Monday, January 31, 2011


2006’s Babel was released to lots of acclaim and box office success as it garnered six Oscar nominations including a win for Gustavo Santaolalla’s score while director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu won the Best Director Prize at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Though the success was a big deal for Inarritu in the year where his fellow Mexican directors Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro were getting lots of attention for their films. The film would mark the end of an era for the director. Babel was the final part of a trilogy of films about death that began with 2000’s Amores Perros and followed by 2003’s 21 Grams which were all written by screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga.

Babel also marked the last time Inarritu and Arriaga collaborated together as the two had a falling out during the making of Babel over authorship of their previous collaboration 21 Grams. The two parted ways following the film’s completion as Arriaga forged a filmmaking career of his own with 2009’s The Burning Plain. Inarritu meanwhile, went on hiatus as formed a production company with Cuaron and del Toro while working on smaller projects such as a 2010 World Cup commercial starring Gael Garcia Bernal and a short segment for the 2007 anthology film To Each His Own Cinema. In 2010, Inarritu returns with his fourth feature film that not only recalls his fascination with death but also redemption with Biutiful.

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu with a screenplay written by Inarritu, Armando Bo, and Nicolas Giacobone. Biutiful tells the story of a criminal whose life goes into freefall as he seeks redemption for himself, his children, and make plans for a better future as he is deal with his own mortality. The film has Inarritu going in a more straightforward approach for his film as he explores a character on the brink of death and his yearning for redemption. Starring Javier Bardem. Biutiful is a haunting though sluggish film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a man makes money getting immigrants work while trying to connect with the dead just before they leave to the other world. Though he’s also involved in crime, Uxbal remains a very devoted family man to his daughter Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) and son Mateo (Guillermo Estrella). Their mother Marambra (Maricel Alvarez) is suffering from bipolar disorder as she often spends time drinking and such with Uxbal’s brother Tito (Eduard Fernandez). Tito also works with Uxbal in trying to get Chinese immigrants work and make money for both as Tito learns that their father has died.

Uxbal meanwhile, gets the news that he is dying from cancer as he tries to set his affairs in order. Even as he tries to get Marambra to help take care of their kids despite her issues. Yet, Uxbal tries to do good for a Senegalese friend Ekweme (Cheikh Ndiaye) who had been arrested for selling narcotics. Uxbal decides to help out Ekweme’s wife Ige (Diarytou Daff) by getting her to live in his apartment as he and the kids live at Marambra’s apartment. While Uxbal also tries to help out a Chinese warehouse worker named Hai (Cheng Tai Shen), Hai’s friend Liwei (Luo Jin) tries to cut Uxbal out of the deal.

The one day, something bad happens as Uxbal’s plans to help others go terribly wrong. With Uxbal having a hard time trying to sort all things out with his businesses. Marambra’s behavior becomes more chaotic as the kids are in harm while he has a difficult time trying to provide for them. With Ige stepping in to help out, Uxbal ponders what kind of future his children will have. Even as he worries about their mother and those he had done business with as he await the last moments of his life.

The film is about a man trying to find redemption in his final days as he also tries to provide some hope and a future for his young kids in the harsh streets of Barcelona. That’s essentially the film in a nutshell but Inarritu doesn’t do anything conventional with that story. While he goes for a very straightforward approach instead of the non-linear, hyper-connective films of the past. It’s an approach that works although the storytelling at times suffers through sluggish pacing.

The film’s themes of redemption and death centers around this man who is dealing with death and tries to do good by helping people whether they’re criminals, corrupt cops, or good people. Yet, Uxbal is a man that is devoted to his family but is leaving them in a world that is very troubled. Even as their mother is unable to take care of herself and can be abusive while is desperate to live a fun life. While Inarritu and co-screenwriters Armando Bo and Nicolas Giacobone do create a fully-realized character in Uxbal as well as smaller ones like Ige and the children. The problem is that the story at times is too bleak.

Inarritu has been accused for putting his characters into situations where they’re punished very harshly and, for some sick reason, has a sick pleasure into putting them into these situations. While it’s something that is true with his films, he does it again with Biutiful but this time around. He sets it into a much bleaker world with even more dire consequences that is somewhat reminiscent to Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru. While the screenplay works in studying Uxbal’s behaviors and motivation. It’s major flaw is trying to make it flow while some of the intense, dramatic moments doesn’t really pay off.

While the screenplay has major flaws, Inarritu’s direction definitely has potency despite its shortcomings. While he can create some amazing imagery and shots of Barcelona that is striking. There are those that seems to be strange like shots of someone hanging on top of a ceiling which becomes very confusing though there are scenes where a soul of a dead person appears but sitting down. There’s no explanation though it would be very confusing to the audience wondering what they just saw. Inarritu also create some great scenes such as a raid against Senegalese street merchants as it lifts up some of the heavier, dramatic moments.

While Inarritu also creates some surreal moments such as a strip-club scene that Uxbal enters to meet Tito. Due to the script’s lack of movement, he just lets the camera wander around or remain still where he would have shots that is typical of Inarritu but doesn’t have the same emotional impact of his previous work. Even as it dwells into heavy melodrama in some scenes while creating heavier moments that goes overboard where he could’ve underplayed it or just not show anything but still reveal what happened. Despite the flaws that is presented in the direction, Inarritu does create a compelling film that follows around a man trying to do good.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto does some excellent work in the film’s photography with a grainy yet colorful presentation. While it’s grittier than his previous work with Inarritu, Prieto’s cinematography is one of the film’s highlights as it helps emphasize the bleak tone of the film. Editor Stephen Mirrone does a very good job on the film’s editing by creating some excellent transitions and rhythm jump-cuts to try and keep the rhythm going. Yet, he doesn’t do enough to help keep the story moving for its 147-minute running time.

Production designer Brigitte Boch, along with set decorator Laura Musso and art director Marina Pozanco, do a fine job in creating the decayed, dirty look in the apartment homes and slums that the characters live and interact in. Costume designer Bina Daigler and Paco Delgado do nice work in the costumes as they play up to the street look of the film with the character of Marambra wearing very loose clothes to exemplify her persona. Sound designers Martin Hernandez and Alejandro Quevedo do some great work in the film’s sound in creating the chaotic atmosphere that is the slums of Barcelona from the crazy streets to the noisy highways that Uxbal looks at.

Music composer Gustavo Santaolalla creates a wonderful though low-key score that is largely dominated by arpeggio guitars and piano to emphasize the film‘s melancholic tone. Even as he creates a heavy orchestra to also play to the film’s dramatic moments. The soundtrack includes pieces by Underworld, Barry White, CafĂ© Tacuba, Lorca, and many others. A lot of which is used in the club scene as the music of the film is another of the film’s highlights.

The casting is very good for some notable appearances such as Ruben Ochandiano as a corrupt cop, Ana Wagener as a spiritual woman who knew Uxbal’s mother, Karra Elejalde as a construction officer, and Lang Sofia Lin as Li, a woman who was Ana and Mateo’s babysitter. Other small roles include Cheng Tai Shen as a warehouse boss named Hai, Luo Jin as Hai’s corruptive confidant Liwei, Cheikh Ndiaye as Uxbal’s Senegalese friend Ekweme, and Diarytou Daff in a wonderful role as Ige, the woman who would help take care of Ana and Mateo. Eduard Fernandez is very good as Uxbal’s brother Tito who helps out with things though is a man who likes to make things worse when it involves Marambra.

Maricel Alvarez is good as the troubled Marambra when her performance is quiet and struggling though she overdoes it when playing wild and loud to the point that it goes overboard. It’s not a bad performance but it’s the one character that seems more like a clichĂ© rather than a real character. Hanaa Bouchaib and Guillermo Estrella are excellent in their respective roles as Ana and Mateo. Bouchaib and Estrella exemplify the innocence and uncertainty of children as they watch themselves being cared for by their father unaware of his condition while dealing with their bipolar mother.

