Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks: Nostalgia

For the 12th week of 2018 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer. The theme for this week is on nostalgia where it’s often about characters or something where everyone wants to look back at a moment where things were simpler and less complicated in comparison to a present-day surrounding. Here are my three picks:

1. Wild Strawberries

Ingmar Bergman’s road movie in which a professor goes on a trip with his daughter-in-law to receive an award where he reflects on his life in the past. It’s one on of Bergman’s quintessential films as well as one of his most accessible, in my opinion, as it plays into a man thinking about his time when he was young and the mistakes he’s made in his life. It’s a film that is rich and compelling as it features an incredible leading performance from Victor Sjostrom as a man haunted by his own faults and the hope to find an idea of redemption.

2. Amarcord

A classic film from Federico Fellini is a semi-biographical film about Fellini’s life growing up in a small town Italy. It’s a film that bear many of the elements that Fellini is known for such as the fascination towards women, extravagant images, childlike mischief, and innocence. All set during the era of Fascist Italy as Fellini reflects on this time in his life as there’s elements of melancholia but also a sense of joy into the innocence of childhood despite its time of darkness.

3. My Winnipeg

Guy Maddin’s 2007 film is truly a film that defies description and conventional ideas as it’s a mixture of documentary and fiction as it play into Maddin’s hometown. Told in a visual style that references home movies and newsreel, it’s a film that doesn’t try to be anything as it also pokes at legends of the town as well as lament of what used to be in Winnipeg when he was young and what it had become now. It’s a rich film that needs to be seen as it confirms Maddin as one of the true original voices in cinema.

© thevoid99 2018

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

2018 Blind Spot Series: The Best Years of Our Lives

Based on the novella Glory for Me by MacKinlay Kantor, The Best Years of Our Lives is the story of three men who served in World War II as they try to readjust their lives after the war. Directed by William Wyler and screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood, the film is a study of post-war life seen by three men from different background and social classes who are forced to deal with things in the past and things around them now. Starring Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, and Harold Russell. The Best Years of Our Lives is a majestic and riveting film from William Wyler.

The film is a post-war drama set in a small town of Boone City where three different men from different military branches and social classes meet on their way home as they become friends as they cope with post-war life and trying to become civilians again. There, they all endure challenges in not just returning to their old lives but also in the changes as well as the people in their past lives. Robert E. Sherwood’s screenplay explore the struggle of these three characters and how family including the women in their lives cope with this struggle to return to civilization. The characters in Al Stephenson (Fredric March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) are all men that lived in the same town but never knew or encountered each other as they meet at an airport on their way home where they share a plane and meet up again later that night at a bar owned by Homer’s uncle Butch Eagle (Hoagy Carmichael) with Stephenson’s wife Milly (Myrna Loy) and daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright).

Al Stephenson was a platoon sergeant who has been married to Milly for nearly 20 years as he also worked at a bank as his story arc has him not just coping with returning to work where he becomes an alcoholic but also what his bank is doing for veterans who are asking for loans that they won’t approve. Derry’s arc as this soda pop jerk turned Air Force captain has him struggling to find good work as he doesn’t have much skills while his marriage to Marie (Virginia Mayo) becomes rocky due to her need of wanting more forcing Derry to befriend Peggy whom he’s fascinated by. The third arc on Parrish as a sailor who lost his hands and now has mechanical hooks copes with his family and girlfriend Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell) over his disability as he becomes unsure of what to do and being a burden to many. It all play into men dealing with not just returning home but wondering if they’re really home.

William Wyler’s direction does bear bits of style yet remains very intimate in the way he captures the lives of three men returning home following their time at war. Shot on various locations in Los Angeles and Hollywood, the film does play into this air of a small town life where Wyler would use some wide shots for the locations as well as some scenes at Stephenson’s home or at the bar that Butch runs. Yet, much of Wyler’s approach to the compositions aren’t in simpler, intimate shots in the close-ups and medium shots but also to establish this air of utopia in a small town that is dealing with a post-warm boom and optimism. There are moments early in the film where the three men meet as they all board the same plane as they become equal realizing they all served their country for the same reasons. Even as they meet up again unexpectedly at Butch’s bar as Milly and Peggy would meet Derry and Parrish as Peggy is aware of the demons that Derry is dealing with. The direction would feel lively to play into these three men escaping from the memories of war but when they have to deal in socializing with others or trying to readjust. Wyler’s direction would showcase this disconnect of what is going on with the main characters in the foreground and others in the background.

