Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Written and directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, Wadjda is the story of a young girl living in a suburban city in Saudi Arabia as she seeks to get a bicycle. The film is an exploration into the world of young women trying to find a role in a very conservative world like Saudi Arabia as she is played by Waad Mohammed. Also starring Reem Abdullah and Abdulrahman al-Guhani. Wadjda is a remarkably touching film from Haifaa al-Mansour.

The film is a simple story about a young girl named Wadjda who lives in a small suburban city in Saudi Arabia as she is eager to get a bicycle so she can race with her one of friends. Yet, bicycles aren’t toys for girls in the conservative country as she would take part in a competition to recite the Koran where the prize money would be more than enough to buy the bike. Still, it’s a film that explores this conflict between the conservative and religious ideals of Saudi Arabia and this young girl who just wants to ride a bike, wear Chuck Taylor shoes and listen to American pop music. Even as she gets the ire of her school headmistress Ms. Hussa (Ahd Kamel) and her mother (Reem Abdullah) who is struggling with the growing separation between herself and her father (Sultan Al Assaf) as well as other issues.

Haifaa al-Mansour’s screenplay doesn’t go into many of the issues about the conservative and religious rule of the country by focusing more on Wadjda’s story as she isn’t trying to be a rebel. Instead, she is just a young girl living in a very strict world where she wants to enjoy things despite these circumstances. She makes money making bracelets and mixtapes while being in school where she would see other girls do other things as Wadjda would often get in trouble much to the dismay of her mother. Once Wadjda decides to take part in the competition, she would have to act more conservatively in the school but it becomes a struggle as she realizes that some of her more rebellious classmates are being shunned for their own actions. At the same time, Wadjda watches her mother struggling with loneliness as she is trying to get a new job as she would be forced to ride three hours to work in a very hot van driven by a very annoyed man.

The direction of al-Mansour is quite intoxicating in the way she manages to bring something that is engaging in a story that is simple. Shooting on location in Riyadh, there is a realism to the way al-Mansour shoots everything on location to showcase a world that is very modern at times but also still trying to hold on to a sense of tradition. The approach to shooting on location but in a more traditional sense gives al-Mansour the chance to do something that doesn’t go into any kind of style there are some very simple yet unique compositions in the way close-ups are shot as well as scenes in the school. It would play into this dramatic climax where Wadjda would compete in this recitation of the Koran where al-Mansour would have the audience root for knowing why she wants to win. Yet, there’s an aftermath that doesn’t just play into Wadjda’s struggle but also the one her mother faces in her own marriage and ideals where there are moments of hope despite these circumstances. Overall, al-Mansour crafts a very heartfelt yet mesmerizing film about a young girl from Saudi Arabia and her desire to own a bike.

Cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it‘s very simple and understated for the way it shoots many of the locations along with some low-key lighting schemes for some of the interiors. Editor Andreas Wodraschke does terrific work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward with bits of styles to play into the drama and some of the light-hearted moments. Production designer Thomas Molt, with set decorator Maram Algohani and art director Tarik Saeed, does fantastic work with the look of home that Wadjda and her mother live in as well as the school where Wadjda goes to.

Costume designer Peter Pohl does nice work with the costumes from the design of the head-scarves the women wear as well as some of the clothing they would wear inside their homes. Sound designer Sebastian Schmidt does superb work with the sound to capture the sound textures of the city including some scenes where Wadjda and her mother watch from afar as an election party is happening next door. The film’s music by Max Richter is brilliant for its mixture of somber orchestral music and traditional Arabian music to play into Wadjda’s determination as the soundtrack also includes a few American pop tracks that Wadjda listens to.

The film’s cast includes some noteworthy small roles from Noof Saad as the Koran teacher, Rafa Al Sanea and Alanoud Sajini as a couple of trouble-making classmates, and Ibrahim Al Mozael as the toyshop owner who is holding the bike for Wadjda. Sultan al Assaf is terrific as Wadjda’s father who only appears sporadically to see her as he often brings trouble to his marriage and what he wants. Ahd Kamel is fantastic as the headmistress who is very wary of Wadjda’s activities and her choice of shoes and such as she wonders why she is entering the competition. Abdulrahman al-Guhani is excellent as the young boy Abdullah who is a friend of Wadjda as he helps her in learning to ride a bike as she would also help him with a few things such as putting lights for an election that his uncle is a part of.

Reem Abdullah is amazing as Wadjda’s mother as a woman dealing with her own issues at work as well as her marriage as she tries to raise Wadjda by herself as she brings a complexity to the role of a mother who tries to instill ideas of tradition but is aware of the changes in her daughter. Finally, there’s Waad Mohammed in an incredible performance as the titular character as this young girl who is determined to ride a bicycle as she would do whatever it takes to get the money to buy one as it’s a role filled with naturalism and energy as it’s really a performance that has to be seen.

