Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Two Lovers (2008 film)

Inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s short story White Nights, Two Lovers is the story of a man who returns home to New York City as he finds himself engaged to a woman when he falls for a neighbor. Directed by James Gray and screenplay by Gray and Richard Menello, the film is an unusual romantic triangle where a man finds himself falling for a beautiful woman but also wants to be a good man to his fiancé. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Elias Koteas, Moni Moshonov, and Isabella Rossellini. Two Lovers is a rapturous and intoxicating film from James Gray.

The film revolves around a troubled man who finds himself in a love triangle with a beautiful neighbor he’s fallen for and a woman whose father wants to buy his parents’ laundromat business. It’s a film that plays into a man dealing with not just in love with two different women but also the fact that he’s still reeling from heartbreak as he is unsure of what to do. The film’s screenplay by James Gray and Richard Menello opens with Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) walking near a creek on his way home as he thinks about his former fiancée who broke up with him as he jumps off a bridge in a suicide attempt. He is saved but still has to return home unaware that his parents are having a meeting with the people who are going to buy their laundromat as they’re bringing in their daughter Sandra Cohen (Vinessa Shaw) who is fascinated by Leonard. During this time he’s dealing with his family’s business being bought, he meets a neighbor in Michelle Rausch (Gwyneth Paltrow) as they hang out and such as he’s unaware of how troubled she is.

Throughout the course of the script, Leonard is being pulled into two spectrums as he is often leaning towards Michelle because they both share emotional and mental troubles as Leonard is still coping with a break-up as it forced him to move back to his parents. Yet, his time with Michelle would often lead to a lot of questions than answers as she is having an affair with a married law partner in Ronald Blatt (Elias Koteas) that is becoming tumultuous. It’s a relationship that is problematic yet Leonard does find himself courting Sandra who is a more grounded person and very kind but also doesn’t want to make him uncomfortable as it relates to his previous break-up. Plus, her parents like him and his parents like her a lot where they attend family events and such as he feels more relaxed around her. Still, he is enamored with Michelle who wants his help as it relates to her relationship with Ronald with Leonard’s mother Ruth (Isabella Rossellini) watching from afar.

Gray’s direction is low-key as it doesn’t emphasize too much on style in favor of aiming for an intimate story of a man torn between two women. Shot mainly on the Brighton Beach area in Brooklyn in New York City with some of the films shot on New York City, the film does play into this environment that is largely working-class but also a world that is also vibrant. Gray would use some wide shots for some of the locations including some scenes on the apartment rooftop in a few conversation scenes between Leonard and Michelle that is presented on an entire take in one shot with a few more to follow in medium shots and close-ups. Yet, much of Grey’s approach of the film is to shoot it in many rooms and apartments as well as real locations around Brooklyn to play into this world these characters live in but also one that is prospering as far as Leonard’s father Reuben (Moni Moshonov) is concerned knowing that his family laundromat is going to be a part of something big with Leonard having something to fall back on since his aspirations as a photographer hasn’t gone anywhere.

Gray’s direction also play into the idea of longing since Leonard and Michelle live in the same build but across from each other’s window as it adds intrigue to their relationship whenever they talk on the phone as Ruth is supposedly hearing the conversation though she isn’t seen. Gray’s direction also play into this temptation where Leonard is attending a Bar Mitzvah for Sandra’s brother as he spends all of his time there but gets a call from Michelle whom he sees later as Gray would make the choice of having Michelle and Sandra never meet each other though the latter does know about the former due to conversations with Leonard. The film’s climax relates to Leonard’s decision about his future and his love life as it would play into the idea of safety in Sandra or to risk it all with Michelle. Overall, Gray crafts a tender yet intoxicating film about a man torn between two women he is in love with.

Cinematographer Joaquin Baca-Asay does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it emphasizes on mood for its usage of sepia-based lighting for many of its interiors and scenes set at night along with more blue-grey colors for a few daytime exteriors including a scene at a restaurant with Leonard and Sandra. Editor John Axelrad does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward to play into the drama with a few rhythmic cuts to play into some of the film’s emotional moments. Production designer Happy Masse, with art directors Marc Benacerraf and Pete Zumba plus set decorator Carol Silverman, does fantastic work with the look of the apartment that Leonard’s family lives including his messy room as well as the apartment that Michelle lives in.

Costume designer Michael Clancy does nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward for its Christmas holiday setting with the exception of a few stylish clothes that Michelle wears as well as a New Year’s Eve dress that Ruth wears. Sound designer Douglas Murray does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of a few party scenes as well as the sparse and quiet sounds for some of the scenes at the apartment rooftop. Music supervisor Dana Sano does terrific work in assembling the film’s soundtrack as it include some classical pieces for the film’s score as well as a mixture of hip-hop, opera, and jazz music to play into the world that the characters are in.

The casting by Douglas Aibel is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Anne Joyce as Leonard’s former fiancée in a dream sequence and in picture, Iain J. Bopp as Sandra’s little brother David, Samantha Ivers and Jeannie Serrales as a couple of Michelle’s friends, Julie Budd as Sandra’s mother Carol, and Bob Ari as Sandra’s father Michael who would make an offer to Leonard about his future at his company. Elias Koteas is terrific as Ronald as Michelle’s married lover who is concerned about her well-being as he asks Leonard to keep an eye on her. Moni Moshonov is superb as Leonard’s father Reuben as a man that is trying to uphold his deal in this merger as well as ensure that his son would not have to worry about his future.

