Friday, January 17, 2020

Ceddo




Written and directed by Ousmane Sembene, Ceddo (The Outsiders) is the story of a group of commoners who kidnap a king’s princess following his decision to side with Muslims and have his people convert to Islam against their will. The film is a study of forced conversion and a group of people who are willing to defy the authority in the hopes to preserve their own traditions. Starring Tabata Ndiaye and Moustapha Yade. Ceddo is a riveting and evocative film from Ousmane Sembene.

The film revolves a conflict involving commoners who worship idols and carry on traditions that has happened for thousands of years while allowing a Christian pastor live nearby as they are dealing with a king’s new decision to convert his people into Islam. The result becomes troubling when a young man kidnaps the princess and holds her hostage escalating things further when attempts to rescue the princess falter as old tribe leaders ponder what to do while becoming angrier towards the imam (Omar Gueye) whose influence on the king has become troubling. Ousmane Sembene’s screenplay opens with a young kidnapper (Ismalia Diagne) and his aide taking Princess Dior (Tabata Ndiaye) as they hold her hostage while he scouts around for anyone to rescue her as he would kill those who attempt to with his bow and arrow. The script also play into what some will do to gain leverage as some trade people for weapons with others using bargaining and manipulation as some choose to go into exile with others either joining along or fight.

Sembene’s direction is full of dazzling imagery in terms of the simplicity he creates as well as the setting as it is set in a desert-like village with one scene set in a park during a funeral procession for the Christian pastor. While there are some wide shots to establish certain locations including this area where Princess Dior is living in a tent of sorts with her kidnapper nearby hiding. Sembene’s usage of medium shots and close-ups play more into the interaction and meeting between characters as it also play into this growing tension and civil unrest that is looming between the commoners and the Muslims. Even in the scenes that play into this imagery of idols that these commoners worship and the first meeting with the king (Matoura Dia), Prince Biram (Mamadou Dioume), the prince’s cousin, a warrior in Saxewar (Nar Modou), and a mediator in Madir Fatim Fall (Moustapha Yade) try to discuss what to do with the princess with the imam stirring the pot. Sembene showcases this massive meeting as it is the crux of an implosion that is coming with the king not really doing anything at all as it is clear he’s become a puppet for the imam.

Sembene also play into this air of frustration among the commoners and their leaders as one of them in Diogomay (Ousmane Camara) makes his own decision knowing what is to come as he doesn’t want part of it. Even as there’s people within the king’s council become frustrated as well as realize that things have become troubled since the imam’s arrival as he continues to spout his own ideas and manipulate those into his ways. The third act has Sembene not only play into the chaos that is happening but also the princess coming to terms with what is happening as the film’s ending is about what she would see to her people as they’re forced to take on new identities, new names, and a new way of life that is so foreign to them. Overall, Sembene crafts a compelling yet eerie film about a conflict between commoners and its king over the latter’s decision to have his people to convert to Islam against their will.

Cinematographer Georges Cristian does brilliant work for its colorful cinematography with the usage of low-key blue filters for one major sequence at night along with the vibrancy of colors in the daytime including the clothes that the people wear in the film. Editor Florence Eymon does excellent work with the editing as it largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into some of the action and a few of the film’s surreal moments. The film’s music by Manu Dibango is incredible for its mixture of percussive-based music with marimbas and other percussions to play into the dramatic tension as well as bits of jazz and funk that are mixed in with some of the soundtrack music also featuring Christian and gospel hymns.

The film’s wonderful cast feature a cameo appearance from writer/director Ousmane Sembene as a commoner who has his name changed along with small roles from Ousmane Camara as the tribe leader Diogomay who makes his own decision about the king’s new demands, Nar Modou as a renowned warrior in Saxemar, Mamadou Dioume as Prince Biram, and Matoura Dia as the king who rarely says anything as it is suggested that he’s become a puppet for the imam. Moustapha Yade is fantastic as Madir Fatim Fall as a mediator between the commoners and the king as he becomes frustrated with the situation as his search for a solution becomes impossible.

Omar Gueye is excellent as the imam Jaraaf as this Islamic leader who is trying to instill his ideals and beliefs into people thinking it would be good for them yet has a motive for what he’s trying to do. Ismalia Diagne is superb as the kidnapper who takes the princess as he is trying to keep her at bay yet is also concerned for her as the rescue attempts intensify following some major news in the third act. Finally, there’s Tabata Ndiaye in an amazing performance as Princess Dior Yacine as a royal figure who becomes a pawn in this conflict as she eventually grows fond of her captor while becoming aware of what is happening questioning her father’s actions as well as the power of the imam.

Ceddo is a phenomenal film from Ousmane Sembene. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, themes of forced religious conversion against old traditions, and an incredible score by Manu Dibango. It’s a film that explores a king’s decision to change the ways of his people in an act of venturing into a world that his people are either reluctant to join or refuse to be a part of. In the end, Ceddo is a sensational film from Ousmane Sembene.

