Friday, September 30, 2011

Micmacs



Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and co-written with Guillaume Laurent, Micmacs is the story of a man who conspire with his friends to try and destroy two weapons manufacturers as an act of revenge. The film is a return to Jeunet’s more comedic style of filmmaking following the more dramatic epic of 2004‘s A Very Long Engagement. The film also serves as Jeunet’s response to the world of arms trades as he chooses to satirize the people who sells arms. Starring Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Omar Sy, Dominique Pinon, Julie Ferrier, Jean-Pierre Marielle, and Yolande Moreau. Micmacs is a witty yet whimsical film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

After being hit by a stray bullet, the life of Bazil (Dany Boon) goes into shambles with a bullet stuck on his head as he loses his home and his job as a video clerk. Unable to find work or a place to live, he meets an elderly man named Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle) who lives in a dump with other people. Among them is a contortionist named Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier), a maternal cook named Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau), an ethnographer named Remington (Omar Sy), a young mathematical woman named Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup), a human cannonball named Buster (Dominique Pinon), and an inventor named Tiny Pete (Michele Cremades) who invent things from scraps from the dump.

When Bazil decides to pick up scraps for the people he’s living with, he stops to pick up a few things where he finds himself in the street where the buildings of two weapons manufacturers are. Realizing that one of them in Nicolas Thibault de Fenouillet (Andre Dussollier) is the man who built the landmine that killed Bazil’s father 30 years ago while the other manufacturer across the street in Francois Marconi (Nicolas Marie), who created the stray bullet in his head. Bazil decides to create a plan to get back at both of them as he seeks out the help of everyone to create his plan. Staking out at their respective buildings, Bazil and the gang decide to create a scheme for the two manufacturers to fight each other by destroying whatever deals they have with an African dictator seeking arms.

With the plans becoming more elaborate and comical as de Fenouillet and Marconi starting to fight each other. Bazil starts to fall for Elastic Girl as they work out another plan where something goes wrong as men working for the African dictator break into Marconi’s apartment. With de Fenouillet and Marconi realizes what’s going on, it’s up to Bazil and the team to finally create another plan to nab both of them for their actions.

Throughout the world of arms trading, for the people who create the weapons. It’s all about the money but the real price is in the people who suffer in the hands of it. In this film, it’s about a man who is a victim in the hands of weapons who lost his father when he was just a boy and 30 years later, gets hit by a stray bullet that would affect his entire life. In his approach to revenge, killing these men wouldn’t solve anything so what he and a group of misfits do is essentially create a scheme where these two weapons manufacturers would fight each other and would pay dearly for the crimes they’ve committed against the human race.

What Jean-Pierre Jeunet and co-writer Guillaume Laurent is create a film that is more about giving these two weapons manufacturers their comeuppance through a series of hilarious schemes concocted by the film’s protagonist and his band of hooligans. Yet, the characters that help the protagonists are all outcasts who have suffered some form of loss or alienation as they all band together to fight against two men who have it all. The villains however, are just as interesting for the way they present themselves as well as the quirks they have. Marconi is a guy who has a young son, likes to compare himself to Arthur Rimbaud, and loves to collect vintage cars. In de Fenouillet is a guy who likes to collect body parts of famous people that include Winston Churchill’s fingernails, the heart of Louis XIV, and Marilyn Monroe’s tooth.

The script works because of the way the revenge scheme is planned as well as the motivations for the characters. The reason the people join Bazil is because it gives them a chance for them to do something with their skills in hopes to create a better world. Jeunet and Laurent also allow the film to be very funny for the way things are handled in the planning of these schemes while allow the time for a bit of romantic tension between Bazil and Elastic Girl. The overall script is definitely engaging for the way the revenge story is told through humor and bits of political satire.

Jeunet’s direction is marvelous for the way he creates the world that the characters live in as it’s all heightened and presented in a comical fashion. The cave-dump Bazil and his friends live in is a world unto its own where even though there’s not much. What they can use gives them enough reasons to live while using these pieces of scraps and decayed objects to help them fight against the weapons manufacturers. The objects that are created along with the presentations of the schemes gives Jeunet a lot to do with the compositions and camera movements to see how are things done. Particularly as he goes for some wide shots, close-ups, and lots of shots in the air to give it a worldly feel.

Since it’s shot partially in places in Paris and out of Paris, Jeunet creates dazzling compositions of the locations while avoiding landmarks that has been seen in previous films. He also goes for something that’s a bit more intimate and simple in the use of the locations while keeping the events in the film lively. The film also plays as a homage to other films such as the silent films of Charlie Chaplin, westerns, thrillers, and its opening credits is presented in an old-school style where the film starts off with a scene of Bazil as a kid and his old life as a video clerk as he watches Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep. It’s all told in a light-hearted approach without being too funny while the commentary on arms trades is presented in a lighter context though the message is out there but not in an overbearing manner. Overall, Jeunet creates a truly sensational yet entertaining film that is really a joy to watch.

Cinematographer Testuo Nagata does a great job with the film‘s colorful yet lush cinematography to exemplify the use of yellow, green, and orange for the scenes in sunny day Paris as well as some of the exteriors in the caves. Nagata also employs a more straightforward yet colorful look to other scenes to set a mood for the scene or to heighten it for humor or suspenseful moments. Editor Herve Schneid does an excellent job with the editing as it’s presented in a straight yet playful presentation with some jump-cuts and other rhythmic cutting style to play up the film’s suspense and humor.

Production designer Aline Bonetto does a fantastic job with the art direction including the creation of the cave, the buildings the manufacturers work at as well as their posh homes, and the objects that is created. Particularly the little robots and inventions that the Tiny Pete character creates that was built by sculptor Gilbert Pyre. Costume designer Madeline Fontaine does a wonderful job with the costumes by playing to the film‘s look including the clothes that Elastic Girl wear to more straightforward clothes that other characters wear. Sound editor Gerard Hardy does a superb job with the sound work to capture the intimate yet crazy world of the dump-cave and the city locations including the sounds of explosions in some of the action scenes of the film.

The film’s score by Raphael Beau is very good as it features some comical, light-hearted orchestral pieces as well as a few, suspenseful pieces that play throughout the film. Yet, the rest of the soundtrack comes from the music of Max Steiner which plays to some of the dramatic and romantic elements of the film in reference to The Big Sleep as the music is a highlight of the film’s technical work.

The casting by Pierre-Jacques Benichou, with additional work by Valerie Espagne, is brilliant as it features some notable appearances from Noe Boon as the young Bazil, Manon Le Moal as Bazil‘s video clerk replacement, and Lara Guirao as Bazil‘s mother that appears early in the film. Other notable performances in the roles of Bazil’s gang includes Michele Cremades as the quiet yet inventive Tiny Pete, Marie-Julie Baup as the statistics-talking yet charming Calculator, Omar Sy as the clichĂ©-spouting yet kindly Remington, and Dominique Pinon as the brash human cannonball Buster as he also briefly plays the Louison character from Delicatessen in a small scene.

In the roles of the two antagonists, Andre Dussollier and Nicolas Marie are great in their respective roles as de Fenouillet and Marconi as they each bring a big yet funny approach to their characters as two men who become pawns of a scheme to destroy each other. Jean-Pierre Marielle and Yolande Moreau are excellent as the older members of the gang in their respective roles as the encouraging Slammer and the tough yet maternal Mama Chow. Julie Ferrier is wonderful as Elastic Girl, a contortionist whose talents helps Bazil in his plans while dealing with her own feelings towards him as Ferrier displays some great work in her physical flexibility. Finally, there’s Dany Boon in a fantastic performance as Bazil by showing being a calm yet comical guy who can do a bit of mime and be tough as he really brings a lot of charm and wit to his role.

Micmacs is a delightful and exhilarating film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet that features an outstanding phenomenal cast and Jeunet’s approach to bending genres. It is a film that has Jeunet taking on political themes with his own brand of humor as well as providing something that is entertaining without being too whimsical. It’s a film that fans of his work will definitely enjoy while showcasing that there’s more to him than being quirky or romantic. In the end, Micmacs is an amazing yet exciting film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet and company.


