Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

Directed by Michael Rapaport, Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is a film about the seminal hip-hop group from the 1990s who reunited for a 2008 tour after a long-decade break-up. The film explores the band’s history as well as the on-going turmoil between its members during the reunion tour as Rapaport joins them on the tour while interviewing other artists, fans, and family members who loved the group. The result is a truly fascinating and very engaging documentary from Michael Rapaport.

Most music bio-pics or specials about an artist or a group often derive into a certain formula about how they rose, got famous, made a great album, discover drugs and all sorts of crazy shit, implode, and then get back together or something. For a group like A Tribe Called Quest, they did follow that same path but not in the most conventional way as actor/filmmaker Michael Rapaport goes inside the group’s tumultuous yet loving relationship as they go on a reunion tour in 2008 that brought more trouble.

The film does follow a formula about the band’s rise and demise but Rapaport was smart enough to find ways to stray from that formula. Notably as he allows the group along with associates like De La Soul, Prince Paul, and the Jungle Brothers to discuss what it was like back then when hip-hop was emerging in the 1980s. The heart of the film is the relationship between its members Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White where they express their love for each other but also their frustrations towards one another. Notably as it begins with Q-Tip and Phife Dawg who knew each other since they were kids.

Since a Tribe Called Quest were also very influential in providing an alternative to the late 80s/early 90s gangsta-rap and the more commercial pop-rap music of the times. The film also revealed the Native Tongues scene that was the center of this alternative hip-hop scene that celebrated a more upbeat and eclectic side of the genre that was led by acts like Tribe, De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, and Queen Latifah. Fans like producer Pharrell Williams and Common express their love for that scene as they feel it’s something really missed in hip-hop. The film also explored the albums the group made, notably the first three including the widely-lauded 1991 sophomore album The Low End Theory as the album's engineer claims that it’s the Sgt. Pepper’s of hip-hop.

While the film is about their history, Rapaport delves into the differing personalities of the group as they each dealt with their own issues with fame and stardom that eventually did tear the group apart. Notably as Jarobi left the group during the making of The Low End Theory due to other pursuits while Q-Tip grew to become a perfectionist leading to creative issues with him and Phife Dawg. Phife Dawg’s battle with diabetes was another issue that led to the band’s implosion in 1998 as the three-year gap between 1993’s Midnight Marauders and 1996’s Beats, Rhymes, & Life were sort of explained though the group admitted that’s where things really started to end as they made one more album in 1998’s The Love Movement as creative tension, personality issues, and frustrations with the music industry led to Q-Tip’s decision to end the group.

The most interesting part of the film is the 2008 reunion which they admitted doing for the money partly because of Phife’s health issues at the time. What Rapaport manages to do is go inside the fighting between Q-Tip and Phife where things do intensify not just onstage but also backstage where the film opens with the band’s last show of their 2008 tour where Q-Tip expresses his frustration with the whole thing. There’s no sides to take in these arguments but through Rapaport’s direction, it does allow some sympathy towards the whole group including Ali and Jarobi who both seem uncomfortable by these events.

Another great thing about Rapaport’s direction is the fact that he doesn’t try to impose himself or be the center of attention in the documentary as he knows this is their story. Through the use of archival TV footage including music videos and TV performance clips, Rapaport shows the group’s evolution from the first album to the last album. With the help of cinematographer Robert Benavides for the look and editor Lenny Mesina to maintain a leisured pace. The film does play into a style as it includes some animated sequences including the film’s stylish opening credits.

Aside from the interviews with artists and fans that include the Beastie Boys, De La Soul, Pharrell Williams, Prince Paul, the Jungle Brothers, and many others. The highlight of the film is the music as it features a lot of the music by a Tribe Called Quest along with music of the times like the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul along with some of the music they sampled like Minnie Ripperton. Including some hip-hop based score music by Madlib, the music of the film is just truly intoxicating to hear.

Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is an extraordinary and fun documentary film from Michael Rapaport. Fans of the group will no doubt see this film as the ultimate story that does more than what is expected in most music biography stories. Notably as it plays with the usual formula of those artist/group stories. For people new to the group including those who aren’t fans of hip-hop. It is a documentary that allows that audience to be engaged into the story while seeing that these four men can love each other but also hate each other at the same time. In the end, Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is a marvelous film from Michael Rapaport.

A Tribe Called Quest Albums: (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm) - (The Low End Theory) - (Midnight Marauders) - (Beats, Rhymes, & Life) - (The Love Movement)

© thevoid99 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Raising Arizona

Originally Written and Posted at on 11/2/03 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Written, produced, and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, Raising Arizona is the story of an ex-convict and his cop wife's desire to have a kid only to learn they're unable to. Learning about a set of quintuplets, whose father is a rich furniture entrepeneur, the two decide to kidnap a baby as they deal with all sorts of people including a biker from hell. The film is an indication of the Coen Brothers strange and quirky sense of humor that would be one of their definitive attributes of their career. Starring Nicolas Cage, William Forsythe, Randall "Tex" Cobb, Trey Wilson, Sam McMurray, and future Coen Brothers regulars Frances McDormand, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, and M. Emmet Walsh, Raising Arizona is the first of many great films from the Coen Brothers.

After being busted for robbing a convenience store, H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) meets a cop named Edwina (Holly Hunter) whom he falls for as he would often see her following his parole and eventual run-ins with the law as the two eventually get married. Leading a quiet life in a suburban trailer park, H.I. works at a metal factory as he and Ed hope to have children until they learn that Ed is unable to have children. After Ed quits her job as a cop due to her mood, she and H.I. learn that local unpainted furniture entrepreneur Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) and his wife (Lynne Dunum Kitel) has gained a set of quintuplets. Ed and H.I. decide to kidnap one of them to raise as one of their own as Ed hopes it would help H.I. become more mature.

Meanwhile, two prison buddies of H.I. in Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle Snouts (William Forsythe) had escaped from prison as they crash at H.I. and Ed's home for a few days much to Ed's chagrin. H.I. would later have a nightmare about a biker from hell named Leonard Smalls (Randall "Tex" Cobb) whom H.I. fears will bring trouble as a search for Nathan Jr. is on as Nathan Arizona deals with the FBI. H.I.'s trouble with domestic life is challenged by picnic with his foreman Glen (Sam McMurray) and his wife Dot (Frances McDormand) who brought their kids. When Glen makes a lewd suggestion to H.I. about Ed, H.I. is upset as he later tries to rob a convenience store that leads to more issues with Ed. When the Snouts reveal plans to rob a bank, they want H.I. involved as they also learn that the baby is Nathan Jr. whom they use as collateral.

With Small making a visit to Nathan Arizona about the reward, the Snouts take Nathan Jr. for the robbery which goes fine until something goes wrong as H.I. and Ed try to retrieve Nathan Jr. There, they deal with the evil force that is Leonard Smalls as the couple do everything they can to save the baby.

What makes Raising Arizona a Coen Brothers film is its eccentric tone and energy. Every line and scene is always offbeat somewhat and features some sort of reference of past or future Coen Brothers film including a reference to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead which Joel was an editor in that film. The film's script features hilarious one-liners and stupid jokes while the direction is top-notch in its absurdity, notably the chase scene that is shot wonderfully by cinematographer Barry Sonnefeld along with the fast-paced editing of the Coens Bros.' alias Roderick Jaynes. Even the film's music is quirky, notably the yodeling Western stuff and the suspenseful music of Smalls composed by longtime Coen Brothers collaborator Carter Burwell.

Then there's the inspiring cast of Raising Arizona. Nicolas Cage is amazing as the loser, cartoon-like H.I. who keeps putting out great one-liners and performs amazing physical comedy as he looks like a demented stick figure. Holly Hunter is a joy to watch as she plays a hard-nosed woman who wants everything perfect while she too, pulls a funny scene or two including her confrontation with Smalls. Randal "Tex" Cobb is menacing and downright funny as Smalls who brings fear to the audience, especially when he kills a bunny rabbit, a lizard, and a flower.

