Sunday, January 13, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk

Based on the novel by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of a young woman who turns to her family for help in trying to free her lover who is wrongly charged with a crime as she hopes to free him before the birth of their first child. Written for the screen and directed by Barry Jenkins, the film is a period drama set in early 1970s Harlem as it play into a couple who meet and fall in love only for things to go wrong due to a false accusation. Starring KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, and Regina King. If Beale Street Could Talk is an evocative and touching film from Barry Jenkins.

Set in early 1970s Harlem, the film revolves around a young couple whose life is in disarray when the man is accused of raping a young woman as those who know him are aware he’s innocent. Adding to the plight for this young man is that his girlfriend is pregnant as her family is trying to get him out of prison and prove he’s innocent in a world that is getting more complicated. It’s a film that play into the plight of two young lovers as they deal with the arrival of a baby as one family is willing to help yet the other, with the exception of the man’s father, chooses not to help. Barry Jenkins’ screenplay aims for a reflective narrative of sorts as it relates to the character of Clementine “Tish” Rivers (KiKi Layne) who looks back on her life with Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) as well as the moment they conceived their child while cutting back to the present where Fonny is in jail as he just learned Tish is a few months pregnant.

The film moves back and forth to the times when Tish and Fonny were a couple as they knew each other since they were kids although Tish is a few years younger than Fonny. Their relationship is one filled with innocence and dreams as Fonny does whatever he can to learn a trade while also discovering his passion for being a sculptor. The flashback scenes also showcase moments of darkness such as a visit from Fonny’s friend Daniel Cartee (Brian Tyree Henry) who had just been released in prison as he reveals what he had seen as it would play into Fonny’s worries for the future following a terrible encounter with a racist police officer named Bell (Ed Skrein). The present narrative that play into Fonny’s time in prison as well as the impossibility of what had happened to this young woman in Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios) who suddenly returned to her home in Puerto Rico. While the Rivers’ attorney in Hayward (Finn Wittrock) is trying to help the family, there are complications prompting Tish’s mother Sharon (Regina King) to find Rogers herself as it present revelations about the severity of what happened to Rogers.

Jenkins’ direction definitely has this poetic tone to the film as it play into Tish’s recollections of her life with Fonny through voice over narration as well as playing into the ideas of the life she and Fonny could have but also be aware of the dark realities around them. Shot on location in New York City with Harlem being the predominant location as well as additional locations in the Dominican Republic as Puerto Rico. Jenkins does use wide shots to establish the locations but emphasizes more on close-ups and medium shots in carefully crafted compositions to maintain an intimacy between the characters. Most notably the scene where Tish and her family ask Fonny’s family for a drink where Tish’s father Joseph Rivers (Colman Domingo) and her older sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) are excited about the news of Tish and Fonny’s baby as is Fonny's father Frank Hunt (Michael Beach). Yet, Fonny’s mother (Aunjanue Ellis) and his sisters Adrienne (Ebony Obsidian) and Sheila (Dominique Thorne) aren’t happy with the news.

It’s among these simple yet tense scenes where Jenkins play into this tension as well as the severity of what Fonny is enduring as well as some of the fallacies into what he’s charged with as it relates to the different parts of New York City. The scenes at the prison where Fonny and Tish meet have Jenkins use some extreme close-ups but also medium shots for the setting as the latter is dealing with her pregnancy while there’s repetitious images of her at the subway. The film’s third act that play into Sharon going to Puerto Rico to find Rogers as it is this poignant sequence that play into Sharon’s desperation to get Rogers to tell the truth about Fonny and prove his innocence but it ends up being an uneasy task with lots of emotional repercussions.

Even as Jenkins reveals that what Fonny and Tish would deal with play into the fates of many others through pictures of African-Americans living in the ghettos during the 1970s and beyond but also show that they would find a way to maintain a sense of hope for their child. No matter how bad the circumstances can be and the injustice that many African-Americans have to suffer in the past and in the present as Jenkins reveals that despite all of these troubles. There is always hope through love. Overall, Jenkins crafts a rapturous and intoxicating film about a young woman hoping to free her lover from prison so he can be proved innocent and be with his family.

Cinematographer James Laxton does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of lights for some of the daytime/nighttime interiors and nighttime exteriors as well as the usage of natural lighting play into the beauty of the times despite some of its ugliness. Editors Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders do amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts as well a montage involving Tish dealing with her pregnancy and other stylish cuts that play into the drama. Production designer Mark Friedberg, with set decorators Devynne Lauchner and Kris Moran plus art directors Robert Pyzocha, Oliver Rivas Madera, and Jessica Shorten, does excellent work with the look of the family home of Tish’s parents as well as the home she and Fonny were eager to live as it would be something really special plus the Puerto Rican restaurant they like to go to. Costume designer Caroline Eselin does brilliant work with the costumes in terms of the stylish clothing the characters would wear to play into the times while Fonny’s mother is presented in this very uptight demeanor in her clothing as if she represents this false idea of purity.

