Friday, April 19, 2019

Battle of the Sexes (2017 film)

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by Simon Beaufoy, Battle of the Sexes is about the legendary 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King that was televised and held at the Houston Astrodome. The film is a dramatic account of the events where the legendary Riggs challenges King, who was then the top champion in tennis, as a publicity stunt as a way to get women more respect in the world of sports with Steve Carell playing Riggs and Emma Stone as King. Also starring Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Bill Pullman, Natalie Morales, and Sarah Silverman. Battle of the Sexes is a compelling yet exhilarating film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

The film is a dramatic re-telling of the 1973 Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King from the events prior to the match as well as its set-up and outcome. It’s a film with a simple premise where King is the top tennis player of her time but feels that women aren’t being treated fairly in comparison to the men as she feels like women deserve equal pay or more money. Simon’s Beaufoy’s script opens with King’s sudden rise to fame in 1970 as a top tennis player but is upset that an upcoming tennis tour will have her and several other women players be paid much less than the men. This forces King and former tennis player/magazine publisher Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) to create their own tournament with eight other players as they would gain a sponsor in Virginia Slim cigarettes though they would struggle early on to draw an audience despite being banned by legendary tennis player/promoter Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) from the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association.

The first act is about King and her attempt to get equal pay for herself and other players as well as establish what Riggs was doing at the time as a man who loves to gamble much to the dismay of his wife Priscilla Whelan (Elisabeth Shue) who would kick him out of their home. Riggs who plays tennis to win cars decides to challenge the women as a publicity stunt where he would immediately challenge King who would turn him down as Riggs would challenge Australian tennis champion Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) and defeat her prompting King to accept Riggs’ challenge. Beaufoy’s script also touch upon King’s affair with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) despite the fact that King is married to a man named Larry (Austin Stowell) as it is a key part of the second act that would also play into King’s determination to beat Riggs unaware that he’s really playing a character for show.

The direction of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris does have its elements of style in recreating the world of the early 1970s as it is shot mainly in Los Angeles where much of the film is set. There are some wide shots in establishing the locations as well as in the film’s climatic tennis match set at the Houston Astrodome. Yet, much of Dayton and Faris’ direction is more on the characters and their situations as well as their need to win. Particularly in the usage of close-ups and medium shots that play into the drama and some of the humor where the latter relates mainly to Riggs and his life including the things he would do in playing tennis for money. The direction would show that for all Riggs’ faults as a man, the persona as this chauvinist was really for show as he was someone that was devoted to his family including his wife. Dayton and Faris’ direction also showcase the growing air of sexism towards women’s tennis not just from men but also women as Margaret Court is more of a traditionalist who would glance at King’s relationship with Barnett with disapproval.

The direction also play into this tension between King and tennis organizations who don’t want to succeed nor want any kind of change in the world of tennis unaware that women are paying to see women play tennis. The climatic match at the Astrodome is shown in a massive scope to play up into how large the event is as well as this air of showmanship before the match is to commence. There is this air of excitement but also dramatic tension as the stakes are high while its aftermath show a sense of relief but also realization that things are to change. Overall, Dayton and Faris create an exhilarating yet engaging film about the real-life tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and the events preceding this landmark tennis match.

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of colors for some of the exterior scenes as well as using grainy film stock to recreate the look of 1970s television coverage is a highlight of the film. Editor Pamela Martin does excellent work with the editing as it has bits of montages as well as some stylish moments that play into the energy of the tennis matches. Production designer Judy Becker, with set decorator Matthew Flood Ferguson and art director Alexander Wei, does amazing work with the look of the hotel/motel rooms the women players stayed in as well as the home of Riggs along with the look of the tennis court inside the Astrodome. Costume designer Mary Zophres does fantastic work with the design of the clothes of the 1970s including some of the uniforms the women tennis players chose to wear as well as some of the costumes that Riggs wear for his publicity tour.

Hair stylist Frioa S. Aradottir and makeup artist Torsten White do terrific work with the different hairstyles and looks of King and Riggs during that time as well as how they would evolve in those few years. Special effects supervisor Sam Dean and visual effects supervisor Cliff Welsh do superb work with the visual effects in some set dressing for the period as well as what footage looked like on TV. Sound designer Ai-Ling Lee does wonderful work with the sound in its creation of sound effects as well as how rackets sounded like back then and the massive layers of sounds for the film’s climatic game. The film’s music by Nicolas Britell is incredible for its rich and sumptuous music score with its lush piano and string arrangements that help play into the drama and sense of excitement into the climatic tennis match while music supervisor Steven Baker provides a soundtrack that played into the times as it includes music from Elton John, Bobbie Gentry, Ray Wills, Tommy James and the Shondells, Apollo 100, Norma Jenkins, George Harrison, and Hugh Masekala along with contemporary pieces from the Pretenders and Sara Bareilles.

