Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Films That I Saw: June 2013




Another month is coming to an end as we’re about to reach the halfway point of 2013. So far as, I’ve seen more than 240 films to date which I must say is pretty good. Of 2013 releases, I’ve seen 10 films and one mini-series which is a decent start. So in some ways, this is already a pretty good year. However, there was an incident that hasn’t really left my mind but also states some of the downside of going to the cinema.

The nearest multiplex I go to at AMC Parkway Pointe 15 on Cobb Parkway is only an eight-minute drive (depending on the traffic) away from my house. Yet, it’s a place I sort of don’t enjoy because I find the multiplexes to be a bit oppressive in some ways not just because of the movies they don’t show but some of the attitude that occurs when I see a film. I had the unfortunate experience of having to sit nearby someone who had his phone on during the start of Man of Steel as this fucker was texting. I asked him to turn off the phone. He refused and I tried again but he was getting angry at me. I started to get mad because he wasn’t obeying the rules of what someone should do in a movie theater. Barely five-six minutes into the movie goes by and the guy was still pissed and he was at me again where I just basically spat at him.

I’m not proud of what I did and I could’ve handled the situation much better. Things could’ve gotten worse as I ended up just walking out of the theater altogether. Besides, Man of Steel wasn’t looking very good anyways. It was just a very unsatisfying moment to see that there’s people that won’t obey the rules when one watches a movie. It definitely soured a lot of the experiences I had in that multiplex as it’s a place I’m not really fond of so I don’t think I’m going to go there for a while. It’s not a very fun place to go to the movies to and this was the same theater where I had that unfortunate incident that involved Django Unchained stopping late in the movie.

At least there’s other options in going to the nearest art-house theater 15-20 minutes away from house. Sure, there’s gas to pay but at least the Lefont Theatre Sandy Springs and UA Tara are theaters that have good reputations and show great movies while its many patrons are people who definitely have respect for the rules.

In the month of June, I’ve seen a total of 35 films, 24 first-timers and 11 re-watches. Definitely down from last month but still impressive though there weren’t a lot of re-watches this month. The highlight of the month is in my Blind Spot assignment in A Woman Under the Influence.

Here are the 10 Best First-Timers I saw for June 2013:

1. Frances Ha



2. Before Midnight



3. The Bling Ring



4. Love and Death

5. Masculin Feminin



6. Killer Joe



7. Searching for Sugar Man



8. Sleeper



9. Magic Mike



10. Zelig



Mini-Reviews:

Trouble with the Curve



I like the cast the film has and I’m definitely a born-and-raised fan of the Atlanta Braves but man, this film was terrible. Despite the performances of Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman. It’s a film that is just bogged down by a very lame story that is mawkish and sentimental at times but also features a story about this prospect who is pretty much a dick where he does get his comeuppance in the form of one of the dumbest conclusions ever. If there’s a film that stars Clint Eastwood, he’d better be behind the camera as well as get a screenwriter who knows how to steer away from convention.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1978-recut version)



I had originally planned to watch both versions of this film but I felt a little worn out and didn’t have the time to watch the long version though I still have my review saved for the time being. The shortened version is still intriguing as it features an amazing Ben Gazzara as this nightclub owner in debt that needed to clear his debt by killing a Chinese criminal. It’s a very interesting film from John Cassavetes though I’m eager to see what Cassavetes had to cut in his original version.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Ran



2. National Lampoon’s Animal House



3. Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut)



4. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit



5. Uncle Buck



6. Moneyball



7. The Dark Knight Rises



8. Ella Enchanted



9. Lick the Star



10. Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets



Well, that’s it for June as the Summer of Woody Allen will continue in July as I’m going to cover his work from the late 80s and the 1990s for the second and third parts of the Auteurs series on Allen. There will also be some reviews of a few Westerns plus foreign films as well as new releases like I’m So Excited!, Only God Forgives, Pacific Rim, and hopefully, Blue Jasmine as I hope to stay away from the multiplex for the time being. I will also be posting for the first time in nearly a year, the next essay in the Favorite Film series as I have an essay that is nearly finished as well as couple of ideas that is already looming in my head.



In the world of music as The Void-Go-Round is now active again, I’m going to post some mini-reviews of some 2013 releases while my main focus will be chronicling the entire Nine Inch Nails discography in anticipation for their new album Hesitation Marks coming in September as I hope to see them later in October. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off and I hope you all enjoy this clip below (unless you suffer from epilepsy).



Welcome back NIN & David Lynch.

© thevoid99 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Zelig




Written, directed, and starring Woody Allen, Zelig is the story about a nondescript man who imitates the many personalities around him in order to fit in with society. Told in a documentary style with stock footage and all sorts of visual tricks, the film has Allen creating a fictional individual as it’s a mixture of a 1920s period film with the world of documentary. Also starring Mia Farrow. Zelig is a dazzling yet whimsical film from Woody Allen.

The film is about this man named Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen) who is called a human chameleon by those he encounters as he is someone desperate to fit in with society during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Told in a documentary style, the film recalls many of Zelig’s exploits where he assimilates himself to be part of the world as he would often have no recollections of who he is at times. When he’s taken to a hospital and examined by Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow), Zelig becomes a phenomenon intrigued by the public and exploited by his family with the only person who really cares for him is Dr. Fletcher. Throughout the course of the film, people ranging from scholars and psychiatrists talk about Zelig’s strange condition and that phenomenon that he created in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The narrative would often move back and forth from those in the present talking about Zelig while showing all of this newsreel material of Zelig’s life under the narration of Patrick Horgan.