Visual effects supervisors John Bair and John Mangia do nice work with the visual effects where it is largely set-dressing for some of the exteriors to help play into the period of the times. Sound designers Odin Benitez and Bryan Parker, along with sound editor/mixer Onnalee Blank, do fantastic work with the sound in capturing the atmosphere of the locations as well as the sound of records being played from a record player and other sparse elements that is key to the film’s sound work. The film’s music by Nicholas Brittell is phenomenal for its rich and intoxicating orchestral score that has elements of lush string arrangements as well as operatic tones and other subtle themes as it is a major highlight of the film while music supervisor Gabe Hilfer creates a soundtrack that is filled with a mixture of blues, jazz, soul, Latin music, and other contemporary pieces of the time.

The casting by Cindy Tolan is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Dave Franco as a landlord who shows Tish and Fonny this big loft home, Diego Luna as a Puerto Rican restauranteur who is a friend of Fonny, Finn Wittrock as the Rivers’ attorney Hayward who does what he can to help them knowing that he’s up for a big legal battle, Pedro Pascal as a local Puerto Rican hood in Pierto Alvarez who meets with Sharon about Rogers, Milanni Mines and Ethan Barrett in their respective roles as the adolescent versions of Tish and Fonny, Ebony Obsidian and Dominique Thorne in their respective roles as Fonny’s sisters Adrienne and Sheila who aren’t excited about the news of Fonny’s new baby, and Emily Rios in a terrific performance as Victoria Rogers as a woman who had been raped and believes that Fonny is the one who raped her.

Michael Beach and Aunjanue Ellis are superb in their respective roles as Fonny’s parents in Frank and Mrs. Hunt with Beach as this man that is ecstatic about the arrival of a grandchild as he is eager to help his son get out of jail while Ellis has this chilling presence as a woman who is convinced her son is in jail because he sinned greatly against God. Ed Skrein is fantastic in his small role as the racist police officer Bell as a man that confronts Fonny one night and tries to get him arrested as he would later play a part in Fonny’s incarceration. Brian Tyree Henry is excellent as Daniel Carty as a friend of Fonny who had been paroled as he talks about his experience in prison as well as what he saw during his time. Colman Domingo and Teyonah Parris are brilliant in their respective roles as Tish’s father Joseph and older sister Ernestine as two people being supportive of Tish as well as do what they can to get Fonny out of jail and prove his innocence. Regina King is incredible as Tish’s mother Sharon as a woman that is supportive of her daughter as well as wanting to prove that Fonny is innocent as it’s an understated yet riveting performance from King who really is a major highlight of the film.

The performances of KiKi Layne and Stephan James are phenomenal in their respective roles as Tish and Fonny. Layne’s performance is one filled with innocence as a 19-year old woman trying to understand what Fonny is going through as well as deal with her pregnancy as it’s a calm yet radiant performance from Layne. James’ performance is one that is full of sensitivity and care but also someone who is aware of the dark aspects of the real world as he does show some anger during a confrontation with a man trying to harass Tish as well as the struggle he is having in prison. Layne and James together just have this natural chemistry in the way they spend time with one another as well as deal with the pain of being apart as they talk together in prison.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a tremendous film from Barry Jenkins. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, Nicholas Brittell’s gorgeous score, and themes of love and family trying to help one another. It’s a touching drama that play into the period of racial injustice and unfairness during 1970s Harlem as well as show what some people will do to provide some hope and love in these troubled times. In the end, If Beale Street Could Talk is a spectacular film from Barry Jenkins.

Barry Jenkins Films: (Medicine for Melancholy) – Moonlight

© thevoid99 2019

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Dying of the Light

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, Dying of the Light is the story of a CIA agent who is trying to track down a terrorist as he copes with memory loss that is worsening by the day. The film is a psychological thriller of a man trying to stop a terrorist from doing more harm only to become a liability to himself. Starring Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin, and Irene Jacob. Dying of the Light is a by-the-numbers and unexciting film from Paul Schrader.

22 years after an incident that left him with a lot of bad memories and a severed right ear lobe, the film follows a CIA agent who believes that a terrorist who tortured him is still alive as he is aided by his protégé to help find this terrorist. That is the premise as a whole as it play into this man trying to stop the terrorist who nearly killed him as he is convinced the man is alive. Yet, he is starting to unravel due to the fact that he’s ill with an early stage of frontal temporal dementia as he is seen as a liability to the CIA. Paul Schrader’s screenplay does have a unique premise that seems to work on paper but it is clear that whatever ideas he had to create a thriller that is more about a man dealing with his illness and confront his past falls by the wayside into something that is more by-the-book that is expected in these political-based thrillers.

Schrader’s direction does have some unique compositions and moments that are interesting yet it is clear that whatever ideas he had to stray from convention were tampered with during the film’s post-production. Shot on various locations in Bucharest, Romania, Washington D.C. and nearby locations in Virginia, and locations in Queensland and the Gold Coast in Australia as Kenya. The film does have this worldly feel as it play into the idea of global terrorism as Schrader is also focused on the plight that CIA agent Evan Lake (Nicolas Cage) is dealing with where he would be aided by his protégé in Milton Schultz (Anton Yelchin). The moments of the two having a simple conversation are the most interesting scenes in the film yet it gets bogged down by not just some of the visuals but also these stories and scene that relate to the mission in hand.