The casting by Justine Arteta and Kim Davis-Wagner is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from John C. McGinley as a friend of Riggs, Matt Malloy as Riggs’ therapist, Eric Christian Olsen as Riggs’ friend/trainer Lornie Kuhle, Fred Armisen as Riggs’ nutritionist Rheo Blair, Lewis Pullman as Riggs’ eldest son Larry, and James MacKay as Court’s husband Barry. In the roles of the members of the Original 9 players, Martha MacIsaac, Mickey Sumner, Bridey Elliott, Lauren Kline, Ashley Weinhold, Fidan Manashirova, and Kaitlyn Christian play in their respective roles as the tennis players Jane “Peaches” Bartkowicz, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, Nancy Richey, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Tegart Dalton, and Kerry Melville Reid while Christian also plays the tennis double of King with Vince Spadea as the tennis double of Riggs. Natalie Morales is terrific as an Original 9 tennis player in Rosie Casals as someone who is outspoken as well as be the one to provide commentary for the game.

Jessica McNamee is wonderful as Australian tennis champion Margaret Court as a tennis player who joins the women’s tour as she is someone that is conservative and would accept Riggs’ challenge. Austin Stowell is superb as King’s husband Larry as a man who is supportive of her while he is aware that she has feelings for someone else yet keeps to himself. Elisabeth Shue is fantastic as Riggs’ wife Priscilla as a wealthy woman who isn’t fond of her husband’s gambling as well as his pursuit to challenge women players only to realize what he’s really trying to do. Alan Cumming is excellent as costumer Cuthbert “Ted” Tinling as an openly-gay designer who supports the women in making clothes for them but also help King out in her relationship with Barnett. Bill Pullman is brilliant as famed tennis legend/organization leader Jack Kramer who doesn’t believe that the women would draw as he gains the ire of King for his sexist comments.

Sarah Silverman is amazing as legendary tennis player/publisher Gladys Heldman as a woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone where Silverman provides some humor but also some grit into someone who is championing this new generation of players. Andrea Riseborough is incredible as Marilyn Barnett as a hairdresser who falls for King as she accompanies her on the tour while becomes concerned whether or not she is a distraction to King. Finally, there’s the duo of Emma Stone and Steve Carell in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Stone brings a charm but also a seriousness as King as someone that is striving to be the best but is also deals with her sexuality as it relates to her relationship with Barnett which she wants to keep as a secret as homosexuality was still considered taboo. Carell brings this energy and wit as Riggs as someone who loves to gamble and have fun while knowing a good financial opportunity when he sees it while playing up this persona as a male chauvinist to help sell tickets. Stone and Carell have this chemistry in the way they deal with each other but also know there is an air of respect between the two tennis legends.

Battle of the Sexes is a marvelous film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris that feature great performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell. Along with its ensemble cast, Simon Beaufoy’s engaging script, gorgeous cinematography, and Nicolas Britell’s rich score. It’s a film that manages to be exciting as a sports film but also provide some deep insights into the world of tennis during the 1970s and how one woman wanted to make things fair by playing against one of the sports’ great champions. In the end, Battle of the Sexes is a remarkable film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris Films: Little Miss Sunshine - Ruby Sparks

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks: Interview

For the 16th week of 2019 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We focus on the subject of interviews as it play into characters telling stories to another as well as getting a chance to know or discover about something or one’s self. Here are my three picks:

1. Velvet Goldmine

Todd Haynes’ glam-rock story about the rise and fall of a glam rock icon and his eventual disappearance from the public eye as the film is mainly about a journalist dealing with his past as he interviews various people who knew this glam rock singer. There’s several flashbacks and nods to the world of 1970s glam rock with Christian Bale playing the journalist who was a young fan at that time as he later deals with what he saw and its aftermath. It’s a flawed film but certainly an entertaining one for those who loved the world of 1970s glam rock.

2. The Fog of War

Errol Morris’ 2003 film has him talking to former Secretary of Defense chief Robert S. McNamara who served that position under the presidency of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. It’s a film that has McNamara talking about the Vietnam War and the lessons that needed to be learn as it also play into many things that become much more prevalent about the dangers of war. McNamara isn’t afraid to say things that people wouldn’t want to hear but also showcases some of uneasy decisions one had to make as it is one of the finest documentary films of the 21st Century so far.

3. Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley’s personal film about her own family has talking to many people about her mother but also questions about who she is and the idea that the man who raised her might not be her biological father. It’s a film that is an unconventional documentary but a touching one as it has Polley questioning a lot about herself but also talk to siblings and longtime family friends about her late mother as it adds a lot into a woman discovering her identity as well as uncover some family secrets.