The late Trey Wilson is hilarious as Nathan Sr. while Sam McMurray, M. Emmet Walsh as a talkative metal shop worker, and Frances McDormand standout in their respective characters, notably McDormand who was so loud in the film; it's easy to forget that she can be funny. William Forsythe has funny moments as Evelle Snouts while the best performance overall goes to John Goodman as Gale Snouts who just comes up with hilarious lines and of course, the screams which is a must have in a Coen Brothers film. Finally, credit should be given to the 15 babies who played the quintuplets who were so darn cute!

Raising Arizona is a hilarious and very eccentric comedy from the Coen Brothers. The film is among one of their key works as well as a comedy that is truly out there. Notably as it features characters and situation where it strays from convention allowing the film to standout against a lot of the comedies of the time. In the end, Raising Arizona is a fantastic and truly entertaining film from Joel & Ethan Coen.

(C) thevoid99 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Music Room

Based on the short story by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, Jalsaghar (The Music Room) is the story of an aristocrat whose lifestyle is fading due to modern times as he is desperate to save the music room that he loves so much. Written for the screen and directed by Satyajit Ray, the film explores the clash between old and new ideals during the final moments of Zamindar. Starring Chhabi Biswas, Padma Devi, Pinaki Sen Gupta, Gangapada Bose, Tulsi Lahari, Kali Sarkar, Ustad Waheed Khan, Roshan Kumari, and Begum Akhtar. Jalsaghar is an extraordinary film from Satyajit Ray.

Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas) is an old aristocrat who is famous and revered for his riches as well as hosting lavish concerts in his home. With the help of his faithful servant Ananta (Kali Sarkar) and house steward Taraprasanna (Tulsi Lahiri), Roy’s parties become events for those in high society. Yet, his wife Mahamaya (Padma Devi) is concerned about the fact that he’s spending a lot of money on these parties which included a manhood ceremony for their son Khoka (Pinaki Sen Gupta). Roy doesn’t think anything is wrong until a commoner named Mahim Ganguli (Gangapada Bose) who is about to start a business in Roy’s land. Roy gives him permission as he holds another party while Mahamaya and Khoka are out visiting Mahamaya’s ailing father. Things seem fine until things in Roy’s life starts to crash.

With Ganguli becoming rich and utilizing modern equipment like trucks and cars for his business, Roy’s life has been ruined as he has closed his music room and only has Ananta and Taraprasanna around him. When Ganguli offers an invitation to Roy to attend a party that will feature a revered dancer, Roy declines only to go all out in order to usurp the man who has threatened his prestige by holding one last concert in his home.

The film is a tale of a man’s aristocratic lifestyle that is known for having these amazingly rich and private concerts where that life is threatened by changing times led by a man who actually works hard for his riches. While it’s a film that explores the world of traditional values against modern idealism, it’s really about a man’s world being changed. It’s not these new ideas of modern life such as machines that is around him but it’s also the fact that this man has neglected his duties to tend to his land where his wife warns him about weather conditions that would ruin him.

Satyajit Ray’s screenplay doesn’t have a conventional narrative as it starts off with Roy on top of his home where he seems to have lost everything as he watches the land. Then he hears music as it goes back in time where the first act is largely about his time when he was this respected aristocrat who held these lavish parties. Then the film returns to that same image of him watching the land from his roof where the second act is him dealing with the loss of his life and dealing with Ganguli’s business. While Ganguli is a genuine man who respects Roy, he has a hard time trying to attain the same kind of respect due to the fact that he is always riding in a fancy car and openly flaunt his riches. Ray’s observation into these characters as well as the world of the rich is very engaging in the way he allows the audience to figure out what are they willing to do in order to gain respect.

Ray’s direction is truly mesmerizing in his presentation of the music scenes playing in the music room to the surroundings that he uncovers to tell this story about this man and the world he lives in. One of Ray’s key approach to the direction is the way he opens the film with an image of a dangling chandelier that is the centerpiece of Roy’s music room. This chandelier would represent the spark in Roy’s life as he starts off as this revered man to a man desperate to regain an air of respectability in these modern times. The music performances would often serve as key parts of where Roy is headed in his life as he watches these performances unaware of what will follow.

The direction allows the camera to capture everything that is happening in these music scenes such as the last one where follows the dancer with a few camera movements while remaining still to her dancing. Even as he gets these rhythmic reaction shots from those watching while Ray ponders what are the reaction of the audience as they see this performance. The direction is also entrancing in its opening scene where it has Roy staring at the land from his roof as he is lost in his despair. These compositions along with the wide depth of field of the Indian landscape is definitely enchanting to watch as Ray creates a very solid and immensely rich film that explores a man’s trouble to adapt to changing worlds.

Cinematographer Subrata Mitra does an excellent job with the black-and-white photography that captures the wonderful Indian landscape for its exteriors to stylish interior shots for the music room that includes scenes when the candles are lit up and dimmed. Editor Dulal Dutta does a fantastic job with the editing by creating some rhythmic cuts to some of the reaction that occurs in the musical performances while utilizing dissolves for transitions or as montages when Ananta makes preparation for the party. Art director Bansai Chandragupta does a brilliant job with the set pieces created such as Roy’s bedroom and home to the amazing look of the music room filled with rugs, paintings, candles, and the chandelier that is in the middle of the room.

The sound work of Durgadas Mitra is pretty good for the intimacy of the interiors including the music room in the performance scenes as well as some of the exteriors at the land that Roy owns. The film’s music score by Ustad Vilyat Khan is superb as it includes a chilling opening theme filled with eerie sitar flourishes and drones while the rest of the music is a wonderful mix plaintive Indian-inspired pieces to more intense music cuts that is played during the music room concert scenes as it’s a true highlight of the film.

The cast is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it includes small roles from Begum Akhtar and Ustad Waheed Khan as two singers from different musical performances as well as Roshan Kumari as the dancer for the final musical performance of the film. Other notable small roles include Pinaki Sen Gupta as Roy’s son Khoka and Padma Devi as Roy’s concerned wife Mahamaya. Tulsi Lahari is very good as Roy’s more grounded and worrisome steward Taraprasanna while Kali Sarkar is excellent as Roy’s more loyal and resourceful servant Ananta. Gangapada Bose is terrific as the gracious but smug Mahim Gupta who wants to gain respect from Roy but also wants more than that once he becomes successful putting him at odds with people in Roy’s land.

Finally, there’s Chhabi Biswas in a remarkable performance as Biswambhar Roy. Biswas’ performance is a delight to watch from the way he feels revered for putting on such lavish concerts to the humility he endures when he faces the changing world. It’s a truly entrancing performance for the famed Indian actor as he makes a character that is simply unforgettable for what he endures.

The 2011 2-disc Region 1 DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a new high-definition digital restoration as part of a series of restoration for the films of Satyajit Ray. Presented in its 1:33:1 full-frame theatrical aspect ratio with Dolby Digital Mono. The film is given a presentation that allows the film to be seen in a new light after many years of not being shown in proper form while there are a few scratches and such due to the film stock that was used when Ray made the film back in 1958.

The first disc includes the film plus a few special features related to the film and Satyajit Ray. The first is an 18-minute interview with biographer Andrew Robinson entitled For the Love of Music about Ray and The Music Room. Robinson discusses Ray’s career at that time as well the motivations for making The Music Room. Robinson also discusses Ray’s gift for using music in film as well as his diverse taste that included Western classical music. Robinson points out about Ray’s mastery in observing characters while suggest that this film is a great introduction to Ray’s work.