Many of the visual elements of the film that include Gabriel Kosuth’s cinematography feel like it’s been given a polished look as whatever idea that Kosuth and Schrader wanted to do visually definitely was changed in the post-production without Schrader’s consent along with the input of one of its executive producers in Nicolas Winding Refn. The photography has something that feels way too clean and emphasizes more on the beauty of a location which is far from what Schrader wanted while its third act that include the climatic meeting between Lake and his dying torturer in Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim) should’ve been compelling but the presentation with its usage of flashback montages end up making it conventional that is followed by a big shoot out that feels like it comes from another film. Overall, the film is a thriller that plays too much into its traditional schematics forcing its director Paul Schrader to not do anything new or break away from its conventions.

Editor Tim Silano does terrible work with the editing as it doesn’t do enough to build up the suspense as well as emphasize a lot of flashback montages while not doing enough to let shots play out longer in some of the film’s conversation scenes. Production designer Russell Barnes, with set decorator Gina Calin plus art directors Adam Head and Serban Porupca, does fantastic work with the look of Lake’s home as well as the Bucharest medical building he goes to. Costume designer Oana Paunescu does nice work with the costumes as it is casual for many of the characters in the film.

Hair/makeup designer Francesca Tampieri does terrific work with the look that Lake would use to play a Romanian doctor to meet Banir. Special effects supervisor Lucian Iordache and visual effects supervisor Danny S. Kim do OK work with the visual effects as it is mainly set dressing that eventually add to the film’s bland look. Sound designer Trevor Gates does superb work with the sound in creating an atmosphere in some of the locations though it gets unfortunately drowned out by Frederik Wiedmann’s score that is mainly a low-key electronic music that gets bombastic to the point of overblown. Music supervisor Gina Amador provides a soundtrack that doesn’t stand out as it is a mixture of pop and world music that never does anything.

The casting by Carolyn McLeod is alright as it feature some notable small roles from Serban Celea as the Romanian doctor in Dr. Iulian Cornel, Silas Carson as a CIA official trying to stop Lake from doing his assignment as well as express concern for the man’s health, Geff Francis as Lake’s doctor who reveals the severity of Lake’s condition, Adetomiwa Edun as a courier of Banir, and Alexander Karim as the terrorist Muhammad Banir as this man who tortured Lake many years ago only to re-emerge as a dying figure who is eager to live so he can plot another major attack. Irene Jacob is pretty good as the journalist Michelle Zuberain as a former lover of Lake who help Lake and Schultz in trying to get information as her character is underused largely due to the post-production work to reduce her performance.

Anton Yelchin is excellent as Milton Schultz as a protégé of Lake who makes a discovery about Banir and the idea that he’s alive as he is willing to help Lake as it’s a reserved performance that has Yelchin provide strong support though he too is hampered by the post-production tampering where it feels like there’s more to his character. Finally, there’s Nicolas Cage in a brilliant performance as Evan Lake as a CIA agent who is dealing with a disease as he is haunted by bad memories where Cage is given the chance to act crazy and be wild as well as display some calm in the way he’s dealing with his fading memories though he too is hampered by the film’s post-production troubles that doesn’t do more with his performance.

Dying of the Light is a terrible film. Despite the performances of Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin, it’s a film that seems to have a good idea from someone as talented and observant as Paul Schrader only for the film to be taken out of his hands and without his input. It’s a film that should’ve felt like a thriller that is also a character study but instead becomes something that never does anything new nor does it bring any kind of thrills. In the end, Dying of the Light is a horrendous film by people who doesn’t understand the language of cinema and take it away in the hands and mind of someone as talented as Paul Schrader.

Paul Schrader Films: Blue Collar - (Hardcore) – American Gigolo - Cat People (1982 film) - (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) – (Light of Day) – (Patty Hearst) – (The Comfort of Strangers) – (Light Sleeper) – (Witch Hunt) – (Touch) – Affliction - (Forever Mine) – (Auto Focus) – (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) – (The Walker) – (Adam Resurrected) – (The Canyons) – (Dog Eat Dog) – (First Reformed)

© thevoid99 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019

Passion (2012 film)

Based on the 2010 film Love Crime by Alain Corneau, Passion is the story of two women working for a multi-national corporation as they try reach for a prime position only for the competition to get dangerous. Written for the screen and directed by Brian de Palma, the film is a remake of sorts of Corneau’s film with some different interpretations as it play into two women trying to one-up themselves in a game to reach to the top. Starring Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth, Paul Anderson, Rainer Bock, and Benjamin Sadler. Passion is a gripping yet stylish film from Brian de Palma.

