Thursday, March 31, 2011

Blog News 3/31/11 & Blogging Around



With the new month coming, I'm finally catching up not just on some projects but also finally getting a chance to work on personal projects including an outline for a screenplay.  I would definitely say the motivation for it comes down to one person.  Jena Malone.  She's an actress I've admired for many years in films like Bastard Out of Carolina, Donnie Darko, Saved!, Into the Wild, and other notable films.  While I wasn't impressed by Sucker Punch which I believe is to be the first real disappointment of 2011.  She was one of the few highlights for me as I felt that, along with Abbie Cornish, were the only actresses of their young age group to really put in some substance into their roles.  I'm glad some of my bloggers were able to give Jena some positive notices as I'm aware that she remains overlooked in the world of Hollywood.

In response, I finally felt motivated enough to work on a project with her in mind as the lead.  I'm not sure where I'm going with the project though it's been something I've thought of for years.  I hadn't really put anything into words until early this year as I'm often hesitant to really start my own screenplay projects.  I had completed two screenplays in the past but never felt confident enough to submit them into contests and such.  This will be the one project I'm going to work on from time to time and I would like to have some feedback if anyone is interested in reading it once the first draft of the script is completed.

Aside from the screenplay project that I'm working on, I'm also getting ready to work on the Auteurs profile on Todd Haynes which will arrive once I see all five parts of his TV miniseries adaptation of Mildred Pierce. Those are the two big projects I'm working on as well as other reviews. My music reviews at The Void-Go-Round might come around as I hope to have reviews of albums by TV on the Radio, Cut Copy, Fleet Foxes, and the Strokes. I'm just not sure what to do.

With new releases like Source Code, Hanna, and Your Highness coming this April which I hope to see all three along some art house releases. I'm going to devote most of April watching various movies I've recorded in the past month. Some of which will come for the upcoming Cannes Film Festival marathon as May will be a very hectic month due to family arriving for my sister's wedding. Among the films that I will see this month are Moon, Bright Star, Please Give, The Secret in Their Eyes, Fish Tank, White Ribbon, and others I can't remember right now. That's all I have for April and what's ahead at Surrender to the Void.

In the world other blogs, because of the disappointing response to Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, there has been a wealth of excellent reviews that I enjoyed that chronicled why the film didn't work and such and what did work. Among them are reviews by CS at Big Thoughts from a Small Mind, Bryce at Things Don't Suck, Sasha at The Final Girl Project, and Alex at Film Forager.

Max at Anomalous Material has a great column about Film Criticism that I think every budding critic should read.

Andrew at Gman reviews asks What Kind of a Movie Would You Make?.

Finally at Cinema Du Meep, there's a review of Take Me Home Tonight along with various 80s retro films that are surely better than that film.

Well, that is all for today as I hope we get the 2011 film year rolling and it looks its coming off to a decent start.  Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story



In the early 1970s, there was no pop group that was as popular as the Carpenters. The sibling duo of Richard and Karen Carpenter, they brought an alternative to the loud sounds of rock with soft yet melodic-driven pop. While some thought their music was cheesy, the Carpenters were also a guilty pleasure for the most hardcore rock acts. While the group sustained their popularity through the 1970s, it all ended tragically when Karen Carpenter died in 1983 from a heart attack due to the effects of anorexia she had suffered through in the late 70s.

While the Carpenters remained popular in the 80s and beyond through Richard Carpenter’s supervision of reissues and creating new Carpenters compilations. Richard had also been very protective about the group’s legacy and brand name. In 1987, Richard Carpenter went to war against an unknown filmmaker on the rise who created a strange, unconventional bio-pic about the Carpenters. Though Richard would eventually win in blocking the film from circulation in 1990, he would end up giving attention to this unknown director named Todd Haynes as his controversial bio-pic would gain cult status called Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.

Directed and produced by Todd Haynes with a script co-written with Cynthia Schneider. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story tells the life of Karen Carpenter from her early years to her tragic death in 1983. Instead of using actors to play the roles, Haynes employed Barbie dolls to play the characters to create a world that is truly dark in contrast to the Carpenters upbeat pop sound. The result is a fascinating yet eerie short film from Todd Haynes.

It’s the late 1960s as Richard Carpenter is trying to get his music career going when he and his parents hear Karen singing along to Dionne Warwick’s rendition of I’ll Never Fall in Love Again. They decide to record a demo of a cover of that song where they get the attention of A&M records chief Herb Alpert who signs them. By 1970, the Carpenters hit it big as a wholesome yet safe pop act that was in sharp contrast to the political turmoil in America as well as the loud rock music that was happening at the same time. While the Carpenters soar in the charts, Karen develops a self-image problem as a press columnist called her chubby. In response, she tries to lose weight which would take a toll on her life.

With the Carpenters becoming a worldwide sensation, the attempt to maintain a wholesome image while still living at the home of their parents troubles Karen. With the Carpenters epitomizing what was the ideal representation of America by President Nixon, not everyone liked the group. While they continued to be successful, Karen’s obsession with controlling her image was worrying Richard. Notably at a show when Karen collapses due to exhaustion as she was treated to regain her health. Unfortunately, Karen is starting to feel stifled by Richard’s control as well as her mother Agnes.

With Karen wanting to live on her own and eventually, living on her own. Her obsession with being thin hasn’t stopped leading to a confrontation with Richard. With no control in her life, Karen meets Tom Burris whom she would briefly marry while desperate to want to regain her health. Yet, her attempts along with a new obsession would lead to tragedy.

The film is a mixture of all sorts of genres meshed into a bio-pic about a singing star. Yet, it’s a film that would feature the themes that Todd Haynes would later recall into his feature films in the years to come. At the heart of the story is this troubled young woman desperate for control in a world she has to do things by a music industry, an adoring public, and her family. Throughout the story, the film is intercut with weird images of what was happening in the 1970s filled with images of war, protest, and such. Even as there’s inter-title cards and text that reflects on anorexia as well as the pressure on Karen Carpenter from the music industry.

The film plays like a documentary of sorts that features random people commenting on their thoughts of the Carpenters in one scene. Even the film is spliced with images on TV and such about the world of the 1970s in both its idea of innocence as well as the chaos that was happening in the decade. Since Haynes was creating a short with limitations by not getting actors to play these characters. The use of Barbie dolls with actors providing the voices becomes an intriguing yet mesmerizing idea. When the film progresses, the look of the face of Barbie Karen becomes more and more disturbing.

Haynes’ direction is truly startling in how he captures Karen’s deterioration along with the way he portrays her life. While the short is essentially a dramatization of what happened to Karen with lots of unanswered questions about a few things. There are a few things that Haynes do insinuate such as the idea that Richard Carpenter might be gay. Yet, it’s an interpretation as Haynes is focusing on Karen’s struggle with bulimia as well as her own self-image. What he creates is a sympathetic portrayal of a woman who was deeply troubled.

With the use of the Carpenters music to portray Karen’s state of mind as the film progresses, there is also additional music from Elton John, Dionne Warwick, Gilbert O’Sullivan, and Love Unlimited Orchestra that plays in the background. Particularly to play the idea of what the 1970s was and what the Carpenters music represented at the time.

When the film was released in 1987 through various film festivals and was a small hit in the art house circuit. The film got Richard Carpenter’s attention as he and the Carpenters’ label A&M Records sued Haynes. Since Haynes was unable to get permission to use the group’s music, Carpenter sued and won blocking the film from being shown publicly. The result had copies of the short film recalled and destroyed though bootleg copies of the film were able to survive. With the advent of the Internet, the film was available again for anyone eager to see it as it’s shown on the popular website YouTube.

While Todd Haynes lost the lawsuit, it was a big victory for his career as he would make his first feature film Poison a few years later while emerging as one of American cinema’s premier filmmakers.

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is an amazing short film from Todd Haynes. Fans of Haynes’ work will no doubt see where he would get many ideas for his later films as it is truly a brilliant short film. Fans of the Carpenters might have issues with some of the dramatic liberties Haynes had taken though they might appreciate its creative approach as well the sympathetic portrayal of Karen Carpenter. In the end, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is a superb yet haunting short from Todd Haynes.


© thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pride & Prejudice (2005 film)


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/5/05 w/ Additional Edits.

Novelist Jane Austen has been known for creating witty and fantastic romantic novels during the 19th Century. Several of them had become films like Sense & Sensibility in 1995 by director Ang Lee that starred Emma Thompson who won an award for the film's screenplay. Another film that received great reviews in 1996 based on an Austen novel was Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow while a year earlier, a modern day version of that novel called Clueless was also popular. Another of Austen's famous novels is Pride & Prejudice that some said was the blueprint of what would become the romantic comedy. The story of five young women living in a poor area in 18th Century England where one of the daughters rebels the idea of marriage for money while falling for an introverted but conflicted man named Darcy.