© thevoid99 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Coco Before Chanel



Directed by Anne Fontaine and co-written with Camille Fontaine, Coco avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel) is the story of Coco Chanel’s early life and rise into becoming one of the top fashion designers in the world. Based on the book by Edmond Charles-Roux, the film is a bio-pic of Chanel that focuses on her early years where she starts out as an obscure seamstress and mistress into finding ideas that would revolutionize fashion. Starring Audrey Tautou as Coco Chanel, the film also stars Benoit Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola, Marie Gillain, and Emmanuelle Devos. Coco avant Chanel is an extraordinary yet gorgeous bio-pic from Anne Fontaine.

It’s 1918 as Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and her sister Adrienne (Marie Gillain) are working at a bar singing songs as they meet a socialite named Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde). While Gabrielle also works part time as a seamstress, she becomes friends with Balsan as they talk about ideas where she eventually becomes her mistress. When Adrienne reveals she’s getting married to another baron, Gabrielle decides to join Balsan at his countryside estate where Adrienne lives nearby. Though living at his home seemed fun, it eventually bores Gabrielle who is forced to entertain Balsan’s guests as she meets a vivacious stage actress in Emilienne d’Alencon (Emmanuelle Devos) and a young British businessman named Arthur “Boy” Capel (Alessandro Nivola.

While Coco starts to create designer hats that simplifies the look of the hats of the times, she begins to fall for Capel as he is amazed by the clothes she wears as well as her approach to fashion. With d’Alencon also impressed by the design of Coco’s hats, Coco begins to wonder about the world of fashion as she goes on a brief holiday with Capel to the beach where she gets some new ideas. Still frustrated with her time with Balsan, she decides to leave while learning that Capel is set to marry a woman for business reasons. Yet, Capel makes an offer to give her money to help start her own business as she leaves Balsan to go on her own. Just as she was starting to find success, tragedy would happen forcing Coco to find inspiration to become the icon of fashion design.

Most bio-pics would often go into a person’s life by creating dramatic interpretations into one’s life and see how they would rise, fall, and eventually redeem themselves. What Anne Fontaine and her-co writer Camille did is to simply focus on Coco Chanel’s early life before she became famous instead of focusing on her entire life. While with a lot of bio-pics, there are dramatic liberties that are used to advance the story. The script doesn’t go too much into that but rather see how this young woman who starts off being a mistress for a baron as she finds inspiration through what women are wearing.

Chanel is presented as this woman who is a rebellious figure of sorts in the way she deconstructs the idea of what women should wear. To her, the idea of wearing these lavish yet big dresses and hats filled with lots of accessories seems very silly. What Chanel does is strip all of that down. By wearing trousers, shoes with no heels, a hat with no accessories, a shirt, and underwear underneath with no corsets. All of it is Chanel’s idea to make a woman look and feel comfortable. The script really delves into Chanel’s approach to fashion while proving that through the love affairs that she goes through, it would make her become a woman of independence that would define her legacy. While she it doesn’t mean that she needs a man in her life, she does like the idea of having someone to be with and to support her. The Fontaines’ script is superb for the way it studies Chanel in the way she would develop from this orphaned mistress into the woman that she becomes.

Anne Fontaine’s direction is truly hypnotic for the way she frames many of the countryside scenes as well as keeping the film simple with any kind of melodrama. There is a much more controlled yet subtle approach to the direction as it’s all about Chanel taking in the posh world she surrounds herself in while being also a bit disgusted with it. Fontaine always has the camera moving but in a slow movement for Chanel to look at the people and its surroundings while showing how she would make these dresses. There is a simplicity to Fontaine’s direction that is very entrancing as well as maintaining an elegance that is very intoxicating to watch. Overall, Fontaine creates a solid yet enchanting film that doesn’t try to play to the conventions of the bio-pic genre.

Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne does a great job with the film‘s lush yet exquisite cinematography that captures the beauty of the French countryside while heightening it with colorful lighting to enhance the look for its interior settings. Beaucarne also keep things simple for the scene at the beach as well as exterior shots in Paris to exemplify Chanel’s desire for simplicity. Editor Luc Barnier does an excellent job with the editing to maintain a pretty straightforward approach to pacing and cutting while using a few transitional fade-outs to help move the film quite seamlessly.

Production designer Olivier Radot does a fantastic job with the art direction from the look of the bars that Coco worked at to the Balsan estate that is very spacious and elegant that would give Coco a place to find her ideas. Costume designer Catherine Leterrier does an amazing job with the clothes the men wear to the lavish dresses the women wear circa-1913. Yet, it would be the clothes that Chanel would wear that proves to be inspiring as it would be the prototypes for the clothes that would define her and women’s fashion in the years to come. Makeup and hair designers Thi Thanh Tu Nguyen and Jane Milon do a brilliant job with the hair and makeup that the women wear from big hair that d‘Alencon sports to the more simple look of Chanel that would become the modern look.

Sound editor Jean-Claude Laureux does a fine job with the sound work to capture the intimacy of the Balsan estate as well as the raucous party scenes that goes on throughout portions of the film. The film’s score by Alexandre Desplat is magnificent for its sweeping yet delicate orchestral arrangements that is filled with somber piano pieces to more dream-like pieces to play up to Chanel’s own rising interest in the world around her. Notably as Desplat also creates pieces to bring energy to Chanel in the creation of the clothes that she would make for what is definitely a marvelous score

The casting by Antonia Dauphin is wonderful as it features a couple of small appearances from Lisa Cohen and Ines Bessalem in the respective young roles of Gabrielle and Adrienne Chanel. Other small but noteworthy performances include Marie Gillain as Coco’s supportive sister Adrienne and Emmanuelle Devos as the vivacious Emilienne d’Alencon. Alessandro Nivola is excellent as the charming yet quiet Boy Capel while Benoit Poelvoorde is great as the fun though lazy Balsan. Finally, there’s Audrey Tautou in an outstanding performance as Coco Chanel. Tautou brings a wonderful mix of energy and restraint to a woman that is clearly very stubborn and determined to make it as a designer. Tautou also brings an elegance that is very engaging to watch for the way she looks as it she makes Chanel into an intriguing personality that is very human as it’s definitely one of Tautou’s finest performances.

Coco avant Chanel is an excellent yet beautiful film from Anne Fontaine featuring a radiant performance from Audrey Tautou as Coco Chanel. The film is definitely a bio-pic that strays from the conventions of the genre while allowing the audience to be invested into the development of Chanel’s early years before she became the icon of the fashion world. Fans of Audrey Tautou will get a chance to see the actress bring a lot of dramatic weight and discipline to a figure that is so revered as Chanel. In the end, Coco avant Chanel is an exquisite yet captivating film from Anne Fontaine.

Anne Fontaine Films: (Love Affairs Usually End Badly) - (Augustin) - L’@mour est a reinventer) - Nettoyage a sec) - (Augustin, King of Kung-Fu) - (Comment j’ai tue mon pere) - (Nathalie…) - (In His Hands) - (Nouvelle Chance) - (The Girl from Monaco) - (My Worst Nightmare)

© thevoid99 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The River (1951 film)



Based on the novel by Rumer Godden, The River is the story of three teenage girls from three different families whose lives are changed by the arrival of an American soldier as they fall for him. Directed by Jean Renoir and scripted by Renoir and Godden, the film is an exploration of three young girls growing up in the Ganges River in India as they deal with themselves and the man they fall for. Starring Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Arthur Shields, Patricia Walters, Adrienne Corri, Radha Burnier, and Suprova Mukerjee. The River is a touching coming of-age film from Jean Renoir.

Harriet (Patricia Walters) is a young teenage girl living with her family near the Ganges River in India as her father (Esmond Knight) runs a jute mill nearby. Living with her mother (Nora Swinburne), a nanny (Suprova Mukerjee), four younger sisters, and a younger brother named Bogey (Richard Foster), Harriet also has a friend in Valerie (Adrienne Corri) whom she often spends her time with. The girls also have another friend in the half-British/half-Indian Melanie (Radha Burnier) who just returned from school as she is set to marry a fellow Indian named Ram (Singh Sajjan Singh). When Melanie’s father (Arthur Shields) reveals that an American cousin of his is coming to visit, Harriet and Valerie are excited as they meet Captain John (Thomas E. Breen).