An advertising executive takes credit for her subordinate’s idea as she would later try and blackmail her prompting her subordinate to try and one-up her where it would eventually lead to murder. That is the film’s premise as it play into two women trying to vie for position in a multi-national advertising corporation in Berlin as it would intensify with one of them playing mind games over the other. Brian de Palma’s screenplay, which includes additional dialogue by Natalie Carter, focuses on this relationship between Christine Stanford (Rachel McAdams) and her subordinate Isabelle James (Noomi Rapace) as they’re trying to create a new ad yet Stanford would take credit for James’ idea for an ad that she created with her secretary Dani (Karoline Herfurth). Yet, Stanford is a woman that always gets what she wants as her reason to hurt James is due to the fact that James is having an affair with Stanford’s lover in a co-worker in Dirk Harriman (Paul Anderson) who is already in trouble for embezzling money from their company as he’s hoping to pay them back. Stanford’s usage of power and seduction would eventually cause James to break down and the desire to fight back.

The direction of de Palma definitely play into his stylish approach of slanted camera angles, split-screens, perspective shots, and other tricks that he is known for yet he does maintain the importance of the suspense and drama that occurs in the film. Shot on location in Berlin, de Palma avoids many of the city’s landmarks to focus on something that is more intimate in the corporate world that also include these lavish apartments that the main characters live in. There are some wide shots in the film yet de Palma emphasizes more on close-ups and medium shots to not just focus on the characters but in the environment they’re in. Even as he uses webcams and phones for footage as it would play into Stanford’s need to humiliate James in every way she can that include an office party scene that also shows footage of office workers in compromising positions.

The direction also has de Palma maintain this idea of what James might do yet she is already falling apart where she is seen using prescription pills to cope with the humiliation she endured. The usage of split-screen is a method that de Palma is known for where he gets multiple perspectives of what is going on where it focuses on a party Stanford is having as well as who is going to join for an after party while the other focus is on a ballet performance that James is watching. It is a sequence that is offbeat yet it play into the suspense of what is going to happen followed by an aftermath in the third act that is filled with the usual twists and turns over who did it. Even as it raises questions about who and why did it happen where de Palma definitely play with the tropes though it’s ending does get a little over-written towards the end. Overall, de Palma crafts a witty and exhilarating film about a corporate ad executive trying to outdo her subordinate leading to a battle for supremacy and seduction.

Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine does amazing work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of bright and vibrant colors for some of the scenes in the day and night along with blue filters and shades for other scenes to express the mood of the characters. Editor Francois Gediger does excellent work with the editing with its approach to rhythmic cuts for the suspense as well as playing up to the style of split-screens. Production designer Cornelia Ott, with set decorator Ute Bergk and supervising art director Astrid Poeschke, does brilliant work with the look of the offices and homes of Stanford and James as well as the restaurants and places they go to. Costume designer Karen Muller Serrau does fantastic work with the costumes with the clothes that Sanford wears including some skimpy and stylish lingerie to the black clothes that James would wear.

Special makeup effects artists Tamar Aviv, Goran Lundstrom, and Jorn Seifert do terrific work with the look of the characters including a mask that Stanford has which matches her face. Visual effects supervisor Sarah Moreau does nice work with the film’s minimal visual effects for some of the film’s set-dressing and scenes involving computers and such. Sound editor Jean Goudier does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the offices and some of the places the characters go to. The film’s music by Pino Donaggio is incredible for its lush and eerie orchestral arrangement that play into the suspense with its usage of strings as it adds to the dramatic tension while music supervisor Elise Luguern provide a few classical pieces from Claude Debussy, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as well as contemporary pieces from Archive, Steve Dudas, and Mark Hart.

The casting by Anja Dihrberg is wonderful as it feature a few notable small roles from Jorg Pintsch as a lover of Stanford in Mark, Michael Rotschopf as James’ attorney, Polina Semionova and Ibrahim Oyku Onal as the ballet dancers, and Dominic Raacke as a corporate boss in J.J. Koch. Benjamin Sadler is terrific as a prosecutor who believes that James is a suspect involved in a murder while Rainer Bock is superb as a police inspector who is suspicious of James yet is aware that something doesn’t feel right. Paul Anderson is fantastic as Dirk Harriman as a co-worker of James and Stanford who is sleeping with both women yet is already in trouble for embezzlement that leads to him being blackmailed by Stanford. Karoline Herfurth is excellent as Dani as James’ secretary who takes part in creating the ad that James wants to present while is also aware of the mind games that Stanford is playing where she becomes protective of James.

The performances of Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams in their respective roles as Isabelle James and Christine Stanford are incredible as two women working for a multi-national corporation as they find themselves fighting to be on top. Rapace’s performance is definitely filled with a lot of anguish and humility as someone who feels like she’s not getting enough credit while being used. McAdams’ performance as Stanford is such a delight in how bitchy she is where she uses her sex appeal to get what she wants as well as be emotionally manipulative that has a darkly comic edge. Rapace and McAdams together are a joy to watch with Rapace being the foil and McAdams being bad as they have this amazing chemistry together as they are the highlights of the film.