Ousmane Sembene Films: Black Girl - (Mandabi) – Emitai - (Xala) – (Camp de Thiaroye) – (Guelwaar) – (Faat Kine) – (Moolade)

© thevoid99 2020

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks: 2019 Releases




In the third week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of 2019 releases as there’s plenty of films that not everyone got to see as there’s so many other movies that people missed out either because they came and went after a week or were shown at a very limited release platform. Then there’s those films that are just total shit as my focus on 2019 releases that I hope to never see in my life unless I have some sick desire to harm myself in the worst ways. Here are my three picks of 2019 releases I hope to never see:

1. The Fanatic



It seems that ever since Battlefield Earth, a good or a decent film from John Travolta has been rare has he’s been making a lot of bad movies as the past decade has him in 13 films that I’m sure not many people have seen and nearly all of them are bad which include this film directed by one of the worst people to ever exist in Fred Durst. It’s a film that has Travolta star as a guy who is a fanatic for a movie star until he gets rejected by the star and terrorizes his home and all sorts of stupid shit that has Travolta try to be autistic or something only to make himself be idiotic. In the hands of someone like Durst, it tries to be serious only to include some stupid material that include a scene of the movie star trying to get his son to enjoy the music that is Durst’s band Limp Bizkit. They were shit then and they’re still shit now as NIN fans will always take a shit on them for life after what Durst said about Trent Reznor many years ago. Plus, we NIN fans are still happy for the fact that Reznor gets praise and accolades as NIN still gets to a large audience while Limp Bizkit have become a wet far.

2. 6 Underground



Since Armageddon, there has been no filmmaker who has gained my ire and loathing better than Michael Bay as he has continually gotten worse with each passing film to the point that I haven’t seen anything he’s done since the third Transformers film. His newest film revolves an American billionaire who forms a vigilante group with five other people to fight off terrorists and such that governments wouldn’t touch. Yet, with Bay comes his lifeless spectacles of explosions, car crashes, five-second shots, nonsensical editing, presenting women as objects than people, and all sorts of ugly shit he’s known for. Many says the film is Bay at his most decadent which doesn’t come as a surprise considering how awful his films are and who he is as a person as well.

3. Cats



I’m sure for anyone that is still alive ever since the first trailer was released wanted to avoid the film and probably did it because they actually value their lives no matter how bad things can be. The fact that the film flopped big time is proof that not every Broadway musical can be adapted into the big screen. They could’ve made it an animated film but no, Tom Hooper wanted it to be outrageous. Well, he got that right for all of the wrong reasons with the digital cat fur and all sorts of ugly shit but also having to get the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellan, Judi Dench, and Idris Elba to share the film with no-talent fuck-wads like Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift. It wasn’t the presentation of it and some of the people involved that made me not want to see it but given the fact that I’m still dealing with the flu as the description of dancing cockroaches and later the leaked footage of those cockroaches alone made me throw up big time. Let’s hope all three of these films get some recognition from the Razzies.

© thevoid99 2020

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald



Directed by David Yates and written by J.K. Rowling that is based on her fictional guide book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the sequel to the 2016 film that follows various wizards trying to find the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald who is rumored to be forging an alliance to destroy Muggles prompting a young wizard to seek the help of Albus Dumbledore. The film is set a year after the events of the previous film as it explore loyalties and the emergence of a much darker conflict that would possibly shape the wizarding world with Johnny Depp playing the role of Grindelwald and Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore. Also starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, Kevin Guthrie, William Nadylam, and Brontis Jodorowsky as Nicholas Flamel. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a bloated and nonsensical film from David Yates and writer J.K. Rowling.

Set a year after events in New York City, the film revolves the escape of Gellert Grindelwald following a prison transfer as he has returned to Europe to wreak havoc prompting a young wizard to find and stop Grindelwald. It’s a premise that could be told in a simple fashion where it play into characters dealing with this antagonist as loyalties come into question yet its execution in the story ends up being more about spectacle rather than focusing on the story. J.K. Rowling’s screenplay is the biggest crime of the film as it’s a script that starts off with this exhilarating escape only to fall down hard into an overblown and over-explained first act that reintroduce characters from the previous film and don’t do much to introduce new characters. At the same time, the story goes all over the place where part of the narrative takes place in Britain while much of it is in Paris and there is so much that is happening that it’s hard to keep up.

There are also these twists and turns that starts to occur late in the film as it involves the identity of Creedence (Ezra Miller) as it ends up being filled with a lot of confusion while there are also these subplots involving individual characters with Queenie (Alison Sudol) going to Grindelwald thinking he can help change the law about wizards/witches marrying muggles/no-majs. The lack of a structure is also what hinders the script as much of it is all about exposition and an overdrawn first act that rely on exposition leading to a third act and skipping over a second act to unveil this climax that is underwhelming and incoherent in its execution.

