Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mala Noche


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/5/08.


With American cinema focusing on teen films and blockbusters by the 1980s, Hollywood was focusing its efforts in creating films more accessible to a wide audience as opposed to the low-budget, art films that dominated the 1970s. Yet, the influence of 1970s American cinema did become inspirational to a group of young filmmakers who refused to work under the Hollywood system. Directors like Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, John Sayles, and the Coen Brothers would emerge from the new underground world of independent cinema. Another director that was to emerge from that movement would also become one of the unlikely pioneers for Gay & Lesbian cinema in the U.S.

His name is Gus Van Sant, an openly-gay filmmaker from Portland, Oregon who spent his life traveling with his salesman father who explored the world while trying to find a subject to make his first film. In 1981, he made a film called Alice in Hollywood that remains unreleased. Living in Los Angeles for a few years, Van Sant would eventually raise $25,000 for a film that would eventually become his debut feature. It would also become one of the first feature films to depict homosexual relationships in a realistic way that was very anti-Hollywood as it was based on Walt Curtis' semi-autobiographical novel entitled Mala Noche (Bad Night).

Written for the screen, produced, edited & directed by Gus Van Sant, Mala Noche tells the story of a young man who falls for a Mexican immigrant in a strange relationship set in the streets of Portland, Oregon. The film explored the world of homosexuality and street life while conveying the themes of disappointments, heartbreak, and alienation that would define Van Sant's work in the years to come. Starring Tim Streeter, Doug Cooeyate, Ray Monge, Sam Downey, Robert Lee Pitchlynn, and Nyla McCarthy. Mala Noche is a stark yet enchanting debut film from Gus Van Sant.

Working as convenience clerk by day and at times, a janitor a night, Walt (Tim Streeter) is a hopeless romantic trying to live his life without compromise when he meets a Mexican immigrant named Johnny (Doug Cooeyate). Walt falls for the young Mexican as he relentlessly went after the young man as he sees him at an arcade and asking him if he wants to hang out. Accompanying Johnny was his friend Roberto aka Pepper (Ray Monge) as he is locked out of their hotel since Johnny has the key as Walt and his friend Betty (Nyla McCarthy) invite them for dinner. Walt is hopelessly in love with Johnny as the two with Pepper go out on a night for a town until Johnny's love for driving fast nearly gets them in trouble. With Walt offering to sleep with Johnny for $15, Pepper thinks it's a good idea since they need the money. Instead, Johnny rejects Walt forcing Pepper to spend the night at his place.

After working for an hour as a janitor and returning home, Walt and Pepper have sex but Walt wakes up with $10 missing as he later learns that Pepper and Johnny used the money to buy a camera. After some more fun that involved going on a road trip of sorts, things start to get disheartening when Johnny's love for driving fast nearly gets him in trouble as suddenly, he leaves. Walt feels heartbroken until he learns that Pepper had been left behind. Walt takes Pepper in as he introduces him to numerous people and try to get him a job while waiting for Johnny to return. Though the two have a good time with each other, Walt misses Johnny as he learns he and Pepper aren't really compatible with Pepper more interested in girls and such. Yet, things become tense when finally, Walt's romantic persona is forced to deal with reality as he longs for Johnny more than ever.

Considering the time of the mid-1980s when homosexuality was now deemed as sinful due to the AIDS epidemic, a film like Mala Noche definitely seemed like a very shocking film back then. What was more shocking is Van Sant's portrayal of homosexuality in a way that wasn't politically or shown in a stereotypical way. Instead, there's a realism to the attraction as this young man, with this deadpan style of talking doesn't look or act like a stereotypical gay man. A lot of it is based on Walt Curtis' own life as he is this hopeless romantic, falling for this young, Mexican immigrant who might or might not be gay.

The openness of Walt may have seem shocking at the time when the film was made and later, released but it's the openness that is also an awakening of sorts. Through Gus Van Sant's stylish, low-budget direction, the film has a poetic quality led by the voice-over narration that is from Walt's perspective. While there's not much of a plot in the film, the looseness of the script as well as the misadventures Walt goes into with these two young men. Then there's Walt's perspective on romance and his longing for Johnny. Here is this man, wanting love from someone yet couldn't find fulfillment when Johnny isn't around so he turns to Pepper but that doesn't go well either. It's these themes of disappointments, unfulfilled love, and loneliness that would eventually be part of Van Sant's exploration in the years to come with his upcoming films.

The direction of Van Sant has a dream-like quality of sorts in its somewhat grainy, 16mm black-and-white footage along with a verite style where anything is about to happen. Also serving as the film's editor (that he would do in his recent films), the editing works to convey that loose style of direction though the pacing does lag a bit early on. Yet, when the film meanders a bit through Walt's musings, it does remain attentive into the hijinks and shenanigans that Walt and his friends go through. Van Sant's observant direction definitely carries the film as it works with a sense of style as well as its emphasis on realism.

Cinematographer John Campbell along with Eric Alan Edwards brings a lovely, haunting quality to the film's black-and-white photography. The look of the film may be inspired by European cinema but in its verite, hand-held work, gives it a loose feel and look that is truly amazing as its cinematography is one of the film's highlights. The sound by Pat Baum is excellent to convey that sense of rainy atmosphere of Portland along with the world of arcades, bars, and such as the sound is done naturally and such. The music of Creighton Lindsay is stylish for the film's various moods with a lot of mostly done in an acoustic, Mexican-ballad style with a bit of theremin in the background. The soundtrack is also filled with a variety of styles ranging from mariachi, ranchero, Mexican folk, classical, and alternative rock.

The cast that includes appearances from Matt Cooeyate as one of Johnny's friends from the train ride, Cristos Stoyos as a Greek singer, Don Chambers, Marty Christiansen, and Bad George Connor as a few bar friends. The film's novelist Walt Curtis also makes a cameo as bar patron while Eric Pedersen has a memorable role as a policeman who chases Johnny and Pepper. Sam Downey is good as a cantankerous hotel clerk as is Bob Pitchlynn as a drunken man whom Walt talks to. Nyla McCarthy is excellent as Walt's best friend Betty, though called Sarah in the film, as one of the few real friends of Walt who seems to accept his homosexuality. Ray Monge is excellent as the quiet Pepper who befriends Walt though at time, cheats him as he is later revealed to be something dangerous.

Doug Cooeyate is good as Johnny, the young Mexican who likes to drive fast and cause trouble yet is baffled by Walt’s attraction to him. Finally, there's Tim Streeter as Walt, the laid-back hopeless romantic who pines for Johnny. Yet, Streeter's performance is another highlight of the film as he brings a lot of life and humor to the character as it's a fantastic performance.

When the film was released in 1985, it was an underground hit though an attempt to get it into the 1986 Sundance Film Festival (then known as the U.S. Film Festival) was rejected. Yet, the film did get a release in 1987 as it brought a lot of attention to Van Sant who would eventually, become a revered auteur with such art-house hits as Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho to more mainstream films like To Die For and Good Will Hunting. By 2007, just as Van Sant's reputation as a director proved to be influential that was followed by his recent Death Trilogy of Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days. Mala Noche was rarely seen at the time since it was never available on video or DVD. Van Sant along with a few people including his current sound designer Leslie Shatz did a restoration of the film with a new high-definition transfer and remixed sound for the film to be premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. It was the screening that the time was right for the film to be seen by the public for the first time now on DVD.

The 2007 Region 1 Criterion DVD for Mala Noche features the film in its original, 1:33:1 aspect ration for the full-screen format with a remastered print and remixed sound. While the sound is in mono in Dolby Digital 1.0, it's to maintain the film in its original form as Van Sant supervised the restoration. Included in the Criterion DVD are a few special features. The first is a 25-minute interview from Gus Van Sant recorded in 2007 exclusively for the DVD.