Captain John, a wounded American soldier with a prosthetic left leg, is invited to a party at the home of Harriet’s father as Valerie flirts with him leaving Harriet and the more reserved Melanie to look on. Yet, Harriet tries to win over though he treats her like a child as he is interested in the quieter Melanie while putting his attention towards Valerie. When Harriet reads him stories from her secret book, he is intrigued though Harriet finds herself competing with Valerie for Captain John’s affections. Captain John though, tries to deal with his own haunted memories of war as he tries to get into conversations with Melanie. When a family tragedy occurs, things become complicated as everyone comes to term with the events that has happened in these past months.

The film is a coming-of-age tale that’s told from the perspective of one of the girls who reflects on her life when she was a teenager that is voiced by June Hillman. Throughout her narration, she describes the landscapes as well as the people and the holidays that happen. The narration also describes what this character is thinking about when it involves a few characters as she dwells on how things could’ve been done differently. Jean Renoir and novelist Rumer Godden create a story where it is about a teenage girl who is younger than her friends as she struggles with growing pains. At the same time, she has to compete with two other girls who are more experienced and have much more to offer to this soldier. The script is a great study of a girl coming of age while dealing with her surroundings and the large family she lives in.

The direction of Jean Renoir is sumptuous for the way he films India with wonderful wide shots and the intimacy he creates in character-driven scenes. Notably the party scenes as he always have the camera to see what is going on and knowing where to position it to see people dancing. He also knows how to get the actors to move at the same time in terms of creating a natural reaction to situations such as two or three of the girls waiting for news as they all stand up from stairs at the same time. For other compositions such as Captain John going after one girl, Renoir uses the frame to have the characters be positioned in different places so they can all be in the frame.

For a lot of the scenes involving the people and the location they’re in, Renoir goes for a documentary approach for the audience to see the world of Indians in the Ganges River. Notably by using the camera to get wide shots of this world that seems very foreign to a lot of people at the time in 1950s. There is a richness to the way Renoir shot those scenes as well as playing to its spirituality that includes scenes that is told by Harriet from her book. One of which involves the Hare Krishna and his bride where Renoir keeps his camera focused on the bride’s dance without cutting relentlessly and make it engaging. The overall work that Renoir did is phenomenal as he creates a film that is hypnotic but also universal in its theme of growing up.

Cinematographer Claude Renoir does a gorgeous job with the film‘s lush yet colorful cinematography. Shot in a Technicolor print, the look of the film has this great detail to the coloring from the skies to the look of the trees. The photography also has this wonderful approach to lighting for many of the interiors to play up the intimacy and mood that is present during the scenes in the film. Editor George Gale does an excellent job with the editing in maintaining a straightforward approach to the cutting while using transitional fade-outs to move the film going at a leisured pace.

Production designer Eugene Lourie and art director Bansi Chandragupta do a great job with the art direction for the film that includes the home of Harriet and her family and the home of Melanie and her father which are very colorful to mix the idea of Indian and English culture. The film’s score by M.A. Partha Sarathy is superb for its mix of soothing orchestral music and traditional Indian music filled with sitars and percussions. The latter of which plays to some of the film’s mythology in the stories that Harriet tells including some of scenes involving the locals in the film.

The casting is extraordinary as it includes appearances from Cecelia Wood, Jane and Jennifer Harris, and Penelope Wilkinson as Harriet’s younger sisters, Nimai Barik as Bogey’s friend Kamu, Singh Sajjan Singh as Melanie’s fiancĂ© Ram, and Richard Forster as Harriet’s animal-loving brother Bogey. Nora Swinburne is very good as Harriet’s caring mother while Suprova Mukerjee is excellent as the warm yet fun nanny. Arthur Shields is also good as Melanie’s kind-hearted father while Esmond Knight is wonderful as Harriet’s father who helps her deal with her growing pains. Thomas E. Breen gives a fine performance as the charming though troubled Captain John who tries to deal with three girls as well as his own sense of alienation over his days as a soldier.

Radha Burnier is radiant in a quiet yet reserved performance as Melanie, the oldest of the three girls who deals with Captain John’s presence as well as the way the other girls are trying to vie for his affections. Adrienne Corri is brilliant as Valerie, the more cultured girl who likes to ride a horse as she does everything she can to win Captain John’s heart while being flirtatious and petty at times. Finally, there’s Patricia Walters in a fantastic performance as Harriet by making her lively and dramatic to exemplify the growing pains she’s going through in this amazing performance.

The River is a rich yet magnificent film from Jean Renoir. Featuring a superb cast, intoxicating locations that is captured by Claude Renoir’s cinematography, and a vibrant music soundtrack. It’s a film that plays true to the world of growing up in a place as exotic as India as three girls deal with the growing pains they face throughout the film. In the end, The River is a superb yet mesmerizing film from Jean Renoir.

Jean Renoir Films: (Backbiters) - (La Fille de l’eau) - (Charleston Parade) - (Une vie sans joie) - (Marquitta) - (The Sad Sack) - (The Tournament) - (The Little Match Girl) - (Le Bled) - (On purge bebe) - (Isn’t Life a Bitch?) - (Night at the Crossroads) - (Boudu Saved from Drowning) - (Chotard & Company) - (Madame Bovary (1933 film)) - (Toni) - A Day in the Country - (Life Belongs to Us) - (The Lower Depths (1936 film)) - (The Crime of Monsieur Lange) - Grand Illusion - (La Marseillaise) - La Bete Humaine - Rules of the Game - (Swamp Water) - (This Land is Mine) - (Salute to France) - (The Southerner) - (The Diary of a Chambermaid (1945 film)) - (The Woman on the Beach) - (The Golden Coach) - (French Cancan) - (Elena and Her Men) - (The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment) - (Picnic on the Grass) - (The Elusive Corporal) - (The Little Theater of Jean Renoir)

© thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Last Year at Marienbad



Directed by Alain Resnais and written by Alain Robbe-Grillet, L’Annee derniere a Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) is the story of a man who meets a woman at party as he claims to have met her the year before. Instead, the woman denies as he finds himself dealing with her husband as the two fight over the woman. The film is considered to be one of the key films of the French New Wave for its entrancing visual style and unconventional approach to storytelling. Starring Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, and Sacha Pitoeff. L’Annee derniere a Marienbad is an extraordinary yet hypnotic film from Alain Resnais.

A gathering is happening a large yet posh hotel as a man named X (Giorgio Albertazzi) sees a woman named A (Delphine Seyrig) whom he had seen a year before at Marienbad. When he meets her, she claims that she doesn’t remember what happened last year as he continues to pursue her in an attempt to get her to remember. At the same time, X plays a series of thinking games, including Nim, against A’s husband M (Sascha Pitoeff) where he often loses. In his continued to pursuit towards A, he tries to get her to remember though the way he describes certain events of the last year where things start to suddenly be complicated. The tables then turn on X as he wonders if everything he talks about is really a distant memory or a fantasy while A wonders if what X had been saying is true.

What happens when a man is at a gathering where he meets a woman he met the year before and she doesn’t remember him? That is the idea of the film as it’s told in a very unconventional presentation with voice-overs told from the perspective of the man that recalls the descriptions of the events and what happened in this hotel. At the same time, the man is playing against the woman’s husband in a game of wits and chance so he can try to win so he can win this woman. Throughout the entirety of the film, dialogue is repeated to emphasize the idea of memory as the man tries to get the woman to remember details such as the room she stayed in or the fact that her heel broke on one particular day.

Alain Robbe-Grillet’s screenplay is all an ambiguous take on the idea of memory as it provides more questions than answers? Is everything X had been explaining through the voice-over narrations and directly to A is true? Is it really just a ploy to win the heart of A? Is A in denial of everything including about the picture that X took of her? It’s among the questions that helps drive the story about this supposed meeting as X is dealing with A’s husband in these games where he often loses while she is often looking at a distance at what is happening pondering what X might be saying is true or fiction. This ambiguity is what keeps Robbe Grillet’s script so interesting because there isn’t a lot being said while the dialogue that is said is repeated as a way so that it helps a character remember about this supposed meeting.