David Yates’ direction is definitely undercooked largely due to the many shortcomings of the film’s screenplay. Shot mainly at a studio lot in Leavesden in Britain with additional shots in London, Paris, and parts of Switzerland, Yates establishes a world that is vast with much of the emphasis set on Europe as well as being in transition. It mainly serves as set dressing where it tries to distract the viewers with these vast spectacle of a magical world that has a lot to offer. Yet, Yates never really does more to establish the world nor make it feel special while the brief scenes set at Hogwarts has that yet it is only brief that also include a strange flashback scene involving a young Newt Scamander (Joshua Shea) and Leta Lestrange (Thea Lamb). Scenes involving Newt (Eddie Redmayne) and the no-maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) has Yates creating compositions that are quite typical but it often tries to play it for laughs or suspense yet it doesn’t deliver in neither department. Even moments where Newt meets Queenie’s sister Tina (Katherine Waterston) feels tacked on as they never get a chance to really re-establish their own relationship.

Yates’ direction does establish the locations and where the characters are but its approach to suspense is underwhelming as it tries to put in awkward moments of humor while whatever dramatic rhythms it tried to put on feels flat. Even in the lead-up to its climax feels clunky and tacked on at times where it comes to these revelations about Creedence’s identity as it creates confusion that is followed by Grindelwald’s plans for an upcoming war as he asks wizards and witches to join him. Instead, it feels like an overblown set piece with lots of visual effects and ends up being anticlimactic that is then followed by another big revelation that isn’t just ridiculous but it raises questions into what Rowling is trying to say and set up for the next story nearly to the point of frustration. Overall, Yates and Rowling create a film that tries to do a lot only to end up being a hollow and lifeless spectacle about a wizard trying to stop an evil wizard from wreaking havoc on the world.

Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot does fine work in creating unique look for the visuals though it never does anything to standout due in part to what Yates try to do on a visual scale. Editor Mark Day does terrible work with the editing mainly due to the many subplots and expository scenes as it aims for too many quick cuts where at times it becomes nonsensical in what is going on. Production designer Stuart Craig, with set decorator Anna Pinnock and supervising art director Martin Foley, does nice work with the look of Hogwarts and the British and French Ministry of Magic buildings though other sets don’t have this air of intrigue that the characters go into. Costume designer Colleen Atwood does OK work with the costumes as it play into the style of the late 1920s to play into the refined look of Leta Lestrange and the more ragged look of Newt Scamander.

Hair/makeup designer Fae Hammond does good work with the hairstyles that the women wore at those time though the look of Grindelwald is just dumb. Special effects supervisor David Watkins, along with visual effects supervisors Tim Burke, Andy Kind, and Christian Manz, do some decent work with the visual effects to play into the world of magic yet it tries too hard to be big for the film’s climax as it just falls very short. Sound designers Niv Adiri, Ben Barker, and Glenn Freemantle do some terrific work with the sound to establish the locations and the kinds of power that the wizards/witches uses in the spells they create. The film’s music by James Newton Howard has its moments in soaring orchestral score yet nothing really stands out as tries too hard to help set a tone for the drama and humor as it ends up not being memorable at all.

The casting by Fiona Weir also has its moments though many of the actors involved are practically wasted due to the poor material they’re given. Performances from Joshua Shea as the young Newt, Thea Lamb and Ruby Woolfenden as the young versions of Leta Lestrange, Fiona Glascott as a young version of Minerva McGonagall, Poppy Corby-Teuch as Grindelwald’s right-hand woman Vinda Rosier, Victoria Yeates as Newt’s assistant Bunty, Kevin Guthrie as Tina’s former supervisor Abernathy who is a follower of Grindelwald, and Brontis Jodorowsky in a very under-used appearance as the famed alchemist Nicolas Flamel who helps out in the film’s climax. William Nadylman and Claudia Kim are wasted in their respective roles as French-Senegalese wizard Yusuf Kama and the circus performer Nagini as they’re not given much to do with the narrative as the former spends his time trying to catch Creedence as it relates to his own family while the latter is someone who befriends Creedence while dealing with a blood curse that eventually would make her a snake permanently. Callum Turner’s performance as Newt’s older brother Theseus is also underused as he’s not given much to do other than give Newt advice as well as be Leta’s fiancĂ©.