Wadjda is a spectacular film from Haifaa al-Mansour that features a supremely exhilarating performance from Waad Mohammed as the titular character. The film isn’t just a unique look into the world of Saudi Arabia from the perspective of a young girl but also an engaging one in how she is determined to get a bicycle. In the end, Wadjda is a magnificent film from Haifaa al-Mansour.

© thevoid99 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Russian Ark

Directed and narrated by Alexander Sokurov and written by Sokurov and Anatoli Nikiforov, Russian Ark is the story about the events at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg told through a ghost who watches these events in the span of three centuries. Shot entirely in one entire take, the film explores these moments of time where the evolution of this place occurs. Starring Sergei Dreiden. Russian Ark is a dazzling and intoxicating film from Alexander Sokurov.

The film is a plot-less story where a ghost finds himself at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia as he watches many events unfold through the span of three centuries. All of which is told from this unseen narrator who at times would break the fourth wall as he gazes into many of the events as joining him is this French composer (Sergei Dreiden) who finds himself speaking Russian as he would also comment on what he’s seeing. Among them are parties in the 18th and 19th Century, lunch with the Romonovs, various ceremonies, and people looking at the paintings in present time. The film’s screenplay by Alexander Sokurov and Anatoli Nikiforov, with additional dialogue by Boris Khaimsky and Svetlana Proskurina, has this looseness where it avoids any kind of plot structure or any kind of scenarios. It all takes place in this palace that has become a museum where it plays into a world of what it once was and those who are seeing it.

Sokurov’s direction is truly astonishing for the fact that is shot entirely in one entire take in an entire day where anything could’ve gone wrong. It is shot from the perspective of the narrator that follows everything that goes on from room to room where there is always something happening. Much of which is presented in a continuous steadicam that captures everything with its approach to wide shots and close-ups. There is also moments where time is distorted where one room is set in the 18th Century and then another could be set in the 20th/21st Century where people are looking at paintings and sculpture where the composer and narrator would interact with them. It would then go into another room where moments of history are taking place as well as commentaries about what is happening as if the fourth wall is broken.

Since it’s a very daring film where there’s a lot of extras and people in the room, there is an unpredictability that is engaging to watch where it brings an excitement to the sense of the unknown. Even as it includes some ceremonial scenes where choreography is a key aspect of the film whether it’s a military ceremony or a ball where the composer and narrator are either observing or taking part in the event. It has moments that are quite lavish and those that are very intimate as Sokurov manages to capture something that feels real in its 96-minute running time where the film is presented in real time. Overall, Sokurov creates a truly exhilarating and enchanting film about many events happening and such at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

Cinematographer Tilman Buttner does amazing work with the cinematography to capture the different lighting schemes that occur in many of the film‘s interior settings as well as a few exterior shots as it has this panoramic look in the way the camera moves as Buttner is also the film‘s camera operator. Editors Stefan Ciupek, Sergei Ivanov, and Betina Kuntzsch do nice work with the few edits that occur in the opening credits and closing credits while gathering whatever takes was used throughout entire production to create something that feels like a continuous shot. Art directors Natalya Kochergina and Elena Zhukova do fantastic work with the look of some of the rooms to recreate some of the balls and ceremonies that occur during the film.

Costume designers Maria Grishnova, Lidiya Kryukova, and Tamara Seferyan do brilliant work with the array of period costumes and uniforms wore by the many extras in the film to capture those different periods of time. The sound work of Sergei Moshkov and Vladimir Persov is superb for the atmosphere it creates in some of the rooms where some of it is sparse while other scenes might have more broader sounds such as the ballroom scene. The film’s music features a lot of classical Russian pieces from Mikhail Glinka and Tchaikovsky as well as pieces by Henry Purcell and Georg Philipp Telemann where much of the arrangements are made by the film’s composer Sergei Yevtushenko who provides a few low-key pieces that are mostly ambient-based cuts.

The film’s casting by Tatyana Komarova is great as it features many extras as well as small performances from Vladimir Baranov as Nicholas II, Anna Aleksakhina as Alexandra Fedodorovna, Marksim Sergeyev as Peter the Great, and Mariya Kuznetsova as Catherine the Great. Director Alexander Sokurov does excellent work in his narration that plays into this very offbeat role of a ghost whose face is never seen as Sokurov brings a lot of strange yet mesmerizing approach to his role. Finally, there’s Sergei Dreiden in an incredible performance as this mysterious French composer who is an observer and commentator on everything he sees as it’s a role filled with some humor and wonderment.

Russian Ark is a tremendous film from Alexander Sokurov. Armed with some amazing technical achievements and a premise that is out of this world but intriguing to watch. It’s a film that showcases a world that once gone and can be recreated through imagination as it blends with the modern world. In the end, Russian Ark is a magnificent film from Alexander Sokurov.

© thevoid99 2014

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Edukators

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/18/08 w/ Additional Edits.