The direction of Alain Resnais is exquisitely mesmerizing for the way he presents the film. Featuring lots of tracking shots and compositions that are striking, there is a visual language to the film that is truly unique. While this unconventional presentation for a film with little plot starts off slow and is repetitious with its voice-over and imagery. It’s because Resnais wants the audience to know that what they’re going to see isn’t a traditional film. Throughout the film, the camera moves a lot where would follow a couple through the corridor or zoom towards the balcony looking outside. At the same time, there’s a lot of moments where everything freezes just so Resnais can have the actors be placed in position so the audience can be engaged by the location they’re in. Even in a moment where they’re all dancing in a room through the same choreography or being still while one person is doing something in that shot.

Shot on location at the Nymphenburg Palace and the Schleissheim Palace in the German state of Bavaria, they add to the world of high society where men wear suits and women wear these lavish yet gorgeous dresses. The location is a major character to the story since it allows X to pursue A and use the locations as a way to try and help her remember. The camera is always looking at the locations in and out of the room while it’s always pointing at objects either as a way to remind the audience about what might’ve happened last year or to advance the story for X to battle M.

The direction allow Resnais to have scenes match one another whether it’s A screaming in different places just as it cuts to her screaming in the same position at another location. Then there’s moments where there is a scene where X is playing cards with M and just as the camera pans to a different part of the location. M walks in to the frame from another location as it help create the ambiguity of the film. It’s part of the scheme to help blur fiction and reality as X is commenting on what he believed might’ve happened last year. It’s a style that will amaze some but also annoy others as Resnais creates something that is clearly not for everyone’s taste. Yet, that is an example of what great art should be as it’s meant to provoke a reaction whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. What Resnais does is create a film that is truly exotic and vibrant that is truly out of this world.

The cinematography of Sacha Vierny is a real highlight of the film largely due to Vierney’s black-and-white look which is truly intoxicating to look at. With its evocative yet gray look for many of the interiors and the shadings for in and outside of hotel, there is something that is truly indescribable for the way it looks. The beauty of the photography is unlike anything while Vierny also dabbles with bits of grain and a heightened sense of style for dramatic effects as his work is definitely the film’s big technical highlight.

Editors Henri Colpi and Jasmine Chasney do a fantastic job with the editing in creating a leisured yet methodical pacing for the film. Particularly as they use some stylistic flairs by adding a few dissolves and jump-cuts to play with the film’s ambiguous tone. Production designer Jacques Saulnier and set decorator Charles Merangel do an amazing job with the look for the hotel by surrounding the interiors with gorgeous chandeliers, statues, and furniture that adds to the posh look of the film. Costume designer Bernard Evein does a spectacular job with the costumes in the way he creates the tuxedos and clothes the men wear throughout while it‘s the dresses of Coco Chanel that is the real highlight of the costumes. Chanel’s dresses for A is indescribably elegant to look at from the white dress that A wears outside to the black and the white robe with feathers. If that’s not what great costume is, then that person has no idea what fashion is.

The music by Francis Seyrig is another major highlight of the film for its haunting organ pieces that plays throughout the film. Seyrig’s score acts as an accompaniment as he adds a harmonium and a few strings to the mix. Yet, it’s the organ that plays to the film’s mood by being this brooding yet somber accompaniment that it either enhances or underplays the dramatic events of the film. It’s really a chilling yet magnificent score by Francis Seyrig.

While the cast features a lot of extras and people that are very beautiful in the clothes they wear, they’re really just props to what goes on in the film as it’s largely dominated by its three principle actors. Sascha Pitoeff is excellent as M, A’s husband who wonders what is going on while finding himself being challenged by X where he often comes out the victor as Pitoeff has a striking look that perfect for the character. Giorgio Albertazzi is superb as X, a man pursuing a woman claiming he met her last year as Albertazzi creates a captivating yet eerie performance as a man who could be fooling her or is just desperate.

Finally, there’s Delphine Seyrig in a radiant performance as A. Seyrig brings an elegance that is definitely unique from her hair to her face. The physicality of her performance is also enchanting while her reactions to certain things are truly mesmerizing while the melodramatic approach she took is perfect for the tone of the film. The chemistry between her and Albertazzi is very touching as well as the way she interacts with Pitoeff as also phenomenal. Seyrig’s performance is definitely iconic for what is displayed on film as it’s definitely one of the key performances of that era as no one could pull it off better than the late Delphine Seyrig.

The 2009 2-disc Region 1 DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a 2:35:1 theatrical aspect ratio that’s enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Featuring Dolby Digital Surround sound in mono, the film given a high-definition transfer that is approved and supervised by director Alain Resnais. The film also features two different audio mixes at the request of Resnais which includes the restored soundtrack for the film and the original soundtrack that was made for the film back in 1961. The difference between the restored and the original involves a slightly higher pitch in the music as well in the dialogue in the original soundtrack. Along with a new and improved English subtitle, the only special feature in the first disc of the DVD are two trailers with the first being the original and the second is for Rialto’s re-release of the film in 2008.

The second disc of the DVD includes numerous special features relating to the film. The first is Alain Resnais’ 33-minute audio interview as the director discusses the production, screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet, and the reaction towards the film. With Resnais commenting over footage, still shots, and rare pictures, the director talks about his meeting with Robbe-Grillet where the two shared similar tastes in literature and art. Resnais said that working with Robbe-Grillet was inspiring as the two collaborated on the film while producer Raymond Froment helped Resnais with the production by even giving him an extra day to shoot. The screenplay was very complex as Resnais stated that it was a bit difficult because of its tone as he realized that it stripped away the conventions of a traditional script.

For the acting, Resnais revealed that Delphine Seyrig had been studying a lot of methods for her part including the ideas she was taught from Lee Strasberg. Resnais reveals that some of the film’s visual influences came from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and some paintings so that Resnais would create compositions that played like a painting. Resnais revealed that, at the time, the widescreen format wasn’t used a lot in 1960 by French filmmakers and Resnais wanted to use the format for its depth of field though he and his crew had to make lenses that would create the images he wanted. For the locations, Munich was chosen because of financial reasons which worked because it gave Resnais the visuals that he wanted. The overall interview is very illuminating for what it took to make a film like this and from the man who created this revered film.

The thirty-two-and-a-half minute making-of documentary Unraveling the Enigma: The Making of Marienbad features interviews with production designer Jacques Saulnier, script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot, first assistant director Jean Leon, and renowned German filmmaker Volker Schlondorff, who was a second assistant director on the film. The four crew members talk about Resnais and the production where because there weren’t a lot of castles and chateaus in France that featured long corridors. They traveled to Germany for that while it helped them financially as Schlondorff was hired because he was a German that can speak French and deal with the German crew.

All of them revealed the difficulty of the eight-week production while Delphine Seyrig’s haircut, which was inspired by the look of Louise Brook in G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box, was really an accident because Seyrig previously had a haircut and they put a part of her hair over what was cut. What they all didn’t know was that it would inspire a look which helped the film’s longevity. Leon, Baudrot, and Schlondorff also talk about Resnais’ methods into filmmaking and some of the technical aspects into the compositions. Saulnier reveals a few colored stills of the film which reveals why black-and-white was the obvious choice. The documentary is a superb piece about the film, it’s production, and why it still manages to be talked about as one of the best films ever made.

The twenty-three minute video interview with film scholar Ginette Vincendeau. Vincendeau discusses the film’s importance in the history of cinema as well as why it has a polarizing reaction that still goes on in present time. Vincendeau reveals that because it was made at the time of the French New Wave and Resnais being part of that scene. It was a film that broke from the idea of traditional, straightforward narrative partly due to the writing of Alain Robbe-Grillet who favored a more ambiguous style of storytelling. Robbe-Grillet’s contribution to the film allowed the screenwriter to be more equal with the director which broke some rules of the auteur theory.

Vincendeau says the film’s reaction was due to the fact that it was so unconventional in its narrative and cinematic language. Traditional filmgoers hated it because of it while a more educated, daring filmgoer loved it while the critical reaction was also split. Years later, the film has become more well-received though there are a group of critics and filmgoers that still doesn’t like the film. Vincendeau also brings in some various interpretations about the film while suggesting a feminist view about the behavior of A. In that feminist view, it’s believed that A is repressing herself because of something much deeper as the overall interview is truly fascinating about the film and its impact on cinema.