Finally, there’s Javier Bardem in what is definitely one of his greatest performances of his career. Bardem definitely exudes all of the harshness and vulnerability of a man who tries to do good despite what he does for a living. When he faces death, Bardem brings a lot of the uncertainty and determination of his character despite how flawed he is. Even when he unknowingly does something bad when he tries to do good. It is his performance that really makes the film worth watching as it is definitely one of the year’s best and deserving of the Best Actor prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Biutiful is a good though very flawed film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu that features a towering performance of Javier Bardem. Fans of Inarritu’s work will be amazed by the straightforward approach he does though it’s clear that not everything works in what he’s trying to do. Even as there’s some cases where he sort of parodies himself. Fans of Bardem will see why he is one of the best actors working today proving that he can do something as heavy as this. In the end, Biutiful is a stellar though sluggish film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu that is saved by the amazing performance of Javier Bardem.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Films: Amores Perros - (21 Grams) - Babel

© thevoid99 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another Year

2008’s Happy-Go-Lucky was a surprise hit with audiences and critics as its writer/director Mike Leigh scored another hit film while giving its star Sally Hawkins a true breakout role. The film was also surprising for fans of Leigh as it was his most optimistic and upbeat film of his career. Sadly, it would be Leigh’s last film with longtime producer Simon Channing-Williams who died at age 63 in 2009 after a long battle with cancer. Leigh paid tribute to his late colleague and friend as he moved forward with a project about life in general with Another Year.

Written and directed by Mike Leigh, Another Year tells the story of a married couple whose blissful life is mired by the unhappiness around their friends as they help them out. Featuring many of Leigh’s improvisational style and exploration of all of the quirks about life. It’s a film that dabbles into many themes while finding some sort of solution about the way the world works. With an all-star cast that includes such Leigh regulars as Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Philip Davis, and Imelda Staunton plus appearances from David Bradley and Oliver Maltman. Another Year is a charming yet touching film from Mike Leigh.

It’s springtime as Geri (Ruth Sheen) is helping a woman named Janet (Imelda Staunton) deal with her insomnia. Geri is a counselor who works with a doctor named Tanya (Michele Austin) and a secretary named Mary (Lesley Manville). Geri’s been happily married to Tom (Jim Broadbent) who works as a geologist. Whenever they’re not working or at home, Tom and Geri do a lot of time tending to their large garden filled their own fruits and vegetables. Mary often hangs out with Tom and Geri as she is looking for love while would get herself drunk every once in a while pondering about her lack of a strong love life.

While Ruth and Geri often invite Mary to their world, they also get visits from their son Joe (Oliver Maltman) who is also trying to find love as he often helps out with their garden. It’s summertime as a friend named Ken (Peter Wight) visits who is despondent over his age and other issues as he hangs out with Tom and Geri. A barbeque party is held with Ken, Mary, Tanya, Joe, and another friend named Jack (Philip Davis) as they’re all having fun while Tanya unveils her new baby boy. During the party, Mary reveals that she bought a new car as she also flirts with Joe as she asks they would meet again for a drink.

It’s autumn as Joe makes a surprise visit to see his parents as he unveils a new girlfriend named Katie (Karina Fernandez) where they all have lunch and dinner. During the dinner, Mary arrives to hang out with Tom and Geri only to learn about Katie. The dinner goes smooth but leaves Mary upset as she would later make another visit in the winter. Tom, Geri, and Joe however, go to meet Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley) for some devastating family news that is worsened by the visit of Ronnie’s son Carl (Martin Savage). Mary’s visit to Tom and Geri’s home has her realizing how much trouble she is though it’s just another moment for Tom and Geri.

The film is about a couple who help out their friends and family in the time of need through the span of four seasons. Yet, the one friend who is in constant need of help is a woman named Mary, a 40ish secretary who likes to drink, have fun, and wear youthful clothes in order to be loved. Yet her character goes through the most changes throughout the year as she becomes more desperate and fragile. Through it all, it’s Tom and Geri that provide safety and love not just to her but to the people involved.

It’s really a film about good people who are there for those in need of comfort. Notably in the winter section when Tom and Geri with Joe visit Ronnie who is need of comfort. Though Ronnie doesn’t speak very much over what he had just been through, it is Tom and Geri that offer him a place to stay for a while. When their friend Ken is going through tough times, Tom takes him out to play golf with Joe and Jack just to cheer him up. Mike Leigh’s approach to the story is definitely well-structured in four parts as he gets the chance to create mood changes for each season. Even in creating characters that are lively and interesting to watch.

Leigh’s direction is definitely marvelous to watch in the way he creates a mood for each season. While its mostly straightforward, Leigh’s still yet moody compositions remains intoxicating to watch. Even as it has an air of theatricality in the way he shoots actors from where they’re standing to creating wonderful close-ups that explores the mood of the characters. Leigh underplays the drama while opening the film with a bitter woman wanting sleeping pills so she can sleep. While it’s mostly a dramatic, melancholic film, Leigh allows lots of humor into the mix so that the audience can get to know the characters and maybe want to hang out with them. The overall result in Leigh’s work is proof that is one of Britain’s great living directors working today.

Leigh’s longtime cinematographer Dick Pope does a wonderful job with the different array of color schemes for the film’s seasons. With the more colorful, brighter look of the spring and summer for the first half of the film including dabbles of rain. Pope also uses darker palettes for the autumn and winter scenes in the second half as it helps plays to the film’s emotional tone. Pope’s work is superb as it is definitely one of the film’s technical highlights.

Editor Jon Gregory does an excellent job with the film’s editing in presenting the film with a straightforward approach while adding bits of style to maintain a nice rhythm to the film. Even in letting each season fade to black to end and open the next season. Production designer Simon Beresford, along with set decorator Sophia Chowdhury and art director Andrew Rothschild, do a very good job with the film‘s set design from the comfortable home that Tom and Geri lives in to the tiny, decayed shack that they sit in at their large garden. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran also does a very good job with the film‘s costumes from the hippie-like clothes that Geri wears to the more casual stuff everyone else wears while the character of Mary wears clothes that represents her longing to be youthful.

Sound recordist Tim Fraser and sound editor Nigel Stone do some fine work in the sound work by capturing natural sounds to convey the energy and feel of the scene along with some crazier scenes involving traffic and trains. Music composer Gary Yershon brings a lovely yet plaintive score that plays to the film’s melancholia played with a harp as it helps introduce a new season or to play up to the dramatic elements of the film.

Casting director Nina Gold does a superb job in assembling a great cast for the film as part of what makes Mike Leigh’s films so fascinating is in the casting. Appearances from Leigh regulars such as Philip Davis as Jack, Michele Austin as Tanya, Martin Savage as Carl, and Imelda Staunton in a small but memorable appearance as Janet, an insomniac in the opening scene of the film. Other notable appearances include David Bradley as Tom’s laconic yet shell-shocked brother Ronnie and Karina Fernandez as Joe’s new, upbeat girlfriend Katie. Peter Wight is excellent as Ken, an old friend of Tom who has fallen on hard times as he seeks comfort in his friends while he carries a torch for Mary. Oliver Maltman is very good as Joe, Tom and Geri’s son who is there for his parents while trying to find love as well. Maltman’s performance is fun to watch as an adult-son who has all of the good qualities that he’s inherited from his parents.

Ruth Sheen is great as Geri, a no-nonsense but caring woman whose job is to help people sort out their situations. Even as she possesses a maternal warmth that people needed as she provides whatever they need for comfort as Sheen’s performance is marvelous. Jim Broadbent is phenomenal as Tom, a kind-hearted man with an eccentric behavior who also provides the things his friends need. Broadbent’s whimsical yet charming performance is one of the most uplifting and witty performances he has done as it proves why he’s one of the great actors working today.

Finally, there’s Lesley Manville in an amazing performance as Mary. A lovely but fragile woman desperate to find love as she drinks her sorrows while hoping to nab the much younger Joe. Manville’s performance is wonderful to watch as she starts out as this vibrant though flakey woman who often forgets things. To then descend into someone really desperate as Manville doesn’t overplay the drama by remaining still as she allows her character to gain sympathy for who she is. It’s definitely one of the best performances of 2010 as Manville’s work is just startling to watch.

