Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spider-Man 2

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/30/04 w/ Extensive Revisions & Edits.

The success of Sam Raimi’s 2002 film adaptation of the famed comic book Spider-Man by Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee and Steve Ditko helped create a new wave of comic-book superhero films and franchises. While the X-Men franchise were massive hits, other comic-book adapted films like Daredevil, The Hulk, and The Punisher met with a tepid response from fans. Plus, there was high expectations for the second Spider-Man film, which after two years in production, the budget nearly reached the $200 million mark making it one of the most expensive films in history. The result though of the highly anticipated summer film proved that all that money was worth in Spider-Man 2.

While the first film was a nice introduction, the second film based on the comic book with a screen story by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and novelist Michael Chabon before turning it into a full script by Alvin Sargent. Directed by Sam Raimi, the second film takes place two years later where Peter Parker’s life as himself and his Spider-Man alter ego has become complicated. Not seeing his love interest Mary Jane much these days except on billboards and being estranged from best friend Harry, Peter Parker’s life is a mess. Making things worse is a scientist who descends into madness just as Parker was ready to give up the Spider-Man role before he realizes that he must be Spider-Man. Returning from the first film is Tobey Maguire in the title role along with Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, and J.K. Simmons along with Alfred Molina in the role as the villainous Doc Ock. The end result isn’t just a film better than its predecessors but also one of the best superhero films ever made.

In the two years since he became Spider-Man, Peter Parker's life isn't going well.  Dealing with being a college student and taking minimum wage jobs to get by while still doing freelance photography for Daily Bugle chief J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons).  Parker is overwhelmed as he doesn't see his old crush Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) around except on billboards while his friendship with Harry Osborn (James Franco) is strained due to the death of Harry's father in the hands of Spider-Man.  During a birthday party that featured Mary Jane and Harry, Peter learns that his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is dealing with financial problems that might lose the home she and her late husband Ben has lived in.

Harry arranges a meeting with Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) for Peter to meet for his class as Octavius is working on a experiment to get power from the sun as a source for alternative power.  During the experiment where Octavius is attached with metal claws on his back, the experiment goes awry as fatal accidents occur along with Harry's chance to revive his father's company as he blames Spider-Man for the incident.  Octavius meanwhile, has awoken from the accident as he's become manipulated by the mechanical arms on his back as he wreaks havoc on New York City to continue his experiment.  After battling Octavius under his new name Doc Ock, Peter's life is unraveling as he's forced to see that Mary Jane is doing great as a stage actress and is getting married to Jameson's son John (Daniel Gilles).  The amount of stress has Peter choosing to stop being Spider-Man and go on with his life.

With Peter trying to get control of his personal life, Doc Ock tries to get the power source he needed for his experiment where he threatens Harry for the source.  Harry makes a deal with Ock to give him the power source in the condition to get Spider-Man.  With Peter still trying to deal with his own faltered relationship with Mary Jane as well as the guilt he had over his uncle's death, Doc Ock's threats start to emerge forcing Peter to make a choice to save those he cared for.

The film is about a young man's internal conflict into being a superhero and being himself where in the process, he has to find the balance.  Alvin Sargent's script succeeds in capturing that conflict in Peter Parker but also in the character of Otto Octavius.  A man who was trying to do good only to have an accident manipulate him into being a villain.  Sargent also gives fuller character development to Aunt May, Mary Jane, and Harry as they all deal with Peter's absence or the presence of Spider-Man.  Sargent's script is definitely phenomenal as he creates a solid story that is captured with great flair by Sam Raimi in his direction.  Filled with crazy camera angles and moments where he plays around with the superhero formula allows Raimi to bring a much looser, free-flowing film that doesn't move things too fast or too slow.  In the action, he aims for the intensity while slowing it down for dramatic moments in keeping it simple.  Overall, it's Raimi at his finest.

Complementing Raimi’s vision is cinematographer Bill Pope who really brings a vast, colorful look while being playful in more dreamier textures including a hilarious sequence of Parker walking with glasses to the tune of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. Pope shines in his cinematography with help from special effects supervisor John Dykstra, production designer Neil Spisak, and a team of art directors. Dykstra’s effects are far more superior in the previous films with faster movements of the characters and action sequences with Spisak bringing more ominous look to Octavius’ lab and the fast-paced editing by Bob Murawski is amazing. Helping capture the film’s action and dramatic sequences is composer Danny Elfman who brings a cinematic, sprawling string arrangement to the action scenes while adding touches of melancholia in the more dramatic scales. Unfortunately like the film’s first soundtrack, the second one doesn’t add much since the film inspires it with lame music from Dashboard Confessional, the Ataris, Maroon 5, and today’s typical pop-rock crap.

While there’s some small but hilarious cameos in the film from Stan Lee, Hal Sparks, and the always-brilliant Bruce Campbell, there’s even an appearance from Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben along with Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, and Ted Raimi as Jameson’s assistants in the Daily Bugle. Dylan Baker is excellent in his small role as Dr. Connors along with Donna Murphy as Dr. Octavius’ wife. Daniel Gilles is OK as Mary Jane's boyfriend who doesn't get a lot to do. J.K. Simmons, who serves as the comic relief, is even funnier in the first film with his calls for Spider-Man as a menace while firing/rehiring Parker throughout the film while he just brings in a bunch of laughs for the film’s action/dramatic tone. Rosemary Harris definitely has more to do in the second one as Peter’s moral guidance where she joins in the action for a bit while bringing Peter some much needed guidance in his anguishes role as Spider-Man.

James Franco’s role is a bit darker since we see him drink a bit more while having a bad obsession with killing Spider-Man. He does get a chance to pull off the mask but what is more shocking is the aftermath that will be a setup for the third film that comes out in 2007. Franco definitely brings a more intense and troubling performance as opposed to the confused nice guy in the first film. Kirsten Dunst’s role as Mary Jane in the first film doesn’t add much but in the second, she pretty much gave it more depth. She brings a sympathetic performance to her own character understanding her disappointments with Peter but she also brings a more intellectual side to Mary Jane while by the film’s final act, we begin to see the role she’s about to accept which is a bit heartbreaking yet realistic.

Alfred Molina’s role as the villainous Doc Ock definitely lives up to the hype as far as depth and magnetism is concerned. Early on, we see how likeable Octavius is in his quest to do good for mankind but when he lost everything, we see how far he descends to madness while trying to maintain whatever good is in him left. Molina is just perfect in the role without looking like a fool or someone cheesy. He’s a more superior villain than the one Willem Dafoe played as the Green Goblin. Molina is a more diverse actor in both theater and in film and the great thing about this role is not just the fact that more people will see his movies but realized how far he’s come as a great actor. Molina makes Doc Ock not just a memorable villain whose multiple arms each carry a nice personality but also a villain that will be one for the ages.

Tobey Maguire really steps up to his dual role of Peter Parker and Spider-Man by bringing a better performance than the one he did in the first film. He brings a more complex performance with his anguished personality and the sadness in the role he’s forced to play. He even manages to be believable and sympathetic in the more intense dramatic scenes while we root for him in his scenes with Dunst as the two carry amazing chemistry that is more superior to the first. We understand why he wanted Peter Parker to not play Spider-Man in order to have a life but he makes us realize that we all need heroes.

Spider-Man 2 is the best of the three films that Sam Raimi made under the franchise thanks in part to a great ensemble, an engaging screenplay, and dazzling technical work from his crew.  Fans of the film franchise will no doubt see this as the best film of the series while it's also one of Sam Raimi's best work of his glorious career.  In the end, for a film that is entertaining but also has some intelligence and characters that audiences can relate to.  Spider-Man 2 is the film to go see.

Related: The Amazing Spider-Man - The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - Spider-Man: Homecoming - Spider-Man: Far from Home - Spider-Man: No Way Home - Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse - (Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse)

Sam Raimi Films: The Evil Dead - (Crimewave) - Evil Dead II - (Darkman) - Army of Darkness - (The Quick & the Dead) - (A Simple Plan) - (For the Love of the Game) - (The Gift) - Spider-Man - Spider-Man 3 - (Drag Me to Hell) - (Oz the Great and Powerful) - Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

© thevoid99 2011

Monday, May 30, 2011


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/6/04 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

With recent film adaptations of comic book heroes like Superman and Batman, the story of Spider-Man from Marvel Comics for years had been in fruition for a film adaptation worthy of its hardcore comic book fans. Finally after years of development, a film adaptation was finally going to happen as Spider-Man's creator Stan Lee was happen with who was chosen to direct the project. The project was given to filmmaker Sam Raimi, whose credits include A Simple Plan, Darkman, and the cult-classic trilogy of the Evil Dead films. A longtime fan of the comic book, Raimi chose to create not just a truer adaptation of the comic book but create it into one of 2002's runaway summer blockbuster hits.