The second interview is with noted Indian filmmaker Mira Nair. The 16-minute interview has Nair discussing Ray and the film where she revealed his influence towards her work. Notably as she revealed about Ray’s lack of popularity in India when he made those films. Nair discusses some of the visual moments of the film including the way the camera moved at the music room to see what the audience is seeing from behind. Nair also reveals her friendship with Ray in the 80s as he was her mentor and championed her first feature film Salaam Bombay! in India.

The 11-minute excerpt of a 1981 French TV program called L’invite de FR3 that features a roundtable discussion with Satyajit Ray, film director Claude Sautet, and film critic Michel Clement which is hosted by Dominique Reznikoff just before the French theatrical premiere of The Music Room in France. Sautet and Clement discussed their love for Ray’s films, including The Music Room as they asked a few questions to Ray about music and his popularity outside of India. Ray reveals his decision to make his own music for his films later on while admitting that he is baffled by his popularity outside of India.

The second disc of the DVD includes a 131-minute documentary by Shyam Benegal about Satyajit Ray made in 1984. The film is essentially a profile of Ray as he discusses his background and film career while making Ghare Baire (The Home and the World). Ray reveals about his love for films growing up while revealing what was wrong with Indian cinema in the early 50s. Throughout the film, clips of Ray’s movies are shown as Ray muses on his technique as well as how it evolved including his approach to music in film. It is a very insightful documentary that really gives a crash course of sorts on the films of Ray while learning about the man himself in his own words.

The DVD also includes a booklet that features two essays, an interview with Satyajit Ray, and a brief text about the restoration of the film. The first essay entitled Distant Music is by film historian Philip Kemp. Kemp discusses the impact of Ray in the international film scene as well as the importance of The Music Room in his career. Kemp talks about the film and its themes as well as the character of Biswambhar Roy. It’s a very illuminating essay that explores the film’s importance and why it wasn’t initially well-received in its native India due to the fact that it was so different from everything else in Indian cinema at the time.

The 1963 essay Winding Route to a Music Room is a piece written by Satyajit Ray about the film as it’s a short piece where Ray briefly discusses about the film’s production and inspiration for the film. The interview text by Andrew Robinson is a 1986 interview with Ray on the music of The Music Room. Ray talks about his collaboration with the film’s music composer Ustad Vilyat Khan as well as their approach to the music as a plot device for the film. The final piece of text in the booklet is a brief piece about the Satyajit Ray Preservation Project and the restoration of The Music Room that began in 1992. It’s a brief piece about a continuing project that is to display all of Ray’s work to the public and in a presentation deserving of Ray’s stature.

Jalsaghar is a rich and marvelous film from Satyajit Ray that features an incredible performance from Chhabi Biswas. While the film is often considered to be one of Ray’s greatest films as well as a great introduction to his work. It is a film that has a very universal story that audiences can relate to while be entranced into a world that isn’t the India that most people seem to know. In the end, Jalsaghar is breathtaking and ravishing film from Satyajit Ray.

Satyajit Ray Films: Pather Panchali - Aparajito - (Parash Pathar) - The World of Apu - Devi - (Teen Kanya) - (Rabindranath Tagore) - (Kanchenjungha) - (Abhijan) - The Big City - Charulata - (Two) - (Kapurush) - (Mahapurush) - Nayak - (Chiriyakhana) - (Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne) - (Aranyer Din Ratri) - (Pratidwandi) - (Sikkim) - (Seemabaddha) - (The Inner Eye) - (Ashani Sanket) - (Sonar Kella) - (Jana Aranya) - (Bala) - (Shatranj Ke Khilari) - (Joi Baba Felunath) - (Hirak Rajar Deshe) - (Pikoo) - (Sadgati) - (Ghare Baire) - (Sukumar Ray) - (Ganashatru) - (Shakha Proshakha) - (Agantuk)

© thevoid99 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Blood Simple

Originally Written and Posted at on 11/15/14 w/ Additional Edits.

Blood Simple is the story of a bar owner who suspects about his wife's extramarital affair as he hires a private investigator to kill his wife. Written and directed by by Joel and Ethan Coen, Blood Simple is a dark, fascinating film filled with intrigue and suspenseful moments where everything has a strange tone while laying underneath it is the dark, idiosyncratic humor the Coen Bros. would later be famous for in later films. Starring Joel's future wife & Coen regular Frances McDormand, M. Emmett Walsh, Dan Hedaya, John Getz, Samm-Art Williams, and Deborah Neumann. Blood Simple is a fascinating, abstract film debut from the Coen Bros.

It's a dark night in Texas as a woman named Abby (Frances McDormand) and her lover Ray (John Getz) are driving through a dark night on the road where they suspect they're being followed. After a stop at a hotel, Ray gets a mysterious call where he thinks it's Abby's husband Marty (Dan Hedaya), a bar owner who Ray works for. With Marty staying in the bar watching everything while being controlled by lead bartender Meurice (Samm-Art Williams), he quietly has a meeting with a private investigator named Visser (M. Emmett Walsh), who shows him pictures of Abby with Ray. Marty is surprised that it was Ray and not some other punk. Later that night, Ray appears to Marty asking for some owed money while Marty refuses to pay him since he knew what was going on. Marty asks Meurice, who was talking to his friend Debra (Deborah Neumann) to watch out for Ray.

The next morning while Abby stayed at Ray's home, she sees the family dog where she is confronted by Marty where she breaks his finger and kicks him in the balls. Ray follows, as Marty knew that trouble was going to happen where he turns to Visser. Talking to Visser in his Volkswagen, he asks him to kill his wife and Ray for a huge sum of money while he's going out of town to fish at Corpus Christi. Abby meanwhile looks for a new apartment and asks Meurice to watch out for Ray and Marty in case things get into trouble. While Abby stays at Ray's for a night, quietly coming into Ray's house was Visser. The next day, Visser calls Marty about the job and says it's done where Marty returns later that night and sees some pictures. Visser notices the large amount of money where suddenly, a double-cross ensues.

Ray appears quietly after Visser had left to find what happened where he found Marty's body and tries to clean things up quietly so Meurice wouldn't hear. Ray takes Marty to his car and notices that he's still alive where he tries to kill him but not in front of witness where he buries him alive in the middle of a farm in Texas. The next morning, he calls Abby to tell her that he loves her and everything becomes more and more complicated. Noticing that his lighter is missing, Visser notices what happens in the scene and decides to go find Ray and Abby for his own reasons while Ray becomes paranoid that Marty could be alive after Meurice got a call from him. Abby goes to Meurice for help where everything becomes complicated as she wonders what has just happened, who killed whom and is Marty really alive and what are Visser's intentions?

While Blood Simple is more of a tribute to the film noir of the past, the film is really a reinvention of the film noir thanks to the quirky mind of the Coen Bros. With the directing of the film in tact, the film has some wonderful tracking shots that move very fast while giving out some stunning camera work in scenes involving a fan as the cast watch the fan move slowly as it zooms in very slowly. If the film's eerily directing style is seductive to watch, what's more amazing is the screenplay by the Coens where everything is straightforward but there's a suspense and momentum that is build up while its structure starts out as one thing but by the film's second half, it becomes more intriguing to watch and you're not sure what's going to happen and there's some moments that are very surreal as the Coens become one of the most innovative and brilliant writers in independent cinema at that time.

Helping out with the visual trickery of the film is cinematographer and future filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld who brings a lush, ominous look to the film with its blue filters in some of the night scenes while the road scenes are even more creepy to look at. Sonnenfeld, like latter-day Coens cinematographer Roger Deakins, is a master at visual manipulation since the film plays up to its evocatively moody tone. With the fast-paced editing done by the Coens under their Roderick Jaynes moniker along with Don Weigmann that helps enhance the intensity of the movie.

With production designer Jane Musky help capturing the Texan look of the film for its comical and dark layers; the film looks great in its dark tone, even in its strange setting in Texas. Then there's dark, melancholic score of longtime Coens composer Carter Burwell who brings elements of stark piano notes and ominous textures to the film's moody world while idiosyncratic use of the song It's The Same Old Song by the Four Tops brings some comical relief to the movie.