Another Year is a wonderful yet mesmerizing film from Mike Leigh and company. Led by an amazing ensemble cast including Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent, and Ruth Sheen. It’s a film that fans of Mike Leigh will enjoy about all of the ups and downs of life. Fans of great yet unconventional dramas will find something surprisingly uplifting in a melancholic film that reveals the goodness of people and why its important to have friends. It’s also another amazing film from Mike Leigh who adds another great film to his amazing filmography. In the end, Another Year is a superb yet engrossing film from the great Mike Leigh.

Mike Leigh Films: (Bleak Moments) - (Hard Labour) (The Permissive Society) - (Knock for Knock) - (Nuts in May) - (Abigail’s Party) - (Kiss of Death) - (Who’s Who) - (Grown-Ups) - (Home Sweet Home) - (Meantime) - (Four Days in July) - (High Hopes) - Life is Sweet - Naked - Secrets & Lies - Career Girls - Topsy-Turvy - All or Nothing - Vera Drake - Happy-Go-Lucky

© thevoid99 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Originally Written and Posted at on 11/18/06 w/ Additional Edits.

Following the success of 2003's 21 Grams, Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was hailed as one of cinema's most creative and original film directors. Often helped by screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, they were one of the great writer-director duos around as they helped bring attention to Mexican cinema. In 2005, Arriaga wrote another screenplay for American actor Tommy Lee Jones for his feature-film debut called The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada that won Arriaga a best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival. It was around the same time Arriaga and Inarritu went to work on their most ambitious, worldly project entitled Babel.

Written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Inarritu, Babel is a multi-layered, multi-story about mis-communication, isolation, and all the troubles of the world. Three different stories involve a couple in Morocco trying to save their marriage only to be involved in a shooting that leads to another story. Another story involving the couple's maid taking care of their children involves more problems when she has to attend a wedding and her nephew is trying to cross the border. The third and final story involves a young, deaf Japanese woman trying to understand her own isolation. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Emilio Echevarria, Adriana Barraza, Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Pena, and Rinko Kikuchi. Babel is a brilliant, worldly film from the duo of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Arriaga.

In the mountains in the middle of Morocco, a man named Hassan (Abdelkader Bara) is visiting his friend and neighbor Abdullah (Mustapha Rachidi) about a Winchester rifle he wants to give away where Abdullah made a trade for it which Hassan received some money and a goat. The purchase of the gun was used to kill jackals who were trying to kill Abdullah's goats. Abdullah's sons Ahmed (Said Tarchani) and Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) were given the gun to use where during the trek to find jackals, they practiced shooting in which Ahmed isn't good at aiming and the younger Yussef is. During their practice, Yussef attempts to hit right near an oncoming tour bus just to see how good the bullets are at three kilometers. Unbeknownst to Yussef and Ahmed, one of the bullets hit a passenger.

In the same area in Morocco some time earlier, an American couple in Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are desperately trying to save their marriage at a time in crisis where the couple seems to be falling apart. Taking a vacation in Morocco didn't seem like a good after all as they continued their tour. When Susan was sleeping the bus, a bullet has suddenly hit her near her neck on her left shoulder as she is bleeding badly. The tour's guide in Anwar (Mohamed Akhzam) takes the bus to a town nearby which he lives as Susan is bleeding badly where her condition seems grim. With the hours going by, people in the tour that included French and British tourists are getting upset at the wait as a man is sick from the heat. A British tourist named Tom (Peter Wight) is getting upset as Richard asks for more time while Susan is under the care of Anwar, his grandmother (Sfia Ait Benboullah), and a doctor (Hammou Aghrar). Immediately, news of Susan's shooting causes trouble with diplomatic relations between American and Moroccan where Moroccan police begin to investigate as it leads to answers from Hassan and his wife (Ehou Mama) and questions about where the gun came from. With Susan in grim condition, only Richard is by her side as he tries to get her to stay alive.

Meanwhile in California, Richard and Susan's children Debbie (Elle Fanning) and Mike (Nathan Gamble) are under the care of their Mexican maid Amelia (Adriana Barraza). After receiving a call from Richard about his sister-in-law going to watch the children, Amelia is pleased that she can attend the wedding of her son Lucio (Damian Garcia) and his bride Patricia (Cynthia Montano). Then when Amelia gets a call that Susan's sister won't make it to take care of the children and that she couldn't attend her wedding, she decides to take the kids to Mexico as they're accompanied by her nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal). They made it through Mexico without any trouble as the children have a good time at the wedding while Amelia meets an old friend in Emilio (Emilio Echevarria) where everything seems to go great. While Santiago was a bit intoxicated, he drove Amelia and the children back to the U.S. when they were about to cross the border, trouble arise when they're questioned by an officer (Clifton Collins Jr.) and things become troubling. With Amelia and the children lost in the desert, Amelia seeks to find help where she meets another officer (Michael Pena) only to be faced with the harsh realities.

In Tokyo, a young deaf woman named Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) is still mourning the death of her mother from suicide for the past several months. With her father Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho) trying to get her to communicate, she is still angry at him for not being attentive enough towards her. With only her fellow deaf friend Mitsu (Yuko Murata) taking her to places, they hope to be as normal as everyone else where they try to attract a boy but their deafness seems to work against them in trying to connect. With Chieko aware of her sexuality, she becomes desperate for some attention as she tries to get her dentist (Shigemitsu Ogi) to kiss her. While returning home to her apartment, two detectives named Kenji (Satoshi Nikaido) and Hamano (Kazunori Tozawa) arrive who have some questions for her father. Chieko is attracted to Kenji where she later decides to go to a party with Mitsu as she meets Haruki (Nobushige Suematsu) that leads an ecstacy-driven haze and party where Chieko's loneliness gets to her. Calling Kenji about his investigation, she thinks it's about her mother when really, it's involves something else as her desperation to connect where it leads her to an emotional epiphany as the feeling of mis-communication and misunderstandings come across to everyone around the world.

Taking from the story about the Tower of Babel where according to the Bible, the descendants of Noah decided to build a tower that would reach the Heavens amidst the floods relating to the story of Noah's Ark. God, angry at those that defied decided to create languages where as a result, those working at the tower couldn't understand each other leading to mis-communication. This is the theme of Babel, mis-communication and misunderstanding. Particularly from a political and cultural point of view where the film ends up not just questioning American foreign policy and how it pressures the diplomatic situations of other countries but also the paranoia that comes in from those pressures in the post-9/11 world. The film is also a mediation of isolation and how mis-communication can lead to a sense of disconnection in the story of Chieko. Yet, there's something in Chieko's story that relates to the struggles of Richard/Susan and the Moroccan boys as well as the story of Amelia. It's all related to an object or a conflict within the characters and what they're going through. The result is a very provocative, epic feature that questions assumptions and the misunderstanding of the world to the point that something could go very wrong.

While the idea of the film both credited to Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga, it's all set-up and written with great precision from Arriaga. Taking the same, non-linear-like approach with his previous scripts for Amores Perros and 21 Grams, this one is more worldly due to the location and situations the characters are in. The whole film is taken place in days where the story of Susan is in the background in Chieko's world while Amelia's story takes place sometime afterwards. While some of the plot points that Arriaga creates do kind of spoil things a bit but only keeps the audience guessing on what could be going on. The result is a very strong script from Arriaga whose talents are clearly one of the more insatiable into commanding a very multi-layered, multi-storied script.

Then there's the direction of Inarritu that is truly more worldly and observant at each segment that he's directing. Taking moments where in the Mexico and Japanese segments around the first half, there's moments of celebration while everything else in Morocco is chaotic. The second half reveals something far more cerebral and emotional in the situation that Amelia is going through while Chieko is dealing with her own sexual awakening and isolation. Inarritu definitely goes for the harsh realism of his work where he points out moments of development as some of the characters realize the clash of cultures and their own lack of understanding on how countries work as well as the fear of the way things work. While the entire film is mostly drama, there's a few moments of humor while revealing the nature of sexual awakening whether it's Yussef's own sexual awakening from one of the girls that lived in his home or Chieko's own strange behavior is really more emotional and natural. Those subplots is still relevant to the theme of mis-communication in the way humans are trying to express themselves. The result is clearly Inarritu at the top of his game.