© thevoid99 2019

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Passion of Anna

(In Memory of Bibi Andersson (1935-2019))

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, En passion (The Passion of Anna) is the story of a reclusive man who falls for mysterious yet grief-stricken woman after breaking up with a lover and dealing with the dissolution of his marriage. The third film in a thematic trilogy that of violence, isolation, and self-hatred in ordinary lives, the film is an exploration of an affair that would eventually turn into chaos. Starring Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson, Erik Hell, and Sigge Furst. En passion is a riveting yet haunting film from Ingmar Bergman.

Set in a remote island in Sweden, the film follows a man who is living alone following a divorce and dissolution of other relationships where his meeting with this grief-stricken woman would mark some unexpected change in his life as well as deal with some demons. It’s a film that play into a man who is living alone despite having a few friends as he meets this woman who is coping with the loss of her husband and son in a car accident as he gets to know her while being aware that something strange is happening around him and his friends. Ingmar Bergman’s script doesn’t have much plot as it’s more about this remote life in this island as it mainly follows the character of Andreas Winkelman (Max von Sydow) who is first seen repairing the roof in his house where this woman named Anna (Liv Ullmann) asks if she could make a phone call.

He would meet her again at a dinner with friends Eva (Bibi Andersson) and her husband Elis (Erland Josephson) as sees Anna as a woman that stands for the idea of truth. Andreas would deal with the growing schism in Elis and Eva’s marriage leading to a brief tryst with the latter and revelations about what is happening around them that includes Anna’s presence as someone who is passionate about faith. When Andreas starts a relationship with Anna, it goes well at first but things start to become questionable as the film also feature subplots relating to acts of cruelty against animals where Andreas saves a dachshund from being hanged. It would play into Andreas’ feelings about the world and whether Anna could really cope with these harsh realities.

Bergman’s direction does have some elements of style though much of his approach to compositions are straightforward. Shot on the Swedish island of Faro, Bergman would use the location to represent a world that is falling apart by these cruel events as well as this air of fervor and madness over some of these incidents. Bergman’s usage of the wide shots doesn’t just pertain to the locations but also in some intimate moments in some of the homes as it play into the growing discord between Eva and Elis as well as Andreas’ relationship with Anna late in the film. The usage of close-ups and medium shots as well as these precise compositions that are part of Bergman’s visual style add to the drama as well as this growing disconnect with reality. Notably in a black-and-white sequence where Anna dreams about being in despair and unable to help out as it relates to an execution. It’s a strange yet chilling sequence that matches up with the events of when the film was being made where Andreas and Anna watch television that relates to the turmoil of the late 1960s.

The direction also feature brief interludes as the actors playing the principle characters each comment on the characters they’re playing as it adds to this discussion of faith, isolation, passion, and dissolution. Even as it play into Andreas’ brief tryst with Eva who confesses her own issues with Elis while Andreas later copes with the barrage of animal cruelty around him as he would help neighbors bury the dead animals. The film’s climax doesn’t just play into Andreas’ frustrations with the world but also the violence that surrounds him as he starts to become unhinged by Anna’s passionate rhetoric about faith as it raises questions about everything she believes in. Overall, Bergman crafts a gripping yet evocative film about a man’s relationship with a grief-stricken yet passionate woman.

Cinematographer Sven Nykvist does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its gorgeous usage of color and lighting for some of the interiors as well as some natural lighting for the exteriors as well as a stark black-and-white look for Anna’s dream sequence. Editor Siv Lundgren does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward in terms of its approach to drama as it help play into some long shots with a few rhythmic cuts and montages that also add to the sense of discomfort looming throughout the film.

Production designer P.A. Lundgren does brilliant work with the look of the homes of the characters including some of the farms nearby Andreas’ home. Costume designer Mago does nice work with the costumes as it has some style into what Eva wears though it is mainly filled by sweaters and winter-like clothing. The sound work of Lennart Engholm is fantastic for capturing the natural elements of the film’s locations as well as the loud sounds of sirens and terror from the television that to the sense of despair in the film.

The film’s terrific cast feature some notable small roles from Marianne Karlbeck, Barbro Hiort af Ornas, Brita Oberg, Malin Ek, and Britta Brunius as women that Andreas and Anna would meet in their dreams, producer Lars-Owe Carlberg as a police officer, Sigge Furst as a neighbor named Verner, and Erik Hell in a superb small role as the farmer Johan Andersson as a man who is targeted by locals believing he is the one that is killing all of the animals. Erland Josephson is excellent as Elis Vergerus as a photographer who is trying to capture real emotions as he copes with his failing marriage but also his fascination towards Anna.

Bibi Andersson is amazing as Eva Vergerus as Elis’ wife who feels neglected and unimportant leading to a brief tryst with Andreas where she later copes with the effects of the affair. Max von Sydow is brilliant as Andreas Winkelman as a loner who is dealing with divorce and dissolution of his relationships as he’s trying to keep things to himself only to have a brief affair with Eva and later be in a relationship with Anna that later brings trouble and many questions about Anna. Finally, there’s Liv Ullmann in a phenomenal performance as Anna Fromm as a grief-stricken woman with a passionate rhetoric for faith who is a woman seeking truth as she’s troubled by her surroundings as well as the world in general leading to many questions if she really believes in what she’s saying.