The direction would also play into the struggle of men in service as it relates to Stephenson talking to a former Naval officer who wants to make money for a farm as Wyler allows the conversation to take its time without the need to cut fast as it adds to Stephenson’s realization that he still has something to do. Even as he becomes aware of Peggy’s attraction towards Derry as she goes out on a double-date with a friend with Derry accompanied by his wife whom she dislikes for the way she treats her husband. Wyler also wanted to capture the sense of realism as it relates to Parrish and his struggles including a scene where he meets Derry at a store he’s working at where a man (Ray Teal) make some claims about the real reasons World War II happened which pissed both men off. It would add to this sense of alienation for the two men with Parrish unsure about his place in the world and being accepted for he is while Derry copes with being in an unloving marriage and little prospects about what to do next. It all play into three men and their loved ones pondering that idea if they can recapture the best years of their lives. Overall, Wyler crafts a riveting and touching film about three men dealing with post-war life after World War II.

Cinematographer Greg Toland does incredible work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it is rich in its imagery to some of the scenes at night including a banquet scene and a tense meeting between Derry and Stephenson over the latter’s daughter at Butch’s bar as it is a major highlight of the film. Editor Daniel Mandell does excellent work with the editing as it doesn’t rely too much on style other than a few rhythmic cuts to play into the conversations the character has without the need to cut too fast. Art directors Perry Ferguson and George Jenkins, with set decorator Julia Heron, do fantastic work with the look of Stephenson’s family apartment to the cramped apartment Derry lives with his wife as well as Butch’s bar where it becomes a meet-up of sorts for the protagonists.

Costume designer Irene Sharaff does terrific work with the costumes from the dresses that the women wear as well as the clothes that the men wear. Sound editor Gordon Sawyer does superb work with the sound as it play into the different locations as well as the scenes at the bar and at a club where Derry and his wife are on a double date with Peggy and her date. The film’s music by Hugo Friedhofer and Emil Newman is wonderful for its serene orchestral score that play into the drama as well as eerie scenes of Derry’s own memories with some lively music from the music of the times.

The film’s tremendous cast feature some notable small roles from Roman Bohnen as Derry’s father, Gladys George as Derry’s stepmother, Victor Cutler as Peggy’s date William Merrill during her double-date with Derry and Marie, Walter Baldwin and Minna Gombell as Parrish’s parents, Marlene Aames as Parrish’s sister Luella, Michael Hall as Stephenson’s teenage son Rob, Don Beddoe and Dorothy Adams as Wilma’s parents, Leo Penn as a scheduling clerk early in the film, Ray Teal as a man at the story Derry works at who makes claims about the war that upsets Derry and Parrish, and Hoagy Carmichael in a terrific small role as Parrish’s uncle Butch who runs a bar and plays piano at the bar. Cathy O’Donnell is fantastic as Parrish’s girlfriend Wilma who copes with Parrish’s isolation as she wants to help him and understand what he’s going through.

Myrna Loy is radiant as Stephenson’s wife Milly who deals with her husband’s growing alcoholism while being sympathetic in his need to help other soldiers and giving Peggy advice about her feelings for Derry. Virginia Mayo is excellent as Marie Derry as a nightclub waitress that isn’t happy about the lack of major money coming from her husband as she becomes more eager to spend money and have fun rather than sympathize with her husband’s troubles. Teresa Wright is brilliant as Peggy Stephenson as Al and Milly’s daughter who befriends Derry as she learns about his post-traumatic stress disorder that eventually lead to her feelings for Derry and disdain for his wife Marie.

Harold Russell is amazing as Petty Officer 2nd Class Homer Parrish as a sailor who lost both hands during a battle in the sea as he copes with being a burden over his mechanical hooks as well as the uncertainty of what to do next in his life. Dana Andrews is incredible as Captain Fred Derry as a bombardier with little skills who copes with not just finding work but also bad memories and being in a loveless marriage that is starting to crumble where he finds solace in Peggy though he knows it could mean trouble for his friendship with her father. Finally, there’s Fredric March in a phenomenal performance as Platoon Sergeant Al Stephenson as a former banker who copes with the aftermath of war through alcohol unsure of what to do until finding a way to help other soldiers despite having to deal with his bosses as it’s an understated yet engaging performance from March.

The Best Years of Our Lives is a spectacular film from William Wyler. Featuring a great cast, a compelling story, gorgeous visuals, and a luscious score. It’s a film that explores post-war life where three men deal with the aftermath and the struggle to readjust themselves to becoming civilians again as it’s told with elements of realism as well as an air of earned sentimentality. In the end, The Best Years of Our Lives is a magnificent film from William Wyler.