Passion is a remarkable film from Brian de Palma that features great performances from Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace. Along with its gorgeous visuals, study of multi-national corporate culture, themes of seduction and humility, and Pino Donaggio’s score. It’s a film that has the kind of story that definitely has the touches expected from de Palma while being this erotic thriller of sorts that play into the tropes of the genre. In the end, Passion is a marvelous film from Brian de Palma.

Related: Love Crime

Brian de Palma Films: (Murder a la Mod) – (Greetings) – (The Wedding Party) – (Dionysus in ’69) – (Hi, Mom!) – (Get to Know Your Rabbit) – Sisters - (Phantom of the Paradise) – (Obsession) – Carrie - The Fury - (Home Movies) – Dressed to Kill - Blow Out - Scarface (1983 film) - (Body Double) – (Wise Guys) – The Untouchables - Casualties of War - The Bonfire of the Vanities - Raising Cain - Carlito's Way - Mission: Impossible - Snake Eyes - Mission to Mars - (Femme Fatale) – The Black Dahlia - (Redacted) – (Domino (2018 film))

© thevoid99 2019

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks: The Cold

For the second week of 2019 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We venture into the subject of the cold as it is appropriate since it is winter here in America. It’s a subject that can delve into many kind of films and such set in the winter and the feeling of the cold. Here are my three picks:

1. McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Robert Altman’s revisionist western is set during the cold winter as it has this man trying to run a business in this small town where he teams up with a brothel madam and they get rich. Yet, it’s a film that play into a world of change where a couple of people try to create something that is their own and to help a small town with others threatening to ruin that for profit or to just have control. It’s one of Altman’s quintessential films and one of the finest westerns ever made.

2. The Revenant

Set in the early 19th Century, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s tale of revenge and survival is a study of what a man will do to go after another man who left him for dead after nearly being killed by a bear attack. Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in a career-defining performance along with a strong supporting performance from Tom Hardy. The film isn’t just about this man trying to go after the man that left him for dead but also survive the unforgiving environment he’s in.

3. The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 epic-western is probably a film that doesn’t get mentioned very much as it’s a shame considering that in its 70mm roadshow version. It is one of the finest films ever made with the 70mm presentation providing full scope of the cold environment with the sounds of snow and wind being with people stuck inside a cabin as the cold weather just adds to the tension. It’s a film that I think more people should see whether or not they’re fans of Quentin Tarantino.

© thevoid99 2019

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Baal (1982 TV film)

Based on the play by Bertolt Brecht, Baal is the story of a poet who commits a murder and engage in various sexual affairs with different women including one he would abandon. Directed by Alan Clarke and teleplay by John Willett, the experimental TV production is a theatrical take on the story that features David Bowie playing the titular character. Also starring Tracey Childs, Zoe Wanamaker, Juliet Hammond, and Jonathan Kent. Baal is an eerie yet unsettling TV film from Alan Clarke.

Set in the early 20th Century in Germany before the First World War, the film revolves around a poet who travels around Germany to scrounge up anything he can get in an act of defiance towards bourgeoisie society. Through his misadventures, Baal would engage in many affairs with different women whom he would treat with indifference while doing what he can to survive without the conventions of society despite his popularity with the ordinary people for his poets and songs. The film’s teleplay by Alan Clarke is mainly a character study of this man who is an artist that creates great poets, songs, and drawings yet he does it for money that he often spends on women and booze. During this time, he would gain different lovers while trying to deal with the changes in society to a world that he feels like he has no part of forcing him to survive on his own terms.

Clarke’s direction does have elements of style in its framing as well as the small interludes in between chapters that has Baal singing at the edge of a frame with the other half of the frame focusing on what is to happen next or a landscape. Shot on soundstages in London, Clarke doesn’t aim for a lot of big camera movements but rather maintain something theatrical by shooting scenes mainly on wide or in medium shots as there aren’t many close-ups in the film. Still, Clarke maintains this air of drama into the situations that Baal is in as he’s with different lovers or singing about those he loved and left behind while defying the many ideas of bourgeoisie society who wants to use him for their own reasons. The framing device and compositions are abstract in the presentation whenever Baal sings during an interlude as it would include these eerie moments of cruelty that Baal would lay upon someone whether it’s a lover or close friends. Overall, Clarke crafts a dark yet riveting film about a poet’s journey of decadence and defiance in early 20th Century Germany.

Cinematographer John Timbers does excellent work with the cinematography as it has a crudeness to its look as it was shot on video while does use some nice lighting to help maintain an atmosphere for the scene. Editor Howard Dell does terrific work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a dissolve in one shot in the film as it play into the drama. Production designer Tony Abbott and art director Andrew Christian do brilliant work with the look of the sets from the pubs and places that Baal goes as well as the garage that he lives in. Costume designer Reg Samuel does fantastic work with the costumes from the ragged look of Baal as well as the cleaner look of the other characters.

