Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blog News 11/30/10/Blogging Around

With the final month of the year coming.  I have some news relating to my Auteurs series.  The second part of my Auteurs series will come next month for Darren Aronofsky.  With expanded reviews for Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler coming along with a review of The Fountain.  I will release my Aronofsky essay after I see Black Swan.  Also in anticipation for Black Swan, I will also have an expanded review of The Red Shoes by Powell/Pressburger for its recent Criterion release.  I will also have expanded Criterion reviews for Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, Steven Soderbergh's Che, Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, and Lars Von Trier's Antichrist.  For my third Auteurs series, I will do Todd Haynes in anticipation of the airing of Mildred Pierce this coming winter in 2011 on HBO.  As for Holiday movies, that is something that might be in the works depending on what films I choose. 

In the world of NIN.  I have recently purchased the recent reissue of Pretty Hate Machine though I don't have any immediate plans to review it.  I probably will get around to posting and re-editing many of my old NIN reviews this coming January and February since I have already finished rebuilding my music catalog.

For the world of fellow bloggers.  Here are some blogs I want to mention.

For the dueling Rambo marathon, that I've been following and been having run reading. The reviews for the most recent film have been a great read. One by Edgar of Between the Seats was definitely enjoyable as is the contribution from Bill of Bill's Movie Emporium who is also finishing up the Filmspotting Disney Animated Movie Marathon that is set to conclude. His reviews for Bolt and The Princess & the Frog are definitely worth reading.

Another blog that I recently discovered is The Final Girl Project whose review of The Last Starfighter got me swept into a world of nostalgia.

That's all I'm going to mention for now.  Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off for the month of November.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Originally Written and Posted at 12/28/08 w/ Additional Edits & New Content.

Science fiction has always been a genre known for big-budget special effects and high ambitions. Then in 1998, a little-known film made for $60,000 became a cult hit that year while establishing a director who would later become one of the most exciting directors of his generation. His name is Darren Aronofsky, a Brooklyn-born director whose love for films and the mind created a movie about a math prodigy who finds himself dealing with the headaches that has affected him as a child. The movie was called Pi after the mathematical symbol that equals to 3.14 estimate. Directed by Aronofsky with his own script with story credit also going to Sean Gullette and Eric Watson. The film stars Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, and Stephen Pearlman. Pi is an eerie, suspenseful, and chilling debut from Darren Aronofksy.

Maximilian Cohen (Sean Gullette) is a math prodigy who is obsessed with finding variables and numbers based on the mathematical symbol equal to the 3.14 estimate with an infinity amount of numbers. Working as a recluse with his homemade computer, Max often suffers from headaches that he's had since he was a child after staring at the sun for far too long. Rarely contacting people that includes a little girl named Jenna (Kristyn Mae-Anne Lao), a neighbor named Devi (Samia Shoaib), and an old mentor named Sol (Mark Margolis). Max prefers to work alone as he finds patterns relating to the stock market. After having encounters with a Hasidic Jew named Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman) and being pursued by a Wall Street representative named Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart). Max continues to work on his work with numbers.

Then one day, a breakthrough comes in during a crash where it spits out 216 numbers. Feeling that it's just random data, he later checks through the stock numbers from a newspaper realizing that his predictions were correct. Turning to Sol for answers, Sol suggests that Max should stop before it would make him go insane as Sol gave up his mathematic obsessions that lead him to have a stroke. Max forges ahead where a meeting with Lenny about the numbers might be a big clue to what Lenny is looking for in relation to text in the Torah that Lenny's Hasidic Jewish priests are looking for. Max decides to help Lenny but his headaches start to increase pushing him on the brink of madness. When Marcy finally contacts him, she wants to give him a chip so he can rebuild his computer to find the numbers that they needed.

During the moment he tries to predict stock patterns with the chip and computer, another breakthrough emerges as well as a terrible discovery. Even as a vein pops up in his head as Max becomes more obsessed and paranoid. After consulting with Sol, Sol suggests that Max should stop for good as it would lead him to the same troubles that Sol went through. Max ignores Sol's advice where he is encountered by Marcy and her Wall Street agents where he's saved by Lenny. Yet, Max is taken to meet the Hasidic Jewish priest Rabbi Cohen (Stephen Pearlman) who reveals what the 216 digits might mean. For Max, it's more than he bargains for as he knows what the numbers are as his mind blurs in the idea of both reality and fantasy.

The film is essentially a paranoia thriller about a math genius' obsession with number patterns and a discovery that would eventually get him in trouble. Yet, it's a film that's definitely original due to its mathematical contexts and black-and-white look that gives it a loose feel. Aronofsky's screenplay does start out slow in revealing the reclusive world that Max lives in. When the second act begins with his discovery, it becomes this suspenseful yet sci-fi thriller that's more in tune with films like The Conversation instead of a traditional sci-fi film like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yet, it's still a sci-fi film in an unconventional sense due to its mathematical components, emphasis on numbers, and claustrophobic feel. The sense of paranoia in the script is driven by the voice-over narration of Max with dialogue that repeatedly tells the story of Max's experience in staring at the sun. It's repetition reveals the pattern in Max's mind like the numbers he's obsessed about.

Aronofsky's direction is definitely in a closed, claustrophobic style with hand-held cameras to create a looseness as if the audience is inside the head of Max Cohen. The shakiness of the camera with its spiral effect helps with the mood given Max's obsessions with spirals. Yet, the cinematic style is really an ode to the look of David Lynch's first film Eraserhead while having a low-budget feel that proves that works in its raw, grainy style. Aronofsky's approach to suspense is more about a low build-up or seeing something that's about to happen in the mind of Max. It works through its emotion and Aronofsky's direction where the result is truly magnificent with so little money put into the film.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique does brilliant work with the film's black-and-white, grainy camera work. With its loose, hand-held style, Libatique's cinematography is wonderfully rough in its dirty, grimy look throughout several of the film's interior settings. With little lights in the nighttime exterior and in Max's own apartment, some of the imagery that Libatique create are beautiful including a shot of the beach at Coney Island and a dream sequence as the cinematography is definitely mystifying to watch. Editor Oren Sarch does great work with the film's swift, rhythmic editing to play up to the film's sense of suspense. Sarch's editing is fast but never to the point where it's too fast in some sequences as its cutting and transitions create a tone that is startling yet hypnotic to watch.

Production designer Matthew Maraffi does excellent work in the look of Max's apartment filled with computer equipment and such to create a claustrophobia around Max's world that is all about numbers. Sound designer Brian Emrich does fantastic work with the sound in creating suspense in the subway scenes along with the noise of computers and buzzes around Max's world along with screeches in his head. The film's score is mostly driven by electronic music from acts like Massive Attack, Autechre, and Orbital along with other styles of music supervised by Sioux Zimmerman, a former publicist for Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails. Yet, the film's score in its drum-n-bass sound with fast, kinetic beats are from former Pop Will Eat Itself vocalist Clint Mansell. Mansell's score works in its swift, paranoia-driven tone with its beats as it gave the former PWEI vocalist a new life as a film composer following the band's break-up in 1996.

The casting by Denise Fitzgerald is excellent with small appearances and performances from editor Oren Sarch as a Hasidic priest, Clint Mansell as a photographer, Lauren Fox as Sol's daughter, Joanne Gordon as Max's landlady, Ajay Naidu as Devi's boyfriend, Abraham Aronofsky (Darren's father) as a suitcase deliverer, and Stanley Herman as a man in a suit Max sees at the subway train. Stephen Pearlman is excellent as the Hasidic priest Rabbi Cohen who reveals the source of what the numbers mean only to get into a philosophical argument with Max over purity. Kristyn Mae-Anne Lao is wonderful as Jenna, a little neighbor girl who asks Max math questions while Samia Shoaib is very good as Max's attractive yet caring neighbor Devi. Pamela Hart is really good as Marcy Dawson, the sleazy Wall Street agent who only wants Max for financial reasons as she follows him everywhere he goes.