William Wyler Films: (Straight Shootin’) - (Anybody Here Seen Kelly?) - (The Shakedown) - (Hell’s Heroes) - (A House Divided (1931 film)) - (Tom Brown of Culver) - (Counsellor at Law) - (Glamour (1934 film)) - (The Good Fairy) - (The Gay Deception) - (These Three) - (Dodsworth) - (Come and Get It) - (Dead End (1937 film)) - (Jezebel) - (Wuthering Heights (1939 film)) - (The Westerner) - (The Letter) - (The Little Foxes) - (Mrs. Miniver) - (Memphis Belle: A Story of Flying Fortress) - (Thunderbolt!) - (The Heiress) - (Detective Story (1951 film)) - (Carrie (1952 film)) – Roman Holiday - (The Desperate Hours (1952 film)) – Friendly Persuasion - (The Big Country) – Ben-Hur (1959 film) - (The Children’s Hour) – (The Collector (1965 film)) – (How to Steal a Million) – (Funny Girl) – (The Liberation of L.B. Jones)

© thevoid99 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Beatriz at Dinner

Directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Mike White, Beatriz at Dinner is the story of a Mexican-American massage therapist who is unexpectedly invited to dinner by one of her clients where she finds herself dealing with an arrogant dinner guest. The film is a look into a dinner party filled with rich white people and a lone working-class Mexican-American who finds herself at a dinner where it eventually starts to unravel due to her presence. Starring Salma Hayek, Connie Britton, David Warshofsky, Chloe Sevigny, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and John Lithgow. Beatriz at Dinner is an eerie yet somber film from Miguel Arteta.

What happens when a massage therapist finds herself being a guest at a dinner party where the man who is the center of attention happens to be one of the most evil men living on Earth? That is pretty much what the film is about as it explores a day in the life of this woman named Beatriz (Salma Hayek) who spends the day doing work at a massage therapy center in helping cancer patients as she also has a rich client in Kathy (Connie Britton). Mike White’s screenplay doesn’t just explore Beatriz’s day as she copes with loss of a goat who was killed by her neighbor but also a day that feels very typical until she is asked to see Kathy who is preparing for a dinner party with her husband Grant (David Warshofsky). Beatriz’s relationship with Kathy and Grant has much to do with the fact that Beatriz had helped their daughter with her battle with cancer. Due to the fact that Beatriz’s car couldn’t start, Kathy invites Beatriz to stay for dinner where Beatriz spends much of the film being this observer as the guests at the dinner party are all white.

The guest of honor at this dinner party is the real estate mogul Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) who is this unconventional antagonist who seems to take pleasure in the money he makes as well as be arrogant in his accomplishments. Yet, Beatriz is curious over a connection she has with him as Strutt is accompanied by his wife Jeana (Amy Landecker) while a couple in Shannon (Chloe Sevigny) and Alex (Jay Duplass) are also guests at the party. Beatriz would observe everything that goes on while also telling about how she met Grant and Kathy through their daughter only to be interrupted by Strutt who would ask questions about her status in America. The dinner would eventually intensify with Kathy stuck in the middle wanting to protect Beatriz yet is aware that Strutt is the reason she and Grant are living a life of luxury as they really don’t know anything else.

Miguel Arteta’s direction doesn’t really bear much of a visual style other than recurring images of Mexico as well as Beatriz’s dead goat and ocean waves as it play into the sense of longing and loss that looms Beatriz during the course of the day. While there are some wide shots in the film including the way Arteta would frame some of the characters in a scene inside Kathy and Grant’s home as a way to show how detached everyone else is to Beatriz’s life and Beatriz herself. It’s also the way Arteta would use close-ups and medium shots to play into Beatriz’s own observation of this party as well as the guests who don’t know her at all as they find her interesting but are concerned about their own lives and what’s going to happen. Yet, with Strutt being the center of attention talking about his accomplishments and ultra-conservative views on the world. Beatriz would eventually find herself becoming more disgusted with him and who he is as a human being.

Arteta’s approach to the suspense and drama is restrained as well as it play into Beatriz being this outsider who would realize more of her connection to Strutt and his actions towards the world. There are these brief moments of intense moments of confrontation but it is all about the status quo as there’s elements of realism that Beatriz has to deal with as it relates to who she is and the ways of the world. Despite the things Strutt says and his actions about what he does, there is still an air of defiance and dignity in Beatriz in how Arteta would frame her as it does play into her place in the world. Overall, Arteta crafts a riveting and understated film about a Mexican-American massage therapist being a guest in a dinner party with one of the vilest men in the world.

Cinematographer Wyatt Garfield does excellent work with the film’s cinematography for the usage of low-key lights for the scenes in the daytime as well as the look for the scenes at night including its interior/exterior setting. Editor Jay Deuby does fantastic work with the editing as it does have bit of styles in the usage of the recurring flashbacks in some stylized transitions as well as some rhythmic cuts to play into the drama. Production designer Ashley Fenton and set decorator Madelaine Frezza do amazing work with the look of Kathy and Grant’s home in how lavish it is as well as the look of their daughter’s room. Costume designer Christina Blackaller does wonderful work with the costumes as it play into the ordinary look of Beatriz to the more posh look of Kathy and her friends.