Van Sant discusses his background as the son of a traveling salesman as well as his first film from the 1970s that he didn't he release that ended up being cut to 45 minutes. While working as a sound man in Portland, he discovered a book by Walt Curtis. He met Curtis and discovered the art scene in Portland that was a mix of its punk scene and poetry scene. Van Sant hoped to make a film on Curtis in his style while trying to find ideas on how to tell the story. His crew that included himself, cinematographer John Campbell and soundman Pat Baum since it was all shot in a small budget and a lot of visual style Van Sant admit came from David Lynch's Eraserhead, since that film was also low-budget. Walt Curtis was originally going to play himself but in the end, they decided to get Tim Streeter, a theater actor.

Van Sant then recalls getting the film at the 1987 Berlin Film Festival where his film got passed over in favor of Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Launderette as Van Sant wasn't surprised why it got picked. He also thought about the New Queer Cinema that was starting to come around at the time. He also discussed the spontaneous style of the film that he recently had been doing lately in his recent films that he admit, he got reinspired by the Dogme 95 films. He admits that in some ways, Mala Noche is a Dogme film since they didn't have a lot of money, they didn't use a lot of props and always shot on location.

The second big extra feature is a 63-minute documentary film by animator Bill Plympton entitled Walt Curtis: The Peckerneck Poet. The documentary is basically about the eccentric author as he talks about his love for men and his explicit, offbeat views on sex and such while reciting poems about ejaculation, Levis jeans, and such where at one moment, he gets stopped by the authority. With many scenes of Curtis talking about his background in the Northwest while reciting a poem with a fellow lover in a river. Driving around through towns in Oregon, he recites another poem about cars and sex. The documentary is fun to watch though at times, a bit boring. Plympton's documentary is a shot in a mix of video, 16mm, and all sorts of film as it's a strange documentary about this abrasive, wild, and sometimes, sexist poet.

Two minor special features arrive in the form of a storyboard gallery where Gus Van Sant shows many sketches of the scenes he's setting up and such as well as his idea of framing and compositions. The second minor feature is the film’s original trailer edited by Van Sant that plays to the film's melancholic tone. Accompanying the DVD is a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Dennis Lim of the Village Voice. Entitled Other Love, Lim discusses the film's seminal influence on the gay/lesbian film scene that would eventually become the New Queer Cinema of the early 90s that spawned such directors as Todd Haynes and Gregg Araki. Lim also goes into analysis on the film and its' story and it was considered groundbreaking for its openness in gay films at a time when AIDS was starting to get into the public consciousness. The overall work of the DVD is amazing and it's a must have for any fan of Gus Van Sant.

While not as accessible as arty masterpieces like Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho or his more accessible films like To Die For or Good Will Hunting, Mala Noche is still an interesting yet enchanting debut film from Gus Van Sant. Anyone looking for an idea of early gay cinema in the 1980s should check this film out while fans of Gus Van Sant will be happy to see that this film is out and would become a precursor to some of the films that he would follow. Though it's not perfect, Mala Noche is still an interesting yet lush portrayal of gay love and disappointments from the mind of its novelist Walt Curtis and director Gus Van Sant.


(C) thevoid99 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ratcatcher



Written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, Ratcatcher is the story of a boy living in 1973 Glasgow during a garbage strike as his life is changed by a horrifying event. The coming-of-age story follows a young boy dealing with his dreary environment as well as the guilt of his own actions as he tries to make sense of everything around him. Starring William Eadie, Tommy Flanagan, Mandy Matthews, Michelle Stewart, Lynne Ramsay Jr., and Leanne Mullen. Ratcatcher is a somber yet captivating drama from Lynne Ramsay.

After the death of a boy (Thomas McTaggart) at a canal nearby his apartment building, James Gillespie (William Eadie) is shocked over what happened as he feels responsible for the boy’s death. Surrounded by amounts of garbage around his home and his dad (Tommy Flanagan) often presented in a drunken stupor. James lives with his mother (Mandy Matthews), his older sister Ellen (Michelle Stewart) and the youngest in Anne Marie (Lynne Ramsay Jr.). With the boy’s parents (James Ramsay and Jackie Quinn) ravaged with grief, James deals with his guilt by hanging around Glasgow with friends including an animal-loving boy named Kenny (John Miller).

James later meets an older girl named Margaret Anne (Leanne Mullen) where the two become friends amidst the chaos of the garbage strike happening. With James wondering where Ellen goes on a bus, he goes on a bus ride to a town where he goes inside a new, empty house. With the family hoping to move out of the dreary environment, James wanders around as he spends more time with Margaret Anne where he’s becoming sexually intrigued. When the garbage strike starts to end and James nearly gets his family in trouble when some people visit. Feeling alone and his world changing along with the reminder of what he’s done, James ponders his own existence in the world that he lives in.

The film opens with a boy messing around with a curtain as he goes to play with his friend unknowingly that this wild sense of innocence in a dirty canal would kill him. For the other person that was playing with him, it would change his outlook towards life as he would try and ponder what to do as well as deal with the things around him. Throughout the film, this young 12-year old boy would explore the opposite sex along with the idea of a world outside of dreary Glasgow which would further impact his loss of innocence.

Lynne Ramsay’s script is very entrancing in the way she follows the life of a young boy as he wanders around throughout his life. The script doesn’t have a lot of dialogue though the dialogue does contain frank language and subject matters that would further the development of James Gillespie. While his father might seem like a mean drunk, he’s not a total bad guy though his relationship with James is a bit complicated. At the same time, James’ relationship with his sisters and mother are much warmer despite some words though the audience never really figures out what Ellen does when she goes out of town.

The rest of the story plays loose through scenes where there’s a bit of fantasy but also moments of wandering which allows James to ponder the world around him through silent curiosity. Even as he is watching everything around him from the way kids try to kill rats amidst the pile of garbage to the way he always look at the dirty canal where the death of his friend happens. All of this is creating a major on a boy’s life and his outlook towards the world. Ramsay’s script is truly mesmerizing for the way she let the action take charge and let things play just as it is.

Through her direction, Ramsay creates a film that is very compelling and stark in its imagery and tone. Yet, there are a couple of sequences where things either play up as a semblance of hope or as a fantasy scene. The latter of which involves Kenny’s little mouse that provides a wonderfully imaginative scene. Some of the scenes Ramsay creates such as the scenes in the corn fields has a lush, naturalistic quality that will remind audiences of the work of the legendary Terrence Malick. The Malickian influence is prevalent in the way Ramsay let things play naturally where boys are running around and things happen including in an intimate moment where James’ parents are dancing to Frank and Nancy’s Sinatra’s Somethin’ Stupid.

The direction also has Ramsay create shots in various styles including some tracking steadicam shots to follow James running in despair over the things happening to him in the third act. There is also some amazing hand-held and steady dolly shots to help the audience be transfixed by the dreary world that these people are living in. Throughout the film, all of the pile of trash and garbage is seen to help enhance that sense of despair. Once all of it is gone, there’s a feeling of emptiness that becomes very heartbreaking. It’s strange that in this pile of trash along with vermin, lice, and rats. There’s a certain beauty to it in all of that decay as it serves as another character throughout the film. These little touches to detail along with the big moments in film help create was is truly a hypnotic yet ethereal film all due to Lynne Ramsay’s magnificent direction.

Cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler does a superb job with the film‘s dreary yet gorgeous look to the film with its naturalistic look for many of the film‘s damp scenes. Kuchler also creates something very intimate for many of the film’s interior scenes to help maintain the stark mood of the film along with some underwater shots that is presented with a beauty as it’s among one of the film’s technical highlights. Editor Lucia Zucchetti does an amazing job with the editing in giving the film a mostly straightforward approach with elements of jump-cuts and slow-motion cuts. There’s also a few half-frame speed shots that adds a stylistic flair for the film.

Production designer Jane Morton and art director Robina Nicholson do excellent work with look of the film from the decayed apartments that are filled with garbage to the look of furniture and TV sets to maintain the look and feel of the 1970s. Costume designer Gill Horn does a good job with the costumes from the dresses and bellbottoms along with the suits to play up the look of the 70s and the dark tone of the film. Visual effects supervisor Steven Begg does a great job with the wonderful visual effects-driven fantasy sequence that involves the moon and mice playing around the moon as if it‘s the moon landing all over again. Sound recordist Richard Flynn does stellar work with the sound to capture the chaos of the surroundings including the intimacy in some of the quieter moments in the film.