Allen’s direction is very unique in not just the way he incorporates photos and newsreel footage to help tell the story but how he is able to put himself in these situations as if the fictional characters he created were real. Through the use of some visual effects and old camera and lighting equipment of the 1920s, Allen is able to create a film that is very surreal but also full of charm where he is able to tell the story of this chameleonic man that is eager to fit in but has a hard time trying to find himself. Throughout the course of the film, there is a love story while some very funny moments where Allen would use some real-life events and create something that feels very silly to create the sense that Zelig really exists.

For the more contemporary moments, Allen keeps it very simple as if it was a documentary while making the rest of the film seem like it is still a documentary with all of these recreations of newsreel footage and still photos. A lot of the situations that Allen creates in the film has this air of absurdity such as the fact that Zelig can be an African-American, an Asian, an obese man, and all sorts of things. Yet, it plays to Zelig’s desire to be someone yet it would eventually bring in trouble where Allen also creates these moments where the story is dramatized but remains in that form of documentary filmmaking. Overall, Allen creates a very sensational and witty film about a man’s desire to fit in.

Cinematographer Gordon Willis does brilliant work with the film‘s grainy black-and-white photography with the use of film stock to create something that looks and feels like something from the 1920s including a more clearer style for the Hollywood recreation sequences of Zelig‘s exploits while the interview stuff is presented in color. Editor Susan E. Morse does amazing work with the editing to help create a structure in the story where she utilizes all sorts of rhythmic cuts to play out some of the film‘s humor. Production designer Mel Bourne, with art director Speed Hopkins and set decorators Leslie Bloom and Janet Rosenbloom, does fantastic work with the set pieces to recreate some moments in the film as if it felt real while using some of the locations to play out Zelig’s own time with Dr. Fletcher.

Costume designer Santo Loquasto does wonderful work with the costumes to create the periods of the time as well as some of the historical events including a scene at a Nazi rally in Berlin. Hair designer Romaine Greer and makeup designer Fern Buchner do excellent work with the many looks of Zelig to play out his chameleon-like state through beards and all sorts of weird makeup. Sound editor Dan Sable does terrific work with the sound to manipulate some of the audio recordings of Dr. Fletcher‘s reports as well as some of the sound effects that occurred in Zelig‘s adventures. The film’s music by Dick Hyman is superb for some of the original jazz songs that are created in the wake of Zelig’s phenomenon along with the music of those times as the soundtrack.

The casting by Juliet Taylor is marvelous as it features appearances from Susan Sontag, Bruno Bettelheim, Irving Howe, Bricktop, and Saul Bellow as themselves along with Stephanie Farrow as Dr. Fletcher’s sister Meryl, Garrett M. Brown as an actor playing Zelig in a fictional film, John Rothman as Dr. Fletcher’s documentarian cousin Paul Deghuee, Sherman Loud and Elizabeth Rothschild in their respective roles as the older Paul and Meryl, and Ellen Garrison as the older Dr. Fletcher. Mia Farrow is amazing as Dr. Eudora Fletcher as a woman who is intrigued by Zelig’s case while falling for him as she becomes the one person in Zelig’s life that he needs. Finally, there’s Woody Allen in a great performance as the titular character as a man that is trying to fit in with society by pretending to be someone else as it is a character full of wit and charm.

Zelig is an outstanding film from Woody Allen that features a wonderful supporting performance from Mia Farrow. Thanks to its documentary-style concept along with some amazing technical work, the film is definitely one of Allen’s best films. Particularly as it has ambition as well as imagination to explore the idea of individuality and a man dealing with his chameleon-like disorder. In the end, Zelig is a remarkable film from Woody Allen.

Woody Allen Films: What's Up Tiger Lily? - Take the Money and Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love and Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories: Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows & Fog - Husbands & Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Don’t Drink the Water - Bullets Over Broadway - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)

The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4

© thevoid99 2013

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Newton Boys




Based on the book by Claude Stanush, The Newton Boys is the true story about a family of thieves known as the Newton Gang who were one of the most notorious bank and train robbers of the early 20th Century. Directed by Richard Linklater and written by Linklater, Stanush, and Clark Lee Walker, the film marks Linklater’s first foray into studio features as he explores the world of the Western and a family that are eager to make their name as thieves. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Skeet Ulrich, Vincent D’Onofrio, Julianna Marguiles, and Dwight Yoakam. The Newton Boys is a delightful though very flawed film from Richard Linklater.

The film is about a group of brothers who gained notoriety in the early 1920s robbing banks throughout the American Midwest as they were successful in their venture until a train robbery in Chicago where some confusion leads to their downfall. Yet, it is about these four brothers from Texas as they have endured so much poverty as their eldest brother Willis Newton (Matthew McConaughey) has just been released from a 3-year prison sentence for a crime he never committed. With the help of his friend Brentwood Glasscock (Dwight Yoakam), Newton gathers his brothers Jesse (Ethan Hawke), Joe (Skeet Ulrich), and Dock (Vincent D’Onofrio) to take part in a series of nighttime bank robberies that were major successes. With success comes trouble and also greed as the brothers try to maintain a life without crime but things don’t work well leading to their botched Chicago train robbery.