Throughout the years, there's been several versions of Pride & Prejudice on film yet in 1995, a five-hour miniseries starring Colin Firth as Darcy is often considered to be the most quintessential adaptation of Austen's novel. Recently, there's been other variations on Pride & Prejudice including the Bridget Jones films that also starred Firth as a Darcy-like character and Gurinder Chadha of Bend It Like Beckham directed a Bollywood-inspired version called Bride & Prejudice. Now a new version has emerged where this time around, to play the novel's heroine of Elizabeth Bennett, they turn to one of the hottest young actresses around in Keira Knightley to play the role of rebellious heroine.

Directed by Joe Wright with a screenplay by Deborah Moggach (with additional treatment from Austen fan Emma Thompson), Pride & Prejudice is a love story that explores class, society, and marriage for love or money. Set in 18th Century England, it's a story of how the rebellious Elizabeth Bennett decides to change those rules while dealing with the more conflicted Mr. Darcy. Also starring a large cast of British actors including Brenda Blethyn, Judi Dench, Rosamund Pike, Talulah Riley, Carey Mulligan, Tom Hollander, Simon Woods, Peter Wight, Penelope Wilton and Matthew McFayden as Mr. Darcy plus American actress Jena Malone and Canadian actor Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett. This new film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice succeeds in bringing the Austen classic to life once again for a new generation of filmgoers.

While living in a modest farm with their own land and a small income, the Bennett family is awaiting some riches to come with Mr. Bennett destined to be gone soon. With Mrs. Bennett (Brenda Blethyn) knowing that if her five young daughters are to survive, they would have to be married to someone who is rich. For the second eldest daughter Elizabeth, it's an idea she doesn't really like. After the family is invited to a party, Elizabeth is introduced to the quiet, arrogant Mr. Darcy who is accompanied by Mr. Charles Bingley (Simon Woods) and his sister Caroline (Kelly Reilly). Elizabeth's older sister Jane (Rosamund Pike) is feeling very attracted to Mr. Bingley while Mrs. Bennett introduces the rest of the clan that includes the quiet and introverted Mary (Talulah Riley), the giddy and excitable Kitty (Carey Mulligan), and the youngest yet outgoing of the clan, Lydia (Jena Malone).

While Jane has fallen for Mr. Bingley, she is invited to meet with him more though despite being ill during her rainy trip. Elizabeth decides to meet Bingley where she finds herself not at odds with Bingley's snobbish sister but also the more prideful Mr. Darcy. Still with her sisters desire to be married, Elizabeth finds herself being courted by a young pastor named William Collins (Tom Hollander). Then during a trip to London with her sisters, Elizabeth finds herself attracted to a militia officer named Mr. Wickham (Rupert Friend) who knows Mr. Darcy despite a falling-out. After another party where she's forced to contend with Mr. Darcy and the courting of Collins, Collins proposes marriage to Elizabeth but refuses. Mrs. Bennett is upset at the situation as she tries to set up the engagement as in the end, Collins weds Elizabeth's best friend Charlotte (Claudie Blakley).

After realizing that Collins was more well-meaning while visiting Charlotte, Elizabeth joins the wedded couple to a dinner held by Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Judi Dench), who is the aunt of Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy is also at the dinner where despite his aunt's social prejudice, he becomes impressed by how Elizabeth manages to hold herself. When Elizabeth learns that Mr. Darcy tried to break the possible engagement of Jane and Mr. Bingley, she becomes very angry at him as Darcy tries to explain himself and professing his love for her. After a tiring period, Elizabeth decides to visit her relatives Mr. Gardiner (Peter Wight) and his wife (Penelope Wilton) where they visit the renovated Darcy home where Elizabeth runs into Mr. Darcy again as well as meeting his sister Georgianna (Tazmin Merchant).

While dealing with Darcy's behavior, Elizabeth decides to come to distressing news of Lydia running away to marry Wickham. Even after learning of the real nature of his falling out with Darcy, Darcy ended up giving in despite Elizabeth’s protests to the chagrin of her mother. When Elizabeth contending her feelings for Darcy and vice versa, she tries to confront herself about her own pride and prejudices about him as she tries to find way to satisfy herself and her family.

While adaptations are tricky to pull, especially a Jane Austen novel. Another issue is the many versions that came out where the most notable to rival in terms of purists is the 1995 miniseries. Still, Joe Wright along with screenwriter Deborah Moggach remain very faithful to the entire novel though its understandable that purists will be upset on what was cut. What really is surprising about the film for newcomers is the style of dialogue and the language its spoken where it is very rich within every word that gives the script a true sense of authenticity.

Even Joe Wright's directing that features epic film movements does some fantastic work with the camera movements as it focuses not on just the relationship of Darcy and Elizabeth but giving the smallest characters a moment to shine. Overall, the directing is very spot-on and proves itself to be very true to what Austen wanted. It's romantic, intelligent, deals with social issues, and it's also funny.

Helping Wright in his visual scope is cinematographer Roman Osin who does not just amazing work in giving the film an epic look in many of the exterior scenes but also some great lighting techniques in the film's night, interior scenes. Osin's work is gorgeous in giving the film the right look. Production designer Sarah Greenwood and supervising art director Ian Bailie also do great work in getting many of the film's interiors of housing, poor and rich to look and feel right that helps set the atmosphere. Especially some of the locations and the houses that got used which are wonderfully used to a great extent. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran also deserves great commendation for her work on the costumes, especially in the ball scenes where they all look very beautiful for all the women in the film. Editor Paul Tothill also brings in some nice cutting styles and giving the film a nice pace at a bit over two-hours where it doesn't feel slow or moves to fast. Just very leisurely.

The music of the film features not just old piano tunes of the day from those times but also the piano is used very proficiently into giving the story a sense of atmosphere or as some kind of emotional outlet, notably with the character of Mary Bennett. Even the orchestral score by Dario Marianelli helps convey that atmosphere while music supervisor Nick Angel also picks the right pieces for the film, even if they're performed imperfectly. It's a wonderfully rich film score that has memorable moments but plays more into conveying the tone of the story.

Now previous castings in film versions of Pride & Prejudice has been crucial in terms of giving the right notes and style of dialogue in the film. This cast for this version of the film is well-executed in every detail. Carey Mulligan is excellent as the naive, excitable Kitty while Talulah Riley is also brilliant as the more introverted Mary who has a great scene playing a piano which she messes up only to be comforted by her father. Peter Wight and Penelope Wilton are also good as Elizabeth's well-meaning relatives as well as Tazmin Merchant in her small role as Darcy's sister and Kelly Reilly as Bingley's snobbish sister. Claudie Blakley is also wonderful in her role as Charlotte, Elizabeth's best friend who gives good reasons into marrying Mr. Collins. Rupert Friend is good as the dashing but ambiguous Wickham while Simon Woods is wonderfully funny as Bingley.

Tom Hollander is a real standout as the well-meaning but naive Mr. Collins where he brings out many of the film’s laughs in a very straight manner as he delves into that role perfectly. Judi Dench is also great with her authority-driven presence where everything she says is really offensive in terms of its social standings while wanting to maintain control in her rich world only to receive a cold dose of reality. It's a great performance by the always wonderful Judi Dench. Jena Malone is perfect in her performance as what some would call the proto-teenybopper of Lydia. Malone manages to standout in every scene she's in while stealing the show from her co-stars including at one moment, Miss Knightley (where in reality, Malone is a year older than Knightley) as she plays up to all the selfishness and energy that Lydia provides. Rosamund Pike is also brilliant in her understated, anguished performance as the eldest Jane who had a chance for love only to have it taken away. Pike really provides the sisterly companionship to Knightley as she manages to give an amazing performance.

Donald Sutherland is outstanding in his role as the soft-spoken but open-minded Mr. Bennett as he provides the comfort that every child needs with their father while maintaining his role as the head of the family. Sutherland really conveys the freedom that Elizabeth needs as he and Knightley have great scenes together as it's a great role for the longtime veteran actor who has worked with the likes of Robert Altman and Fellini. Brenda Blethyn is perfect in her role as Mrs. Bennett where she not only has great scenes with the young actresses and great chemistry with Sutherland. She really provides a lot of the comic backbone of the film with her emotional outbursts, her desire to have her daughters married, and her necessity to fit in with the upper-class. There's never a moment where Blethyn gives a bad performance as her timing in comedy is just perfect in every note.

