Monday, October 31, 2011

Cronos


Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, Cronos is the story of an antique dealer who finds a mysterious object as he becomes its owner as he’s targeted by an American businessman. The film is the feature-film debut of Guillermo del Toro as it marks the start of a glorious career who brings something new to the fantasy genre with a bit of horror in the mix. Starring Federico Luppi, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath, and Ron Perlman. Cronos is an entrancing yet spellbinding debut film from Guillermo del Toro.

Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) is an antiques dealer who has just discovered something from the base of an old angelic statue. Inside the base is a device that looks like an insect as he and his granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath) look into it as it pierces Jesus’ hand. Injured by that device, he remains entranced by it as he uses it again where it made him feel young. When he later finds his store vandalized, Jesus finds a card left by a man he had met a day earlier named Angel (Ron Perlman). Jesus meets Angel who needs the device because his dying uncle Dieter (Claudio Brook) needs it though Angel has no idea what the device does.

After meeting Dieter, Jesus learns that the device has powers revolves around eternal life as it was invented by an alchemist (Mario Ivan Martinez) back in the 16th Century. Jesus refuses to give the device to Dieter as he goes out to a New Year’s Eve party with his wife Mercedes (Margarita Isabel) and Aurora where Jesus encounters a man bleeding. With a taste for blood, Jesus tries to go after the man only to be assaulted by Angel who learns what his uncle wants. With Jesus managing to outwit Angel, he realizes that the device is more trouble than he thought as Angel turns out to be a real threat. With help from Aurora, the two decide to confront Angel and Dieter over the device that has caused a whole lot of trouble.

The film is about a strange, insect-like device with a mysterious creature inside that brings eternal life to whoever uses the device as a kind antiques dealer becomes the new owner. Yet, he would encounter all sorts of trouble as he starts to feel younger and more agile while dealing with an American businessman and his nephew wanting this device. While the idea of eternal life is tempting, it only causes trouble due to the differing motives for the user and the two men that want it.

Guillermo del Toro’s approach to the film isn’t just creating this idea of dark fantasy that revolves around youth. It’s really about the exploration of a man who is tempted with power only to realize that it doesn’t guarantee peace or happiness. While the film opens with a prologue about the alchemist who creates the thing where he lives for about four centuries only to die by an accident leaving behind his book about the device that later gets into Dieter’s hands. That prologue sets up what is to come where men of power and temptation would want this device for selfish reasons. In the hands of Jesus Gris, it’s more about his curiosity as a good man is seduced by its power while eventually realizing that it’s not worth all of the trouble due to the men that wants it.

The direction of del Toro is truly mesmerizing as he creates dazzling compositions and shots that is all shot on location in his home of Guadalajara, Mexico. The direction has del Toro create shots that are inspired by his love for Italian horror as well as his own sensibilities where it’s not about big scares or chills but rather have the camera follow this man on the journey he takes. There’s also some amazing shots inside the device where the shots of gears and a bug inside show the kind of ambition del Toro has while not be hampered by the small budget he has. There are a lot of intimate and grand shots that del Toro goes for while keeping it very stylish without over-indulging as he creates what is truly a solid feature-film debut.

Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job with the film‘s photography from the use of stylish colorful lights for some of the nighttime scenes with blue and bits of green to emphasize the eerie tone of the film. For a lot of the daytime scenes, the camera work is mostly straightforward with its emphasis on a sunny yet yellowish look that is a standard of Navarro’s work with del Toro. Editor Raul Davalos does an excellent job with the editing to help create a wonderful rhythm to the suspense while maintaining a mostly straightforward approach to the editing and its leisured pacing.

Production designer Tolita Figueroa and art director Brigitte Boch do an amazing job with the set pieces created such as Jesus‘ antique shop and the factory that Angel and his uncle run including the uncle‘s strange yet cold room that he lives in. Costume designer Genoveva Petitpierre does a good job with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual while the dresses that Mercedes and Aurora wear at the New Year‘s party are lovely. Makeup effects artist Rigo Mora does a great job with the make-up effects made for the film‘s second half where Jesus is given a look that makes him realize what he‘s headed for.

The special effects Laurencio Cordero is great for the look of what is inside the device with a bug inside to emphasize what kind of power it has. The sound work by Fernando Camara is terrific to play up some of the suspense in the film as well as the intimate moments involving Jesus and Aurora. The film’s score by Javier Alvarez is superbly rich for its orchestral flourishes that features enchanting marimba melodies and dramatic string arrangements to play up the drama and suspense of the film. Alvarez also supervises the soundtrack as it’s a mix of classical pieces by Franz Schubert as well as some traditional mariachi music.

The cast for the film is brilliant as it features appearances from Juan Carlos Colombo as a humorous funeral director, music composer Javier Alvarez as the man with a nose bleed that Jesus encounters, Mario Ivan Martinez as the alchemist in the prologue, and Daniel Gimenez Cacho as a very funny embalmer. Margarita Isabel is good as Jesus’ dance-instructor wife Mercedes who is concerned by his behavior while Tamara Shanath is excellent as Jesus’ silent yet observing granddaughter Aurora. Claudio Brook is superb as Dieter, an aging man who seeks to have the device to gain eternal life while being abusive to those around him including his nephew. Ron Perlman is great as Angel, Dieter’s thuggish nephew who tries to bully Jesus into getting what is wanted while dealing with his uncle as it’s a dark yet humorous performance from the actor.

Finally, there’s Federico Luppi in an outstanding performance as Jesus Gris. Luppi brings a very innocent yet warm approach to a man that is good at heart as he comes across this strange device that gives him power that he couldn’t believe. Luppi also brings a real sense of the everyman as he deals with his foes as he and Perlman have some great scenes together to emphasize the world of good and evil as it’s a real treasure of a performance from the Argentinean actor.

***Additional DVD Content Written from 3/31/12-4/5/12***

The Region 1 DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film with a newly high-definition transfer that is supervised by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. Presented in a 1:78:1 theatrical widescreen aspect ratio for 16x9 televisions with Dolby Digital Surround Sound for both Spanish and English with English subtitles. Among the many special features for this release includes an optional voice-over introduction both English and Spanish preceding the film.

Two commentary tracks appear from the original 2002 DVD release. The first is from its writer/director Guillermo del Toro who discusses a lot of the themes in the film as well as some of his own biographical elements he injected into the story. Notably the relationship between Jesus and his granddaughter Aurora that del Toro sort of based on his own relationship with his very religious grandmother whom he dedicated the film to. He also states that his grandmother makes Piper Laurie’s character from Carrie look like a girl scout while he also delves into a lot of the mythology about vampires, alchemy, and all sorts of things that were inspired by comics and horror novels that he grew up reading. The performances of Ron Perlman and Federico Luppi are also discussed with great delight by del Toro as he also reveals the various cinematic influences he was inspired by for the film as it’s a truly engrossing commentary track.

The second commentary track from producers Arthur H. Gorson, Bertha Navarro, and Alejandro Springall has them discussing about the production of the film. With Gorson speaking on one track in English while Navarro and Springall talk in Spanish in another track. Gorson reveals the difficulty of producing films in Mexico as he revealed why it became a co-production between himself, the American producer, and the duo of Navarro and Springall so that there wouldn’t be a lot of interference from studio or government that is often the case with a lot of Mexican films during the early 1990s. Navarro and Springall reveal the film’s importance for the Mexican film industry while revealing what it took to ensure del Toro’s vision. Notably as the film would be a turning point for various Mexican crew members like art director Brigitte Broch who would go on to bigger things. The overall commentary is enjoyable in revealing a lot about del Toro’s passion as well as the film itself.

The six-and-a-half minute short film Geometria is an old 1987 unreleased short film by del Toro that he completed in 2010 specifically for this release. Loosely based on a short story by Fredric Brown, the film is about a kid who refuses to study for an upcoming geometry test where his fascination with the occult has him dealing with a demon who brings back his dead father with very dark results. It’s a very comical short that features intentionally-cheesy dubbing by del Toro while the woman who plays the kid’s mother is in fact Guillermo del Toro’s mother Guadalupe. The short also includes a seven-minute interview about the short film where del Toro discusses his influences and some tidbits about the short. He also revealed the changes he made which were mostly for its sound and sound dubbing where he did some re-mixing to get the better sound quality he wanted for the release.