The film’s music by Rachel Portman is definitely wonderful for its plaintive yet sparse score filled with harps and soft orchestral arrangements to see the melancholic mood of the film. The rest of the film’s soundtrack includes an array of music including Tom Jones, Eddie Cochran, the Chordettes, Frank & Nancy Sinatra, Nick Drake, and the famed Carl Orff piece Gassenhauer that was the theme from Malick’s 1973 film Badlands. The music in the soundtrack along with Portman’s score is another outstanding highlight of the film.

The casting by Gillian Berrie is phenomenal with its array of people who are either non-actors or unknowns from the likes of Craig Bonar and Andrew McKenna as a couple of older friends of James, Thomas McTaggart as the ill-fated Ryan, James Ramsay and Jackie Quinn as Ryan’s parents, and John Miller as the animal-obsessed Kenny. Michelle Stewart is very good as James’ older yet more outgoing sister Ellen while Lynne Ramsay Jr. is excellent as James’ livelier yet Tom Jones-loving younger sister Anne Marie. Leanne Mullen is radiant as Margaret Anne, a teenage girl whom Tommy befriends as she takes him in because he’s not like the other boys.

Tommy Flanagan and Mandy Matthews are great as James’ parents with Flanagan in the more aggressive though loving father who has a complex relationship with James. Matthews provides a much warmer performance as a woman who cares for James while being the glue in the family. Finally, there’s William Eadie in a powerful yet thrilling performance as James Gillespie. Eadie allows the camera to follow him as he is always observing everything around while clinging to some hope of being in a new home as he tries to deal with the idea that he possibly killed someone. Eadie is the highlight of the film as the innocent curiosity and very quiet performance is really the heart of the film.

The 2002 Region 1 DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a pristine, digital transfers with theatrical aspect ratio of 1:85:1 that is enhanced for 16x9 widescreen television along with stereo surround sound. The film also includes optional English subtitles for the film’s distinct Scottish accent. The DVD also includes numerous special features that also features the three award-winning short films Lynne Ramsay made before delving into feature film.

The first major special feature is a 22-minute video interview with Lynne Ramsay made specifically for the DVD. Ramsay talk about her experience in film school along with the short Small Deaths which she didn’t think would go to the Cannes Film Festival but ended up winning her a prize at the festival. For Ratcatcher, she was approached by producers about creating a treatment which she didn’t know what to do but what she did ended up working. Ramsay also talks about her approach to directing and to create spontaneity throughout the film as well as casting the children she needed. Ramsay also talks about the use of sound and music, the latter of which she wanted to use score music minimally instead of having it be on a scene to convey emotion like a lot of films. Ramsay also discusses about wanting to make the characters real and things feel natural as the overall video piece is superb.

The second special feature are the three short films of Lynne Ramsay. The first is 1995’s Small Deaths which revolves on three different girls named Anne Marie in three different vignettes. In each vignette, these girls would encounter events such as a father going off to work, sisters playing around at a cow field, and a young woman seeing something horrible. It’s a brilliant short that features a lot of Ramsay’s directorial style such as small moments and close-ups of objects and creatures which won her the Jury Prize short award at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.

The second short is 1996’s Kill the Day is the story of a lonely drug addict struggling to get clean after being jailed for thievery. While it’s a film that doesn’t feature a lot of dialogue with a much looser narrative. It is still compelling for its study of a man trying live day-by-day as he reflects on more innocent times as a child. The film again features more of Ramsay’s visual style that includes shots of nature and slow-motion edits as the short won her a Jury Prize at the 1997 Clermont-Ferrand International Film Festival.

The third and final short is Gasman, a fifteen-minute short about a girl and her brother going to a Christmas party with their father. On their way, they meet a woman and her two kids as they all attend the party when the young girl is shocked by what the other girl says. This short is truly mesmerizing as it has a home-movie feel to it along with a looseness and improvisational approach that is captivating along with the performance of Lynne Ramsay Jr. as the young girl. The short would win another Jury Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival as well as BAFTA Scotland award for Best Short.

Other small special features include the film’s theatrical trailer and a still gallery of photographs shot by the film’s second-unit director. Also included in the DVD set is a booklet that features an essay by Lizzie Francke. Francke’s essay discusses the film’s importance to British cinema as well as being among the great films about kids like Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. It’s a wonderful piece about a film that deserves to be seen to a wider audience.

Ratcatcher is a gorgeous yet harrowing film from Lynne Ramsay. Audiences that want films about great coming-of-age films about kids will see this as one of the definitive films of the last 20 years. Anyone new to Lynne Ramsay will definitely see this and her 2002 follow-up Morvern Callar as great places to start. Featuring amazing images, great use of music, and a phenomenal cast, it is a film that truly stands out for its realism and sense of imagination. In the end, Ratcatcher is a remarkable debut film from Lynne Ramsay.


© thevoid99 2011

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lawrence of Arabia


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/5/07 w/ Additional Edit  & Extensive Revisions.


Considered to be Britain's great director, David Lean was a director whose epic-scope and approach to storytelling made him unique among his peers. From early films like his adaptations of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations to epic-blockbusters like The Bridge on the River Kwai and Doctor Zhivago. Since his death in 1991, Lean has been named after the British Academy Award's Best Director Prize known as the David Lean Award for Best Director. He's also been regarded as an influence among other directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. In 1962, Lean released what was considered to be one of the films ever made. A near four-hour epic based the life of T.E. Lawrence in Arabia during World War I that was known to the world as Lawrence of Arabia.

The adapted screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson (uncredited due to the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s), Lawrence of Arabia tells the story of a man named Thomas Edward Lawrence. A British soldier who goes to Arabia during World War I to serve as a liaison between feuding tribes during the war against the Turkish army. Along the way, Lawrence struggles with his own identity as well as the actions of war. Directed by David Lean, the four-hour epic is considered among to be one of the greatest movies ever made that also included the legendary Peter O'Toole, in his feature-film debut, as the title character. Also starring Omar Sharif, Alec Guiness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, and Claude Rains. Lawrence of Arabia is a powerful epic from the late, great David Lean.

The first World War is happening as T.E. Lawrence is asked by General Murray (Donald Wolfit and Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains) to observe a conflict between Prince Feisel (Alec Guiness) and the Turks. The eccentric Lawrence takes the mission where he meets Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) who kills a Bedouin guide that was trying to trick Lawrence. Realizing that Feisel has retreated following an attack, Lawrence and Ali meet up with Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle) where Lawrence suggests an attack on the port of Agaba. With a group of 50 men including Daud (John Dimech), Gasim (I.S. Johar) and Farraj (Michel Ray), they trek to the treacherous Nefud Desert where they barely survive the journey.

While Lawrence's bravery wins over Sherif and his men, they meet a tribe chief named Auda abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn) whom Sherif has a dislike towards though Lawrence convinces Auda to join the war. After an incident over conflict between Sherif and Auda's men where Lawrence settles the matter, the two join forces to capture Agaba where Lawrence goes to Cairo with soldiers about the news. Though the journey through the Sinai desert proved to be horrifying and tragic, Lawrence talks to Dryden and General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) about what happened as Lawrence becomes a major as he takes part of a guerilla outfit with Sherif, Auda, and their men. Though the small missions proved to be successful with American reporter Jackson Bentley making Lawrence a hero, another mission goes wrong forcing Lawrence and Sherif to retreat.

During a recon scout at Daraa, Lawrence and Sherif are captured by Turkish soldiers led by Bey (Jose Ferrer) whose method of torture would nearly destroy Lawrence. Wanting out of the war, he is asked by superiors to launch an attack on Damascus with Sherif and Auda. Lawrence reluctantly takes the mission though Sherif realizes that Lawrence isn't the same man as the aftermath that included a council meeting leaves Lawrence more fragile than ever.