In the role of Mr. Darcy, Matthew McFayden must've had to live up to a lot of expectations where the role was played previously by Laurence Olivier and most of all, Colin Firth. McFayden however succeeds while having great chemistry with Knightley.  Even as McFayden provides the right sense of melancholia and pride into a character that is complex and vulnerable. It's a true breakthrough performance from Matthew McFayden.

In what is definitely the best performance of career so far, Keira Knightley does an amazing job as Elizabeth Bennet. Knightley brings the angst, rebellion, torment, and stubborn side of Elizabeth Bennett in every way while making her character grow. Knightley proves herself to be a very strong, dramatic actress while dabbling in a bit of humor but using her words and her feelings to bring that character to life. It's truly her best performance in many ways since her credibility as an actress is often overshadowed by extravagant action films.

While it may not live up to previous variations of the novel, the new version of Pride & Prejudice is an excellent film thanks to Joe Wright's direction and faithfulness to the novel led by a superb cast. Fans of Keira Knightley will be glad to see the actress display her talents while being supported by the likes of Matthew McFayden, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn, Jena Malone, Rosamund Pike, Tom Hollander, and Judi Dench. Another good thing that the film will do for those who had interest in Austen will not only make those new to her work interested in her films but also the novels themselves. In the end, for a good romantic film that is needed for the holidays in a flurry of weightless fluffs, Pride & Prejudice is the film to see.

Joe Wright Films: Atonement - The Soloist - Hanna - Anna Karenina

(C) thevoid99 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mildred Pierce (1945 film)



Based on James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, Mildred Pierce tells the story of a woman trying to create a new life to raise her family during the Great Depression as she succeeds. When her ambitious and ungrateful daughter Veda becomes a success, Mildred tries to win her love. Directed by Michael Curtiz with an adapted screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, William Faulkner, and Catherine Turney. The film is a noir-like take on Cain’s novel with elements of melodrama in the days of mid-1940s Hollywood. With Joan Crawford in the title role that would win her an Academy Award for Best Actress. The film also stars Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, and Eve Arden. Mildred Pierce is a stylish yet captivating drama from Michael Curtiz.

Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) has just been shot dead as his last words is Mildred’s name. Later that night at the house when Mildred’s friend/business partner Wally Fay (Jack Carson) joined her for a drink at her beach house that she shared with Monte. Fay is locked inside the house as he escapes where two policeman arrive where they found Monte’s body. After Mildred is called into question over Monte’s death where her ex-husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) has confessed to shooting him. Inspector Peterson (Moroni Olsen) asks Mildred about Monte and why she doesn‘t believe Bert killed Monte.

Mildred reveals her life story years before when her marriage to Bert deteriorated as he left her and their daughters Veda (Ann Blyth) and Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe). With no source of income to support her daughters, notably the ambitious yet snobbish Veda. Mildred decides to find a job as she becomes a waitress where she befriends restaurant supervisor Ida (Eve Arden). Mildred succeeds in being a waitress though Veda isn’t impressed as Mildred reveals ambition to open her own restaurant. With Wally’s help, they meet Monte who help invests in Mildred’s restaurant as she falls for the rich man who is about to inherit a fortune from his family.

While Mildred becomes successful with the restaurant, it doesn’t give her happiness as she encounters tragedy as well as seeing Veda be enamored with Monte’s rich lifestyle. With Mildred opening more restaurants and becoming rich, she is forced to make Veda happy by giving her riches while Monte also takes advantage of Mildred’s success. With Mildred deciding to get rid of Monte, Veda ends up causing more trouble. With Veda pushing her away and Mildred desperate to have her home. Mildred makes a deal with Monte to marry her so she can have Veda back as it comes with a terrible price.

While some viewers might believe that a story like Mildred Pierce is about a woman trying to succeed following the dissolution of her first marriage while trying to please her ungrateful daughter. That’s only in terms of a simple plot summary. Really, it’s about a woman trying to win her daughter’s love only to be blinded and be taken advantage by the young girl who continuously manipulates her. It’s really the story about Mildred and Veda as they are two different personalities that represents different ideas of ambition and class struggle. Mildred is a woman trying to succeed at a time when women aren’t allowed to run their own businesses without the permission of her husband. Yet, she had to because she needed to support her daughters. She succeeds by becoming a waitress and later managing her own chain of restaurants.

If Mildred’s determination to succeed and provide a good life for her daughters is one that is inspiring. There is also a flaw to that as the thing that keeps Mildred from being truly happy is Veda. Veda is part of Mildred’s determination to succeed yet Veda scoffs at her mother’s working class background. When Mildred succeeds and has Monte at her side, Veda takes advantage of Mildred’s new finances with people such as Ida and a very reluctant Wally trying to tell her that Veda is talking money. The character of Monte is a playboy who is enamored by Mildred’s ambitions but is charmed by Veda and her love for the posh world. Monte would end up taking advantage of Mildred as well once his fortunes dwindle and eventually, he would put Mildred into ruins both professionally and personally.

The narrative starts off with a noir-fashion once Monte is seen shot but no one knows who kills him. Yet, everyone is a suspect as the story is told through Mildred with her own voice telling the story as she talks to the inspector. It’s a wonderfully told script that plays to not just melodrama but also with a dash of film noir. While some might feel that Mildred ends up being conned over and over again, it’s because it’s all about a woman’s love for her daughter and how she can be blinded where she reaches a breaking point. The script is definitely engaging in its adaptation as it plays true to the complicated drama between Mildred and her daughter.

Michael Curtiz’s direction is definitely captivating from the noir-like look of the police scenes to the melodramatic tone of the rest of the film where it chronicles Mildred’s rise from waitress to businesswoman. Curtiz also lets the scenes play out as he goes reaction whether it’s the heavy drama between Mildred and Veda to even scenes of sexual innuendo. Yet, considering it was made during the era of the Hayes Code, the sexuality of the film from the way Monte and Wally would look at Mildred’s legs is very subtle. Not overtly but it does let audience get the idea of who Mildred is but also in the way she starts to become her own woman.

Curtiz also plays up to the noir style of the film by creating an amazing opening sequence while never revealing who kills Monte. This would create a tone where it becomes very dark during Mildred’s interrogation scenes. By the time the third act arrives, the mixture of melodrama and noir finally blend as the tone of the film darkens. Even as Curtiz is always playing up to the drama whether its having a two-shot between Mildred and Veda while building up the momentum to the climatic moment of the moment that Monte gets shot. Curtiz’s direction is truly superb in the way he presents the story as well as delving into the mind of its titular character.

Cinematographer Ernest Haller does a phenomenal job with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the wondrous, sunny look of the suburbs that Mildred lived in early in the film to the dark, eerie world that comes in later in the film. Haller’s work also plays to the noir-like tone for the scenes at the police station as well as the shots at Monte’s beach home late and very early at the film. It’s definitely one of the film’s technical highlights as Haller’s work is spellbinding. Editor David Weisbart does an excellent job with the editing from the rhythmic cuts to play up to the drama including the dissolve transitions needed to help structure the story from the interrogation to the scenes of Mildred as a housewife.

Art director Anton Grot and set decorator George James Hopkins do an amazing job with the set pieces of the film. From the 1940s look of the suburban home that Mildred lived early in the film to the somewhat-posh like look of the restaurant that Mildred runs. The art direction is superb as it plays to Mildred’s rise and the eventual fall she would take. The film’s sound by Oliver S. Garretson is very good from the atmosphere of the restaurants to the sounds of gun shots that plays to the noir aspects of the film. The film’s music by Max Steiner is superb from its sweeping theme that plays to the melodrama of the film to more uplifting pieces that plays to Mildred’s rise. Steiner’s score is definitely another of the film’s highlights as it’s truly spectacular.

The cast is definitely wonderful for its array of some very memorable performances from the big actors to some small roles by other actors. Among the memorable small roles that stand out includes Butterfly McQueen as Mildred’s maid/associate Lottie that adds some needed humor the film as well as Veda Ann Borg as a fellow dancer at Wally’s own little bar. Lee Patrick is good as a woman that Bert is supposedly having an affair while Moroni Olsen is excellent as Inspector Peterson who believes that what is going on isn’t what it seems. Jo Ann Marlowe is very good as the tomboyish yet grateful Kay, the youngest daughter of Mildred. Bruce Bennett is also good as Mildred’s first husband Bert who struggles with Mildred’s new life while often warning her about Veda’s personality.