The 10-minute segment Welcome to the Bleak House is a tour of del Toro’s home office. An avid collector of memorabilia, novels, art work, and such, del Toro gives a tour of his collection that is essentially his man-cave that is two stories high filled with lot of things. Models, toys, old books from 17th-18th Century, comics, and props from his own films while showcasing a room where has a fascinating library of films. It’s a truly enjoyable piece that will make anyone geek out.

The 18-minute interview with del Toro has him discussing the film and how it relates to everything he would do later on. Notably in finding the human soul in a monster as he’s always interested in the monster that is often seen as the antagonists in horror films. He also discusses about the things he loves about Cronos as well as things he’s irked by but won’t change. His collaboration with Ron Perlman is also discussed about how loyal Perlman is to him while del Toro also delves about the fact that every filmmaker needs limitations. Notably because he feels that too much freedom will only destroy everything a filmmaker stood for.

The 13-minute interview with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro has the cinematographer discuss his relationship with del Toro that spans back to the early 80s when they did films for other filmmakers where he was the camera man and del Toro was an effects makeup artist. Navarro discuss their visual style as well as their look for Cronos that would evolve into the films he would make with del Toro and other filmmakers. It’s a wonderful piece that explores the art of cinematography and what Navarro doesn’t use to maintain his visual style.

The seven-minute and twenty-five second interview with actor Ron Perlman has him talking about his friendship/collaboration with del Toro. Perlman talks about how he got involved with del Toro for the film as he was fascinated by the script and del Toro’s love for Perlman’s work prior to this film. Perlman recalls about his confusion about the language of the film where he had to learn some Spanish. Perlman said that this film was a career turning point where it broke out of playing character acting parts and into a new level of films that would have him work internationally with other filmmakers.

The five-minute and twenty-five second video interview with actor Federico Luppi about the making of the film comes from the film‘s original 2002 DVD release. Luppi talks about working with del Toro as it features footage of the film being made. Notably as Luppi discusses the enthusiasm of working with someone as young like del Toro as well as the scale of a production as unique as this film. The stills gallery section includes many pictures about the production of the film including rare photos of the production of del Toro‘s early shorts along with the design and making of the Cronos device in grand detail. The highlight of the stills gallery is a look inside the book about the Cronos device. Another special feature of the film includes the film’s original theatrical trailer.

Accompanying the DVD release is a book that features two different text material relating to the film. The first is an essay by film historian Maitland McDonagh entitled Beautiful Dark Things. McDonagh revels on the film’s importance for Mexican cinema and how the film managed to find its way with American audiences despite the market at the time where it would be a few film critics who would help champion the film. Notably as it would springboard the career of a filmmaker who would help re-define the monster movie by adding a soul to the monster for audiences to care for. McDonagh likens del Toro to a filmmaker like David Cronenberg for the fact that both men were able to put more care and thought into a genre that is often dismissed by elitists.

The second piece of text in the booklet are production notes from Guillermo del Toro that dates back to 1991. The notes unveil a lot of detail into the look of the film as well as stories behind the characters in the film. Some of which features biographies with hand-written note by del Toro for the changes he wanted to make for the film. The details about del Toro’s insistence in adding Gothic themes to the film is unveiled along with the notes about alchemy. It’s truly an insightful read to see how much del Toro was willing to put in his first film. The overall DVD itself is a must-have for fans of del Toro as well as fans of horror/suspense films.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

Cronos is an imaginative yet exhilarating film from Guillermo del Toro featuring two great performances from future del Toro regulars in Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman. Fans of suspense and horror films will be taken aback by its lack of gore and big chills though they will be engaged by its story and del Toro’s stylish direction. For the fans of del Toro, this film is truly something they should see in where he gets some of his visual ideas for later films as well as how inventive he was early on. In the end, Cronos is a spectacular debut film from Guillermo del Toro.


© thevoid99 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Wages of Fear



Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and written by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi that is based on a novel by Georges Arnaud, Le Salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear) is the story about four European men carrying nitroglycerine to extinguish a fire at a South American oil well through treacherous terrains. Starring Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, and Folco Lulli. Le Salaire de la peur is a gripping yet mesmerizing suspense film from Henri-Georges Clouzot.

A group of foreign men are in a South American town taking odd jobs to get by as they’re seeking for some bigger job at a nearby American oil company. Arriving into town is an ex-gangster named Jo (Charles Vanel) where he meets a young Frenchman named Mario (Yves Montand) as Mario shows him around town. While Jo tries to make some deals with the company foreman Bill O’Brien (William Tubbs), Mario tries to flirt around with the bar’s waitress Linda (Vera Clouzot). Though Jo is seen as the big shot, he’s not favored by everyone including the hardworking Luigi (Folco Lulli). When news of an explosion at an oil well that has killed four men, O’Brien needs four men to drive two big trucks filled with nitroglycerine to stop the fire. Mario and Luigi are hired along with a Dutchman named Bimba (Peter van Eyck) and a German named Smerloff (Jo Dest).

When Jo manages to smooth his way to take the job, he joins Mario on the first truck while Bimba and Luigi drive the second as they go through the treacherous terrain to the oil well. The four men take turns to drive though it’s clear that despite Mario’s admission to being scared and his need for Jo to help him. Jo becomes ill and starts to become fearful while the four men go through many dangers including and old mine and a huge rock blocking the road. The ordeal would be tough on all four as Mario is forced to deal with Jo’s sudden behavior as it becomes erratic. With a bigger challenge emerging, Mario ponders about the journey he’s been through.

The film is about four guys trying to find some big payoff by taking on this big job. Yet, the job means having to go into a suicide mission carrying an entire truckload of nitroglycerine through these horrific terrains and roads that leads to the big oil well so that a fire can be stopped. Still, there’s the journey where it becomes more than just dangerous on a physical level but also from an emotional and mental perspective. The four men would deal with their own fears and how to handle situations where one would fall apart as his partner is forced to try and get him to calm down.

The screenplay that Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi create is about these men in the world they live in as the film has a structure that is very different. The first half is about the men themselves and their own lives as they each try to deal with trying to find work and live in this very poor South American town. One of the men is a kind laborer hoping to return to Italy while the other is an intense yet quiet Dutchman who spent his years working in the salt mines. Then, there’s these two different Frenchmen as one is a young playboy while the other is an aging ex-gangster. The first half of the film spends a lot of time with the two men along with various others all trying to find some work and make some money in this poor town that is run by an American oil company. While the company are seen as villains, Clouzot nor Geronimi aren’t making some kind of political or social statement towards American corporations other than the fact that they are known for exploiting poor regions in the world.

By the time it gets to the second half, the film changes into this suspenseful yet thrilling adventure where it’s all about what to do on the road. That half is definitely a more engaging portion of the film because of what happens in the journey. Through these challenges such as a series of very dangerous roadways, a very narrow turn near a cliff, a rock, and later a big crater as they‘re all carrying an entire truckload of nitroglycerine, which makes the journey more dangerous. While two of them end up working together very well and manage to maintain some control, there’s two more that are dealing with other issues such as their own fears and to try and to get to their destination. The stakes become more intense as the journey progresses where there is something that’s going to happen. The script’s success is due to the structure of the film where the first half is about these four men and the second half is the journey and what they hope to gain from it.

Clouzot’s direction is very entrancing in the way he presents the film in its different ideas towards the narrative and story. The first half is a more lighthearted yet intriguing drama where there’s elements of melodrama and character study with dabbles of humor. The direction for the most part is quite straightforward but also dwells into the lives of these men and the people that surround them. There’s also some tension throughout that includes a showdown between the working-class Luigi and the more experienced yet successful Jo. The latter of which is a man that can slime his way into anything in hopes that there’s a big payday.