Then you have the film's small but memorable cast that also included future Coens regular Holly Hunter in a voice cameo in one scene as she was originally slated to play Abby but gave it to roommate Frances McDormand since Hunter was doing a play at the time. Deborah Neumann is excellent in her one scene with Samm-Art Williams about the Ring of Fire that brings some strange, quirky humor that is a trademark of the Coens while Williams is memorable as the eye of the bar while standing out with his white Converse and playing the Four Tops in a country bar.

Dan Hedaya is wonderful as the bloodthirsty Marty with his brooding features and tone while he doesn't play the stereotype of an angry husband since he knows his place and his own reasons for why he drove Abby into having an affair. John Getz is excellent as well in his role as Ray for his quiet, confrontational performance, notably his scenes with Hedaya are filled with great dynamics while he has great chemistry with McDormand as Getz plays a role that is excellent despite being typecast later on in sleazier boyfriend roles in his career.

M. Emmett Walsh is the film's best male performance for his dark, complex performance since he serves as black heart and soul with his penchant for greed and sleaziness. Walsh brings a lot of dark humor to the film while his intentions remain very hidden while he comes up with the best lines. Walsh is wonderfully amazing as this role as Visser is one of his best performances. Frances McDormand truly delivers a breakthrough performance as the cheating wife Abby with her concerned face and complex innocence where we understand why she despises Marty while becoming more confused later on about Ray while becoming more of an innocent pawn in a game. McDormand makes the character grow from a scared, cheating wife to a brave woman seeking her own independence.

Blood Simple is a great debut from the Coen Brothers highlighted by the performances of M. Emmett Walsh and Frances McDormand. Thanks to its dark, moody tone and noir-like style in its camera work, music, and structure, Blood Simple is a film that reinvents the film noir while being one of the great debut films ever made by any filmmaker. In the end, Blood Simple is a chilling yet entrancing film from Joel & Ethan Coen.

(C) thevoid99 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

From Dusk till Dawn

Directed by Robert Rodriguez and screenplay by Quentin Tarantino based on an original story by Robert Kurtzman, From Dusk till Dawn is the story of two bank robbing brothers who take a family hostage as they travel to Mexico where they all enter a bar that is very mysterious as they later have to battle vampires. The film is a horror-comedy that involves Rodriguez’s stylish approach to violence as well as Tarantino’s snappy and witty dialogue. Starring George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, and Cheech Marin with appearances from John Saxon, John Hawkes, Michael Parks, Kelly Preston, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, and Fred Williamson. From Dusk till Dawn is a fun and in-your-face film from Robert Rodriguez.

After robbing a bank and then dealing with a bloody gun battle with Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) and a liquor store clerk (John Hawkes), Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his younger brother Richard (Quentin Tarantino) are on the run as they hope to reach Mexico to meet with a crime boss named Carlos (Cheech Marin) to split the money. The brothers have a hostage (Brenda Hillhouse) whom Richard is interested in as they stop at a motel where things go wrong until a faith-challenged pastor named Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) checks in. Jacob is with his young adult daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) and her adopted Chinese brother Scott (Ernest Liu) as they’re going to Mexico where they’re confronted by Seth. Seth asks Jacob to drive his RV to Mexico as Richard, Kate, and Scott all go in for the ride.

After a tense moment involving a border guard (Cheech Marin) at the border, the five are able to make it to Mexico where they stop at the rendezvous point at a bar called the Titty Twister. Things seemed fine where Seth, Jacob, Richard, Kate, and Scott all have drinks as they’re later entertained by the exotic stripper Satanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek). Yet, a scuffle with a guy named Chet Pussy (Cheech Marin) and the bartender Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) leads to trouble where it is revealed that the bar is filled with vampires. With help from the whip-wielding Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and the quick-witted Frost (Fred Williamson), the Gecko brothers and the Fullers go on an all-out war the vampires.

The film is essentially a story about two bank robbing-brothers who kidnap a family to Mexico where they later fight off vampires in a strange bar. In the writing style of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s soaring approach to action. It’s a film that does a whole lot more than its B-movie premise suggests while still being a silly, stylish, and over-the-top kind of film that both Tarantino and Rodriguez love. The script that Tarantino creates does have a lot of fast-paced and stylish dialogue that is a trademark of his work as the film starts off as a Tarantino film for its opening scene. While the script is among one of the more straightforward works in terms of narrative structure and dialogue. Tarantino does succeed in creating a story that does help build an element of suspense as well as making characters who are more than what they seem to be.

The direction of Robert Rodriguez is truly a joy to watch from the opening scene between Earl McGraw and the liquor store clerk that is very straightforward and charming to the dark intensity that follows where the Gecko brothers are properly introduced. While Rodriguez maintains a keen sense of style in the film’s violent moments filled with a few slow-motion shootouts and some frenetic fights that goes in the bar scenes. Rodriguez knows how to create tension without going overboard by taking his time and wait for the payoff. Also serving as the editor, Rodriguez is able to create a wide array of style to the cutting in order to create a film that plays up to Tarantino’s fast-paced dialogue while also being able to slow things down. Overall, Rodriguez creates a very solid and exciting film that does a whole lot more than its vampire-action genre suggests.

Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro does a brilliant job with the film‘s stylish photography from the very sunny look of the desert exteriors of Texas to the more exotic array of lights and dark settings created at the Titty Twister bar scenes. Production designer Cecilia Montiel, along with set decorator Felipe Fernandez del Paso and art director Mayne Berke, does an excellent job with the design of the Titty Twister bar interiors as well as the hall that everyone is at for the fight and Satanico Pandemonium‘s dance. Costume designer Graciela Mazon does a nice job with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual except for the leather clothing that Sex Machine and Razor Charlie wear.

Visual effects supervisors Diana Dru Botsford and Daniel Fort do fantastic work with some of the film‘s special visual effects such as the human transformation into vampires as well as some of fire that occurs once the vampires are killed. Sound editor Dean Beville does some great work in the sound from the way the vampires growl sound to the layers of gunshots and all sorts of sound effects made during the fights. The film’s score by Graeme Revell is very good for its mix of suspenseful orchestral pieces to a mixture of Texas blues music that is rampant in the film’s soundtrack. Notably as it features contributions from ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimmie Vaughn, the Blasters, and Tito & Tarantula that appears as the Titty Twister’s house band.

The casting by Elaine J. Huzzar and Johanna Ray is superb for the ensemble that is created ranging from famous character actors to actors famous for being in certain genre films. Making small appearances include John Saxon as a FBI agent, Kelly Preston as a TV news reporter, John Hawkes as the liquor store clerk, Michael Parks as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, Brenda Hillhouse as the Gecko brothers’ hostage, Danny Trejo as the badass bartender Razor Charlie, horror film guru Tom Savini as the whip-wielding Sex Machine, and blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson as the war veteran Frost. Notable supporting roles include Cheech Marin playing three roles such as a border patrol guard, the gangster Carlos, and in a hilarious performance as the pussy-talking Chet Pussy.

Salma Hayek is excellent as the sexy and devilishly charming Satanico Pandemonium while Ernest Liu is alright as the more naïve and reluctant Scott Fuller. Juliette Lewis is terrific as Kate who starts off as a reluctant friend of the Gecko brothers to becoming a full-fledge badass. Quentin Tarantino is very good as Richard Gecko who often has these strange fantasies about what women says to him while dealing with a wounded hand. Harvey Keitel is great as the conflicted Jacob Fuller who tries to deal with his own issues while helping out the Gecko brothers fight off the vampires. Finally, there’s George Clooney in a brilliant performance as the cool Seth Gecko who leads the way against the vampires while trying not to be a total criminal as he actually shows some compassion.