The movie for Spider-Man that is directed by Sam Raimi and screenplay by David Koepp based on material from the original Stan Lee comic with additional material from Steve Ditko. The plot of Spider-Man is simple, a young nerdy high school kid named Peter Parker gets bitten by a genetically-modified spider where he gains all sorts of powers while fighting crime and the villainous Green Goblin while trying to save New York City and his love interest Mary Jane Watson. Unlike most stories of superheroes, Spider-Man has a more human element in its stories as Parker is often filled with conflicts over his role as Spider-Man and himself. With a cast that includes Tobey Maguire as the title role along with Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, and Cliff Robertson, Spider-Man is one of the best big-budget features of 2002 worthy of being a smart, entertaining blockbuster hit.

For all of his life, the nerdy Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) always wanted to be with the girl of his dream in his neighbor Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Yet, he remains bullied as his only friend is Harry Osborn (James Franco) who is the son of a rich scientist named Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe). During science fair trip with other students, Peter gets bitten by a missing genetically-modified spider as he returns home sick to the concern of his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). Norman meanwhile, is under pressure from the army to create an experimental formula for human strength as he tries it on himself leading to an accident.

Peter wakes up the following morning with some unexpected strength and perfect vision as the new powers he attained led him to stand up to bullies including Flash Thompson (Joe Manganiello). The discovery of his new powers gives him confidence though Uncle Ben feels like something isn't right as he offers Peter advice. At first, Peter doesn't take Ben's advice following a pro wrestling contest that he wins but after the contest, he finds his uncle slain as he goes after the thief (Michael Papajohn) who shot Ben as Peter realizes what his uncle was trying to say to him. Deciding to become "Spider-Man", Peter uses his powers for good though a new threat occurs in a villain named the Green Goblin that Norman Osborn has become following his experiment.

With Peter taking a side-job as a freelance photographer for a newspaper chief named Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), he also learns about Harry dating Mary Jane as he tries to deal with the Green Goblin. Yet, Norman learns about what he's become as he discovers who Spider-Man is as he goes after the people who are close to Spider-Man leading to a climatic battle.

While most comic book hero films have familiarity and predictability in its plot, Spider-Man does make up for it with its screenplay and Raimi's masterful direction. Koepp's screenplay plays true to the comic while giving depth to its main characters, notably Spider-Man/Peter Parker and the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn. The script plays up to its story as it builds up momentum and even clues that would lead to a profitable franchise where the characters can develop more with each film. Raimi brings a fast-paced, directing style to the film while adding some dramatic elements without being too much of a drama film or too much of an action film. Raimi brings balance while belting out entertaining moments where an audience can have fun and cheer for Spider-Man. The choice of Raimi directing Spider-Man was a smart one since he has an idea for story and knowing what an audience would want.

The film's look with its visual effects and colorful cinematography from Don Burgess is well shot by giving color to the New York City landscape as well as the natural-Goth like look of Norman Osborn's rich home and the more suburban look of Queens in Parker's home. With help from production designer Neil Spisak and supervising art director Steve Arnold, the film looks like a comic book but with some life that an audience can relate to. The visual and CGI effect play well also without being too computer-like as if we're really seeing the real thing with many credit to Raimi for bringing out a real look without trying to manipulate the audience. Another element that works in the film is Danny Elfman's orchestral, fast-paced score that plays up to the film's emotional and action intensity. Elfman helps the music move with the film and brings in excitement while the film's soundtrack, with the exception of the original theme, is pretty generic with cuts from Sum 41, and the godawful ballad of Hero from Nickelback's Chad Kroeger and Saliva's Josey Scott.

The film's cast is one that works really well as the smaller performances from J.K. Simmons, Stanley Anderson as General Slocum, "Macho Man" Randy Savage as a wrestler, Joe Manganiello, and longtime Raimi collaborator Bruce Campbell as an announcer are fun to watch as well as appearances from Lucy Lawless, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, and Stan Lee, himself. Rosemary Harris is wonderful to watch as Aunt May as the old woman who brings some guidance to Peter Parker with a sense of heart and charm. Cliff Robertson is also well used in his brief role as Uncle Ben, particularly with the line that would be in Parker's head as Robertson plays a role of a family member you can love with a sense of morality that is often overlooked due to the film's fast-paced action.

James Franco is excellent in the role of Harry Osborn as the best friend who tries to win Mary Jane's love while is trying to win acceptance from his father. Franco brings depth to his character as we get to know him more, especially in a touching scene with Willem Dafoe that would lead to its inevitable sequel. Kirsten Dunst is very good as Mary Jane Watson, the girl who Peter loves and cares for. While it's a typical damsel-in-distress type of role, Dunst is able to bring wit and charm to the character that makes it fun to watch.

Willem Dafoe definitely brings in one of his most accessible performances as the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn. Always playing a role in complex manners, Dafoe brings a lot of elements to make Norman Osborn likeable and sympathetic while as the Green Goblin, he plays the villain audiences love to hate. Even as he is relaxed and plays it cool as it's one of Dafoe's great performances. Tobey Maguire is superb in the title role as he brings emotional depth to the character and anguish while possessing a boyish charm to the Peter Parker character. Maguire brings in a lot of nice chemistry with Dunst and the rest of the cast as his scenes with Dafoe are filled with great, intense acting moments. It's a real break-out role for Maguire as he proves to bring the right notes to play a superhero.

Spider-Man is an excellent, entertaining film that has something for everyone including comic book fans. Even art-film fans can enjoy the entertaining value and depth that the film has, especially since it's going to become a well-deserved profitable franchise. The success of Spider-Man did bring comic book movies back to life but the reason Spider-Man is successful because of Sam Raimi's ability to stay true to the comic as well as giving the characters depth and making the film entertaining. In the end, Spider-Man is a comic book action film done right by giving something for everyone.

Related: The Amazing Spider-Man - The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - Spider-Man: Homecoming - Spider-Man: Far from Home - Spider-Man: No Way Home - Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse - (Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse)

Sam Raimi Films: The Evil Dead - (Crimewave) - Evil Dead II - (Darkman) - Army of Darkness - (The Quick & the Dead) - (A Simple Plan) - (For the Love of the Game) - (The Gift) - Spider-Man 2 - Spider-Man 3 - (Drag Me to Hell) - (Oz the Great and Powerful) - Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

© thevoid99 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pineapple Express

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/10/08.

Throughout the history of cinema, there's been collaborations that have proved to be very fruitful whether it's the films of John Ford that starred John Wayne, the direction-producing team of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, or the crazed collaboration between director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski. Then there's some that seem baffling whether it's a pairing between two individuals from different worlds. Now another strange collaboration has arrived. This time it's film producer and comedy kingpin Judd Apatow and up-and-coming American indie auteur David Gordon Green for a stoner-action comedy entitled Pineapple Express.

Directed by David Gordon Green based on a story by Judd Apatow, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen that was turned into a script by Goldberg and Rogen. Pineapple Express tells the story of a lazy stoner who visits his dealer as they smoke a rare yet potent form of marijuana called the Pineapple Express. When the stoner sees a murder by a crooked police officer and a powerful drug lord, the stoner and his dealer go on the run from the people that are trying to kill them. A genre-bending film that mixes Apatow's brand of lowbrow humor, stoner comedies, low-budget action, and Green’s unique visual style. It's a film that allows one of America's finest young directors a chance to be in the spotlight while Judd Apatow branches out his style of comedy.

Starring Apatow regulars Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Craig Robinson, Kevin Corrigan, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, and Ken Jeong along with Green cohorts Danny R. McBride and Eddie Rouse. Also starring Amber Heard, Rosie Perez, James Remar, Nora Dunn, and Ed Begley, Jr. Pineapple Express is fun, thrilling, and entertaining film from producer Judd Apatow and director David Gordon Green.

Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) works as a process server serving people subpoenas while in his spare time, smokes marijuana and hang out with his high school girlfriend Angie (Amber Heard). Dale decides to visit his dealer Saul (James Franco) to get some marijuana as Saul shows him some rare, potent marijuana called the Pineapple Express. They smoke it as Saul asks Dale to hang around more but Dale had to go serve a subpoena to a man named Ted Jones (Gary Cole). Jones turns out to be a drug lord as he and a female cop named Carol (Rosie Perez) have just killed an Asian man that Dale witnesses. Leaving behind a roach clip of the weed he just smoked, Dale realizes that Saul is going to be in trouble as the two hide out while taking the rare Pineapple Express crop.

Things get worse when Saul's supplier/friend Red (Danny R. McBride) is in trouble as he's confronted by Jones’ two thugs Matheson (Craig Robinson) and Budlofsky (Kevin Corrigan). Red is beaten while Dale and Saul hide out in the woods where they get even more stoned, stranded in the woods since the car's battery runs out. They hitchhike back to the city to meet Red who has revealed to them that they're all in trouble. Dale and Saul are still on the run as Ted is convinced that they're working for an Asian crime family. In order to get money, Dale and Saul sells a few strands of weed to kids as Dale gets in trouble by a police officer. Yet, Carol hears that Dale has been caught and Saul tries to save the day as the two are now being chased by Carol. After everything the two had been through, a big disagreement lead to the two men separating.

With Saul hoping to reach out to his grandmother, he is immediately captured while Dale has a revelation after calling Angie, who is hiding out along with her parents (Ed Begley Jr. & Nora Dunn), as he learns that Saul has been captured. Turning to an already wounded Red, the two decide to save Saul at an underground base while an all-out war between Jones and Asians get out of hand as it's up to a few incompetent stoners to save the day.

The film's plot is simple yet it's inspired by stoner films of the past and present. What Judd Apatow and screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg create is this premise. What if a couple of incompetent stoners are on the run and mayhem ensues, while getting high? That's pretty much the plot and idea of the movie. Rogen and Goldberg create is essentially a genre-bending film that crosses the buddy-movie, stoner films, comedy, and action. Yet, the idea might come from someone like Judd Apatow though a few jokes don't actually work. Yet, it's the chemistry between the characters Dale and Saul that really drive the film as well as their relationship. It's about two guys, who often do dumb things while getting high and make a mess of things while running away from criminals, an Asian mob group, and a crooked cop.

While all of these ideas and such might make a good stoner film that audiences can enjoy and watch but the big question for Judd Apatow and his associates is who is going to tell this story and how? Which is why Apatow turns to one of American cinema's finest and most promising film directors in David Gordon Green. While it's Green's biggest budget film to date at $25 million, Green and his team that includes longtime cinematographer Tim Orr a chance to let loose. While several scenes and set-ups of the scenes are more in line with Apatow's brand of improvisational comedy. It's Green's restrained, stylized direction that sets the film apart from the other Apatow films. Largely because he comes from a very visual approach to compositions and staging where he'll let the actors do their thing yet take the camera to have everything unfold.

Green's direction is also unconventional where the film opens in a black-and-white flashback scene in 1937 where a soldier (Bill Hader) is being interrogated under the influence of marijuana where that base would be seen again late in the film. Yet, Green's use of long shots for some of the film's exterior scenes. Particularly the outside of the farm/base and the woods scene show Green's often dream-like yet enchanting view of the world. Those scenes are reminiscent to Green's other films while harkening the reminders of Green’s major influence in his mentor, Terrence Malick. Malick's influence in this film is everywhere as a lot of the chasing and premise is definitely inspired by his 1973 landmark debut film Badlands.

It's not the first time Green has used that film as an example but for a stoner-action comedy, it makes the film stand out on its own against a lot of Apatow's other films and productions. While it's not perfect, the film is very entertaining and very funny as credit should go to David Gordon Green for bringing something new and unique rather than making a film whose premise and story could've been an average comedy.

Green's longtime cinematographer Tim Orr does some wonderful camera work that is looser than his previous work with Green. Yet, it has the grimy, dark-colored look of other Apatow films like Superbad. Still, Orr does create some great, colorful shots for the film's exterior scenes. Notably the daytime shots in the woods that has that trademark look of Green's cinematic style mixed in with Apatow's own films. Though not as great as his other work with Green, Orr provides some solid cinematography to the film. Editor Craig Alpert does nice, stylized cuts that uses elements of jump-cuts, side-swipes, and other styles to create a unique, artful style that is more unique than in previous Apatow films as it adds a nice sense of rhythm and tone.

Production designer Chris L. Spellman and set decorator Bob Kensinger do a great job in the look of the underground base that later becomes Ted Jones' marijuana crop as well as the farm and homes of Red and Saul that all look like a typical stoner home. Costume designer John A. Dunn does excellent work in the look of the male characters with Saul and Red looking like they’ve been wearing pajamas while Dale wears a tan-like business suit throughout the entire movie with Amber Heard wearing some great dresses. Sound editors George H. Anderson and Michael O'Farrell do great work in capturing the sound of the film's action scenes including guns and other things to emphasize it's action.

The film's soundtrack is wonderfully assembled by music supervisor Jonathan Karp with great, intense score work from Graeme Revell along with music by Spiritualized, Eddy Grant, Peter Tosh, Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony, Public Enemy, Bell Biv Davoe, and other artists ranging from reggae to hip-hop. Yet, another song that stands out is the theme song from none other than 80s superstars Huey Lewis & the News whose song is brilliant as it's just good to hear those guys again.

The casting by Kerry Barden, Suzanne Crowley, and Billy Hopkins is superb featuring appearances from James Remar as a general in the opening flashback scene and Apatow cohort Bill Hader as an army private getting high from marijuana. Other Apatow regulars like Joe Lo Truglio and Ken Jeong are funny with Lo Truglio as a teacher harassing Dale over his visit and Jeong as a member of the Asian mob. Another small cameo that David Gordon Green fans might recognize is Eddie Rouse as one of Ted Jones' thugs while Cleo Jones has a memorable role as a cop who catches Dale smoking weed. Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn are great as Angie's parents as the two veteran actors get a chance to curse and actually do something funny. Amber Heard is excellent as Angie, Dale's high-school girlfriend who is wondering about Dale's commitment and the situation she's in as she has a funny moment during her altercation with Saul.

Apatow regulars Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson are excellent and funny as Budlofsky and Matheson respectively. Corrigan and Robinson add humor and a moodiness to their characters as Corrigan's character is more concerned about going home while Robinson tries to act tough but is all emotional. Gary Cole, another Apatow regular, is excellent as Ted Jones, a crime lord whose hope for a relaxing weekend is unhinged as he tries to maintain control. Rosie Perez is great as the corruptive cop Carol who is the straight person to Cole's more unhinged character as she is the character in control while managing to be act all badass. Green cohort Danny R. McBride is very funny as Red, Saul's supplier who is beaten by thugs and everything until he and Dale decides to help out. McBride's performance is a standout as he's becoming one of the new rising comedy stars that's coming out in today's comedies.

Finally, there's Seth Rogen and James Franco in their best performances to date. Though Rogen’s performance doesn't top with his more mature role in Knocked Up, Rogen is great as the straight-man of the duo as he's the one trying to get everything together and get Saul to join him in the chase. Yet, it's James Franco that's the real surprise. Though he's known to audiences for his work in the Spider-Man movies as well as a bunch of other mediocre to bad mainstream films. Franco returns to his comedy roots as he wonderfully plays the inept stoner Saul as everything he does, it's always bad. Yet, Franco's performance is full of wonder and best of all, he's even better with Seth Rogen by his side as they make one hell of a duo.

Pineapple Express isn't just one of the year's best comedies but also one of the year's best films thanks in large part to the strange collaboration of comedy kingpin Judd Apatow and indie auteur David Gordon Green. Fans of Judd Apatow's comedies will no doubt enjoy the film's hijinks as well as its approach to the stoner-film genre. The film also might appeal to fans of David Gordon Green's work due to Green's take on buddy comedies and on-the-run films. In the end, Pineapple Express is a wonderful, entertaining, and exciting stoner-action comedy from the minds of Judd Apatow, his cohorts, and director David Gordon Green.

David Gordon Green Films: George Washington - All the Real Girls - Undertow - Snow Angels - (Your Highness) - (The Sitter) - (Prince Avalanche) - Joe (2013 film - (Manglehorn) - - (Our Brand is Crisis) - (Stronger (2017 film)) - Halloween (2018 film) - (Halloween Kills) - (Halloween Ends)

© thevoid99 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Exterminating Angel

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/25/08.