Two Resnais short documentaries appear for the DVD in the 21-minute Toute la memoire du monde and the 14-minute Le chant du styrene. Toute la memoire du monde is about the national library of France in Paris which reveals what goes on in the library and how things work as it’s a memory bank for everything that was written and published in France. It’s an intriguing piece that features entrancing tracking shots and a haunting score by Maurice Jarre. Le chant du styrene is about the merits and creation of plastic through narration by Pierre Dux through the writings of Raymond Queneau. Shot in color, the short is a fascinating world on plastic as it’s presented with wonderful music and Dux’s lively commentary as it’s a great documentary short from Resnais.

The 46-page booklet features three essays, a screenplay introduction by Alain Robbe-Grillet, and a brief note from Alain Resnais about the film’s soundtrack. The first essay entitled Which Year at Where? by film critic Mark Polizzotti is about the film’s importance and cinema as well as small insight into the collaboration between Resnais and Robbe-Grillet. Notably the changes that Resnais made for the film which did cause some tension between him and Robbe-Grillet though both were happy with the final results. So Close, So Far Away: Alain Robbe-Grillet & Last Year at Marienbad is a short essay Robbe-Grillet’s involvement with the film as well as his writing which was an influential in setting a new wave of French literature.

Alain Robbe-Grillet’s introduction to the screenplay has the screenwriter discussing his collaboration with Resnais and the importance of being a screenwriter for a film that is directed by someone else. While he revealed that he wasn’t on set throughout the production of the film, he was able to be fully-involved during the development of the film in pre-production as well as going through the changes that Resnais wanted for the shooting. He also talks about the story and its ambiguity was so that it allows the audience to interpret what could’ve happened between X and A as the entire introduction is definitely a great read for anyone who loves the film.

Film scholar Francis Thomas’ essay Afterword: The Myth of “Perfect Harmony” is about the relationship between Resnais and Robbe-Grillet over the film which was a complex relationship that had its issues as well as the joy of two men working together to create this film. It reveals Robbe-Grillet’s issues over Resnais’ decisions that included the casting of Delphine Seyrig, whom Robbe-Grillet was unsure about. It’s a wonderful piece about the collaboration and why they only worked together once. The final text piece is a brief note about the film’s soundtrack from Alain Resnais who reveals why he decided to have two soundtracks for this DVD release in relation to the idea of film remastering and restoration. Particularly as it tries to reach standards that the original soundtrack was never able to do which Resnais believes doesn’t work.

The overall work for the Criterion DVD is outstanding, like all of its releases, as it plays true to the brilliance of the film as well as explain its legendary status. It’s a DVD that fans of Resnais and this film must-have while it also gives people new to the film insight into why it remains a film that people talk about whether they like it or not.

L’Annee derniere a Marienbad is a marvelous yet evocative film from Alain Resnais that features enchanting performances from Delphine Seyrig and Giorgio Albertazzi. While it’s not a film for everyone due to its unconventional approach to storytelling and lack of a strong plot. It is a film that is truly hypnotic in every frame and camera movement that is presented as well as play to the idea of ambiguity in the approach to storytelling. For anyone new to the work of Resnais, this film does serve as a worthy introduction though it is not an easy film to watch. In the end, L’Annee derniere a Marienbad is an elegant yet provocative film from Alain Resnais.

Alain Resnais Films: (Hiroshima Mon Amour) - (Muriel) - (The War is Over) - (Je T’aime, je t’aime) - (Stavisky) - (Providence) - Mon oncle d'Amerique - (Life is a Bed of Roses) - (Love Unto Death) - (Melo) - (I Want to Go Home) - (Gershwin) - (Smoking/No Smoking) - (Same Old Song) - (Not on the Lips) - (Private Fears in Public Places) - Wild Grass - (You Haven't Seen Anything Yet)

© thevoid99 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

Vagabond


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/28/09.


One of the premier directors in France, the Belgium-born Agnes Varda is known for her feminist take on films either fictional or documentary. While she was part of the French New Wave often collaborating with husband Jacques Demy, she was part of another French film movement in the Rive Gauche (Left Bank Cinema) with Alain Renais in relations to left-wing cinema. Making films from the 1960s through the 1970s, Varda scored a major hit with one of her fictional features called Sans toit ni loi which is commonly known in English as Vagabond.

Written and directed by Agnes Varda, Sans toit ni loi tells the story of a woman found frozen in a ditch during a cold winter in the South of France. Yet moments before her death, she would encounter various people she would meet during her road trip. A film that is filled with Varda's commentary on women and social issues with elements of a road film. It is considered to be one of her essential films of her prolific career. Starring Sandrine Bonnaire. Sans toit ni loi is a provocative, entrancing film from Agnes Varda.

A cold day in a farm near the South of France when a farmer (Christophe Alcazar) finds a frozen body in a ditch as people wondered who she is. Her name is Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire) as she is hitchhiking all over the South of France looking for work, shelter, or whatever she comes across to. She rides briefly with a trucker (Patrick Schmidt), gets a free sandwich from a young man (Patrick Sokol), meets a woman (Katy Champaud), and works briefly for a mechanic (Pierre Imbert). After hiding out at an old castle that belongs to a man that a maid named Yolande (Yolande Moreau) works for along with an old lady. Mona briefly lives in the castle with another man as they steal things from the castle. Yet, when the things she stole weren't worth anything except for some spoons as she continues to go on the road and find work wherever she can.

Finding shelter and work at the home of some goat farmers, she lives their briefly but doesn't work much as she leaves where she meets a rich woman on the road. The woman gives her a ride throughout the place as she is a professor (Macha Meril) who loves trees. The woman recalls meeting Mona, though never learning her name as the encounter had a profound effect on her. After dropping Mona off at the woods at an undisclosed location, Mona continues to move from place to place where she worked with a Tunisian vineyard worker (Yahiaoui Assouna) in pruning vines. Yet, a group of Moroccans refused to work with her as she was on the move again where she briefly lived with Yolande and her boyfriend Paulo (Joel Fosse). The encounter would have an effect with Yolande as Mona would drift more and more to places and troubles that would lead to her outcome.

The film plays as a mixture of narrative styles. Yet, it's all told from the perspective of people who would encounter this young woman who goes from place to place. While there's not much plot in the film. It's told in a style that is unique though lags a bit early on. Agnes Varda's storytelling approach through her script and unconventional direction does make this film a worthwhile experience. It moves back and forth where she lets the audience see what Mona is going through and then get a recollection from the people she encounters as they talk to an unseen interviewer.

The script follows the character of Mona in her encounters where the important ones involve a family of goat herders, a professor, a Tunisian vineyard worker, and a maid as she would have an impact on her life. At the same time, Varda's script follows Mona's struggle to survive as the boots she would wear would start to decay while her leather jacket has a hard time getting the zipper up. It's Varda's detail to attention in Mona's struggle that makes the film captivating while her direction is rooted in cinema verite with hand-held cameras capturing the drama. At the same time, she takes a documentary approach in getting smaller characters to talk as if they're being interviewed. It's a style that is truly fascinating while letting the audience knows what will happen but executes it with grace without being too stylish. Overall, Varda creates a film that is harrowing and harsh but also entrancing in its tone and realism.

Cinematographer Patrick Blossier brings excellent work to the photography in matching stark realism with colorful imagery of the cold, Southern French landscape with colors of grey and green. While the exteriors are filled with dark colors, some of the interiors in its rich, posh setting are brighter as Blossier's work is solid throughout. The editing by Agnes Varda and Patricia Mazuy is brilliant for its slow, methodical pacing and moving back and forth from the brief interviews of people Mona meets to her plight. Even in structuring the film's unconventional approach as the editing works overall despite a slow start. The sound work of Jean-Paul Mugel is excellent for its various locations from the small towns and farms along with the conditions of where Mona is. The music of Joanna Bruzdowicz is brilliant for its stark, orchestral arrangement with screeching strings to play to the plight of Mona's struggles.