En passion is a tremendous film from Ingmar Bergman. Featuring a great cast, Sven Nykvist’s gorgeous cinematography, a provocative premise, and its engrossing themes on passion, violence, humanity, and alienation. It’s a film that doesn’t provide any easy answers about human nature and their own faults as well as how one’s beliefs can distort their view on reality. In the end, En passion is a spectacular film from Ingmar Bergman.

Ingmar Bergman Films: (Crisis) - (It Rains on Our Love) - (A Ship to India) - (Music of Darkness) - (Port of Call) - (Prison) - (Thirst (1949 film)) - (To Joy) - (This Can’t Happen Here) - (Summer Interlude) – Secrets of Women - Summer with Monika - Sawdust and Tinsel - A Lesson in Love - Dreams (1955 film) - Smiles of a Summer Night - The Seventh Seal - (Mr. Sleeman is Coming) – Wild Strawberries - (The Venetian) - (Brink of Life) - (Rabies) - The Magician (1958 film) - The Virgin Spring - The Devil's Eye - Through a Glass Darkly - Winter Light - The Silence (1963 film) - All These Women - Persona - (Stimulantia-Daniel) – Hour of the Wolf - (Shame (1968 film)) - (The Rite) - (The Touch) – Cries & Whispers - Scenes from a Marriage - (The Magic Flute) - (Face to Face) - (The Serpent’s Egg) – Autumn Sonata - From the Life of the Marionettes - Fanny & Alexander - (After the Rehearsal) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) – Saraband

© thevoid99 2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

It's Kind of a Funny Story

Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is about a teenage boy who checks into a hospital following an attempted suicide jump where he is hospitalized for depression as he meet other individuals struggling with their own mental illnesses. Written for the screen and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film is an exploration of a teenage boy dealing with the pressures of society and his own shortcomings as he would try to understand himself as well as those suffering from anxieties. Starring Keir Gilchrist, Emma Roberts, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Jeremy Davies, Zoe Kravitz, Thomas Mann, Aasif Mandvi, Bernard White, Laverne Cox, Viola Davis, and Zach Galifianakis. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a witty and engrossing film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

With the pressure to succeed both in school and in life just before it’s really about to start, the film is about a teenage boy who checks into a hospital following a suicide attempt where he would stay for nearly a week as he meets various people with similar struggles as well as other forms of mental illness. It’s a film that explores the anxieties of a sixteen-year old kid where he would meet people around his age who also deal with problems as well as adults who are also coping with some form of illness. The film’s screenplay by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck is told mainly by its protagonist Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) who attends a prestigious high school in Brooklyn as he’s due to finish an application for a prestigious summer school as his father George (Jim Gaffigan) expects him to do so while he is also in the shadow of his friend Aaron Fitzcarraldo (Thomas Mann) who is dating his longtime crush Nia (Zoe Kravitz). After imagining the idea of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge where he would think about how his family would think, it would force Gilner to check into a hospital thinking he would stay for a short period of time.

Yet, the stay would be for a week for observation and therapy where Gilner meets an adult patient in Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) who is dealing with his own issues as well as trying to get a home to stay after he gets discharged. Gilner would also befriend another teenage patient in Noelle (Emma Roberts) as all of the teenage patients are staying at the adult ward due to renovations for the teenage ward. Noelle is there for self-harm as Gilner deals with the fact that he’s got a lot going for him but the pressure to succeed eventually got to him where he is able to gain sympathy from the other patients and the hospital’s therapist Dr. Minerva (Viola Davis) who is aware of his troubled thoughts.

The direction of Boden and Fleck is largely straightforward in terms of its compositions and setting while it does have some stylistic elements in the film as it relates to the drawings that Gilner would create. Shot on location in Brooklyn as well as parts of New York City, Boden and Fleck would use some wide shots but maintain an intimacy into the hospital setting such as its hallways, rooms, and common rooms for patients to socialize at. The usage of close-ups and medium shots as well as stylish moments of fantasy help play into the film’s quirky and offbeat tone while Boden and Fleck would know when to keep the film grounded in reality. Even in the group therapy sessions, simple conversations between Gilner, Bobby, and Noelle, and other moments where Gilner has to deal with elements of reality including small meetings with his family.

With Boden also serving as the film’s editor, she and Fleck would also create some stylish montages that play into the anxieties in Gilner’s life as well as some surreal sequences about the idea of what his future might be. Much of Boden’s editing would have some stylistic flair in the montages and in some jump-cuts that include a dream sequence of Gilner and other patients playing Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie. With the aid of animation director Brian Drucker, the animated backgrounds would play into this idea of fantasy but also hope for Gilner. The sense of realism does occur for its third act but there is also this element of hope as it relates to the time Gilner spent as well as realize that there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to depression and mental illness. Overall, Boden and Fleck craft a touching and heartfelt film about a teenage boy seeking help at hospital where he learns about those that are also in need of help.