Eve Arden is brilliant as Ida Corwin, Mildred’s restaurant associate who is a tough-talker as she dislikes men while wondering why does Mildred put with Veda. Adren steals every scene in the film as she also delivers some of the film’s best lines. Jack Carson is great as Wally Fay, a man who likes Mildred while having trouble dealing with Monte as well as trying to be the guy to calm things down only to feel screwed over what happened. Zachary Scott is excellent as Monte Beragon, the man who falls for Mildred only to take advantage of her wealth as he leaves and then comes back only to be killed in the beginning of the film.

Ann Blyth is superb as Veda, the ungrateful daughter who wants to become rich and ambitious as she is also a selfish, spoiled, uncaring little bitch. With a stylized yet dramatic performance, Blyth succeeds in creating an unsympathetic character that everyone loves to hate. Even as she claims she tries to be good as there is also someone with an innocent look but is truly full of shit as Blyth captivates in the moments she’s in. Finally, there’s Joan Crawford in one of her finest performances as the title character that would win her an Oscar for Best Actress. Crawford brings a sexiness as well as a bit of realism to a woman in the 1940s trying to do what is right for her children. Even as she brings a sense of frustration over the fact that she’s a woman trying to do what is right and doesn’t feel appreciated by her ungrateful daughter. It’s an overall iconic performance from the legendary Crawford.

Mildred Pierce is an extraordinary yet stylish noir-drama from Michael Curtiz with a radiant performance from Joan Crawford. Audiences of stylish noir-like films of the 1940s will no doubt see this as a fascinating melodrama that features great scenery and some memorable dialogue. Anyone interested in the career of Joan Crawford will find this as one of her essential films. In the end, Mildred Pierce is a phenomenal film from the great Michael Curtiz.


© thevoid99 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Go-Getter


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/9/09.


Written and directed by Martin Hynes, The Go-Getter tells the story of a 19-year old young man going on a road-trip to find his Latino half-brother to tell him the news that their mother had died. Stealing a stranger's car where he makes contact with its owner, he comes across eccentric people including an old school friend and various other people. Based on Hynes' own road experiences, the film is a part-road movie and part-coming of age film that explores a young man dealing with his mother's death and urging to escape a dull life. Starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel, Jena Malone, Judy Greer, Jsu Garcia, William Lee Scott, Bill Duke, and Maura Tierney. The Go-Getter is a wonderful, dreamy road-movie from Martin Hynes.

19-year old Mercer (Lou Taylor Pucci) lives in a dull town of Eugene, Oregon as his mother had just died. He has a Latino half-brother named Arlen (Jsu Garcia) who is 18 years older than him and hadn't seen him since Mercer was five years old. Deciding to steal a stranger's car at a car wash, he goes on the road where he hears a cell phone that belongs to its owner Kate (Zooey Deschanel). Kate contacts him asking why he stole her car as he tells her what he's doing as she asks to maintain contact. Stopping at a Californian hippie commune where he meets Better than Toast (Judy Greer) and her boyfriend Nick (Nick Offerman), he learns that Arlen had left the commune to go to Reno, Nevada. Mercer knows a girl from nearby Fallon, Nevada that he used to go to school with named Joely (Jena Malone).

The seductive Joely joins him on the road to Reno where they embark on some fun times as Mercer has his first ever sexual experience. Hoping to find where Arlen was last seen in Reno, he meets a porno film director (Julio Oscar Mechoso) who reveals to him where Arlen went as Mercer steals a camera that he later hopes to sell for money. When he finds Joely with her cousin Buddy (Colin Fickes) and friend Rid (William Lee Scott), they ask him to drive them to Mojave, California for a racing thing so they can build their own car. Mercer reluctantly does as Joely becomes distracted by her entourage as Mercer learns who Kate is as their conversation becomes more friendly including a dream sequence with him, Kate, and Joely re-enacting the dance scene from Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 film Bande A Parte.

Trying to get his destination, Buddy, Rid, and Joely have other plans forcing Mercer to hitchhike where he gets picked up by a driver (Bill Duke) who picks him up as they tell each other stories about brothers as he got help in retrieving Kate's car. Mercer continues his trek to Sacramento as he continually talks to Kate until he mentions Joely. Stopping in Sacramento to meet a pet store owner (Maura Tierney) that Arlen worked for, he learns Arlen isn't there as she asks Mercer to be part of a children's band that she is leading for her probation involving a crime that Arlen got her in trouble with. Suddenly, Kate makes an appearance to retrieve her car as she joins him on the road where he learns about Arlen's most recent whereabouts. Realizing he's in Mexico, Mercer ponders what to say as he meets his half-brother for the first time in more than 14 years.

The plot of the film is simple yet really it's about a young man coming of age with help from this young woman whose car he stole. Yet, it's really about two people looking for ways to escape from their dull life as a character like Mercer feels stuck in his hometown with nothing to do after his mother's death. Yet, he feels the need to tell his half-brother, whom he never really knew, about their mom's death. For Kate, contacting Mercer gives her the chance to connect with someone as she needs a form of escape from her own life. Though writer-director Martin Hynes doesn't bring a lot of plot or story to the film, it's really about experiences that are truly magical. Through his dreamy, evocative direction, the film moves along as he takes the audience on a journey that is magical yet exciting. The directing is truly exciting in its locations of the American west as it's a compelling yet wondrous road movie.

Cinematographer Byron Shah does spectacular work with the film's dream-like cinematography from the colorful, rainy look of Oregon to the sunny world of California. The look of each location is distinctive where Reno is more colorful with its nighttime lights and sepia-interior looks while the film has a black-and-white moment in its tribute to the Bande a Parte scene. Editor David Birdsell does excellent work with the editing to create rhythmic jump-cuts for several of the film's road scenes as well as other sequences for quick-cuts that is energetic but doesn't move to fast. At the same time, Birdsell sells the action with slow motion edits for a dream-like feel for some of the phone conversations that Mercer is having with Kate.

Production designer Damon Fortier along with art directors Rob Howeth and Charles Nance do fine work with the look of the hippie commune that Mercer visits along with some locations including the places he goes to. Costume designer Marie Schely does fantastic work with the costumes including the cowboy hats that Lou Taylor Pucci and Bill Duke wears along with band uniforms and the clothes Jena Malone wears to make her look like a sex pot. Sound editor Mitch Gettleman does great work in capturing the sound locations including the phone conversations between Mercer and Kate along with the tape that Mercer listens to on the car.

The film's music mostly consists of songs by M. Ward that definitely works as road material along with music from the Replacements, Animal Collective, the Black Keys, and the late Elliot Smith. The soundtrack includes a duet with M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel on a cover of Richard Thompson's When I Get To The Border that would be the basis for the Ward-Deschanel project She & Him.

The casting by Emily Schweber is excellent with appearances from M. Ward along with Nick Offerman as a potter who hates Arlen and Judy Greer as a hippie chick. Appearances from Bill Duke as a liquor supplier who helps Mercer retrieve his car and Maura Tierney as a pet store owner are memorable for their cameos along with Julio Oscar Mechoso as a porn director under the name a late, famous film director. Jsu Garcia is fine as Mercer's half-brother Arlen while Colin Fickes and William Lee Scott are good as Joely's troublesome entourage. In a role that's definitely against type of sorts, Jena Malone is great as the seductive Joely who uses her womanly ways to get Mercer to do anything. Though she doesn't have the look of a sex object, Malone definitely sells herself as a manipulative young woman while proving that she can be sexy with a nice little butt-crack. Mmmmmm....

Zooey Deschanel is excellent as Kate, a quirky young woman who lets Mercer take her car while engaging into fruitful conversations about anything while appearing to him in dreams as a companion until she comes along for real. Deschanel is truly mesmerizing in her appearance as she and Lou Taylor Pucci have great chemistry while maintaining her dream-like persona. Finally, there's Lou Taylor Pucci in what is an amazing performance from the young actor. Following his superb breakthrough role in 2005's Thumbsucker, Pucci is proving to be one of the best young actors working while not giving in towards Hollywood convention. Pucci's naive, wondrous performance as a young man trying to find his long-lost half-brother is filled with realism and imagination as it's a wonderful performance from Pucci who has great rapport with his co-stars while making Mercer into a relatable character.