Helping Inarritu with his worldly vision is longtime cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. Prieto's grainy, hand-held camera work is more fluid than ever in how he shoots the huge mountains of Morocco to the vast deserts of California and Mexico. Prieto's exterior shots are very natural to the situations and harrowing world while his work in the Japanese segment is breathtaking. Much like Lance Acord's work in Sofia Coppola's 2003's Lost in Translation, Prieto's use of colors and light reveal the sense of eeriness in tune with Chieko's troubling emotions as it's one of the highlights of the film. Longtime production designer Brigitte Broch along with art director Rika Nakanishi also do fantastic work in the film's different settings with the stone-like world of Morocco, the clean, polished look of California, the grittiness of Mexico, and the more sleek look of Japan. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson also plays to the film's differentiation of cultures in clothing where standing out more is Chieko's short skirts that reveals more of her troubling character.

Editors Stephen Mirrone and Douglas Crise do amazing work with the editing in the way the stories go back-and-forth and so on to the different segments where it doesn't get confusing while being aware of what is going in the background and such. With elements of jump-cuts, perspective cuts, and everything else, the editing is wonderfully tighten in its 142-minute running time while making the audience aware of what's going on. Longtime sound designer Martin Hernandez also does amazing work in capturing the tense atmosphere of each locations, notably in Japan that is filled with an array of sounds, notably in the outside like the Shibuya crosswalk. Longtime music composer Gustavo Santaolalla creates a very haunting score filled with ambient tones and traditional yet imperfect acoustic tracks that is indeed haunting in its melody and situations. The soundtrack includes a rich mix of traditional Mexican music plus Mexican hip-hop along with Eastern music and J-Pop to reveal the vast differences in culture.

Finally, we have the film's huge ensemble cast and it's indeed by far the best ensemble cast assembled for any film. Small performances from the likes of Yuko Murata, Kazunori Tozawa, Nobushige Suematsu, Michael Pena, Clifton Collins Jr., Jamie McBride as a Border Patrol Officer, Cynthia Montano, Damian Garcia, Ehou Mama, Wahiba Sahmi as Zohra, the object of Yussef's affections, Peter Wight, Hammou Aghrar, Sfia Ait Benboullah, and Amores Perros star Emilio Echevarria in a small role as Emilio. Abdelkader Bara is excellent as Hassan who has his best moment when he's interrogated and beaten into revealing information about the gun while Mustapha Rachidi is also great as the moralistic Abdullah. Said Tarchani and Boubker Ait El Caid are also great as the young boys who realize what they've done as they try to do right only to realize what kind of trouble the rifle has brought them. Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble are also great as Debbie and Mike who are unaware of the political problems as they seem to have a better understanding of cultures since they can also understand Spanish.

Mohammed Akhzam is excellent as the guide Anwar who tries to help out Richard while they have a bond in being parents and trying to understand their own cultural differences. Satoshi Nikaido is also good as the cop Kenji who tries to make an investigation only to learn of Chieko's emotional troubles. Koji Yakusho is wonderfully understated as Chieko's father who is desperate to connect with her daughter while mourning his wife while he tries to understand about an investigation that involves the other stories in the film. Gael Garcia Bernal is really good in his small role as Santiago with his brash, fun attitude in the film's first half only to become paranoid when dealing with border patrols as Bernal reveals the fear of those dealing with American foreign policy. Adriana Barraza, who was also in Amores Perros with Bernal and Echevarria, gives one of the year's best performances as Amelia. Barraza displays all of the emotions and struggle that her characters go through as well as an emotional dilemma in being a maternal figure to the children she's supposed to take care of as it's an amazing performance from the veteran Mexican actress.

While Brad Pitt is often at times considered to be more of a good-looking movie star than a serious actor really shows his depth in his role as Richard. Sporting a grizzled beard and a face that reveals his worn-out personality only to develop into a desperate man realizing his own cultural ignorance and everything while being worried for his wife as Pitt delivers a great performance. Cate Blanchett is also in fine form as Susan as a woman wounded from her disintegrating marriage only to face with her own mortality as Blanchett brings an elegance and weariness to her role. The film's best and biggest breakthrough performance goes to Rinko Kikuchi. Playing a deaf-mute, Kikuchi gives the film's most understated and eerie performance of the film as a young woman trying to understand her own role in the world where in some scenes, we can't hear anything from her point of view while trying to be aware of her own sexual awakening. Kikuchi shows the anguish and isolation of a young woman trying to understand the world as it's a breathtaking performance from the young actress.

Part of a trilogy of death with its previous features Amores Perros and 21 Grams, this film does feature a sense of tragedy but this time around, the tragedy is more heartbreaking in what goes inside the characters. All three films deal with a sense of loss as well as the harsh realities of the world. With Babel, it definitely marks an end of an era not just with its exploration of death but also marking the final collaboration between director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. Largely due to who deserved credit for the success of their collaborations and so forth where at the film's world premiere at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Arriaga was banned in attending the premiere and promotions. It was there the film won prizes including a Best Director award for Inarritu. Therefore, it was revealed that the two had a falling out as Babel indeed marks the end of the Inarritu-Arriaga collaboration.

Babel is an extraordinary film from the team of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. Thanks to Inarritu's worldly direction, Arriaga's complex script, the talents of its collaborators, and amazing performances from its cast including Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Mohammed Akhzam, Adriana Barazza, and Rinko Kikuchi. This is a film that will indeed raise questions into people's perceptions of cultures as well as international incidents that can be assumed as something else. While the film might be too engaging politically to some audiences, the result into the internal struggle of isolation and mis-communication is very relevant to today's post-9/11 world. So for a film that reveals the human struggle and reveals how small the world can be, Babel is the film to see.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Films: Amores Perros - (21 Grams) - (Biutiful)

(C) thevoid99 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Amores Perros

Originally Written and Posted at on 11/16/06 w/ Additional Edits.

With the recent attention towards films of Latin America, a new wave has been emerging in different countries south of U.S. border. From Brazil, there's Fernando Meirelles and Walter Salles and in Argentina, the late Fabian Bielinsky. In Mexico, two noted auteurs have managed to find success in not just their homeland and internationally but also find work and success in the U.S. First is noted horror/action director Guillermo del Toro and the second is the more dramatic Alfonso Cuaron. The third director from Mexico that's been making waves internationally is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Prior to his career into feature films, he directed several television shows for Mexico before meeting screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. The collaboration with Arriaga led to them creating a project that took three years and thirty-six drafts that originally was supposed to be several shorts that would lead into their first feature film entitled Amores Perros (Love's a Bitch).

Amores Perros tells three interconnected stories revolving around a car accident where a young man falls for his sister-in-law and hopes to win her heart while another man leaves his family for a model and another story involving a hitman trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Written by Arriaga and directed by Inarritu, Amores Perros is a film where three different stories come together to form a theme that often involve dogs and tragedy. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Emilio Echevarria, Goya Toledo, Alvaro Guerrero, and Vanessa Bauche. Amores Perros is a raw, intense film from the duo of Inarritu & Arriaga.

Frustrated in her relationship with the irresponsible and abusive Ramiro (Marco Perez), Susana (Vanessa Bauche) is in dire straits in trying to take care of her baby and being in school. Living with Ramiro's family including his younger brother Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal), Susana has a more stable relationship with Octavio who has a crush on her while is the only one trying take care of the problems. Meanwhile, in the middle of Mexico City, dog fights are the big thing and the winning man is Jacorch (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) and his champion dog Pancho. One day when Pancho wants to fight other dogs, they come across Ramiro's Doberman named Cofi. To the surprise of Jacorch and Octavio's friend Jorge (Humberto Busto), Cofi defeated the undefeated Pancho as Jacorcho is angry at Octavio and wants his money. Learning of Cofi's talents in dog fights, Octavio decided to use Cofi to make money for him and Susana to escape the clutches of Ramiro, especially that she's pregnant with another child. Making deals with the dog fight's organizer Mauricio (Gerardo Campbell), Octavio and Jorge reaches a deal that for 15 fights, often with whatever dog Jacorch has, gave them some success.