The film’s screenplay does have this unique structure where it has a level of excitement in the first two acts in how Willis Newton decided to go into the world of bank robbery. Even as he brings in his younger brothers in Jesse and Joe into the mix early in the film as they both have different ideas about robbery with Jesse being the liveliest of the bunch while Joe is more reluctant but understand the need for money. Dock eventually comes to the fold after he escapes prison where the robberies are successful as they’re only in it to get the money from big banks and making sure no one gets killed. Along the way, Willis gains a companion in Louise (Julianna Marguiles) who would try to pull him away from crime but various setbacks in attempt to go legal would trouble things. Even a tempting yet dangerous theft of a bank in Toronto would have Willis re-think about everything he went through.

The first two acts does have this sense of liveliness in the script though it does have issues in character development where Jesse is always a charismatic drunk who likes to have fun while Dock is someone who doesn’t really get much to do. Then comes the third act that culminates with the Chicago train robbery where things get darker and dramatic where the story loses some steam. Notably as they deal with the law and other authorities where it gets very grim and the film becomes uneven in tone.

The direction of Richard Linklater is quite grand but also has a sense of looseness in the way the robberies are presented as it is told in great detail. Linklater also creates some amazing compositions and moments where he keeps things lively for most of the film as it has some humor as well as low-key moments where Willis Newton lives his life with Louise. For the robbery scenes, Linklater does carry an air of suspense in the fact that something could go wrong though it would be more prevalent in its third act. Due to the weakness of the script in that third act, things do lose some luster where Linklater does try to create something lively again but it often feels to tacked on making the ending a bit drawn out despite some very good moments in the final credits scene that features the real Willis Newton talking in a documentary and a 1980 episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson where Joe Newton talks. Overall, Linklater creates a fine but messy film about a gang of brothers robbing banks.

Cinematographer Peter James does excellent work with the cinematography as it‘s mostly straightforward for many of its scenes set in Texas in its exterior and interior settings. Editor Sandra Adair does fantastic work with the editing to create some great montages for some of the robberies as well as some methodical cuts for the suspenseful moments. Production designer Catherine Hardwicke and set decorator Jeanette Scott do amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the hotels the brothers stay in to the look of the cars and such to capture the period of the early 1920s.

Costume designer Shelley Komarov does wonderful work with the costumes from the clothes the men wear to the stylish dresses that Louise wears. Sound editor Pat Jackson does terrific work with the sound to capture the energy of the robberies as well as the atmosphere of the clubs the characters go to. The film’s music by Edward D. Barnes is a delightful mix of ragtime music with blues and country to play up the sense of energy while music supervisors Keith Fletcher and Mark Rubin add material from the standards of the time to play up the liveliness of that period.

The casting by Don Phillips is brilliant as it features a huge ensemble that includes some notable small roles from Chloe Webb as Glasscock’s wife, Charles Gunning as the robber Slim, Luke Askew as the Chicago police chief Schoemaker, David Jensen as the Chicago train robbery organizer William Fahy, and Bo Hopkins in a terrific performance as the investigator K.P. Aldrich who looks into the Newton Boys’ robberies. Dwight Yoakam is excellent as the nitroglycerine explosives expert Brentwood Glasscock who is the most careful of the bunch though he is not very good with guns. Julianna Margulies is wonderful as Louise as Willis’ lover who discovers about what he does as she tries to get him to go straight only to realize the difficulties he’s facing.

Vincent D’Onofrio is good as Dock Newton as the guy who can get things done and such though D’Onofrio doesn’t really get much to do as he’s sort of wasted in the film. Ethan Hawke is very funny as the lively Jesse Newton as a guy who likes to flirt with the ladies and drink while being a charmer though the script doesn’t give Hawke more to do. Skeet Ulrich is superb as the youngest Newton brother Joe as the most reluctant person of the group who is aware of what has to be done while facing the dangers of their crimes. Finally, there’s Matthew McConaughey in a marvelous performance as Willis Newton as the ringleader of the gang who organizes every heist and such while being a man of charm and wit as McConaughey brings a lot of gusto to his role.

The Newton Boys is a good though flawed film from Richard Linklater. While it has a great cast, amazing set pieces, and a terrific soundtrack. It’s a film that starts off well only to be bogged down by some weak aspects of the script in its third act. Particularly where it wants to be a western comedy as well as a docu-drama where it becomes very uneven in tone. In the end, The Newton Boys is a fine and worthwhile film from Richard Linklater.

Richard Linklater Films: It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books - Slacker - Dazed & Confused - Before Sunrise - subUrbia - Waking Life - Tape - School of Rock - Before Sunset - Bad News Bears (2005 film) - A Scanner Darkly - Fast Food Nation - Me and Orson Welles - Bernie (2011 film) - Before Midnight - Boyhood - Everybody Want Some!! - The Auteurs #57: Richard Linklater Pt. 1 - Pt. 2

© thevoid99 2013

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy




Written, directed, and starring Woody Allen, A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy is the story about a gathering in the countryside where various people meet and fall in love in an entire weekend during the early 1900s. The film is a loose take on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night where couples take part in a weekend where wild things happen. Also starring Mia Farrow, Jose Ferrer, Mary Steenburgen, Tony Roberts, and Julie Hagerty. A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy is a witty yet ravishing film from Woody Allen.