From Dusk till Dawn is an incredible and ass-kicking film from Robert Rodriguez and screenwriter Quentin Tarantino. Featuring a wonderful cast, great music, and lots of gory yet top-notch violence. It’s a film that doesn’t hold back in what it wants to be while making it a whole lot of fun to watch. Notably as it’s all about killing vampires with all sorts of things with catchy dialogue and amazing scenery. In the end, From Dusk till Dawn is an entertaining and thrilling film from Robert Rodriguez.

Robert Rodriguez Films: (El Mariachi) - (Roadracers) - (Desperado) - Four Rooms-The Misbehavers - (The Faculty) - (Spy Kids) - (Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams) - (Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over) - (Once Upon a Time in Mexico) - Sin City - (The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D) - Grindhouse-Planet Terror - (Shorts) - (Machete) - (Spy Kids: All the Time in the World)

© thevoid99 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012


Based on the Grimm Brothers fairy tale Rapunzel, Tangled is the story about a long-lost princess with long magical hair who yearns to leave her secluded tower with the help of a thief to reach a city for an upcoming festival. Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard with a screenplay by Dan Fogelman, the animated film is a partially-experimental film where 2D hand-drawn animation and 3D computer animation work together to create a new take on the story of Rapunzel. With a voice cast that includes Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Frank Welker, Brad Garrett, and Jeffrey Tambor. Tangled is a fun and adventurous animated film from Nathan Greno and Byron Howard.

After being kidnapped by an old woman named Gothel (Donna Murphy), Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) has been kept in seclusion by Gothel who needs her long hair to maintain her youth. All of her life, Rapunzel wonders about these lights she sees up in the sky as they always appear on her birthday as she’s about to turn 18. She asks Gothel if she can go out and see what’s over there as Gothel claims the outside world is a dark place as she goes out to gather things Rapunzel needs for her painting. Meanwhile, a young thief named Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) has stolen a crown from a kingdom as he and the Stabbington brothers (Ron Perlman) flee the guards where Flynn finds himself hiding in Rapunzel’s home where he is knocked and interrogated by the young girl.

After Flynn reluctantly agrees to take Rapunzel to see the sky lanterns in exchange for the crown he stole, Rapunzel enters the outside world with her pet chameleon Pascal. When Gothel realizes that Rapunzel has left her tower, she tries to find her with the help of the Stabbington brothers as Flynn and Rapunzel go to a tavern where they meet rough thugs whom they befriend due to their aspirations for a life outside of crime. The thugs help Rapunzel evade the guards who are looking for Rider as they hide in caves where Flynn learns about the magical elements of Rapunzel’s hair. Flynn reveals his real name as he takes Rapunzel to the kingdom with help the guards’ lead horse Maximus.

With Rapunzel finally getting the chance to see the sky lanterns with Flynn, Flynn encounters the Stabbington brothers in hope to live up to his deal with them. Instead, the plan is altered where Gothel takes Rapunzel as she discovers her true identity while Flynn deals with guards in his hopes to save Rapunzel.

The film is essentially a re-telling of the story of Rapunzel with a new twist as screenwriter Dan Fogelman creates a story where it’s about this young girl who is this long-lost princess that has been secluded for all her life in the care of a woman who needs her hair to maintain her youth and beauty. While there is a bit of exposition about Rapunzel’s hair told in a prologue by the character of Flynn Rider. It does reveal the kind of person Gothel is and why she’s been keeping Rapunzel as she isn’t a traditional villain. Rider and Rapunzel aren’t traditional good guys either as Flynn is an admitted thief while Rapunzel is a young woman who doesn’t know about the outside world but can fend for herself. Fogelman’s script succeeds in not just giving these characters more than what they’re supposed to be. He also succeeds in playing with the damsel-in-distress formula by adding humor and light-dramatic scenes that does help move the story forward.

The direction of Nathan Greno and Byron Howard is brilliant for the compositions and scenes that are created. Notably as it combines 2D hand-drawn animation with 3D computer animation as the film has a look that is all computer animated but the feeling of a 2D animated film. Notably in the way the characters move and interact with certain things as well as the set pieces created for the film. One notable sequence that really is a marvel to watch is the sky lanterns scene where all of these lanterns are displayed in a nighttime sky. It’s truly exquisite in its beauty and the way those scenes are drawn. With its mix of humor and adventure, Greno and Howard create a film that is truly entertaining as well as making something is a true visual feast.

Editor Tim Merkins does an incredible job with the film‘s editing as he brings a wonderful sense of style in creating montages to Rapunzel‘s reaction to be out of the world as well as a few jump-cuts to play with the film‘s unique rhythm. Production designer Douglas Rogers, along with art directors Dan Cooper and David Goetz, does great work in creating some of the set pieces for the film such as Rapunzel‘s tower and the tavern the thugs hang out at. Visual effects supervisor Steve Goldberg does a brilliant job with some of the visual effects created for some of the 3D parts of the film that includes the sky lanterns scene.

Sound designers Cameron Frankley, Jason W. Jennings, and Ai-Ling Lee do a fantastic job with the sound work from the sound of leaves and waterfalls in the woods to the atmosphere of the tavern and damn that Rapunzel and Flynn encounter. The film’s music by Alan Menken is brilliant for its mixture of flourishing orchestral music to more playful folk music for some of the scenes at the kingdom. The songs that Menken wrote with lyricist Glenn Slater are definitely top of the line such as Mother Knows Best, the ballad I See the Light, and the very upbeat I’ve Got a Dream as it’s some of the best work that Menken has done as it also includes a song by Grace Potter in the film’s final credits.

The voice casting by Jamie Sparer Roberts is wonderful for the ensemble that is created as it includes Frank Welker voicing the enjoyable animal creatures in the horse Maximus and the chameleon Pascal. Other notable small voice work include Richard Kiel, Jeffrey Tambor, and Brad Garrett as friendly thugs, M.C. Gainey as the guard captain, and Ron Perlman doing dual voice work as the rough and conniving Stabbington Brothers. Donna Murphy is superb as the sly yet cunning Gothel who is desperate to keep Rapunzel with her while dealing with Rapunzel’s yearning for freedom. Zachary Levi is terrific as the charming and brave Flynn Rider who reluctantly helps Rapunzel out while realizing what it takes to be a very good guy. Finally, there’s Mandy Moore in a fantastic performance as Rapunzel as she brings a lot of humor, wit, and determination to the character who is quite naïve but also willing to see the sky lanterns as she also has great chemistry with Levi and Murphy.

Tangled is an extraordinary film from Nathan Greno and Byron Howard. Featuring amazing animation and a remarkable ensemble voice cast, it’s a film that definitely lives up to a lot of the animated films Disney has made in the past. Notably as it allows hand-drawn animators and computer animators to create a hybrid of both styles that gives the film a very dazzling yet magical feel. In the end, Tangled is a rich and delightful animated film from Disney Animation Studios.

© thevoid99 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Attack the Block

Written and directed by Joe Cornish, Attack the Block is the story about street gang whose life of crime is shattered when aliens attack their South London block forcing them and residents to fight back. The film is a mixture of sci-fi, comedy, and action as it carries a simple plot while creating lots of suspense and drama that occurs as the stakes are raised in this battle between humans and aliens. Starring Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter, and Nick Frost. Attack the Block is a brilliant and fun film from Joe Cornish.

It’s Bonfire Night in South London as a nurse named Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is coming home from work as she is then mugged by a young local gang. During the mugging, something falls from the sky and lands on a car as the gang try to figure out what’s going on. Realizing that it was an alien, the boys led by Moses (John Boyega) attack and kill the alien as they reveal it to local drug dealer Ron (Nick Frost) for advice on how to profit from it. This gets the attention of Ron’s boss in Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) who makes Moses into a top dealer. Just as Moses is about to do some sales with his friends Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones), and Biggz (Simon Howard), more objects fall from the sky as the boys realize that aliens are arriving to attack.