The Go-Getter is an excellent film from Martin Hynes featuring some great work from Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel, and Jena Malone. Fans of these actors will no doubt enjoy their performances along with the music of M. Ward while fans of quirky, dreamy indie road movies will find something wonderful to look at. Though it doesn't have a strong plot and a quirkiness that might not be for everyone. It's still a compelling, fascinating film that has something to offer. In the end, for a road film that is beautiful along with a story about an experience that is unforgettable, The Go-Getter is the film to see.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sucker Punch



Since scoring a major hit with 2007’s adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel 300, Zack Snyder is considered to be one of the hottest directors working in Hollywood. With his dazzling visuals and slow-motion action edits, he’s created a style that has won over audiences. While his 2009 adaptation of the famed Alan Moore graphic novel Watchmen wasn’t a big hit and received mixed reviews. Snyder still got lots of attention and praise from some including Christopher Nolan who asked him to direct a re-boot of the Superman franchise for a 2012 release. Snyder accepted the job while he is set to wow audiences once again with his fifth feature film entitled Sucker Punch.

Directed by Zack Snyder based on his own original story. Sucker Punch tells the story of a young girl in the 1950s being sent to a mental institution by her step-father. Befriending fellow inmates, she and her inmates use their imagination to create a world where they attack their foes into an epic battle. Screenplay by Snyder and Steve Shibuya, the film is a mixture of fantasy and action as it’s all told from the perspective of a young girl as she’s joined by other young women and a wise man to war. Starring Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, Jon Hamm, Oscar Issac, Carla Gugino, and Scott Glenn. Sucker Punch is a decent although messy film from Zack Snyder.

After the death of her mother and an awful confrontation with her stepfather (Gerard Plunket), Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is sent to a mental hospital. Running the hospital is an orderly named Blue Jones (Oscar Issac) who likes to keep tabs on things and create problems. During her stay, the hospital’s psychiatrist/dance instructor Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino) suggests for Baby Doll to retreat into a fantasy world. Baby Doll fantasizes a world where Blue runs a brothel where all the girls are dancers for the brothel. Baby Doll befriends Rocket (Jena Malone) who shows her what goes on as well as introducing her to fellow inmates including Rocket’s older sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung).

During a dance session with Madam Gorski, Baby Doll fantasizes about escaping into another world with help from a wise man (Scott Glenn) who reveals that in order to escape. Baby Doll will have to acquire four objects to escape while the fifth one is a mystery. During a battle with samurais in her fantasy, Baby Doll realizes she has the power to help her friends escape as Rocket goes along with the plan along with Blondie, Amber, and a very reluctant Sweet Pea. During a dance performance which allows Baby Doll to go into her fantasy world with the rest of her friends, she fantasizes being in a World War I battle to retrieve a map that is needed. The mission becomes a success as Baby Doll’s public performance for the mayor (Alan C. Peterson) allowed Amber to get the lighter needed for fire.

Blue suspects something is going on as Madam Gorski is helping Baby Doll prepare for her own dance recital for the city’s High Roller (Jon Hamm). With two objects in a knife and key is needed, the girls are on their way to freedom. Yet, Madam Gorski is suddenly the target where the attempt to get the knife succeeds but with a price. With the key still needed, Baby Doll also has to find out what the fifth object is once the High Roller arrives as she makes another plan to escape.

The film is about a girl who retreats into a fantasy world and then goes into another fantasy world so she can escape with her friends. While in theory, it’s an interesting idea that requires a narrative that is strong and has characters that are very engaging. Unfortunately, the script is handled quite clumsily where things get a bit confusing while there’s excessive elements that could’ve been pulled. At the same time, some characters either don’t get enough to do while there’s some moments where there’s too much exposition that goes on in the film. Though it starts off very well while has some very interesting moments during the middle. The story falls apart by the third act while there’s moments where the focus on objects suddenly become confusing towards the end of the film.

While it’s Zack Snyder’s first original project with a script co-written with Steve Shibuya. Snyder and Shibuya try to cram a lot of ideas into the story where it’s supposed to be a prison break film mixed in with lots of fantasy relating to samurai films, World War I films, and sci-fi. While a lot of that has exciting moments, when it comes to the scenes at the hospital/brothel scenes, it loses not only some momentum. It creates a story that is very uneven and at times, the pacing lags where for a film that has a 110-minute running time, it feels longer than that. While the story is interesting and has some moments along with some fully-realized characters. It’s just that it’s not a very strong story that ends up being very messy.

Snyder’s direction for the film is truly spectacular in its visuals where for all of the hyper-fantasy sequences he creates. It definitely shows ambition and is presented with a large canvas. The problem is that it’s also a bit overwhelming at times while the pacing in its transition from the hospital/brothel scenes to the fantasy sequences are off. While he can create simple moments in the conversation scenes with the girls, there’s times when the just goes overboard with style. Snyder’s trademark of slowing the action down with slow-motion edits does have their moments. Yet, it’s also overdone at times where Snyder could’ve just had the camera go on for another 30 seconds without slowing it down.

Snyder’s emphasis on visuals and creating a fantasy world is truly dazzling. The problem is that Snyder is really pulling a lot of film references to help with his ideas. Even in the first 10 minutes where once Baby Doll is at the hospital and there’s a conversation about her being lobotomized. It then leads into this other reality and then to a fantasy. While some viewers will think of a film like Inception, the film that Snyder is really drawing ideas from not just in narrative but scope is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Brazil is a dystopian fantasy story about a man who dreams to escape his dismal world by pretending to be a hero who fights evil forces including a huge samurai. For anyone who knows that film, will be aware that there’s a lot of references to that film as well as Blade Runner and The Matrix. The only thing Snyder doesn’t really have is a lot of humor which is prevalent in Gilliam’s work. While Snyder does have a lot of great visual ideas and can create amazing action sequences. It’s clear that with this film, he’s becoming a bit of a parody of himself while is in need to really tighten his ideas into a cohesive story.

Cinematography Larry Fong does an excellent job with visual look of the film from the blue-gray look of the mental hospital to the more colorful world of the dressing room and brothel scenes. Even as he creates different color schemes for each of the big fantasy sequences whether it’s the yellowish look of the medieval and futuristic scenes to the grayish, gritty look of the World War I sequence. Fong’s work is definitely one of the film’s technical highlights. Editor William Foy does some good work with the editing in creating rhythmic yet hypnotic work in the action sequences. Even in creating some good transitions to help build the momentum. Still because of the messy narrative, the editing at time suffers due to its emphasis on style.

Production designer Rick Carter and art directors Stefan Dechant and Grant Van Der Slagt do some amazing work with the art direction from the look of the Japanese temple where Baby Doll meets the wise man to the look of the stage where Baby Doll performs her routine to the mayor. Another notable feature is the look of the hospital to portray the bleak world the girls really live as the objects also play a part for the story. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson does some wonderful work with the costumes from the brothel clothing the women wear to the leather-driven clothes the girls wear in the fantasy as it‘s another of the film‘s technical highlights.

Visual effects supervisor John “D.J.“ Des Jardin does a spectacular job with visual effects from the recreation of the zeppelins in the World War I sequence to the look of the dragon in the medieval scenes. The visual effects really play up to the hyper-fantasy world that Baby Doll lives in along with the exterior look of the mental hospital the girls live in early in the film. Sound editor Scott Hecker and sound designer Rick Hrmoadka does some nice work with the sound from the layers of fire and gunplay that goes on. Even in the smaller moments about how shoes tap on the floor as the sound work is truly extraordinary.

Music composers Tyler Bates and Marius De Vries do some good work in the music as they bring in a mix of broad orchestra mixed in with electronics for the film’s score. Yet, the soundtrack is mostly dominated by a mixture of alternative rock and electronic stuff. Three songs by the Smiths, Eurythmics, and the Pixies are covered by Emily Browning while the rest of the soundtrack features variations of Bjork’s Army of Me and a mash-up of Queen’s We Will Rock You and I Want It All. Other tracks include very hypnotic, industrialized covers of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, the Stooges’ Search and Destroy, and crazy cover of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows by the Kills/Dead Weather’s Alison Mosshart and Autolux’s Carla Azar. The last song played on the film is a campy cover of Roxy Music’s Love Is the Drug by Oscar Issac and Carla Gugino as it’s a fun soundtrack that plays to the film’s dazzling visual style.

The casting by Michelle Allen, Kristy Carlson, and Lora Kennedy has some good moments but some of it isn’t inspiring. In small parts, there’s some memorable appearances by Gerard Plunket as Baby Doll’s stepfather, Alan C. Peterson as the mayor, Malcolm Scott as the fat cook, and Frederique de Raucourt as Baby Doll’s little sister in the first major sequence of the film. Jon Hamm is pretty good as the High Roller/doctor but he’s only in the film for about 5-6 minutes. He appears briefly early in the film and then appears for a brief minute as the High Roller, and then has a big moment near the end of the film. Hamm is a very high-profiled actor but he’s really wasted throughout in his small appearance.