While the film is more of a fictional account of sorts on T.E. Lawrence's life, the story of this young man who made a difference to an entire group of people. Yet, a film with a near-running time of four hours (counting overtures, end music, and an intermission), it's one that grabs the attention of the viewers as it opens with a funeral scene that features a reporter (Jack Hedley) covering the event.

The screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson is wonderfully structured, particularly the development of some of the major characters. When we meet Lawrence, he is seen as this eccentric, insolence solider who doesn't have a lot of care for authority. When the film progresses, Lawrence becomes an unlikely leader through his unconventional ideas and manners towards war. When engaged in violence, it's a reaction in how he isn't sure. Yet, when an incident involving Bey happens, he becomes traumatized and descends into madness.

Another character that has a great development is Sherif Ali. We first meet as a man who just killed Lawrence's guide. Once he meets Lawrence again, there's tension between the two as well as cultural differences. When Lawrence becomes this unlikely leader, Sherif Ali becomes interested in politics and as towards the end of the film. He is pretty much a moral conscience of sorts while having to see the danger in politics as he deal with other Arab tribes. It's the script by Bolt and Wilson that really bring these characters to life. Not as one-dimensional caricatures but men who are dealing with these new changes and such as they add a broad dynamic to the film.

Then there's the wonderful direction of David Lean. Lean's approach to the film is unique by opening the film with Lawrence's death and funeral. Then, he just goes to a straight cut of Lawrence during the first World War. Lean doesn't waste time by just going into some straight flashback or something. Instead, he just used the intro to spoil the audience a bit as well as who this man is to other people. When the film really begins with Lawrence in Cairo, the scene is to show the enclosed world Lawrence is in. When he's in the desert and Arabia, it's an entirely different world that Lawrence is trying to discover. When he makes unconventional ideas about capturing Aqaba, particularly through the Nefud Desert, his will wins over his men as he becomes an honorary Arab by wearing their clothing.

Lean's direction definitely observes the difference of Arabia and British imperialism in which the latter is discussed throughout the film. The Daraa sequence is one of the most haunting scenes where it seems Lean is suggesting of what happens to Lawrence based on legend. Lean doesn't actually show but if he did at the time of 1962, it would've been extremely controversial and taboo. Still, through his epic-scope and in Super Panavision 70mm film, Lean knows how to capture his audience through images. With many exterior settings, the film couldn't be seen in a full-screen format. In the widescreen, even in a theater, the epic-scope of the film is just jaw-dropping. The compositions of those scenes plus the battle sequences are wonderfully staged. It's the kind of filmmaking that isn't seen in today's world of computer imagery and fast-cut edits. Lean takes his times in watching the action and emotions unfold. It's in Lean's amazing direction where the film really shines.

Cinematographer Freddie Young does some amazing camera work, particularly in the film’s exterior scenes. Young's cinematography, especially in 70mm film, is just extraordinary to how he shoots long shots of the desert, camels, and horses riding onto that hot desert. The look of Arabian desert is just awe-inspiring through Young's camera where on full-screen, it would lose it's imagination. The interior scenes are more intimate to convey the differing atmospheres that Lawrence is in. Young's cinematography is just exquisite in every scene shown.

Production designer John Box and art directors John Stoll and Anthony Masters created some wonderful interior sets including the lavish tents of Auda and Prince Feisel while creating more straightforward sets in the scenes in Cairo. Costume designer Phyllis Dalton creates some wonderful costumes from the straight-laced officers uniforms to the more lavish clothing of Arabians decked out in different colors and such.

Editor Anne V. Coates does some amazing work on the film's editing. With a pacing that isn't too slow or too fast, not even relying on style. Coates' editing is wonderful on the way it captures the intensity of the film's action as well as the shifting of sequence to sequence, notably the intro. Sound editor Winston Ryder does some great work on the film's sound from capturing the winds in the Sinai Desert sequence to the sounds of guns, bombs, and horses in some of the battle sequences.

Music composer Maurice Jarre creates what is considered to be one of cinema's finest and most memorable film scores. The orchestral music of Jarre is truly sprawling and epic with its sweeping melodies and Arabian tone. The drums are in display for the film's intense, action scenes while the film's title theme just captures the beauty of Arabia. It's a magnificent film score by Jarre and truly one of the best.

The film's cast is amazing, and most notably for the fact that there's no large or supporting female parts in the film. Smaller performances from the likes of I.S. Johar, Michel Ray, John Dimech, Henry Oscar as Feisel's servant, Norman Rossington as Corporal Jenkins who is seen in an early scene, and Donald Wolfit as General Murray. In a small role, Jose Ferrer gives an excellent performance as Bey, a man who doesn't have much dialogue but brings a very terrifying presence to the scene itself.

Arthur Kennedy is great as photojournalist Jackson Bentley who captures all of Lawrence's exploits as by the near end of the film, he isn't sure what to think or how to portray in that current state. Claude Rains is wonderful as Mr. Dryden, an advisor who is trying to figure what the French would gain from the Arab alliance. Anthony Quayle is good as Colonel Brighton, Lawrence's superior in the deserts who finds himself being upstaged by the insolent protagonist.

Jack Hawkins is great as General Allenby, a more sympathetic yet cynical general who enjoys Lawrence's exploits while pushing him back to get into war again despite his own political motives. The late yet legendary Alec Guiness (aka Obi-Wan Kenobi) is wonderfully charming and philosophical as Prince Feisel. Guiness, sporting makeup and such manages to steal every scene he's in as the wise Prince Feisel. The late Anthony Quinn is magnificent as Auda abu Tayi in an over-the-top manner in which, it seems that Quinn is having a lot of fun in his character. Quinn really sells the character's struggles of change while sticking to his old tradition as he becomes aware that he's an old horse in a changing world.

The film's best supporting performance goes to Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali. In his international breakthrough performance, Sharif manages to bring depth as Feisel's lieutenant who questions Lawrence's own motives while later becoming a moral conscience as he sees Lawrence's descent into madness. Sharif is just amazing while being a wonderful presence in every scene he's in, especially with O'Toole.

In his feature film debut performance and what a debut, Peter O'Toole truly gives an iconic performance as T.E. Lawrence. O'Toole truly captures the eccentric, unconventional personality that is Lawrence with a witty charm, compassion, and loyalness to everyone including his servants and fellow soldiers. When the film progresses, he is seen as a leader who doesn't take himself to seriously but when he encounters troubles and becomes traumatized. O'Toole sells the despair and madness of Lawrence and how he tries to deal with everything around him. A performance that has to be seen, it is indeed one of the greatest ever captured in cinema.

When it was released in late 1962, the film was a huge critical and financial success winning seven out of ten Academy Awards that year including for Best Picture and Best Director for David Lean. O'Toole was nominated for Best Actor but lost to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird though over the years, it is considered to be one of the greatest performances ever. In 2007, 45 years after its release, the film was ranked seventh in the AFI 100 Greatest Films ever made. Its influence has also captured the likes of many directors including Steven Spielberg who called it his favorite film ever made.

In the end, Lawrence of Arabia is a triumph in not just international cinema but the history of films itself. Thanks to David Lean's great vision and an amazing cast led by Peter O'Toole, it's a film that has to be in everyone's film collection. No doubt is this film considered one of the greatest while those new to both Lean and O'Toole or even Omar Sharif. There is no doubt this is a great way to start. In the end, for an experience that is unparalleled with some of today's films. Lawrence of Arabia is the film to see.

David Lean Films: (In Which We Serve) - (This Happy Breed) - (Blithe Split) - Brief Encounter - (Great Expectations (1946 film)) - (Oliver Twist (1948 film)) - (The Passionate Friends) - (Madeleine) - (The Sound Barrier) - (Hobson's Choice) - (Summertime) - (The Bride on the River Kwai) - Doctor Zhivago - (Ryan's Daughter) - (Lost and Found: The Story of Cook's Anchor) - (A Passage to India)

(C) thevoid99 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Solo Con tu Pareja (Expanded Criterion DVD Review)


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/16/07 w/ Extensive Revisions & Additional Edits.