With Ramiro learning of what Octavio is doing in the dog fights, it hurts him more since his job working at a supermarket while doing bank robbing jobs and cheating on Susana has made him more troublesome. With Susana finally giving in to Octavio's love, it seems that things will go great. With Octavio offered one more fight against Jacorch, he decides to make it the final fight for Cofi against a Class A dog that Jacorch has purchased. On the day of the fight, Octavio's optimism is shattered with some new setbacks and the fight Cofi has doesn't go well as he planned where Octavio reaches into some trouble with Jacorch and his friends.

On that same day, Octavio and Jorge were to fight. Jorge was watching a TV show where model Valeria (Goya Toledo) was attending. She presented her new boyfriend in an actor named Andres Salgado (Ricardo Dalmacci) when in reality, he was posing as her boyfriend. The truth is that she's having an affair with a married man named Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero). For some time, Daniel has been obsessed with the model while trying to hide his obsession with his wife Julieta (Laura Almela) and two daughters. Now that he's separated from her, Daniel hopes to make a new life with Valeria and her dog Richie until tragedy strikes. Valeria was involved in a horrific car accident as her right leg was severely damaged while she was nearly paralyzed. Living alone in her new apartment with Richie, Valeria tries to make the best of it despite having her modeling contract be expired. While playing with Richie, the dog suddenly falls into a hole in the floor and is lost under the apartment. Things couldn't be worse for Daniel as Valeria's obsession with retrieving her dog has definitely affected the relationship.

With her leg starting to be more damaged, Daniel starts to cling himself more towards the family he's left while his relationship with Valeria begins to fall apart. Her depression and yearning to find Richie has affected everything that goes on as Daniel feels he left his wife and family for nothing. Then one night after returning home from work, Valeria has fallen on the floor where her health is in danger as Daniel makes a final attempt to find Richie under his apartment floor that is also filled with rats.

On the day Valeria would have her car crash and Octavio would be in trouble with Jacorch, an aging, homeless hitman named El Chivo (Emilio Echevarria) is walking around surrounded by dogs. Days before, he is sent on a mission where his target is a businessman which he successfully kills where around the same time, he learns that the wife he hadn't seen for some 20 years has died while his daughter Maru (Lourdes Echevarria) is unaware that her father is alive. His 20-year hiatus was largely due to be jailed for being part of a guerilla and since his release, he's been homeless and living with dogs only to get funds from a dirty cop named Leonardo (Jose Sefami) who has been giving him jobs to kill people. For his next job, Leonardo is accompanied by a businessman named Gustavo (Rodrigo Murray) who asks him to kill his business partner claiming he’s being cheated out of some money.

El Chivo decides to do the job where on the day of the crash, he finds a wounded dog that turned out to be Cofi. Healing the dog from his wounds, Chivo takes care of him while watching over Gustavo's business partner Luis (Jorge Salinas). Haunted by the way he left his family and everything else, Chivo's life gets worse when most of dogs were suddenly killed with Cofi being the only one alive. On the day he was to target Luis, he makes a decision that would change his life while dealing with the loneliness that he's been suffering while the characters of Octavio and Valeria would also go into some life-changing decisions.

While some of the storylines and interconnecting plot devices might be similar to the elements of Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 classic film Pulp Fiction. What Amores Perros has that Tarantino's film doesn't have is a raw outlook of life in Mexico City and the way it deals with loss, regret, and the realities of life. While taking some of not just Tarantino's multi-layered plot devices as well as the psychological, dramatic observation of the Trois Couleurs trilogy of the Polish director Krzystzof Kieslowski. The film has three different stories about love in all types of form and how the characters deal with that kind of love. Aside from the themes that connect the three stories, they're also connected by their relationship with dogs as well as the car crash that brings all three stories together. The result is a very multi-layered yet intense drama about the human heart and how they deal with the baggage that love brings.

Many of the film's themes and storylines come from the mind of writer Guillermo Arriaga who is indeed, one of Mexico's great screenwriters. The way Arriaga brings the different stories together where in some parts of the story, the character of El Chivo is in the background while a moment where someone like Jorge is watching Valeria on TV. The approach of Arriaga's writing and characters is psychological since he uses a place like Mexico City as an environment where the class standings are erased to the situation the characters are dealing with. The result is a very tight, observing script from the great Arriaga.

Helping Arriaga in telling the story is Inarritu whose entrancing yet gritty approach to directing brings an energy and style that isn't seen in films these days. Inarritu's approach to connecting stories in a scene are wonderfully set up with some parts in the background and then, being seen again from different perspectives. Plus, the film moves in a mostly linear way where in one segment, he reveals a bit of other segments to come. Even to the point where the film has to be seen again to see where the other characters where at the time of a certain incident and such. He also allows a full development of characters to see how they deal with things in a realistic, natural way while making the dogs into being great characters of their own in whatever situations they're in. Overall, the film is directed with such tightness and virility from the very talented Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Helping Inarritu with his presentation is cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. Prieto's grainy yet colorful photography reveals the contrasting look of the stories from the flashy, blueish look in the Octavio/Susana sequences to more cleaner, polished looks in the Daniel/Valeria sequence back to a mix of grain and observant feel in the El Chivo segment. Prieto shines with his range of color into his cinematography to show the atmosphere of what goes on in each segment. Production designer Brigitte Broch and art director Melo Hinojosa also play to the contrasting look of the film's atmosphere where it's all shot entirely in Mexico City from the working-class look of Octavio, the posh look of Valeria, and the poor look of El Chivo that features an authenticity to the film's look. Costume designer Gabriela Diaque also plays to the film's look from the hip-hop like clothing of Octavio and Jorge, the posh clothes of Daniel and Valeria, to the haggard look of El Chivo.

Editors Luis Carballar, Fernando Perez Unda, and Inarritu, along with additional editing from fellow Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, do amazing work on the editing in bringing an intensity to some of the film's more energetic sequences. The editing also work for the way it connects stories and everything else on how some characters are played in the background in a segment while they're seen again from their perspective. The editing overall is fluid and solid in the film's 153-minute running time. Sound designer Martin Hernandez also does great work in the film's sound to convey the atmosphere of each segment and everything else in how it connects the stories. Score composer Gustavo Santaolalla brings a haunting, atmospheric tone to the score with melodic guitar tracks and traditional Mexican music that brings an authenticity and mood to the film with additional contribution from Daniel Hidalgo. The soundtrack is filled a lot of rock, hip-hip, and traditional Mexican folk music that conveys the mood of Mexico.

The film's cast that includes some wonderful, small performances from Rosa Maria Bianchi as Maru’s Aunt Luisa, Dunia Saldivar as Susana's alcoholic mother, Adriana Barraza as Octavio's mother, Laura Amela, Gerardo Campbell, Ricardo Dalmacci, and Lourdes Echevarria. Other noted minor roles from Rodrigo Murray, Jorge Salinas, Jose Sefami, Ricardo Dalmacci, and Humberto Busto also make great impression. Other minor parts like Marco Perez as Ramiro makes a great impression while making a bigger impression is Gustavo Sanchez Parra as Jacorch with his menacing look and teeth where he gives a very intimidating performance. Vanessa Bauche is wonderful as the conflicted Susana who doesn't fully understand Octavio's motives while still in love with her irresponsible husband Ramiro. Alvaro Guerrero is excellent as the loving but frustrated Daniel who thought he had it all until tragedy strikes when he has to come to terms with what he's left behind and what he’s dealing with. Goya Toledo is great as the superficial Valeria whose character goes through a major change with the damage of her leg as she is forced to deal with loss that is unimaginable to her as she gives an amazing performance.