Scott Glenn is superb as the wise man who guides Baby Doll and the girls into battle and helping find the objects in the hyper-fantasy scenes as he just goes out there and be cool. Glenn’s performance is one of the highlights as he’s a guy who really can’t suck no matter how bad a film can be. Oscar Issac is very good as the devilish Blue Jones with his sleazy persona and an intimidating presence that makes him into a hammy yet fun villain to root against. Carla Gugino is excellent as Madam Gorski, the therapist/dance instructor who allows the girls a chance to escape through their minds as her role is a bit ambiguous. Still, Gugino sports a campy Polish accent that allows her character to be one of the most enjoyable moments of the film.

Jamie Chung and Vanessa Hudgens are all right in their respective roles as Amber and Blondie. While they don’t get much to do except kind of be eye-candy. They have their moments when they’re in battle or be in some kind of spectacle while having a great rapport with the rest of the girls. They’re just don’t have enough chops to really play to the drama which is probably why they’re not given much to do. Emily Browning is pretty good as Baby Doll when she’s doing action scenes or leading the gang to have a jailbreak. The problem is that she doesn’t express herself very much as she either cries or gets worried while having a very icy expression throughout the film. There’s something that doesn’t really work in the performance as she seems unsure in her performance.

The film’s best performances easily goes to Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone in their respective roles as the sisters Sweet Pea and Rocket. Cornish is wonderful as the reluctant, cynical Sweet Pea who is trying not to get into trouble while wanting to protect Rocket. Even as she tries to get everyone to calm down and just be careful while getting into the action proving to be a real capable badass. Jena Malone is phenomenal as Rocket, the most outspoken person of the group who shows Baby Doll what goes on in the hospital and be the first to always be on board to escape. Malone not only shows that she can kick some ass but delivers the film’s often cheesy dialogue with great ease. Cornish and Malone also have some amazing chemistry as the sisters with Cornish being the most cautious and Malone as the most outgoing where they play off each other so well. Particularly since, with the exception of Baby Doll, they’re characters have a small back-story that is interesting which explains why they’re often together. If there’s a real highlight of the film, it’s Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone.

Sucker Punch is an entertaining, visually-ambitious but somewhat disappointing film from Zack Snyder. Due to a messy script, a lack of a cohesive story, and too many ideas that tend to overwhelm the story. It’s a film that needed more work though it isn’t a total waste of time. Fans of Snyder’s work will enjoy the visuals but if they’re looking for a engaging story. It’s not the right place. While the performance of some of the cast is either lackluster or uninspiring with the exception of Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Scott Glenn, Oscar Issac, and Carla Gugino. It doesn’t have a lot to offer which will definitely worry some viewers as they see that Snyder is going to direct the next Superman film coming in 2012. In the end, Sucker Punch is an okay but underwhelming spectacle from Zack Snyder.

Zack Snyder Films: (Dawn of the Dead (2004)) - 300 - Watchmen - (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole) - Man of Steel

© thevoid99 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Watchmen (film)


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/7/09.


One of the most celebrated and popular graphic novels in the history of literature, Watchmen about a group of retired vigilantes investigating the murder of one of their former colleagues only to uncover a troubling conspiracy. Written by Alan Moore with illustrations by Dave Gibbons, the novel took a unique spin into the superhero genre while delving into satire and character study. The novel is so acclaimed in giving the graphic novel medium widespread attention that adaptations for the book to become a film became an impossible task. Developing the film proved to be hell since its attempts began just after the novel was released. 20th Century Fox tried to get it started that took years. In 1991, Warner Brothers got involved with project with Terry Gilliam attached but years of development forced Gilliam to drop out and the film project was shelved.

Another attempt in 2001 started but a few years into it became troubling until Paramount Pictures got involved with Darren Aronofsky attached to the project. Aronofsky left to work on The Fountain as Paul Greengrass got involved but the project eventually folded. With Lawrence Gordon, who owned the rights to the film, deciding to go back to Warner Brothers. Nothing seemed sure until 2006 when production finally found got started with a new director in Zack Snyder, who scored a big hit with his adaptation of Frank Miller's 300. Production finally began with Snyder at the helm despite a lawsuit between Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox that finally got resolved for the long-awaited release of Watchmen.

Directed by Zack Snyder with a script by David Hayter and Alex Tse along with un-credited contributions from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Watchmen tells the story of a group of former vigilantes living in 1985 at the peak of the Cold War as the tension between the U.S. and Soviet Union reaching its climax with Richard Nixon still the President of the U.S. When an ex-vigilante is murdered, one of his former comrades investigates to uncover a conspiracy in order to get rid of his other vigilantes as well as a nuclear holocaust. The film is an ambitious tale that takes the superhero genre to darker territory and character study not explored in some of today's superhero films. With an all-star cast that includes Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode, Billy Crudup, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Stephen McHattie, Matt Frewer, and Carla Gugino. Watchmen is an excellent, sprawling, and ambitious film from Zack Snyder.

It's October 1985 when an ex-vigilante known as Edward Blake aka the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has been murdered leaving behind his old smiley face badge on the street as evidence. One of Blake's former colleagues name Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) from the Watchmen vigilante team of the late 1960s-early 1970s group finds the badge. He investigates Blake's murder as he tells his former partner from the group Daniel Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) about the Comedian's death. Dreiberg is now retired due to the Keene Act of 1977 banning vigilantes from work where he spends his time having weekly meeting with the original Nite Owl in Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie). After Rorschach's visit, Dreiberg tells another of his former colleagues in Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). Now a billionaire who has revealed his identity while using his old vigilante name to sell products, Veidt hears of Dreiberg's warning about Rorschach's conspiracy that someone is taking out former vigilantes.

Rorschach visits a couple of former Watchmen in Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and Laurie Juspeczyk aka Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) about the Comedian's death. Manhattan, who is the only Watchmen with superpowers due to a nuclear accident and is considered the best weapon the U.S. ever has is now more concerned with particles and such than humanity. Manhattan's state of mind has now strained his long-term relationship with Laurie as she decides to have dinner with Dreiberg whom she hadn't seen in years as they talk about the Comedian's death and fear of a possible nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. During Blake's funeral where Veidt, Dreiberg, and Manhattan recall disturbing memories about the Comedian while Laurie visits her mother Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino). Attending the funeral in secrecy is a former nemesis of the Comedian in Edgar Jacobi aka Moloch (Matt Frewer).

Rorschach confronts Moloch about what he knows as he revealed about a strange visit from a distraught, guilt-ridden Blake. Laurie's visit with her mother about Blake's death that featured an old story about Blake raping Sally back in 1949 has Sally saddened about Blake despite what happened. Laurie's relationship with Dr. Manhattan has finally soured as she leaves him to be with Dreiberg as Manhattan prepares for a big TV interview. During the interview, Manhattan talks about nuclear holocaust when a journalist presses Manhattan on about accusations that he gave a few former colleagues including his ex-girlfriend Janey Slater (Laura Mennell) cancer as she makes a surprising appearance. Now a threat, Manhattan exiles himself to Mars as he thinks about the time he used to be a man named Jon Osterman and how he became Dr. Manhattan as he's now detached of humanity as well as Earth.

When Rorschach continues his investigation into Blake's death, he uncovers a big conspiracy which involved an assassination attempt on Adrian Veidt. What happens is a set-up in which he's captured and sent to prison following an interrogation with a psychoanalyst. With Dreiberg and Laurie becoming closer and deciding to renew their vigilante status, they also decide to break Rorschach from prison as they uncover a much larger conspiracy involving the end of the world. With nuclear holocaust closing in and Manhattan unconvinced that he can do anything, it's up to the Watchmen to uncover the truth only to find out something even more horrifying.

Watchmen is truly one of the greatest novels in the history of literature and for years, to make a film version of it seemed impossible. Yet, what Zack Snyder and screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse did the impossible and succeeded, for the most part. The story is truly complex and psychological as it unveils harsh realities and truths to the world. Yet, like most adaptations, things had to be cut from the book as well as some alterations. Still, Hayter and Tse does manage to craft a faithful script to the book though minor characters like the magazine stand owner and the kid who hangs out reading The Tales of the Black Freighter are merely cameos. The sub-story of The Tales of the Black Freighter isn't featured in the film but is still being told as an animated feature in a straight-to-DVD release.