Visual effects supervisors George Loucas and Scott Mitchell do nice work with the visual effects as it is largely minimal for some exterior set dressing including images that Beatriz would see. The sound work of Dan Snow is superb for its low-key atmosphere in the dinner scenes as well as how Beatriz would observe guests outside the house as she is listening to their conversations. The film’s music by Mark Mothersbaugh is terrific for its low-key approach to the music with its mixture of ambient, soft keyboard-based music, and somber orchestral music to play into the melancholia while music supervisor Margaret Yen provides a low-key soundtrack filled with kitsch music played in the background as well as an ambient piece by Brian Eno.

The casting by Joanna Colbert and Meredith Tucker is amazing as it features a few small roles from John Early as Grant and Kathy’s servant and Enrique Castillo as a tow truck driver. Jay Duplass and Chloe Sevigny are superb in their respective roles as the couple Alex and Shannon with the former being someone who likes to drink and do immature things while the latter is a snobbish woman who believes she has a lot to offer. Amy Landecker is fantastic as Strutt’s wife Jeana as a woman who doesn’t really know much about the world as well as being ignorant about everything she has. David Warshofsky is excellent as Kathy’s husband Grant who isn’t keen on having Beatriz at the dinner party but reluctantly gives in since Beatriz did a lot for his daughter.

Connie Britton is brilliant as Kathy as a woman who is kind of Beatriz though she’s is torn in her loyalty to Strutt for the lifestyle he’s brought to her and Grant as well as what Beatriz meant to her as it’s a tricky performance from Britton who could’ve been a one-dimensional character but shows there’s still an air of humanity despite her ignorance of what Beatriz is going through. John Lithgow is incredible as Doug Strutt as it’s a performance that just oozes this air of inhumanity, arrogance, and disdain as someone who is proud of what he’s done with little regard for what other people think and whom he’s hurt as it is one of Lithgow’s great performances. Finally, there’s Salma Hayek in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as a Mexican-American massage therapist who becomes an unexpected dinner guest as she deals with the other guests including Strutt whom she would despise as the night goes on as it’s a restrained performance from Hayek that shows a woman who’s endured so much loss and heartache as it’s Hayek in one of her defining performances.

Beatriz at Dinner is a sensational film from Miguel Arteta that features top-notch performances from Salma Hayek and John Lithgow. Featuring a compelling script by Mike White, a superb ensemble supporting cast, and a look into a world that is toxic with the person at the center of attention mirrors a certain figure who is probably the most hated individual of the 21st Century so far. In the end, Beatriz at Dinner is a spectacular film from Miguel Arteta.

Miguel Arteta Films: (Star Maps) – (Chuck & Buck) – (The Good Girl) – (Youth in Revolt) – Cedar Rapids - (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) – (Duck Butter)

© thevoid99 2018

Friday, March 16, 2018

Boy (2010 film)

Written, directed, and co-starring Taika Waititi, Boy is the story of two brothers who learn their father is returning as they deal with his arrival as well as growing pains as it relates to the death of their mother. The film is a coming-of-age film set in a small town in New Zealand in 1984 as two boys don’t just cope with loss but also deal with fantasy and reality as it relates to their father returning home. Also starring James Rolleston, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Moerangi Tihore, Rachel House, and Cherilee Martin. Boy is a touching yet whimsical film from Taika Waititi.

The film follows two young boys living in the small New Zealand town near the Bay of Plenty region where they get an unexpected from their absentee father believing he’s going back to be a full-time father unaware of his real intentions of returning home. It’s a film that blur the ideas of fantasy and reality where it’s the former that surrounds the mind of its titular protagonist (James Rolleston) who believes his father Alamein (Taika Waititi) is doing all sorts of things such as being a war hero, an artist, and all sorts of things though he does know that his father has also been in prison. When Alamein does return home while his mother has gone to Wellington to attend a funeral leaving Boy to watch over his little brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) and their cousins. Taika Waititi’s screenplay opens with Boy telling these stories during a day in school as he is someone filled with a lot of fantasies in his head as well as the belief that his father met Michael Jackson whom he and many of the kids in the town idolize.

Boy and Rocky live with their grandmother and cousins as their mother had died giving birth to the latter as the memories of her passing would recur in Alamein and Boy’s mind as it’s something neither want to deal with. For Rocky, he is consumed with guilt over the idea that his arrival killed his mother where he believes he has special powers while he is suspicious about his father’s return. Alamein would return with a couple of friends who are part of his gang as he would take Boy under his wing in the hope he can find what he claims is buried treasure. Boy is also someone trying to deal with the idea of winning over a classmate in Chardonnay (RickyLee Waipuka-Russell) as well as be one of the cool kids despite having friends who are also outcasts of sorts because they’re oddballs. During the course of the story, Boy would help his father find the buried treasure as he would call him Shogun while Rocky would watch from a distance as he befriends a local eccentric named Weirdo (Waihoroi Shortland).