In what is really a breakthrough role, Gael Garcia Bernal is brilliant as Octavio. Bernal brings a youthful exuberance and naivete to his role as a young man who seems to understand enough about love but not enough of Susana’s conflict. Bernal really shows his range into gritty characters and revealing the youthfulness of those roles as he would eventually become one of the best actors of his generation. The film's best and most haunting performance goes to Emilio Echevarria as El Chivo. With a very haggard look, Echevarria really personifies as a man filled with loss and regret as he doesn't have much going for him. Echevarria is really the conscious of sorts in the film as he watches everything around him while being surrounded by dogs and the way he deals with his main target in his segment is astounding. Notably his final moments is really shocking in how Echevarria reveals his emotions, especially in his restraint that's been held together throughout the entire film.

When Amores Perros was released in 2000, the film was a smash not just in Mexico but helped started a new wave that would be followed a year later by fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron with his film Y Tu Mama Tambien. Amores Perros would go on to win several awards in Mexico as well as some prestigious international prizes at the Cannes Film Festival while getting nominations at the Oscars and Golden Globes for Best Foreign Film while winning the British Academy Award in the same category. The film's success helped the team of Inarritu and Arriaga along with their collaborators Rodrigo Prieto, Gustavo Santaolalla, Brigitte Broch, and Martin Hernandez work on 2003's 21 Grams starring Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio del Toro to huge success.

Amores Perros is a truly brilliant, intense, and engaging masterpiece from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. Thanks to an all-star cast led by Gael Garcia Bernal and Emilio Echevarria, it's a film that is worth watching a second time around while getting to know the real grittiness of Mexico. Audiences new to the emergence of Latin America cinema will no doubt find this film to be among as one of the essentials. So in the end, for a film that is intense in its action and brings some questions on life, Amores Perros is the film to see.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Films:  (21 Grams) - Babel - (Biutiful)
(C) thevoid99 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Way Back

2003’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was a film that garnered lots of acclaim from critics as it also received several Oscar nominations. Despite the acclaim, the film was a modest hit in the U.S. while its overall grosses worldwide did help cover the film’s massive budget. For its director Peter Weir, it was another of his great films as he would spend the next seven years taking on various projects. Among them was an adaptations of Pattern Recognition by William Gibson and Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram. Other projects included War Magician and Shadow Divers as none of them got past the development stage. Weir finally got a project going based on the true story about a group of prisoners escaping the Siberian Gulag during World War II based on The Long Walk by Slawomir Rawicz that would be entitled The Way Back.

Directed by Peter Weir with an adapted script by Weir and Keith Clarke. The Way Back tells the story of a young Polish POW who is sent to the cold Siberian prison where he meets fellow prisoners from around the world. The young man along with other prisoners decides to escape the prison as they go into a treacherous journey through the cold mountains of Siberia and into the desert where they‘re later joined by an orphaned teenaged girl from Poland. Starring Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong, Gustaf Skarsgard, Dracos Bucur, and Ed Harris. The Way Back is an exhilarating and adventurous film from Peter Weir.

It’s 1939 as Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is being interrogated for possible crimes in being a spy which he denies. When his wife (Sally Edwards) reveals, under torture, that he did commit crime, he is sent to the Gulag in Siberia for twenty years. Entering the Gulag in 1941, Janusz meets an actor named Khabarov (Mark Strong) who claims to know a way to escape the Gulag. Yet, Janusz learns from an American prisoner named Smith (Ed Harris) that Khabarov is just trying to make his own way out as Janusz refuses to give up. When a brutish, tattooed prisoner named Valka (Colin Farrell) overhears a conversation with Janusz and Khabarov, he decides to join in Janusz’s plan to escape.

Joining Janusz, Smith, and Valka for the escape are four other men that consists of a Lativan priest named Voss (Gustaf Skarsgard), a Yugoslav accountant named Zoran (Dracos Bucur), an artist named Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), and a 17-year old Polish boy named Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky). During a snowstorm and a blackout in the prison, the men escape as they trek through the cold forest of Siberia as they make their way South in hopes of reaching Mongolia. Along the way, they go further into the mountains hoping to reach a lake while they wear wooden masks during the heavy snowstorm. During the long journey, Janusz finally finds the lake as everyone goes to the lake.

Along the way, they learned that a young Polish girl named Irena (Saoirse Ronan) has been following them as Smith isn’t sure in taking another person to the journey. Still, she follows them as they reluctantly let her join the trek to Mongolia. Encountering everything from mosquitoes to icy waters, they finally reach the Russian-Mongolian border only to learn that Mongolia is a Communist state. Realizing that the only place to go to is India for freedom, the group goes on a trek through the Gobi desert where they have to deal with all sorts of challenges to get across to their destination.

The film’s plot about a group of men and a young girl trekking through Siberia to India seems like the kind of film that doesn’t really do much in terms of plotting. In the hands of Peter Weir, it becomes an extraordinary experience about endurance and survival. Though the film’s opening dedication does spoil the ending which is the only big mistake the film makes. Weir and co-screenwriter Keith Clarke decides that the film shouldn’t just be about the journey but also the characters.

Janusz is the character who drives the film as he knows he’s innocent and hopes to return to his wife whom he loves and knows that she is carrying a lot of guilt for putting him in prison. He is then joined by several characters who would help him escape and take part in this journey. While there are a couple of minor characters like the shady Khabarov and the young Kazik that do get a chance to shine. They’re just minor players who would help everyone else. Smith is an American who came to Russia to find work only to be suspected as spy. Smith is the old man who would be Janusz’s right hand man as he’s also someone not very sentimental as he tells Janusz about his kindness which he perceives as a weakness.

Yet, the arrival of Irena would become the person that the men in the journey would feel protective for. She becomes their angel of sorts as at one point during an encounter with Mongolians in the desert. Smith would say that Irena is his daughter as their relationship becomes somewhat of a father-daughter relationship as the rest of the men are her brothers. The character of Valka is a brutish man who is an admitted thief and is willing to do anything to survive. Yet, he becomes someone who would help everyone for their survival while maintaining his belief as a man who loves Stalin despite everyone else’s opinions.

It’s not just Weir’s ability for audience to get to know these characters which include other supporting characters like Tomasz, Voss, and Zoran as they would bring their own personalities to the journey. Even as the film would have bits of humor through the dialogue as some of it is in Russian and Polish. The screenplay also has a great structure in how to tell the story despite not having a lot of plot-points or conventional story ideas. Though it would lag in a few places, the overall work in the script is superb.

Weir’s direction for the film is definitely top of the line in what is expected from a cinematic master. Shooting on location in places like Bulgaria for the scenes in Siberia plus other locations such as Morocco, Pakistan, and India for the rest of the film. Weir takes audiences into a journey as if they’re part of this long walk from Siberia to India as he always has the camera following the group or have long shots of them walking together. Part of Weir’s brilliance as a director is him always having a wide depth of field where he allows the audience to soak the vast locations they’re walking on.

Whether its coldness of the snow and heavy storms in Bulgaria as Siberia or the big sandstorms the group encounters in the desert. Weir allows the audience to get a feeling of the location with close-ups of the ground or vast long shots. There is always something that Weir is interested in and he’ll shoot it. Even if with actors interacting with nature while taking a chance to even get in touch with where they’re at. It’s definitely directing at its finest as Weir secures another film that goes up there with his vast filmography.

Cinematographer Russell Boyd does an amazing job with the film’s vast, sprawling camera work as he creates naturalistic images that are truly dazzling on film. From the snowy regions near the Himalayas and other mountains to the wondrous deserts. Boyd’s photography is truly exquisite not just for its realistic look at the locations but also in playing to the emotional tone of the film as creates dream-like images for scenes at night as well as a mirage-like sequence. Boyd’s work is definitely top-notch in what is expected for a film like this.