Ben Shenkman is great as Lenny, the Hasidic Jew who takes Max in to the world of Kabbalah and Jewish number theories only to put Max in danger for his people. Mark Margolis is brilliant as Sol, Max's old mentor who warns him about what Max might be in for. Margolis brings a lot of wisdom to his performance as a man now experiencing life for the first time after a stroke that was caused by his own mathematical obsessions as he pleas to Max to find a life outside of mathematics. Sean Gullette is amazing as Max Cohen, the obsessed mathematician who makes a discovery only to go mad in his discovery due to his headache. Gullette's performance is a marvel to watch as he displays a sense of paranoia and sympathy to a man driven by madness while dealing with headaches and the discovery that people want to know from him.

***Additional DVD Content Written on 11/29/10***

The 2001 Region 1 DVD for Pi released by Artisan presents the film in its original theatrical widescreen presentation of the aspect ratio of 1:66:1. Along with Dolby Surround Sound, the film features numerous special features for its DVD release. Among them are two commentary tracks. The first is from director Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky’s commentary is an engaging insight into the making of the film as well as Aronofsky revealing some of the things that happened. Notably talking about how he used some of his own personal experiences to create the character of Mark. Aronofsky also cites directors like Terry Gilliam and Sergio Leone as influences for a few ideas while revealing something that happened to him when he was shooting the scene of the brain at the subway station.

During the shooting of that scene, Aronofsky and crew were confronted by the police since Aronofsky didn’t have a permit. Yet, the police did nothing because they thought that Aronofsky and his crew were a second unit crew for Woody Allen, who was shooting a film nearby. Aronofsky talks about a lot of the mathematical elements in the film which were scripted as he remembered based on his own experiences traveling. He also talks about the cast, notably the late Stephen Pearlman who had died a week before Aronofsky did the commentary. It’s an enjoyable commentary as Aronofsky sounds relaxed and excited while reminding the viewer to watch the special features on the DVD.

The second commentary track comes from actor Sean Gullette who reflects on his experience making the film. Gullette also goes into deep about the ideas of Pi and its connection with religion along with his own character. Gullette is more relaxed and calm than Aronofsky while he also goes into detail about the migraines his character Max suffers from. Gullette reveals that since this was his first feature film as an actor, it wasn’t easy at times. Even when Aronofsky was trying to get him mad for several scenes. Gullette also talks about Mark Margolis, who was a revered veteran while revealing that Mark would often improvise in his takes. Gullette’s commentary is insightful though not as humorous as Aronofsky’s.

Four deleted scenes appear on the DVD special features. The first is a scene where Farrouhk confronts Max about the way he eyes Devi. The second is Max trying to find monitors through a small hill of broken computers. The third is Max returning to his apartment where a slinky is falling down to the stairs near his floor. The fourth and final deleted scene is a test scene where Sean Gullette is walking with a camera is shot in front of him to test the way he walks throughout. All of these scenes would feature a commentary track from Aronofsky where he revealed that they were cut largely due to pacing issues.

The eight-and-a-half minute behind the scenes montage reveals the making of the film through a colored video camera with commentary by Aronofsky and Gullette. Shot by The Thin Red Line/The New World co-editor Saar Klein for the on-set scenes, the commentary features appearances from Aronofsky’s mother and the making of the door-opening scene during Max’s migraines. Also featured was the whole cast and crew at Sundance which concluded with Aronofsky winning the Best Director Award presented to him by Paul Schrader. Two trailers appear for the DVD. The first is the theatrical trailer and the other is a homemade trailer by Aronofsky and producer Eric Watson that featured one of the deleted scenes. Another feature is a music video for Clint Mansell’s main theme for the film featuring footage of the film plus ants to the hyperactive, drum n’ bass style track.

Also in the DVD are cast and crew information for Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, and Stephen Pearlman. Notes about the numerical mythology on Pi, production notes about the film and how it was made, and a sample of the Book of Ants graphic novel written by Aronofsky. Overall, the DVD is a must-have for fans of the film as well as those interested in the work of Darren Aronofsky.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

The film premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival where it was a hit as it won Darren Aronofsky a directing award. The film was bought by Artisan as the $60,000 film grossed $3.2 million in the box office as it became a cult success and winning several film prizes. It provided Aronofsky a career where he would be attached to several projects until he decided to do an adaptation of Herbert Selby Jr.'s acclaimed novel Requiem for a Dream that was released in 2000. Pi meanwhile, became a cult film as it remains one of 1990s best debut feature films.

Pi is a truly original, suspenseful, and eerie debut feature from Darren Aronofsky and company. Featuring a superb cast led by Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, and Ben Shenkman, it's a film that is definitely complex and intelligent with stylish editing, fantastic cinematography, and Clint Mansell's intense score. Fans of low-budget, sci-fi films will enjoy the raw look of the film while mainstream audiences might be confused by its mathematical-driven plot though will enjoy its suspenseful tone. In the end, Darren Aronofsky's Pi is a spectacular debut film that warps the mind as it gives suspense a new shot in the arm.

Darren Aronofsky Reviews:  Requiem for a Dream - The Fountain - The Wrestler - Black Swan - Noah - mother!

© thevoid99 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Slumdog Millionaire

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/19/08 w/ Additional Edits.

2007's sci-fi drama Sunshine brought Danny Boyle to a genre that he hadn't explored as the director created a film that definitely was unique. Despite a controversial third act that left some viewers and critics bewildered, Boyle continued to move forward. Ever since his return to the spotlight following the high-profile flop of 2000's The Beach, Boyle had been exploring various genres ranging from children's drama with Millions, to the zombie-gore fest of 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later which he served as a producer and shot second unit. Boyle returns once again to the big screen in 2008 with another new genre exploration as he travels to India and Bollywood for his 2008 drama Slumdog Millionaire.

Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Simon Beaufoy based on Vikas Swarup's book Q & A, Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of a young man from Mumbai who is on live TV playing an Indian version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Yet, as he's interrogated by police who accuse him of cheating, he reflects on every answer he said on the show in relation to memories of his childhood and the love for a young woman he hoped would see him on the show. A mix of Bollywood and Boyle's kinetic, stylish filmmaking style, it's a film that is truly uplifting and original. Starring Dev Patel, Madhur Mittal, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, and Irfan Khan. Slumdog Millionaire is an intoxicating, intense, and inspiring masterpiece from Danny Boyle.

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is a former street child from Mumbai who is currently playing on an Indian version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire where he is one question away from winning the grand prize. Yet, he's immediately arrested by authorities, including the show's host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), who believe that he's cheating. After being tortured, the police's chief interrogator (Irfan Khan) starts to talk to him about every question he answered on the game show. For Jamal, each question and answer lead him to reflect on his young life like the time when he was a young child (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar), he got the autograph of a big-time Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan (Feroz Abbas Khan). Yet, he also would experience the death of his mother (Sanchita Couhdary) during an anti-Muslim raid. With his older brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail), they find a young girl named Latika (Rubiana Ali).

The young Jamal befriends Latika though as the three kids meet a man named Maman (Ankur Vikal) who takes them in where they gain shelter and such. Yet, Salim discovers a dark side to Maman where he's introduced to the world of crime. When Jamal was about to take part in Maman's scheme, Salim creates an escape where the brothers and Latika make an escape but Latika is still taken by Maman. Jamal and Salim begin a life of being vendors in the trains until years later, they are kicked out as they're in the area near the Taj Mahal. Now as teens, Jamal (Tanay Chheda) and Salim (Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala) make a living as unofficial tour guides where they make a lot of money. Yet, Jamal still wants to return to Mumbai hoping to find Latika (Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar) as Jamal wants to live a straight, clean life. Yet, Salim is still intrigued by crime that he manages to locate Latika where he makes an encounter Maman. Yet, Salim manages to get the attention of another crime lord named Javed (Manesh Manjrekar) as Salim claims Latika as his own.

Now years later towards the present time, Jamal works as an assistant in a call center where he finds Salim (Madhur Mittal), who is now a lieutenant for Javed. Salim reveals to Jamal that Latika (Freida Pinto) lives with Javed as he tries to get her to leave. Instead, she couldn't because she is now a prisoner for both Javed and Salim where he decides to get her attention by taking a shot at Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. At the interrogation room, he reveals why he played the game to the interrogator who makes a huge decision for Jamal's future.