Zoe Kravitz’s performance as Leta Lestrange as a childhood friend of Newt and later Theseus’ fiancĂ©e is a mixed bag mainly due to the material where it is a character that is definitely tormented and troubled but is unable to really be fleshed out as she ends up being a form of exposition about a story that relates to Kama. Alison Sudol’s performance as Queenie Goldstein as this witch gifted in Legilimens has become this desperate and almost psychotic character who wants to marry a no-maj as this character who was sweet and kind has now become insane as Sudol’s performance is just bad. Katherine Waterston is OK as Queenie’s older sister Tina as the American auror who is trying to find Creedence as she is badly written as someone who isn’t given much to do other than be upset at Newt over something she misinterpreted as well as be involved in awkward moments. Dan Fogler is bland as Jacob Kowalski as Queenie’s no-maj lover who is first seen under an enchantment spell as he is often confused while is also badly written as someone with no real sense of direction or motivation.

Ezra Miller is terrible as Creedence as there isn’t given any logical explanation into how he’s alive as he’s first seen in a circus while is also someone with a lack of direction about who he is as Miller is unable to flesh out his character. Eddie Redmayne is horrendous as Newt Scamander as whatever charm he had in the previous film that he carried is washed away in favor of him being quirky and awkward to the point where Redmayne just overdoes it as he tries to be funny and serious only to accomplish in neither. Johnny Depp’s performance as Gellert Grindelwald is horrible mainly because Depp never really fleshes out Grindelwald other than be someone with dark intentions and give this big speech as it’s just Depp being weird and menacing yet with no substance as it’s just a lazy performance. Finally, there’s Jude Law who gives an excellent performance as a younger version of Albus Dumbledore where Law manages to bring in some nuances and charm into the character despite the shortcomings of the script as his brief appearances in the film do have some gravitas as he’s the only thing in the film that is worthwhile.

Despite Jude Law’s appearance as Albus Dumbledore, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a horrendous film from David Yates and writer J.K. Rowling. Largely due to its uninspired direction, overblown spectacle, badly-written characters, lame twists, and a messy and incoherent screenplay that is expository rather than take its time to build up its suspense. It is a film that wants to be a lot of things as well as set things up for the next film and instead end up becoming demanding and overblown to the point of indifference and frustration. In the end, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is an atrocious film from David Yates and J.K. Rowling.

Harry Potter Universe Films: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone - Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets - Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban - Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire - Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix - Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 - Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them - (Fantastic Beasts Pt. 3) – (Pt. 4) – (Pt. 5)

© thevoid99 2020

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Emitai




Written and directed by Ousmane Sembene, Emitai is the story of a group of women in a village hide a crop of rice from the French government during World War II as it leads to a revolt between villagers and the government of the times. The film is a look into Senegal’s role in World War II as they find themselves troubled by the Vichy government in France at that time and its aftermath as it play into Senegal’s uneasy relationship with France. Starring Robert Fontaine, Michel Remaudeau, and Pierre Blanchard. Emitai is a riveting and mesmerizing film from Ousmane Sembene.

Set in 1940s Senegal under the rule of France, the film revolves around a conflict between villagers and French government troops over rice as the former feels that their rice crop is sacred while the latter feels that the villagers owe the government as a way to help with the war effort. It’s a film with a simple premise as it explore this air of resentment and ire from villagers who feel like they’re being used for other people’s agendas. While there isn’t much plot in Ousmane Sembene’s screenplay, it does establish this tension among villagers and French troops relating to an event at the beginning of the war where Senegalese troops capture young men and force them to serve the French army much to the dismay of their fathers and family. A year later, troops want rice from these villagers to help their troops as tax payment but the villagers refuse believing their rice is sacred as the women villagers hide the rice leading to a standoff between the villagers and troops.

Semebene’s direction is filled with gorgeous imagery and compositions with so much attention to detail in not just the setting but also in the tone of the film. Shot on location in Senegal with some of the film presented in language of Wolof that the villagers speak throughout the film. Semebene does infuse a lot of wide and medium shots to not just get a scope of the locations but also into the hardship that the villagers do in growing and harvesting their crop of rice as well as why it’s sacred to them. Semebene’s compositions and the way he would frame certain scenes add to this dramatic tension that occur including in how the soldiers and the French officers try to get the villagers to give up the rice for the cause. The villagers and the tribe elders are shown as people with an air of dignity with the elders/chiefs shown in medium shots as they discuss about what to do with one of them already having doubts about the gods they worship in relation to an event early in the film.

Sembene also play into this element of spirituality as the gods do appear as it only create more sense of doubt into what they can do while complications start to emerge within the troops as it relates to a change in leadership. Especially as things get more complicated with the French trying to instill their will and the villagers still refusing to give in believing that this war that their sons are being dragged into is a white man’s war and these young men will return with nothing other than being used as collateral. The film’s final moments is about this air of defiance and pride for the villagers including the women and children but also the fates of those who would defy them. Sembene makes some key decisions in what not to show as it is obvious what is going to happen but there is also this sense of guilt of what would come for the French as it becomes clear that their reasoning for these villagers refusing to give them rice as it play into the themes of colonialism and its fallacies. Overall, Sembene crafts an evocative and haunting film about a standoff between French troops and villagers during World War II over rice.