Before creating masterpieces like Y Tu Mama Tambien and last year's Children of Men along with being part of the Three Amigos gang that included fellow Mexican directors Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro. Alfonso Cuaron, like many Mexican directors before and since, started out working in TV including soap operas while serving as an assistant director for films all over Latin America. Then in 1991, Cuaron would make his very first feature about a playboy who catches the AIDS virus just as he has fallen for a beautiful flight attendant. The film was called Solo con tu Pareja (A Tale of Love & Hysteria).

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron with a script written by his brother Carlos based on their original story, the film is about a yuppie playboy whose life changes by a health report claiming he's got AIDS. The news couldn't have come at a worst time as he was about to give up his lifestyle when he falls for a flight attendant living in his apartment building. With a cast that includes Daniel Giminez Cacho, Claudia Ramirez, Astrid Hadad, and Dobrina Liubomirova. Solo con tu Pareja is a funny, smart, sexy comedy from Alfonso Cuaron and company.

Tomas Tomas (Daniel Giminez Cacho) is an advertising agent that considers himself to be a modern-day Don Juan. From the many women he sleeps with including his boss Gloria (Isabel Benet), he seems to have it all. During a doctor's appointment where his doctor is his friend/neighbor Mateo (Luis de Icaza), he meets the nurse Sylvia (Dobrian Liubromirova) whom he flirts with. When Mateo and is wife Teresa (Astrid Hadad) go out of town, he borrows Mateo's apartment for two dates where in between the ledges. He catches a glimpse of a beautiful young flight attendant named Clarissa (Claudia Ramirez) who changes his life.

The presence of Clarissa brings trouble to Tomas' womanizing ways as Sylvia is upset that he has more than one lover. Even worse is that Tomas learns that Clarissa is engaged to a pilot named Carlos (Ricard Dalmacci) as his usual routines such as running down the stairs naked to get the newspaper goes wrong. After telling Mateo about Clarissa, Mateo asks him to take a couple of Japanese tourists (Toshiro Hisaki and Carlos Nakasone) around the city. The next morning, Tomas learns from a lover (Claudia Fernandez) about a health report claiming he's got AIDS. Devastated, he tries to reach Mateo, who is at a conference with his wife and co-workers, only to become suicidal.

During his suicide attempt, Clarissa finds Tomas in his apartment where she is troubled by some awful news of her own. With the two deciding to go kill themselves at the Latin American tower, Mateo receives Tomas' message while learning what really happened as he and his entourage try to save them.

Given the circumstances that AIDS had become a very serious issue during the early 1990s, the fact that the film is an AIDS comedy is pretty radical in its subject matter. Particularly to people who might feel sensitive about the issue at a time when AIDS couldn't be funny. To Alfonso Cuaron and his younger brother Carlos, the film isn't about AIDS but rather about a man whose own lifestyle gets the best of him. Even as he starts to question it himself after falling for a flight attendant in the middle of his own philandering. The film's plot is simple yet told in a very funny way with the humor being spot-on through the misadventures of Tomas' life. Even some of the dialogue and events that drive the plot is well-written by the Cuaron brothers.

Then there's Alfonso Cuaron's direction which is just as enigmatic and stylized that would define his work in the years to come. The film, like his 2001 masterpiece Y Tu Mama Tambien opens with a couple having sex to illustrate the story. Unlike that film, Solo con tu Pareja's approach to sex isn't as explicit where it's done with great humor. Even the scenes of Tomas running down the stairs and back up to get the paper is one of the most memorable moments. Then there's the scenes involving suicide where it's also done in great humor like in Hal Ashby's classic film Harold & Maude (whose Mexican film poster makes a cameo in Y Tu Mama Tambien). Yet, Cuaron's direction with its stylish camera work, scene compositions, and shots of Mexico City is breathtaking. While it's not perfect, it shows of what was to come from this great director.

Helping Cuaron in his imagery is a longtime collaborator Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki. Serving as a cinematographer for every film Cuaron did (minus Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban), Lubezki's colorful imagery in the film's interior scenes are breathtaking with its use of green colors and lights to complement the look of both Tomas' spacious apartment and the naturalistic tone of Mateo's apartment. Lubezki's cinematography along with additional camera work by another fellow Mexican cinematographer in Rodrigo Prieto (serving as a second-unit director & second-unit photography) is just amazing including a lot of the exterior settings for Mexico City including the aerial shots.

Production designer Brigitte Broch (the longtime production designer for fellow Mexican auteur, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) helps create the film's unique imagery with the greenish-look of the apartment building that Tomas lives while the home of Mateo is filled with plants, a fish tank, and everything that looks earthy. Costume designer Maria Estela Fernandez does some excellent work in the film's costume weather it's the designer-dress that Sylvia wore on her date to the flight-attendant uniform that Clarissa wears. Alfonso Cuaron and editor Luis Patlan do some excellent work in the film's editing whether it was doing some slow-motion cuts to convey an emotion or jump-cuts in some of the film's car sequences. Sound editor Rene Ruiz Ceron does some excellent work in recreating the sound of airplanes to convey the atmosphere that Tomas is being drawn to in relation to Clarissa.

The film's soundtrack featuring an original score by Carlos Warman with some traditional, Mexican-folk music is often filled with mariachi songs and most of all, classical music. The classical cuts featuring the works of Mozart and Francois Couperin are excellent to convey the dream-like feel of the film as well as a theme for the presence of Clarissa to Tomas. The classical stuff played on the film is memorable and enchanting.

The film's cast features some notable small performances from Luz Maria Jerez & Claudia Fernandez as two of Tomas' lovers, Ricardo Dalmacci as Clarissa's boyfriend Carlos, and the duo of Toshiro Hisaki & Carlos Nakasone as the Japanese tourists. Isabel Benet is good as Tomas' boss Gloria as is Dobrina Liubomirova as the sexy Sylvia who are both disappointed with his love-making skills after hearing so much about him. Astrid Hadad is excellent as Mateo's wife Teresa, who was the first person who suggest Tomas to take an interest in Clarissa before he even met her. Luis de Icaza is also excellent as Mateo, the doctor who tries to warn Tomas about his philandering and the trouble it would lead him.

Claudia Ramirez makes a wonderful impression as Clarissa. Ramirez's sensual innocence is really intoxicating as she brings a beauty to the film as a woman who has it all until an event that shakes her innocence completely. Ramirez definitely sells her despair as she and Cacho have great chemistry. Daniel Giminez Cacho is brilliant in his role as the philandering Tomas. Cacho is great in the way he does comedy and drama by being this very flawed individual with a very dangerous lifestyle. When he starts to make a change, his character becomes sympathetic but also performed in a funny way that he's a character that's enjoyable. Cacho, who is famous for his work in Pedro Almodovar's La Mala Educacion and being the narrator in Y Tu Mama Tambien, gives a phenomenal performance.

***Additional DVD Content Written from 7/25/11-7/27/11***

The 2006 Region 1 DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film in its original 1:78:1 theatrical aspect ratio for its widescreen format and improved subtitles for the film. The film is also restored and remastered in a new digital transfer under the supervision of the film’s cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki with approval by its director Alfonso Cuaron. The look of the film is truly more gorgeous than it has ever been along with a remixed sound for its DVD release.

Among the special features presented for this DVD includes a 30-minute making-of documentary featuring new interviews with Alfonso Cuaron, screenwriter Carlos Cuaron, and actor Daniel Giminez Cacho. The featurette has the Cuaron brothers talking about their own childhood, a brief history of Mexican cinema and the show Hora Marcada where they also worked with future cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and fellow filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. The brothers also talked about the inspiration for Solo con tu Pareja that was due to a lot of things happening Mexico as well as the macho attitude towards AIDS at the time. They were also inspired by the films of Ernst Lubitsch and Blake Edwards that helped them make the film into a comedy of sorts.