The film is a simple tale of a young man trying to get the attention of the woman he loves through a game show. Yet when he gets suspected of cheating, the character of Jamal reveals why he chose those answers which each answer links to a moment from his life. The film is about memory as Jamal reveals why he chose this answer and what link in his life does he have with that answer. Yet, with a show like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, there's three life-lines to choose from as Jamal is given. One of those question that he didn't know, he went to the audience. Another was using the 50-50 where Jamal took a risk. The other involves the call from a friend/family that provides one of the film's climatic moment.

Simon Beaufoy's screenplay definitely moves back and forth from present time to Jamal's memories as a child and his journey as a young man. Yet, its emphasis on memory and a young man's desire to capture the attention of the girl that he loves is a story that is truly inspiring. It's a film that is about the idea of destiny where for Jamal, it's about living a life that is straight and without any kinds of troubles. Yet for his older brother Salim, he lives a life of crime believing that money can bring happiness until he is given a conflict about loyalty. The character of Latika is a young woman who brings a balance to the boys as she delves into conflict in her feelings for Jamal and the world of materialism she's been given from Salim despite his jealousy towards her. What Beaufoy creates is a sense of tension yet at the center is Jamal and how he chooses his destiny with those two people watching him.

While Beaufoy's screenplay is filled with a wonderful structure, character development, and plot devices. It's Danny Boyle's direction that really takes the film to spectacular heights. With co-director Loveleen Tandan shooting several sequences in India, Boyle goes right in front for many of the film's hyper-active Mumbai scenes in its slums and poverty-stricken world. Yet, Boyle creates a style that is definitely colorful and dream-like. With its hand-held camera style and sense of suspense in the film's game-show sequences. Boyle also goes for a range of emotions whether it's something innocent and uplifting in the scenes with the children or something dark in the film's crime and suspense sequences. Yet, Boyle creates a film that is definitely engaging and inspiring that feels complete with a great Bollywood tribute sequence at the end.

Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle creates probably one of the year's best shot films with his kinetic, stylish cinematography filled with an array of colors in many of the film's exterior scenes. Mantle's hand-held work and the way he captures a scene with his camera as all of the action and chase scenes are done with such precision. Mantle's work is by far one of the year's best work in cinematography along with wonderful interior shots in some of the film's present-day sequence with some grainy, digital work. Editor Chris Dickens does amazing work in the film's editing with its hyper-active style without going into speedy, Hollywood-style cutting in its emphasis to capture the action. Dickens also goes for a rhythmic style of editing for the film's back-and-forth transitions from present to past and so on while using rewinds and shimmering slow-motion style for its sense of emotional tone. Dickens' editing is definitely brilliant in its emphasis on style.

Production designer Mark Digby and set decorator Michelle Day do excellent work in some of the film's non-Mumbai scenes with the decay of the orphanage scene, the posh world of Javed and Salim, and the modern world of Bombay. Costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb does excellent work with the film's costumes from the decaying clothes to the kids to the more stylish clothing of the older versions of the main characters. Sound designers Glenn Freemantle and Tom Sayers do excellent work the sound work in creating the tension for the game-show sequences and Mumbai scenes with its on-location sounds.

The music score composed by A.R. Rahman is brilliant with its percussion-driven, Indian-inspired score to capture the energy of the chases along with guitars and strings to accompany the themes of characters and such. With contributions from Sri Lanka singer M.I.A. in a few tracks including the song Paper Planes from her 2007 album Kala, it's an intoxicating, powerful soundtrack that is filled with a lot of traditional Indian and Bollywood music that it's easily one of the year's best work in music.

The casting by Gail Stevens and Loveleen Tandan do brilliant work with the film's casting with small yet memorable performances from Saurabh Shukla as a police sergeant, Sanchita Couhdary as Jamal and Salim's mother, Chirag Parmar and Siddesh Patil as the orphan boy Arvind, Feroz Abbas Khan as legendary Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, and Manesh Manjrekar as crime boss Javed. Ankur Vikal is excellent as Maman, the crime boss disguised as an orphanage leader. Anil Kapoor is great as the game show host who couldn't believe that Jamal is winning due to his background as he's often surprised. Irfan Khan is excellent as the police inspector who interrogates Jamal while being amazed at how those answers were linked to Jamal's life. Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala are great as the young Salim with Ismail as the young boy intrigued by crime and Gajiwala as the teen Salim who tries to be powerful in his role as the older brother.

Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar is good as the teen Latika who is glad to see Jamal until she is forced to be with Salim in order to save Jamal. Madhur Mittal is very good as the older Salim with his stylish, gangster look as he reveals a conflict into his loyalty to his brother or to the world of crime that he's living with. Rubiana Ali is great as the child version of Latika with her natural, enchanting performance while Freida Pinto is really good as adult Latika who feels conflicted in her imprisoned life and her fear for Jamal's safety as Pinto is just intoxicating to watch. In the triple role of Jamal, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar is great as the boy version with his innocence and ability to just do what's right while Tanay Chheda is also great as the teen version who brings out funny stories as a guide while being devoted to Latika. Dev Patel is brilliant as the adult Jamal who is just a straight-laced young man just wanting to get the attention of the woman he loves as he just links to everything he thinks about with those answers. Patel's performance is exhilarating as he brings a lot of human qualities to a character as he's playing a game that would make anyone nervous.

Slumdog Millionaire is easily one of 2008's best films from Danny Boyle thanks to an inspiring story and Boyle's colorful, cinematic style. Thanks to a great cast of mostly unknown actors, with the exception of Bollywood star Irfan Khan, it's a film that is a true rag-to-riches tale with lots of action, humor, drama, and excitement. Fans of Danny Boyle will no doubt be amazed at what he creates as it's definitely his most exciting and fulfilling film since Trainspotting. In the end, for a film that is inspiring and hopeful, Slumdog Millionaire is the film to see.

© thevoid99 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/27/08.

Following the critical success of 2004's family-drama Millions, British director Danny Boyle took another direction with the film as he collaborated with Frank Cottrell Bryce on the project. Though Millions was a more accessible, family-friendly film compared to his other films like the zombie-film 28 Days Later and his 1996 heroin-drama Trainspotting. Boyle proved to himself to take on different projects with great success following the disastrous experience with his 2000 film The Beach. Then in 2007, after more than a year in the works, Boyle explored a different genre in science fiction entitled Sunshine.

Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, Sunshine tells the story of a futuristic period where the sun is dying. After a crew in space failed to reignite the sun, a new crew takes over as they learn what happen to the previous crew while dealing with their own emotions in a mission they must not fail. Taking cues from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Boyle explores the world of alienation and mysticism of the universe as well as mankind's failing. With an ensemble that includes Boyle regular Cillian Murphy along with Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Benedict Wong, Hiroyuki Sanada, Cliff Curtis, and Troy Garity. Sunshine is a haunting, visually-hypnotic film from Danny Boyle and company.

It's 2057 as the sun is dying forcing Earth to nearly die as well. Seven years ago, a spaceship called Icarus attempted to reignite the sun with a nuclear missile attached to the ship. Then for some reason, Icarus and its crew never made it as now, a new crew on Icarus II is hoping to complete the mission and save Earth. Leading the team is Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) with communications officer Harvey (Troy Garity) in second-in-command. Also in the team are a group of scientists, physicists, and an astronaut including pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne), engineer Mace (Chris Evans), navigator Trey (Benedict Wong), psychologist Searle (Cliff Curtis), botanist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) and physicist/astronaut Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy). Hoping to succeed despite personal tension, the crew of Icarus II are aware that if they fail, Earth will die.

Nearing the planet Mercury, Harvey suddenly hears a signal that turned out to be Icarus as the crew wondered if they should rendevous with the old ship. Capa is forced to make the decision as he ponders what impact it would have since Icarus has another nuclear missile attached. If they can get that second missile, there would be a second shot in reigniting the son in case the one they have doesn't go well. Capa makes his decision as they make way towards Mercury where all of a sudden, a mental error made by Trey on not directing the shields against the sun since he was too busy making calculations on the navigation and such. Kaneda and Capa decide to go outside to inspect the damage and such as Cassie tries to change the navigation. Just as things seem to go well in the repairs, something goes wrong instead as towers and areas get destroyed. With Trey now in a mind full of guilt, Searle sedates him as a suicide risk.