For its second half, the tone of the film changes as it becomes this more harrowing film where the journey is very dangerous. There’s a claustrophobia to the roads and locations they’re driving in as they’re either quite narrow or unsafe because it’s bumpy or has lots of potholes. The camera is always showing the tires and from a point-of-view of the driver. Clouzot’s direction becomes more direct towards what is happening as the action sequences are slow but captivating over what these four men could do in the situations they’re facing. The ending of the film revolves around what was accomplished but also what was lost as it moves back and forth into two different scenes leading to a climatic moment about all that had happened. The overall result in Clouzot’s direction is a film that is chilling but magnificent for its approach to suspense.

Cinematographer Armand Thirard does a great job with the film‘s black-and-white photography to exemplify the broad yet sunny look of the small town the characters live in to more haunting yet stylish look for some of the nighttime scenes. Notably the scenes in the road where the camera work is more engaging for the action as Thirard’s photography is a major highlight of the film. Editors Henri Rust and Madeleine Gug do an amazing job with the editing in giving a lot of the film’s first half some stylish transitional wipes to maintain a steady yet methodical pace for that section. For the second half, the pacing is a bit slower to maintain that element of suspense and chills as it’s definitely engrossing as it’s another of the films technical highlights.

Art director Rene Renoux does a very good job with the set pieces created such as the bar that many of the men hang out to the decayed mine that the four men had to encounter in their journey. The sound work of William Robert Sivel is brilliant for the raucous atmosphere of the city including the bar where there‘s music and dancing played. The sound for the film‘s second half is mostly sparse with only the noise of the truck and locations present in that section to emphasize on its suspense. The music of Georges Auric is superb for its haunting yet acoustic guitar-driven introduction in the opening credits while a lot of the music in the film ranges from Latin American folk and dance music of the time to classical pieces that’s played on location.

The casting for the film is excellent as it features some notable small performances from Luis de Lima as a young Italian man named Bernardo, Jo Dest as the German Smerloff, Dario Moreno as the bar owner Hernandez, William Tubbs as the American foreman O’Brien, and Vera Clouzet as the flirtatious yet dramatic Linda who is in love with Mario. Peter van Eyck is wonderful as Bimba, a Dutch miner who likes to keep things straight as he becomes the biggest risk taker when dealing with a huge roadblock that threatens the job. Folco Lulli is brilliant as the upbeat yet no-nonsense Luigi, a laborer that just wants to get paid and return home for a good life as he’s the most upbeat of the four men.

Charles Vanel is great as Jo, a former gangster who tricks his way into getting the job unaware of the dangers that he’s facing as he becomes a coward due to his illness and old age. Finally, there’s Yves Montand in a phenomenal performance as Mario. Montand brings a nice complexity to a man who is charming but mysterious man who likes to flirt with Linda while also being sort of cruel to her at times. Montand also shows a real everyman quality to a man who is determined to get the job done as it’s definitely a very captivating performance.

Le Salaire de la peur is a spectacular yet powerful suspense film from Henri-Georges Clouzet. Featuring a towering lead performances from Yves Montand, the film is truly one of the most engaging and compelling films ever made for its suspenseful action sequence as well as its devotion to get to know its characters. For anyone that is into suspense films should see this as an essential piece of how it should be done. In the end, Le Salaire de la peur is a haunting yet exhilarating film from Henri-Georges Clouzet.

Henri-Georges Clouzot Films: (Caprice de Princesse) - (Tout pour l’amour) - (The Murderer Lives at Number 21) - (Le Corbeau) - (Quai des orfevres) - (Manon) - (Miquette et sa mere) - Les Diaboliques - (Les Espions) - (La Verite) - (Grand chefs d’orchestre) - (La Prisonniere)

© thevoid99 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Juliet of the Spirits


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/12/09 w/ Additional Edits.


After two back-to-back feature films that were considered landmark films for cinema, Federico Fellini was clearly the top director of Italian cinema. While Fellini was known for his unique ambitions, his art films were clearly not for everyone as some Italian filmgoers were finding themselves being drawn to the rising world of Spaghetti Westerns led by Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. Yet, Fellini decided to press on with his ambitions in a film that relates to his view of surrealism entitled Giulietta degli Spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits).

Directed by Fedrico Fellini which he co-wrote with collaborators Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli along with Brunello Rondi. Giulietta degli Spiriti tells the story of a woman who explores her subconscious as she delves into the world of her sexy neighbor. Oppressed by her mundane life and her cheating husband, the woman goes into a surreal world where she faces many dreams and nightmares. A film that revels into Fellini's fascination with surrealism, it's also the first feature-length film he made in color as it would be considered as one of his finest films of his career. Starring Fellini regulars Giulietta Masina and Sandra Milo plus Mario Pisu, Valentina Cortese, Valeska Gert, Jose Luis de Villalonga, and Caterina Boratto. Giulietta degli Spiriti is an eerie yet spellbinding film from Federico Fellini.

It's an anniversary party for Giulietta Boldrini (Giulietta Masina) and her husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu). Attending the party is Giulietta's friend Valentina (Valentina Cortese), Dolores (Silvana Jachino), and a clairvoyant named Genius (Genius). The clairvoyant decided to contact spirits for the party with several people while Giorgio and his friend are outside. During the party, Giulietta faints though she quickly recovers. The next day during the beach with her friends and sisters Adele (Luisa Della Noce) and Sylva (Sylva Koscina), surreal images start to appear that features an old man while her neighbor Suzy (Sandra Milo) makes an appearance at the beach. Later that day, Giulietta and her sisters meet their mother (Caterina Boratto) who wonders why Giulietta always put on an understated appearance.

When Giorgio returns home from work, they watch a TV program where later that night, he utters the name Gabriella in his sleep. Giulietta later asks him as he claims he has no idea what he said as Val visits to invite her to a seance with their friend Elena (Elena Fondra). During that seance, Giulietta talks to a spiritual guru (Valeska Gert) who speaks of Giulietta's problems with her marriage and what she should do. Giulietta becomes troubled by the images where she suddenly recalls a fascinating memory involving her grandfather (Lou Gilbert) and a circus ingenue (Sandra Milo). Returning home, she is encountered by a friend of Giorgio named Jose (Jose Luis de Villalonga) who makes sangria for her as he reveals about his world of bullfighting. Giulietta finds herself amazed by Jose though her suspicions of Giorgio's philandering is raised. Turning to Adele for help, they go to a private detective and a psychiatrist for help in order to confirm Giulietta's suspicions.

When a cat appears in Giulietta's backyard, she realizes it belongs to her neighbor Suzy as she goes to Suzy's lavish home filled with a variety of people as they quickly befriend one another. Even as Suzy tries to get Giulietta to open up sexually while taking her to her secret tree house. After getting a call from the private investigator to reveal what is going on with Giorgio, Giulietta suddenly faces the dark truth as her world crumbles. After a party held by Suzy where she encounters strange people and a beautiful young man, Giulietta suddenly has horrifying images that recalls images of the time she was to be martyred for a school play that her late friend Laura was involved in. The images start to be around her where at a party that involves a psycho-dramatist (Anne Francine) finds Giulietta desperate to rid of these images while forced to confront her troubled marriage. After going to the home of Giorgio's mistress in hopes to confront her, she returns home as she is haunted by her troubled marriage and demons surrounding her.

The film is about a woman's life that begins to unravel after an encounter with spirits where she begins to discover her troubled marriage as well as her free-spirited neighbor. Really, it's a film about demons and a woman's inability to find a life outside of her troubled marriage. With her sisters and friends telling her that she should leave Giorgio, the big question is what's next for Giulietta? Making things worse are memories and surreal images that begin to haunt her. Including the ghost of her departed friend Laura, who died at age 15 of drowning, and her eccentric grandfather who refused to have her take part in a ceremony that had him expelled from a prestigious school.