Just as they were trying to attack aliens, Moses is arrested for his assault on Sam who is there to identify until they’re attacked by aliens as Sam, Moses, and the gang try to fight them out. With Hi-Hatz believed that Moses is trying to take over his block after an accident, things become complicated forcing Sam to team up with Moses and the gang to fight off the aliens. Even as they try to hide in various apartments including Ron’s where his weed customer Brewis (Luke Treadway) believes why the aliens are attacking. With the stakes becoming much higher and more aliens coming, Moses makes a move that will ensure the lives of those he had just cared for will be saved.

The film’s premise is simple which is about a youth gang and a few of its neighbors fighting off attacking some aliens in their South London block in one particular night that would change everyone. That’s pretty much it though its simple plot doesn’t exactly suggest in what the film is about and does. There’s a whole lot more to it as writer/director Joe Cornish creates a film that is about survival as well as growing up where it revolves around this youth gang who would team up with this young nurse whom they mugged early in the film.

Once the aliens start attacking and they’re in danger along with this young woman. The boys do start to grow up and realize there is more at stake than just themselves and their desire for a life of crime. Though the character of Sam is reluctant at first to help them after what she’s been through. She ends up helping them realizing the danger that is around them as they eventually become friends while they also evade a ruthless, paranoid drug dealer. Throughout the film, there’s lot of very stylized yet humorous dialogue that revolves around their situation while the script does allow the characters to take a breather in between the action as they all try to figure out how to beat these aliens.

Cornish’s direction is very engaging in the way he captures a lot of the film’s action and suspense scenes while putting in a bit of humor and gore into the mix. Yet, Cornish creates a film where it does more than what its premise suggests by making it about these five young boys and a nurse as they fight off these aliens as he’s always having the camera on these characters as some would look out to see what is happening. These perspective shots as well as amazing action sequences really create an element of suspense over what might happen as it does go into traditional rhythms as well as unconventional ones. The humor is a bit restrained as it allows the characters to interact or deal with what is happening as Cornish knows how to use it right. The overall work is truly a joy to watch as Joe Cornish creates a film that does more than entertain in its simple human vs. alien premise.

Cinematographer Tom Townend does a superb job in creating some wonderful nighttime exterior shots filled with yellow and blue lights to help set the mood while utilizing more stylish array of lights for many of the film‘s interior settings. Editor Jonathan Amos does an excellent job with the editing in creating stylish and rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s action and suspense scenes while not going into speedy cuts to help maintain the element of suspense that occurs in the film. Production designer Marcus Rowland, along with set decorator Dick Lunn and art director Andrea Coathupe, does a nice job with the set pieces created such as Ron’s weed room as well as the different apartments the character hide and live in.

Costume designer Rosa Dias does a terrific job with the costumes created for the film such as the street gear Moses and his gang wear to the more casual look of Sam. Visual effects supervisor Ged Wright does a brilliant job with the visual effects created for some of the creatures as they roam onto the building while having a bit of a realistic look to them as their teeth light up. Creature effects designer Mike Elizalde does a fantastic job with the design of the creatures from its small female counterpart early in the film to the hordes of big male creatures that look like a mixture of furry animals with huge teeth. Sound designer Jeremy Price and sound editor Julian Slater do tremendous work with the film’s sound work from the way the aliens snarl to the atmosphere that occurs during the fight with the aliens.

The music by Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Button of the British electronic duo Basement Jaxx is a major highlight of the film for the mixture of hip-hop, electronic music, and dub reggae that occurs throughout the film. With additional score pieces by Steven Price who brings a few orchestral flairs to the Basement Jaxx score. The film’s music soundtrack is truly phenomenal as the hip-hop and electronic pieces play up to the film’s energy and suspense as well as being fun to listen to.

The casting by Nina Gold is remarkable for the ensemble that is created for the film as it includesTerry Notary, Karl Bauman, and Arti Shah do some of the performance capture for the aliens in the film. Other notable small roles include Danielle Vitalis and Paige Meade as two neighbors that know Moses as well as Michael Ajao and Sammy Williams as two adolescent wannabe-gangsters who both want to be part of Moses’ gang. Jumayn Hunter is really good as the vicious and paranoid gangster Hi-Hatz while Nick Frost is funny in a very low-key role as the friendlier drug dealer Ron. Luke Treadaway is also funny as Ron’s stoned customer Brewis who has a great knowledge on zoology.

In the roles of the young gangsters, Simon Howard is excellent as the more fearful yet athletic Biggz while Leeon Jones is wonderful as the smart yet cunning Jerome. Franz Drameh is terrific as the more aggressive Dennis while Alex Esmail is very funny as the resourceful Pest. Jodie Whittaker is great as the nurse Sam who becomes part of the fight against aliens as she is a woman just trying to live her life while realizing that the boys who mugged her aren’t so bad. Finally, there’s John Boyega in an outstanding performance as the young gang leader Moses who becomes more aware of the consequences he takes while trying to find a way to do good and fight off the aliens.

Attack the Block is a thrilling yet very exciting sci-fi action-adventure film from Joe Cornish. Featuring an amazing ensemble cast, top-notch soundtrack, and spectacular technical work, it’s a film that does more than its humans vs. aliens premise suggest. Notably as it adds a wonderful sense of humor while not going too far in making it overly-childish and gory. In the end, Attack the Block is a marvelous film from Joe Cornish.

© thevoid99 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Please Give

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Please Give is the story about a couple and their daughter dealing with an aging neighbor as they befriend the woman‘s adult granddaughters. Meanwhile, one of the granddaughters try to deal with her lonely life as she starts dating while her grandmother’s neighbor tries to help out any way she can over her worry with the state of the world. Starring Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Ann Guilbert, Sarah Steele, Amanda Peet, and Rebecca Hall. Please Give is a clever yet intriguing film from Nicole Holofcener.

Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are vintage furniture sellers who have a teenage daughter named Abby (Sarah Steele) who is going through her own growing pains. Living next door is an aging, cranky neighbor named Andra (Ann Guilbert) who is about to turn 91 as she is often cared by her kind yet lonely granddaughter Rebecca (Rebecca Hall). Kate often bumps into Rebecca as they would often have conversations as Rebecca is a radiology technician for breast cancer while her older sister Mary (Amanda Peet) is a cosmetologist. When Kate and Alex invite Andra, Rebecca, and Mary for Andra’s birthday dinner, Kate and Alex reluctantly reveal what they will do to Andra’s apartment when she passes away which doesn’t surprise the more cynical Mary.

With Kate worried about her daughter’s desire to purchase expensive jeans, she wants to help out those who really need things as she often gives money to the homeless and try to volunteer to help out other people. Alex meanwhile, becomes interested in Mary as he goes to her spa for a facial where flirtation ensues with the two. While helping out a patient named Mrs. Portman (Lois Smith), Rebecca meets her patient’s grandson Eugene (Thomas Ian Nicholas) as the two go out where she takes Andra and Mrs. Portman on a ride to the Catskills Mountains. Kate learns that some of the furniture she bought and sold is being sold once again by another competitor which only adds to her anxieties about the state of the world. With Abby more worried about her face and trying to fit in, Alex becomes upset over Kate’s issues while Mary starts to not help Rebecca in caring for Andra leading to a very drastic moment for all involved.

The film is about a group of people dealing with themselves as an old, cranky woman is about to likely to die as her neighbors want her apartment so they can expand their own. While the neighbors don’t want to do anything to hurt anyone, it does leave one of her granddaughters relieved about the whole other while the other is saddened by that prospect. For these four adults and a teenager, they’re all trying to deal with their own place in the world as characters like Kate and Rebecca are two women that really mean well in their generosity. Though it would often backfire for Kate who does upset Abby over the idea of giving away money. Rebecca is a bit more cautious as she has a hard time leading a normal life as she is devoted to taking care of her grandmother until she actually meets someone who is actually a nice guy.