Directed by Hans Weingartner, Die Fetten Jahre Sinde Vorbei ("the fat years are over") or in its international title The Edukators, the film is about three anti-capitalist radicals who decides to break into the homes of rich people and vandalize them. When they break into one house, they meet a rich businessman who catches them in the act as they kidnap as they go into a game of wits and passion against the businessman. Written by Weingartner and Katharina Held, the film is an exploration about the tension between generations and classes. Starring Daniel Bruhl, Julia Jentsch, Stipe Erceg, and Burghart Klaussner. The Edukators is a thrilling yet provocative film from Hans Weingartner.

With protests emerging in Berlin as youths rally against the capitalist democracy of its own country, two young men named Jan (Daniel Bruhl) and Peter (Stipe Erceg) are doing their part as a rag-tag group of hooligans known as the Edukators. By day, they do odd jobs to make a living but at night in their van, they break into the homes of rich people, rearrange furniture, steal nothing, overflow pools, and leave a message that represents their manifesto and hatred of the rich. Meanwhile, Peter's girlfriend Jule (Julia Jentsch) is dealing with a lot of money trouble. Having been evicted from her apartment and about to lose her deposit if she doesn't repaint her apartment, Jule moves in with Peter and Jan while still working as a waitress in a posh restaurant. Jule is also dealing with a debt that she has to pay over a car accident that involved a rich man and his Mercedes. When Peter has to go out of town for a trip to Spain, he asks Jan to help Jule out in repainting her apartment for her deposit. Jan sympathizes with Jule's financial troubles as she herself, is a protester against capitalism. Immediately, they become close as Jan lets her in on a secret as she learns that he's part of the Edukators gang.

When she decides to see what he does, she finds the home of Mr. Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner), the man whose debt she's paying. The two break in as they do all of the things he and Peter does where the two suddenly fall for each other. Things seem to go great until Jules walks out of the house and an alarm goes off as she and Jan leave the house. Peter returns from Spain as Jule learns she left her cell phone at Hardenberg's home. Jan, Peter, and Jule go out on a night of the town as their night ends early. Jan and Jule decide to go back to Hardenberg's home to clean up evidence and fine Jule's cell phone. Suddenly, Hardenberg arrives early from his vacation as he catches Jule where Jan knocks him out unconsciously. Realizing they’re in trouble, they call Peter to help them out as they realize they have to leave the city with Hardenberg as their hostage. They drive to the German mountains to a remote cabin that belonged to Jule's uncle. The young trio and Hardenberg stay in the cabin as they talk to the rich businessman as they immediately get into a discussion over idealism and capitalism.

Yet, Hardenberg is revealed to be a former member of an idealist group in the late 60s but tells them that revolutions become short-lived when marriage and family came into the picture. With Peter becoming a bit paranoid and carrying a gun, Jan and Jule agree that Hardenberg should be treated with care and respect as he was given a chance to make a phone call in a nearby village. When Peter learns of Jan and Jule's attraction towards each other, everything begins to change as do their idealism as Jan wonders if the revolution that he's fought for is really worth living.

The film is essentially about political revolution and idealism through different generations and such. Yet, director Hans Weingartner and co-writer Katharina Held create a story that is more about how young people deal with their own ideas of revolution only to deal with a man who they assume is rich yet unaware of his own revolutionary past. The film's script is wonderfully written where the film's first half is about the introduction of the Edukators and their antics and then the second half is their escape and seclusion in the mountains. While the pacing in the second half does lag a bit, Weingartner's subtle yet observant direction is wonderful and also intimate for the four major to interact with each other.

The direction also works in its energy in the film's first half where it's shot on location in Berlin as Weingartner creates amazing compositions and framing while leaving everything a bit looser for the film's second half. Particularly with hand-held cameras that brings energy to the film in its sense of excitement as well as an array of humor and comedy. The result is a solid film that is entertaining and provocative from the mind of its director Hans Weingartner.

Cinematographers Matthias Schellenberg and Daniela Knapp do amazing work with the film's camera work from the colorful, stylish lighting for the film's interior and exterior night scenes in Berlin to the colorful, atmospheric look of the German mountains that has a natural yet loose feel that is gorgeous to watch. Editors Dirk Otelshoven and Andreas Woodraschke bring a great sense of style to the film's cutting with its rhythmic use of jump cuts in the film's first half to more slower yet rhythmic cuts for the film's second half to maintain a sense of pacing and style. Art director Christian M. Goldbeck does a great job in creating different looks to the homes of the Edukators and Hardenberg where the former features posters and such while Hardenberg's home is filled with a lot of posh things and a pool.

Costume/make-up designer Sylvia Pernegger is excellent in that same contrast in the art direction with the look of t-shirt and jeans of the Edukators to the rich clothing of Hardenberg. Sound designer Uwe Dresch with mixer Bernhard Maisch and sound recordist Stefan Soltau do a wonderful job in the sound work to contrast the differing atmospheres of Berlin and the German mountains that plays well to the tone of the film. Music composer Andreas Wodraschke creates a moody yet hypnotic electronic score that is sometimes filled with pulsating beats or sometimes quiet in the film's second half. The soundtrack is a mix of techno, German folk, and metal along with a haunting cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah by the late Jeff Buckley.