Daniel Giminez Cacho talks about being cast as he knew that Cuaron was going against the traditional idea of casting by just simply getting unknowns including theater actors, singers, or TV actors. Particularly as it was to give the film a realistic feel while Cacho got help in doing comedy from his co-star Luis De Icaza. For the look of the film, Alfonso wanted a heightened look to add a style to the film that was helped by Lubezki as they wanted Mexico City to be a character of its own. For the impact on the film’s release, it wasn’t an initial success as the critical reaction at the time wasn’t very good. Yet, it attracted an audience that was looking for something new. The overall documentary is an excellent piece about the film and its importance as part of New Mexican Cinema of the 1990s and 2000s.

Another big special feature for the DVD are two short films from the Cuaron brothers. The first is Alfonso Cuaron’s 1983 24-minute student short film Cuarteto Para el Fin del Tiempo (Quartet for the End of Time) is a black-and-white film about a lonely man dealing with his own isolation as he rarely goes outside and his only friends are a little turtle and a goldfish. It’s a pretty good short that doesn’t have much plot and story as the look of it is quite grainy. Yet, it would have ideas including long tracking shots that would be a part of Cuaron’s filmmaking style.

The second short is Carlos Cuaron’s 2000 five-minute short Noche de Bodas (Wedding Night) where the short includes a text piece about Cuaron’s inspiration for the short inspired by an actual incident. The short is about a wedded couple’s wedding night that starts out great until an interruption. It’s a very funny short about a wedding night with a bit of a twist and lots of humor that stars Vanessa Bauche of Amores Perros fame. The last special feature in the DVD is the film’s theatrical trailer presented in a rough look as it’s marketed as a comedy.

The DVD also comes with a booklet featuring an essay and a fictional biography about the film’s protagonist. The essay entitled Sex, Lies, & Mariachis by Ryan F. Long discusses the film and its importance to the history of Mexican cinema. Particularly when there was a group of new filmmakers including Alfonso Cuaron that wanted to create movies that was about Mexico as it is instead of the stereotype and stock characters portrayed in the state-funded Mexican films of the 1980s. Long also talks about the film and how it took a horrifying subject matter like AIDS and made it funny which was ahead of its time. Particularly as it was used for a character’s sense of despair as Long’s essay is truly a fun read about the film and why it is a pillar for the movement that is New Mexican Cinema.

The second piece of text in the booklet is a fictional biography by Carlos Cuaron about Tomas Tomas that Cuaron wrote for Daniel Giminez Camacho to get in touch with his character. The bio talks about Tomas’ life where he seems to have a way with women since he was young while being very attached towards his mother. Notably as he and his mother rooted for the Red Sharks of Veracruz while his older sister and father were fans of Club America. Tomas became his own man as his fascination with women grew during his teen years leading him to become the lothario despite some bumps as a teen. The piece is a very funny yet compelling piece from Cuaron as he also writes other fictional bios for other characters at the film’s Criterion webpage. The overall DVD is a must have for fans of the film and of the work of Alfonso Cuaron.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

While it's nowhere near as great as masterpieces like Y Tu Mama Tambien or Children of Men, along with other films like A Little Princess and Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban. Solo con tu Pareja is still an enchanting, funny debut film from Alfonso Cuaron and company. Fans of Cuaron's no doubt, will find this film as a nice starting point into his visual language and such. Even in where his later films, fans would see where he would get a few of his ideas from his first feature. In the end, Solo con tu Pareja is an excellent debut feature from Alfonso Cuaron.


(C) thevoid99 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Prairie Home Companion


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/19/06 w/ Additional Edits.


Throughout his entire career, Robert Altman has made films that always explored different worlds and genres. Masterpieces like M.A.S.H., McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts, and Gosford Park along with favorites like Images, The Long Goodbye, California Split, 3 Women, Brewster McCloud, Cookie's Fortune, Vincent & Theo, and The Company. All of these films revealed Altman's talent for telling little stories with many people as they all come together to explore something. Ever since starting in the 1960s, Altman has become a major influence in American cinema as he has inspired many directors to handle huge, ensemble stories. In 2006, in his 80s, Altman received a Lifetime Honorary Academy Award for all of his work. That same year, he released what would be his final film in A Prairie Home Companion.

Based on the same radio program created by playwright Garrison Keiller, the film version of A Prairie Home Companion tells the story of the radio program broadcasting its final show in its native Minnesota. Directed and produced by Altman with Keiller writing the script, the film reveals the end of an era as Altman explores the world of radio and performance. With an all-star cast that includes Altman regular Lily Tomlin plus Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Virginia Madsen, Maya Rudolph, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Lindsay Lohan, and Keiller as himself. A Prairie Home Companion is a true testament to the talents of Robert Altman.

After the owners of the Soderbergh family deciding to sell the famed Fitzgerald Theater, which broadcasts the radio program called A Prairie Home Companion, it's a hard day for everyone. For an ex-detective turned security supervisor named Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), he's spooked by the haunting presence of death as the radio program is to play its final show. For leader Garrison Keiller, he decides to give the show a good send off as the stage manager Al (Tim Russell) and makeup lady Donna (Sue Scott) are saddened that they'll never see all of the musicians and people who will be there. To join the final broadcast is a country legend named Chuck Akers (L.Q. Jones), the Johnson Sisters, and the country team of Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly). Joining her mother Yolanda (Meryl Streep) is a young poet named Lola (Lindsay Lohan) who helps her mother and aunt Rhonda (Lily Tomlin) while writing poems about suicide.

The show is played featuring many of the regulars of the radio program including a voiceman (Tom Keith), the duo of Robin & Linda Williams, Jearlyn Steele, and Keiller who sings and opens the program while doing little commercials in between. While he performs and does his program, Yolanda and Rhonda reminisce about the days when they did the radio program with the rest of their late sisters which they still grieve about. Dusty and Lefty rehearse their own comedy routines for the program while Guy Noir is intrigued by a mysterious woman (Virginia Madsen) who turns out to be an angel watching the show in its final broadcast. The Johnson Sisters perform as do the duo of Dusty and Lefty while something happens to one of their performers as seen by the makeup lady and the lunchlady (Marylouise Burke).

The specter of death is nearing on its program as Guy asks the pregnant stagehand Molly (Maya Rudolph) to be on the lookout as things only overwhelm all of the performers. Garrison doesn't know what to do while dealing with his own issues with Yolanda over a brief fling they had many years ago as he talks with Lola about her late father and the angel about a joke. Things get worse when the new owner (Tommy Lee Jones) arrive to get ready to destroy the Fitzgerald Theater for a parking lot as he watches the final performance. Guy wants Molly to call in the angel as he tries to understand the owner's intentions for his new parking lot. With the show closing down, Al wants Dusty and Lefty to clean their act for the show which ends up becoming a disaster. Lola decides to help out by performing where the show leads to a final send-off while Garrison doesn't want to admit its over as the end come nears for A Prairie Home Companion.

Stories about the end of an era or an end of something is often told in a very sad way but for Robert Altman, who too might be on his way out. The end is not really the end at all. Even for a 30-year old radio program that people love to listen and laugh with is filled with a lot of spirit and joy. With a script Keiller wrote based on a screen story he did with Ken LaZebnik, Altman manages to capture the spirit of the radio program by doing the film exactly on the Fitzgerald Theater right smack down in the middle of St. Paul, Minnesota. Even the script that Keiller wrote shows the atmosphere of theater and music as things don't go the way they plan while everything is a disaster and people become unsure of what to do. Still, it's the right script that brings the antidote to the style of Robert Altman.

Altman uses his mastery of multiple storylines and overlapping dialogue to convey this story of a final performance by letting many characters know what they're feeling and their own anxieties. Even the specter of death is felt throughout the entire film as an angel is coming by while the new owner comes in to represent the changing times. Though Altman isn't making some kind of political statement into the world of corporations, he's really talking more about what a radio program means to the people who listens to them or be part of the program. Altman is able to make the audience aware of what's going on while keeping up with the storylines as he goes for long shots in certain sequences while cutting to another part of the story in the film. He also captures the tension, sadness, and joy that is part of the radio program as Robert Altman, with a little help from stand-in director Paul Thomas Anderson, shows his mastery in the art of creating a world right in front of his eyes.