Still, the faithfulness of the story from book to script is excellent in presenting smaller characters like Janey Slater and the story of the original Minutemen vigilante group is told in the opening credits. Though not much is revealed since the original graphic novel is more in detail of how the Minutemen was formed and disbanded. Part of the script's flaws is some lack of detail, back story on some of the characters, and the fact that some audiences might find the story to be too dense. It's not a proto-typical kind of superhero, comic-book action film but far more darker and more adult. It's really about a group of individuals dealing with retirement, their own humanity or lack thereof, and ambitions amidst the troubled state of the world. The writers do take credit in creating something that is entertaining but also faithful to what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wanted in the book.

Director Zack Snyder, who had done a brilliant job with his take on Frank Miller's 300 manages to succeed with the look and visual palette of Watchmen. With help from the novel's illustrator Dave Gibbons, Snyder does faithfully use images from the comics for its compositions of the film as if the novel came to life. Snyder's faithfulness is honorable though there's a few moments he doesn't get right. There's a few anachronisms in the film in its appliances and famous people seen throughout that might baffle a few people. Snyder does get the story going in giving people a break from the action for the drama where it doesn't drag nor its two-hour, forty-three minute running time feel very slow.

Snyder's direction is very stylish where he does the slow-fast edits like he did in 300 but not overtly while not lightening things up in terms of the sex and violence. The sex is though playful and sexy in its scenes involving Laurie Juspeczyk and Daniel Dreiberg which includes a comical moment from the book. At the same time, Snyder does make sure that audiences get to see Dr. Manhattan's scrotum since he's naked throughout though it's really all CGI. Then there's violence which is quite graphic as broken bones are heard, lots of blood, and such that goes on. There's things that are quite shocking but it's true to what Alan Moore wanted as well as the nature of its characters, notably the Comedian who is the kind of gung-ho American at its worst and distasteful. The film's ending is altered in a major way though its intentions in relation to the original ending in the novel is still intact. Overall, despite the flaws the film has, Zack Snyder does create a faithful version of the book with its colorful images and dark tone.

Cinematographer Larry Fong does a fantastic job with the film's look in relation to the novel. With the look being close to the graphic novel, Fong's cinematography is not filled with a lot of heavy lights as it relies on dark colors and lots of shading. It's a film that is meant to look bleak yet colorful as it also moves along with the action and apocalyptical tone. Editor William Hoy does great work with the editing as it's stylized with fast cuts for the action along with slow-motion moments that later becomes fast for some of the fight scenes. At the same time, the cutting doesn't move very slow for its long running time as it does a serviceable job for its pacing and feel.

Production designer Alex McDowell along with set decorator Jim Erickson and supervising art director Francois Audouy is superb in its look of New York City, though shot in Vancouver, along with its interior sets and places. Particularly the building of Adrian Veidt that he works along with his Antarctica base and the homes of Dreiberg and his basement filled with gadgets and such. Notably the Owlship he has called Archie that's filled with gadgets and such. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson does a great job with the costumes with the latex look of Silk Spectre II that is sexy along with Nite Owl II's costumes that looks a bit like Batman. The suit of Ozymandias is kind of ridiculous since it has nipples which is meant to look silly while Rorschach and the Comedian are more gritty. Yet, the look of the Minutemen are spectacular in its 1940s design and such.

Makeup artist Emanuela Daus along with her team do an excellent job with the fake hair that Jackie Earle Haley wears as his true identity along with the look of Adrian Veidt and Laurie Juspeczyk. Yet, the look of Richard Nixon (Robert Wisden) does look a bit ridiculous while the make-up on Carla Gugino as her older version of Sally Jupiter is sub-par at best. The visual effects by supervisors Dennis Jones and Peter G. Travers is phenomenal with the look of Dr. Manhattan, the blot-movements of Rorschach's mask, and Dr. Manhattan's home at Mars. The visual effects are the real technical highlight of the film. The sound by sound editor Scott Hecker and designers Rick Hromadka and Jeremy Pierson are excellent in the way broken bones are heard. The atmosphere that goes on in the city and the way the Owlship moves and sounds. Hecker's work in the editing of Rorschach's narration is great along with its mixing to give the film a noir-like feel as the sound is masterfully brilliant.

The music score by Tyler Bates is very good in melodic-driven piece of keyboards and guitars for its drama and action. Yet, its soundtrack is mostly dominated by several music pieces that features Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' in the opening credits plus stuff from Jimi Hendrix, Nena, Tears for Fears, Janis Joplin, Simon & Garfunkel, KC & the Sunshine Band, and a comical use of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah in one of the film's funny moments. Played in the closing credits is another Dylan song Desolation Row that's performed in a punk-style by My Chemical Romance yet the greatest piece of music played on film is from Phillip Glass in the Jon Osterman-Dr. Manhattan sequence from Glass' score of 1983 Godfrey Reggio cult film Koyanniqatsi.

The casting by Kristy Carlson is excellent with appearances from people playing celebrities and political figures like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, photographer Annie Lebovitz, Lee Iacocca, Fidel Castro, and as Henry Kissinger, Frank Novak. Other memorable appearances as famous people are Ron Fassler as Ted Koppel and Robert Wisden as Richard Nixon who is good though why didn't anyone ask Dan Hedaya to play the role since he was the best Richard Nixon in the 1999 comedy Dick. Small appearances from Zack Snyder's son Eli as the young Rorschach while appearing as the original minute men are Apollonia Vanova as Silhouette, Daryll Scheelar as Captain Metropolis, Dan Payne as Dollar Bill, Niall Matter as Mothman, Glenn Ennis as Hooded Justice, and Clint Carelton as the young Hollis Mason/Nite Owl.

Other small roles like Ron LaBelle as Osterman's former colleague Wally Weaver and Nhi Do as a Vietnamese girl who fights the Comedian are memorable while it's Laura Mennell who is good as Janey Slater. Stephen McHattie, who previously appeared in 300 is very good as Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl who retires only to have conversations with Daniel Dreiberg. Matt Frewer is excellent as Moloch, a retired villain who reveals to Rorschach of what he knows about the Comedian's state of mind. Carla Gugino is excellent as Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre who is now retired as she talks about Edward Blake while dealing with Laurie's anger towards her.

Malin Akerman is pretty good as Laurie Juspeczyk aka Silk Spectre II. Though Akerman has the look and body of Silk Spectre, her acting isn't entirely great though serviceable for her character. Akerman does embody the angst and sweetness of Laurie as she's dealing with her mother and Dr. Manhattan while finding solace and comfort in Daniel Dreiberg. Patrick Wilson is also good as Daniel Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II as he plays this somewhat bland, mild-mannered guy who is afraid of being the Nite Owl yet can't escape from it. Wilson does bring a nice-guy complexity while also proving he can be tough as he has wonderful chemistry with Akerman. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is great as Edward Blake aka the Comedian, an immoral, violent, and unpredictable man who'll kill anything for the government only to have his violent past caught up to him. Morgan sells the character with great bravado and charisma while bringing depth to the character as he deals with guilt and regret.

Matthew Goode is excellent as Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias, a former vigilante turned billionaire who is more concerned about his own image while finding ways to save the world with the help of Dr. Manhattan. Goode's performance is definitely the least charismatic and most restrained of the cast as he stands out for being the one in control. Billy Crudup is amazing as Dr. Manhattan, an ordinary man turned into a superhuman of sorts only to become detached in his state as he is mostly devoid of emotion. Crudup rarely has scenes where he's emotional as his character is definitely very interesting as someone who lost interest in humanity while focused on dealing with logic.

The film's best performance is Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach, the masked vigilante who refuses to quit his job as he investigates the Comedian's death. Haley, though mostly masked in the film is the most interesting as he has this raspy voice in his character while being the film's narrator throughout the film. Haley's face when he's unmasked is truly devoid of emotion mostly as he's just stoned-face and plays it cool. Haley is really the heart of the film as he brings more than enough into why Rorschach is the most beloved character of Watchmen, novel or film.

While it's not the famed novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the film version of Watchmen is still an excellent film from Zack Snyder. With an excellent cast led by Jackie Earle Haley, the film is very faithful to the famed graphic novel while providing new territory for the superhero film genre. Fans of the book will be happy that it's faithful while will understandably be upset of what got cut from the transition from book to film. Audiences of superhero films will be entertained though its complex story might be too much for some as well as its two-hour, forty-three minute time length. This is definitely not a film for kids, especially for its adult themes, graphic violence, and sexual content. In the end, though it's not a perfect film, Watchmen is still an entertaining, provocative, and ambitious film from Zack Snyder and company.