Cinematographer Andrij Parekh does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward for many of the interior scenes at the hospital and at Gilner’s school while there’s some low-key lighting for a few interior/exterior scenes set at night. Production designer Beth Mickle, with set decorator Carrie Stewart and art director Michael Ahern, does fantastic work with the look of the rooms, common rooms, and hallways at the hospital as well as the homes of Gilner’s family and friends. Costume designers Kurt and Bart do nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward with the exception of the glam-inspired costumes for the fantasy sequence.

Special effects makeup artist Michael Marino does terrific work with the makeup for the fantasy sequence as well as the look of the scars that Noelle is sporting on her body. Visual effects supervisor Anthony Luigi Santoro does brilliant work with the visual effects in bringing the animation to life as well as be used as an element of hope in the real world. Sound editor Paul Hsu does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the hospital and some of the sparse sounds that are made throughout the film. The film’s music by Broken Social Scene is wonderful for its indie-folk approach with melodic guitars and offbeat rhythms while music supervisor Andrea von Foerster provide a mixture of different musical genres from indie, punk, rock, hip-hop, and pop as it includes some songs by Broken Social Scene as well as the xx, Drum, Queen and David Bowie, the Damned, the Wowz, Pink Mountaintops, White Hinterland, Kurtis Blow, the Tom Robinson Band, Pharoah Sanders, Method Man and Redman, Common, Rachid Taha, and Black Sabbath.

The casting by Cindy Tolan is amazing as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from novelist Ned Vizzini as the hospital’s music teacher, Laverne Cox as a transgender patient, Ethan Herschenfeld as a Hasidic Jewish patient named Solomon, Mary Birdsong as Bobby’s ex-wife, Aasif Mandvi as Dr. Mahmoud who would be the first to analyze Gilner’s problems, Matthew Maher and Adrian Martinez as a couple of adult patients in their respective roles as Humble and Johnny, Morgan Murphy as a young patient in Joanie, Dana DeVestern as Gilner’s young sister Alissa, Bernard White as an Egyptian patient named Muqtada, and Jeremy Davies as a hospital monitor named Smitty who watches over everyone as he makes sure everyone is fine.

Thomas Mann and Zoe Kravitz are terrific in their respective roles as Gilner’s friends Aaron Fitzcarraldo and Nia with Mann as an overachiever who always get what he wants and Kravitz as Gilner’s crush who becomes interested in him during his time at the hospital. Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan are fantastic in their respective roles as Gilner’s parents in Lynn and George with the former being more concerned about her son’s well-being while the latter is hoping his son will get better and get back on track unaware of the pressure he’s putting towards his son. Viola Davis is excellent as Dr. Minerva as the hospital’s therapist who analyzes Gilner as well as be someone who is understanding and willing to listen as it’s a low-key yet somber performance from Davis.

Emma Roberts is brilliant as Noelle as a teenage patient with issues of self-harm as someone who is intrigued by Gilner as well as being also witty and aware of her own situation. Zach Galifianakis is incredible as Bobby as an adult patient who is going through issues of his own but also offers a lot of wisdom to Gilner about life as well as the fact that things do get more complicated in adulthood but there’s also hope. Finally, there’s Keir Gilchrist in a remarkable performance as Craig Gilner as a teenage boy with a lot going for him as he copes with the pressure to succeed as well as a lot of the anxieties where he learns how to cope as well as not be afraid of seeking help.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a marvelous film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Featuring a great ensemble cast, a superb music soundtrack, touching study of mental illness and depression, and the desire for hope in a complicated world. It’s a film that manages to showcase a young man trying to deal with his own anxieties and demands of the world where he finds solace through people who are also going through similar struggles. In the end, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is an exhilaratingly rich film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck Films: Half Nelson - Sugar (2008 film) - (Mississippi Grind) – Captain Marvel - (The Auteurs #71: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)

© thevoid99 2019

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Secrets of Women

Based on a story by Gun Grut, Kvinnors vantan (Secrets of Women or Waiting Women) is the story of a group of sisters-in-law who each tell each other stories about their husbands as they’re all set to return home during a summer holiday. Written for the screen and directed by Ingmar Bergman, the film is a reflective look into a group of women who all talk about their relationships as well as reveal about some of the drawbacks of marriage. Starring Anita Bjork, Eva Dahlbeck, Maj-Britt Nilsson, Birger Malmsten, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Karl-Arne Holmsten, Jarl Kulle, Aino Taube, and Hakan Westergren. Kvinnors vantan is a witty yet engaging film from Ingmar Bergman.