The cast is excellent with notable small roles from Patrick Schmidt as a trucker, Pierre Imbert as a mechanic, Joel Fosse as Yolande's slacker boyfriend Paulo, Marthe Jarnias as an old lady, and Laurence Cortadellas as Elaine, the wife of Jean-Pierre. Stephane Freiss is very good as Jean-Pierre, a student of the professor who tries to find Mona due to the concerns of his professor. Yolande Moreau is excellent as Yolande, a maid who is looking out for an old lady whose encounter with Mona would have some repercussions about her own life. Yahiaoui Assouna is also excellent as a Tunisian vineyard worker that Mona befriends while Macha Meril is great as a professor trying to save plane trees as her life changes through her meeting with Mona.

The film's best performance easily goes to Sandrine Bonnaire as the vagabond Mona. Bonnaire's performance is truly entrancing as she allows her character to deal with all of these people she encounters while trying to survive. Yet, she makes Mona unlikeable at times while gaining sympathy for her plight while wearing dirty clothes and doing what she can to survive. Bonnaire, at the time, was 18 when the film came out as it served as an international breakthrough for her as she would win several awards for her performance.

Released in the fall of 1985, the film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival while going on to win a Cesar award for Best Actress for Bonnaire. The film also received prestigious awards from the L.A. Film Critics Association for Best Foreign Film and Actress for Bonnaire. The film would help solidify Agnes Varda's reputation as one of France's premier directors.

Sans toit ni loi is a remarkable film from Agnes Varda featuring a brilliant performance from Sandrine Bonnaire. While it is considered to be one of Varda's finest work, those new to the director might see this as a nice place to start. While it's not an easy film to watch for more mainstream audiences. It's something art house audiences will enjoy for its unconventional approach while following a character as she struggles in her final moments. In the end, Sans toit ni loi is a harrowing yet powerful film from Agnes Varda.

Agnes Varda Films: (La Pointe Courte) - (Cleo from 5 to 7) - (Happiness) - (Lions Love) - (Daguerreotypes) - (One Sings, the Other Doesn't) - (Documenteur) - (Jane B. by Agnes V.) - (Kung-Fu Master) - (Jacquot de Nantes) - (The Young Girls Turn 25) - (A Hundred and One Nights) - (The Gleaners and I) - (The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later) - (Le Lion Volatil) - (The Beaches of Agnes)

(C) thevoid99 2011

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Drive (2011 film)



Based on a novel by James Sallis, Drive is the story of a Hollywood stunt driver who works as a getaway driver at night. When he meets and falls for a young woman, his life starts to get into trouble when he gets involved for a robbery that goes wrong as he seeks answers on what is really going on. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and an adapted screenplay by Hossein Amini, the film is an ode to the dark films of Los Angeles of the 1980s as well as the car films of the 1970s. Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Oscar Issac, Christina Hendricks, and Albert Brooks. Drive is a hypnotic yet hard-boiled film from Nicolas Winding Refn.

An unnamed driver (Ryan Gosling) works as a Hollywood driving stuntman and mechanic by day while his occasional night job is being a driver for robbers for about five minutes. With help from his friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who sets up the jobs, the driver doesn’t say much other than do his job. The driver’s life is a quiet one as he runs into his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio as they meet up every once in a while at their building. The driver starts to befriend Irene and Benicia (Kaden Leos) as they begin to enjoy each other’s company while Shannon introduces the driver to a mob boss named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his partner Nino (Ron Perlman). Bernie wants the driver to drive his stock car for riches with the driver asking little in return.

When Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Issac) is released from jail, the driver meets Standard as things seem fine until he finds Standard lying in a hallway beaten. Realizing that Standard is in trouble due to some money he still owes and Benicio being threatened, the driver is asked by Standard to take a job. The driver reluctantly does so as he meets Standard’s boss Cook (James Biberi) for instructions as the driver takes Standard and a woman named Blanche (Christina Hendricks) to rob a pawn shop. Things seem to go well until another car appears as everything falls apart. When the driver learns that it’s a set-up, he wants answers as he figures out that the money stolen belongs to someone else. With Irene and Benicio in danger, the driver decides to confront the people who are behind everything.

The film is about a quiet yet very professional driver who has a job and just does without any questions or answers. When he is asked to take part of a robbery to help someone, he unknowingly gets involved into something much bigger that threatens the life he lives in as well as the woman and child he cares for. The premise that screenwriter Hossein Amini creates is pretty simple yet the stakes and everything that the unnamed driver has to go to is very big. While he has a guy that sets up things for him, it’s only about money but when it doesn’t just involve money. It becomes much more complicated when it involves the mob and other sordid criminals as it’s only the driver becomes the target.

The script has elements of films like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai in the way the driver is portrayed. He is this stoic, observant man that does something and keeps his mouth shut. Yet, unlike Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and Jef Costello in Le Samourai, the driver is a much more accessible person that doesn’t say a lot and keeps things simple. He doesn’t seem like the threatening individual but when provoked, all hell breaks loose. The driver is a very complex character as Amini creates a character that is very interesting in the way he does things. He always wears gloves when he’s driving while on the job, he has a watch with a timer as if he is a cab driver with the meter running and his time is very precious and limited. Amini’s script works to create a character as provocative as the driver while others such as Irene, Shannon, and Bernie are just as interesting.

Irene is just a young mother who also craves something simple as she finds solace in the driver though the return of her husband makes her a bit uneasy due to his criminal past. While Standard isn’t a bad guy and is a good father, he’s just someone that Irene wants to believe that he’s still good but knows something isn’t going to go right. Shannon is a character that is someone that just wants to set-up the job and get his cut while hoping for good things as he has a long-term relationship with Bernie. Bernie is a mob boss that also has a simple way of things as he doesn’t want complications as he has a similar idea of doing things like the driver. When things go wrong, Bernie becomes a monster that no one expects. The script Amini creates is amazing for its study and the suspense that is made for a film like this as there’s a great balance of human drama and unsettling chills for its crime elements.

The direction of Nicolas Winding Refn is very evocative for the way he presents the film in such grand style. Taking ode from the films of 1980s Los Angeles films like William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. and Paul Schrader‘s American Gigolo, Refn creates something is very entrancing and seductive to stylistic element of the film. There are a lot of aerial shots of the city that makes it truly out of this world where it’s about finding the right location to hide in and give the film a look that is indescribably haunting. There’s a lot of scenes shot at night to play up the visual style of the film while some of the daytime scenes are very straightforward.

Refn’s approach to the fast-car scenes and some of the violent moments are very stylized with the latter being very brutal and almost nihilistic. The car chases and fast-car scenes are presented in a style that is sort of reminiscent of Hollywood blockbuster films but Refn allows the audience to know what’s going while maintaining a certain rhythm to the film. Refn’s direction also has scenes where he plays things much simpler in terms of how he frames things while bringing something that is elegant before something bad is to happen. Refn is always engaged by what is happening as he doesn’t pull punches nor does he underplay anything. The overall presentation and emphasis on style that Refn needed for a film like this is truly the work of a filmmaker that can bring something to the table and make it fresh to a genre like the car-driven crime film.

Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel does a phenomenal job with the film’s stylish photography that adds to the eerie look of the film. From the many exterior nighttime scenes of Los Angeles filled with an array of lights from the locations and helicopters of the film. Sigel also plays up the style for some of the nighttime interiors including the elevators as well as a slightly-colorful look to the daytime interior and exterior settings, with the exception of a small scene in a ravine, as it’s definitely one of the film’s technical highlights. Editor Matthew Newman does a great job with the film’s stylized editing with the use of fast-paced jump-cuts for the driving scenes to dissolves for more dreamier montages in the film.

Production designer Beth Mickle, with set decorator Lisa K. Sessions & art director Christopher Tandon, do some nice work on some of the set pieces created such as Shannon‘s garage, the apartments that the driver and Irene live in, and the pizza place owned by Nino. Costume designer Erin Benach does a very good job with the costumes from the casual clothes many of the characters wear to the sliver jacket with a scorpion on the back that the driver wears. Sound editors Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis do an amazing job with the sound work to capture the sound of cars and various other things in the varied locations that is presented in the film.