Helping Altman with his unique, intimate vision is cinematographer Edward Lachman whose lighting technique harkens the days of old cinema of the 1950s and 60s in the film's exterior sequences and scenes in the diner across from the theater. The film's interiors filled with blue coloring and huge, white background lights for some of the staging reveals the grand presentation of the radio station along with some wonderful, yellowish lighting for some of the film's interior scenes. Lachman's dreamy, intimate presentation is a real highlight for the film. Production designer Dina Goldman and set decorator Tora Peterson also captures the atmosphere of the stage by re-creating little background sets and placing props to give the sense of intimacy of the story. The look of the film in its production and photography shows the true authenticity of the stage. Costume designer Catherine Marie Thomas also does wonderful work for the film's costumes whether it's the more extravagant clothing of the Johnson sisters, the cowboy suits of the Dusty & Lefty, to the noir clothing that the Dangerous Woman and Guy Noir wears.

Editor Jacob Craycroft does great work in giving Altman's unique presentation a nicely paced, leisurely style while giving perspective on the multiple stories while cutting when a story is done to a performance on stage. Craycroft's editing is truly masterful for its presentation on all the stories and tension as it rings true to Altman's work. Sound mixer Drew Kunin and sound editor Eliza Paley also does great work on the sound where the whole films sounds like it's done exactly in a theater. The sound of the film help captures the atmosphere as well as the music that is playing in the background on some scenes while the music comes out fully.

Finally, there's the music of the film which is the heart of the movie and the radio program. With a group of musicians who all played on the radio program including Robin and Linda Williams, Jearlyn Steele, and Keiller himself, all the actors do perform and sing the songs that in that film. In many ways, the music is true to the program's spirit as it leans more towards traditional country music, jingles, and traditional pop. Many of the film’s song performances are wonderful while several of them indeed standout with some altered lyrics done by Keiller. Songs like Lindsay Lohan's Frankie & Johnny, the Bad Jokes song by Dusty & Lefty, and a wonderful country ballad by the Johnson Sisters are amazing to hear. Even the final song in the film, Red River Valley brings a wealth of emotions whether its sadness and joy, it captures the spirit of the radio program as it becomes one of the best film soundtracks of the year.

The film's cast which includes such regulars of the radio program like Robin & Linda Williams, Jearlyn Steele, Tom Keith, bandleader Richard A. Dworsky, and Prudence Johnson are all wonderful, notably Tom Keith whose sound effects are hilarious. Smaller performances like Marylouise Burke as the Lunch Lady, Sue Scott as makeup lady Donna, Tim Russell as Al, and L.Q. Jones as Chuck are all notable in their roles as they bring the sadness of the fading radio show while L.Q. Jones gives a great performance of a country song on the stage. Lindsay Lohan gives a wonderful performance as a jaded youth who learns about what joy the radio program brings a she manages to give a great rendition of Frankie & Johnny as Lohan proves to be a very good actress despite her other film choices. Maya Rudolph is very funny as the pregnant Molly who is trying to keep things organized while dealing with Guy Noir's paranoid suspicion.

Tommy Lee Jones is also excellent as the cynical Axeman who feels that times are changing and acts very still while watching its final broadcast while not being aware of what the radio program means to people. Jones does a very good job in representing someone who thinks he can take away things only to realize that its spirit will never be gone. Kevin Kline gives one of his funniest performances as Guy Noir which shows Kline's mastery in physical and reactionary comedy. Kline manages to bring a nice, noir-like approach to dialogue in some scenes while his comedic scenes are pure gold which owes more to the style of Charlie Chaplin. Virginia Madsen is also amazing as the angelic Dangerous Woman who brings a chilling presence as she reminisces her joy of the program and what led to her own death as Madsen brings an old-school, entrancing quality reminiscent of 1940s acting. Garrison Keiller is also great for playing himself as he often reveals his own brand of comedy while bringing charm to his real self that is often enjoyable about Keiller.

Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly are truly the funniest duo of film as Dusty & Lefty with their not-so-intelligent personalities and off-putting comments. Their performances truly brings the right kind of humor that aren't for everyone, notably the Bad Jokes song which features some really funny bad jokes. Harrelson is wonderful for his own charming personality while the often great character actor Reilly is great for his own comedic timing, including the time to fart as the guy should be in every movie. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are amazing in their role as Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson. With Streep doing the more showy role and Tomlin as the more comedic performance, both women do great work in their own individual roles as Streep does a great Midwestern accent as Tomlin says some funny things in the film. When they perform on stage, both women are surprising in their own performances as a ballad they sing shows the range of their voices as its proof that these two ladies can sing.

While the film isn't anywhere as movies like Nashville or Short Cuts, A Prairie Home Companion is still an amazing, exuberant masterpiece from the great Robert Altman. Thanks to a great cast, a great crew, great music, and the work of Garrison Keiller, A Prairie Home Companion does belong in the list of films that Altman has made that people can enjoy. While the film may not bring more people into the radio show, at least he makes them aware of what kind of program the show is. For this, Altman succeeds in capturing the spirit of what is A Prairie Home Companion as he bows out with style. If anyone is a fan or new to his work, A Prairie Home Companion is a true testament to the spirit and talents of Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - (Countdown) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - (The Long Goodbye) - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple) - (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. & Stiggs) - (Fool for Love) - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner '88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-A-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie's Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - Gosford Park - The Company - (Tanner on Tanner)

(C) thevoid99 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Blog News 7/25/11 & Blogging Around


With my essay for Ghost World now out and completed. It seems like I have another idea that I will try too every once in a while. It's amazing that over a year ago, I left Epinions.com under awful circumstances amidst my own personal issues as I decided to go blogging. Now, I feel more confident and more relaxed as a writer. I don't have to rush anything or deal with competitors. Worry about if this review is good enough or whatever. There was a lot of pressure to get people to read these reviews and be rated at the site. Unfortunately, having seen what it's become, I'm glad I've left as I'm deleting old reviews that I'm not satisfied with while taking other old reviews and moving them to here and my other blog at The Void-Go-Round.

At The Void-Go-Round, I've been writing a lot of reviews of albums by the Cure as it's gotten easier now for me write them again. I'm taking it a bit slow but it's been very helpful for me to do something different from the world of films. I'm going to take a break from doing albums from the Cure by re-posting and re-editing some old reviews of albums by some shoegaze bands like Slowdive, Ride, and Chapterhouse along with other acts. This can give me a bit of break so I can work on other projects. After I finish the Cure, I'll do reviews of acts like Suede, Talk Talk, Blur, and many others that interest me at the moment while I'm still working my 1991-20 project.

Among my other projects along with my own screenplay, that isn't going well since I'm stuck at the moment, are my Auteurs essays. I'm getting ready to post my reviews of films by Gus Van Sant in preparation for the fourth part of my Auteurs series. I've been going back and forth about who should I do next as I wanted to do either David Fincher and Whit Stilman. The problem is that with Fincher, there's a lot of work in his music video career that I wanted to explore and that was going to take a lot of time as I'm going to work on Fincher much later. With Stilman, I was set to start writing and watch Metropolitan. Then, I lose the Sundance Channel from my satellite package where it would require extra money to pay to see that channel. Since I don't have the money to obtain his films on DVD right now because I want to do more than watch the film. I'm going hold off on that for now.

Alexander Payne is the one filmmaker that is now inching to be the fifth subject of my Auteurs series as I hope to profile him around the time his new film The Descendants is out. He's a filmmaker I'm pretty familiar with as I've seen all of his feature films along with a short. Lynne Ramsay is another potential subject I want to do now that I've obtained the Criterion DVD to Ratcatcher as her new film We Need to Talk about Kevin is coming this fall. Those are what is set for the 2011 as I've already decided on who should I do for 2012. I plan to profile Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, and Quentin Tarantino as they're going to have new releases in 2012. That's what is ahead as I'm trying to catch up on the myriad of films I've DVRed for the past few months along with some DVD purchases.