After the release of 1961's Viridiana, Luis Bunuel, who was invited back to his native Spain by the country's leader Francisco Franco, made a film that angered Franco as his film was banned for nearly 15 years. Bunuel along with his film crew and entourage returned to Mexico where he had been working at for more than 15 years. Reuniting with his Viridiana star Silvia Pinal, the two collaborated once again for another film about an upper class dinner party where the guests find themselves unable to leave. Written and directed by Bunuel, El Angel Exterminador (The Exterminating Angel) is a film that explores the world of the upper class and how they've trapped themselves. Also starring Enrique Rambal, Claudio Brook, and Augusto Benedico. El Angel Exterminador is an eerie, surreal ensemble drama from Luis Bunuel.

Edmundo Nobile (Enrique Rambal) and his wife Lucia (Lucy Gallardo) are having a dinner party after a night in the opera. Earlier that night, the butler Julio (Claudio Brook) had just fired Lucas (Angel Merino) while the cooks and servants are all leaving for the night to run their own errands. The guests arrive with Julio and whatever servants are left to run the entire night. Attending are Dr. Conde (Augusto Benedico), Blanca (Patricia de Morelos), Leandro Gomez (Jose Baviera), Raul (Tito Junco), a young couple named Eduardo (Xavier Masse) and Beatriz (Ofelia Montesco), and a mysterious, foreign woman named Leticia (Silvia Pinal) among others. Things go fine as Blanca plays a sonata and everyone gets tired for the night unable to go home.

The morning begins as the guests find themselves unable to leave as an elderly guest named Sergio Russell (Antonio Bravo) is dying. Dr. Conde tries to examine everything that goes on as Julio becomes troubled this strange circumstance in which everyone including himself are unable to leave the room or the house. Russell dies as he's placed onto a large cupboard. Conde continues to examine everything that goes on as everyone is blaming Nobile for what’s going on as only Conde and Col. Alvaro (Cesar del Campo) defend him with Conde trying to maintain calm. Even as they break the water pipe for water as everyone is starved. Leonara (Bertha Moss) meanwhile, is becoming sick as she's also dying from a from a form of cancer with Conde needing to find her pills.

With police and onlookers holding vigil outside of the mansion, inside the mansion. Things become increasingly chaotic when they're trapped inside the room as a bear is outside while a flock of sheep had entered the room. With more deaths and claustrophobia ensuing, everyone wants to kill each other until Leticia calms everyone down as she tries to figure out everything while dealing with the ongoing sense of surrealism that's plaguing their minds.

A satire of sorts on the world of the upper class, Bunuel's admitted contempt for the upper class shows how a certain group of people. Absorbed by their own ideas and their own worlds, Bunuel takes them into a room and traps them where psychologically, they can't get out. What the film is about is a group of people who disintegrate themselves in their own mind as they're psychologically trapped inside a room. Just as the characters unravel, the roles of who they play start to flesh out as the audience get to see who they really are.

Bunuel's claustrophobic, eerie direction is truly magnificent where things start out slow at first only to give the sense of who these people are. Then as the first act ends with everyone realizing they can't get out. That's when the film really begins as the second act entails moments of death, anarchy, and character study. By the third act, everything unravels leading to a few characters to try and make sense of everything. The ending, like most of Bunuel's films tend to go into the surreal where everything becomes a circle. The film in some ways is also about a memory, particularly in the third act in relation to the first. The film also has moments where it's really mesmerizing whether it's a couple being affectionate with one another sexually, a moment of horror, or a something surreal in a strange dream sequence that emphasizes their state of mind. The result is truly a mesmerizing, harrowing study of character and of the minds from Luis Bunuel.

Cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa does a superb job with the film’s black-and-white photography to convey the sense of horror and tension with hand-held camera, tracking shots, and lighting design as Figueroa’s work is truly amazing. Editor Carlos Savage does a wonderful job with some of the film's cutting style with the use of stock footage intermixed with the guests sleeping along with excellent transitional cutting and fade-outs to help give the film its structure. Production designer Jesus Bracho does a wonderful job in the posh look of the film's mansion interior scenes along with the room where every character is trapped and such. Costume designer Georgette Somohano does a wonderful job in the look of the dresses and suits that are worn where as the film goes on, the look of the clothes start to decay.

Sound editor Abraham Cruz does a fantastic job with the sound work including the cutting of dialogue layered one another during one of the film's surreal sequences. Special effects supervisor Juan Munoz Ravelo does a great job in one of the film's strange sequences that involves a lone hand moving. The film's music by Raul Lavista is minimal for its sweeping introduction in the film's opening credits sequence as well as the upbeat, melodic for parts of the film's first act. After that, there's not much music with the exception of a piano sonata performed on the film.

The film's cast is truly superb in its ensemble with notable small performances from Jacqueline Andere as the young Alicia, Xavier Loya as the young but nervous Francisco, Ofelia Guilmain as Francisco's older sister Juana, Xavier Masse as Eduardo, Ofelia Montesco as Beatriz, Lucy Gallardo as Nobile's wife, Bertha Moss as Leonora, Patricia de Morelos as Blanca, Tito Junco as the slimy Raul, Jose Baviera as Leandro Gomez, Luis Beristain as Cristian, and Antonio Bravo as Sergio Russell. The standout performances come from the characters who try to maintain control and such. Claudio Brook is great as Julio, the butler who tries to do duties while being the one to break a pipe so everyone can get water and such. Cesar del Campo is excellent as Colonel Alvaro, a man who tries to remain calm only to have a brief moment where he becomes unhinged by the claustrophobia of the room.

Enrique Rambal is brilliant as Edmundo Nobile who is trying to maintain calm as he becomes an unlikely target while dealing with the fact that he might be guilty. Silvia Pinal is fine in her role as Leticia though she didn't have much to do in the middle of the film. Pinal's haunting performance in the film's final act is mesmerizing as she tries to pull everyone together to think about the first night. The film's best performance goes to Augusto Benedico as Dr. Conde, the film's moral conscience who keeps his cool and try to examine everything while helping people out and tell them to not panic.

Though not as great as Viridiana, El Angel Exterminador is still a mesmerizing yet haunting film from Luis Bunuel. With memorable performances from Silvia Pinal, Augusto Benedico, Enrique Rambal, Cesar del Campo, and Claudio Brook. It's a film that is truly essential to Bunuel's rich filmography. Those new to Bunuel will get a great example of his surreal take on the world while taking potshots at the upper class. In the end, for a great ensemble film that has its characters be stripped down to the core and give them a taste of surrealism. El Angel Exterminador is the film to watch.

Luis Bunuel Films: Un Chien Andalou - L'Age d'Or - Land Without Bread - (Gran Casino) - (The Great Madcap) - Los Olvidados - (Susana) - (La hija de engano) - (Mexican Bus Ride) - (A Woman Without Love) - (El Bruto) - (El) - (Illusion Travels by Streetcar) - (Wuthering Heights (1954)) - Robinson Crusoe (1954) - (The Criminal Live of Archibaldo de la Cruz) - (El rio y la muerte) - (Cela S'apelle l'Aurore) - (Death in the Garden) - (Nazarin) - (La Fievre a El Pasao) - (The Young One) - Viridiana - Diary of a Chambermaid - Simon of the Desert - Belle de Jour - (The Milky Way) - Tristana - The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - (The Phantom of Liberty) - (That Obscure Object of Desire)

© thevoid99 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/29/07.

One of Spain's greatest and controversial artists, Luis Bunuel was a film director whose films of surrealism, religion, and imagery has captured the imagination of many. Yet, during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Bunuel left Spain to sought artistry only to find freedom 10 years later in Mexico. During that period, he would make acclaimed films like Los Olvidados (The Forgotten Ones), El (This Strange Passion), Ensayo de un Crimen (The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz), and Nazarin in 1958. In 1961, Bunuel finally makes a return to Spain during the time of the Franco where he made one of his most controversial films about a nun trying unsuccessfully to help the poor entitled Viridiana.

Written by Bunuel and Julio Alejandro, Viridiana tells the story of a nun who is sent by her convent to visit her uncle. The image of the nun reminds the uncle of his deceased wife. The visit shakes the nun's idealism as she hopes to do good in helping the poor. Directed by Bunuel, the film explores religion and its strictness as well as dark behaviors in some of its characters towards an innocent young woman. Starring Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey, and Francisco Rabal. Viridiana is a superb yet controversial masterpiece from the legendary Bunuel.

Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is expected to take her vows in the next few days until her Mother Superior suggests she should visit her uncle whom she hasn't seen in a long time. Her uncle Jaime (Fernando Rey) is living alone with a maid, her daughter, and a farmer as Viridiana decides to make the visit for a few days. Upon arriving, she meets the maid Ramona (Margarita Lozano) and her daughter Rita (Teresa Rabal) as Viridiana looks eerily like her late aunt. Jaime's newfound obsession of his wife and how his niece looks like her brought some troubling behaviors as Ramona watches. Noticing her often strict behavior and dedication to her faith, Jaime makes a plan to have her stay a bit longer. On Viridiana's final night, he attempts to seduce her but only receive an insult from his niece. Ramona drugs her later on as Jaime's attempt to seduce while asleep fails again.

With Viridiana finally leaving and learning about the truth of what happened last night, Jaime's guilt takes over as he feels he's sinned and does a final sinful act. Viridiana is then forced to come home to learn about what her uncle has done. With Viridiana now running the house with Ramona, Rita, and their farmer. Viridiana hopes to redeem herself by not returning to the convent and make her uncle's home into something that would help the poor. Taking on a group of beggars, she decide to help them while Jaime's estranged son Jorge (Francisco Rabal) arrives to become the new Don. With girlfriend Lucia (Victoria Zinny), Jorge hopes to bring the farm back to shape. Unfortunately, Jorge feels irritated by the beggars Viridiana has taken in while feeling tense with her. Lucia departs as Jorge finds himself attracted to Ramona.

When Jorge decides to leave town with Viridiana, Ramona, and Rita to conclude some business matters, the beggars decide to get into the house and enjoy a moment of debauchery until Jorge and his company return. The moment causes shockwave's as Viridiana's faith is now shaken to the core.

While the film reveals troubling themes such as incest, faith, and debauchery, the film is really about an innocent young woman whose good intentions are shaken to the core as she ends up questioning her own idealism. Even in a world that is cruel and indifferent to her faith. The film also explores moments of debauchery where although the beggars aren't necessarily bad people, they have a desire to live the rich, carefree life that Jorge and his late father had. There, it destroys everything that Viridiana had intended which is followed by a very horrific, sinful act that destroys her spiritually and emotionally. Then there's some of the film's sexual content which is done in a suggested way. Even in the film's final scene suggested something that was indeed Bunuel's intentions.

The direction that Bunuel made is not just observant but also filled with cynicism on faith, especially Catholicism at the time of Franco-era Spain. Largely because of how the repression of the government at that time caused the sense of alienation among the beggars. Even when the spiritual ideals of Viridiana is clashed in one wonderfully edited sequences with the newfound, industrious attitude that Jorge had. Then there's the infamous dinner sequence which includes a spoof of the Last Supper sequence that is followed by debauchery at its most unbridled. There, Bunuel captures anarchy in its purest form. It was there where the film, at that time, caused a lot of controversy followed by what would happen towards the end. The result is a powerful picture by Bunuel.

Helping Bunuel in his unique yet surreal vision is cinematographer Jose F. Aguayo whose black-and-white photography is exquisite in some of the film's exterior sequences and interior scenes. Yet, some of the camera work in showing the shadows is amazing as well as the close-ups to reveal the emotions and shock. Editor Pedro del Rey does amazing work in the film's editing, notably the scene of Viridiana's prayer cut back-and-forth into the moments of industry to convey her lack of realism. Production designer Francisco Canet does some wonderful work in creating the film's rich look in the home of Don Jaime's. Sound engineer Aurelio Garcia Tijeras does excellent in work in capturing the sound to contrast what's going on and where the scene's at. Composer Gustavo Pittaluga brings in an operatic score that is played on record throughout the film to convey the film's sense of emotion and debauchery in the third act.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled with great performances by Jose Calvo, Jose Manuel Martin, Luis Heredia, Joaquin Roa, Maria Isbert, and many others playing the beggars whose moments in the film are a highlight. Victoria Zinny is fine in a small role as Jorge's frustrated girlfriend while Teresa Rabal is great as Ramona's young daughter Rita. Margarita Lozano is in excellent form as the loyal Ramona whose shift of servitude changes as she finds herself attracted to Jorge in which, she is allowed to be herself. Francisco Rabal is great as the charming yet cynical Jorge who is willing to find some kind of power, even as he tries to seduce both Ramona and Viridiana. The late yet legendary Fernando Rey is great as Jaime. A man whose surreal state of mind over his wife's death and guilt causes him to question his own morality and persona. Though it's a small, supporting role, Rey is in fantastic form.

Finally, there's the legendary Silvia Pinal in one of her great performances. Pinal brings a lot of restraint to her role as this innocent young woman unaware about the real world. Pinal's also exudes sexuality with her amazingly gorgeous looks though she only shows a bit of skin throughout the entire film. Her character goes through the biggest amount of development and through this restrained, very non-dramatic performance, it feels natural and just right. It is clear that while she is playing the title character, it's Pinal's performance that is the heart of the film.

When Bunuel was asked to return to Spain by Francisco Franco to make a film suitable for his country, Bunuel said yes but when he presented the resulting film Viridiana with plans to premiere at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival. Franco was extremely angry and had the film banned for many years in Spain while was denounced by the Vatican. The then-Fascist government of Spain tried to have the film banned in its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival but failed. Viridiana ended up sharing the prestigious Palme D'or along with Henri Colpi's The Long Absence. The controversy over Viridiana helped give the film international attention as a film that had to be seen. In 1977, the film finally premiered in Spain at the time when Bunuel had made his final film Cet Obscur Objet du Desir (That Obscure Object in Desire) in France. Bunuel retired until his death in 1983.

Viridiana overall, is an amazing film from Luis Bunuel. Featuring great performances from Silvia Pinal and Fernando Rey, it's a film that might not be as shocking in today's times. Yet, when audiences have to consider what's going on and what Bunuel suggested at the time, the shock value is still there. What is really surprising that when it won the Palme D'or that year, another film that won the year before that featured similar was Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita that also reveled in debauchery and denounced by the Vatican. That film was also banned in Spain for several years until it was shown in 1981. In the end, for a film to reveal innocence lost in the real yet surreal world, Luis Bunuel's Viridiana is the film to check out.

Luis Bunuel Films: Un Chien Andalou - L'Age d'Or - Land Without Bread - (Gran Casino) - (The Great Madcap) - Los Olvidados - (Susana) - (La hija de engano) - (Mexican Bus Ride) - (A Woman Without Love) - (El Bruto) - (El) - (Illusion Travels by Streetcar) - (Wuthering Heights (1954)) - Robinson Crusoe (1954) - (The Criminal Live of Archibaldo de la Cruz) - (El rio y la muerte) - (Cela S'apelle l'Aurore) - (Death in the Garden) - (Nazarin) - (La Fievre a El Pasao) - (The Young One) - The Exterminating Angel - Diary of a Chambermaid - Simon of the Desert - Belle de Jour - (The Milky Way) - Tristana - The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - (The Phantom of Liberty) - (That Obscure Object of Desire)

© thevoid99 2011

Blog News 5/27/11 & Blogging Around

Note:  I originally wrote this post yesterday but due to an awful storm that hit Atlanta and various cities nearby.  The power went out for nearly 11 hours.

In Memory of "Macho Man" Randy Savage (1952-2011)  Oooh Yeah!!!!

For those of you who had been reading and following my Cannes Film Festival marathon. Thank you very much. I had fun doing that one and I hope to do it again next year. If anyone wants to join me next year, that would be even better though I would like to see what films we should all see.

Right now, I'm kind of taking a break a bit as I'm currently writing my screenplay that is coming though slowly as I'm early into the project. At the same time, I'm halfway done with my 1991-20 essay project about the music year of 1991 that I will post in my other blog The Void-Go-Round where I'm just posting some old music reviews right now. I don't really feel like writing any new music reviews till I feel like it.

With The Tree of Life finally set to come out tomorrow in New York City and Los Angeles this weekend. I'm already excited that it will come to Atlanta at the Tara Theater a week from Friday as I hope to watch it this weekend. Yet, I think I will approach my review for the film a little differently as I don't like to rush into writing though I did write some cast and technical crew info. I know a lot of us film buffs and fans of Malick are excited that it's coming as I'm also excited to see what my fellow bloggers think.