The casting by Silke Koch and Suse Marquardt is superb for its casting of extras and local actors in various parts. Yet, the film really belongs to its four principle actors. Veteran actor Burghart Klaussner is superb as a former idealist-turned-yuppie who becomes hostage as he's forced to confront his own lifestyle and his own past while trying to understand the Edukators' own political stance. Stipe Erceg is excellent as Peter, an anti-capitalist who is unaware of Jan's attraction to Jule only to take matters into his own hands when dealing with Hardenberg while trying to figure out his own role as a revolutionary.

Julia Jentsch is amazing as the frustrated Jule who turns to radicalism while getting Jan and Peter in trouble over a reckless thing. Jentsch is superb for her energy and compassion as well as an amazingly, natural beauty around her. Daniel Bruhl is brilliant as Jan, an unpredictable yet charismatic revolutionary who falls for Jule while forced to confront his own role and future as Bruhl's subtle performance is truly one to watch.

The Edukators is a wonderfully stylish yet entertaining film from director Hans Weingartner. With great performances from Daniel Bruhl, Julia Jentsch, Stipe Erceg, and Burghart Klaussner, it's a film that has a lot of energy, great discussions on politics and idealism, and interesting characters. In the end, The Edukators is an excellent film that deals with young revolutionaries trying to change the world only to find change in themselves.

© thevoid99 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Overlord (1975 film)

Directed by Stuart Cooper and written by Cooper and Christopher Hudson, Overlord is the story of a young soldier who deals with his own premonitions of death as he would eventually fight in World War II and the Battle of Normandy. The film isn’t just an exploration of a soldier’s life in the service but is also told in a unique fashion that mixes various stock footage with re-created images to play into the idea of war. Starring Brian Stirner and Davyd Harries. Overlord is a captivating and intoxicating film from Stuart Cooper.

The film is the simple story of a young Briton who is about to serve World War II as he endures training and military service while dealing with his premonitions of death as he is about to take part in Operation Overlord in Normandy. It’s a film that plays into a young man dealing with what is to come as he has this feeling that he’ll die in some way. Even as he endures rigorous training to prepare for the war while he would take part in battles near France and do things that other servicemen would do when they take a break from duty. The film’s screenplay is quite minimalist in the way it explores the young life of Tom (Brian Strirner) as he tries to deal with what he is to do as well as having fantasies about his own death along with moments of escapism such as an encounter with a young woman (Julie Neesam) he met at a bar. Yet, Tom tries to deal with his thoughts of death as the days towards Normandy becomes closer.

Stuart Cooper’s direction is very entrancing in not just the way he captures the drama but also in how is able to create something that mixes documentary and fiction with the array of stock footage that is used in the film. In order to blur that approach, Cooper would use some grainy camera footage to match up with the stock footage while the more dramatic shots are featured in a clearer film stock. Some of the compositions involve some unique tracking shots to capture Tom in training or in combat plus some very enchanting fantasy scenes about his premonitions of death as well as the longing for a life outside of war. Some of which is shown with a sense of beauty to contrast this sense of dread that looms where Cooper would show images of the Normandy Invasion as it becomes this very intense climax. Overall, Cooper crafts a very riveting yet compelling film about a man dealing with his own impending doom on D-Day 1944.

Cinematographer John Alcott does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography with its different array of film stock to play into that world of reality and fiction as it is often very rich in its look while being grainy in some of war scenes. Editor Jonathan Gili does brilliant work with the editing in the way he matches the stock footage with the fictional footage as well as the use of dissolves and other stylish cuts to play into the drama. Sound editor Daniel S. McCoy does excellent work with the sound editing to play into the array of sound effects that occur in the film as well as the tone of Tom‘s narration. The film’s music by Paul Glass is superb for its somber score that is often accompanied by a piano to play into the sense of dread as well as some music that is played during those times.

The film’s wonderful cast includes some notable small roles from John Franklyn-Robbins and Stella Tanner as Tom’s parents, Sam Sewell as a trained soldier who reveals to Tom in what to do, Nicholas Ball as a fellow soldier in Arthur, and Julie Neesam as the young woman Tom meets at a bar. Davyd Harries is terrific in the role of Tom’s fellow soldier Jack who often joins him in training and social outings as he tries to deal with what is ahead and its aftermath. Finally, there’s Brian Stirner in an incredible performance as Tom as this young man dealing with being a soldier as well as the premonitions of his own doom as it’s a very chilling yet evocative performance that is a major highlight of the film.

Overlord is a remarkable film from Stuart Cooper. Armed with a brilliant cast and some amazing technical achievements, it’s a film that definitely explores the idea of war from a young man’s perspective as he deals with his own doom. Especially as the film blurs fantasy and reality to showcase the horrors of war and a man dealing with his fate. In the end, Overlord is a sensational film from Stuart Cooper.