With the ship's plant and garden supply destroyed by the fire and oxygen supply now at a low risk, Corazon realizes that there's four left but four people to survive. Mace and Cassie wonder who should survive as Harvey makes the decision to go to Icarus to see if there's still any oxygen supply left. With Trey, Mace, Harvey, and Capa go onboard Icarus, the rest stays at Icarus II where they discovered what happened to the first Icarus crew but also its captain Pinbacker (Mark Strong) who went insane all of a sudden. Just as they continued to explore, the docking between the two Icarus ships suddenly exploded forcing the men to not return. Cassie directs Icarus II to the nearest docking meter with Icarus as Searle chooses to stay behind in order to get the rest of the team out manually. Though the plan worked for the most part, there are now a few survivors left as Capa's previous decision puts him at odds with Mace. Yet, the mystery of what happened to the docking link remains questioned.

When Capa decides to check on the nuclear payload, he makes a discovery that would impact the ship but his crew as he learned about a force that is trying to stop them as everyone tries to fight to survive in completing their mission.

A film set in space is often filled with themes of alienation and mankind itself. Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland understands these themes as it is explored in the film's first half. Yet, the theme of mankind is explored much further in the second half as the film is about a team trying to reignite the dying sun to save Earth. What Garland does is create a situation in how to stop a team from their mission as what he reveals that man itself is flawed to the point that they would overlook a little thing that would cause problems. The film in some ways is about the fallacy of mankind and how a simple mistake can destroy things where the character of Trey is forced to go on suicide watch.

The pressure on the impact of a mistake can be extremely overwhelming as these eight people aren't just trying to complete their mission but the pressure is overwhelming to them on all parts as they're aware that if they fail. The whole planet of Earth and civilization as they know it will be gone and it's their fault if that happens. It's a continuing frame of mind that crew of Icarus II are going through for the entire film. Yet, by the time the film reaches the third act, it becomes a suspense film of sorts as well as a thriller. In some ways, it becomes a different film and that abrupt shift in tone might irk the audience in some ways as the first two acts is more character-driven.

Director Danny Boyle's vision is truly superb as he creates a unique film that has those great elements of past science-fiction films in the tradition of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 but also Andrei Tarkovsky's film adaptation of Solaris. Creating a feeling of claustrophobia, isolation, and terror, the film has a haunting quality as a large portion of the film is shot from the inside. Boyle's decision on casting is also unique as he brought in an eclectic group of actors for the film with different backgrounds, personalities, and nationalities to convey a sense of international unity despite their own differences. Yet, Boyle's eerie, observant, and hypnotic direction creates an atmosphere that is intense in its emotions. Even as the film goes into suspense mode, the intensity of Boyle's vision doesn't stray from the film's main plot as the third act is also an exploration of sorts of man's failure and its cynicism. It is in some respects a hopeful film as Danny Boyle creates a solid, hypnotic film that gives the director new ground to work on.

Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler does an amazing job in using the sepia-light colors to convey the impact of the dying sun while a lot of the photography and camera work is hand-held in some parts along with tracking shots with the cameras tilted. The look of the camera with its dark, blue-green look works to convey an intimacy and claustrophobia of the film. Visual effects supervisor Tom Wood also helps in the look, particularly the look of the sun as well as the outer-space outside shots that are extremely stunning to look at including the model of Icarus II. Editor Chris Gill does an excellent job in maintaining the intense tone of the film with the use of jump-cuts and transitions to convey the eerie tone of the film as the editing is truly superb.

Production designer Mark Tildesley with set decorator Michelle Day and a team of art directors did a fascinating job in creating the world of Icarus II with its botanic gardens, dream-like fantasy worlds, its claustrophobic space hallways, and the observation room as the film has a wonderful, sci-fi feel. Costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb does nice work on the film's clothing uniforms while the astronaut suits with its gold look and helmet are wonderful to convey the eerie tone of the film as well as the claustrophobia. Sound designer/editor Glenn Freemantle does an amazing job in capturing the film's eerie tone with the breaking of ships and such along with bleeps, and noises to convey the film's haunting quality. The film score by John Murphy and the electronic group Underworld is truly spellbinding with its operatic arrangements, intense electronic accompaniments, and dream-like, ambient tones to convey the layers of emotions the characters are going through.

The film's casting is superb with small performances from Mark Strong as the insane Pinbacker and as the voice of Icarus II, Chipo Chung. The main ensemble of its eight principle actors are all superb with Hiroyuki Sanada in a fantastic role as Captain Kaneda, a man whose leadership and wisdom is needed as he tries to do what is right for everyone while maintaining control. Benedict Wong is excellent as the navigator Trey who starts off as a fun, easy-going man but when his intelligence causes him to overlook something simple, he becomes a wreck as Wong's performance is memorable. Troy Garity is also good as Harvey, the communications officer who tries to take over command only to realize what it takes to be a real leader.

Cliff Curtis is amazing in a standout performance as Dr. Searle, the film's lone optimist and moral conscience of sorts as he is the one who tries to give options while being the one man to keep the peace between everyone. Michelle Yeoh is also superb as the botanist Corazon whose hopes for a better world becomes shattered when her beloved garden is destroyed as she tries to deal with the harsh realities of the world. Chris Evans is a revelation as a hot-headed, frustrated engineer who is dealing with everything that is going on while trying to decide what is morally right. Evans, known to audiences as the Human Torch in the Fantastic 4 films brings a lot of intelligence and energy to his performance as he proves to be a solid actor when working with the right director.

Rose Byrne is wonderfully understated and plaintive as the pilot Cassie, who is some ways, the film's heart. Byrne's performance is subtle and engaging yet is also a conscience in a powerful scene about morality as she truly mesmerizes in every scene she's in. Cillian Murphy is also brilliant as Robert Capa, a man whose decision about Icarus makes him someone who is filled with conflict as he isn't sure about whether he made the right decision. Murphy's dream-like look and wavering sense of hope really carries the film as his performance is truly memorable.

Sunshine is a wonderfully haunting, provocative film from Danny Boyle and company. Fans of intelligent sci-fi films will be amazed in the film's visual presentation as well as Boyle's claustrophobic direction. With a great ensemble cast, an eerie score, and amazing visuals, this is a film that will wow audiences in its visual splendor while comment on the flaws of mankind. While the film isn't as solid as Trainspotting, Danny Boyle still proves to be one of Britain's finest directors. In the end, Sunshine is a fascinating film that deserves to be seen for sci-fi aficionados.

© thevoid99 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


 Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 2/4/09.

After making a comeback with the 2002 zombie-inspired thriller 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle finally returned to the cinematic spotlight following the high-profile flop with 2000's The Beach. With Boyle now set to do whatever he wanted, a sequel for 28 Days Later seemed likely as Boyle instead let someone else take the reins for 2007's 28 Weeks Later which he produced and did some shooting for. Instead, Boyle decided to collaborate with Frank Cottrell Boyce, the screenwriter who wrote several films with another famed British director in Michael Winterbottom. Boyle and Boyce decided to collaborate on a project based on a book Bryce had written entitled Millions.

Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Millions tells the story of a seven-year old boy moving to a new suburb with his older brother and father following the death of his mother. One day, a bag of money is flung from a train as he is convinced that it's a gift from God. Wanting to use the money for good before everything turns to the Euro currency, the boy is forced to share the money with his selfish older brother while robbers are trying to retrieve for their own reasons. Starring Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan, and as himself, Leslie Philips. Millions is an uplifting, inspiring film from the team of Frank Cottrell Bryce and Danny Boyle.

Following the death of their mother (Jane Hogarth), two young boys in Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) and 7-year old Damian (Alex Etel) move to a suburban area with their widowed father Ronnie (James Nesbitt). Damian's fascination with spiritual saints has him seeing them in his imagination. While Anthony thought that Damian's fascinations were baffling while Ronnie thought it was just childish. Damian's interest which included Latter-Day Saints neighbors in the suburb have increased his imaginations when one day, a bag of money is flown from the air and lands on his imaginary train. Showing Anthony the money, Damian wants to use it for good in his hopes to become a saint. Anthony however, wants to use it for his own reasons in getting cell phones and such.