Makeup artist Pauline Cox does amazing work with the look of Baal in his ragged look as well as the fact that he doesn’t have many teeth. Visual effects by Dave Jervis does nice work with the film’s minimal visual effects for some of the video look and the backdrops that are used in a few scenes. The sound work of John Howell and Mike Jones is superb for the sparse sounds used in the film as it help maintain that air of theatricality that is prevalent in the film. The film’s music soundtrack that is based on the arrangements by Dominic Muldowney is mainly folk-based with Bowie singing and playing a banjo with many of the lyrics by Bertolt Brecht that play into the misadventures and conquests of Baal as it’s one of the film’s highlights.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast include a few notable small roles from Julian Wadham as a rich patron in Johannes Schmidt, Robert Austin as the publisher Mech, Juliet Hammond as Mech’s wife Emelie whom Baal would sleep with, Polly James as a pub singer, James Duggan and Bill Stewart as a couple of policeman, and Brian Coburn as a woodcutter watching over the ailing Baal. Tracey Childs and Zoe Wanamaker are fantastic in their respective roles as a couple of Baal’s lovers in Johanna and Sophie as two women who would embark on affairs with him as the former succumbs to tragedy while the latter is abandoned once she becomes pregnant. Jonathan Kent is excellent as Baal’s friend Ekart as a fellow traveler who often speaks fondly of Baal yet would become frustrated by Baal’s antics as the years go by. Finally, there’s David Bowie in an incredible performance as the titular character as it shows Bowie displaying some charm into a character that is detestable and cruel where Bowie isn’t afraid to play dirty while showcasing elements of a man who defies convention yet doesn’t care who he hurts as it’s one of his finest roles.

Baal is a marvelous TV film from Alan Clarke that features a great performance from David Bowie. It’s an abstract yet engaging TV film from the BBC that uses Bertolt Brecht’s story of a man who defies the idea of convention and society yet would take part in decadence as a way to rebel while also displaying cruelty to those who become close to him. In the end, Baal is a remarkable film from Alan Clarke.

Related: Baal EP

© thevoid99 2019

Monday, January 07, 2019

Thoroughbreds (2017 film)

Written and directed by Cory Finley, Thoroughbreds is the story of a high school student and her best friend who create a scheme to kill the former’s stepfather as they hire a drug dealer to do the job. The film is a suspense-drama that play into two girls who try to get a man killed as they cope with what they’re trying to do. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift, and Anton Yelchin. Thoroughbreds is an eerie yet provocative film from Cory Finley.

Two old friends who had been estranged for a few years reunite for a study session as they rekindle their friendship by conspiring to kill one of the girls’ stepfather. It’s a film that play into a simple premise of two young women conspiring to murder a hateful and abusive man as they would get a drug dealer involved to do the job. Cory Finley’s screenplay is told through four chapters as it relates to the strained friendship between Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) as they’re both from upper-class homes yet haven’t really spoken or seen each other since the death of Lily’s father. Amanda is someone who is unemotional due to a mental disorder where she is sent to Lily’s home for tutoring/studying for an upcoming test as things start off awkward until Amanda gets a glimpse at Lily’s stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks) who runs the household with a very strict demeanor.

Even as he’s putting Lily in a boarding school for her behavioral issues which has Lily turning to Amanda for help as the two would scheme and turn to a drug dealer in Tim (Anton Yelchin). Yet, Tim already has a criminal record where he raises concern about if the plan would work with Amanda having figured out a lot of what to do with Lily also becoming unsure if the plan would work. Adding to the stakes is wondering what can go wrong as it’s something Amanda is fully aware of as she is trying to figure out all of the angles with Lily trying to make plans of her own.

Finley’s direction is straightforward in terms of the compositions and setting as it is shot on location in various small towns in Massachusetts as a small upper-class area in Connecticut. While there are some wide shots and some unique tracking shots in parts of the film, much of Finley’s direction emphasizes more on the interaction between characters and the tension at the home where Lily lives with Mark and her mother Cynthia (Francie Swift). Even in scenes where Amanda reveals how she can fake emotions with Lily along with the two chatting and watching old movies where Finley doesn’t really go for any tricks other than a few close-ups to play into the emotion as well as what is happening in the background as it relates to Mark.

By the time Tim is in the picture as he’s introduced in the first act at a party that Lily goes to, the film does get darker in tone with bits of humor while it also play into the attention to detail of what might happen. Yet, the film’s third act isn’t just about the aftermath of the plan but also Lily’s own reaction as well as the need to act on her own with Amanda realizing what Lily is trying to do. It would include this scene where it’s about what is happening off-screen as it focuses more on a character who is probably aware of what is happening but not in a good frame of mind. Overall, Finley crafts a compelling yet rapturous film about two teenage girls conspiring to kill one of the girls’ stepfather with the help of a drug dealer.

Cinematographer Lyle Vincent does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is straightforward for many of the daytime exterior scenes with some low-key and stylish lighting for the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Louise Ford does terrific work with the editing as it is straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Jeremy Woodward and set decorator Kyra Friedman Curcio do fantastic work with the look of Lily’s home with all of its posh material including a giant chess set in the backyard. Costume designer Alex Bovaird does nice work with the costumes as it is stylish for the clothes that Amanda and Lily wear.