While Alex, Abby, and Mary aren’t entirely selfish people despite their desires for wanting certain things. Alex is just trying to run a store while becomes fascinated by the idea of spa facials where he would have this flirtatious relationship with Mary. Mary likes this relationship although she is having her own issues over by often going to this clothing store and not buy anything. Mary may be the most un-likeable character of the entire film but Nicole Holofcener doesn’t portray her to be that overly-selfish as she does try to help Abby out with her facial breakouts. The script does have a lot of witty dialogue and humor as well as some captivating drama that occurs quite often. The only flaw with it is that it’s uneven due to the fact that there’s a lot of characters involved in their own worlds which doesn’t make the story as tight as it could’ve been.

Holofcener’s direction is quite understated and straightforward in the way she shoots conversations and scenes where characters are walking around the streets of New York City. Yet, the film starts off with these shots of women getting their breasts examined as it’s Holofcener making the audience uncomfortable by what she’s showing. It’s part of her strange yet quirky sense of humor as it revels in the theme of aging that Holofcener does touch on throughout the film. One of Holofcener’s gifts as a filmmaker is the way she directs actors where she can get them to relax and emote in certain ways. Even as she is shooting them on a sidewalk or in a room as she captures the energy of these conversations or allow them to react to their moments in a silent manner. Overall, Holofcener creates an engrossing yet humorous film about people and their willingness to try and be good.

Cinematographer Yaron Orbach does a nice job with the film‘s photography from the colorful daytime look exterior and interior settings to the look of Rebecca and Mary‘s home at night. Editor Robert Frazen does an excellent job with the film‘s editing by utilizing straight yet rhythmic cuts to play with the film‘s humor while maintaining a leisured pace for the film. Production designer Mark White, with art director Lauren Fitzsimmons and set decorators Kim Chapman and Kris Moran, does a brilliant job with the set pieces created from the homes of the characters to the furniture that Kate and Alex are selling in their shop.

Costume designer Ane Crabtree does a wonderful job with the costumes from the casual clothes most of the cast wear to the more stylish look of Mary and Abby. Visual effects supervisor Mark Russell does a good job in recreating some of the exterior of the mountains that Rebecca, Andra, Mrs. Portman, and Eugene go to see. Sound editor Lora Hirschberg does a fine job with the sound work from the exterior settings of the city to some of the intimate moments in some of the interior scenes in the film. The film’s folk-jazz score by Marcelo Zarvos is superb for underplaying the drama and humor of the film.

The casting by Jeanne McCarthy is brilliant for the ensemble that is created along with a slew of appearances from well-known actors such as Scott Cohen as Rebecca’s boss, Kevin Corrigan and Elizabeth Berridge as a couple of furniture sellers, Thomas Ian Nicholas as the very kind Eugene, and Lois Smith as Eugene’s lively grandmother Mrs. Portman. Ann Guilbert is great as the cranky Andra who always spout inappropriate lines about food and everything else while dealing with her old age. Sarah Steele is terrific as the 15-year old Abby who is obsessed with wanting expensive jeans while dealing with her own growing pains and her mother’s obsession with helping people out. Amanda Peet is excellent as the cynical Mary who doesn’t really like her grandmother and always say mean things while befriending Alex over their love of facial spa work.

Oliver Platt is wonderful as the calm yet curious Alex who is interested in Mary’s work while trying to deal with Kate’s own obsession with helping people as well as his furniture business. Rebecca Hall is amazing as the kind and helpful Rebecca who tries to deal with her grandmother as well as her own lonely life as she seeks to find love. Finally, there’s Catherine Keener in a fantastic performance as the well-meaning Kate who tries to deal with her business as well was wanting to make the world a better place. It’s a performance where Keener endures humility as well as the fact that she’s a mess because she can’t fix everything around her as it’s one of Keener’s top performances.

Please Give is a stellar and heartwarming film from Nicole Holofcener. Featuring a remarkable ensemble cast led by Catherine Keener, it’s a film that explores people trying to figure themselves out while helping out those they feel are in need of help. While it doesn’t have a much more concise narrative than Holofcener’s previous films. Holofcener makes up for it by creating real characters that audiences can relate to. In the end, Please Give is a charming film from Nicole Holofcener.

© thevoid99 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Based on biographical novel, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is the story of the crazed life of famed TV game show host/producer Chuck Barris who led a double-life as the host of The Gong Show and claims that he was an agent for the CIA. Directed and starring George Clooney and screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, the film explores Barris’ life as well as the possibility that he was an assassin for the CIA as Sam Rockwell plays the controversial figure. Also starring Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, and Rutger Hauer. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind for all of its ambition and style is a mess of a film from George Clooney.

Alone in a hotel room and feeling paranoid, Chuck Barris starts to write about his life as a kid (Michael Cera) before becoming an adult where he took on various odd jobs to score chicks and briefly get married. Despite losing at bar brawls, Chuck’s break came when he worked as a watchdog for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand where he wrote the song Palisades Park for Freddy “Boom-Boom” Cannon as it scores a hit. While sleeping with a stagehand named Debbie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Chuck meets Debbie’s roommate Penny (Drew Barrymore) as the two begin a relationship. While Chuck tries to pitch various TV shows for ABC, he is rejected until a bar fight catches the attention of CIA agent Jim Byrd (George Clooney) who takes Chuck in as an assassin.

After learning that The Dating Game gets the green light from ABC, Chuck’s show is a major hit as he and Penny live a great life until Chuck is asked to go on a mission with another assassin named Patricia Watson (Julia Roberts). He and Patricia have an affair while he is still having a relationship with Penny as another of his shows in The Newlywed Game becomes a hit. With his work as TV producer going well while doing assassin jobs on the side, Chuck scores his biggest hit in the mid-1970s with The Gong Show that he hosts. Despite being a big star, he is criticized for the decline of quality television while he meets another agent named Keeler (Rutger Hauer) who believes there’s a mole in the CIA.

Things for Chuck become complicated as his relationship with Penny suffers while he becomes paranoid over who the mole is as he asks Byrd who reveals why he recruited him. Living in fear and paranoia, Chuck tries to finish his book and find out who the mole is.

While it’s a bio-pic that is largely stylized with no clear indication whether it’s true or not. It is still an interesting story about the guy who hosted The Gong Show while he was supposedly a killer for the CIA. While Chuck Barris may be lying about these claims that he worked for the CIA, the idea itself does make it far more interesting while possibly indicating why he was so fucked up when he hosted The Gong Show.

Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay is probably the most straightforward and conventional script that he’s done as he does portray Barris as a well-meaning guy who is also a fuck-up. Kaufman does his best to balance the comedy, romance, drama, and suspense that is presented in the film but there isn’t enough to make all of those things to be very interesting or engaging. Particularly as Kaufman wasn’t able to do enough to make it more out there and play with the narrative due to what George Clooney wanted to do as the film’s director.

Clooney’s direction is very engaging and stylish for the way he creates amazing compositions where the humor is very off-the-wall while he also creates some entrancing moments in some of the dark, suspenseful moments. The problem is that Clooney doesn’t allow Kaufman’s script to be much more out there as he tries to integrate too many ideas where it includes scenes where real-life people who knew Barris would commentate. Some of those people interviewed had something to say while some of it felt a bit distracting. Despite some amazing moments in creating great scenes of humor and suspense, Clooney ends making a very messy film that doesn’t do enough to make it more interesting than its premise suggests.

Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel does a good job with the cinematography for much of its third act as he creates some very entrancing shots including Chuck and Byrd’s meeting about the mole. It’s the work in the film’s first half that feels overly-stylized in its look with flashy flares of lighting and tinted shots that goes a little overboard including in the flashback scenes that doesn’t work. Editor Stephen Mirrone does an excellent job with the editing to maintain a leisured pace for the film while creating some stylized montages for some of Chuck and Patricia’s assassinations with Chuck’s own work as a TV producer.