© thevoid99 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Good Woman

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/3/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the play Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde, A Good Woman is the story of a seductress who meets a newlywed as she raises the suspicions of the newlywed's bride. Directed by Mike Barker and screenplay by Howard Himelstein, the film is an exploration into the world of the upper-class set in 1930s Italy before the era of Facism as it plays into a young woman dealing with the idea of infidelity as well as the mystery over the appearance of this older woman. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Helen Hunt, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Mark Umbers, and Milena Vukotic. A Good Woman is an engaging and worthwhile film from Mike Barker.

Fleeing New York City onboard a ship to the coast of Amalfi, Italy, a notorious seductress of rich men in Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) sees a paper about the arrival of a couple of newlyweds who are to stay in Amalfi to celebrate the 21st birthday of the young Meg Windermere (Scarlett Johansson). In Amalfi, Meg and her husband Robert (Mark Umbers) just bought a new villa for the summer season where they’re surrounded by a posh company that includes the young Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore), Contessa Lucchino (Milena Vukotic), her daughter Alessandra (Giorgia Massetti), and Lady Plymdale (Diana Hardcastle). Meg had just met Darlington in a glove store where she’s often surrounded by the company of Lucchino who does nothing but gossip. Robert meanwhile, is surrounded by the company of older men including Cecil (Roger Hammond), Dumby (John Standing), and a lord named Tuppy (Tom Wilkinson).

While shopping for some jewelry, Robert meets Mrs. Erlynne who suggests that he buys a fan for Meg where the two have lunch where their frequent meetings arouses some suspicion. During another get together, Mrs. Erlynne meets Tuppy, who is smitten by her charm. Despite all the gossips surrounding Mrs. Erlynne and her affairs with rich husbands in America, Tuppy sways away from the gossip to learn more about her. Meg, walking around the town doesn't suspect anything of Robert's meetings assuming that he's working as she accompanied by Lord Darlington where she's aware that he's flirting with her. During a night in the opera, Meg starts to hear the rumors about Mrs. Erlynne, whom she met earlier at a clothing store, where she hears some Robert trying to defend her.

Meg has some suspicions about Robert's comments as he learns that Tuppy will be going to her birthday party the next day as Robert will ask Tuppy not to bring Mrs. Erlynne. Tuppy meanwhile, is invited to Mrs. Erlynne's villa where she is staying as he reveals he's been divorced, twice, while he wants to marry Mrs. Erlynne because of her wit and charm. Mrs. Erlynne admits to be wooed by Tuppy as she claims that she's not a good woman to be with but Tuppy doesn't care. After another visit from Lord Darlington to help her party, his flirtations continue as she starts to learn that what everyone had been gossiping. Feeling heartbroken, she turns to Lucchino for advice while Robert tries to get Mrs. Erlynne out of the country in order to not reveal a secret that's overheard by Dumby. The night of the party begins where Mrs. Erlynne does show up with Tuppy as Meg shocks partygoers with a new dress that she had earlier suggested was indecent as she is angered at Robert's supposed affair. Things only get worse when Darlington's flirtations gets to her as does her anger towards Robert. Mrs. Erlynne watches everything that goes on hoping to save Meg from a mistake she's about to make as she does something sacrificial.

While the film carries its flaws due to often rushed-pacing style and the miscasting of a couple of actors. The film is very true to the playful wit of Oscar Wilde as director Mike Barker and screenwriter Howard Himelstein does create an entertaining, witty film that's really about a young woman whose is ravaged by gossips of adultery and nearly commits one only to get help from the most unexpected person. The script succeeds in not developing the characters but also making an interesting subplot in the relationship of Tuppy and Mrs. Erlynne since that story is about a woman who is unaware that the right man is trying to woo her. Barker does some great work in using the actual Amalfi locales where the film is shot on location in Amalfi that is true the Italian villa for its posh atmosphere. Even the approaching of setting the film in the 1930s does succeed in what Wilde had been trying to say about the upper-class society and their ignorance. Overall, it's a fine film crafted by Barker and company.

Helping Barker in capturing the rich atmosphere of the Italian coast is cinematographer Ben Seresin whose wonderful depth of camera work from the exterior settings of Italy, especially in the night shows its beauty. Even the interior settings is wonderful light with an array of yellow sunlight and greenish surroundings give the film some of its beautiful settings. Production designer Ben Scott and art director Pier Luigi Basile also does some great work on the locales, notably the interiors of the villas which has a breathtaking feel to the poshness of upper-class Europeans. The costume design of John Bloomfield works to convey the feel and dazzle that is the 1930s. Editor Neil Farrell does some excellent work in the perspective cutting and the structure of the story where the only problem was its rushed pacing. The film's music features a wonderfully buoyant and dramatic score from Richard G. Mitchell filled with flourishing arrangements with a soundtrack filled with 1930s jazz cuts.