Isabella Rossellini is fantastic as Leonard’s mother Ruth who is concerned about her son’s well-being as she is also wondering what is going on as she seems to know about his affair with Michelle as it’s a very low-key yet mesmerizing performance. Vinessa Shaw is amazing as Sandra Cohen as a woman whose father is buying Leonard’s family business as they start off as friends and eventually lovers as she is a woman that is kind and understanding but also someone who is willing to help him. Gwyneth Paltrow is brilliant as Michelle Rausch as a woman who lives in the same apartment as Leonard as she is someone who is charming and fascinating but also troubled due to her love of drugs and alcohol to cope with her own emotional troubles. Finally, there’s Joaquin Phoenix in an incredible performance as Leonard Kraditor as a man still reeling from heartbreak as he finds himself falling for two women as he deals with the decision he’s in but also the prospect of his own future as it’s a restrained and charismatic performance Phoenix.

Two Lovers is a phenomenal film from James Gray that features great performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, and Isabella Rossellini. Along with its supporting cast, gorgeous locations, riveting story, and beautiful visuals, it is a romantic film that doesn’t play by the rules as well explore the idea of security and heartbreak in a romance. In the end, Two Lovers is a sensational film from James Gray.

James Gray Films: Little Odessa - The Yards - We Own the Night - The Immigrant (2013 film) - (The Lost City of Z) – (Ad Astra) – (The Auteurs #67: James Gray)

© thevoid99 2018

Monday, July 16, 2018

Thief (1981 film)

Based on the novel The Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar by John Seybold (under the pseudonym Frank Hohimer), Thief is the story of a safecracker who decides to go straight upon completing one more diamond heist only for everything to go wrong. Written for the screen and directed by Michael Mann, the film is a look into a thief who is known for his professionalism as he deals with the dangers of his profession as he is eager to start a new life. Starring James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky, James Belushi, Tom Signorelli, Willie Nelson, and Dennis Farina. Thief is an entrancing and gripping film from Michael Mann.

The film follows the life of a safecracker who has decided to end his life of crime to focus on living a cleaner and safer life but a crime boss offers him a job that would make him rich as he copes with what the job will do for him but also if it can really set him free. It’s a film that is really more of a character study of a man that does have a couple of businesses that he runs in a bar and in a car dealership yet he makes great money in being a safecracker. Yet, when a fence who is supposed to pay him is killed and unable to give the safecracker named Frank (James Caan) his money. Frank learns that his dealer owes money to a crime boss in Leo (Robert Prosky) who wants to offer Frank a job to steal diamonds in California. The job would allow Leo a chance to not just get the money he’s owed but also so much more including a way out of the life of crime as he had been to prison and doesn’t want to go back. Michael Mann’s screenplay follows the world that Frank lives in as despite his legitimate businesses, he is at his best when he is opening safes and steal its goods while maintaining a low profile as he answers to no one.

Still, he has endured so much trouble and wants to stay away from trouble just as he’s getting his life going upon meeting and dating a restaurant cashier in Jessie (Tuesday Weld). He also has this idea of a dream he wants to do of a life outside of crime and major responsibilities that he wants to share with Jessie as there is this scene at a diner that is seven-minutes long where Frank talks about this dream he has with a picture he had been carrying. A man in that picture is his mentor Okla (Willie Nelson) who is incarcerated for his time as a safecracker but has a chance of getting out. For Frank to do that, he has to take Leo’s job offer as he and his friend Barry (James Belushi) go to California to do this job. The second act isn’t just about Frank accepting the job but also trying to get things the right way as he also has to deal with corrupt cops. The third act is about this heist but also its troubling aftermath.

Mann’s direction is rapturous for the way he creates an atmosphere of a man in his element as a safecracker as the first seven minutes showcases Frank breaking into a safe with a drill and hammer with great attention to detail. Shot largely in Chicago with some of the film shot in California, Mann would maintain a tone that does bear elements of film noir as much of the action is shot at night with very little scenes shot on a sunny day. Mann’s usage of wide shots do play into the locations yet he aims for something more intimate in the fact that the film is character-driven with Frank in nearly every frame of the film whether he’s having this conversation with Jessie about his life in a seven minute scene filled with monologues or a meeting with Leo at a restaurant with its medium shots and close-ups. Much of the film’s first two acts are driven mainly by suspense and drama with little emphasis on action as it play into the planning of this big heist in California.

Mann’s direction is also intoxicating for the way he builds up this slow attention to detail into how a heist would work but also Frank’s desire to make sure that Jessie wouldn’t know too much despite telling her what he really does. The climatic heist is also a slow build in not just what Frank, Barry, and their friend Joseph (William LaValley) do but also the tools and such they need to open a vault. It’s an amazing sequence that has Mann be patient in his approach as well as what is in the vault. The aftermath as it relates to everything Frank is given and what he wants do come into play where it’s not just violent but also play into the idea of loyalty in the world of crime which is something Frank has a problem with. It would lead to a showdown that is intense but also chilling in the way Mann approaches every shot in what is to come as well as the attention to detail into Frank’s professionalism. Overall, Mann creates a mesmerizing and riveting film about a safecracker trying to go straight while being asked to do one more job.

Cinematographer Donald Thorin does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of low-key lighting for some of the interiors as well as scenes set at night with its emphasis on stylish lighting as it’s a highlight of the film. Editor Dov Hoenig does excellent work with the editing as it help play into the rhythm of the suspense in its pacing as well as some stylish cuts for some of the action and drama. Production designer Mel Bourne, along with set decorator John M. Dwyer and art director Mary Dodson, does amazing work with the look of the home that Frank would get from Leo as well as the bar and his car dealership as well as the room where the big vault for the film’s climax is presented.