Sound editor Gene Park and sound designer Roland Vajs do superb work with the sound in maintaining an atmosphere into suspense including the film’s climax that is about the action that is happening off-screen. The film’s music by Erik Friedlander is amazing for its percussive-based score with elements of strings and electronics that help add to the suspense and drama while music supervisor Susan Jacobs creates a soundtrack that is a wide mix of music genres featuring contributions from A Tribe Called Quest, the Sweet Hurt, King Harvest, Rome Will Burn, Tanis Chalopin, and a classical piece from Franz Schubert.

The casting by Douglas Aibel and Stephanie Holbrook is wonderful as it feature a couple of notable small roles from Kaili Vernoff and Francie Swift in their respective roles as Amanda’s mother and Lily’s mother Cynthia. Paul Sparks is superb as Lily’s cruel stepfather Mark as a man who tries to instill his own sense of rules into the home while wanting to send Lily to a boarding school to deal with her own behavioral issues. In one of his final performances, Anton Yelchin is brilliant as Tim as a drug dealer who is hired by Amanda and Lily where he is unsure about doing the job knowing he’s got a criminal record and is trying to maintain a low profile while he raises concern about all of the things that can go wrong.

Finally, there’s the duo of Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy in incredible performances in their respective roles as Amanda and Lily. Cooke’s performance is one filled with restraint and dark humor as someone who is devoid of emotion yet is able to figure out what to do and how as it is a performance filled with a lot wit. Taylor-Joy’s performance is also restrained but more emotional as someone that is trying to keep it together while also trying to cope with the scheme she’s doing where she and Cooke have an amazing chemistry in the way they interact as they are major highlights of the film.

Thoroughbreds is a phenomenal film from Cory Finley that features great performances from Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, and the late Anton Yelchin. Along with its eerie visuals, chilling music score, and an entrancing story of scheming and friendship, it’s a film that doesn’t follow the many of conventions expected in a suspense film while studying the behavior of two teenage girls dealing with a terrible man. In the end, Thoroughbreds is a sensational film from Cory Finley.

© thevoid99 2019

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Roma (2018 film)

Written, directed, shot, and co-edited by Alfonso Cuaron, Roma is the story of two housekeepers working for a middle-class family in early 1970s Mexico as they help a mother of four children whose husband has gone away for business. The film is a semi-biographical story of Cuaron’s life at a time when Mexico was going through social and political changes as a family cope with uncertainty prompting two housekeepers to get things going. Starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Carlos Peralta, Diego Cortina Autrey, and Fernando Grediaga. Roma is a ravishing and evocative film from Alfonso Cuaron.

Set from September of 1970 to the summer of 1971 during a tumultuous period of social and political changes in Mexico, the film revolves the life of a middle-class family told from the eyes of a housekeeper who is helping out in keeping the house clean and watch over the four children. It’s a film that play into the life of a family that seems to have it all but it would start to unravel when the family patriarch leaves for a medical conference in Quebec for a few weeks only to suddenly never return. Alfonso Cuaron’s screenplay has a straightforward narrative as it follows the life of one of the two family maids in Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) as she watches over this family during a school year for these four kids as well as tending to the house that often include lots of dog shit in the garage. While Cleo also have time for an active personal life as she’s in a relationship with Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero).

Things would start to get complicated not just for herself but also for her employer Sofia (Marina de Tavira) whose husband Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) hasn’t returned home. Cuaron definitely lets the audience be aware that Sofia and Antonio’s relationship early in the film is strained but the former is trying to hide all of that from her children who are asking questions. Amidst this personal family drama that is around Cleo as well as her own issues, Cuaron’s script also play into some of the events that is happening around them where a New Year’s Eve party is disrupted by arson relating to a land dispute as well as student protests that include a small recreation of the Corpus Christi Massacre of June 10, 1971. It would lead to these moments for both Sofia and Cleo who are both misused and mistreated by the men in their lives as they also watch out for the children who are starting to ask questions about their father.

Cuaron’s direction is definitely mesmerizing for the images and compositions he creates as it is shot on location in Mexico with much of it shot on location at the Colonia Roma section of Mexico City. Serving as the film’s cinematographer, Cuaron shoots the film in a black-and-white film format as it add to this element of nostalgia to the period of the times as well as play into a period that was lively but also chaotic. Since the film revolves around a middle class family as many of the locations that Cuaron shoots is in and around the city. He uses a lot of wide and medium shots to get a scope of not just the house from the inside but also the locations out of the house. There are also a lot of long takes that has Cuaron not just get a look of the usual activities that occur daily at the house in what Cleo does but also the activities of Sofia and the children with another housekeeper in Adela (Nancy Garcia) helping out. Even as the simple medium static shot of a car trying to get into the garage as there’s so much attention to detail that include dog shit on the floor with close-ups of a tire driving over a piece of dog shit.