The film is about a group of people who spend a weekend in the countryside during the early 1900s as they prepare for the wedding day of a distinguished professor in Leopold (Jose Ferrer) and his younger bride Ariel (Mia Farrow) at the home of Leopold’s cousin Adrian (Mary Steenburgen) and her inventor husband Andrew (Woody Allen). Also invited is Andrew’s doctor friend Maxwell and his nurse Dulcy (Julie Hagerty) as everyone is there to relaxed but sexual tension and feelings for one another causes trouble. Andrew has a history with Ariel as the womanizing Maxwell falls for her. Leopold is intrigued by Dulcy while Adrian is going through marital difficulties with Andrew as she turns to Dulcy for help. During the course of the weekend, chaos ensues over people’s feelings towards one another culminating on the night where Leopold and Ariel are to be married.

Woody Allen’s screenplay explore the dynamics between people and their feelings for one another as Andrew is a crackpot inventor whose marriage to Adrian is going through problems due to lack of sex. Upon hearing that Adrian’s cousin is to marry a former lover of his, he is conflicted in his devotion for Adrian and the feelings he has for Ariel. Making matters worse is that when he invites Maxwell and his nurse Dulcy, the two contend for Ariel’s heart though Leopold is already aware of what is going on as he seeks to have one more moment of bachelorhood before becoming a wedded man. Allen’s script allows the film to have an air of silliness in the way people pursue each other while bringing a lot of witty dialogue that includes some great intellectual banter between Leopold and Maxwell that includes a funny scene of Maxwell eating a mushroom.

Allen’s direction is quite straightforward in terms of the compositions he creates while maintaining an air of something that is natural but also loose. There’s also moments where Allen infuses a lot of humor into the film as it revolves Andrew’s obsessions with flying and creating machines that has mystical powers relating to spirits. While a lot of the drama is straightforward and low-key that is balanced with comedy, the film has Allen also taking on the idea of sex but in a more restrained manner where it’s largely told in dialogue. There are also moments of mysticism and fantasy that Allen incorporates into the film as it relates to people’s desires to be with someone as well as some revelations that would play into the lives of these individuals. Overall, Allen creates a very smart and funny film about a weekend country retreat gone wrong all because six people want to simply have sex with one another.

Cinematographer Gordon Willis does amazing work with the film‘s very colorful and lush photography to capture many of the gorgeous yet naturalistic look of the scenes in the forest and upstate New York countryside as well as some low-key lighting schemes for some of the scenes set at night. Editor Susan E. Morse does brilliant work with the editing to infuse a few montages for life in the forest as well as creating some rhythmic cuts for some of its funnier moments. Production designer Mel Bourne, with set decorator Carol Joffe and art director Speed Hopkins, does wonderful work with the look of the country home the characters stay in to some of the design of Andrew‘s inventions.

Costume designer Santo Loquasto does terrific work with the period costumes to match up the sense of naturalism that is in display with the locations. Sound editor Dan Sable is excellent for the simplicity of the location of the sounds along with the way some of the dialogue is presented in some of the conversation scenes. The film’s delightful soundtrack largely consists of classical music that features mostly the works of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy as well as pieces by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, and Albert Hay Malotte.

The casting by Juliet Taylor is superb for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from Michael Higgins as a colleague of Leopold and Kate McGregor-Stewart as a patient of Maxwell. Julie Hagerty is wonderful as Dulcy as a nurse who doesn’t know everyone yet intrigues Leopold and Adrian as she is someone who is very bright but also someone who understands the world of sexual dysfunction. Tony Roberts is terrific as Maxwell as a womanizing doctor who falls for Ariel as he has a hard time trying to win her over as he sort of detests Leopold. Mary Steenburgen is excellent as Adrian as Andrew’s sexually-frustrated wife who feels like their love is waning as she isn’t happy about Ariel’s presence in relation to her husband. Jose Ferrer is great as the very intellectual Leopold as a man who loves Ariel yet is suspicious about Andrew and Maxwell’s feelings towards her while he entranced by Dulcy.

Mia Farrow is remarkable as Ariel as a woman who finds herself the object of affection for all of the men involved as she also deals with her history with Andrew as well as the fact that she’s been everywhere but is somewhat unfulfilled. Finally, there’s Woody Allen in a marvelous performance as Andrew as an inventor who is dealing with marital issues as he realizes his feelings for Ariel as it’s Allen being funny but also a bit more restrained in his approach to drama.

A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy is a fantastic film from Woody Allen as it features a great ensemble cast that includes Tony Roberts, Jose Ferrer, Julie Hagerty, Mary Steenburgen, and Mia Farrow in her first of many collaborations with Allen. The film is definitely one of Allen’s most enjoyable comedies where it shows his sense of ambition while paying tribute to Ingmar Bergman in a comical manner. In the end, A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy is a terrific film from Woody Allen.