Waititi’s direction does have elements of style yet it does have this balance of grounded reality as he shoots the film on location at the Bay of Plenty region in New Zealand. With a cast that largely consists of Maori-based locals, Waititi would make a film that is more about oddballs and their surroundings that is completely removed from more conventional ideas of society in well-known cities like Auckland and Wellington. While Waititi would use a lot of wide shots of the locations, Waititi would also use close-ups and medium shots to establish the characters and their own encounter with someone or something. Even as he would create recurring compositions to mix in with the idea of Boy’s fantasy about his father and the reality of who he is. Notably as Waititi would create these whimsical scenes of fantasy including re-creation of sets that pay tribute to the music videos of Michael Jackson during the Thriller era with kids wearing clothes similar to what Jackson wore during that time.

The film also features bits of hand-drawn Crayola animated sequences as it relates to Rocky’s own guilt and belief that he has powers where it carries an air of innocence into not just the ideas of fantasy but also what Rocky believe his father and brother are feeling as it relates to his late mother. Even as the third act does have Rocky eventually warming up to his father though with a sense of caution while Boy would also have to cope with the realities of the world as well as what he did find. Yet, it would also feature these moments where it is clear that Boy’s perception of who his father starts to unravel as Alamein is really a child in his own ways as someone who is still hung up on causing trouble and not taking responsibility. All of which plays into the fact that he is unable to face the truth about his wife’s death as well as playing a role in what he’s supposed to be for Boy and Rocky. Overall, Waititi crafts a charming yet heartfelt film about a boy dealing with the return of his estranged father.

Cinematographer Adam Clark does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is very colorful in capturing the look of the New Zealand bushes and locations by emphasizing on the natural look while infusing some stylish lighting for the fantasy scenes as well as a few scenes at night. Editor Chris Plummer does excellent work with the editing as it does have elements of style in the jump-cuts and other stylish cuts to play into the humor as well as some of the film’s dramatic moments. Production designer Shayne Radford does amazing work with the look of the recreation fantasy scenes as well as the sense of realism in the look of the locations to play into a world that is ordinary but also unique in its own way. Costume designer Amanda Neale does fantastic work with the costumes as it does bear into bits of style in what was cool during the 1980s with some more lavish work for the fantasy scenes.

Hair/makeup designer Dannelle Satherley does terrific work with the look of the characters including the hairstyle of the times including Boy’s haircut to look a bit like Michael Jackson. Visual effects supervisor Brett Johansen does nice work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects as it relates to some of the fantasy scenes as well as the animated sequences. Sound designer Tim Prebble does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as the sound effects in some of the fantasy scenes. The film’s music by Lukasz Pawel Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde of the Phoenix Foundation is wonderful for its low-key mixture of folk and indie rock that play into some of the adventurous moments as well as the moments of melancholia while music supervisors Chris Gough and Jonathan Hughes provide an array of offbeat music including the music of the times from acts like Musical Youth, Patea Maori Club, Herbs, Prince Tui Teka, St. Josephs Maori Girls Choir, and the Ratana Senior Concert Party.

The casting by Tina Cleary is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Mavis Paenga as Boy and Rocky’s grandmother who is also Alamein’s mother who goes away to attend a funeral, Cohen Holloway and Pana Hema Taylor as two of Alamein’s friends/cohorts in their respective roles in Chuppa and Juju, Craig Hall as Boy’s school principal Mr. Langston who believes Boy has some potential to do more, Manihera Ranguiaia as a bully in Kingi, Darcy Ray Flavell-Hudson as Kingi’s older brother who wants to be in Alamein’s gang, Rajvinder Eria and Maakariini Butler as a couple of Boy’s friends in their respective roles as Tane and Murray, and Rachel House in a terrific small role as Boy and Rocky’s aunt Gracey who runs a local store and does all sorts of things while isn’t entirely fond of Alamein.

Waihoroi Shortland is superb as the local eccentric Weirdo who is believed to be mentally challenged as he is always trying to find things in a river when he’s really just a harmless man that Rocky befriends. Cherilee Martin is excellent as Boy and Rocky’s young cousin Kelly who is suspicious about her uncle’s return as she finds herself having to take care of her younger sisters when Boy spends time with his father. Moerangi Tihore and Haze Reweti are fantastic as the siblings in their respective roles in Dynasty and Dallas with the former as a girl who has feelings for Boy while the latter is an oddball who is Boy’s best friend. RickyLee Waipuka-Russell is wonderful as Chardonnay as Boy’s crush who is also a schoolmate that becomes interested in Boy because of his father and the people he brings in.

Taika Waititi is brilliant as Alamein as a man who returns home for selfish reasons where he tries to play dad only to use Boy in finding his treasure and lead his gang as they would eventually get in trouble. Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu is amazing as Rocky as 7 year old boy who believes he has super powers as he copes with the idea that he killed his mother in childbirth while becoming suspicious over his dad’s return as it’s an understated yet mature performance from the young actor. Finally, there’s James Rolleston is remarkable in his role as the titular character as a 11 year old boy who has a wild imagination into what he thinks his father is doing as he hopes he can be cool while later dealing with growing pains and memories of his mother which he is unable to cope with that loss and the realities of who his father really is.