The film has a great supporting cast filled with excellent British and Italian actors. Smaller parts from Giorgia Massetti as the nerdy Alessandra and Diana Hardcastle as Lady Plymdale are hilarious for their parts in how they assume things. Roger Hammond and John Standing are also wonderful in their roles as the gossiping men of Cecil and Dumby, respectively, where Standing has a bigger role in the way he accidentally eavesdrop on an important information that is crucial to the film's plot. Milena Vukotic is excellent as the aloof, gossiping Contessa who is often accompanied by her little dogs and always say some of the most ignorant things as she brings in a memorable and funny performance. Stephen Campbell Moore is also wonderful in his role as the charming, flirtatious Lord Darlington with good looks and concerned personality as Moore manages to make the Darlington character a real standout with some depth. Mark Umber however, isn't as successful when playing Robert Windermere where despite a few scenes, he often comes across as bland and uninteresting making the Robert Windermere character to be very one-note.

Tom Wilkinson is the film's best supporting performance as the smitten yet intelligent Tuppy. Wilkinson manages to be a real standout among many of the supporting cast by being the only character who doesn't judge anyone and tries to understand people. He's a man of good intentions and manages not to make a fool of himself, even when he isn't aware of what's going on. Wilkinson brings a lot of pride and respect to the character as it stands out to be one of his finest performances. Helen Hunt is alright as Mrs. Erlynne where she has some good scenes with Wilkinson though is often one-note at times as it's not one of her finer roles. Finally, there's Scarlett Johansson in a fantastic performance as Meg Windermere as this young woman trying to find herself as a wife where she deals with the idea of her husband's infidelity as well as the temptation to cheat on him as it's really one of Johansson's finest performances.

The Region 1 DVD from Lions Gate shows the film in a 16x9 widescreen format of 1:78:1 ratio with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and English/Spanish subtitles. The only extras the DVD features are trailers for several of Lions Gate features like The Cooler, Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Shattered Glass which is their alternative to the horror films they've been releasing. The only special feature on the DVD is a commentary track from director Mike Barker and producer Alan Greenspan.

Their commentary is relaxed and enjoyable though at times, they stop just to watch a scene. Yet, Barker and Greenspan talk about a lot of the difficulty of making the film, due to finding locations where a lot of the interiors were shot in Rome and weather conditions where they shot from October of 2003 to February of 2004. Barker goes more into technical detail on the film while revealing the difficulty of hiding Helen Hunt's pregnancy. Barker also talks about Scarlett Johansson's professionalism and how the film schedule stretched due to the fact that she was getting a lot of praise around that time for Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring were she had to fly from the U.S. to Italy and so on to promote those two films. Overall, it's an enjoyable commentary.

A Good Woman is an enjoyable and witty film from Mike Barker thanks in part to Scarlett Johansson's splendid performance as well as the supporting performance of Tom Wilkinson. While it is a film with some flaws as it can be described as style over substance. It is still a compelling film that explores a young woman dealing with the presence of an older woman in a case of misunderstanding and confusion. In the end, A Good Woman is a pretty good film from Mike Barker.

© thevoid99 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar, !Atame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) is the story of a troubled man released from a psychiatric hospital who kidnaps an actress in the hopes that he would fall in love with her. The film is an exploration into the world of obsession as it plays into the world of Stockholm Syndrome with some dark humor and revelations about these events. Starring Antonio Banderas, Victoria Abril, Francisco Rabal, Loles Leon, Julietta Serrano, Maria Barranco, Rossy de Palma, Lola Cardona, Francisco Rabal, and Francisca Caballero. !Atame! is a strange but thrilling film from Pedro Almodovar.

The film explores the strange relationship between a troubled man who kidnaps a B-movie actress in the hopes that he would fall in love with her. It’s a film that explores the concept of Stockholm Syndrome where the victim would fall for its kidnapper as Pedro Almodovar infuses the story with some dark humor as well as revelations about humanity. Especially as this young man in Ricky (Antonio Banderas) has just been released from a psychiatrist hospital where he hopes to meet the actress Marina (Victoria Abril) as the two had met a year before at a nightclub where a one-night stand happen. Unfortunately, Marina doesn’t remember as she is a recovering drug addict who used to do porn films as she had become the obsession of her aging director Maximo Espejo (Francisco Rabal) who is helming his final film.

The film’s screenplay doesn’t have much of a plot as Almodovar focuses more on motivations and what is happening in this kidnapping scenario where there’s some obvious schematics that will happen. Yet, Almodovar makes it so much more as Ricky is a man driven by loneliness and abandon as he thinks Marina can give him some hope. Marina is a woman still recovering from her own addiction as a toothache becomes part of her problems as well as the advances of her director who is confined in a wheelchair because of a stroke. Once Ricky gets into Marina’s apartment and takes her as his hostage, he takes his time to win her over though it becomes a struggle at first. Adding to the complications is the fact that Marina has been asked by a neighbor to water his plants as her sister Lola (Loles Leon) would end up doing as she becomes frustrated working as an assistant director to Espejo.