Editor Lee Smith does an excellent job with the film’s editing which is mostly straightforward as it moves quite well for a film with a near two-and-a-half hour running time. Smith also manages to keep the film going with rhythmic cuts for some intense, fast-paced scenes while a lot of the scenes of walking is slow but in a leisured pace.

Production designer John Stoddart and art director Kes Bonnet do a fine job with the few set pieces made for the film such as the prison where the prisoners were staying early on to the Soviet Union-Mongolia border arc they encounter. Costume designer Wendy Stites does a very good job with the ragged costumes the characters wear including the dress that Irena wears and the pants and boots the men wear in their journey. Sound editor Richard King does a spectacular job with the film’s sound in capturing the broad atmosphere of the locations the characters encounter whether it’s the snowstorms or a sandstorm. King’s work is definitely one of the film’s technical highlights

Music composer Burkhard von Dallwitz brings a wonderful epic, soaring score that plays to the journey of the characters. Filled with sweeping string arrangements and a huge orchestra, von Dallwitz’s score is definitely one of the film’s highlights as it helps play up to the film’s vast presentation.

The casting by Lina Todd is wonderful for what is definitely inspired casting not just for its well-known actors but also lesser-known ones. Smaller performances such as Sally Edwards as Janusz’s wife, Zahary Baharov as the interrogator in the opening scene, Stanislav Pishtalov as the prison superintendent, and Sebastian Urzendowsky as Kazik, the young prisoner suffering from night blindness. Alexandru Potocean is excellent as Tomasz, an artist who makes drawings as he keeps the morale of the group high while being a dreamer with high hopes. Gustav Skarsgard is amazing as Voss, a former priest hoping to find a home to maintain some kind of spirituality for those seeking something to believe in as he has a great scene where he and Saoirse Ronan are inside a decayed Buddhist temple.

Dracos Bucur is superb as Zoran, a Yugoslav accountant who brings some much needed humor to the film whether is the desire for salt or maintaining some kind of hope needed once they reach their destination. Mark Strong is very good in a small role as Khabarov, an actor who has the idea to escape prison but doesn’t believe anything will happen. Colin Farrell is phenomenal as Valka, a thug who is very pro-Stalin as he is an admitted thief but a person who cares about freedom as he helps his friends to their journey. Saoirse Ronan is just spectacular in her role as Irena, a young Polish girl who forges an unlikely bond with the prisoners. Even in her scenes with the more cynical Smith where the chemistry between Ronan and Ed Harris is one of the film’s touching yet low-key moments.

Jim Sturgess gives what is definitely his best performance yet as Janusz. A young man desperate to return home as his willingness to escape and go home becomes one of the key moments into why the film is so captivating to watch. Even as tries to maintain hope for his group as Sturgess proves himself to be a capable lead when he’s armed with a great cast. Finally, there’s Ed Harris in one of his best roles as Mr. Smith. A cynical American who came to the Soviet Union for work only to be in prison as he tries to maintain a realist approach to the journey. Even in being an unlikely father figure for both Janusz and Irena as he also some great scenes with the rest of the cast as Harris solidifies his position as one of the finest actors working today.

While it may not live up to such masterpieces as Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show, or Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Way Back is still an amazing film from Peter Weir and company. Featuring a great ensemble cast led by Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, and Colin Farrell along with new discovers in Dracos Bucur, Gustav Skarsgard, and Alexandru Potocean. It’s a film that is a great testament of courage and survival as its captured through masterful filmmaking. Fans of Weir will no doubt enjoy the film for its adventurous vision and large canvas as it’s something that should be seen more. In the end, The Way Back is a stunning yet engrossing film from Peter Weir.

Peter Weir Films: (The Car That Ate Paris) - (Picnic at Hanging Rock) - (The Last Wave) - (Gallipoli) - (The Year of Living Dangerously) - (Witness) - (Mosquito Coast) - Dead Poets Society - (Green Card) - (Fearless) - (The Truman Show) - Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World

© thevoid99 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

83rd Oscar Nominations Pt. 2

Best Art Direction

Alice in Wonderland (Production design:  Robert Stromberg; set decoration:  Karen O’Hara)
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 (Production design:  Stuart Craig; set decoration:  Stephenie McMillian)
Inception (Production design:  Guy Hendrix Dyas; set decoration:  Larry Dias & Doug Mowat)
The King’s Speech (Production design:  Eve Stewart; set decoration:  Judy Farr)
True Grit (Production design:  Jess Gonchor; set decoration:  Nancy Haigh)

Who Will Win:  Eve Stewart & Judy Farr, The King’s Speech

Period pieces are often something Oscar voters like to see as the art direction for the film in its 1920s to 1940s setting is definitely remarkable to watch.  Even as it reveals what those times looked like back then in Britain from Buckingham Palace to the homes that everyone else lived.  It’s definitely fantastic work though it’s real competition will be against the art direction for Inception.

Who Should Win:  Guy Hendrix Dias, Larry Dias, & Doug Mowat, Inception

The art direction for a blockbuster film like Inception is definitely no other.  Even as it featured a sequence inside a spinning hallway that moves around.  Even as there are sets built for the dream-like sequences whether it’s a traditional-Japanese style home or a decayed apartment in another dream sequence.  It’s definitely art direction at its finest as it’s the one that the voters should pick.

Dark Horse:  Stuart Craig and Stephenie McMillian, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1

The franchise has yet to win an Academy Award and it’s definitely not going to be this year.  Even as the film is mostly shot in the forest with very few set pieces such as the tent in a wedding sequence along with the dystopian look of the Ministry of Magic.  While it’s definitely some great work, there is really no chance for Stuart Craig or Stephenie McMillian to beat out its competition.

Best Cinematography

Black Swan (Matthew Libatique)
Inception (Wally Pfister)
The King’s Speech (Danny Cohen)
The Social Network (Jeff Cronenweth)
True Grit (Roger Deakins)

Who Will/Should Win:  Jeff Cronenweth, The Social Network
Cronenweth’s work in The Social Network is definitely one of the most distinctive features of the film.  Shot in a mostly dark, colorless-palette with very little brightness, with the exception of a few scenes in California.  The film has a mostly earthy yet haunting look that represents the trouble persona of Mark Zuckerberg.  It’s definitely amazing as it’s the film to beat.

Dark Horse:  Danny Cohen, The King’s Speech

Cohen’s photography for The King’s Speech is definitely wonderful though is mostly straightforward in comparison to the other nominees.  While he creates some amazing shots including a scene where Bertie and Lionel walk through a foggy park in London.  It’s work that shouldn’t be entirely dismissed though it did snub other possible nominees such as Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle for 127 Hours and Harris Savides for Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere.

Best Costume Design

Alice in Wonderland (Colleen Atwood)
I Am Love (Antonella Cannarozzi)
The King’s Speech (Jenny Beaven)
The Tempest (Sandy Powell)
True Grit (Mary Zophres)

Who Will/Should Win:  Jenny Beaven, The King’s Speech

Jenny Beaven’s work in the costumes is definitely spectacular as she plays up to the period setting of the late 1930s.  With the regal though casual-like dresses that Queen Elizabeth wears throughout the film to the suits that the men wear.  It’s a period film that works where the costumes give life to the characters and it’s definitely some great work.  It’s not too lavish nor too understated as it’s costume designing at its finest.

Dark Horse:  Antonella Cannarozzi, I Am Love

Antonella Cannarozzi’s work on the Italian film I Am Love is the film that is set in current times.  Yet, with the gorgeous clothes that Tilda Swinton wears and the suits that men wear.  It’s a film that not many people have seen while it’s competition are films that are either set in different periods or play up to something that is very lavish.

Best Film Editing

Black Swan (Andrew Weisblum)
The Fighter (Pamela Martin)
The King’s Speech (Tariq Anwar)
127 Hours (Jon Harris)
The Social Network (Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall)

Who Will/Should Win:  Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall, The Social Network

The editing of Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall is truly amazing in the way it helps tells the story.  From the back-and-forth structure of the story with seamless transitions to the rhythm of the cutting in its opening sequence.  Baxter and Wall definitely create something that is magical along with the great boat-race sequence by slowing the action down in cue with the eerie music of Edvard Grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King.  It’s one of the reasons why The Social Network is a great film.