Woody Allen Films: What's Up Tiger Lily? - Take the Money and Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love and Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - Zelig - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories: Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows & Fog - Husbands & Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Don’t Drink the Water - Bullets Over Broadway - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)

The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4

© thevoid99 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gloria (1980 film)




Written and directed by John Cassavetes, Gloria is the story about a gangster’s ex-girlfriend who is protecting a boy who carries crucial information that can bring down the mob as she and the boy are in pursuit. The film is a simple story in which a woman is forced to protect a boy as she comes into conflict into either saving the boy or herself. Starring Gena Rowlands, Julie Carmen, Buck Henry, and John Adames. Gloria is a captivating suspense-drama from John Cassavetes.

The film revolves around this titular character (Gena Rowlands) who is asked by a woman and her husband to protect their son Phil (John Adames) as the husband is already in trouble for leaking information to the FBI as he works as a mob accountant. Though Gloria is a woman who has connections to the mob and was once the girlfriend of a famed gangster. She is reluctant to help take care of Phil as she wanted no involvement in the matter as the people who are going after the boy are her friends. Eventually, Gloria has to deal with various conflicts in her situation as she admittedly doesn’t like kids while she realizes that having this kid killed because of some money figures isn’t the honorable thing to do. Especially as this six-year old Puerto Rican kid is having a hard time understanding the situation as he isn’t sure what side to turn as he and Gloria have to stick together.

John Cassavetes’ screenplay doesn’t really do much to flesh out the plot by focusing more on a woman trying to protect a boy as well as deal with her loyalties to the mob. While the script is filled with dialogue that is intense and frenetic to showcase the tension between Gloria and Phil as the latter is already ravaged by the fact that he is in the care of a very tough woman. Gloria is someone who isn’t afraid to get shot as she always carries a gun and is always ready yet she doesn’t like the fact that she’s being put into a dangerous situation by taking care of a kid as she’s not really a very maternal person. Still, the fact that this kid is in danger because of his father’s actions makes Gloria realize that the mob are doing things that are really cruel where she eventually realizes what she must do for Phil. Though Phil has reservations about Gloria, he does realize that she’s the only person he has right now as the two have to work together to survive.

Cassavetes’ direction is quite intriguing in not just the way he maintains an air of realism in the drama but also in creating an air of suspense where Gloria and Phil are trapped in the middle of New York City and the borough of the Bronx. Cassavetes uses the city as a character in the film where it plays to the idea that Gloria and Phil have to go into places where they can’t hide or go into an area that is dangerous as they’re constantly on the run. Still, Cassavetes maintains that atmosphere where there is this air of uncertainty about the two being captured while taking its time to give the characters a breather as they get to know each other. Particularly as it plays to the idea that the boy needs a mother and the woman has to be there for that boy. By using some wide shots and other stylized moments to play out the element of suspense without getting into any kind of gory violence. Cassavetes creates a very engrossing yet mesmerizing suspense-drama about a woman protecting a boy from the mob.

Cinematographer Fred Schuler does fantastic work with the cinematography to maintain that sense of realism while using some low-key lighting schemes for some of the film‘s interior settings. Editor George C. Villasenor does brilliant work with the editing to create some rhythmic cuts to play out some of its suspenseful moments. Art director Rende D’Auriac and set decorator John Godfrey do terrific work with the set pieces from the secret apartment that Gloria lived in to some of the hotel rooms she and Phil hide out at.

Costume designer Peggy Farrell does wonderful work with the costumes in the way many of the suits the men wear in the film while Emanuel Ungaro creates more stylish clothing that Gloria wears. The sound work of Stan Gordon is superb for the atmosphere that is created including the smaller moments to help build up the suspense. The film’s music by Bill Conti is amazing for its soaring orchestral score that is mixed in with plaintive folk guitars and jazz arrangements to capture the atmosphere of New York City.

The casting by Vic Ramos is great as it features an interesting ensemble that features appearances from Tom Noonan as a henchman, Lawrence Tierney as a bartender, Basilio Franchina as Gloria’s former boyfriend in mob boss Tony Tanzini, Lupe Garnica as Phil’s grandmother, Jessica Castillo as Phil’s sister, Julie Carmen as Phil’s worried mother, and Buck Henry as Phil’s troubled father who puts the family in danger. John Adames is wonderful as the young Phil as a boy who has to endure the new reality he’s in as he is forced to grow up at a very young age and survive against the mob. Finally, there’s Gena Rowlands in a remarkable performance as the titular character as a woman conflicted in her loyalties to the mob while trying to protect a young boy as it’s a riveting performance that allows Rowlands to portray a character that is tough and not willing to back down no matter how grim the situation is.

Gloria is a marvelous film from John Cassavetes that features a brilliant leading performance from Gena Rowlands. While it is a film that is different from Cassavetes’ previous films in terms of a more tightened filmmaking style. It is still a film that is engaging especially as it’s a thriller that is engrossing over its situations and the drama that is presented. In the end, Gloria is a phenomenal film from John Cassavetes.

John Cassavetes Films: (Shadows (1959 film)) - (Too Late Blues) - (A Child is Waiting) - (Faces) - (Husbands) - (Minnie and Moskowitz) - A Woman Under the Influence - (The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) - (Opening Night) - (Love Streams) - (Big Trouble)

© thevoid99 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fast Food Nation


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 11/26/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.