The special effects of Russel Hessey and Doug Hubbard is terrific for some of the film’s action scenes as well as a few moments in the heist scenes. Sound mixer David M. Ronne does superb work with the sound in the way a drill sounds in breaking into a safe as well as other objects that help play into the suspense and action. The film’s music by Tangerine Dream is brilliant for its electronic-based score that has elements of somber and moody pieces along with eerie cuts that play into the suspense while a score piece by Craig Safan for the film’s final moments is intense in its art-rock sound as the soundtrack also includes some Chicago-based blues in a few scenes in the film.

The casting by Vic Ramos is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from William Petersen as a bartender at a blues bar, Dennis Farina as one of Leo’s hoods, Patti Ross as Barry’s girlfriend Marie, William LaValley as an associate of Frank’s in Joseph, Hal Franks as Frank’s fence Joe Gags who didn’t inform Frank about the money he owes to Leo, and Tom Signorelli as Leo’s right-hand man Attaglia as a low-level crime boss that refuses to give Frank his money as he would get in touch with Leo to deal with Frank. Willie Nelson is superb in a small but memorable performance as Frank’s mentor Okla as a man that is incarcerated as he’s dealing with ailments prompting Frank to get him out of prison legally.

James Belushi is fantastic as Barry as Frank’s friend who works as a mechanic at Frank’s dealership while also aiding him in the heist as he also hopes the job would give him a good life. Robert Prosky is excellent as Leo as a crime boss who offers Frank a major job with a big payday as he also helps him get a few things where it is clear what his motives are as it play into the ideas of loyalty and greed. Tuesday Weld is amazing as Jessie as a cashier waitress at a restaurant Frank falls for as she is suspicious about his attitude towards life while learning about what he does as she tries to help him start a new life. Finally, there’s James Caan in a tremendous performance as Frank as a safecracker who runs a dealership and a bar that is eager to go straight until he’s not given the money he’s owed as it’s a performance of intensity but also with an air of calm and restraint as a man who has been through too much and is eager that this one job will be his last as it is Caan in one of his best performances.

Thief is a spectacular film from Michael Mann that features an incredible performance from James Caan. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, riveting screenplay, offbeat suspense, and a hypnotic score by Tangerine Dream. The film is definitely an early major achievement from Mann that would showcase his approach to crime and man dealing with his situations as it is also this engrossing character study that isn’t afraid to show flaws in the decisions that a man makes. In the end, Thief is a phenomenal film from Michael Mann.

Michael Mann Films: (The Jericho Mile) – (The Keep) – (Manhunter) – (L.A. Takedown) – (The Last of the Mohicans (1992 film)) – (Heat) – (The Insider) – (Ali) – (Collateral) – (Miami Vice) – (Public Enemies (2009 film)) – Blackhat

© thevoid99 2018

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dont Look Back

Written, shot, edited, and directed by D.A. Pennebaker, Dont Look Back is a documentary film that chronicles Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of Britain which would be the last tour he would do playing solely acoustic music before going electric. The film showcases the folk artist struggling with fame as well as questions about his authenticity as an artist as it shown in a raw, black-and-white style. The result is an engrossing and fascinating film from D.A. Pennebaker.

It’s the spring of 1965 in Britain as Bob Dylan is doing an eight-day tour as he’s accompanied by an entourage that include folk singer/then-girlfriend Joan Baez, road manager/friend Bob Neuwirth, and manager Albert Grossman. Joining his former Animals keyboardist Alan Price who had just left the band as they chat about music and ideas while Dylan is doing interviews with the press who are questioning about what his songs mean and all sorts of idiotic questions. It does play into Dylan’s disdain towards his growing fame just as he is changing his look that would include footage of him singing protest songs in Mississippi that is filmed by Ed Emshwiller that shows a young Dylan two years before being the prince of the folk music scene. The Dylan during this tour of Britain is often seen wearing sunglasses and black-leather shoes as well as being a bit more confrontational.

Much of D.A. Pennebaker’s direction is loose in the fact that he captures all of the chaos that goes on backstage, at a hotel room, whenever Dylan is being interviewed, and when he’s on the road riding on a train to a show. Even as there’s scenes that has Joan Baez singing a couple of songs in a hotel room while Dylan is typing something or Dylan watching Donovan perform in a hotel room following an argument over who threw glass on the floor. Pennebaker would often shoot something just as it is happening while he also films a scene of Grossman doing a deal to show how much he cared for Dylan during that time as they would part ways five years later. The usage of raw black-and-white film would give the film a stylistic look while Pennebaker’s editing also has style in the way he would shoot some of the performances with the usage of dissolves and jump-cuts in some of the scenes of Dylan being interviewed.

The performances are straightforward in its presentation with the climax being the shows Dylan played at the Royal Albert Hall in London as it would be this moment that would show Dylan ready to move on from playing folk music and get ready to take a step into a new path. The film’s opening scene is a music video for Subterranean Homesick Blues that has Dylan holding cue cards featuring the lyrics while Allen Ginsberg is in the background talking to someone as it play into this new phase that Dylan was to embark. Even if Pennebaker was unafraid to show Dylan in a bad light such as the scene of him confronting someone over broken glass or being mean to a journalist where it does show Dylan being arrogant in some ways as a front in how he tries to deal with this growing sense of stardom. The sound work of Jones Alk with concert sound by J. Robert Van Dyke does play into the way things sound with Van Dyke providing a nice approach to how Dylan sounded live in his performances.