Dark Horse:  Tariq Anwar, The King’s Speech

Tariq Anwar’s editing is definitely excellent for what is needed in a historical drama film.  Yet, it’s not the kind of film in terms of editing that voters will go for.  Even as it’s mostly a very straightforward kind of editing in terms of a historical period film. 

Best Makeup

Barney’s Version (Adrien Mort)
The Way Back (Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk, & Yolanda Tessieng)
The Wolfman (Rick Baker & Dave Elsey)

Who Will Win:  Rick Baker & Dave Elsey, The Wolfman

Rick Baker is already famous for his work in make-up whether its in horror films or the comedies that starred Eddie Murphy.  For The Wolfman, he transformed Benicio del Toro into a werewolf with lots of hair and skin that would make it believable to the audience.  Baker’s track record and his work is the one that other nominees have to beat.

Who Should Win:  Adrien Mort, Barney’s Version

While it’s a dramatic piece, Adrien Mort has the job of changing Paul Giamatti’s appearances as the character grows older.  While it’s not as big or as lavish as what Baker is doing.  Mort’s work helps enhance Giamatti’s performance in the way he goes from one woman to another.

Dark Horse:  Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk, & Yolanda Tessieng, The Way Back

Since the film is about a trek from the Gulag in Siberia to the deserts of India, the characters had to put on various makeup to endure the weather conditions they encountered.  While it’s not the kind of makeup work that will win awards, it at least brings some needed attention to Peter Weir’s epic as it was able to secure at least a nomination.

Best Original Music Score

How to Train Your Dragon (John Powell)
Inception (Hans Zimmer)
The King’s Speech (Alexandre Desplat)
127 Hours (A.R. Rahman)
The Social Network (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)

Who Will Win:  Alexandre Desplat, The King’s Speech

Having been nominated three times previously, Alexandre Desplat is definitely a shoo-in as he plays a plaintive yet understated score for many of the film’s more somber yet light-hearted scenes.  Even as he includes bombastic arrangements to the heighten the drama in some scenes as Desplat has a great chance to win.  Even as he faces some very tough competition with the intense bombast work of Hans Zimmer for Inception and the dark, chilling score of The Social Network by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross.

Who Should Win:  Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, The Social Network

The duo of Reznor and Ross is probably the most unlikely film score to get nominated for an Oscar.  Particularly one that is largely dominated by electronic music.  Yet, Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor and his longtime cohort Atticus Ross create haunting pieces that plays to the dark mood of Mark Zuckerberg as well as how intense creativity can be.  It seemed unlikely that Reznor and Ross would be nominated since they did take a few pieces from the NIN album Ghosts I-IV. Somehow, they’ve managed to get a lot of attention as this is the score that should win.

Dark Horse:  John Powell, How to Train Your Dragon

John Powell’s triumphant score that is a mixture of Scottish-style woodwind arrangements and sweeping orchestral flourishes is definitely a surprise in the category.  Even as it has it all of the elements needed for an adventurous animated film.  Yet, Powell is facing some big compositions in not just veterans like Hans Zimmer and Alexandre Desplat but also more experimental composers like A.R. Rahman and the team of Reznor & Ross.

Best Original Song

Coming Home, Country Strong (Music & Lyrics by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges, & Hillary Lindsey)
I See the Light, Tangled (Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Glenn Slater)
If I Rise, 127 Hours (Music by A.R. Rahman; Lyrics by Dido & Rollo Armstrong)
We Belong Together, Toy Story 3 (Music & Lyrics by Randy Newman)

Who Will Win:  Alan Menken & Glenn Slater, I See the Light from Tangled

The team of Alan Menken and Glenn Slater has been known for making award-winning songs for Disney films in the past.  The song I See the Light is a plaintive yet flourishing ballad that works as it wonderfully sung by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi.  It’s not overdone either as its orchestral arrangements in the background help play to the emotions of the film as it’s the one to beat.

Who Should Win:  A.R. Rahman, Dido, & Rollo Armstrong, If I Rise from 127 Hours

Dido’s collaboration with A.R. Rahman is a somber ballad that features Rahman’s soft Indian touches and Dido’s calm vocals.  The song is very reflective about Aron Ralston’s experience as the children’s choir in the film plays up to the emotive quality of the film.

Dark Horse:  Tom Douglas, Hillary Lindsey, and Troy Verges, Coming Home from Country Strong

The country ballad has all of the elements of a big, bombastic country power-ballad with Gwyneth Paltrow singing heartbreaking lyrics.  Yet, it’s also the most bloated as it’s the kind of the song that screams for the Oscar.  The problem is that it’s not going to be the kind of song voters want to win as they’re yearning for something simpler unless they want something that is big and flashy.

Best Sound Editing

Inception (Richard King)
Toy Story 3 (Tom Myers & Michael Silver)
Tron:  Legacy (Gwendolyn Yates Whittle & Addison Teague)
True Grit (Skip Lievsay & Craig Berkey)
Unstoppable (Mark P. Stoeckinger)

Who Will/Should Win:  Richard King, Inception

For a film as big as Inception is, the sound editing in terms of creating chaos in the dream sequences is definitely spectacular.  Even as it creates a sense of mood of what is real and what is fiction while bringing together lots of sounds for intense action sequences.  King’s work is definitely an idea of what sound editing is and it’s definitely the one to beat.

Dark Horse:  Mark P. Stoeckinger, Unstoppable

An action film about an unstoppable train has all of the elements of a Tony Scott film in recent years.  Speedy cuts, even in sound as it captures all of the ideas of what is needed in a breaking action film.  Yet, action films such as this don’t usually win as it’s often about something bigger or something innovative.

Best Sound Mixing

Inception (Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo, & Ed Novick)
The King’s Speech (Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen, & John Midgley)
Salt (Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan, & William Sarokin)
The Social Network (Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick, & Mark Weingarten)
True Grit (Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, & Peter F. Kurland)

Who Will/Should Win:  Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick, & Mark Weingarten, The Social Network

Led by sound designer Ren Klyce, the sound mixing for the film is another of the film’s technical highlights.  Even as it captures the tense atmosphere in the deposition scenes where the music and dialogue help create that tone.  The scenes such as the little moments where Facebook is being created with overlapping dialogue and party scenes are another great example of the film’s sound design and mixing as it is truly masterful.

Dark Horse:  Jeffrey J. Haboush, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, & William Sarokin, Salt

The sound work for a blockbuster thriller like Salt has all of the ideas needed such as the layering of sounds in a chase scene or a gun battle.  Yet, it’s the one film that is very unlikely to win because it’s a typical blockbuster film as it’s facing up against another blockbuster film plus a western, a historical drama, and a character-study drama.

Best Visual Effects

Alice in Wonderland (Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas, & Sean Phillips
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 (Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz, & Nicolas Aithadi
Hereafter (Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephen Trojanski, & Joe Farrell)
Inception (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley, & Peter Bebb)
Iron Man 2 (Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright, & Daniel Sudick)

Who Will/Should Win:  Peter Bebb, Chris Corbould, Paul Franklin, & Andrew Lockley, Inception

The visual effects in Inception is truly dazzling from the way a city can fold up onto itself or a bridge to appear in a dream-like world.  Yet, it is definitely something that has the look to make it feel real and also not make it look like it was all computers.  This is an idea of what visual effects should be as it’s also the film to beat.

Dark Horse:  Joe Farrell, Bryan Grill, Michael Owens, & Stephen Trojanski, Hereafter

The big sequence of a tsunami sweeping Thailand in the film is the only big visual effects scene in Clint Eastwood’s supernatural drama.  Yet, it’s the most unlikely film and sequence to be nominated as it’s going up against blockbuster films.  So it’s definitely the long-shot in this category.

Well, that is it for the Oscars prediction.  Let’s be sure to enjoy and see who wins what.

© thevoid99 2011