Based on the book by Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation is a multi-layered film that explores the world of the fast food industry through the perspectives of different people from fast-food workers, a corporate executive, and a group of Mexican immigrants. Directed by Richard Linklater and written by Linklater and Schlosser, the film takes Schlosser's non-fiction book into a dramatic context to showcase a dark world of the industry that is about profit no matter at the cost. Starring longtime Linklater regular Ethan Hawke along with Greg Kinnear, Patricia Arquette, Ashley Johnson, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Wilmer Valderrama, Ana Claudia Talancon, Lou Taylor Pucci, Paul Dano, Mitch Baker, Luis Guzman, Bobby Cannavale, Esai Morales, Kris Kristofferson, Avril Lavigne, and Bruce Willis. Fast Food Nation is a harrowing, insightful film that uncovers the dark side of the fast food industry.

The film revolves around three different storylines that plays into the world of the fast food industry as marketing executive named Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) goes to Cody, Colorado to investigate rumors about manure in the meat as he gets a tour of the UMP slaughterhouse and later meets a local rancher in Rudy Martin (Kris Kristofferson) where he and his maid (Raquel Giva) reveal the dark secrets about the UMP slaughterhouse. The other storyline revolves around a group of Mexican immigrants in Raul (Wilmer Valderrama), his girlfriend Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), and their friend Coco (Ana Claudia Talancon) who arrive to Cody with the help of Benny (Luis Guzman) as Raul and Coco work at the UMP slaughterhouse where Coco has an affair with its plant manager Mike (Bobby Cannavale). The third story line plays into a fast food employee named Amber (Ashley Johnson) who becomes uncomfortable about working at Mickey's as advice from her uncle Pete (Ethan Hawke) has her trying to rebel against corporations with help of an activist named Paco (Lou Taylor Pucci). Eventually, the three storylines would have some resolutions though they don't really crisscross with one another but would unveil a lot of troubling cynicism that plays into the fast food industry.

What Richard Linklater and Eric Schlosser reveal is very complex where it goes to the treatment of immigrants to what goes on behind the food that consumers are eating. While the film isn't perfect, it reveals a lot, even to some graphic detail of how the meat is made from cattle where the objective is to make the audience think while being uncomfortable at the same time. While Linklater takes a documentary-like approach to the film in his observant direction, the approach he and Schlosser takes is in the form of a docu-drama where three different stories are told. While the stories do intertwine with everything, the script is a bit uneven at times though wonderfully structured with the first act being the arrival of the immigrants and Anderson's investigation with the second going further to what Anderson discovers and Sylvia's moral judgement. Then comes the third act that does make things a bit uneasy with Amber joining a revolutionary group and the grim reality Sylvia has to face.

Despite the flaws with the script, Linklater's direction remains strong in how he observes the behaviors while finding a bit of humor in the workplace. While Linklater isn't exactly trying to make audiences think twice about eating fast food but he does raise question of where the food is coming from. More importantly, he reveals more of the corporate cover-ups in which Anderson is forced to think about his job and livelihood to the point that he goes into some moral judgement. The story of the immigrants is handled with realism as well as cynicism about the how untrue the American dream is where Sylvia is the observant character of the film where she tries to do honest work while realizing a lot of the bad things that goes on at the UMP plant. It's by far the most compelling story of the film while the Amber story is a bit weak though Linklater reveals the cynicism that comes afterwards where the film's ending is very bleak.

Helping Linklater in his visual presentation is longtime cinematographer Lee Daniel whose grainy, cinema verite style gives the film a documentary like feel to convey the atmosphere from the polished look of the Californian offices of Mickey to the vast, open spaces and claustrophobic worlds of Cody, Colorado. Longtime editor Sandra Adair does some wonderful cutting on shifting through the segments while making them intertwine with story while giving the pacing a leisurely feel in its 116-minute running time. Production designer Bruce Curtis and art director Joaquin A. Morin did excellent work on the design and look of the Mickey's franchise while costume designer Kari Perkins also does a great job in the look of the Mickey's uniform. Sound editors Michael J. Benavente and Tricia Linklater also do excellent work on creating the atmosphere of the surroundings the characters are in. Friends of Daniel Martinez create a varied mix of music filled with acoustic, Mexican-style music and droning, atmospheric rock to convey the sense of bleakness in the film.

The film's cast is diverse with a lot of actors that include such noted small performances from Mitch Baker, Frank Ertl, Raquel Giva, Armando Hernandez, Hugo Perez, Aaron Himelstein, and Cherami Leigh. Minor roles from the likes of Lou Taylor Pucci, Paul Dano, Esai Morales, and Luis Guzman are excellent. One minor performance that comes across as very annoying is Avril Lavigne as a college protester which is very grating and over-the-top. Another performance that doesn't work is Wilmer Valderrama who whenever he tries to talk, he ends up putting the same kind of Fez that people often sees in his role as Fez in That's 70s Show. Valderrama is not an actor and the casting people should've gotten someone else. Ana Claudia Talancon is excellent as the naive, flirtatious Coco who descends to the world of drugs while Bobby Cannavale is great as the evil, manipulative supervisor. Kris Kristofferson is wonderful as the gruff, cautious rancher who reveals a lot of the dark secrets behind the UMP slaughterhouse while Bruce Willis is great in the one scene he's in as the cynical, corporate supervisor who tells Don Anderson the way the world works.