In the world of the blogosphere, there is a lot happening that people should check out.

James @ Cinema Sights has a great piece about rating films which he doesn't do nor do I. A lot of what he says is true as my own feelings about a film tends to change sometimes and rating them often confuses me.

Bill @ Bill's Movie Emporium reveals his pick of his favorite films from his Western Marathon.

Sasha & Final Girl Project takes a look at one of my favorite films growing up in the 1980s in Just One of the Guys.

Marshall @ Marshall & the Movies has a great review of a movie that I love and I'm sure a lot of people love in Galaxy Quest.

Dan @ Dan the Man's Movie Review has a exciting review of Black Dynamite that is fun to read.

Alex @ Film Forager has a great review of what is one of my favorites movie ever in La Dolce Vita.

Jake @ Not Just Movies has been exploring the films of Brian de Palma as one of the highlights of his de Palma marathon is one of my favorite films of de Palma in Carlito's Way

Andy @ Andy Buckle's Film Emporium has a review of The Double Life of Veronique that is just amazing. If anyone doesn't think Irene Jacob is gorgeous, I will fight you.

Finally, there's a new blog I'm following at Cinematic Paradox as Stevee has a fantastic review of my all-time favorite film Lost in Translation.

Well, that's it for now. No more Zack Ryder posts as I don't want to freak anyone out for those who aren't pro wrestling fans nor know anything about pro wrestling. Besides as cool as Ryder is (in a cheesy way), he's not as cool as CM Punk who is truly the hottest wrestler right now. He is the best on the mic, he can cut a promo like no one right now, he's got all the movies, and a whole lot of attitude. Plus, no one can own anyone or anything better than him. So to the city of Chicago, thank you for making Money in the Bank one of the best WWE pay-per-views in years.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Informant!



Based on The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald, The Informant! is about a corporate whistle blower who uncovers price fixing at his lysine company in Decatur, Illinois. Directed by Steven Soderbergh with an adapted script by Scott Z. Burns, the film is a comedy crime film where the whistle blower also helps the FBI and tries to be part of the gang. Starring Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, and Tom Papa. The Informant! is a witty, stylish character study from Steven Soderbergh.

It’s 1992 as Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is an executive working for Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) where he’s a rising star. Yet, when he notices some problems over price fixing on lysine where the FBI is becoming suspicious. Under the orders of his supervisors, Whitacre talks to FBI agent Brian Shepard everything only later to tell him the truth about what is happening. With his wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) urging to get in contact with FBI, Mark agrees to become their informant as Shepard and Robert Herndon (Joel McHale) follow the meetings Whitacre has lined up all over the world.

While Shepard and Herndon manages to get tapes and information about these price-fixing meetings, Whitacre believes that he’ll get something out of it though it becomes difficult to maintain his role as an executive and informant. When ADM and its supervisor Mick Andreas (Tom Papa) realizes that something is up as they’re being targeted. Something goes wrong when Whitacre starts to do things that threatens the integrity of the investigation. Notably as he has told a few people such as his secretary (Rusty Schwimmer) and a couple of co-workers about an upcoming raid. Things get worse after a meeting with attorneys for ADM, Whitacre reveals some things he might have done that could incriminate him.

Turning to his attorney James Epstein (Tony Hale) when dealing with the FBI and government, Whitacre starts to unravel from the things he said alienating Shepard and Herndon. With the focus shifting towards Whitacre, Whitacre’s erratic behavior has truths unveiled about the information he provided along with Whitacre’s troubled state of mind.

In this true story about ADM price-fixing scandal that targeted the supervisors to the whistle blower in Mark Whitacre. The film is a study of a man who has everything going for him only to become a pawn of the FBI thinking he will get a big pay-day and take over the company. Instead, he does things during his job as an informant where he did what he had to do to survive and maintain a lifestyle. The outcome is that Mark Whitacre becomes is own worst enemy and an even bigger liability to the people he’s supposed to be helping.

Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns creates a film that spans for nearly 15 years from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s though the bulk of the story is set in the 1990s. While a lot of the dialogue relating to corporate price-fixing and other business-type of dialogue is hard to follow, it serves to play into the world that Whitacre is in as the film is told through his perspective. With a lot of the voice-narration told from Whitacre, the dialogue reveals a lot of what Whitaker is thinking while some of the dialogue is repeated including the story about being adopted by a rich man following his parents’ death at a young age. Once the story starts to progress and the characters around Whitacre wonder what is going on. The lies start to be revealed as Burns creates a smart yet intriguing script.

Soderbergh’s direction is very stylish as he creates a film that is reminiscent of films from the 1970s in terms of look and tone. Yet, he infuses a lot of humor in the way Whitacre looks throughout the 1990s to the way he tries to help out in playing the informant. Serving as cinematographer under the Peter Andrews alias, Soderbergh creates a bit of heightened look throughout the film in part of the lights that appear in the film. The look starts to get a bit more normal towards the end as if Whitacre goes from hero to degenerate. While the film’s whimsical tone and humor plays off well in the first two acts, it starts to fall a bit in the third act when things get serious. Soderbergh creates some amazing compositions and shots to make the film engaging as the overall result is a very solid character-driven comedy.

Editor Stephen Mirrione does an excellent job with the editing where he keeps things straightforward with the cutting while maintaining a tight yet leisured pace for the film. Production designer Doug J. Meerdink does a fabulous job with the look of the ADM buildings and the posh homes of the Whitacre family including the lounges and suites Whitacre does business at. Costume designer Shoshana Rubin does a good job with the costumes from the clothes the men to the dresses that Ginger wears throughout the film. Sound editor Larry Blake does a great job with the sound to capture the intimacy of the meetings to the way the tapes are recorded for these meetings

The film’s score by the legendary Marvin Hamlisch is the film’s real technical highlight. The playful music that ranges from zany to dramatic is among one of Hamlisch’s finest moments as he adds a lot of humor from old rag-time to country. With the soundtrack playing as if it came from a film from the 1970s, Hamlisch also contributes a song performed by Steve Tyrell to play up the whimsy of Whitacre’s situation as the music is a superb contribution to the film.

The casting by Carmen Cuba is phenomenal from the array of appearances that add humor from the likes of Frank Welker and Candy Clark as an aging couple interviewed by the FBI, Dick Smothers as a judge, Tom Smothers as Mick’s dad, Clancy Brown and Bob Zany as corporate attorneys, Thomas F. Wilson and Rick Overton as a couple of ADM supervisors, Eddie Jemison as a co-worker of Mark Whitacre, Ann Dowd and Allan Havey as FBI supervisors, Paul F. Tompkins and Patton Oswalt as FBI advisors, Rusty Schwimmer as Mark’s secretary, and Tony Hale as Mark’s attorney James Epstein who gets close to see Whitacre unravel.

Tom Papa is very good as the smarmy Mick Andreas who often curses and says very bad things in front of Mark. Scott Bakula and Joel McHale are excellent in their respective roles as Brian Shepard and Robert Herndon, the FBI men who help out Whitacre until they realize some of the things he’s done that alienates them. Melanie Lynskey is great as Ginger Whitacre, Mark’s wife who supports him and tries to help him out only to watch him closely as he unravel where Lynskey becomes very understated towards the third act of the film.

Matt Damon gives what is truly a terrific yet funny performance as Mark Whitacre. In this character, there is a naïveté to this man believing he is helping out the government for his own gain. There is also a sense of delusion in Whitacre as Damon makes him very complex as someone who keeps screwing things up yet couldn’t help himself. There is a lot of wit and sympathy to Damon’s performance as he makes Whitacre a man who is very complicated no matter how devious he can be.

The Informant! is a smart yet entertaining comedy from Steven Soderbergh that features a marvelous performance from Matt Damon. The film is one of Soderbergh’s more accessible film in a mix of mainstream flicks to art-house/experimental films. It is also a fascinating character study on a real man who thought he was doing the right thing only to do it the wrong way. In the end, The Informant! is an excellent film from Steven Soderbergh.


© thevoid99 2011