Four sisters-in-law are at their family summer home waiting for their respective husbands to arrive as three of them talk about their marriage in some revealing stories about certain aspects of their lives. It’s a film whose simple premise that is sort of told in a reflective narrative as these women are waiting for their husbands to arrive as they’re with the kids and others as they tell their stories to a young woman who is interested as she also has a lover she’s waiting for. Ingmar Bergman’s screenplay follows a simple structure where three of the five women in the living room tell their respective stories on their marriages.

The first story from Rakel (Anita Bjork) has her recalling an affair with a friend in Kaj (Jarl Kulle) while she is married to Eugen (Karl-Arne Holmsten) as it relates to his reaction about the affair. The second story from Marta (Maj-Britt Nilsson) is about how she met Eugen’s younger brother Martin (Birger Malmsten) that lead to a pregnancy while recalling the time she was about to give birth to their child without him present. The third and final story from Karin (Eva Dahlbeck) is about her marriage Fredrik (Gunnar Bjornstrand) on a night where they get stuck in an elevator that has them revealing so much to each other. It is told to Marta’s younger sister Maj (Gerd Andersson) who is hoping to run away with her lover Henrik (Bjorn Bjelfvenstam).

Bergman’s direction definitely has some elements of style in some of the compositions that he creates yet he maintains that air of intimacy into the direction as it is focused on a group of women telling stories to one another. Shot mainly in parts of Stockholm and Paris as well as the Swedish countryside where the main bulk of the story takes place. There are a few wide shots in some of the locations as well as this lavish scene at the Parisian night club that Marta goes to where she meets Martin that include shots of topless women. Much of Bergman’s direction emphasizes on close-ups and medium shots with the few wide shots used for stylistic reasons as the intimacy play into how characters are shot inside a room or inside an apartment.

There are also these moments where Bergman would have the camera linger on for a few minutes knowing when not to cut as it adds to the conversations and dramatic moments in the film with Karin’s story about being in an elevator with Fredrik being the funniest segment of them all. The rest of the film is dramatic with Rakel being the most serious of the three yet Bergman does keep an air of intrigue into the drama as well as raise questions into why the fourth sister-in-law in Annette (Aino Taube) hasn’t told her story. Overall, Bergman crafts an engrossing yet compelling film about a group of women waiting for their husbands to arrive at the summer home.

Cinematographer Gunnar Fischer does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography with the usage of shadows and light for the scenes inside the elevator, the Parisian nightclub, and in some exterior scenes as it is one of the film’s highlights. Editor Oscar Rosander does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with a few stylish bits in rhythmic cuts for the humor and drama as well as some stylish superimposed dissolves for a montage scene in Marta’s story. Production designer Nils Svenwall does fantastic work with the look of the Parisian nightclub interiors as well as the look of the homes of the characters including the room where the women talk about their marriages.

Costume designer Barbro Sorman does terrific work with the dresses and clothes that the women wear that each play into their personalities. The sound work of Sven Hansen is superb for its natural approach to the sound as well as some of the raucous atmosphere of the clubs and the sound effects in the elevator. The film’s music by Erik Nordgren is wonderful for its orchestral score that include some woodwind-based pieces as well as some lush strings to play into the drama as well as bombastic music for the Parisian club scene.

The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles from Aino Taube as the fourth wife Annette who doesn’t have much to say, Hakan Westergren as Annette’s husband Paul who is eldest brother of the family, Bjorn Bjelfvenstam as Annette and Paul’s son Henrik who is also Maj’s lover, Gerd Andersson as Marta’s younger sister Maj who listens to the stories of her sister and her other sisters-in-law, and Jarl Kulle in a terrific performance as Rakel’s lover Kaj who is also a friend of her husband as he would play into some of the emotional waters of their marriage. Karl-Arne Holmsten is superb as Rakel’s husband Eugen as a man who is fragile as he would have a hard time coping with the flaws of his marriage to Rakel. Birger Malmsten is fantastic as Martin Lobelius as an artist who would meet and fall for Marta only to get her pregnant as he wouldn’t know about the existence of her child as well as cope with his own issues in being part of a revered family.

Gunnar Bjornstrand is excellent as Karin’s husband Fredrik as a man who always like to look at his best as he deals with his own shortcomings and neglect towards Karin once they get trapped in an elevator. Maj-Britt Nilsson is brilliant as Marta as a young woman married to Martin as she deals with how they met and how their relationship took a drastic turn due to their affair and what she had to deal with by herself. Eva Dahlbeck is amazing as Karin as Fredrik’s wife who reveals about secrets she has been keeping from her husband while trying to find ways to relate to him again despite the flaws in their marriage. Finally, there’s Anita Bjork in a radiant performance as Rakel as a woman in an affair with a longtime friend as she deals with its complications as well as the emotional chaos it would bring into her marriage.

Kvinnors vantan is a remarkable film from Ingmar Bergman. Featuring a great cast, a captivating script, gorgeous visuals, and themes of love, marriage, temptation, and desire. It’s a film that follow three stories of relationships told by three sisters-in-law as they wait for their husbands to arrive at the family summer home. In the end, Kvinnors vantan is a marvelous film from Ingmar Bergman.