Patricia Arquette is excellent in her small role as Amber's fun, caring mother who is unaware of what her town is becoming. Ethan Hawke is great in his small role as Amber's radical, political uncle who reveals what happens to local business when they're taken over by corporations. Ashley Johnson is great as Amber who realizes the dark side of the fast food industry and tries to become a revolutionary only to see the grim realities that comes with them. Greg Kinnear gives another fine performance following this year's Little Miss Sunshine as a corporate executive who faces some truths and is forced to go into a moral dilemma that would cost his livelihood while thinking about the customers he's marketing towards. Catalina Sandino Moreno, who is known for her debut performance in Maria Full of Grace, proves that her Oscar nomination was no fluke as she gives the most chilling and moralistic performance of the film. Moreno's proves to be the most heartbreaking in how she tries to do an honest day's work, dealing with the way things are to the people she knows, and how she is forced to face the grim reality that is America. It's really an amazingly powerful performance from the young actress.

While not as entertaining or accessible as Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me or as fulfilling as the other films Richard Linklater did, Fast Food Nation is still a strong, engaging portrait of the American fast food industry. While fans of Linklater will enjoy the dialogue-driven conversations and cinema verite approach, some audiences might be disgusted in some of the graphic imagery as well as some of the things the film is talking about. While it will raise more question about the industry and how it takes care of its customers, it's likely whether or not it will keep people away from fast food or be aware of the changes in the corporate world. Still, Fast Food Nation succeeds in what it aims to do as it's one of the year's most politically-engaging films.

Richard Linklater Films: It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books - Slacker - Dazed & Confused - Before Sunrise - subUrbia - The Newton Boys - Waking Life - Tape - School of Rock - Before Sunset - Bad News Bears (2005 film) - A Scanner Darkly - Me and Orson Welles - Bernie (2011 film) - Before Midnight - Boyhood - Everybody Want Some! - The Auteurs #57: Richard Linklater Pt. 1 - Pt. 2

© thevoid99 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Frances Ha




Directed by Noah Baumbach and written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is the story of a 27-year old dancer who is trying to figure out the next stage of her life as her best friend decides to move out. The film is about young people trying to find out the next phase of their life as well as pondering whether to continue following their dreams or become adults. Starring Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Josh Hamilton, Grace Gummer, and Juliet Rylance. Frances Ha is a delightful yet charming comedy-drama from Noah Baumbach.

The film revolves the life of a 27-year old dancer named Frances (Greta Gerwig) whose world is starting to crash down after breaking up with her boyfriend while her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) is moving in with her boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger). Frances would spend her time living with other people for a few moments until she faces setbacks in her life where she’s unable to be part of the Christmas show for the dance company. With Sophie’s life changing, Frances becomes lost in her world as she would make some terrible decisions while facing the fact that she might have to grow up and give up her dreams as a dancer. It’s all part of the world that plays into a young woman dealing with the expectations of being an adult yet wanting to keep her dreams alive.

The screenplay that Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig create explores the difficulties of growing up into adulthood where a woman has a passion for dancing yet she has a hard time with the changes around her. Notably as she has a very close friendship with her longtime roommate Sophie as the two have the same kind of quirky personality. Yet, Sophie’s life is changing as she is in a steady relationship with a man named Patch where his job forces them to make decisions that leaves Frances out of the loop. Even as she has to hear it from other people as it makes her more insecure where she would make decisions in her life that she later realizes how dumb it is. Frances would also make bad decisions that could’ve gone well as she also showcases the sense of fear in adulthood where one might have to give up their dreams and be like everyone else.

Frances is a very unique yet flawed character that lives under the beat of her own drum. She loves to dance and have fun yet she has to deal with things like paying the rent and making sure she can become a lead dancer or be part of the company. Yet, she faces challenges that would be overwhelming for anyone in their late 20s as they deal with uncertainty about themselves in life. At the same time, she tries to stray away from the world of love though there’s men in her life that mean well but don’t offer the stability that she needs. Eventually, Frances has to realize what she has to do to be an adult where there are compromises that have to be made but also find a way to be the vivacious woman that she loves being.

Baumbach’s direction is very low-key as it plays to a visual style that recalls some of the works of Woody Allen from the late 70s and early 80s as it’s short largely in New York City as well as a few places in upstate New York, Sacramento, and Paris. The use of grainy black-and-white footage does give the film a timeless feel where Baumbach creates something is told in a modern sensibility in a present time but it also could’ve been placed in another world. Baumbach’s camera also has these very entrancing compositions in not just the way he uses close-ups and wide shots but also the sense of looseness in the direction that includes some tracking shots in some of the film’s exterior scenes.

The film also features a lot of dance where it wants to showcase a woman’s desire to create something that is meaningful as Baumbach captures Frances’ energy through dance. Even as it features some moments in the ballet to showcase her love but also the melancholia that she’s feeling where Baumbach knows where to put her in the frame to display those emotions without the need to embellish things. Particularly where Baumbach wisely avoids melodrama to just have a bit of realism in the situations that Frances deals with though there is some drama that plays to Frances’ friendship with Sophie and how intense it can be. Overall, Baumbach creates a compelling yet exhilarating film about growing into the world of adulthood.