Zack Snyder Films: (Dawn of the Dead (2004)) - 300 - (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole) - Sucker Punch - Man of Steel

(C) thevoid99 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

300


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/11/07 w/ Additional Edits.


One of the most historical battles ever was the Battle of Thermopylae where a million Persians fought against several groups of small armies during the Persian war. One of those armies was a group of 300 soldiers from the Greek state of Sparta known as the Spartans. Fighting the Persians to the death, the Spartans fought with such might that despite being dead to the last man, they did however weaken the Persians. Despite this setback, the story of the Spartans and their king Leonidas was legendary. In 1998, comic book writer Frank Miller, known for his Sin City graphic novels, collaborated with illustrator Lynn Varley for a graphic novel of this legendary battle which he called 300. The cult success of the graphic novel was huge that after Miller's recent success of the first Sin City film with Robert Rodriguez. He was approached to be involved for another adaptation of his work for 300.

Directed by Zack Snyder with he a script he co-wrote with Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon, 300 tells the legendary story of the Spartans and King Leonidas fighting against Xerxes and his Persian army. Using the same visual technique that was done for Sin City and with Miller's involvement, Snyder brings a visual interpretation true to Miller's vision as well as his graphic, violent style. Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, Michael Fassbender, Rodrigo Santoro, Andrew Tiernan, and Vincent Regan. 300 is a glorious, visually amazing film from Zack Snyder that is true to the brilliance of the Spartans.

Before he became king of Sparta, Leonidas (Eli Snyder at 7/8 & Tyler Max Neitzel at 15) grew up to become a Spartan. An elite army that is known for their high-fighting skills and refusal to retreat or surrender. When he became King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), he leads Sparta with wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) and son Pleistarchos (Giovani Cimmino). Then one day, a Persian messenger (Peter Mensah) arrives to bring a message from Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) who wants land and water from Sparta. Leonidas refuses as he and his fellow Spartans kill the messenger and his men. Leonidas decides to call into the council of elder priests and the Oracle (Kelly Craig) for guidance about war against the Persians. Leonidas is refused by law but along with his 300 troops including Captain Artemis (Vincent Regan), his son Astinos (Tom Wisdom), Stelios (Michael Fassbender), and Dilios (David Wenham). Leonidas against the wishes of elders and the Spartan council led by Theron (Dominic West), move forward with his small troops of 300 soldiers as he says goodbye to his Queen.

Upon their way to the area of Thermopylae known as the Hot Gates where they meet a troop of 7000 Greek Thespians led by Daxos (Andrew Pleavin). Daxos is disappointed in the small army Leonidas has but the king insists that his army are born to fight. Along the way, Leonidas meets a deformed, hunchback named Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan) who wants to join but because of his deformity, Leonidas politely refuses. Back in Sparta, Queen Gorgo learns that if Leonidas is to fall, she needs more troops as a councilman (Stephen McHattie) suggests that the only way to get more troops is to get the support of Theron. The Persians arrive but they underestimate the 300 fighting Spartans as they're beaten badly. Xerxes sends more of his troops including some of his elite men but again, the Spartans continue to stand their ground. Xerxes finally meets Leonidas where he promises wealth and power but the king refuses as he continues to fight the Persians to the death.

Back in Sparta, Queen Gorgo tries to convince Theron for help only to learn of his corruptive ways. In an attempt to talk to the council, she exposes a dark secret to the council. After days of fighting, Leonidas and his Spartans start to lose some soldiers as Leonidas sends Dilios a message to the council for help. Dilios departs while the Spartans leans that Ephialtes has betrayed them in exchanges for riches, women, and comfort from Xerxes. Despite this setback, the Spartans do what they do best against the remaining yet overwhelming large army of Persians as they fight to the last man.

While the film is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, like Sin City, Zack Snyder chose to be faithful to the Miller style of dialogue and visual storytelling. Even in its most graphic depiction of violence. Yet, Snyder has created a film that isn't just faithful to Miller's novel but also brings back the legendary tale of the 300 Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae. While the film's graphic violence and battle sequences aren't clearly for everyone, Snyder and his team create an amazing, dream-like quality that is inspired by Miller's story. Taking the same filmmaking style of Sin City by creating images on bluescreen with not many sets built, the result is truly one of the most visually exhilarating films ever made.

The story, which is based on legends, is truly amazing of how a small army continue to defy something as totalitarian and evil as Xerxes while going against the odds to fight to the death. The subplot of Gorgo's political challenges gives the film a bit of a balance from the action to the dramatic scale in which reveals that women, even a queen can have power in order to help their own land. While the script is really faithful to Miller's stylized dialogue, it's Snyder's direction that really holds it together. Snyder no doubt, wants to make an entertaining and unique film where the battle sequences are just exciting to watch with full adrenaline that gives even the supporting characters moments to shine. Snyder even balances the action with some wonderful drama in Gorgo's story on how she tries to deal with the council. The overall approach in Snyder’s direction and his visual style prove that this film is truly one of the year's best.

Cinematographer Larry Fong creates a wonderfully colorful yet visually stimulating to the film from its bright, sepia color to some of the film's battle sequences along with bits of grain in order to maintain a sense of authenticity to the film. Editor William Hoy brings style to the film, notably in the battle sequences where the frame speeds are slowed to convey the action of the fight. Production designer James D. Bissell and his team of art directors do excellent work in recreating the square hall of the Leonidas home as well as the priests building. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson does great work in creating the look of the Persian uniforms and the dresses of Queen Gorgo.

Visual effects supervisor Chris Watts does amazing work in recreating the look of Sparta with its colorful imagery and the number of Persian soldiers along with the look of graphic violence true to the Miller visual style. Sound designer Derek Vanderhost and sound editor Scott Hecker also do great work in the sound to convey the tense atmosphere and intensity of the battle sequences. Music composer Tyler Bates creates a wonderfully intense score filled with orchestral arrangements mixed in with heavy metal guitar drones to bring excitement to the action as well as momentum. Bates' wonderful score work is dreamy during the dramatic sequences while the battle is just amazing.

Then there's the film's amazing cast that includes such notable small performances from Stephen McHattie, Kelly Craig, Peter Mensah, Eli Snyder, Tyler Max Neitzel, and Giovani Cimmino. Tom Wisdom is great as the young yet energetic Astinos who fights like a warrior while having some great, humorous moments of dialogue with Michael Fassbender as Stelios, who is just as cool and such a bad*ss. Those two together would make one hell of a tag team. Andrew Pleavin is excellent as the cautious Daxos who is willing to fight but is unable to understand the madness of the Spartans. Andrew Tiernan is wonderful as the creepy, deformed Ephialtes whose desire to become a Spartan is only tempted by Xerxes powers after being rejected by Leonidas. Vincent Regan is excellent as the veteran Captain Artemis whose love of being a Spartan and father to Astinos proves to be the heart of a warrior who has more to fight for. Dominic West is excellent as the conniving Theron who seeks power and is willing to do anything to maintain his power in the council.

Rodrigo Santoro has an amazing yet overwhelming presence as the godlike Xerxes who has an exotic look as Santoro really owns the role with such restraint and elegance that it's hard to root against a man like him. David Wenham, who also does the narration, is great as Dilios who is another loyal warrior who is forced to tell the story while having to leave the group he's fought with. Lena Headey is just simply amazing as Queen Gorgo with her enchanting beauty and love for her husband. It's Headey's performance that is truly the most dramatic as she tries to convince the council and Theron while dealing with her role as a woman, who is a lot tougher than she looks. It's a fantastic performance from the British actress who remains underrated in mainstream circles. Gerard Butler gives an awesome performance as King Leonidas where despite being over-the-top, it's worth it to play a character like Leonidas. Butler brings a bit of sensitivity and heart to the character but overall, Butler sells himself as a badass and is a real leader. It's an amazing performance from Butler who should become a star.

While it's not as visually cool as Sin City, 300 is still an amazing, violent, exotic film from Zack Snyder and company. While serious history buffs might not take this film very seriously, it does improve on what previous historical films like  Troy and Alexander failed to do. Plus, it's far more accurate thanks to Frank Miller's novel and how he based his story on legends. After the brilliance of his 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, Zack Snyder proves himself to be an amazing director who can belt out great moments of violence and excitement to the audience. In the end, 300 is one hell of a film to go see.

Zack Snyder Films:  (Dawn of the Dead (2004)) - Watchmen - (Legend of the Guardians:  The Owls of Ga'Hoole) - Sucker Punch - Man of Steel

(C) thevoid99 2011