While the script is mostly a character study of a woman's troubled state of mind along with her troubled marriage due to her husband's philandering. The film recalls a lot of Fellini's own personal life which involves his real-life marriage to the film's star Giulietta Masina. A marriage that featured rumors that Fellini himself, had been having affairs with other women at the time he was becoming this internationally-renowned director a few years back. A lot of the film's spiritual, ghostly storylines revel in Fellini's fascination with surrealism as well as his early experiments with the drug known as LSD. With his collaborators like screenwriters Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano along with Brunello Rondi working on this story. The result is truly a film that delves into the world of death, spirituality, and marriage all surrounding a woman's state of mind.

Fellini's direction, being that it is his first film in color, reveal a new maturity in the director. Though the film at times lags in certain spots, it does show that Fellini is still as engaging in his camera work and presentation. With lavish scenes involving the circus and parties that are colorful yet surreal. It has images and scenes that are truly striking while his camera has great compositions on how he shoots the characters. There's times that the faces are darkened only to be shown fully for dramatic effect. At the same time, the camera rarely has a close-up on Sandra Milo throughout the entire film. Still, the images Fellini creates through some amazing visual effects to the lavish art direction shows that he can still create unforgettable images that dazzles the mind of the audience.

Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo does some fabulous with the film's rich, colorful cinematography from the exquisite, sunny exteriors on the daytime scenes, notably the look of the scenes in the woods to the dream-like nighttime exteriors of the house that Giulietta and Giorgio live in. The interior scenes, notably the home of Suzy and the scenes with the circus all awash with bright colors to give it a lavish look. Di Venanzo's work that includes some great zoom shots are entrancing to watch in every scene and image shown on the film. Editor Ruggero Mastroianni does some excellent work with the film's transitional cuts, dissolves, and other quick fade-to-black styles. While the editing is mostly conventional yet stylized, it has moments where it lags in the pacing though does work in its dramatic effect in several scenes.

Production designers Giantito Burchiellaro, Luciano Ricceri, and E. Benazzi Taglietti along with set decorator Vito Anzalone, and art director/costume designer Piero Gherardi is marvelous in the look of the home of Giulietta with its trees and gardens along with the look of Suzy's home. The production design on the circus scenes are extravagant yet wonderful in the presentation as it's one of the film's technical highlights. Gherardi's costume design lives up to the film's lavish production with hats, dresses, and costumes that really plays up to the posh lifestyle of its characters. With its large hats, colorful dresses, and the clothes that Sandra Milo wears, it's another of the film's highlights in its technical work.

The sound work of Mario Faraoni and Mario Morigi is excellent in creating moments of suspense as well as bringing a ghostly sound to the film's dramatic scenes. The film's best technical highlight is the vibrant, flourishing score of Nino Rota. Rota's pieces from 1930s-1940s style jazz, electric organ-style pieces that plays to the film's dreamy, comical tone. The arrangements and melodic-driven score that Rota creates is overall fascinating and powerful. It is truly one of the most majestic and memorable film scores in the history of film.

The cast is truly amazing with memorable appearances from Alba Cancellieri as the young Giulietta, Sujata Rubener as the assistant of the spiritual guru, Elisabetta Gray & Milena Vukotic as Giuletta's maids, Alessandra Mannoukine as Suzy's mother, and Mario Connocchia as Giulietta's old headmaster. Other notable small roles like Elena Fondra as Elena, the famed clairvoyant Genius as himself, Anne Francine as the psycho-dramatist, Sylva Koscina as Giulietta's TV star sister Sylva, Silvana Jachino as Dolores, Lou Gilbert as Giulietta's grandfather, Luisa Della Noce as Adele, and as the grotesque, strange spiritual guru, Valeska Gert. Caterina Boratto is excellent as Giulietta's rich, snobbish mother while Jose Luis de Villalonga is very good as Giorgio's friend Jose.

Valentina Cortese is wonderful as Giulietta's best friend Valentina who introduces Giulietta to the world of the spirits as she becomes more intrigued by what it has done for Giulietta while being concerned for her well-being. Mario Pisu is good as Giorgio, the philandering husband who constantly lies while being unaware that his wife knows exactly what she knows he's doing. Sandra Milo is great in the role of three women where she plays the circus ingenue known as Fanny as well as a spirit named Iris. Yet, it's the role of Suzy that Milo really gets to be loose and free while providing some great scenes with Giulietta Masina as it's definitely an excellent supporting performance from the sexy yet vivacious Milo.

Finally, there's Giulietta Masina in an amazing performance as the title character of Giulietta. While it may not have the comical approach and liveliness of her famed, previous performances in La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, it's definitely of Masina's best roles. Especially for how understated she is in her reactions to situations. There's something angelic in her facial expressions that plays well to her quiet, restrained role. Even as she doesn't do a lot of over-the-top performance as she is Masina is really the heart of the film.

Released in the fall of 1965, the film drew rave reviews with critics marking another achievement for Federico Fellini. Despite winning a Golden Globe and several critics awards, the film marked the last time Fellini worked with longtime screenwriter Ennio Flaiano who had a falling out with the director of creative credits. The film also marked a new phase for Fellini as he became more interested in surreal imagery due to the work of Carl Jung that would have a huge impact on his next film, Fellini Satyricon.

While it may not reach the brilliance of films like La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, or his two previous films, Giulietta degli Spiriti is still a brilliant, colorful, and haunting film from Federico Fellini. Thanks in part to the radiant performance of Giulietta Masina, it's a film that is definitely quintessential Fellini in all of its extravagance, humor, and look. Along with a great score by Nino Rota, it's a film that revels in the world of spirits and into a woman's state of mind as she deals with her troubled marriage. Despite a few flaws, Giulietta degli Spiriti is a mesmerizing, enchanting film from Federico Fellini.

Federico Fellini Films: (Variety Lights) - (The White Shiek) - I, Vitelloni - (L'amore in Citta-Un'agenzia matrimoniale) - La Strada - (Il Bidone) - Nights of Cabiria - La Dolce Vita - (Boccaccio '70-Le tentazioni del Dottor Antonio) - 8 1/2 - Histoires extraordinaires-Toby Dammit - (Fellini: A Director's Notebook) - Fellini Satyricon - (I Clowns) - Roma - Amarcord - Casanova - (Orchestra Rehearsal) - (City of Women) - (And the Ship Sails On) - (Ginger and Fred) - (Intervista) - (The Voice of the Moon)

(C) thevoid99 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

All Good Things



Directed by Andrew Jarecki and written by Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling, All Good Things is about a young real estate heir who marries a working-class girl as his life spirals out of control due to his mood swings and his wife’s yearning to be independent. When she mysteriously disappears, dark secrets are uncovered as he tries to deal with his own demons. The film is based on the life of Robert Durst, the son of a real estate mogul, as the film explores a man’s troubled life. Starring Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Kristen Wiig, Philip Baker Hall, Diane Venora, and Frank Langella. All Good Things is an engrossing although flawed drama from Andrew Jarecki.

It’s the early 1970s as real estate heir David Marks (Ryan Gosling) goes to an apartment to fix the plumbing of a building that is owned by his father Sanford (Frank Langella). There, he meets a young woman named Katie (Kirsten Dunst) as the two go out as she becomes the thing he needed to escape the rich lifestyle that he’s set out for as they live in Vermont. While Sanford doesn’t entirely approve of the relationship, he convinces David to return to New York City believing that Katie will be happy. David reluctantly returns to New York City to work for his father while Katie is hoping to become a medical student as she has trouble dealing with David’s mood. While Katie yearns for a simpler life and wanting a family, David becomes more troubled as he learns that Katie is pregnant.

Yet, Katie’s hopes for a family life is shattered as she spends her time with friend Lauren (Kristen Wiig) as she and David become distant. With David spending more time working and Katie living at the Westchester country home to get herself into medical school. David suddenly becomes more controlling and violent as Katie ponders about what to do as their marriage starts to crumble. When Katie suddenly disappears in 1982, David confronts his father about his mother’s suicide prompting him to disappear. When a district attorney named Janet Rizzo (Diane Venora) wants to re-open the case over Katie’s disappearance in 2000. The Marks family is in trouble as David has disappeared in Galveston as he befriends an elderly man named Malvern (Philip Baker Hall) as David later finds himself in trouble again.