Cinematographer Sam Levy does fantastic work with the film‘s black-and-white photography where it does have some elements of grain in its look for some of its interior settings and scenes at night while also having that sense of style in the lighting without the need to overdo things. Editor Jennifer Lane does excellent work with the editing to create some rhythmic cutting for some of the dancing as well as a few stylish cuts to showcase Frances‘ difficulty with adjusting to adulthood. Production designer Sam Lisenco and set decorator Hannah Rothfield do wonderful work with the set pieces from the different apartments that Frances live in to the dance studio that she works at.

Sound editor Paul Hsu does terrific work with the sound where it is very natural in many of its location settings along with a few scenes in the dance performances. Music supervisor George Drakoulias creates a very fun soundtrack that features score music from films of the French New Wave including score cuts by Georges Delerue plus original music from Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips as well as songs by T. Rex, Hot Chocolate, Paul McCartney, and David Bowie.

The casting by Douglas Aibel is brilliant as it features appearances from Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips as a couple at a dinner party, Juliet Rylance and Josh Hamilton as guests at the dinner party, Grace Gummer as Frances’ dancer friend Rachel, Michael Esper as Frances’ ex-boyfriend Dan, and Charlotte d’Amboise as Frances’ boss Colleen. Other notable small roles include Patrick Heusinger as Sophie’s boyfriend Patch whom Frances doesn’t really like, Michael Zegen as the writer friend Benji, and Adam Driver as Benji’s artist roommate Lev. Mickey Sumner is excellent as Frances’ best friend Sophie who deals with the changes of her life as it would affect her and Frances in a big way. Finally, there’s Greta Gerwig in an incredible performance as Frances as a woman dealing with the difficulties of real life as she is trying to hold on to her dream as a dancer where Gerwig brings a lot of energy and charisma to her role as Frances.


***Additional DVD/Blu-Ray Material Written on 1/23/15-1/24/15***

The 2013 dual-disc Region 1 DVD/Region A Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection presents in a new high-definition digital master that is approved by its director Noah Baumbach with an uncompressed 5.1 DTS-HD Surround Sound Master Audio for the Blu-Ray. Presented in its 1:85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, the film retains the rich look that was presented in its theatrical release. The special features of the DVD/Blu-Ray set features three interviews about the film.

The first is a fifteen-minute conversation with the film’s co-writer/director Noah Baumbach and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich about the film where Baumbach revealed its genesis as it relate to him wanting to return to New York City and make a film about young people in the city. Through his email conversations with Greta Gerwig, a script came in where much of the dialogue is written with the exception of Frances returning home for Christmas. Baumbach also talked about his approach to the music and why the film was shot in black-and-white and on digital as Baumbach revealed that it was for financial reasons but also to see if he could make a film on digital and in black-and-white though digital would often present the film in color. When Baumbach see that it could be done, it gave him everything he needed as he wanted the film to have a timeless look but also be a homage to the films of the French New Wave which were one of the inspirations for the film.

The second is a seventeen-minute conversation with actress/co-writer Greta Gerwig and actress/filmmaker Sarah Polley about the film has Polley asking Gerwig questions about the character of Frances as well as Gerwig’s collaboration with Baumbach. Gerwig reveals a lot about Frances development as well as her own interpretation to the character. Gerwig also reveals what she and Baumbach wanted to do with the script as it relates to Frances’ journey and what she would accomplish at the end of the film.

The third and final interview is an eighteen-minute conversation between Baumbach, cinematographer Sam Levy, and color master Pascal Dangin about the film’s look as it is a must-see for anyone that wants to know how these three men shot the film in digital and how it created the film’s black-and-white look. Baumbach, Levy, and Dangin talk about the late cinematographer Harris Savides who was the key figure into getting Baumbach to think about shooting the film digitally as he would aid them into creating the black-and-white process through some tests. The three men also reveal how difficult it was where it was crucial that tests were made as Dangin would be the one to find the look of the film through post-production mastering process as he revealed how he did it as it’s one of the finest pieces about the advantages and disadvantages of digital filmmaking. The special features also include the film’s theatrical trailer for its 2013 theatrical release.

The DVD/Blu-Ray set also features an essay from playwright Annie Baker about the film entitled The Green Girl. Baker talks about the character of Frances and the bad decisions she made where it would play into the tribulations she would face while trying to maintain some element of optimism. Baker says the film is a romantic film but between Frances and herself as she tries to find herself through her many misadventures and living situations. It’s a film that Baker says is about a woman finding herself and how she tries to find herself through other people only to come to terms that it’s about her. It’s a very witty and insightful essay into a film that truly lives up to the word magical.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

Frances Ha is an outstanding film from Noah Baumbach that features a sensational performance from Greta Gerwig. The film is definitely one of Baumbach’s most enjoyable and engaging works of his career as well as creating a very realistic yet humorous take on the world of adulthood. With a fantastic script and a fun soundtrack, the film is definitely something that showcases a woman trying to hang on to her dreams in the world of adulthood. In the end, Frances Ha is a tremendous achievement from Noah Baumbach.

Noah Baumbach Films: Kicking and Screaming - Highball - Mr. Jealousy - The Squid & the Whale - Margot at the Wedding - Greenberg - While We’re Young - Mistress America - DePalma - The Auteurs #41: Noah Baumbach

© thevoid99 2013