Ingmar Bergman Films: (Crisis) - (It Rains on Our Love) - (A Ship to India) - (Music of Darkness) - (Port of Call) - (Prison) - (Thirst (1949 film)) - (To Joy) - (This Can’t Happen Here) - (Summer Interlude) - Summer with Monika - Sawdust and Tinsel - A Lesson in Love - Dreams (1955 film) - Smiles of a Summer Night - The Seventh Seal - (Mr. Sleeman is Coming) – Wild Strawberries - (The Venetian) - (Brink of Life) - (Rabies) - The Magician (1958 film) - The Virgin Spring - The Devil's Eye - Through a Glass Darkly - Winter Light - The Silence (1963 film) - All These Women - Persona - (Stimulantia-Daniel) – Hour of the Wolf - (Shame (1968 film)) - (The Rite) - The Passion of Anna - (The Touch) – Cries & Whispers - Scenes from a Marriage - (The Magic Flute) - (Face to Face) - (The Serpent’s Egg) – Autumn Sonata - From the Life of the Marionettes - Fanny & Alexander - (After the Rehearsal) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) – Saraband

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks: Let's Start at the End

For the 15th week of 2019 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go to movies where they start at the end as it play into the idea of structure where a film has a beginning, a middle, and an end but in the words of Jean-Luc Godard, it doesn’t have to be in that order. That is true as the ending also lead to a beginning or to serve as a form of narrative that helps the story return to its end. Here are my three picks:

1. Citizen Kane

Orson Welles’ landmark debut film is a triumph in cinema as it opens with this sense of intrigue into what is this man saying towards the end of his life. Rosebud. What is Rosebud? That is the big question that looms over the film as it explores the life of a tycoon who would rise greatly and then fall as it is told in a reflective narrative. It is an exploration of a man wanting to be loved and be great as it add to the intrigue of the story as Rosebud is really more of the path that Charles Foster Kane took but what he lost on the way to this journey of greatness and failure.

2. Mildred Pierce

Michael Curtiz’s adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel opens with the titular character being questioned for the murder of a man as she would then tell her story. It’s a film that explores a woman trying to raise her family during the Great Depression and make something of herself only to endure tragedy as well as heartbreak and betrayal. It’s one of the finest films of the era of 1940s film noir as well as a study of a woman trying to survive and please her ungrateful daughter.

3. Saving Private Ryan

The film opens and ends in the late 1990s where an old man is in Normandy’s war memorial as he sees a gravestone where he thinks about the soldiers who fought at Omaha Beach on D-Day and later would travel through Nazi Germany-occupied France to find him. It’s an unusual way to start a film but Steven Spielberg’s World War II tale remains one of the finest films of the 20th Century as it also a standard bearer of what a war film should be. Its ending goes back to the late 1990s and who this old man is as it is about honor and duty as it is a great way to open and end a film.

© thevoid99 2019

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Tully (2018 film)

Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, Tully is the story of a mother of three children who is overwhelmed by her maternal duties where she gains a nanny who would help as well as become her new friend. The film is an exploration of motherhood who is about to have another child as she is forced to accept the idea of needing help as she would end up gaining more. Starring Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, and Ron Livingston. Tully is a charming and heartfelt film from Jason Reitman.

The film follows a mother who becomes overwhelmed with her maternal duties after the birth of her child as she hires a night-nanny from the advice of her brother as the nanny would eventually make things better. It’s a film with a simple premise as it’s more of a study of a woman who has an unplanned third pregnancy as already being a parent of two adolescents is becoming stressful. Diablo Cody’s screenplay follows the life of Marlo Moreau (Charlize Theron) who is seen heavily pregnant and dealing with her two older kids with husband Drew (Ron Livingston) who is working and does what he can to help out. Marlo’s wealthy brother Craig (Mark Duplass) who wants to help his sister out by giving her a number for a night-nanny as he has one for his kids though Drew believes it isn’t a good idea due to money issues.

It is at a moment of desperation where the film’s titular character (Mackenzie Davis) arrives as she would be this beacon of light for Marlo as the two also become friends. While Cody’s script doesn’t have much plot for much of the film’s second and third act, it does provide these moments that allows Marlo to find some joy again as a mother but also bring back some spark into her romantic time with Drew. The film also feature these elements of dreams as it relates to Marlo often dreaming underwater images as it adds to this sense of freedom that she is craving for.

Jason Reitman’s direction is largely simple in its approach to compositions as it doesn’t bear much style throughout the film. Shot largely on location in Vancouver as a New York City suburb with one major sequence in the third act shot in New York City. Reitman doesn’t go for a lot of wide shots in the film in favor of presenting an intimacy to showcase a housewife/mother struggling to take care of three kids as her son is dealing with behavioral issues that might suggest some form of autism. Reitman’s direction does have some stylistic moments such as a scene in a car that is presented in one take that plays into Marlo’s own frustrations and exhaustion as the camera is inside the car. The scenes with Tully are light-hearted in its approach to drama as Reitman chooses to use close-ups and medium shots to play into this growing friendship between Marlo and Tully.