With the money they have used for a limited amount of time as the pounds would quickly become useless as the Euro will start to arrive. Damian and Anthony learn about it during a seminar hosted by Dorothy (Daisy Donovan). Wanting to use the money for good, what he spent gets Damian in trouble along with Anthony as Anthony claims they stole the money from Mormons. Things get worse when Anthony learns that the money Damian found was stolen by robbers making Damian feel terrible. Even as a man (Christopher Fulford) is lurking around wanting to get the money. After befriending Dorothy, Ronnie invites her to dinner where Anthony feel suspicious.

During a Christmas play, the robber confronts Damien about the money where Damien tries to hide the money at his old home. After being picked up by Ronnie, their new home was robbed and ransacked as Ronnie learns about the money. Wanting to use it for his own reasons, Damien feels scared after the robber wants the money as Ronnie, Anthony, and Dorothy decide to go on a shopping spree and convert the money to Euros. It's in that moment that Damien learns a valuable lesson about money and wanting to do good.

The film is in several ways, a spiritual story with a message. Particularly on the subject of death and how one copes with it. While the story might lean towards sentimentality and the message about money and what wrongs it can bring can be a bit overbearing. Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce does create a story about a boy's fascination with saints and all of their stories about their own miracles. He often asks about his mother, who does eventually appear in the film. At the same time, the boy's fascination with saints and wanting to do good also gives him a harsh reality that some might not believe in miracles. The story is well-written as Bryce creates a coming of age story that follows a boy trying to understand miracles and what it takes.

Director Danny Boyle does a superb job with the direction by emphasizing on the imagination of a child. Starting off with a scene of a house being created shows Boyle's energetic, fluid direction as well as unique compositions to display the film's location and setting. Boyle always kept the camera on the boy to give the audience a point of view of the boy while creating a world around him. The robbery scene shows Boyle's genius in creating a scene that is energetic while maintaining its sense of imagination as it's told from a child's perspective. In many ways, it's a family film that's unconventional but with a strong message about miracles and faith that's wonderfully told by Danny Boyle.

Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle does a spectacular job with the film's look and camera angles as he maintains the colorful look of the suburban location near Manchester and other cities. Mantle's work is very different from his usual, hand-held, grainy, loose camera work for something more straightforward yet have the kind of energy and unique compositions that Boyle wanted. Editor Chris Gill does a great job with the editing with the use of rhythmic jump-cuts, wipe-transitions, and other cutting styles to maintain its sense of energy and imaginative tone for the film. Production designer Mark Tildesley along with set decorator Michelle Day and art directors Mark Digby and Denis Schnegg do an excellent job with the look of Damian's cardboard train and playhouse, the home that he lives in and the places he goes to.

Costume designer Susannah Buxton does a fine job with the costumes from the school uniforms the boys wear to the casual clothing that everyone else wears. Visual effects supervisors Peter Bach and Adam Gascoyne do great work in the visual effects look of the star above the sky, the creation of the houses, and other effects to emphasize on the film's imagination. Sound editor Glenn Freemantle does brilliant work with the film's sound to capture the energy of the robbery, the atmosphere of kids playing, and the imaginative world of Damian. Music composer John Murphy creates a light-hearted score filled with somber melodies and arrangements to emphasize on the film's innocence. Along with music from Feeder, Muse, the Clash, and traditional music for the film's varied, energetic moments and innocent scenes.

The casting by Beverley Keogh and Gail Stevens is wonderful with small appearances from Enzo Clienti as St. Francis, Alun Armstrong as St. Peter, Nasser Memarzia as St. Joseph, Mark Chatterman as the school headmaster, screenwriter Frank Cottrell Bryce as the theater teacher, and renowned British actor Leslie Phillips as himself in a commercial for the Euro conversion as he's joined by Page 3 model Jo Hicks. Other notable small performances from Jane Hogarth as Damian and Anthony's mother, Pearce Quigley as a community policeman, and Christopher Fulford as the robber are memorable as is Daisy Donovan as Dorothy, the woman who would become Ronnie's new girlfriend much to Damian's excitement and Anthony's suspicions. Veteran actor James Nesbitt does an excellent job as the widowed father who is trying to give his sons a better life while starting anew only to deal with a robbery where his emotions and pride gets the best of him.

Lewis McGibbon is great as Anthony, the older brother who just wants the money for his own reasons yet is really hiding the pain of his mother's death as he tries to deal with his younger brother's fascination with saints. Finally, there's Alex Etel as Damian who delivers a superb performance as a boy believing in saints. Etel's performance really captures the film's sense of imagination as it's done with such wonderment and curiosity that it's a true, natural performance. Etel's performance is really the soul of the film that manages to keep the audience engaged into the story and his development while maintaining his sense of faith.

While the film may not be as gritty as Trainspotting or Slumdog Millionaire, Millions is still a captivating film from Danny Boyle with help from writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. While some might not enjoy the film's sentimental tone and religious message, it's a film that is still inspiring and has something to say that is relevant to audiences. While it's not a conventional family film, it's one that doesn't cheapen itself into mush or any kind of family film hijinks. In the end, Millions is an inspiring, hopeful, and powerful film from director Danny Boyle and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce.

© thevoid99 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 (film)

When Harry Potter emerged into the world of literature in 1997, no one thought that a story about a boy who becomes a powerful wizard would become a pop culture phenomenon. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is among one of the most popular series of novels as it would also spawn everything relating to Harry Potter including films. In the fall of 2001, the first film adaptation for Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone arrived to theaters as its sequel for Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets followed a year later. Two years later, renowned Mexican art-house director Alfonso Cuaron took over for Chris Columbus to direct the third film Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban which was deemed by some as the best film of the series.

A year later, Mike Newell directed Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire that featured Ralph Fiennes in the venomous role of Lord Voldemort. David Yates, eventually took over the franchise for the next two films for 2007’s Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix and 2009’s Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince as the franchise continued to remain successful at the box office. When the time came for the adaptation of the seventh and final book Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. Producers of the film wondered what were they going to do in giving the franchise a big send-off. While Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron and fellow Mexican director Guillermo del Toro of Pan’s Labyrinth both expressed interesting in directing the final part. The job once again went to David Yates.

With screenwriter Steve Kloves taking on the job to adapt the screenplay for Deathly Hallows, producers made an announcement that has divided Harry Potter fans. It was decided that Deathly Hallows would be split into two films with the first part released in November of 2010 and the second part to be released in July of 2011. Some fans accused Warner Brothers studio of using the split to make more money. Yet, with the split decided, fans counted the days as they await the first of Harry Potter’s big finale with the first part of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows.

Directed by David Yates and an adapted screenplay written by Steve Kloves. The first part of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows tell the story of Harry Potter going on a journey with longtime friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger to find the remaining Horcruxes in order to defeat Lord Voldemort. During the journey, Voldemort has taken over the Ministry of Magic with everyone in the magical community under watch while Hogwarts is being run by Professor Severus Snape. While Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the run and searching for Horcruxes, discoveries are made about the late Albus Dumbledore’s family background including links to another mysterious objects known as the Deathly Hallows.

With an all-star cast leading the series. Returning to the franchise are Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Mark Williams, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Helena Bohnam Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Clemence Poesy, Natalia Tena, George Harris, David Thewlis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Miranda Richardson, Warwick Davis, Imelda Staunton, Jason Issacs, Helen McCrory Frances de la Tour, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Maggie Smith, and Ralph Fiennes. Added to the series for the final film are Bill Nighy, Peter Mullan, and Rhys Ifans. The first part of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows is an exhilarating and hypnotic film from David Yates.