The film is the story of a young man who falls for a girl as she enters into a world of a posh lifestyle though she craves for something much simpler. When he is forced to give in to the world that he’s set for, he starts to unravel by his own past about his mother’s death and his family life as his wife has no idea who he is. Suddenly, she’s gone as questions are asked with no one knows what really happened until a district attorney re-opens the case while the young man has lived in secrecy in Texas trying to disappear. Yet, it’s all told from a man’s perspective as he is on trial for what he might’ve done as he is forced to look back.

While a story like this is likely to have some clichés and there are some which involves what is expected. Yet, the screenwriters are more concerned about what has happened to this young man that had him taking on the life he wanted to run away from and eventually starts to lose it as he becomes more controlling towards his wife. The film starts off as this light-hearted drama and then gets darker as the film progresses into a this restrained yet unsettling thriller where David Marks becomes more disturbed and such though there’s touches of that early in the film. The study of this man and his relationship with his wife and father are interesting though there’s moments where the script tends to fall into clichés at times. Plus, one of the script’s major faults is the time setting where it becomes confusing for the audience to figure out when is this happening.

The direction of Andrew Jarecki is really good for the way he engages the audience into seeing this young man unravel by the pressure he’s going through while trying to be a great husband to his wife. While he couldn’t overcome some of the shortcomings of the script, Jarecki’s does allow the story to build up where it starts off as this study of a troubled man and then becomes this chilling thriller. By the time the third act arrives where Marks is in Texas in a strange disguise, the mood doesn’t change but it is clear that the audience already figures out what happens and it loses some of its suspense. Despite the flaws of the story and Jarecki’s attempt to try and pull away from the clichés. He is still able to make a compelling and harrowing drama about the troubled life of this young man.

Cinematographer Michael Seresin does an excellent job with the film‘s photography that helps sets the mood of the film such as the sunnier countryside scenes with wonderful colors and Super 8 camera footage. Seresin also helps give the film a very dark look with blue and black to emphasize the haunting mood of Marks as the film progresses to a more heightened look towards the end of the film. Editors David Rosenbloom and Shelby Siegel do some good work on the editing where it is pretty straightforward to emphasize the narrative though it rarely jumps back-and-forth to the courtroom scene until late in the film.

Production designer Wynn Thomas, along with set decorator Rich Devine and art director Russell Barnes, does a nice job with the set designs made from the country homes that David and Kate lived in from the 1970s to the early 80s to the more posh home of the Marks family estate and offices. Costume designer Michael Clancy does a fantastic job with the costumes from the stylish dresses the women wear from the 1970s to the more casual, guarded clothing later in the film during the early 80s. Sound designers Karen Vassar and Tim Walston do a fine job with the sound work to play up some of the atmosphere of the locations while mixing Marks’ voice as he recalls some of things that was going on in his life.

The film’s score by Rob Simonsen is stellar for its orchestral-driven score with some low-key yet somber pieces to more dramatic arrangements to emphasize the dark elements of the film. Music supervisor Susan Jacobs creates a soundtrack that is filled with music from the 70s like Steely Dan, Carly Simon, and A Taste of Honey where some of it is anachronistic because some of the music wasn‘t made that year.

The casting by Douglas Aibel is wonderful as it includes some great appearances from Nick Offerman as Kate’s brother Jim, Liz Stauber as Jim’s wife Sharon, Marion McCorry as Kate’s mother, Michael Esper as David’s younger yet more responsible brother Daniel, Trini Alvarado as a neighbor that Kate befriends, David Marguiles as a NYC mayor, and Philip Baker Hall as the elderly neighbor that David befriends in 2000 Texas. Lily Rabe is very good as David’s longtime friend Deborah who tries to help David with his issues while Kristen Wiig is excellent as Kate’s friend Lauren as she has a funny moment during a scene where the two talk to an attorney.

Frank Langella is superb as David’s father Sanford, a man who likes to maintain certain standards while revealing to be very flawed in the way he treats David as he eventually starts to care for Kate. Kirsten Dunst is phenomenal as Kate, David’s wife who starts out as this lively woman only to deal with David’s dark behavior. Dunst’s performance is truly mesmerizing from the way she deals with her own depression as well as her struggle to be independent as it’s really one of her most chilling performances of her career so far. Finally, there’s Ryan Gosling in a spellbinding yet very entrancing performance as David Marks. Gosling’s performance has him starting off as very kind and quiet while it builds to a more brooding yet disturbing performance as a man undone by demons and his yearn for control. Gosling and Dunst have great chemistry while Gosling also has some great scenes with Langella proving that he is one of the best actors working today.

All Good Things is a good though very flawed drama from Andrew Jarecki that features a great cast led by Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, and Frank Langella. Due to some of the clichés revolving around the film and a few anachronisms that can be distracting. The film is still an intriguing drama about the disappearance of a woman in the hands of her husband and what drove him to possibly kill her. In the end, All Good Things is a solid but messy drama from Andrew Jarecki.

© thevoid99 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cat People (1942 film)



Directed by Jacques Tourneur and written by DeWitt Bodeen, Cat People is about a woman whose new married life is in danger by a curse that she believes will make her into a panther. The film is considered to be one of the finest horror films of the 1940s as it mixed noir and drama to create a fascinating story. Starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, and Tom Conway. Cat People is a stylish yet mesmerizing film from Jacques Tourneur.

Irena (Simone Simon) is a Serbian-born fashion designer who meets a charming architect named Oliver (Kent Smith) at a zoo as the two begin a relationship. The relationship goes well as Oliver is intrigued by some of the things Irena has including a statue of a warrior impaling a cat that Irena claims is King John of Serbia who believes cats are evil. The two get married as they celebrate with friends including Oliver’s business associate Alice (Jane Randolph) where Irena sees a woman who says something to her in Serbian. Suddenly, the newly wedded life of Irena and Oliver starts to deteriorate due to Irena’s behavior as she goes on walks to the zoo as she is fascinated by a panther at the place.

After going to meet Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway) for some evaluation, based on Alice’s suggestion, Irena believes she has inherited an ancient curse that turns her into a panther. Yet, her behavior makes her believe that Oliver and Alice are having an affair though it isn’t true despite Alice’s admission that she is in love with Oliver. Irena starts to stalk Alice in secrecy as things between her and Oliver start to sour though Oliver wants to help her. While Dr. Judd believes that something is really wrong with Irena, he tries to stage an intervention where something terrifying starts to happen as Oliver and Alice believe that the story Irena told Oliver could be true.

The film is about a woman who comes from a world where she believes she is part of a group of people that turns into panthers. Though she yearns for a normal life with a man who loves her, her evasive behavior and her fear would eventually drive that marriage apart as he would eventually fall for another woman that is also just trying to be helpful. The script delves into the woman’s anxiety and why she is so consumed with fear as the first act is about the relationship between her and Oliver. The second act is about the marriage and its disintegration due to the fear that she’s having. The third is about her reacting to that fear and how she uses her curse to spread fear against those she feel have wronged her.

Jacques Tourneur’s direction is definitely stylish as he presents the film in different ideas for a lot of the romantic moments as well as the suspenseful moments. For a lot of the light-hearted scenes including the romance and melodrama, Tourneur keeps the direction straightforward in its framing and in the camera movements. Yet, he also utilizes soft close-ups to play up Irena’s emotions and her yearning to be loved. Once the film progresses into something darker, the framing becomes more eerie in a scene where Irena is being examined as it includes a dissolved animated sequence revolving around cats. Then the film becomes more suspenseful where there’s a great scene of Irena following Alice as she walks on her way home as it’s about the rhythm of how the two women walk and the way it sounds.