The film would feature these brief moments of surrealism as it relates to the dreams that Marlo is having as it relates to a mermaid swimming underwater as it would be referenced during the course of the film. Even as it would play more into Marlo’s psyche during the third act as well as this air of surrealism as well as the realism into what Marlo is dealing with as a mother. Particularly as Drew is not around enough or is oblivious to what is happening as he’s only met Tully once as it adds to the intrigue of the story as it relates to Marlo’s own state early in the film. Overall, Reitman crafts a riveting and somber film about a mother of three kids who receives help and a jolt of life from a mysterious night-nanny.

Cinematographer Eric Steelberg does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it’s largely straightforward with its greyish look for some of the daytime exteriors as well as low-key lights for the interior scenes at night at Marlo’s home. Editor Stefan Grube does brilliant work with the editing as it includes some montages of Marlo’s daily routine and a scene where Marlo and Tully drive towards Brooklyn while listening to Cyndi Lauper while much of the editing is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts. Production designer Anastasia Masaro, with set decorators Louise Roper and Karin Wiesel Holmes plus art directors Craig Humphries and Maki Takenouchi, does fantastic work with the look of the home that Marlo and Drew live with the kids as the home that Craig lives in. Costume designer Aiesha Li does terrific work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward to play into the ragged look of Marlo as well as a somewhat-youthful look of Tully.

Special makeup effects supervisor Nicholas Podbrey does nice work with the look of some of the prosthetics that Marlo has during her pregnancy as well as a few mysterious things in the film. Visual effects supervisor Dave Morley does superb work with the visual effects as it relates to the dream that Marlo would have. Sound editors Perry Robertson and Scott Sanders do amazing work with the sound in capturing the sparse and low-key sounds at Marlo’s home as well as some raucous scenes at a few parties and clubs that Marlo and Tully would go to.

The film’s music by Rob Simonsen does wonderful work with the music with its mixture of ambient and indie-electric folk based guitars to play into some of the drama while music supervisor Tricia Halloran creates a wide array of music that features many artists/acts from different genres such as the Velvet Underground, Cyndi Lauper, the Bill Evans Trio, the Spinanes, A Tribe Called Quest, the Jayhawks, Ronnie Foster, Rufus Wainwright, Beulahbelle, Janine the Machine, Shannon and the Clams, Last Legion, Girl Band, and Hamilton Leithauser with Rostam Batmanglij.

The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles from Gameela Wright as a school principal, Stormy Ent as a young night-nanny working for Craig in Shasta, Maddie Dixon-Poirier and Bella Star Choy as Craig’s daughters, Colleen Wheeler as Dr. Smythe who is worried about Marlo’s health, Elaine Tan as Craig’s wife Elyse, and the duo of Lia Frankland and Asher Miles Fallica in their respective role as Drew and Marlo’s kids in Sarah and Jonah with the former being the oldest who is trying to find her own identity while being critical of herself while the latter is a young boy struggling with behavioral issues as he screams and kicks only to later find some form of solace. Mark Duplass is superb as Marlo’s brother Craig as a wealthy man who is offering to help out as he would give Marlo a number to get herself a night-nanny where he also expresses concern that Drew doesn’t like him.

Ron Livingston is excellent as Marlo’s husband Drew as a husband who is often away for work as he tries to help out focusing mainly on Sarah while is often unaware of what is going on at times where he would escape by playing video games. Mackenzie Davis is amazing as the titular character as a young night-nanny who helps Marlo out with the new baby as well as to get her to relax as she is also this offbeat and lively individual who helps bring out the best in Marlo while also being very coy about herself. Finally, there’s Charlize Theron in a phenomenal performance as Marlo Moreau as a 40-something mother of three who just gave birth to a newborn baby girl as she is tired from her maternal duties where Theron displays that anguish and weariness mothers go through but also display a determination and liveliness as it’s one of Theron’s finest performances to date.

Tully is a sensational film from Jason Reitman that features great performances from Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis. Along with its supporting cast, superb music soundtrack, and engrossing themes about the struggles of motherhood thanks in part to Diablo Cody’s thoughtful screenplay. It’s a film that explores a woman trying to be a good mom as she deals with the overwhelming duties of motherhood where she would get help from a mysterious yet kind young woman. In the end, Tully is a phenomenal film from Jason Reitman.

Jason Reitman Films: Thank You for Smoking - Juno - Up in the Air - Young Adult - Labor Day - (Men, Women, & Children) – (The Front Runner) - The Auteurs #30: Jason Reitman

© thevoid99 2019