With the Ministry being threatened by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) prepares to go on a mission to find the remaining Horcruxes to destroy Voldemort. With Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) joining the quest, they go through some dangerous missions to transport Harry to the Burrow with help from the Order. After the wedding ceremony of Ron’s eldest brother Bill (Domhnall Gleeson) and Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy), the trio go into hiding following an attack from the Death Eaters. At Grimmauld Place, the house elf Kreacher (the voice of Simon McBurney) revealed that the locket that trio were looking for was stolen by Mundungus Fletcher (Andy Linden). After being captured by Kreacher and Dobby (the voice of Toby Jones), Fletcher revealed he gave the locket to Dolores Umbridge.

An attempt to steal the locket from Umbridge at the Ministry was successful but the trio were unable to return to Grimmauld Place. Ron gets injured as the trio go on the run and walk through the woods avoiding Snatchers. Realizing that the sword of Godric Gryffindor could destroy Horcruxes, it’s not enough to boost morale as Ron departs leaving Hermione devastated. A trip to Godric’s Hollow where Hermione keeps seeing symbols from the book she inherited from Dumbledore. The trip to Godric’s Hollow was a disaster where Harry had an encounter with Voldemort’s snake Nagini while Hermione accidentally destroyed his wand. Then on one night, Harry sees a doe patronus leading him to the lake where the sword of Gryffindor appears in the icy lake. Ron returns to help Harry as he destroys the locket that was tormenting him.

Ron’s return get things going as they go to Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans) who reveals the mysterious sign that Hermione sees is the symbol of the Deathly Hallows. The story of the Deathly Hallows is told though Lovegood revealed that his daughter Luna (Evanna Lynch) has been captured by Death Eaters. Following a struggle with Snatchers, the trio is sent to the home of the Malfoys were Draco (Tom Felton) reluctantly takes part in revealing Harry’s identity. With Hermione tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bohnam Carter), Harry and Ron are locked inside a basement with Luna, the goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis) and the wandmaker Ollivander (John Hurt) until they’re saved as the confrontation leaves a tragic death. Even as Harry learns what Voldemort had been searching for.

The first part of The Deathly Hallows is definitely the most complex of the series as it goes into epic storytelling. Yet, it’s also the film that is close to being an art house film in terms of pacing and maintaining the tone of the story. In some parts of the film, there’s moments where nothing happens. For an audience that is used to seeing mainstream blockbuster films, they will have a problem with those scenes. Yet, those scenes were part of the complaints readers when they read the book. It’s all about setting an atmosphere while revealing the uncertainty of what Harry, Ron, and Hermione will do.

Screenwriter Steve Kloves does an amazing job in keeping what is needed for the story and also take his time in exploring the characters. While the script does have flaws, notably the story of the mirror Harry is holding throughout. There was never any explanation about the broken mirror piece and who he got it from (for those who have only seen the films). While the mystery of what Harry sees in that mirror will get revealed in the second half. Kloves does however, take away a few subplots to get the main story going. Notably the one about Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) and his own struggle with the fact that he’s going to have a child with Tonks (Natalia Tena). Even the story about Dumbledore’s past isn’t given much coverage though it’s likely that story will be revealed more in the second part.

Instead, Kloves succeeds in focusing on the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione as the all struggle with not just the realism of war but also themselves. For Harry, having been through enough deaths around him along with two major deaths during his journey to the Burrow with Hagrid. He has a hard time not wanting to get anyone killed while dealing with the fact that he’s on a journey not sure what to do with the little information he’s been given. Even as had to deal with the images of his head connected to Voldemort where he would see Voldemort go to various people including the wandmaker Gregorovitch (Rade Serbedzija) and the elder Grindelwald (Michael Byrne).

The uncertainty and realism also takes a toll on his longtime friends in Ron and Hermione as the trio starts to splinter in periods of time. For Ron, having to live under Harry’s shadow and being injured in the journey also plays to his emotions. Even as he wore the locket for some of the time as it worsens his mood. Hermione’s own struggle with the journey leaves her emotionally devastated as she makes the hard decision to remove her parents’ memory of her. Ron’s brief departure also leaves her depressed and not willing to do anything as she loses hope.

It’s not just the emotions and transition into adulthood that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had to face. They also had to go on the run and not have the comfort and safety of their homes as well as Hogwarts. It’s the first time that audiences get to see the trio not be in school and face a very different world. One that is riddled in chaos where Muggle-born wizard and witches are being taken into a modern-day Holocaust. Hogwarts is also taken over with Severus Snape being the new headmaster. The only scene that relates to Hogwarts that is shown in the film is where Death Eaters stop the train to find Harry Potter where his classmate Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) replies with his only line in the film, “he’s not here you losers”.

Kloves’ approach to the adaptation in terms of dialogue and structure is quite faithful while taking one of the series minor characters in Dobby and giving him more exposure as he plays a big part of the story. The script is faithful yet Kloves does more to make it stand out against the rest of the films.

David Yates’ direction is definitely his best work to date for the film series. While the look of the film is similar to his previous work with the series. There’s a different feel to it as he clearly goes for an art house tone for the film. Notably in the second act when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the run and hiding through the woods. Even as he starts the film off with Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy) giving a speech where he makes a stand against Voldemort that is intercut with Ron at the Burrow, Hermione at her home removing her parents’ memory, and Harry at the Dursleys where they leave the house.

Yates’ use that to maintain the bleak tone of the film while he also starts to recall the works of other directors for inspiration on various scenes. For the scenes in the Ministry, the scene is reminiscent to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil with flyers and posters on ridding Muggles along with posters of Harry as a wanted fugitive. The sequence also has a strange sense of humor that is reminiscent of Gilliam while its Yates creating a world that is different while the dystopia seems very real. Even as the posters of anti-Muggle propaganda looks like something from World War II. For many of the film’s second act where not much is happening and the trio are walking from city to city. Some of the bleakness is reminiscent of Children of Men by Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron while that sense of nothing happening recalls the work of Gus Van Sant’s Gerry but without any long shots.

One sequence that Yates create, which is the absolute highlight of the first part of the film is story of The Tale of the Three Brothers from the book The Tales of Beedle the Bard that Hermione has inherited. The story is presented in an animation sequence is truly enchanting as the dark tone of it is balanced with elegance that is unexpected. It was something that was needed for an overly dark film that really pushes the limits of what can be done. Even for a genre that is targeted towards family where the film has some strong elements of violence, language, and a bit of sexual content that borders the line between PG-13 and the R rating. Notably Hermione’s torture sequence in the hands of Bellatrix that is very gruesome.

Yates direction is definitely superb for the way he handles action sequences as well as long scenes of dramatic nothingness. He ends the film on a dark note where tragedy is followed by triumph. Yet, the triumph really shows what Voldemort is after and it ends the film quite appropriately. The only problem with that ending is that it leaves the audience wanting for more. Yet, they would have to wait till July of 2011 for that second half. Yates isn’t at fault for this but rather the studio for splitting what could possibly be one of the greatest cinematic events to happen. A five-six hour Harry Potter film with an intermission in between. There could’ve been a roadshow presentation for it but given the climate of today’s moviegoers. That is not likely to happen and it’s a shame that a generation of filmgoers won’t experience something like a roadshow version of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows.

The cinematography of Eduardo Serra is superb for its array of colors and texture he provides for many of the film‘s exterior settings whether its day or night. Even as the scenes in the woods is presented with a grayish look to convey the realism that the characters are facing. The interiors for the scenes at Malfoy Manor are also given a dark look with a mixture of gray and black to convey the sense of doom that is happening. Serra’s photography is really a highlight of the film. Editor Mark Day does excellent work with the film’s editing in creating fast, stylized cuts for many of the film’s action sequences while taking a slower yet methodical rhythm for the dramatic scenes.

Production designer Stuart Craig, with set decorator Stephanie McMillan, does an amazing job in the set pieces for the Ministry with new rooms that are far more grim. Even in the look of Malfoy Manor that looks like a regal yet dark home where Voldemort is taking refuge. Costume designer Jany Temime does some very good work with the costumes, notably the dark robes of the Death Eaters including Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy along with the dresses at the wedding scene. Visual effects supervisors John Moffat & Chris Shaw create some amazing visual effects including the looks of the house-elves, the Dementors, and other dazzling effects. Notably the soul of Voldemort from the cursed locket that tries to torment Ron.