Dont Look Back is a phenomenal film from D.A. Pennebaker. It’s a documentary that showcases a man’s ascent to stardom as well as coping with this stardom while on tour at a turning point in his career. It’s a film that fans of Bob Dylan must see as it’s also a film that does play into the looseness and style of documentary that captures this air of realism that is unfolding during the course of a tour as it is happening. In the end, Dont Look Back is a tremendous film from D.A. Pennebaker.

Related: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - I'm Not There - Trouble No More

© thevoid99 2018

Friday, July 13, 2018

Justice League

Based on the characters from DC Comics, Justice League is the story of a group of superheroes who form a team to stop a major threat from unleashing havoc on Earth as well as secure a trio of boxes to stop this threat. Directed by Zack Snyder with additional direction by Joss Whedon and screenplay by Whedon and Chris Terrio from a story by Terrio and Snyder, the film is superhero movie that feature many revered superheroes who come together and save the world as they also deal with themselves. Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Amber Heard, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, and Ciaran Hinds as the voice of Steppenwolf. Justice League is a thrilling though underwhelming film from Zack Snyder.

The film is a simple story in which a group of superheroes team up to face a super threat as it all takes place on Earth following the death of Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) during a major battle. For Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), he is consumed with guilt for not doing enough to help Superman as he encounters a major threat forcing him to call upon Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) to help him recruit other figures with special abilities. The film’s screenplay by Chris Terrio with additional work from Joss Whedon does play into the stakes yet it doesn’t do enough to introduce the other characters that would be part of this team and information about these mysterious boxes that the Justice League has to get to stop this antagonist in Steppenwolf. The first act is about Wayne and Prince recruiting the other supers into the Justice League with the Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) immediately saying yes while Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) initially decline until Steppenwolf get involved with their personal lives.

The boxes that are known as the Mother Boxes are all sources of power that Steppenwolf wants to use to destroy the world but he had been thwarted many centuries ago by an alliance of men, Atlanteans, Olympian Gods, the Green Lantern Corps, and Amazonians who agreed to hide the boxes from Steppenwolf. The character of Steppenwolf is a villain that is underwritten due to the fact that he’s not compelling and is never really fleshed out. The script also doesn’t do much Stone as there is little to know about his origin as a kid who survived a car accident only for his father Silas (Joe Morton) to have one of the three boxes to use to create a new cyborg body that Stone would use to retrieve all sorts of information. While Allen and Curry do get a bit of back story, they’re also hampered by the script’s shortcomings due to the fact that they never get a proper introduction though there’s brief mention of why Allen can run so fast and emit electricity.

Zack Snyder’s direction is definitely lavish with some dream-like compositions to play into a world coping with loss as well as a growing sense of hopelessness and danger. Shot mainly at the Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden in Britain with additional locations around London, Los Angeles, Chicago, parts of Scotland, and Iceland. Snyder does establish a world on the brink of chaos and despair as he does create some unique wide shots for some scenes including Wayne’s meeting with Curry in an attempt to get him on board. There are also some close-ups and medium shots in the film to play into the characters interacting with one another as Snyder does know where to put a few moments of humor in the film as well as giving audiences a break for the action. It’s among some of the things that Snyder and his replacement in Joss Whedon would succeed in doing but it’s not enough to make the film more engaging than it needed to be.

Among these issues is that there is this feeling that there’s a longer film in there somewhere as Whedon had to make some compromises to make it less messy but it undercuts some of the moments with the characters as Stone isn’t given a lot to do in how he became Cyborg while the sequence about the origin of Steppenwolf and the three boxes seem to feel like there was a longer version presented. Then there’s many of the visual set pieces as it relates to the action where Snyder and Whedon try to create so much action and visual textures yet the emphasis on visual effects do overwhelm the action including the film’s climax where the Justice League faces off against Steppenwolf and his army. It also has these clunky moments where they try to do so much but ends up being overkill in moments where it wants to be funny and exciting with moments that are serious. Overall, Snyder and Whedon crafts a worthwhile but lackluster film about a group of superheroes coming together to save the world.

Cinematographer Fabian Wagner does some fine work with the cinematography in terms of setting the mood for some scenes at night with its lighting although the reliance on de-saturated colors is overkill as it doesn’t do enough to make the film visually vibrant in favor of grittiness that doesn’t entirely work. Editors David Brenner, Richard Pearson, and Martin Walsh do some good work in the editing in creating some fast-cuts for some of the action though there’s moments where there is too much fast-cutting where it doesn’t do enough to establish what is going on in these action sequences. Production designer Patrick Tatpoulos, with set decorator Dominic Capron and senior art director Matthew Gray, does excellent work with the look of the Batcave where Wayne does much of his work and serves as a temporary base for the Justice League as well as the look of the place where Steppenwolf wants to use the Mother Boxes. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson does amazing work with the costumes in the look of the characters as well as the casual clothes they would wear when they’re not working as superheroes.

Makeup designer Victoria Down does nice work with the look of the characters from the look of Cyborg as well as the tattoos on Curry. Special effects supervisor Mark Holt and visual effects supervisor John “D.J.” Des Jardin do some terrific work on the visual effects for the design of the monsters though its usage as set-dressing isn’t inspired while the look of Steppenwolf is underwhelming as well as the awkward look of Clark Kent when he smiles. Sound designer Chuck Michael does superb work with the sound in the way the aliens sound as well as some of the weapons and the layer of sounds in the film’s climax. The film’s music by Danny Elfman is wonderful for its orchestral bombast that help play into the action and suspense along with a few low-key pieces for the non-action scenes while music supervisor Karen Elliott does do some OK work on the soundtrack as it includes music from the White Stripes as well as covers of songs by Sigrid doing Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows and Gary Clark with Junkie XL doing the Beatles’ Come Together.