The film’s score by Cliff Martinez is a real highlight of the film for its brooding yet atmospheric electronic score. Featuring more intense, pulsating pieces to exotic, ambient cuts, Martinez’s score serves as a chilling accompaniment to the world of the driver. The soundtrack features various electronic-driven pieces from Desire, the Chromatics, College featuring Electric Youth, Kavinsky featuring CSS & Lovefoxx, and Riz Ortolani with Katyna Ranieri that adds to the 80s vibe that Refn wants for the film as the overall score and soundtrack is truly mesmerizing.

The casting by Mindy Marin is superb for the ensemble that is created that includes small appearances from Russ Tamblyn as a doctor, James Biberi as the small-time crime boss Cook, and Jeff Wolfe as a henchman of Bernie. Other notable small but memorable appearances include Christina Hendricks as a fellow criminal, Oscar Issac as Irene’s troubled husband Standard, and Kaden Leos as Irene’s son Benicio. Ron Perlman is excellent as the more brash yet violent Nino while Bryan Cranston is great as the driver’s friend Shannon who tries to help the driver when things start to go wrong.

Albert Brooks is phenomenal as Bernie Rose, a mob boss who wants the driver to be his number one guy only to find out that things are going his way where Brooks show a side of him that is very unsettling as it’s definitely a surprising performance from the comic actor. Carey Mulligan is wonderful as Irene, a young waitress and mother who finds comfort in the presence of the driver as she deals with her husband’s return and the chaos that surrounds her. Finally, there’s Ryan Gosling in a tour-de-force performance as the unnamed driver. Gosling brings a real cool yet nearly-silent performance as a quiet man who does things in a simple yet disciplined manner. Gosling allows himself to be a badass without really doing but speak in a calm but confrontational manner. When the character gets pushed, Gosling becomes a total badass that no one should fuck with. It’s definitely a performance that is truly spectacular as it truly adds to Ryan Gosling’s great reputation for putting out amazing performances in film.

Drive is an outstanding film from Nicolas Winding Refn featuring a haunting yet exhilarating performance from Ryan Gosling. Armed with a great ensemble cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and Albert Brooks plus amazing technical work and Cliff Martinez’s hypnotic score. It’s a film that is extremely intoxicating to look at as well as being tough and giving a new spin to the professional hitman/driver sub-genre. While it’s a more mainstream film from Refn, it is a film that is still edgy for the way he gives the film a presentation that is definitely one-of-a-kind. In the end, Drive is a flat-out intense yet mesmerizing film from Nicolas Winding Refn.



© thevoid99 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Moneyball



Based on Michael Lewis’ novel, Moneyball is the story of Billy Beane’s arrival as the general manager of the Oakland Athletics in 2002 as he helps create a team for the franchise despite its horrible financial situation. Directed by Bennett Miller and script adaptation by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin based on a story treatment by Stan Chervin. The film is about how a team that seemed down on its luck gets back in shape through unconventional means with help from a general manager and his assistant. Starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane along with Jonah Hill, Chris Pratt, Robin Wright, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as A’s manager Art Howe. Moneyball is a smart yet entertaining film from Bennett Miller.

After losing the American League Pennant in 2001 as well as three high-profile players, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane realizes that the budget for the franchise isn’t good. With chances that the team won’t do well for next season and Beane couldn’t get more money from owner Stephen Schott (Robert Kotick). In need to help the franchise and find players for next year to replace Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon, Beane travels to Cleveland to meet with Indians general manager Mark Ellis (Brent Dohling) about trading players. The meeting becomes a disaster until he meets Peter Brandt (Jonah Hill) who was at the meeting as he and Beane talk about the problem with baseball and choosing players right for the team.

Beane takes Brandt in as they go into players who are overlooked yet can bring in runs and hits that can help teams win based on their statistics. With Brandt’s help, Beane decides to rebuild the entire team much to the chagrin of old scouts including Grady Fuson (Ken Medlock) and A’s manager Art Howe. Beane decides to take in players who are defective yet are able to play that includes veteran David Justice (Stephen Bishop), relief pitcher Chad Bradford (Casey Bond), a catcher-turned first baseman in Scott Hatteburg (Chris Pratt), and Jason Giambi’s younger brother Jeremy (Nick Porrazzo). Howe is unsure as spring training happens as Beane hopes to go all the way with this team though the early season results didn’t go well.

Beane and Brandt try to figure what is going wrong as it’s due to the fact that Howe is putting in the wrong players as they’re not performing well. Howe finds himself at odds with Beane as he and the reluctant Brandt realize they have to cut players. When Beane makes a move to get Howe to put Hatteburg on first base, the move would be successful. From going dead-last to suddenly being a contender in the ALC West division by All-Star break, things are going well as Beane puts on more moves while Brandt helps other players. Then a winning streak happens as the successful formula Beane and Brandt created, with Howe finally on board, is gaining waves among the sports media.

The idea of assembling a winning team for a ball club takes a lot of hard work and money. In this dramatic version of a true story about Billy Beane’s controversial yet unorthodox method to build a ball club based on a payroll of $38 million against the New York Yankees’ $120 million payroll. Still, it’s a movie about the world of baseball where it’s not about talent but what a player could bring to a team as talent alone isn’t really enough. At the same time, it’s the story of a man who was once a baseball player that never really got a chance to make it in the major leagues while taking that experience to create a winning team by being a general manager.

The script that Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian creates is very smart about how Beane’s controversial methods worked in the long run while showing the world of what goes on out of the field where scouts and managers try to figure out how to create a team. With Sorkin providing a lot of the baseball elements with his quick-witted dialogue and commentary on the ills of baseball politics without being overbearing. The story is sort of balanced by Beane’s own family life that includes his ex-wife Sharon (Robin Wright) and their 12-year old daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey) who often asks about his job. Zaillian works on that storyline which allows the story to reveal Beane more outside of baseball as well as play into his past as a failed baseball player. While that approach does make the story a bit uneven, it still works because it remains constant in its exploration on Beane and the world of baseball.

Bennett Miller’s direction is wonderful for the way he takes the drama and lets it feel real without being too dramatic or stylized. While the direction is very straightforward in terms of presentation, he also maintains an intimacy in the scenes between Beane and Brandt while keeping the camera close to the meetings that goes in finding players. Throughout the film, there is humor that is mostly light that keeps it entertaining while Miller also uses old TV footage of games while re-creating the games to add a dramatic element to the film. The baseball scenes show Miller at his best for the way he keeps the audience engaged on whether the team wins or not. Yet, Miller always keep it interesting while the final moments are more about Beane wanting to know if he made a difference for the way baseball politics is handled. Overall, Miller creates a solid yet captivating film about the backstage world of baseball.

Cinematographer Wally Pfeister does an excellent job with the film‘s cinematography to exemplify the green look of the A‘s as well as some wonderful lighting schemes for the interior and some dark shades for other scenes at night including some exterior shots. Editor Christopher Tellefsen does a nice job with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward while it has a nice rhythm to keep up with some of the dialogue that Aaron Sorkin wrote for the meetings in the film.

Production designer Jess Conchor, with set decorator Nancy Haigh and art directors Brad Ricker and David Scott, do a great job with set pieces created including the posh house that Sharon lives as well as the offices and team locker room. Costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone does a good job with the costumes from the suits that Peter wears to the more casual clothes that Billy wears while creating a wonderful look to the A‘s uniforms. Sound editor Ron Bochar does a superb job with the sound work to capture the intimacy of the meetings as well as the roar of the crowd and radio broadcasts that overlaps through some of the moments of the film. Music composer Mychael Danna does a fantastic job with the score by bringing a low-key yet plaintive guitar-driven score to dominate the film along with low yet heavy string arrangements for some of the dramatic moments of the film.