The Tree of Life will be among the few new releases I will check out along with Cars 2 and maybe X-Men: First Class and Midnight in Paris. Other than that, I plan to focus on films that is currently on my DVR which is being cropped up right now. Among these films I hope to watch are the Red Riding Trilogy that I'll watch this coming weekend along with films by Ingmar Bergman, Luis Bunuel, Ken Loach, Ang Lee, Samuel Fuller, Jim Jarmusch, Guy Maddin, and many others for June. Plus, I'll be posting some old reviews of films by Bunuel, Bergman, Lee, and some Pixar reviews I wrote back at Epinions.com over the years. I will also do some work relating to the 10th Anniversary release of Ghost World which will include an essay of the film that I hope to have by the end of June or early July.

My Ghost World essay will be part of a series of essays relating to my favorite films as I plan to do one on Breaking the Waves probably around the summer as well. My fourth Auteurs profile on Gus Van Sant will be pushed to late July/August while I've decided that the fifth profile will be either on Whit Stilman or Alexander Payne. I thought about doing David Fincher but I would rather push it to some other time.

In the world of the blogosphere, there's a lot I've been reading that has stood out for me.

Edgar at Between the Seats has an incredible review on one of Sam Peckinpah's most underrated films in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

CS at Big Thoughts from a Small Mind has a Great list of 10 Best Film Character Names.

Bryce at Things That Don't Suck has a a wonderful review of Morvern Callar that highlights some of the things I love about the film.

Jake of Not Just Movies posted an excellent review of my favorite film of 2010 in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere at The Final Girl Project.

Nick at Anomalous Material has a great piece on what is The Best & Worst of Woody Allen. His best is Crimes & Misdemeanors while his worst so far is Curse of the Jade Scorpion.

Dan of Dan the Man's Movie Review has a great review on one of the worst films this year in Something Borrowed as he questions the state of romantic comedies these days. Are they getting this bad?

Alex of Film Forager has a great review of one of my favorite action films in Police Story starring Jackie Chan.

Finally, there's two blogs that I've just followed that for those who don't know about these should check them out. First is Bonjour Tristesse which specializes in reviewing foreign films while the other is Andy Buckle's Film Emporium which is a blog that I've enjoyed reading.

Well, that is all for today. Let's all try to create the best review for The Tree of Life and bring our A game to the table. For those living in the U.S. and wondering where the film will play your local city, check out the link here.  And remember... take care... spike your hair... woo woo woo.  You know it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Hangover

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/26/09 w/ Additional Edits.

Already known for such comedy hits such as Old School and a film version of the hit 70s cop show Starsky & Hutch. Todd Phillips is one of the new breed of comedy directors who delves into the world of raunchy humor. 2006's Schools for Scoundrels with Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder wasn't a hit film with audiences or critics that put a dent of Phillips' streak of hit comedies that began with 2000's Road Trip. In 2009, Phillips rebounded in a big way with what turned out to be the biggest hit comedy of that year about a group of guys trying to figure what happened one night in Las Vegas through a slew of mayhem entitled The Hangover.

Directed by Todd Phillips and written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore with un-credited rewrites from Phillips and Jeremy Garelick. The Hangover tells the story of four guys going to Las Vegas to celebrate a man's upcoming wedding. The next day, three of the men are hung-over as they find a tiger in their bathroom suite, a baby, and memory loss as the groom is missing. Meanwhile, they encounter a stripper, a gang of Chinese gangsters, and other strange occurrences in a crazy weekend. Starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Sasha Baresse, Rachael Harris, Ken Jeong, Mike Epps, and Jeffrey Tambor. The Hangover is a witty film that doesn't reach a lot of laughs despite an excellent concept.

Doug (Justin Bartha) is about to get married his longtime girlfriend Tracy (Sasha Baresse) as he decides to go out on a weekend to Las Vegas. Joining him is Tracy's socially-awkward brother Alan (Zach Galifianakis) who is excited to go on the trip. Even as he will be taking the vintage Mercedes owned by Alan's father (Jeffrey Tambor). Joining them on the trip to Vegas is Doug's friends Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms). Phil hopes from a break from his family life and work as a schoolteacher while Stu plans to propose to his longtime but very strict girlfriend Melissa (Rachael Harris). Arriving into Vegas where they stay at a luxurious suite, everyone is having a good time as they drink a shot of alcohol on the roof of the hotel they're staying.

The next morning, no one knows exactly what happens as Alan finds a tiger at a bathroom along with a baby in the closet, a hospital bracelet in Phil's wrists, and Stu missing a tooth. Doug is also missing as they also learn that they had stolen a police car that the valet gave them as they go to the hospital where they have traces of roofies in their blood stream. Learning that they were at a wedding that crazy night where Stu learns he has married a stripper named Jade (Heather Graham), they go to a wedding chapel where they encounter a couple of Asian gangsters shooting and beating up the police car. After finding Jade at her apartment where she's revealed to be the mother of the baby. They are suddenly caught by a couple of police officers (Rob Riggle & Cleo King) who are the original drives of the police car.

After taking part in a police exercise in exchange for their freedom, they also got back the Mercedes where on their way back to the hotel. They find someone in the trunk as it's revealed to be a naked Asian man (Ken Jeong) who beats them up as their day gets worse as Alan reveals the source of where he got the roofies thinking it was ecstacy. Returning to their hotel room, they get a surprise visit from Mike Tyson who was looking for his stolen tiger demanding that they give it back to him. Returning the tiger to Tyson proved to be troubling as they tried to drug the tiger only to wake up at the Mercedes while Tyson reveals the tape of what happened that night. After getting attacked by Asian gangsters that was led by the naked man who is named Leslie Chow. Chow demands $80,000 that he was owed or else Doug will be killed. With Doug's life in the hands of Chow, it's up to Alan's knowledge of card-counting to help them get the money with help from Jade as they succeed but end up with a surprise of their own as they wondered what the hell went wrong.

The story about three guys trying to find their friend while figuring out what the hell happened on a night they don't remember at all is definitely a great idea for a comedy. The problem is that it doesn't entirely work in its execution. There's some moments that are humorous and engaging to watch while the script is well-structured in its set-up. It's just that the script doesn't set-up the comedy as well as it should've been. There's time where the audience knows what will happen and it's not executed in a great way. At the same time, director Todd Phillips goes for moments of raunchy humor but it doesn't really hold itself together as a film. The better moments of Phillips' direction is when there's a surprise cameo from Mike Tyson that is funny along with scenes where Phil, Alan, and Stu are just trying to figure out what's going on in such a subtle presentation. Despite a lot of its flaws and shortcomings, Phillips does create a film that is watchable and engaging in its premise.

Cinematographer Lawrence Sher does nice work with the colorful look of the film, notably the nighttime flashy exterior of Las Vegas including some dark colors for the interior scenes at the home of Mike Tyson. Editor Debra Neil-Fisher does fine work with the editing in creating fast-paced moments to keep the film going along with the comedic moments while it's mostly leisurely paced for the most part. Production designer Bill Brzeski with set decorator Danielle Berman and art directors Andrew Max Cahn & A. Todd Holland do some good work in the look of the suite that the guys stay along with the look of the wedding chapel that they go to. Costume designer Louise Mingenbach is also good for the dresses that Jade wears and the casual clothes that the men wear. Sound designer Tim Chau does some fine work in the sound for some of the film's action-like sequences and location scenes.

The music by Christophe Beck is pretty good for its funk-keyboard style and comical musical sequences. Yet, the film's soundtrack is mostly filled with party songs and such from the likes of the Baha Men, Phil Collins (with singing by Mike Tyson), Wolfmother, Usher, Kanye West, T.I. & Rhianna, the Donnas, the Belle Stars doing Iko Iko in a funny reference to Rain Man, Danzig, and members of the cast singing their own original songs which are quite funny. Another notable soundtrack regular of Todd Phillips work is the Dan Band performing raunchy version of some 80s classics.