With the aid of co-editor Adam Gough in the editing of the film as much of it is straightforward, Cuaron would allow the shots to linger that include a gorgeous scene at the New Year’s Eve party where the people are trying to put out a fire at the forest. It has this man wearing a costume singing a song to count down the New Year as it play into this sense of hope that this man is wishing for although things would get worse into the coming months. Cuaron’s direction manages to get a lot of attention to detail as it play into the compositions into the action that is happening in the foreground as well as what is happening in the background. Notably a sequence during the Corpus Christi Massacre where the Los Halcones paramilitary group emerge and there is this awful aftermath of a woman clutching a young dead man’s body asking for help while Cleo, Sofia’s mother Teresa (Veronica Garcia), and a family driver leaving the building in the background.

Cuaron’s approach to the drama is low-key as it adds to an air of realism into the film with the kids being naturalistic in their activities and enthusiasm. Particularly in the scenes set in the beach during its third act which would play into revelations the kids had to face as it relates to their father. Yet, the scenes on the beach also play more into not just loss but also what Sofia and Cleo have to endure for themselves having both been spurned by the men in their lives. Overall, Cuaron crafts a touching and enchanting film about the life of a middle-class family from the eyes of its housekeeper.

Production designer Eugenio Caballero, with set decorator Barbara Enriquez plus art directors Carlos Benassini and Oscar Tello, does excellent work with the look of the home that Sofia and her family live in as well as the rooms that Cleo and Adela live in. Costume designer Anna Terrazas does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely casual with some of the posh clothing that Sofia and some of her rich friends live in. Makeup designer Antonio Garfias does nice work with some of the makeup as it include the look of a famed figure teaching a group of young men during a seminar. Special effects supervisor Alex Vaszquez, with visual effects supervisors Dave Griffiths and Sheldon Stopsack, does brilliant work with some of the film’s visual dressing in a few exterior scenes as well as creating some invisible cuts in some long takes.

Sound designers Craig Berkey and Sergio Diaz do amazing work with the sound as it add to the immense atmosphere of the home along with sound of planes flying by from afar as well as sounds that occur in and out of the house on a typical day as it is one of the film’s highlights. Music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein creates a superb soundtrack of music that is played on location as it features many of the songs that were being played in Mexico at the time from artists/acts like Leo Dan, Rocio Durcal, Jose Jose, Juan Gabriel, Los Pasteles Verdes, Rigo Tovar, Javier Solis, Jeff Christie, Perez Prado Orchestra, Yvonne Elliman, Daniel Santos, Los Terricolas, Los Pulpos, Roger Whittaker, Carmela & Rafael, Ray Coniff, Luis Perez Meza, and many others.

The casting by Luis Rosales is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Jose Manuel Guerrero Mendoza as Adela’s lover Ramon, famed Mexican professional wrestler Latin Lover as a famed martial arts professor in Professor Zovek, Zarela Lizbeth Chinolla Arellano as Cleo’s doctor, Kjartan Halvorsen as a man wearing a costume at the New Year’s Eve party, Enoc Leano as a politician, Jorge Antonio Guerrero as Cleo’s boyfriend in Fermin whose devotion to martial arts would eventually disconnects him from Cleo, and Fernando Grediaga as Sofia’s husband Antonio as a doctor who leaves for a conference in Quebec to suddenly not return raising questions about his marriage to Sofia as well as his activities outside of the family.

Veronica Garcia and Nancy Garcia are fantastic in their respective roles as Sofia’s mother Teresa and the housekeeper Adela as two women who help run the house with the former trying to keep an eye on the children while the latter helps clean the house as well as be Cleo’s friend. The performances of Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina Autrey, and Carlos Peralta in their respective roles as Sofia/Antonio’s children in Pepe, Sofi, Tono, and Paco are excellent as these four kids who are full of energy and innocence as they deal with their father’s absence while trying to figure out what is going on as they lean towards Cleo for comfort. Marina de Tavira is brilliant as Sofia as the family matriarch who is dealing with her strained marriage and the chaos it would follow prompting her to try and figure out what to do next as well as not reveal anything to her children. Finally, there’s Yalitza Aparicio in an incredible performance as Cleo as a housekeeper who is trying to be this stable force for the family as well as caring for the children and do the activities while coping with her pregnancy and the chaos that is surrounding the family and Mexico itself.

Roma is a magnificent film from Alfonso Cuaron. Featuring a phenomenal ensemble cast, intoxicating visuals, a simple yet touching story, and its approach to nostalgia. The film is a rapturous portrait about the life of a family told from one of its maids who sees a family struggle with not just personal issues but also the social and political changes around them while that character also goes through struggles of her own in a world that is often defined and driven by men. In the end, Roma is an outstanding film from Alfonso Cuaron.

Alfonso Cuaron Films: Solo con Tu Pareja - A Little Princess (1995 film) - Great Expectations (1998 film) - Y Tu Mama Tambien - Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban - Children of Men - Gravity (2013 film) - The Auteurs #11: Alfonso Cuaron

© thevoid99 2019