Cinematographers Georges Caristan and Michel Remaudeau do amazing work with the film’s cinematography as it captures the color of the clothes the villagers wear as well as the locations including the wetlands and rivers that they live in. Editor Gilbert Kikoine does excellent work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts to play into the appearance of the gods the elders worship as well as well as straight cuts to play into the dramatic tension. The sound work of El Hadj N’Bow is fantastic for the way ceremonial drums sound from afar or nearby as it help play into the tension as well as sounds of gunfire and spears being thrown. The film’s wonderful cast feature an ensemble of largely non-actors playing the roles of the villagers and the elders with Robert Fontaine as French commandant at their base in Senegal, Michel Remaudeau as a lieutenant telling the soldiers what to do and Pierre Blanchard as the colonel trying to reason with the villagers.

Emitai is a phenomenal film from Ousmane Sembene. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, and a harrowing study of the fallacies of colonialism during World War II. It’s a film that explore a moment in history that play into events where villagers find themselves being exploited for another country’s cause as they refuse to play a role in the war. In the end, Emitai is a sensational film from Ousmane Sembene.

Ousmane Sembene Films: Black Girl - (Mandabi) – (Xala) – Ceddo – (Camp de Thiaroye) – (Guelwaar) – (Faat Kine) – (Moolade)

© thevoid99 2020

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks: Favorite Films by Steven Spielberg




In the second week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of three favorite films by Steven Spielberg as here’s a filmmaker who has made a lot of films ranging from adventurous blockbusters to sprawling historical epics as he’s managed to win over a lot of people. He has made a lot of great films but also some stinkers as here are my three favorite films by Steven Spielberg but not my all-time favorite that is E.T. the Extraterrestrial:

1. Empire of the Sun



Definitely one of his more underrated films and often criticized initially as Spielberg trying to be taken seriously, the film is far more compelling than what the critics thought upon its initial release as it is really about a boy’s loss of innocence and having to grow up way too fast during World War II. A cinematic tribute of sorts to David Lean, the film revolves around a British boy living in Shanghai as his fascination for Japanese fighter planes has him separated from his parents where he finds himself living in a camp with others trapped in Japanese-occupied China during that time as he deals with his situation and such as Spielberg succeeded in showing the world this future young talent that would become one of the finest actors working today in Christian Bale.

2. Saving Private Ryan



One of the finest war films ever made as well as featuring one of the most violent and extreme opening sequences ever made that is the landing of Omaha beach in Normandy. The film isn’t just one of Spielberg’s best films but also a film that is about the importance of brotherhood in war as a captain and his platoon trek through France to find a young private and bring him back home after his three brothers had been killed in action during the war. At times, it’s unforgiving in its presentation but it’s also got some somber and powerful moments as it is a crowning achievement in film.

3. Catch Me If You Can



This film is a personal favorite of mine but it’s also one of my dad’s favorite films as it does play into a recurring theme that is in many of Spielberg’s films which is about family. It is based on a true story about a young man who forges a check and then commits many forgeries to the point that it gets the attention of a FBI agent. My dad is a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio as he really loved his performance in the film while he loved the setting and everything else as it’s a film that I can re-watch over and over again out of pure joy.

© thevoid99 2020

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence




Based on the books The Seed and the Sower and The Night of the New Moon by Sir Laurens van der Post, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is the story of a British POW who defies the Japanese while being their captor while another British officer tries to mediate between the two sides. Directed by Nagisa Oshima and screenplay by Oshima and Paul Mayersberg, the film is a look into life in a Japanese prison camp during World War II as well as how some cope with being in prison as some deal with their own guilt as it relates to the pain they’re suffering in camp. Starring David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Jack Thompson, Johnny Okhura, Alistair Browning, and James Malcolm. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a riveting and haunting film from Nagisa Oshima.

Set in 1942 at a Japanese prisoner of war camp, the film revolves around a new prisoner who would defy the orders of his captors leading to some intrigue and terror while another British officer tries to smooth things between both the British prisoners and the Japanese guards. It’s a film that play into a clash of cultures and ideals between two different factions as a few of them try to understand one another. The film’s screenplay by Nagisa Oshima and Paul Mayersberg opens with life at the camp where the British lieutenant colonel Lawrence (Tom Conti) confers with Sergeant Hara (Takeshi Kitano) about an incident involving a Dutch soldier and a Korean soldier as the latter tries to commit hara-kiri but fails as Lawrence is still new to the concept of hara-kiri. Upon the arrival of Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) to the camp having been on trial by the Japanese war council as he is a rebellious figure who has caught the eye of POW camp’s commandant Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto) whom he sees as an equal.