The casting by Juel Bestrop and Seth Yanklewitz is pretty good with some cameo appearances from Wayne Newton, Carrot Top, and most of all, Mike Tyson as himself in a very funny performance. Small roles like director Todd Phillips as a creepy guy in the elevator, Ian Anthony Dale and Michael Li as Chow's henchman, Mike Epps as an inept drug dealer, Bryan Callen as a wedding chapel owner, Sasha Baresse as Doug's fiancee, Matt Walsh as a doctor, and Jeffrey Tambor as Alan's dad are pretty good. Rachael Harris is intense as Stu's girlfriend Melissa though she doesn't have much to work with. Cleo King and Rob Riggle are funny as two angry cops who decides to abuse Stu, Phil, and Alan in front of kids at the expense of their amusement. Ken Jeong is kind of funny as an effeminate Chinese gangster in Leslie Chow that Jeong does go overboard with his performance at times.

In a role that was originally slated for Lindsay Lohan, Heather Graham is pretty good as Jade. A stripper with a heart of gold who helps the guys win money while helping Stu loosen up. Justin Bartha is decent as Doug, the groom who goes missing though he doesn't get much to do but be calm and then disappear throughout most of the film. Ed Helms is also good as the straight-man of the group in Stu, a man fearful of his girlfriend's anger as he loses a tooth and deal with the fact that he has to grow some guts in order to be a man. Bradley Cooper is excellent as Phil, a man wanting some freedom from his stressful family life as Cooper plays it straight for the most part of the film while saying some funny lines. Zach Galifianakis is alright as Alan, Doug's soon-to-be brother-in-law who is socially awkward as he tries to fit in where Galifianakis provides some funny moments. Mostly without pants.

While The Hangover doesn't have some of the off-kilter humor of Todd Phillips' previous films, it is still a decent comedy from the director with a good cast and premise. Fans of raunchy comedy will definitely enjoy this in what has definitely been a very down year for comedies. For anyone that wants something wild and fun to watch, The Hangover is the film to go see. Audiences with a much broader idea of comedy might best go for something else.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Battle of Algiers

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 4/6/09.

The 1954-1962 Algerian war over Algeria's independence from France was a tumultuous period in the longstanding tension between France and Algerians for more than a hundred years ever since France invaded the region in the 1930s. The war ended with Algeria's independence in 1962 with the French dealing with defeat. After a few years following Algeria's independence, the war was a sore spot for the French where in 1966, Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo made a film about one of the most infamous battles in the city of Algiers in a cinema verite style. The film would be considered to be one of the greatest films of the 1960s entitled La Battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers).

Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo with a script he co-wrote with Franco Solinas, La Battaglia di Algeri tells the story of the battle itself along with the beginnings of the war right till its climatic battle in 1960 at Algiers. Told in a documentary style in black-and-white that recalls the Italian neo-realist movement of the late 1940s and Russian cinema. Getting perspective from both Algerians and European settlers, it's a film that takes a very in-depth look into one of the most infamous battles in world history. Starring Brahim Hagiag, Jean Martin, and Saadi Yacef.

It's 1957 as an Algerian is being forced to wear a French army uniform in order to lead the French to find National Liberation Front (FLN) leader Ali La Pointe (Brahim Hagiag). He had only been a part of the movement ever since joining three years ago following an altercation with the police over a street scam where he later assaulted a young Frenchman. After being in prison for five months, Ali becomes part of the FLN after being recruited by El-Halid Jafar (Saadi Yacef). In 1956, a series of attacks on policemen forces the police to strike back while barricading parts of the Casbah area filled with Algerians. During one night, officers planted a bomb at a home at the Casbah area that killed many people.

The Algerians strike back by having three women planting bombs in various places outside of the Casbah area filled with the French in Algiers. The attacks were successful with many casualties made. On January 1957, Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin) arrives with an army to plan attacks and interrogations to find the leaders of the FLN. With an upcoming strike, Ali talks to a FLN leader who reveals that their cause has gained the attention of the United Nations. Ali wants to attack but instead, has to do nothing and let the French do their week-long strike. The strike intensifies by its last day with several of its leaders captured and such. With Mathieu taking charge, he goes inside the Casbah with his troops where he eventually captures Jafar while also making a final attack to win the battle. Unfortunately, a huge protest and demonstration movement in 1960 would mark trouble for the French which would lead to the Algeria's independence in July of 1962.

The film is certainly a provocative yet eerie take on the idea of war. Yet, it's an ugly take on war as director Gillo Pontecorvo goes deep inside to the Casbah area to see how the battle is played out. The film is really about war's ugliness and how both the French and Algerians do horrific things to each other. Though the Algerians have reasonable motives over their demand for independence, how they did it through guerilla tactics and even planting bombs in various buildings seems like they were committing terrorism. The French of course, had to respond but what they did in order to interrogate people and such through torturous methods weren't honorable either. It seems like Pontecorvo and co-screenwriter Franco Solinas decided to make a film that isn't a traditional war film. Especially in creating dramatic sequences involving the idea of the Algerian independence and Col. Mathieu planning his own methods of attack in order to give the audience an idea of the motives of these two factions.

The script is based on several accounts and stories from various people, notably Saadi Yacef's memoir, who plays a fictional version of himself as El-hadi Jafar. Yet, there's no clear protagonist as it's all based on several characters as it's really about the battle. For the film's direction, Pontecorvo decides to create the film as if he's doing a documentary of sorts but in a cinema verite style. Along with the use of the Italian neo-realist style, the film is very engaging into going inside the Casbah area and being inside buildings where the audience knows something is going to happen. In the scenes that involve bombs, there's a level of suspense that Pontecorvo creates and when they're dropped in their locations. The audience knows what's to come but what happens afterwards is horrifying.

Pontecorvo goes deep inside to the locations where the bombs happen and it's shocking. The horrors of people dying and wounded, whether it's Algerian or European is truly an atrocity to watch. By the time the French take over for the battle into the Casbah, it's clear that Mathieu's method of torture and abuse is just as bad. Yet, he is a man that has respect for the opposition offering leaders the chance to surrender and be fair. The other two characters that often get attention are Jafar and Ali La Pointe. The former is the main leader who is smarter while finding some respect for Mathieu over his tactics and mercy. Then there's the younger La Pointe who is more of a rebel who is willing to continue the fight, even during the week-long strike of early 1957 when he isn't supposed to. What Pontecorvo creates is a film that truly exemplifies the spirit of guerilla warfare and all of its chaos and horror. The result is a film that is truly relevant to this day about war, terrorism, and retaliation in all of its troubles.

Cinematographer Marcello Gatti does fantastic work with the film's black-and-white photography along with its hand-held camera movements that isn't shaky nor fast. Instead, it's very steady and captures everything that goes on without swift movements only to slowly capture everything while creating some fantastic shots from Pontecorvo's amazing vision. Notably the exterior shots of Algiers from the beach to the upper exterior look from the Casbah. Gatti's work is truly phenomenal with some grainy camera work that looks realistic in the verite style as well as something that is beautiful. Editors Mario Morra and Mario Serandrei does excellent work with the film's straightforward cutting with little bits of jump cuts to keep the film's rhythm going. Though the pace is a bit slow, it works to create the idea of suspense and events that goes on during the battle.

Production/set designer Sergio Canevari does great work with the film's art direction in recreating the homes at the Casbah to the more clean looks like bars and diners at the European section of Algiers. Very detailed to what it looked like in the 1950s, it shows the contrast between the downtown section of Algiers and the gritty look of the Casbah area. The sound work by technician Omar Bouksani is excellent in capturing the tense atmosphere of war and the chaos that surrounds in the different areas of Algiers. The film's score by Gillo Pontecorvo and the legendary Ennio Morricone is wonderful in playing up to the film's drama and suspense. From the chugging rhythms of the suspense in the bomb scenes to the cadence-style drumming of the battles. The film mixes the Algerian music filled with flutes and such along with orchestral flair of Morricone to play along the tragic consequences and sadness.

The casting is mostly small with memorable roles from Mohamed Ben Kassen as the little boy Omar, Samia Kerbash as one of the female bombers, and Saadi Yacef in a small but memorable role as El-hadi Jafar. Brahim Hagiag is excellent as Ali La Pointe, the rebellious young man who becomes one of the leaders of the FLN as he takes on many risks only to realize how important the revolution is without violence. Jean Martin is brilliant as Col. Mathieu, the cruel yet compassionate general who is intelligent though arrogant in his idea of success towards the battle against the people of the Casbah.