The casting by Kristy Carlson, Lora Kennedy, and Kate Ringsell is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Billy Crudup as Allen’s father Henry, Joe Morton as Stone’s father Silas, Amber Heard as the Atlantean Mera who knows Curry’s mother, Connie Nielsen as Prince’s mother Queen Hippolyta who would send her daughter a signal about Steppenwolf, Michael McElhatton as a terrorist Diana defeats early in the film, Diane Lane as Kent’s adoptive mother Martha Kent, and J.K. Simmons as Gotham police commissioner James Gordon who briefs members of the Justice League about the kidnappings at Gotham. Amy Adams is fantastic as Lois Lane as the reporter for the Daily Planet and Clark Kent’s love interest who copes with not just loss but also the sense of hopelessness despite the efforts of the Justice League. Ciaran Hinds is OK as Steppenwolf as he provides the voice of this menacing figure though it’s a character that is severely underwritten and not really given much to do but go after the Mother Boxes and kill good people.

Henry Cavill is good as Clark Kent/Superman as he’s first seen in an Instagram video as the superhero where he would later be part of a plan to be revived as Cavill has his moments despite some bad visual effects on his face. Jeremy Irons is excellent as Alfred Pennyworth as Wayne’s longtime butler/assistant who is the film’s conscience of sorts as someone who helps the Justice League with information as well as be aware of what is at stake. Ray Fisher is alright as Victor Stone/Cyborg as a former athlete who survived an accident that would have him sport a machine-like body as he deals with his abilities and being alive as Fisher has his moments though he’s not given a lot to do. Jason Momoa is superb as Arthur Curry/Aquaman as a half-Atlantean/half-human man that has the ability to control water and such as he is reluctant to join the Justice League until Atlantis was attacked prompting him to join as he does provide some funny moments.

Ezra Miller is brilliant as Barry Allen/the Flash as a young superhero who can run very fast and emit electricity as he is an admitted loner that has a hard time trying to get friends as he is also a fanboy of sorts in working with Batman and Wonder Woman as he is fun to watch. Gal Gadot is amazing as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman as the Amazonian princess who learns about Steppenwolf’s return as she decides to help Wayne out in forming the Justice League while dealing with her own reluctance to help out humanity. Finally, there’s Ben Affleck in an incredible performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman as the vigilante who decides to form a team as a way to make amends for his anger towards Superman while being aware of this threat as knows he’s been in too many battles but is hoping to save the world.

Justice League is a terrific though underwhelming film from Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon. Despite its great cast, some nice action set pieces, and bits of humor, it’s a film that falls short in what it needed to be as this epic superhero cross-over film with high stakes. Especially as it rely too much on visual effects and spectacles that don’t really do much for the story that needed to flesh out the characters more. In the end, Justice League is a good but lackluster film from Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon.

Zack Snyder Films: (Dawn of the Dead (2004 film)) – 300 - Watchmen - (Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole) – Sucker Punch

Joss Whedon Films: Serenity - The Avengers (2012 film) - Much Ado About Nothing (2012 film) - The Avengers: Age of Ultron

DC Extended Universe: Man of Steel - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Suicide Squad - Wonder Woman - (Aquaman) – (Shazam!) – (Wonder Woman 1984)

© thevoid99 2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks: Characters Who Magically Age Up or Down

For the 28th week of 2018 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer. We delve into characters who either grow up to be older or to be younger by some idea of magic or something. It’s often a plot device that often creates ideas of humor or an understanding for characters to either face what might or return to their youth. Here are my three picks:

1. Death Becomes Her

From Robert Zemeckis comes one of the finest comedies of the 1990s that pits Meryl Streep against Goldie Hawn for the affections of an alcoholic Bruce Willis. Streep plays an aging diva who learns that Hawn has lost weight and has become beautiful with Willis falling for Hawn all over again. Streep learns about a potion that makes her younger and live forever but there’s a catch which she and Hawn both find out as there’s a lot of shenanigans that goes on. It’s a film that still holds up with visual effects that may be dated for its time but it did help tell the story of what happen when two women try to kill each other for a man and to live forever.

2. 13 Going on 30

A 13 year old girl on her birthday wants to be accepted by the cool kids and hopes the cutest boy kisses her. Instead, she gets upset and wishes to be thirty and flirty where she becomes a woman in her 30s working for a flailing fashion magazine and isn’t nice to people. It’s an enjoyable comedy with a winning performance from Jennifer Garner who definitely proves she can be funny and full of charm as she’s aided by top-notch supporting performances from Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, and Andy Serkis who steals the show as Garner’s boss who does the Moonwalk.

3. 17 Again

A light-hearted comedy that has Matthew Perry lament over his failure in life and in his marriage where he felt he peaked when he was 17 as he falls into a whirlpool and becomes Zac Efron. It’s a film where a man is given a second chance as a 17-year old to fix his life as well as help his teenage kids with growing pains as it’s a light-hearted film that include a hilarious supporting turn from Thomas Lennon as his best friend who pretends to be Efron’s dad as he falls for the school’s principal that has a love for Lord of the Rings. It’s a formulaic film but Efron is what makes the film a joy to watch.