The casting by Francine Maisler is brilliant as it features some cameo appearances from Tammy Blanchard as Hattenberg’s wife, James Shanklin and Diane Behrens as Billy’s parents, Reed Thompson as the young Billy, Brent Dohling as Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Ellis, Reed Diamond as Mark Shapiro of the Boston Red Sox, and legendary metal guitarist Joe Satriani as himself playing the national anthem. Other notable appearances include Robin Wright as Billy’s ex-wife Sharon, Ken Medlock as old-school scout Grady Fuson, Robert Kotick as A’s owner Stephen Schott, and Kerris Dorsey as Billy’s supportive 12-year old daughter Casey. For the roles of the players, there’s Stephen Bishop as the veteran David Justice, Chris Pratt as the nerve-stricken catcher-turned-first baseman Scott Hattenberg, Nick Porrazzo as the playful Jeremy Giambi, and Casey Bond as the weird-throwing relief pitcher Chad Bradford.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as Art Lowe, the A’s manager who finds himself dealing with Beane’s new tactics as well as using the players he had to use while realizing that Beane’s plans are working. Jonah Hill is great as Peter Brandt (a pseudonym for Paul DePodesta) as Hill brings a very straightforward yet subtle performance as a Yale economics graduate who loves baseball as he becomes Beane’s right-hand man. Finally, there’s Brad Pitt in a winning performance as Billy Beane, the A’s general manager and former pro ball player. Pitt brings an energy to his performance as a man trying to help a team while dealing with his own failures as a player. Pitt also radiates in scenes where he’s in meetings or having simple scenes with Hill where Pitt gets to be funny and Hill as the straight man. It’s definitely one of his best performances that is definitely in line with his recent work in The Tree of Life.

Moneyball is a glorious yet compelling film from Bennett Miller featuring an outstanding leading performance from Brad Pitt. The film is an intriguing drama about the world of baseball politics as Miller, along with the screenwriting duo of Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, create a film that is very fascinating that isn’t boring about the world of baseball. Fans of baseball movies will no doubt enjoy it while the non-baseball fans will find this to be a very interesting drama. In the end, Moneyball is an extraordinary film from Bennett Miller.

© thevoid99 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

LAMB Movie of the Month: Bande a Part



Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, that is based on the novel Fool‘s Gold by Dolores Hitchens, Bande a Part (Band of Outsiders) is the story of a young woman who meets two wannabe criminals as they go into an adventure around Paris figuring out how to do the perfect crime. The film is among one of Godard’s finest films of his revered period of the 1960s during the French New Wave as it would prove to be influential to many filmmakers. Starring Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur, and Louisa Colpeyn. Bande a Part is an extraordinary film from Jean-Luc Godard and company.

Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) are wannabe criminals seeking a break as they learn about a substantial amount of money in the home of a woman named Madame Victoria (Louisa Colpeyn). Befriending the woman’s niece Odile (Anna Karina) whom they met in English classes, the men let her know what they plan to do as she reveals that the money belongs to a lover of her aunt. Odile reluctantly helps in the planning as she falls for Arthur, in whom she had never met before, while the two and Franz continue to plan while doing various things in Paris.

After a night with Odile, Arthur gets himself in trouble with his uncle (Ernest Menzer) who asks for money prompting Arthur to act quickly. The plans he, Franz, and Odile have are suddenly falling apart as they figure how to move quickly. The first attempt in the evening goes wrong as Arthur decides to make a second attempt the next day before his uncle decides to do the job himself. With the next attempt happening, Franz is consumed with guilt while Odile becomes disillusioned with the ordeal as things start to fall apart.

The film is essentially about two criminals and a young woman getting together to create the perfect crime to steal some money so they can buy some happiness. Inspired by American crime films, Jean-Luc Godard allows the film to play up the conventions of the crime movie by having two guys, who watched a lot of those films, try to create a crime of their own. They have a target, an accomplice, and motives to want to steal all of this money from the lover of a woman who lives in a rich house. Along the way, Godard narrates throughout the film about the events that is happening along with brief thoughts about what the characters are feeling and such.

The deconstruction of the crime film with all of its planning and the act itself allows Godard to create something that is very loose and lively. At the same time, he wants to focus more on the three criminals that are planning this crime where a love triangle sort of happens. Franz is a young man that comes up with the idea as he starts off as the dominant figure only to realize that it takes a lot more to be a criminal. Arthur is someone who is more determined as he ends up becoming much darker though he shows a sensitive side in the way he deals with Odile whom he falls for in the film. Then there’s Odile who becomes the reluctant accomplice who goes to English classes so she can please her aunt and become a nurse. For her, it’s about getting the money to be free of her aunt though the experience later on would have her question her own morality.

The lack of a conventional script allows Godard to direct the film very loosely in the style that he’s known for in his films of the 1960s. This style of shooting on location and letting things happen naturally is part of what Godard does in order to make the film seem like it’s actually happening. At the same time, he allows the film to let things happen as if he uses it to kill time such as a scene where a moment of silence happens where no sound occurs. Other notable famous scenes include a dance scene where music plays while Godard comments on what the characters are feeling and a scene of the three characters running through the Louvre to break a record.

These iconic scenes help move the film very seamlessly without distracting itself from the narrative as it’s all for the characters to kill time as they plan out their criminal activity. Godard also creates some amazing compositions for the audience to be engaged by what is going on while maintaining that free-wielding filmmaking style. Overall, Godard creates what is truly an exciting yet intense film that subverts the crime film by adding some humanistic themes and some humor.

Cinematographer Raoul Coutard does a fantastic job with the film‘s black-and-white photography that is truly stylish for many of its exterior settings without being too grainy as it is one of the film‘s technical highlights. Editors Francoise Collin, Dahlia Ezove, and Agnes Guillemot do a great job with the editing in maintaining a straightforward though rhythmic approach to the pacing while keeping up with its energetic feel from its jump-cuts. Costume supervisor Christane Fageol does a very good job with choosing the clothes the characters wear such as Franz‘s trench coat and the sweaters that Odile wears.

The sound work by Antoine Bonfanti and Rene Levert is excellent for its naturalist approach along with gun shots and the music that is played while taking the sound out for its minute of silence scene. The film’s score by Michel Legrand is phenomenal for its array of styles ranging from plaintive string pieces to flourishing piano cuts to play up the film’s witty tone.

The casting is brilliant as it features some memorable appearances from Daniele Girard as the English teacher, Chantal Darget as Arthur’s aunt, Ernest Menzer as Arthur’s uncle, and Louise Colpeyn as Odile‘s posh aunt. Sami Frey is wonderful as Franz, the organizer of the theft who tries to flirt with Odile only to realize what it takes to truly become a criminal. Claude Brasseur is superb as Arthur, the aggressor of the group who charms Odile while showing a darker side when he is pressured into stealing the money. Finally, there’s Anna Karina in an enchanting performance as Odile. Karina’s performance is very lively as a young woman seeking adventure in crime while coming to terms with the fact that she’s an accomplice to something that goes very wrong as it’s one of Karina’s most iconic performances.

Bande a Part is a mesmerizing yet glorious film from Jean-Luc Godard. The film is definitely one of Godard’s finest films of his career as well as one of his most accessible of the period from 1960 to 1967. Anyone interested in Godard and the French New Wave will find this film as a nice introduction though A Bout de Souffle and Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows are much better intros. Yet, it’s also a great introduction for anyone interested in Godard’s great collaboration with Anna Karina, who was his wife at the time, as it’s one of the best director-actor collaborations. In the end, Bande a Part is a fun yet enthralling film from Jean-Luc Godard.

Jean-Luc Godard Films: Breathless - (The Little Soldier) - (A Woman is a Woman) - My Live to Live - The Carabineers - (Contempt) - (A Married Woman) - (Alphaville) - (Pierrot Le Fou) - Masculine Feminine - Made in U.S.A. - (Two or Three Things I Know About Her) - (La Chinoise) - (Weekend) - (One Plus One (Sympathy for the Devil)) - (Joy of Learning) - (Tout va Bien) - (Letter to Jane) - (One A.M.) - (Number Two) - (Here and Elsewhere) - (Every Man for Himself) - (Passion) - (First Name: Carmen) - (Hail Mary) - (Soft and Hard) - (Detective) - (King Lear (1987 film)) - (Keep Your Right Up) - (Novelle Vague) - (Allemagne 90 neuf zero) - (JLG/JLG - Self-Portrait in December) - (For Ever Mozart) - (Historie(s) de Cinema) - (In Praise of Love) - (Notre musique) - (Film Socialisme) - (Adieu au Language)

© thevoid99 2011