Boy is a phenomenal film from Taika Waititi. Featuring a great cast, beautiful images, a compelling story, and a lively film soundtrack. It’s a coming-of-age film that showcases two boys dealing with the return of their father and sense of loss while dealing with the ideas of fantasy. In the end, Boy is a sensational film from Taika Waititi.

Taika Waititi Films: Two Cars, One Night - Eagle vs. Shark - What We Do in the Shadows - Hunt for the Wilderpeople - Thor: Ragnarok - (Auteurs #64: Taika Waititi)

© thevoid99 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks: Childhood Favorites

For the 11th week of 2018 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer. The subject is on films that anyone liked when they were children. It’s often movies that one can look back with a certain fondness as well as have some memory of when they saw it and their sense of joy for it. Here are my three picks:

1. Follow that Bird

I was five-six years old when this film was playing constantly on HBO. It’s a film that still holds a place in my heart as it had everything I liked at the time. Muppets, Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and cameo appearances from Chevy Chase and John Candy. It’s a film that revolves around Big Bird having to move from Sesame Street to live with a bird family by some adoption agency. Yet, Big Bird wants to stay in Sesame Street as it’s a mixture of road adventure film with the rest of the gang from Sesame Street go and get him back while a couple of smarmy circus organizers try to retrieve him for their own money-making act.

2. The Great Muppet Caper

Another favorite of mine when I was a few years old as it’s a film I still love to watch as it revolves around the Muppets involved in a case of theft in London. It has Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear as twin brothers who are journalists working on an assignment with the Great Gonzo as they have to deal with the lecherous Charles Grodin trying to steal jewels and later pin it on Miss Piggy. It’s a fun film with great cameos from John Cleese, Peter Ustinov, Jack Warden, and Peter Falk.

3. The Goonies

If anyone who reads this blog and doesn’t think this is one of the finest films ever made….. FUCK YOU!!!!! This is a childhood staple about a group of kids trying to find a secret treasure somewhere in the Pacific Northwest to save their town from being bought out by some rich asshole and douchebag little shit of a son. Along the way, they have to deal with a family of thieves and all sorts of shit while being aided by a deformed man who is related to the thieves as it’s just a whole lot of fun. I’m still waiting for the sequel.

© thevoid99 2018

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dersu Uzala (1975 film)

Based on the memoir by Vladimir Arsenyev, Dersu Uzala is the story of a man exploring a region where he later meets a guide who would help him explore the region as they would also endure harsh conditions in order to survive. Directed by Akira Kurosawa and screenplay by Kurosawa and Yuri Nagibin, the film is a look into two ideals that collide where a man tries to maintain a way of life as well as deal with changes in the world. Starring Maxim Munzuk and Yury Solomin. Dersu Uzala is a grand yet evocative film from Akira Kurosawa.

The film revolves around an explorer who reflects on his journey in exploring the Ussuri region in 1902 where he meets a guide who would show him this world as they would become friends. It’s a film that play into two men from different worlds and ideologies who work together as they endure all sorts of things as well as being in an environment that is unpredictable but also exhilarating. The film’s screenplay by Akira Kurosawa and Yuri Nagibin is largely told in a reflective manner by Captain Vladimir Arseniev (Yury Solomin) who arrives at a site where a new village is being built as he asks for the burial site of his old friend in the titular character (Maxim Munzuk) whom he had met eight years earlier where Captain Arseniev was leading an expedition in the Ussuri region with some soldiers. They would bump into Uzala who is this Goldi guide who knows the region and its surroundings better than anyone where he manages to win over Captain Arseniev and his entourage despite his eccentric ideas.

The film’s structure is separated mainly into two halves as the bulk of the first half is about the 1902 expedition where Captain Arseniev and his small band of soldiers trek through the woods and rivers in the Ussuri region where they’re to survey the land of Shkotovo. The second half is mainly about the 1907 expedition where Captain Arseniev and a new and somewhat expanded entourage survey the land including its mountains during the course of a year. Captain Arseniev would reunite with Uzala as the two don’t just renew their friendship but also go into more adventures yet would endure some challenges such as some mysterious myths that Uzala believes as well as an encounter with a Siberian tiger that would change everything.