© thevoid99 2018

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Cheyenne Autumn

Based on the novel The Last Frontier by Howard Fast, Cheyenne Autumn is the story of a cavalry captain who reluctantly takes part on a mission to track down a tribe of migrating Cheyenne. Directed by John Ford and screenplay by James R. Webb with contributions from Mari Sandoz, the film is Ford’s final western as it play into a man being forced to take down a Native American tribe as it play as an elegy for the West and for Native Americans who had been mistreated by the American government. Starring Richard Widmark, Carroll Baker, Ricardo Montalban, Gilbert Roland, Sal Mineo, Dolores del Rio, Edward G. Robinson, Karl Malden, Arthur Kennedy, and James Stewart as Wyatt Earp. Cheyenne Autumn is a majestic and sprawling film from John Ford.

Set in the late 19th Century, the film is based on the real-life Northern Cheyenne Exodus of 1878-1879 where a group of Cheyenne decide to leave their reservation in the Oklahoma Territory to return to their homeland in Wyoming due to a promise that wasn’t fulfilled by the U.S. government. It plays into this cavalry officer who is order to pursue a tribe of migrating Cheyenne and take them back to the reservation as he doesn’t want to harm them but knows the mission is futile. Adding to this in this pursuit is then Secretary of the Interior in Carl Schurz (Edward G. Robinson) who trying to prevent violence happening while some in the press are spreading lies into what the Cheyenne has done when the reality is that the death toll of soldiers were actually small. James R. Webb’s screenplay is largely told from the perspective of Captain Thomas Archer (Richard Widmark) who talks about his pursuit as well as wanting to keep the peace knowing that he’s tried to help the Cheyenne anyway he can and was angry that a meeting between a major government official and the Cheyenne didn’t take place because the former didn’t keep his promise.

Captain Archer tries to ensure two of its chiefs in Little Wolf (Ricardo Montalban) and Dull Knife (Gilbert Roland) to stay in the reservation despite its poor condition so he can reach out and give the Cheyenne what they want. With their head chief in poor health, Little Wolf and Dull Knife make the decision to return to Wyoming as they’re aided by the schoolteacher Deborah Wright (Carroll Baker) who is concerned for the children as the Cheyenne allow her to travel with them. Wright is Captain Archer’s lover as he would learn that she had fled with the Cheyenne making his reluctant pursuit personal as well as wanting to ensure that no harm comes to her. The film also showcase others encountering the Cheyenne including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (Arthur Kennedy) in a comedic moment in the film as it play into this exaggeration of the press. Much of the film’s second half is about this divergence between Little Wolf and Dull Knife over their journey with the latter seeking shelter where things don’t go according to plan which angers Captain Archer and Wright forcing the former to turn to Schurz for help.

John Ford’s direction is definitely grand for the way he captures the world of the American West as it is shot largely on Monument Valley at the Arizona-Utah Border to play into not just some of the desolation of the location but also into a world that is ever-changing. Ford’s usage of the locations has him use a lot of wide shots with some precise compositions such as the scene of the Cheyenne waiting for the government official as they remain still with Captain Archer and his superior waiting as they would learn that the man won’t show up prompting the Cheyenne to leave. Ford’s usage of the wide shots doesn’t just play into the beauty of these locations but also in how vast the number of the Cheyenne as well as Captain Archer’s troops who are trying to pursue the Cheyenne but don’t want to create any conflict that could get both parties killed. The attention to detail in the compositions says a lot of what Ford wanted to say about the West and its mistreatment towards Natives including the Cheyenne.

While there are some intimate moments in the close-ups and medium shots that include a brief detour in a scene at a small town where Earp and Holliday are first seen playing cards and then get involved in a scuffle with the Cheyenne that is a comical moment in the film. It’s a scene that does seem out of place but it does play into this air of exaggeration the press will make in order to stir trouble and sell newspapers though there is a scene of one newspaper that wants to tell the truth. It all play into Ford’s need to have the Natives tell their side of the story as well as their mistrust towards whites with the latter wanting to make amends for their past sins. Though the eventual meeting between Schurz and the Cheyenne chiefs is presented in an awkward backdrop, it is a key moment that would create a step forward into a peaceful settlement between the Cheyenne and the American government. Overall, Ford crafts an evocative and mesmerizing film about the real life Northern Cheyenne Exodus.

Cinematographer William H. Clothier does brilliant work with the film’s Technicolor cinematography as it captures the beauty of the locations as well as the great attention to detail for many of the colors including some of the interior lighting for scenes set at night. Editor Otho Lovering, with additional work by David Hawkins, does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward to play into the action and suspense. Art director Richard Day and set decorator Darrell Silvera do amazing work with the look of the town where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were playing poker as well as the look of some of the cavalry forts. Costume designers Frank Beetson Jr. and Ann Peck do fantastic work with the costumes for the look of the cavalry uniforms and the lavish clothes for the people at the small town as well as clothes of the Cheyenne. The sound work of Francis E. Stahl is terrific for its natural approach to sound as well as the way it captures gunfire and war drums from afar. The film’s music by Alex North is wonderful for its sweeping orchestral score that play into the sense of adventure and suspense along with the usage of percussions for some of the bombast as well as low-key moments for the drama.

