell and Bruce McCullough are hilarious in their respective roles as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with Ferrell as the straight man who is trying to maintain his serious reputation while McCullough brings a more comical approach to the role of Bernstein in his attempt to be very good-looking. Dan Hedaya is phenomenal as the titular character as he brings a lot of humor to the role of Nixon while being a mean man who kicks his dog and is very prejudice as Hedaya puts a lot of gravitas as Richard Nixon. Finally, there’s Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams in sensational performances in their respective roles as Betsy and Arlene. Dunst is the more ditzy of the two as she has this charm that makes her so delightful to watch while Williams is the more introverted as she falls for Nixon. The two together have great chemistry together in the way they play out each other as well as admit the fact that they are dumb girls.

Dick is a remarkable film from Andrew Fleming that features amazing performances from Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, and Dan Hedaya as Richard Nixon. It’s a film that manages to take a unique premise and make it very enjoyable while it is also oddly compelling for the fact that it does play with American history. Even to the point of subverting some facts and things that really happened and get away with it. In the end, Dick is an incredible film from Andrew Fleming.

© thevoid99 2014