The screenplay explore the dynamics of these four men at the camp with Lawrence and Sgt. Hara both being men who try to create a dialogue between both the British and Japanese while there are these two extremes in Celliers and Captain Yonoi with the latter seemingly having a fixation on the former. The script showcases the world of the camp as well as some of the labor the prisoners have to endure as the prisoners’ representative Captain Hicksley (Jack Thompson) has a hard time trying to deal with the Japanese despite being one of their captors. Upon viewing an act of seppuku which makes Lawrence and Captain Hicksley uneasy, things do intensify with Lawrence and Celliers getting into trouble over some misunderstandings as the latter admits to his own demons as some believe that Celliers is a demon that is trying to haunt Captain Yonoi.

Oshima’s direction has elements of style as it play into the life inside a POW camp. Shot mainly in Indonesia with some scenes shot in Cook Island and parts of Auckland, New Zealand, Oshima recreates the world of the Japanese prison camp where the prisoners don’t live in great conditions though Lawrence is given a bit of special privilege due to his friendship with Sgt. Hara. There are some unique compositions in the wide and medium shots that include a scene of Captain Yonoi doing a sword fight with another officer as a way to hold on to the ideas of the samurai. It’s a scene that showcases Japanese culture as it is foreign to the likes of Lawrence and Celliers as the former does become frustrated following a scene where Sgt. Hara is doing a traditional prayer with Captain Yonoi watching.

Oshima’s close-ups add to this intrigue between Captain Yonoi and Celliers as both men are both hiding some source of guilt as the former isn’t willing to show his feelings as he is consumed with shame. Celliers’ guilt would be unveiled in an extended flashback sequence as it relates to his own actions towards his little brother (James Malcolm). Oshima also play into this element of homosexual tendencies as it relates to the Dutch and Korean soldiers in the film’s opening scene but also within Captain Yonoi as it creates a lot of dramatic ambiguity into Celliers’ action during its climax. Its third act that does relate to the event of Christmas is more about action and its consequences as it is followed by a somber aftermath in the ending that takes place a year after World War II ended. Especially in light of the sense of inhumanity of war and how a few was able to try to bring some humanity back into themselves. Overall, Oshima crafts a rapturous yet evocative film about a culture clash and exploration of shame at a Japanese POW camp.

Cinematographer Toichiro Narushima does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of filters for a few nighttime exterior scenes at the camp along with some naturalistic imagery for the daytime scenes as well as a vibrantly-rich look for a dream sequence in the film. Editor Tomoyo Oshima does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into some of the dramatic tension that occurs within the film. Production designer Jusho Toda and art director Andrew Sanders do amazing work with the look of the prison camps as well as the places where the Japanese officers stay at including the room where Captain Yonoi practices his sword work.

Special effects supervisor Kevin Chisnall does nice work with the special effects as it is mainly for a shot for the film’s climax. Sound recordist Mike Westgate does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the camp as well as the sparse and natural sounds that occur within the film. The film’s music by Ryuichi Sakamoto is incredible for its mixtures of traditional Japanese string music, orchestral flourishes, and electronic textures as it add a lot of dramatic flair to the film while Sakamoto also contributes to the film’s theme song Forbidden Colours with David Sylvain while additional music include traditional choir pieces and Christmas songs.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Hideo Murota as a camp commandant who appears late in the film, Chris Broun as the twelve-year old Celliers, Kan Mikami as one of Captain Yonoi’s aides in Lt. Ito, Tamio Ishikura as a prosecutor in Celliers’ trial, Ryunosuke Kaneda as the trial judge in Col. Fujimura, Alistair Browning as the Dutch prisoner, Johnny Okhura as the Korean prisoner, and James Malcolm as Celliers’ younger brother whom he would become a victim of an event that played into Celliers’ guilt. Jack Thompson is fantastic as Group Captain Hicksley as the POW camp representative for the Allies who isn’t fond of being captured or having to answer to the Japanese but does try to hold on to some idea of civility but also stand his own ground on what he feels is right.

Takeshi Kitano is excellent as Sgt. Hara as a POW camp leader who handles punishments and such yet is a more reasonable man due to his growing friendship with Lawrence as well as being someone that cares about tradition as well as understanding the ideas of Western culture. Ryuichi Sakamoto is brilliant as Captain Yonoi as the POW camp commandant who is charged with overseeing the camp as he takes an interest in Celliers while trying to hide his own guilt and shame over an incident that occurred years ago as it is a chilling performance filled with anger and regret. Tom Conti is amazing as Lt. Colonel John Lawrence as a British officer who is trying to be civil with the Japanese as he befriends Sgt. Hara while having concerns for their own ideas including the concept of hara-kiri yet is amazed by their ideas of honor. Finally, there’s David Bowie in a phenomenal performance as Major Jack Celliers as a British officer captured by the Japanese as he tries to defy their orders and punishments while is consumed with guilt over his past as it a performance filled with humor and defiance as well as a sensitivity where Bowie gives a performance for the ages.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a tremendous film from Nagisa Oshima that features great performances from David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Takeshi Kitano. Along with its gorgeous visuals, Sakamoto’s evocative score, and exploration of cultural clashes in a prison camp. It is a film that explore different cultures, intrigue, guilt, and shame in a prison camp where four men are at the center of this emotional turmoil that is happening around them. In the end, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is an outstanding film from Nagisa Oshima.