The film’s superb ensemble cast include some notable small roles and appearances from Judson Pratt as a mayor, George O’Brien as Captain Archer’s superior Major Braden, Sean McClory as the fort doctor O’Carberry who tends to a young Cheyenne girl, Mike Mazurki as 1st Sergeant Stanislus Wichowsky who helps out Captain Archer later in the film, John Carradine as Major Jeff Blair who plays poker with Earp and Holliday, Elizabeth Allen as a woman trying to flirt with Earp, and Patrick Wayne as 2nd Lieutenant Scott as a young cavalry officer eager to kill some Cheyenne yet has to endure some humility.

James Stewart and Arthur Kennedy are terrific in their brief appearances in their respective roles as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday with the two legends who provide some humor in their roles but also prove to be capable badasses that no one should mess with. Dolores del Rio is terrific in a small role as Spanish Woman as a Cheyenne who is a liaison for the Cheyenne and Wright as she sees good intentions in Wright but also know there is trouble going on. Sal Mineo is wonderful as Red Shirt as the son of a chief who has immense disdain towards the white people as he would often get the Cheyenne into danger while he pines for a chief’s wife. Karl Malden is fantastic as Captain Oscar Wessels as a cavalry fort captain who takes in a portion of the Cheyenne for shelter until he is given the order to take them back to their reservation as tries to instill his idea of order.

Ricardo Montalban and Gilbert Roland are excellent in their respective roles as Little Wolf and Dull Knife as two Cheyenne chiefs who both share the same views about White people only to diverge over ideas of survival as they would both struggle to maintain their friendship. Edward G. Robinson is brilliant as Carl Schurz as the then-Secretary of the Interior who is trying to maintain some order as well as securing a peaceful resolution with the Cheyenne as well as discredit any kind of news that puts them in a bad light. Carroll Baker is amazing as Deborah Wright as a Quaker schoolteacher who joins the exodus to watch over the children and help them as she deals with the troubles of the journey. Finally, there’s Richard Widmark in an incredible performance as Captain Thomas Archer as a cavalry officer who is trying to ensure a peaceful resolution with the Cheyenne as he reluctantly pursues them where he becomes aware of Wright with them as he tries to ensure that he and his troops don’t kill anyone.

Cheyenne Autumn is a remarkable film from John Ford. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, an exhilarating film score, amazing action, and a compelling story. The film is definitely one of Ford’s finest westerns as well as a touching elegy to Native Americans who were often depicted in an unkind light in the genre. In the end, Cheyenne Autumn is a marvelous film from John Ford.

© thevoid99 2018

Monday, July 09, 2018

The Outsiders

Based on the novel by S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders is the story of two young greasers who go on the run following a self-defense murder of a drunken rich kid in Tulsa as they deal with their roles in the world. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and screenplay by Kathleen Rowell, the film is coming-of-age story involving teenage kids from poor/working class environments dealing with the prejudice of their world as well as seeing if there’s a good life outside of these restrictions. Starring C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, Leif Garrett, Darren Dalton, Glenn Withrow, Michelle Meyrink, and Tom Waits. The Outsiders is an enchanting and evocative film from Francis Ford Coppola.

Set in the early 1960s in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the film revolves around a rivalry between two different gangs from different parts of the town that represent the social divide in the city. From the south of Tulsa are a group of kids from the working class/poor section of the town known as the greasers who wear denim, leather, and have grease on their hair while the kids from the north of Tulsa are the Socs who are rich kids who have their life set by their parents, wear letterman jackets, and posh clothes. In the middle of this conflict are a couple of young greasers who sneak into a drive-in movie venue where they befriend a young woman as they would later have an ugly encounter with her drunken boyfriend that ended with one of them killing a Soc in self-defense. With the help of another greaser, the two young men leave Tulsa and hide out where they deal with their roles as greasers as well as wondering if there’s more to offer as they encounter heroism as well as tragedy.

The film’s screenplay by Kathleen Rowell (that was largely re-written by Francis Ford Coppola) focuses on three young greasers in Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell), Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio), and Dallas “Dally” Winston (Matt Dillon) who spend a lot of time bumming around Tulsa as Curtis is still reeling from the death of his parents some years ago as he lives with his older brothers Darrel (Patrick Swayze) and Sodapop (Rob Lowe) where there’s tension Ponyboy and Darrel. Johnny is also from a dysfunctional family home as his friendship with Ponyboy is very close where they end up having to fight off a gang of Socs led by Bob Sheldon (Leif Garrett) who is angry over the fact that his girlfriend Cherry Valance (Diane Lane) befriended Ponyboy and Johnny as they didn’t play up the stereotypes of the greasers. Much of the film’s second act is set outside of Tulsa where Johnny and Ponyboy hide in an abandoned church where they change their look and view on the world until they reunite with Dally who gives them news about what they did to Sheldon.

Much of the film’s second half isn’t just about the act of heroism from Johnny, Ponyboy, and a reluctant Dally but also the fallout of Sheldon’s murder leading to a climatic rumble between the greasers and Socs with fellow greasers Two-Bit Matthews (Emilio Estevez), Steve Randle (Tom Cruise), and Tim Shepard (Glenn Withrow) helping out the Curtis brothers and other greasers with a sudden appearance from Dally. Yet, it’s the aftermath of the rumble that would change things as it relate to the reality of the world and the sacrifice that Johnny made into his act of heroism.