It adds to the sense of horror that something could happen as there’s little bits of action that happens in the film. Yet, Tourneur manages to play up the suspense by keeping it simple and not show very much. Notably the scene where Alice dives into the pool as she tries to find out what is lurking around that pool. It’s that element of horror and the way that it looks that gives the film a very entrancing look. The overall work that Tourneur does is phenomenal in the way he creates an engaging yet evocative film.

Cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca does an amazing job with the film‘s stylish black-and-white photography for the way he keeps a lot of the lighter moments simple with bright gray. For scenes at night in the interior setting such as Oliver and Alice’s work station and some scenes at Irena’s apartment are gorgeous in the way the lighting is presented including some of the shading as Musuraca’s work is definitely outstanding. Editor Mark Robson does a very good job with the editing by maintaining a methodical pace to play up the film’s suspense while keeping it straightforward for the dramatic moments of the film.

Art directors Albert S. D’Agostino and Walter E. Keller, along with set decorators A. Roland Fields and Darrell Silvera, do a nice job with the set pieces created such as Irena‘s home and the big office that Oliver and Alice work at. The gowns by Renie is wonderful for the way it looks as it plays to the personalities of the women with Alice as very dominant and Irena sporting darker clothing. The visual effects by Linwood G. Dunn and Vernon L. Walker is pretty good for the animation and spirals that is created as it has a sense of charm. Sound recordist John L. Cass does a great job with the sound work to play up the suspense of the film such as Irena following Alice and other suspenseful scenes where the sound is sparse yet chilling.

The film’s score by Roy Webb is brilliant for its somber yet dramatic orchestral pieces including a few chilling arrangements to play up the suspenseful portions of the film.

The film’s cast is excellent as it features an appearance from Jack Holt as a business friend of Oliver and Alice along with Alec Craig as a zookeeper that Irena talks to and Elizabeth Russell as the Serbian woman that talks to Irena at a restaurant. Tom Conway is wonderful as the smart but cautious Dr. Judd who always carries a cane with while trying to figure out Irena as he often talks to Alice and Oliver about Irena. Jane Randolph is great as Alice, Oliver’s friend who is a woman that handles her own business while trying to be a friend to Irena only to realize that something isn’t right about her.

Kent Smith is very good as Oliver, Irena’s husband who tries to figure out what to do while lamenting over her behavior as he finds comfort in Alice’s presence. Finally, there’s Simone Simon as Irena as Simone’s performance is entrancing for the way she despairs over her curse and the idea that her husband is having an affair. It’s a complex yet adventurous performance that allows Simone to be dramatic but also display a dark sense of humor to her character in one key scene of the film.

Cat People is an extraordinary yet spellbinding film from Jacques Tourneur that features a radiant yet haunting performance from Simone Simon. The film is definitely one of the best suspense/horror films of the 1940s as well as a great example of what a film like this could do with a small B-movie budget. It’s also a great introduction for those that is interested of what horror films were like back then where it didn’t have to rely on gore or easy tricks. In the end, Cat People is an engaging yet well-crafted thriller from Jacques Tourneur.

Related: Cat People (1982 film)

© thevoid99 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Open Your Eyes



Directed by Alejandro Amenabar and written by Amenabar and Mateo Gil, Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) is the story of a young playboy whose life changes following a car crash that leaves his face disfigured. After falling for his best friend’s girlfriend, he is questioned by a psychiatrist as he starts to have trouble distinguishing real life and the dreams that he’s been having. The film serves as Amenabar’s international breakthrough as it would mark him as a new voice in Spanish cinema. Starring Eduardo Noriega, Penelope Cruz, Najwa Nimri, Fele Martinez, and Chete Lera. Abre los Ojos is an enchanting yet surreal film from Alejandro Amenabar.

After a near-fatal car accident that left his face disfigured and being questioned for murder, a young rich playboy named Cesar (Eduardo Noriega) is examined by a psychiatrist named Antonio (Chete Lera). Cesar recounts his life as a young playboy who often sleeps with different women as he just scored in his latest conquest in a woman named Nuria (Najwa Nimri). With a birthday celebration coming as a party is held for Cesar, his best friend Pelayo (Fele Martinez) arrives with his new girlfriend Sofia (Penelope Cruz) as Cesar is amazed by her. Despite dealing with Nuria’s presence, Cesar finds himself attracted to Sofia as the two have a conversation about things as she takes him to her apartment. After a fun night where Cesar didn’t actually sleep with a woman, Nuria waits for Cesar as she drives him home where Nuria’s behavior leads to a horrifying incident.

With Cesar disfigured, his life is in shambles as he talks to Antonio about the despair he went through as all the surgeries he had didn’t work. Still, Sofia and Pelayo try to help him as he is convinced that his life ends. Yet, something happens as a revolutionary surgery has arrived fixing Cesar’s face as he manages to re-connect with Sofia as the two have a romance. Then, reality starts to blur as he sees Nuria claiming to be Sofia as Cesar has no idea what is going on. After meeting a man named Duvernois (Gerard Barray) who claims that Cesar is just dreaming, Cesar refuses to believe him as things become more complicated as Antonio asks about the dream Cesar keeps having. Cesar realizes that it all has to do with all of the things that are happening him as he confronts what is blurring his idea of reality.

The film is about a young man’s life that changes following an accident as his perception of reality starts to blur as he’s dealing with dreams in his head as he’s talking to a psychiatrist. During this journey, he starts to fall for a beautiful young woman who is his best friend’s new girlfriend. While she’s not like any of the women that this young man has been with, she comes in at a time where his life is going to change but in the wrong way due to a jealous lover. Due to his despair, he sleeps into a drunken state and wakes up where things change as it adds to his own confusion about what is real and what is a dream.

Alejandro Amenabar and co-writer Mateo Gil create a film where it’s all about the idea of what dreams can do but also how they can play with reality. At the same time, it’s a character study set into a world of surrealism as Amenabar and Gil delve into what this man is going through. During the course of the film, there is a story involving cryogenic freezing from a man who talks about it as it would later become something bigger in the third act. Meanwhile, Cesar goes through this journey where he has to deal with being disfigured and then have his face back but things don’t seem perfect as it seems. The script is a mesh of various genres with a center on this man’s ordeal as he talks to a psychiatrist that is trying to piece everything together.

Amenabar’s direction is truly engaging in the way he presents the film as he goes for style a lot of the composition he brings in as it’s shot on location in Madrid and in a full-frame format. Still, he allows the film to have a wide depth of field for several shots of Madrid as some of the early dream-like sequences features a city that is truly empty. Amenabar always keeps the camera moving to maintain that surreal-like state along with a few visual effects shots to play up Cesar’s perception of reality.

At the same time, there’s some wonderful intimate moments in scenes between Cesar and Sofia where Amenabar keeps the presentation simple. Yet, the way he approaches the more intense, dramatic moments as well as the big moments such as the ending shows ambition no matter what he has to use for a film like this. Overall, this is truly a stunning yet magnificent film from Amenabar.

Cinematographer Hans Burman does an excellent job with the film‘s photography from the colorful yet entrancing look of the nightclub scene to the broad yet beautiful daytime scenes in the park where Cesar recalls a dream to Sofia that she‘s in. Editor Maria Elena Sainz de Rozas does a great job with the editing by creating a tight yet methodical approach to the pacing while using straight cuts to black and jump-cuts to play up some of the film’s suspenseful moments.

Art director Wolfgang Burmann, along with set decorators Carola Angulo and Ramon Moya, does a nice job with the set pieces created such as the room where Cesar and Antonio as well as the differing apartments that Cesar and Sofia live in. Costume designer Conha Solera does a very good job with the costumes to exemplify the personalities of the characters from the posh/casual clothes of Cesar to the stylish clothes that Sofia wears. Makeup designer Paca Almenara does an amazing job with the makeup for Cesar‘s disfigured face which plays up the trouble emotions of Cesar. Sound designers Daniel Goldstein and Ricardo Steinberg do a fantastic job with the sound to capture the sparse texture of empty Madrid and other intimate moments to more layered work in crowd-driven scenes.