Nagisa Oshima Films: (Tomorrow’s Sun) - (A Street of Love and Hope) - (Cruel Story of Youth) - (The Sun’s Burial) - (Night and Fog in Japan) - (The Catch) - (The Rebel) - (A Small Child’s First Adventure) - (It’s Me Here, Bellett) - (The Pleasures of the Flesh) - (Yunbogi’s Diary) - (Violence at High Noon) - (Tales of the Ninja/Band of Ninja) - (Sing a Song of Sex (A Treatsie on Japanese Bawdy Songs)) - (Double Suicide: Japanese Summer) - (Death by Hanging) - (Three Resurrected Drunkards) - (Diary of a Shinjuku Thief) - (Boy (1969 film)) - (Man Who Left His Will on Film) - (The Ceremony (1971 film)) - (Dear Summer Sister) – In the Realm of the Senses - Empire of Passion - (Max, Mon Amour) - (Taboo (1999 film))

© thevoid99 2020

Friday, January 03, 2020

Marriage Story




Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story is the story about a theater director and an actress trying to have amicable divorce as it lead to a troubled custody battle for their son. The film is a study of a marriage disintegrating with two people who care about each other as they both go into different directions and cities but also want to be civil only to get into an ugly custody battle. Starring Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, and Merritt Wever. Marriage Story is a witty yet touching film from Noah Baumbach.

The marriage between a theater director and his leading lady is ending as the two try to maintain an amicable divorce as the latter moves to Los Angeles to star in a pilot only for the show to be picked up leading to a chaotic custody battle for their young son. That is the film’s overall plot as it’s more about two people falling out of love and trying to understand what is best for their son but also for themselves just as they start to see the flaws in themselves in their marriage. Noah Baumbach’s screenplay is set into two different cities in New York and Los Angeles as the former is where Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) does much of his theater work as he’s about to get a prestigious grant that would help his theater company financially as well as be on Broadway. The latter is where Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is about to star in a TV pilot as she once known as an actress of raunchy teen movies as her work in Charlie’s avant-garde plays have given her acclaim yet she wanted to branch out into doing different things.

The first act is about Charlie and Nicole trying to raise their eight-year old son Henry (Azhy Robertson) with the latter going to L.A. and live temporarily with her mother Sandra (Julie Hagerty) with Henry living with her. The two try to work out a long-distance relationship with Charlie staying in New York City to get his play on Broadway but Nicole’s series gets picked up and Charlie’s plans for his play with Nicole’s involvement falls by the wayside leaving to problems and Nicole hiring Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) as her divorce attorney. Charlie is taken aback by the news of Nora prompting him to find a lawyer as he hires retired family lawyer Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) who is more about civility as he would be replaced another attorney Charlie met earlier in the brash Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta). Through many legal things and other things that forces Charlie to buy an apartment in Los Angeles, Charlie and Nicole’s desire for civility and making things work start to fall apart as their own faults come into play.

Baumbach’s direction does have elements of style in some of the compositions he creates yet much of his direction is straightforward. Shot on location in New York City and in Los Angeles as they’re both characters in the film. Baumbach does use close-ups and medium shots to play into the characters conversing with one another yet there are also a lot of wide shots for some of the rooms and places they’re in whether it’s Charlie’s L.A. apartment or Nora’s office. Baumbach does use the wide shots to play into this growing dissolution between Charlie and Nicole as well as their own sense of loneliness as they cope with the divorce. The direction has Baumbach emphasize on locations as it play into Charlie being lost in Los Angeles as he doesn’t know much about the city while he has a hard time trying to do things both in New York and in L.A. It’s one of the film’s comical moments as it play into Charlie’s own awkwardness towards L.A. as well as the fact that he always turns to Nicole’s mother for help as she likes Charlie as she doesn’t want to end their relationship.