Coppola’s direction is intoxicating for not just shooting the film on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma and nearby locations but also in emphasizing some elements of realism into the film. There are also elements of styles in the compositions as the film and ends with Ponyboy Curtis reflecting on a memory and writing it all down on paper as if a book is coming to life. The usage of the locations doesn’t just play into this life in a 1960s town in the Midwest where there isn’t much to do but there is also this air of social divide as Coppola doesn’t dwell into the environment that the Socs live in as he prefers to show some of the dirtier side of the city including drive-ins, local shops, and other places that greasers would hang out at. While he would use some wide shots to establish some of the locations including a crane shot of sorts for the scene where Ponyboy and Johnny are confronted by Bob and his friends at the greasers’ turf.

Coppola would also create some stylish shots in the compositions in the way characters interact with one another that would include scenes where Ponyboy is presented in the background and Johnny in the foreground in a medium shot during the film’s third act in a chilling yet somber scene. There are also these dreamy moments during a key scene in the second act where Coppola create this shot of Ponyboy talking to Johnny about some of the stuff he read and this idea of purity and innocence that is presented in a golden shot of sorts. It’s an innocence that Ponyboy would struggle to carry towards the third act as it also play into some of the fallacies of masculinity as it relates to Dally who always act tough and thinks he’s smarter than everyone. Yet, he is unprepared for not just this reality in loss but also the reality that he’s still young who is in need of growing up. Overall, Coppola creates a majestic yet touching film about a gang of teenage greasers dealing with growing pains and the realities of their environment including the social divide.

Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on low-key colors for some of the film’s daytime and nighttime exteriors as well as the usage of golden sunlight for a few key scenes as it play into Ponyboy’s innocence. Editor Anne Goursaud does excellent work with the editing as it help play into some the drama with some stylish dissolves and other cuts that also help play into some of the film’s energetic moments. Production designer Dean Tavoularis and set decorator Gary Fettis do fantastic work with the look of the abandoned church that Ponyboy and Johnny hide at outside of Tulsa as well as some of the interiors of the home where the Curtis brothers lived in.

The special visual effects work of Robert Swarthe is terrific for a lone sequence that relates to the assault of Ponyboy and Johnny by the Socs as it has an element of surrealism. Sound designer Richard Beggs does amazing work with the sound in creating sound textures for Ponyboy’s dream sequence as well as the natural atmosphere of some of the film’s locations. The film’s music by Carmine Coppola is wonderful for its rich and somber orchestral score that play into the dramatic elements of the film while the soundtrack features a couple of songs in the film from Them and a song by Stevie Wonder that was co-written with Carmine Coppola.

The casting by Janet Hirshenson is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it include some notable small roles and appearances from novelist S.E. Hinton as a nurse, William Smith as a store clerk Dally tries to threaten late in the film, Gailard Sartain as man that Ponyboy briefly talks to following the act of heroism, Sofia Coppola as a young girl asking for change, Tom Waits as a guardian of sorts for Dally in Buck Merrill, Glenn Withrow as a fellow greaser in Tim Shepard, Michelle Meyrink as Cherry’s friend Marcia, and Darren Dalton as a Soc named Randy Anderson who was Bob’s friend as he would have a conversation with Ponyboy during the third act stripping away the image of a Soc. Leif Garrett is terrific in his small role as the Soc Bob Sheldon who was Cherry’s boyfriend who berates her while being drunk as he has an immense disdain towards the greasers.

Diane Lane is fantastic as Cherry Valance as a mid-upper class girl who is part of the Socs though she dispels its stereotypes upon befriending Ponyboy and trying to help him over what happened. Tom Cruise and Emilio Estevez are excellent in their respective roles as Steve Randle and Two-Bit Matthews as a couple of greasers who are friends of the Curtis brothers with Randle as a tough kid who works with Sodapop while Matthews is a slacker of sorts who does watch over Ponyboy and Johnny during an encounter with the Socs. Rob Lowe is superb as Sodapop Curtis as the middle brother who works at a gas station with Randle as he is always trying to mediate between Darrel and Ponyboy. Patrick Swayze is brilliant as Darrel Curtis as the elder brother of Sodapop and Ponyboy who is trying to be responsible despite being too hard on Ponyboy.

Ralph Macchio is amazing as Johnny Cade as Ponyboy’s best friend who is a sensible person as he deals with what he had to do to save Ponyboy as well as pondering his own place in the world. C. Thomas Howell is marvelous as Ponyboy Curtis as a 14-year old greaser who is coping with loss as well as pondering a life outside of being a greaser as it’s a performance full of innocence and grace. Finally, there’s Matt Dillon in a phenomenal performance as Dally Winston as a young yet tough greaser who is cool but lacking in sensitivity as he is always tough where he tries to do whatever he can to protect Ponyboy and Johnny.

The Outsiders is a remarkable film from Francis Ford Coppola. Featuring an ensemble cast of future stars as well as gorgeous visuals, compelling themes of innocence and identity, and a lush musical score by Carmine Coppola. It’s a film that is engaging as well as displaying elements of realism and fantasy into the idea of growing pains in early 1960s Tulsa. In the end, The Outsiders is an incredible film from Francis Ford Coppola.

Francis Ford Coppola Films: (Tonight for Sure) – (The Bellboy and the Playgirls) – Dementia 13 - (You’re a Big Boy Now) – (Finian’s Rainbow) – (The Rain People) – The Godfather - The Conversation - The Godfather Pt. II - Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux - One from the Heart - Rumble Fish - The Cotton Club - (Peggy Sue Got Married) – (Garden of Stone) – (Tucker: The Man & His Dreams) – New York Stories-Life Without Zoe - The Godfather Pt. III - Bram Stoker's Dracula - (Jack) – (The Rainmaker) – (Youth Without Youth) – Tetro - (Twixt)

© thevoid99 2018