The film’s score by director Alejandro Amenabar and Mariano Marin is superb for its orchestral score filled with heavy arrangements for the suspenseful pieces as well as more low-key somber cuts for the light-dramatic moments. The film’s soundtrack also includes an array of alt-rock cuts and some electronic pieces by acts like Massive Attack and Sneaker Pimps for the club scenes that is prevalent in the film as the overall music work is great.

The film’s terrific cast includes an appearance from Jorge de Juan as an executive late in the film as well as Gerard Barray as the mysterious man that appears on the TV that Cesar later meets at a club. Najwa Nimri is excellent as the sexy yet mysterious Nuria who confronts Cesar about his womanizing while playing mind games with him. Fele Martinez is very good as Cesar’s friend Pelayo who tries to deal with Cesar’s interest towards Sofia. Chete Lera is superb as Antonio, Cesar’s psychiatrist who tries to figure out his mood and the dreams that he’s been having as it’s a very brazen yet charismatic performance.

Eduardo Noriega is great as Cesar, the young playboy whose life is shattered by an accident as he seems to try and figure out what to do only to have trouble in distinguishing reality and fiction. It’s a very complex yet exhilarating performance from Noriega who starts off as charming and a bit un-likeable only to wear makeup for his disfigurement and to convey the despair that he’s going through in this amazing performance. Finally, there’s Penelope Cruz in a radiant performance as Sofia as Cruz brings a wonderful sense of charm and wit to her character. Notably in a scene where she does mime work that is just amazing to watch while she has some great chemistry with Noriega for the way they talk and react to each other in a very naturalistic, relaxed approach as it’s one Cruz’s finest performances.

Abre los Ojos is a spectacular yet mind-bending film from Alejandro Amenabar that features brilliant performances from Eduardo Noriega and Penelope Cruz. For anyone that is interested in the works of Amenabar should definitely check this out as it’s also one of the most daring and ambitious sci-fi dramas of the 1990s. The film is also worth seeking out for those that had seen Cameron Crowe’s 2001 remake Vanilla Sky to see what Crowe expanded on as it also featured Cruz in the same role. In the end, Abre los Ojos is a thrilling yet hypnotic film from Alejandro Amenabar.

Alejandro Amenabar Films: (Thesis) - (The Others) - The Sea Inside - Agora

© thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Devil's Backbone


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/6/08 w/ Additional Edits.


While Guillermo del Toro has been known recently for his work in the Hellboy movies as well as his 2006 award-winning masterpiece El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth). The Mexican-born director has a unique approach to both fantasy and horror ever since he debuted with 1993's Cronos. While 1997's Mimic was a studio picture that did well modestly and spawning two sequels that didn't involve del Toro. The director still managed to get attention when he was hired to direct the sequel for Blade that some critics thought was more superior than the first film. Yet, before doing Blade II he attracted the attention of reknowned Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar who read one of his scripts and along with his brother Agustin, the Almodovars decided to produce Guillermo del Toro's eerie horror film entitled El Espinazo del Diablo (The Devil's Backbone).

Directed by Guillermo del Toro which he co-wrote with David Munoz and Antonio Trashorras, El Espinazo del Diablo tells the story of a young boy who goes to an orphanage as his father is currently fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The boy makes some unique discoveries about his orphanage while dealing with a nasty caretaker, a ghost, and other mysterious things until the boy decides to confront them. Described by del Toro as a spiritual companion to El Laberinto del Fauno, the film explores the supernatural as well as fantasy and terror through the perspective of a child. Starring Fernando Tielve, Eduardo Noriega, Inigo Garcias, Junio Valverde, Irene Visedo, Federico Luppi, and Marisa Paredes. El Espinazo del Diablo is a chilling yet fascinating fantasy-horror film from Guillermo del Toro.

It's the middle of the Spanish Civil War as a young boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is being sent to an orphanage somewhere in the middle of Spain. The orphanage is run a stern yet caring one-legged principal named Carmen (Marisa Parades) and a doctor named Casares (Federico Luppi) as they take Carlos in during this time. Carlos meets the school's bully named Jaime (Inigo Garcias) whom at first, goes into conflict until Carlos discovers a ghost lurking around the orphanage. Staying in the bed that belonged to a deceased orphan named Santi (Junio Valverde), Carlos hears noises as the water jug is broken. Carlos and Jaime decided to get water from the jugs as Carlos discovers that the ghost is none other than Santi.

Carlos also encounters with the abusive caretaker Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega). Jacinto was also an orphan at the place as he's gained contempt for the place as he has sex with Carmen for selfish gain while being surrounded by his fiancee Conchita (Irene Visedo). After an incident at a water pit involving a spat between Carlos and Jaime, things go bad when Jaime fells into a pool where Carlos saves him but also sees the body of Santi. Yet, the boys have another encounter with Jacinto that leaves Carlos with a cut on his cheek. Carlos does manage to befriend Dr. Casares who shares his infatuation with the supernatural while showing him mysterious things that are called the Devil's Backbone.

While Carlos gains respect from Jaime and the other boys over for keeping not squealing, Carlos decides to go further into the investigation over Santi. He also believes that Jaime, who claims to not believe in ghosts, had something to do with it as a meeting with Santi leaves Carlos frightened. When Dr. Casares and Conchita leave to town for money and supplies, Casares learns that the war is escalating as he and Carmen decides to leave. Yet, Jacinto is caught trying to get the gold as Casares confronts him with a rifle as he's banished. With everyone including the children preparing to leave. Something horrible happens when an explosion occurs leaving several of the children wounded. With Conchita deciding to walk to town to get help, Casares leads the charge. Jaime finally reveals to Carlos what really happened with Santi as it involves Jacinto forcing the two boys to confront their tormentor.

While the film in a traditional sense is a horror film, it's more of a psychological, suspense feature about a boy who uncovers dark secrets in an orphanage while helping a ghost find peace over his death that might not have been an accident. What del Toro does in the storytelling department is slowly uncover the mystery over Santi's death while Carlos also deals with the abusive Jacinto who also scares the children. Though the film at times, has a few pacing issues where it would lag a bit and sometimes, rush a bit. Yet, del Toro does create characters that are multi-dimensional with motives and such while using the Spanish Civil War as a template for the tension and fear that surrounds the orphanage.

The direction of del Toro is definitely unique and atmospheric where it's mostly shot in one location as he creates a sense of tension and fear that is expected within the genre. Unlike most horror films that relies on gags and gore, del Toro isn't trying to get audiences to be scared but be scared in what might happen. Yet, del Toro aims more for drama as he creates scenes and compositions to allow a sense of intimacy for some of the interaction between characters. Yet, del Toro's focus on the characters of Carlos and Jaime as two boys try to deal with their own adolescence, Jaime's crush on Conchita, and later on, having to play older brothers to the younger kids at the orphanage. The film also carries visual effects that are more about atmosphere rather than something that's big in del Toro's more mainstream films. The result is a unique yet chilling film from the mind of Guillermo del Toro.

Longtime del Toro collaborator in cinematographer Guillermo Navarro does some excellent work in the film that's more straightforward than his usual palette of sepia-laden colors. Instead, Navarro's daytime shots both interior and exterior emphasize less of flashy lights for natural style of lighting while his nighttime sequences are wonderfully shot in blue colors to create a sense of suspense and horror. Navarro's sepia-drenched colors are shown more in the film's pool sequences that are eerily shot. Editor Luis de la Madrid does excellent work in the film's cutting to convey the suspense and drama that goes on in the film.

Art director Cesar Maccaron and set decorators Pablo Perona Navarro and Pilar Revuelta create a lot of great sets in the orphanage that includes the muddy pool underneath the orphanage, the bomb in the middle of place, and decaying walls. Costume designer Jose Vico does some excellent look in the period costumes though lacks color to convey the eerie, moody tone of the film and times. Sound editor Oriol Tarrago and mixer Miguel Rejas does some wonderful work in conveying the atmosphere of the film with wind, grinding metal for the bomb, and other sound effects that create a chilling tone. Special effects supervisor Alfonso Nieto does excellent work in the film's visual effects with help from makeup artist Jorge Hernandez in creating the ghostly look of Santi.