Kurosawa’s direction is definitely intoxicating as it is shot on location at the Russian Far East wilderness with a few shots at a studio in Moscow. For the entirety of the film, there are no close-ups in the film as Kurosawa aims for shots isn’t just about the scope of the locations but also for the characters to deal with their surroundings. Shot on 70mm film, Kurosawa would emphasize on wide and medium shots for the locations as well as shooting the actors at a location where they are having a conversation or look into where they’re at in the forest. There are some carefully-crafted compositions that Kurosawa would make in how he builds up the friendship between Captain Arseniev and Uzala as it starts off with a sense of curiosity from the former towards the latter. Even as Uzala is a man that doesn’t know much about the outside world as he’s more in tune with nature and its surroundings. Yet, he is someone that Captain Arseniev and his team need to know where they’re going as there’s a major sequence during the film’s first half where Captain Arseniev and Uzala deal with intense snowy winds and the only way to survive was to make a camp out of grass. It’s a moment where the two realize their worth to each other as the first half of the film ends when Uzala politely declines Captain Arseniev’s invitation to visit the latter’s home in the city.

The second half begins in a spring-like setting where Captain Arseniev is surveying his surroundings on top of a mountain where Kurosawa’s camera manages to capture so much of the location as it has something that feels peaceful. Even as the film’s tone would darken over the fact that he and Uzala would encounter things that show a cruelty to animals and a rogue Chinese hunting faction that is doing horrible atrocities as they’re being pursued by another Chinese army that respectfully greets Captain Arseniev and his entourage. The third act isn’t just about Uzala coping with his encounter with a Siberian tiger which he tries to evade but also its troubling aftermath where Uzala would deal with things he couldn’t cope with as well as the fact that the world around him is changing. Even as Captain Arseniev brings him to his home where knows that it’s a world that Uzala couldn’t understand nor be a part of. Overall, Kurosawa crafts a meditative yet ravishing film about an explorer’s friendship with a Goldi guide in early 20th Century Russia.

Cinematographers Asakazu Nakai, Yuri Gantman, and Fyodor Dobronravov do incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its natural usage of available lighting for many of the exterior scenes to play into the beauty of the locations with bits of artificial lighting for the film’s final moments in Captain Arseniev’s home. Editor Valentina Stepanova does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward due to its lack of stylistic editing choices in order to play into the drama and development of the relationship between Uzala and Captain Arseniev. Production designer Yuriy Raksha does terrific work with the look of the hut that Uzala lived in during the film’s first half as well as the home of Captain Arseniev towards the film’s ending.

Costume designer Tatyana Lichmanova does nice work with the costumes from the uniforms that Captain Arseniev and his entourage would wear as well as the winter-like clothing they would wear during the winter as well as the ragged look of Uzala. The sound work of Olga Burkova is brilliant for its natural approach to the sound in capturing the atmosphere of the locations as well as the intense sound of the winter winds as it is one of the film’s highlights. The film’s music by Isaak Schwartz is wonderful for its mixture of low-key string music and traditional Russian choral music that play into the drama and mysticism that the characters encounter in the forest.

The film’s cast as it largely includes an array of Russian and Chinese actors for the ensemble as the focus is mainly on its two principle actors. The performances of Maxim Munzuk and Yury Solomin in their respective roles as the titular character and the book’s author Captain Vladimir Arseniev are phenomenal. Munzuk’s performance is unconventional for its offbeat presentation of the character as a man who seems like this country bumpkin yet offers so much more in how to survive the woods as he gains the respect of Captain Arseniev’s men as he would later cope with aging and feeling out of sorts with the modern world. Solomin’s performance is understated in its sense of grace and understanding as a man who is aware of the job he has to play but does it with a sense of humility prompting him to learn more of his surroundings as well as be sympathetic with Uzala’s sense of alienation in the modern world.

Dersu Uzala is a tremendously rich film from Akira Kurosawa. Featuring a great cast led by Maxim Munzuk and Yury Solomin, astonishing visuals, a mesmerizing music score, and a simple yet touching story of friendship and exploration. The film is truly one of Kurosawa’s finest films in terms of telling a simple story and creating something that is extraordinary. In the end, Dersu Uzala is a spectacular film from Akira Kurosawa.

Akira Kurosawa Films: (Sanshiro Sugata) – (The Most Beautiful) – (Sanshiro Sugata Part II) – (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail) – No Regrets for Our Youth - (Those Who Make Tomorrow) – (One Wonderful Sunday) – Drunken Angel - (The Quiet Duel) – Stray Dog - Scandal (1950 film) - Rashomon - The Idiot (1951 film) - Ikiru - The Seven Samurai - (I Live in Fear) – Throne of Blood - (The Lower Depths (1957 film)) – The Hidden Fortress - The Bad Sleep Well - Yojimbo - Sanjuro - High and Low - Red Beard - Dodesukaden - Kagemusha - Ran - (Dreams (1990 film)) – (Rhapsody in August) – (Madadayo)

© thevoid99 2018

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Colossal (2016 film)

Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, Colossal is the story of an unemployed writer who believes she is responsible for controlling a monster that is wreaking havoc somewhere on Earth. The film is an unconventional comedy in which a woman deals with her alcoholism and lack of progress in life as well as being strangely connected to a monster halfway across the world. Starring Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, and Tim Blake Nelson. Colossal is a strange yet exhilarating film from Nacho Vigalondo.