The film’s best technical achievement goes to animation director Ben Hibon. Hibon’s look for the animated story sequence for The Tale of the Three Brothers is truly stunning with its look of wooden puppets and objects that would play a bigger role for the second part of the film. Sound designer Dominic Gibbs and editor James Mather do an excellent job in capturing the tone of many of the film’s action sequences along with the use of near-silence for many of the film’s second act in the scenes at the woods.

Music composer Alexandre Desplat creates a wonderful score that plays up to the emotions of the film. His orchestral flourishes and arrangements range from high-octane pieces for the film’s action to more somber cuts in the dramatic scenes. More importantly, the music is played when it’s needed while some of the scenes featured no music at all to convey the uncertainty Harry, Ron, and Hermione faced. One piece of music that appears in the film comes from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds of their song O Children from the band’s 2004 double album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. It’s an odd choice but the track works to liven up the mood Harry and Hermione were dealing with following Ron’s brief departure.

The casting of Fiona Weir is amazing for its selection of actors in the roles they play while allowing some from the previous films to return. Yet, for some of those returning players. Their brief scenes were too little. Notably Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, and Harry Melling as the Dursleys as they barely appear in the film for what could’ve been an excellent scene of Harry saying goodbye to his relatives. Other notable small yet memorable roles from previous franchise players include Natalia Tena as Tonks, Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, John Hurt as Ollivander, David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, George Harris as Kingsley Shacklebot, James & Oliver Phelps as Fred & George Weasley, Clemence Poesy as Fleur Delacour, Julie Walters as Molly Weasley, Mark Williams as Arthur Weasley, Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter, Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody, Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley, and Frances de la Tour as Madame Maxime.

Newcomers to the series include some excellent small performances from Domhnall Gleeson as Bill Weasley, Andy Linden as Mundungus Fletcher, Rade Serbedzija as the wandmaker Gregorovitch, Matyelok Gibbs as Aunt Muriel, and David Ryall. For the dual roles of Gellert Grindelwald, Twilight series star Jamie Campbell Bower plays the younger version while Michael Byrne plays the older, demented version. Bill Nighy is excellent in his small role as Rufus Scrimgeour who warns Harry about the dangers that is lurking ahead. Nick Moran is wonderfully creepy as the head Snatcher Scabior while Guy Henry is good as Scrimgeour’s replacement Pius Thicknesse. Rhys Ifans is funny as the eccentric Xenophilius Lovegood who reveals Harry the story of The Deathly Hallows. Also making an outstanding performance is Peter Mullan as the Death Eater Yaxley.

Other notable standouts, who previously appeared in films include Imelda Staunton in the slimy role of Dolores Umbridge along with Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, Timothy Spall as Wormtail, Jason Issacs (hello Jason) and Helen McCrory as Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, and Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood. Tom Felton does a very good job in his small role as Draco Malfoy where he shows his newfound reluctance in being a Death Eater. Helena Bohnam Carter is brilliant as the psychotic Bellatrix Lestrange who truly shows he very crazy side to her character. Toby Jones is excellent in the voice of Dobby along with Simon McBurney as the voice of Kreacher. Ralph Fiennes is great as Lord Voldemort who shows more of a disturbed, obsessed persona as the dark wizard. Alan Rickman is also great as Severus Snape as he plays the role with such prestige and ambiguity as he takes on the role as Headmaster of Hogwarts.

Finally, there’s the three principle actors in Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson. While it’s a cliché to say that it’s their best performance of the series so far. It’s also an indication of how far they’ve come since the first film. Rupert Grint adds a weariness and angst to the role of Ron Weasley. Though Grint does display some humor, he goes for more drama as a character who is having a hard time dealing with the lack of planning as well as being the sidekick to Harry Potter, which he is really not. Emma Watson also adds more emotional range to her role as Hermione. Instead of being the bookish, informative Hermione that audiences knew. Watson keeps that character in bay as she makes Hermione into a strong-willed young woman forced to deal with sacrifices and newfound harsh realities that briefly lead her into depression. It’s a far more complex performance from Watson as it’s going to lead her into the more determined persona of her character.

Daniel Radcliffe also steps his game as Harry Potter. Not only does he add realism to the character but also one reluctant to let people in on the mission. Even as Harry is coming into conflict about what he’s doing while realizing that it’s bigger than him. Even as he has trouble with the fact that he has to carry a lot of the emotional weight for everyone while dealing with Voldemort and his Death Eaters. It’s a remarkable performance from Radcliffe as he definitely reveals a more grounded, grittier Harry Potter.

The first part of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows is an amazing film from David Yates. While it’s not clear if it’s the best film of the series considering there’s another part of the film coming in July of 2011. It is still an entertaining and engrossing film that actually take some risks and bring something new to the tale. Fans of the books will no doubt be relieved at the adaptation though will have legitimate complaints over what got cut and such. Fans of the films however, might be challenged into some of the long scenes of nothingness in the second act along with a few plot holes. Despite a few flaws, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 is a spectacular film from David Yates.

© thevoid99 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Roger Waters: The Wall Tour 11/18/10-Atlanta, GA Phillips Arena

***WARNING:  The Following will contain SPOILERS for those that want to attend the tour for The Wall by Roger Waters***

On November 30, 1979, Pink Floyd released their double album entitled The Wall.  A rock opera about a rock star named Pink whose life begins to unravel.  Haunted by the death of his father in World War II, his over-protective mother, the abuse he suffered at school, and a cheating wife.  He responds by building a mental wall that would turn him into a Fascist hell-bent on destroying his demons.  The concept was created by the band’s bassist/vocalist/lyricist Roger Waters as he wrote nearly every song on the album.  Though it would be one of Floyd’s finest albums of its career.  It also marked the beginning of the end for the band.

The album was followed by a tour that only played four cities from 1980 to 1981.  Largely due to the fact that the band played to an elaborate stage show where during the performance.  A wall was being built between the band and its audience.  Along with inflatable figures for characters in the story, it was one of the most groundbreaking tours that anyone had ever seen.  While footage of the tour has never been officially released, it has been seen on the Internet.  Following Roger Waters’ departure from Pink Floyd in 1985, Waters played The Wall once again in 1990 in Berlin with an array of special guests.

In 2009, The Wall celebrated its 30th Anniversary where Roger Waters made the announcement of doing a full-scale tour behind Pink Floyd’s classic album.  For the world tour behind The Wall, Waters made updates to the characters and message for the album adding political commentary to the images.  Joining Waters for the tour are some of his longtime touring musicians including Waters’ son/keyboardist Harry Waters, drummer Graham Broad, keyboardist/guitarist Jon Carin, guitarists Snowy White (who also played in the 1980 tour for The Wall) and Dave Kilminster.  Also included on the tour is former Hall & Oates guitarist G.E. Smith (also on bass), vocalist Robbie Wyckoff, and as a backing vocalist Jon Joyce, who was one of the original backing vocalists from the original tour.  Also joining Joyce on vocals are Kipp, Mark, and Pat Lennon from the group Venice.

One of the big surprises of the tour is a possible guest appearance from Waters’ former Pink Floyd bandmate in vocalist/guitarist David Gilmour.  Gilmour’s appearance is more of a favor to Waters after Waters made a guest appearance at a charity show singing a few songs with Gilmour.  While Waters stated that this will probably his last tour.  What a way to go out for the art-rock legend.

At the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, I was able to get a ticket for $130 (thanks Mom and Dad) and sit in front near of the right corner of the Wall itself.  I didn’t notice until intermission that sitting rows above me was my dad’s old friend Josie with a friend of his.  We later talked after the show was over.

The show began with a man pretending to be homeless was rambling incoherently while throwing a life-like figure of Pink onto the stage as pyro began to hit for In the Flesh?  Fireworks were shooting up in the air as the band was playing the song while a group of men wearing uniform are holding flags as Roger Waters appear singing the song in front of the Wall staging.  With fireworks and pyrotechnics blasting up above to the arena’s ceiling, a model plane flies from the ceiling to the left corner of the wall where it perished in flames.  For The Thin Ice, images of those killed from war including Roger Waters’ own father appears through the circular screen above the stage as the faces would appear on the bricks of the wall.

Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 1 was presented with red images flowing across the wall as bricks start to appear stacking up.  I was able to see how it was done through projectors shooting the images at the wall itself.  The Happiest Days of Our Lives appear with lights above the arena finding a person as Roger says, “You… yes you!  Stand still laddie” as the school teacher appears as a combination of puppetry and inflatable balloons.  The song gets things going as it builds up to the classic Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2 as the children choir chorus features young kids dancing to the song wearing black t-shirts.  Solos by Dave Kilminster, Snowy White, and G.E. Smith were played throughout as they play fantastic notes to the song.

For Mother, it’s Roger Waters sort of doing a duet with himself as he sings with a 1980 video footage of himself at Earl’s Court in London.  The video image is animated in a rotoscope presentation that is projected on the wall and circular screen.  When Robbie Wyckoff sings Gilmour’s part, he’s behind the wall as other images appear while the inflatable mother looks on at the right corner of the stage towards the people sitting on the floor.  Even as White and Smith both do solos for the song.  Goodbye Blue Sky was given an updated image of sorts with birds flying throughout the wall and screen as it gave way to dark images of planes dropping symbols to signify the new political tone of the show.

Empty Spaces featured the famous fucking flowers scene where on the wall, stems appeared expand the imagery from Gerald Scarfe’s original animation as it segued to What Shall We Do Now? with the original images from Scarfe’s animation that appeared in the original show and 1982 film by Alan Parker.  The images on the wall is much broader as it goes into Young Lust.  With Wyckoff singing the song as it featured solos from Kilminster and Smith, the images of the wall show sexy women prancing around as it became a more adult show.  Even as the wall started to be nearly completed with the phone call is projected on the wall segueing into One of My Turns with images of a woman walking around a hotel room.  Even as Waters sing through people all over the stage looking up all over the arena.

In Don’t Leave Me Now, Waters continue to sing to the song with an array of images as he sings to a woman shown on the left side of the screen.  For the song’s climatic solo, the inflatable puppet of the wife appears on the right side of the stage.  With images of an array of things displaying as if it’s a TV.  It starts to break for Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 3 as the show intensify with more dark images as it goes into The Last Few Bricks where the wall is nearly complete.  With one spot left inside, Goodbye Cruel World is sung with Waters singing to the audience as the last brick is filled and the wall is complete.

After a 20-30 minute intermission, the second half of the show begins with Hey You.  With Wyckoff singing the first and second verse, there aren’t any images of the wall except when it breaks apart through a series of visuals.  Is There Anybody Out There? has very little images except a spot where a light is shown from an open spot of the left corner of the wall during the acoustic guitar solo.  A section of the wall folded down for a set featuring a chair, a lamp, and a TV as Waters appears to sing Nobody’s Home.  Images of World War II movies appear on the TV and throughout the Wall as I got a very good look at what he was watching.  The set folds back into the wall as Waters leave to sing Vera Lynn with images of a young Vera Lynn shown throughout.

This would segue to an extended version of Bring the Boys Back Home with an array of horrifying images of war and poverty plus a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower about war.  With the images dying down as it leads to the very popular Comfortably Numb.  Waters sings on the stage with the wall behind him as Robbie Wyckoff appears above the stage to sing Gilmour’s part while Kilminster does the blazing guitar solos.  Even as Waters parts the images on the wall as it then goes to black where the stage in front of the wall show instruments popping up from under.  With the band coming up on the stage for The Show Must Go On (w/ an extended opening verse), the images projected on the wall set the stage for what is to come.

In The Flesh arrives with the whole band wearing the hammer uniform and arm bands while flags appear on top of the wall.  A black flying pig also appears flying above the audience as Waters appears to sing the song as people are pointed throughout the show.  Even as audience members do the hammer signal where Waters dedicate the next song to the paranoid people of Atlanta.  Run Like Hell with its array of blasting visuals and text relating to chaos as Waters and Wyckoff traded verses throughout the song.  The pig disappeared back to the right corner of the stage as the song segues to Waiting For the Worms with images of worms slithering through on screen.  Even as it gives way to the walking hammers from Gerald Scarfe’s animation while Waters talks through a megaphone during the song.

Stop abruptly appears as the lights go down with the band getting off the stage as Water sings with a single light on him.  Even as the instruments go down to under the stage as it closes for The Trial.  Featuring the animation from the film and original concert by Scarfe, it also features some 3-D images of Pink popping up and giving the finger to the audience along with some new text.  Including the line “Shit on him” after the judge sang the line “the urge to defecate”.  The show reaches its climax as the bricks on the wall falls off the stage through an array of loud cheers.  The bricks are cleared as the band returns on stage with acoustic instruments as they all sing Outside the Wall with Waters playing a trumpet to end the show.

From the concert experiences I’ve been to that I recall going back as far as seeing Marilyn Manson back in late 1996.  I’ve seen my share of great theatrical shows.  Probably the most elaborate up to that point was the Nine Inch Nails concert for the Lights in the Sky tour back in August of 2008.  The only negatives I had with that show was that I was sitting on the side of the stage and not getting very much action of the visuals.  The other was the arena itself which I found to be foggy inside and not having a great presentation when it came to sounds.

While I ended up sitting on the side of the stage again and near the wall.  I didn’t have the same issues I had with the NIN show.  Though it was my third time at Phillips Arena, the venue is a much better place while I was able to see a lot of the visual aspects of the show from the side of the stage.  Even as I got very close looks at the Mother, the Wife, the Pig, and even the TV side stage set.  For that, it was more than enough to enjoy the show.

The audience response was truly overwhelming as nearly everyone knew the words to the songs that were going on as Waters himself definitely had a great time.  His interaction with the audience was truly spectacular with everyone just cheering and such.  Even as he sounded great with his vocals with the audience helping along in some parts.  Waters’ band also did a fantastic job.  Notably Dave Kilminster whose guitar work is phenomenal.  He may not be David Gilmour in the guitar department but was superb.  As was Snowy White and G.E. Smith.  Robbie Wyckoff didn’t sound like Gilmour vocally but he hit all the right notes the song was needed.  It didn’t even sound like a cover or tribute band doing the show as Waters and company got it right.  Though there was a bit of technical mishap during the opening notes of Young Lust, the band was able to get through it quickly.

A show like The Wall is never going to be seen ever again and I was fortunate to be able to attend.  Especially in an age of shows that try to be visually amazing but the music doesn’t translate well to its audience.  While The Wall was originally meant to display feelings of disconnection by literally building a wall between band and audience.  Waters’ new approach makes it far more interactive as the political message he adds are presented with dignity.  Even as it adds more emotional punch to the story of The Wall.  At the same time, there’s a bit of joy and excitement to the show where the audience is able to really be amazed by the visuals which are truly amazing.  Credit must go to Gerald Scarfe and the staging team behind this amazing show.

If there’s one show that people must see that is the closest thing to what Pink Floyd has done in the past.  It’s this one.  While it’s obvious that Floyd will never tour again (though the remaining members aren’t opposed to doing occasional one-off shows), Roger Waters does however keep the spirit of Floyd alive.  Even with playing one of the band’s greatest albums to keep more than 20,000 people entertained.  There will never be anything the likes of it to come.  This is theatrical rock at its finest and who better to present it than Roger Waters himself.  It’s a must-see and not to be missed.  This is a show that truly blows away everything else in presentation and audience interaction.  The bottom line is go see Roger Waters do The Wall or you will be one sorry son of a bitch in missing the greatest show ever.

Set List:  Act 1:  In the Flesh?/The Thin Ice/Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 1/The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2/Mother/Goodbye Blue Sky/Empty Spaces/What Shall We Do Now?/Young Lust/One of My Turns/Don’t Leave Me Now/Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 3/The Last Few Bricks/Goodbye Cruel World


Act 2:  Hey You/Is There Anybody Out There?/Nobody’s Home/Vera Lynn/Bring the Boys Back Home/Comfortably Numb/The Show Must Go On/In the Flesh/Run Like Hell/Waiting for the Worms/Stop/The Trial/Outside the Wall

© thevoid99 2010