Almodovar’s direction is truly mesmerizing in the way he doesn’t just create this unique mix of suspense, black comedy, and romance but also a film where it plays into the possibility into whether this woman will fall for her kidnapper. Some of the humor is very offbeat where it can be very quirky at times but also there’s some darker moments where it adds to this mix of discomfort yet it is also oddly funny. Almodovar’s direction is truly wondrous in the way he creates compositions from his approach to close-ups and using wide lenses to capture the beauty of a film set or an apartment. There’s also an element of artistry in the way Almodovar would put his actors into a frame or how he would create sexual images that play into the desires of Ricky and Marina. The sense of shock value is also prevalent in how far Ricky will go where he would also encounter seedy people to get what he wants. There is also an element of desire since Marina is this object of desire for men as she is trying to figure out what she wants and what Ricky will offer her. Overall, Almodovar creates a very sensational yet provocative film about a strange relationship between a woman and her kidnapper.

Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcine does brilliant work with the film‘s ravishing cinematography from not just the nighttime exteriors and interiors of the locations and sets but also in the way some of the rooms are lit to capture the gorgeous colors of the apartments and sets. Editor Jose Salcedo does fantastic work with the editing with its stylistic approach to jump-cuts and rhythmic cuts as it plays to the air of suspense and drama that occurs in the film. Production designer Esther Garcia, with set decorator Pepon Sigler and art director Ferran Sanchez, does amazing work with the set design from the gorgeous apartment of Marina‘s neighbor to the some of the sets in the film that she is making.

Costume designer Jose Maria de Cossio does excellent work with costumes where it adds to the film‘s colorful look from the dresses some of the women wear to the shirts and jeans that Ricky wears. The sound work of Ricardo Steinberg is terrific for the way it adds to the suspense and drama in how sparse it is at times while going for more ominous effects in some of the exterior scenes. The film’s music by Ennio Morricone is just phenomenal where Morricone does take some cues from Bernard Herrmann in terms of its eerie orchestral arrangements for the suspense while adding his own operatic touches to some of the music to play into the romance and drama as it’s one of his finest works. The film’s soundtrack features a mixture of boleros and pop songs that are played in the film to showcase the two worlds coming together for Ricky.

The film’s cast includes some noteworthy small performances from Francisca Caballero as Marina’s mother, Lola Cardona as the psychiatric hospital director who had a close relationship with Ricky, Maria Barranco as a doctor friend of Marina whom Ricky would meet to get some prescriptions, and Rossy de Palma in a fantastic role as a drug dealer who rides a Vespa who doesn’t like to be fucked with. Julietta Serrano is excellent in a small yet crucial role as Espejo’s wife who would watch her husband seeking to regain his sex drive while being the one person who is willing to listen to Lola as she is aware of her husband’s obsessions. Francisco Rabal is amazing as Maximo Espejo as this director trying to make his final film as he desires Marina while also flirting with Lola despite the fact that he’s in a wheelchair. Loles Leon is great as Marina’s sister Lola as she tries to deal with Espejo’s obsession and antics while wondering where Marina is as it’s a role that adds a lot of humor to the film.

Victoria Abril is brilliant as Marina as this B-movie actress who becomes a kidnapping victim as she deals with her own situation while is also someone who is troubled by her own recovery from drugs and sexual satisfaction. Antonio Banderas is remarkable as Ricky as this troubled 23-year old who had just been released from a psychiatric hospital as he hopes to get Marina to fall in love with. Banderas and Abril have this very unique chemistry in the way they deal with each other as Banderas brings some humor to the role with Abril being a bit more aggressive as they are major highlights of the film.

!Atame! is a spectacular and exhilarating film from Pedro Almodovar. Armed with a great cast led by Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril along with beautiful cinematography and art direction as well as Ennio Morricone’s sublime score. The film is definitely one of Almodovar’s finest films as well as his most provocative in the way it explores kidnapping and the concept of Stockholm Syndrome. In the end, !Atame! is a tremendously wild and vivacious film from Pedro Almodovar.

Pedro Almodovar Films: Pepi, Luci, Bom - Labyrinth of Passion - Dark Habits - What Have I Done to Deserve This? - Matador - Law of Desire - Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown - (High Heels) - Kika - The Flower of My Secret - Live Flesh - All About My Mother - Talk to Her - Bad Education - Volver - Broken Embraces - The Skin I Live In - I'm So Excited!

The Auteurs #37: Pedro Almodovar (Pt. 1) - (Pt. 2)

© thevoid99 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bad News Bears (2005 film)

Directed by Richard Linklater and screenplay by Bill Lancaster, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requea from a story by Lancaster, Bad News Bears is the story of a washed-up minor league baseball player who coaches a misfit little league team as he tries to help them become a great team. A remake of the 1976 that was written by Lancaster and directed by Michael Ritchie, the film is an update of sorts on the story as it explores a man who would help this team of kids who aren’t the best players in the world with the help of a couple of talented kids. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear, and Marcia Gay Harden. Bad News Bears is a fun and engaging film from Richard Linklater.