The film follows an alcoholic writer who is forced to return home to New Jersey after her boyfriend breaks up with her where she learns that is connected with a monster creating chaos in Seoul, South Korea. It’s a film that plays into a woman dealing with not just her failures and lack of progress in life but also this sense that she could be responsible for possibly killing people half a way across the world. Nacho Vigalondo’s screenplay follows the protagonist Gloria (Anne Hathaway) who spends much of her time going out to cope with her uncertainty which angers her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) who kicks her out of their New York City apartment. Upon returning to her hometown and to her unfurnished family home, she reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who runs a local bar as she would eventually work there and drink there often until she learns about this monster destroying things in Seoul.

Realizing her connection to the monster and how it might’ve happened as she has to appear at a certain time and a certain location. Things would intensify during the second act is relates to Oscar and his own faults in his life in how he’s trying to run a bar that isn’t going well despite the fact that there’s so much he can do. Yet, his frustrations would eventually cause Gloria to deal with her own faults but what she can to control her life as well as being the monster who would eventually deal with another evil force that is causing more havoc in Seoul.

Vigalondo’s direction does have elements of style but balances it with humor and drama in order to create something that is straightforward which is sort of unexpected in comparison to films about monsters. Shot largely in Vancouver as New Jersey and parts of Seoul and New York City, the film is essentially set in the suburbs where in the middle of the area between Gloria’s family home and Oscar’s bar is this playground where much of the action involving this monster happens. There are some wide shots in some of the action that involve the monster as well as in some establishing location shots and scenes in the bar. Yet, Vigalondo would use close-ups and medium shots to play into some of the comedic and dramatic events including some unique compositions in how Gloria’s movements on a certain spot in the playground would match how the monster would move. The third act as it relates to how Gloria is connected with the monster and the location refers to a prologue that occurred 25 years earlier in Seoul as it all play into a recurring flashback involving a young Gloria and Oscar at the site before the playground emerged. Even as it would force Gloria to do something as it relates to the lack of control she’s had in her life and the need to take control of it. Overall, Vigalondo crafts a riveting yet witty film about a woman’s strange connection with a monster wreaking havoc in Seoul.

Cinematographer Eric Kress does excellent work with the cinematography from the damp, autumn-like look of the exterior scenes in New Jersey to the low-key lighting and moods for the scenes in the bar. Editors Ben Baudhuin and Luke Doolan do superb work with the editing as it does have some offbeat rhythmic cuts to play into the humor and action as it relates to Gloria’s connection with the monster. Production designer Sue Chan, with set decorator Josh Plaw and art director Roger Fires, does fantastic work with the look of Gloria’s family home without the furniture as well as the look of the bar that Oscar runs. Costume designer Antoinette Messam does nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward for the fact that most of the characters wear casual clothing.

Visual effects supervisor Phil Jones does brilliant work with the look of the monster as well as the evil force it would face including the film’s climax. Sound editor Mark Gingras does terrific work with the sound in the way the monster sounds as well as the atmosphere of Oscar’s bar and the air sirens that would pop up at a certain time. The film’s music by Bear McCreary is wonderful for its low-key mixture of orchestral music and electronic music to play into the elements of sci-fi and comedy while music supervisor Linda Cohen provides a fun soundtrack that features elements of rock, hip-hop, and indie music.

The casting by Maureen Webb is incredible as it feature a couple of notable small roles from Hannah Cheramy as the young Gloria and Nathan Ellison as the young Oscar. Austin Stowell is terrific as a friend of Oscar in Joel whom Gloria is attracted to while Tim Blake Nelson is superb as another friend of Oscar in Garth who often rambles yet is also struggling with his own sobriety from drugs. Dan Stevens is fantastic as Gloria’s boyfriend Tim who is pretty much an asshole that often berates her for her issues while not doing much to help her in order to make himself feel superior. Jason Sudeikis is brilliant as Oscar as an old friend of Gloria who is running a bar and is dealing with his own lack of progress in his life as it’s a complex performance that is filled with some dark aspects that makes him a very unique character. Finally, there’s Anne Hathaway in a sensational performance as Gloria as it’s an offbeat and lively performance from Hathaway who displays a charisma and vulnerability as well as showing someone that is troubled and in need of control as it’s really one of the best performances of her career so far.

Colossal is a phenomenal film from Nacho Vigalondo that features a tremendous performance from Anne Hathaway. Along with its top-notch visual effects, great ensemble cast, and its offbeat approach to sci-fi, black comedy, and drama. It’s a film that explore a woman dealing with her lack of progress and control in life until she starts to realize her strange connection to a monster wreaking havoc in Seoul. In the end, Colossal is an incredible film from Nacho Vigalondo.

Nacho Vigalondo Films: (Timecrimes) – (Extraterrestrial (2011 film)) – (Open Windows)

© thevoid99 2018