Released in 1966, the film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival that year along with an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film shortly after while 2 years later, received nominations for Screenplay and Direction. Though the film was widely acclaimed, it courted a lot of controversy over its subject matter. Notably in France where it was banned for five years while the film was re-edited for British and American releases over its torture scenes. In Argentina, the film proved to be very popular with the military during the years of political upheaval in the country. In 1999, the film was restored where it received an official U.S. release in its uncensored version in late 2003. The film would be shown in various art house theaters to great acclaim but it's most famous screening was at the Pentagon in 2003 for military and political leaders during the Iraq War.

La Battaglia di Algeri is a brilliant yet harrowing film from the late Gillo Pontecorvo that is powerful and relevant to the situations of the Iraq War. Audiences who enjoy war films will be shocked to see this as a film that is more eerie than most war films with its verite style and harsh realism. For art house and foreign film fans, this film is truly essential as it's one of the best films of the 1960s. It's not an easy film to watch for its violent and meditative pacing but overall, it's unique visual style along with its intense score makes it worth watching. In the end, La Battaglia di Algeri is a powerful yet haunting film from Gillo Pontecorvo.

Gillo Pontecorvo Films: (The Wide Blue Road) - Kapo - (Burn! (1969 film)) - (Ordo)

© thevoid99 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

2011 Cannes Marathon Post-Mortem

Well, the festival has just ended and what a festival it's been as far as films were concerned. There was some controversy from Lars von Trier who got banned which I think was a bad idea from the people at Cannes because who are they going to get to put asses in the seat? There were also some disappointments including Gus Van Sant's upcoming film Restless which I'll still see if it plays nearby but with low expectations. And there's been some surprises. The film I'm eager to see that came out at the festival are Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist, Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty, Maiwenn's Poliss, and Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive.

For anyone that just heard the news, yes. Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life has won the Palme D'or despite getting some boos at the festival and mixed reviews which was expected. Yet, considering the competition he is facing. I must say I'm happy that he wins and hopes it will give the film a wider release during the summer. I'm a bit upset that neither Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In nor Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin didn't pick up anything though the latter got a great reception as I've become interested in Ramsay's work. Yet, I'm happy with the fact that The Artist got an award for Best Actor to Jean Dujardin along with Refn getting the best director prize. I'm really happy for Kirsten Dunst getting the Best Actress prize for her work in Lars von Trier's Melancholia as I'm a fan of her work and hope it would boost her career.

I have to say that it's been fun following the festival and its coverage and hope it will be more fun next year.

Now to the marathon which I've concluded with Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. I must say having done the Cannes Marathon since 2006 (w/ the exception of last year which didn't happen) that this one was the best. Not only because I saw a large amount of films where I liked a lot of them. I also had more time to watch them and paced myself with each film and review. At the same time, there were films that met my expectations while a number of them managed to surpass what I've expected.

The great thing about these marathons isn't just discovering these films but also discover filmmakers that no one has heard of or aren't familiar with. The big thing that really surprised me is that since this year's festival featured four films directed by women that were in competition. I also had four films that were directed by women that ended up becoming my favorite films of the marathon. Three of which were very minimalist pictures that definitely impacted my own aspirations as a filmmaker as I'm about to start work on my new screenplay.

Now with every festival, there's always awards that is synonymous with Cannes. Though I didn't pick out any first films for the marathon that I couldn't find which means no Camera D'or for best first film. There will be other awards given to the 15 of 17 films that I saw for the marathon.

For the Palme D'or, this fictional version of the prize goes to... Morvern Callar

This was a real discovery as I came not knowing about Lynne Ramsay as I'm wondering what she's about. The fact that she created a story about this woman who finds her boyfriend dead from a suicide and takes his manuscript under her name and go to Spain with her friend is an engrossing one. There was a minimalist quality I was drawn into along with the filmmaking and the way she used music to play to the image. I was also amazed by not just the raw look but also its beauty as I'm about to work on my own script as I found the film to be very inspirational for me. This is why I pick it as the best film of the marathon.

The 2nd Place Grand Jury Prix goes to Fish Tank

I love coming of age films when it's done right and takes me to places that I don't know. Most of all, the fact that it's about a young girl trying to find solace through street-dancing amidst the chaos of her home life along with the presence of her mother's new boyfriend. I was wowed by Andrea Arnold's direction and her presentation of the film as it's a film that young people need to see.

The Third Place Jury Prize goes to Wendy and Lucy

I wanted to see this film for a long time and it was a last-minute addition to the marathon as I found it premiered at the festival. Yet, I was amazed by its minimalist tale as well as its neo-realist approach. Even with Michelle Williams' performance which is truly one of her best performances in a career that is going extremely well.

The Best Director prize goes to Kelly Reichardt for Wendy and Lucy. It wasn't easy as it came down between her and Andrea Arnold. Reichardt created something that is very engaging as a director. Notably with the way she frames things and not go overly-stylistic. She keeps it simple and to the point as she deserves the prize.

The Best Actor prize goes to Tahar Rahim for A Prophet. Once I saw him in this film, I realized that this going to be hard to top because he is so amazing in this film as a young illiterate convict who becomes a crime boss. With the festival progressing as I saw more and more performances. Rahim's performance still stuck out as it is definitely one for the ages as I hope to see this guy a lot more in films.

The Best Actress prize goes to Abbie Cornish for Bright Star. This wasn't an easy pick as Cornish had some serious competition in Samantha Morton for Morvern Callar, Katie Jarvis for Fish Tank, Michelle Williams for Wendy and Lucy, and Arta Dobroshi for Lorna's Silence. I give it to Cornish for the way she portrayed a woman who is an artist like the man she loved in John Keats. The anguish and grace that Cornish gives is phenomenal as it tops the one she gave in Neil Armfield's Candy.

The Best Screenplay prize goes to Jane Campion for Bright Star. Campion's script is a very engaging one for the way she studies the relationship between John Keats and Fanny Brawne in Keats' final years as well as the way creativity works. It is a story that doesn't dwell into melodrama while taking Keats' writing as a way to help tell the story and provide depth to Keats' relationship with Brawne.

The Technical prize goes to Christian Berger for his cinematography in White Ribbon. Berger's black-and-white photography, that is reminiscent of some of the films by Ingmar Bergman, has a very distinctive look that makes it beautiful. Yet, there is something very haunting in Berger's camera that plays up to the eerie tone of the film as Berger's work stood out for me among the rest.

For the Special Jury Prize, I'm giving it to Katie Jarvis for her performance in Fish Tank. It's a debut performance but what a debut performance for someone who is a relatively unknown that provides something that is fierce and wondrous from start to finish. It is definitely a marvelous role from an unknown who will surely become someone to watch in the years to come.

And here is the ranking for the rest of the films that I saw in the marathon with the exception of Che and Antichrist that I've already seen back in 2009. Here are those films along with brief insights into each one:

Jane Campion's romantic drama about the final years of John Keats and his relationship with Fanny Brawne is a lush yet hypnotic film that isn't overly dramatic nor pretentious

Michael Hanake's haunting drama of a peaceful village coming undone by incidents in pre-World War I Germany is a chilling film about innocence lost.

Jacques Auriaud's prison drama is a fascinating study about a man's journey from a young servant to a mob boss into a crime boss of his own.

Pedro Almodovar's amazing story about a man reflecting on his past and lost love in a multi-layered yet entrancing drama that features great performances from Penelope Cruz and Lluis Homar.

Bob Fosse's 1979 masterpiece about a man's workaholic lifestyle going out of control as he tries to finish and create various projects while facing death.

Gaspar Noe's shocking film about a tragic night where a man tries to avenge the assault and rape of his girlfriend as it's one of the best one-timers ever made.

Zhang Yimou's stylish wuxia romantic drama about two cops trying to find a secret rebellion group with the help of a beautiful blind dancer as it's one of the most gorgeous films ever made.

The Dardenne Brothers' engrossing drama that features a radiant performance from Arta Dobroshi as a woman trying to get money for her own dreams as it's another solid film from the Belgian auteurs.

Laurent Cantet's superb film about the year in the life of a teacher and in his students in this real yet engaging drama.

Ken Loach's fantastic film about a man who seeks help with his own troubled life through his hero Eric Cantona.

Carlos Reygadas' haunting drama about a man dealing with a failed kidnapping as he seeks solace in his boss' daughter in this confrontational yet intriguing film.

Despite a superb cast and visuals, Wong Kar-Wai's English-language debut is a bit uninspiring since it feels derivative of his other work.

Well, that is all for the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Marathon. Let's hope for another one this year and enjoy these amazing films.