The direction does intensify as it reaches the third act in the first court case as Baumbach has some unique compositions where it’s Jay and Nora in the foreground while Charlie and Nicole are in the background as Baumbach would use close-ups of Charlie and Nicole to understand what they’re dealing with. Even to the point that they are forced to realize why they broke up and are in this situation during an intensely dramatic scene as it is clear that both of them do love each other but also hate each other. Baumbach maintains that air of realism as well as not being afraid of painting both Charlie and Nicole as flawed people with good intentions as they want what is best for their son and for each other. Overall, Baumbach crafts a compelling and rapturous film about a couple divorcing each other and dealing with an ugly custody battle.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with the usage of low-key colors and lights for some of the scenes in New York City to the more vibrant look of Los Angeles in the daytime with some low-key looks for the scenes at night. Editor Jennifer Lame does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some jump-cuts to play into some of the humor while there’s an inventive montage sequence in the beginning to play into Charlie and Nicole’s notes for each other. Production designer Jade Healy, with set decorators Lizzie Boyle, Nickie Ritchie, and Adam Willis plus art directors Andrew Hull and Josh Petersen, does fantastic work with the look of Charlie and Nicole’s home in New York City as well as the home of Nicole’s mother’s house as well as the apartment that Charlie would live in in Los Angeles. Costume designer Mark Bridges does nice work with the costumes as it is largely casual with the exception of the Halloween costumes Charlie, Nicole, and Henry would wear

Special effects supervisor Joe Pancake and visual effects supervisor Vico Sharabani do terrific work with the look of the design in Charlie’s play as well as in Nicole’s TV pilot as much of the visual effects are minimal as they serve as set-dressing. Sound editor Christopher Scarabosio does superb work with the sound in the way airplanes sound as well as the sound of certain locations that add to the tense atmosphere of the film. The film’s music by Randy Newman is incredible for its somber piano-based score and lush orchestral pieces that play into some of the humor and drama as well as the melancholic tone of the film while music supervisor George Drakoulias provides a fun soundtrack that features mainly bits of instrumental pieces from Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips and Bill Evans along with show tunes that include songs by Stephen Sondheim.

The casting by Douglas Aibel and Francine Maisler is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Jasmine Cepha Jones, Mickey Sumner, and Wallace Shawn as actors in Charlie’s theater company, Mark O’Brien as a man Nicole meets late in the film in Carter, Brooke Bloom as Charlie’s theater manager whom he supposedly had a brief tryst with, Rich Fulcher as a judge, and Martha Kelly in a terrific one-scene performance as a court-appointed evaluator who watches Charlie’s time with Henry in an awkwardly-funny scene. Merritt Wever is superb as Nicole’s sister Cassie who is trying to help Nicole out while having a funny moment involving trying to hide the divorce papers for Charlie. Julie Hagerty is fantastic as Nicole’s mother Sandra as a former actress who is trying to maintain peace as she also helps Charlie find a lawyer in the hope to continue her own relationship with Charlie. Azhy Robertson is excellent as Charlie and Nicole’s son Henry as a young boy trying to find his role in the world where he finds joy in Los Angeles while having a hard time trying to understand what his parents are going through.

Alan Alda is brilliant as Bert Spitz as a retired family lawyer Charlie hires as he is a sensible lawyer who had seen a lot as he gives Charlie some advice on what to do and wanting to make it civil as it would play into Charlie’s frustrations. Ray Liotta is amazing as Jay Marotta as an attorney Charlie meets during the first act and eventually hire him as he’s a more ruthless attorney who also provides Charlie some harsh insights about what he is about go through as Liotta provides a lot of energy into his performance. Laura Dern is incredible as Nicole’s attorney Nora Fanshaw as a woman who understand what Nicole is going through but also has to find angles and such while is full of charisma as is it is Dern in one of her best performances of her career.

Finally, there’s the duo of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Charlie and Nicole Barber. Driver provides this element of quirkiness as a man who tends to live in his own head a lot yet is a good father and a good cook as he copes with having to move to Los Angeles to be near his son though he’s a New York person who loves what he does in theater. Johansson’s performance is filled with unique facial mannerisms but also a woman who is becoming melancholic over her marriage but also in what she wants for herself as she tries to find ways to be civil and a good mother to her son. Driver and Johansson together have this amazing chemistry in the way they deal with each other including in an intense argument scene that showcases two people who have a lot to vent but also realize how much they do care each other as it is a major moment for both of them who definitely give career-defining performances.

Marriage Story is an outstanding film from Noah Baumbach that feature sensational performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Along with its ensemble cast, study of divorce and dissolution, gorgeous photography, Randy Newman’s amazing score, and Baumbach’s willingness to showcase the many highs and lows of divorce. It’s a film that is willing to explore a family coming apart but also wanting what is best for a child who is caught in the middle despite the parents’ attempt to be civil and fair. In the end, Marriage Story is a magnificent film from Noah Baumbach.

Noah Baumbach Films: Kicking and Screaming (1995 film) - Highball - Mr. Jealousy - The Squid & the Whale - Margot at the Wedding - Greenberg - Frances Ha - While We're Young - Mistress America - De Palma - (The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)) - The Auteurs #41: Noah Baumbach

© thevoid99 2020