Music composer Javiere Navarette brings a chilling yet hypnotic score that's more suspenseful and dramatic in comparison to the dream-like score that he created in El Laberinto del Fauno. Yet, the music is more bass-heavy and sweeping as Navarette's score plays up to its sense of horror with screeching violins and heavy arrangements.

Casting director Sara Bilbatua does great work in the film's casting with memorable small performances from Berta Ojea as one of the orphanage's teachers, Francisco Maestre as Jacinto's crime boss, Jose Manuel Lorenzo as Carlos' tutor who drops him off, and Javier Gonzalez and Adrian Lamana as two boys Carlos befriend. Irene Visedo is good as the maid Conchita who is suspicious of Jacinto's motives in the orphanage while realizing that one of the boys has a crush on her. Junio Valverde is excellent as Santi, the deceased boy who haunts the orphanage as he brings a chilling presence that is right for the film’s tone.

Federico Luppi, who previously appeared in del Toro's Cronos, is great as the fatherly Dr. Casares. A man who shares Carlos' belief in the supernatural while professing his love for Carmen while aware of the dark presence that is Jacinto. Almodovar associate Marisa Paredes is also great as the headmistress Carmen who is trying to run a school as she is forced into affairs with Jacinto for her own pleasures only to be manipulated. Eduardo Noriega is brilliant as Jacinto, a villain whose hatred for children and the orphanage is a man who is just simply trying to get gold for his own reasons while trying to avoid fighting for the Spanish Civil War.

Inigo Garcias is wonderful as Jaime, the school's bully who later befriends Carlos as he reveals his talents for drawings that gives clues into what he knows about Santi. Garcias doesn't delve into the typical build or look of a bully but rather say foul language and such where he's kind of cool but also a bit intimidating. He gets the best development as he reveals his own fears for Jacinto. Fernando Tielve is amazing as Carlos, the newly-orphaned boy who discovers the dark secrets that goes in the orphanage. Tielve's performance doesn't fall into the category of most child performances which often, they have to act cute or make a stupid face. Tielve instead maintains an individuality where he tries to figure out what's going on while befriending both Jaime and Dr. Casares, whom he looks up to as a father-figure of sorts. It's Tielve's performance that carries the film.

Released in 2001, the film garnered lots of critical acclaim as it brought del Toro some attention as he was also helming Blade II just as El Espinazo del Diablo was coming out. Though the film wasn't a commercial hit, it would garner more attention after the release of El Laberinto del Fauno. Especially since critics and audiences would notice the parallels that del Toro put for both films where young actors Fernando Tielve and Inigo Garcias both made cameos in El Laberinto del Fauno. The object of the Devil's Backbone also made cameo appearances in the Hellboy movies that del Toro also directed.

While not as good as El Laberinto del Fauno or as entertaining as the Hellboy movies, El Espinazo del Diablo is still a haunting yet fascinating horror-drama film from Guillermo del Toro and company. Thanks to the performances of its young actors Fernando Tielve and Inigo Garcias plus great support from veterans Federico Luppi, Marisa Paredes, and Eduardo Noriega. With help from Pedro Almodovar as a producer, the film is a fascinating take on the horror genre. Especially since it's relying on cheap gags and lots of gore. In the end, El Espinazo del Diablo is a chilling film from Guillermo del Toro.


(C) thevoid99 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Three... Extremes



Three… Extremes is a trio of horror-based short films directed by three of Asian cinema’s top filmmakers. In the segment Dumplings that is directed by Fruit Chan and written by Lillian Lee, an aging actress finds a new anti-aging cream unaware of its substance. In Cut by Chan-wook Park, a filmmaker and his wife are kidnapped by an extra as he plays a sick game against the director. In Box that is directed by Takashi Miike and written by Bun Saikou and Haruko Fukushima, a young woman has a recurring nightmare believing in involves her twin sister. The result is a fascinating yet stylish trilogy of shorts from some of the best filmmakers working today.

Dumplings

Mrs. Li (Miriam Yeung) is dealing with a fading career as an actress as her husband (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) is having an affair with a maid (Pauline Lau). Dealing with her old age, Mrs. Li turns to a mysterious woman named Mei (Bai Ling) who creates special dumplings to deal with Li’s aging. Mrs. Li eats the dumplings as she discovers the secret ingredient that Mei puts into the dumplings. Though it worked for Mrs. Li’s issues, complications arrive when it involved a young woman (Miki Yeung) as Mrs. Li turns to Mei for help as trouble starts to arrive about what had just happened.

Cut

A filmmaker (Lee Byung-hun) returns home where is knocked out by a mysterious man (Lim Won-hie) as he later wakes up. There, he sees his wife (Kang Hye-jeong) suspended by ropes in mid-air as she sits next to a piano where the man threatens to cut each of her fingers off. Meanwhile, a young child is on a couch tied up as well as the man, who is revealed to be an extra of the director’s films, is challenging the director to kill the child so his wife can go free in a game of morality and wits. Even as the man is trying to force the director his own sins throughout this ordeal.

Box

A quiet novelist (Kyoko Hasegawa) is dealing with recurring nightmares as she believes they’re connected to a memory when she was a circus performer as a child with her twin sister. Believing that the ghost of her twin sister is appearing, she deals with the guilt that she was responsible for her sister’s death while begins to believe that her dream is really something that could become real.

The film is essentially a trio of little horror stories in three different styles from three different filmmakers. The stories each present a different type of extreme as it all relates to the idea of horror. Still, the directors of this project chose to create their own idea of what extreme is as it’s all about how a person would react to their situations.

In Dumplings, it’s about a woman that is trying to look young to revive her acting career and to get her husband’s attention. With the help of a mysterious woman, she eats special dumplings that feature a key secret ingredient. The secret ingredient is something that is just fucking disgusting to the point where the audience is wondering why? What becomes more extreme is how the woman reacts to it much later in the film while the woman who cooks it doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong. Fruit Chan’s direction is mostly straightforward for the story as he’s carried by Christopher Doyle’s lush cinematography to the brilliant performances of Miriam Yeung and Bai Ling for what is this gorgeous yet cringe-inducing story.

In Cut, it’s all about an extra seeking vengeance against a successful filmmaker he’s worked for while playing a game against the filmmaker. In this game of vengeance, a young child and the director’s wife are in danger as the extra forces the director to do things though he is really a good man. Chan-wook Park’s direction is very stylish with amazing camera work, startling compositions, and dark humor as the terrifying performance of Lim Won-hie is electrifying as is the harrowing conclusion of the film as it is a short that does go to extremes.

Takashi Miike’s Box is a much different film from the previous as its approach to extreme isn’t what many would expect from Miike. Instead, the short is very restrained in its presentation that includes gorgeous cinematography and stylish editing to complement the haunting tone of the short. Featuring a mesmerizing performance from Kyoko Hasegawa, the short is about a woman dealing with guilt and the nightmares she’s dealing with as she is seeking forgiveness in what she’s done. While it might seem like the weakest of the three films because it strays from convention, it’s still a short that is very entrancing in what Miike presents.

Three… Extremes is a superb yet chilling anthology film from Fruit Chan, Chan-wook Park, and Takashi Miike that brings something new and horrifying to the world of horror films. The film is definitely something that horror fans will enjoy in terms of chills and discomfort as well as something that is dramatic and has some humor. For the fans of these filmmakers, it’s a must-see for the work they put and how they handle the horror genre in their own way. In the end, Three… Extremes is a brilliant yet spellbinding horror anthology film from Fruit Chan, Chan-wook Park, and Takashi Miike.

Chan-wook Park Films: (The Moon is… the Sun’s Dream) - (Trio) - (Judgement) - JSA: Joint Security Area - Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - (If You Were Me-Never Ending Peace and Love) - Oldboy - Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - I'm a Cyborg but That's OK - Thirst - (Night Fishing) - Stoker

© thevoid99 2011