The film is an updated yet faithful version of the 1976 film where it revolves around this former minor league baseball player who is often drunk as he works as an exterminator where he is hired by an attorney to coach a little league baseball team full of misfits. While the film’s script does play true to the original story where this man in Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) coaches a team that is full of kids that are the last group of kids that anyone wants in a team. Though they don’t start out well as they lose their first game badly, they do improve with each game as Buttermaker gets the help of an ex-girlfriend’s daughter in Amanda Wurlitzer (Sammi Kane Kraft) and a young troublemaker in Kelly Leak (Jeffrey Leakes). While the story if quite formulaic, it does have a sense of raunchy humor and dirty language that does pay true to the original film while not being afraid to be politically incorrect at times.

Richard Linklater’s direction is quite simple in the way he captures the world of little league baseball as well as the idea of misfits trying to make it in little league. Much of the compositions are quite simple with some unique crane shots to capture the scope of the baseball field. There’s a liveliness to the direction where Linklater even puts in little moments that pays tribute to the original film. There’s also moments where Linklater isn’t afraid to cross the line in what is acceptable for kids to behave and such as they’re with this washed-up drunk who only went to the major league for a tiny bit as he often curses and gets pissed drunk. Among the things that Linklater does do to update the story is feature the world of Austin, Texas such as its skate parks and other places to give it a new look while providing some moments that is all about the love for baseball. Overall, Linklater creates a very worthwhile yet engaging film about a former baseball player coaching a team of misfits.

Cinematographer Rogier Stoffers does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it‘s very simple for many of its daytime exteriors while it features some low-key lights for some of the nighttime interior scenes. Editor Sandra Adair does terrific work with the editing as it‘s very straightforward while includes a few montages to play into the evolution of the team. Production designer Bruce Curtis, with set decorator Brana Rosenfeld and art director David Lazan, does nice work with the look of the baseball field as well as the skate park where Amanda meets Kelly.

Costume designer Karen Patch does wonderful work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual plus an updated look of the Bears uniform with a very unlikely sponsor on the back. Visual effects supervisor David Lombardi does superb work with some of the minimal visual effects that plays to the building confidence of the Bears. Sound editors Russell Farmarco and Beth Sterner do some brilliant work on the sound from the atmosphere at the ballpark to the way the bat hit’s the ball. The film’s music by Ed Shearmur is very good for its low-key approach to the score where it‘s a mixture of rock and electronic music with updated interpretations of George Bizet‘s opera Carmen while music supervisor Randall Poster brings in a fantastic soundtrack that features an array of music from rock and punk rock to play into the energy of the film as well as the spirit of Austin, Texas.

The casting by Joseph Middleton is great as it features some notable small roles from Nectar Rose as a stripper-girlfriend of Buttermaker in Paradise, Carter Jenkins as the Yankees pitcher Joey Bullock, Chase Winton as the little league supervisor Ms. Cleveland, and Arabella Holzbog as Joey’s mother and Roy’s wife Shari. In the roles of the Bad News Bears, there’s Carlos and Emmanuel Estrada in their respective roles as the non-English speaking Manuel and Jose Aguilar, Aman Johal as the Indian Prem Lahiri, Troy Gentile as the wheelchair cripple Matthew Hooper, Tyler Patrick Jones as the shy Timmy Lupus, Timmy Deters as the small but fierce Tanner Boyle, Ridge Canipe as the limited but helpful Toby Whitewood, Kenneth “K.C.” Harris as the African-American Ahmad Abdul Rahim and Jeffrey Tedmori as the Armenian Garo as all of them bring a lot of spark to their roles.

Jeffrey Davies is excellent as the motorcycle-riding teen Kelly Leak who despises Roy Bullock as he helps the Bears while Sammi Kane Kraft is fantastic as Amanda Wurlitzer who is a great pitcher as she hopes to renew the broken friendship with Buttermaker. Marcia Gay Harden is wonderful as Toby’s mother Liz who asks Buttermaker to coach the Bears in the hope that she can get her son and other kids the chance to play. Greg Kinnear is super as the Yankees coach Roy Bullock who is a guy that loves to win as his competitiveness rubs Buttermaker the wrong way. Finally, there’s Billy Bob Thornton in an incredible performance as Morris Buttermaker as a washed-up minor league pitcher who is an alcoholic as he tries to coach a team of misfits as it’s a character filled with some self-loathing but also one that is trying to find some redemption for his mistakes.

Bad News Bears is a stellar film from Richard Linklater thanks in part to the superb performance of Billy Bob Thornton and a young yet marvelous cast. While it doesn’t do anything new while being a faithful remake to the 1976 film, it is still a pretty enjoyable baseball movie as it retains some of the original film’s political incorrectness. In the end, Bad News Bears is a pretty good film from Richard Linklater.

Richard Linklater Films: (It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books) - (Slacker) - (Dazed & Confused) - Before Sunrise - subUrbia - The Newton Boys - Waking Life - Tape - School of Rock - School of Rock - A Scanner Darkly - Fast Food Nation - Me and Orson Welles - (Bernie (2011 film)) - Before Midnight - Boyhood

© thevoid99 2014