Production designer James D. Bissel does a fantastic job with the set pieces created to play up the differing period of the times from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. Notably the recreation of the game shows that Chuck Barris has produced including The Gong Show as it adds to the air of nostalgia presented in the film. Costume designer Renee April does a wonderful job with the costumes to play up the different periods that the women wear throughout the film . Visual effects supervisor Louis Morin does an excellent job in creating some of the visual effects for some of the look of the old TV footage to some of the entrancing pool meeting scene between Barris and Byrd.

Sound editors Aaron Glascock and Curt Schulkey do nice work on the sound design to create the air of violence that occurs in the film including some of the voiceover work that Barris does in the narration throughout the film. Music composer Alex Wurman creates a score that is quite playful to the humor with elements of jazz while creating a low-key piano score for some of the film’s darker moments.

The casting by Ellen Chenoweth is superb for the ensemble that is created which includes cameo appearances from Dick Clark, Jaye P. Morgan, Gene Patton aka Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, Jim Lange, and the real Chuck Barris plus two funny cameos from Clooney‘s close friends and co-stars from Ocean’s movies. Other small roles include producer Jerry Weintraub as an ABC executive, Richard Kind as a casting executive, Kristen Wilson as Chuck’s secretary Loretta, softcore film star Krista Allen as a woman Chuck meets at the Playboy mansion, Robert John Burke as a FCC investigator, Michael Cera as the young Chuck Barris, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as an American Bandstand stagehand Chuck sleeps with.

Rutger Hauer is excellent as CIA agent Keller who likes Chuck while revealing to him about the mole that is present in the CIA. George Clooney is terrific as the mysterious Jim Byrd who guides Chuck into the world of CIA while revealing why he recruited him. Julia Roberts is good as the femme fatale Patricia Watson who woos Chuck although Roberts is sort of miscast since she isn’t really the kind of person who can exude sex appeal. Drew Barrymore is wonderful as Chuck’s girlfriend Penny who tries to deal with Chuck’s success and the lifestyle that he’s living. Finally there’s Sam Rockwell in an amazing performance as Chuck Barris as Rockwell is the film’s big highlight. Rockwell gives a performance for the ages as he makes Barris into a very complex yet charismatic character who is a mess as Rockwell also exudes the paranoia and flaws of the man as it’s definitely Rockwell at his best.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a good though very messy film from George Clooney and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman that includes a masterful performance from Sam Rockwell. While it’s a film that has a very interesting premise about the life of Chuck Barris. It’s a film where it tries too hard to be over-the-top and play to exaggerations while it tries to be so many things. Particularly as it’s among one of the weakest projects written by Charlie Kaufman as well as the weakest film that George Clooney has directed so far. In the end, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is an interesting but uneven film from George Clooney that does include a magnificent performance from Sam Rockwell.

George Clooney Films: Good Night, and Good Luck - (Leatherheads) - The Ides of March - The Monuments Men

© thevoid99 2012

Burn After Reading

Originally Written and Posted at on 9/14/08 w/ Additional Edits.

Written, produced, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Burn After Reading tells the story of an ex-CIA analyst whose copies of personal CIA files on a CD were taken by his wife that was suddenly found at a workout gym by two employees who try to blackmail the CIA analyst. Meanwhile, the man's wife is having an affair with a government agent who also dates one of the workout gyms' employees. A film about espionage and stupidity, the film explores blackmail in all of it shenanigans as the Coen Brothers return to their unique take on comedy. Starring Coen Brother regulars Frances McDormand, George Clooney, Richard Jenkins, and J.K. Simmons along with John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, David Rasche, Elizabeth Marvel, and Brad Pitt. Burn After Reading is a funny, entertaining film from the Coen Brothers that unfortunately, doesn't live up to their earlier work.

Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) had just quit the CIA after being demoted for his drinking. His wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with a Treasury agent named Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), who is married to a children's author named Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel). With Cox having problems and Katie hoping to divorce him, she copies personal files on a CD to give her lawyer (J. R. Horne) for the divorce plans. Instead, the CD was found at a gym where one of its employees named Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) discovers CIA files. His friend Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) devises a plan to return the CD to Cox with money that she needs for plastic surgery as she is currently on the Internet dating scene.

After a failed meeting with Cox over the CD-money exchange, Chad and Linda turn to a Russian government official (Olek Krupa) to look over the CD to see if there's anything to get. Linda finds herself getting a date with Harry as the two have a good time while Harry is having flings with all sorts of women. Harry however, is aware that he's being followed by agents or whoever. Chad meanwhile, decides to find more about Cox in hopes to get bigger money yet something goes wrong. Harry's life starts to unravel as does his relationship with Katie. With Linda desperate for the money, her boss Ted Treffon (Richard Jenkins) is trying to get her out of this espionage thing. Yet, with Harry becoming paranoid and Osbourne Cox becoming angrier and unpredictable, two CIA officers (David Rasche and J.K. Simmons) try to figure it all out.

What the Coen Brothers try to do with this film is to put people in situations where things begin to unravel. Yet, what happens when an idiot finds personal CIA files on a CD with an accomplice and tries to get a big pay off? Well, a lot can happen if the story had focused on that. Instead, the Coen Brothers create a story that is a bit flat and wildly uneven. While some of the humor the Coen Brothers create is definitely funny and spot on yet the story is at times, unfocused. Plus some of the dialogue that characters like Cox, his wife, and Harry is a bit off. Especially if Cox and his wife say a lot of profanity. Now, profanity maybe okay to say for comedic use and some form of emotion. Yet, if it's done excessively but not in the right way. It becomes profane and uncalled for.

The direction of Joel and Ethan Coen does create some great compositions though at times, it seems a bit lazy. While the film is set in Washington D.C., there's not much of that location shown while a lot of the film is shot in parts of Brooklyn, NY. There's not much that's shown since the Coen Brothers are known for huge landscapes and a huge depth of field. Though their approach is more intimate with some great camera shots and scenery. The film does seem to have a hard time in what it wants to be. It wants to be a comedy, it wants to be a suspense film, or maybe a film with violence since there's bits of heavy violence that goes on. It's as if the Coen Brothers tried to cram a lot into this film and they barely succeed. The comedy for the most part is very funny which is true to their style. Still, the approach that Joel and Ethan Coen create is good but it's a let down considering the humor in some of their earlier comedies.

Taking over for their longtime cinematographer Roger Deakins, who was unavailable due to commitments to shoot Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road, is reknowned Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Known for his acclaimed, dream-like, naturalistic look for the films of Alfonso Cuaron and more recently, Terrence Malick, Lubezki's camera work is good in creating nice shades for the interior settings while the exterior shots of D.C. and Brooklyn are good. It's just that with Coen Brothers and Deakins known for their wide camera shots and Lubezki, who has a similar approach, isn't given much to do. It may look good and create a nice feel but one feels that Lubezki has done better work and kind of makes the hardcore Coen Brothers fan that Deakins shouldn't have done other projects. The Coen Brothers in their Roderick Jaynes alias do some nice work with the editing though the pacing at time tends to drag in some spots while it's rhythm does run smoothly but is often a bit disjointed.

Production designer John Gonchor with longtime set decorator Nancy Haigh and art director David Swayze do a fine job with the look of Osbourne Cox's boat, the Cox home, and a special chair that Harry has created. The Coen Brothers' longtime costume designer Mary Zophres does an excellent job with the costumes that includes the gym uniforms, suits, and dresses for the characters. Longtime sound editor Skip Lievsay and sound designer Craig Berkey do some excellent work with the film's sound mixing and editing that includes sounds of guns, tire squeals, and everything else to capture the film's humor and action. Longtime music composer Carter Burwell brings a nice, percussive-driven score to underscore the film's suspenseful tension and drama.

The cast, assembled by their longtime casting director Ellen Chenowith, is great as it features a cameo from Dermont Mulroney in as a character from a movie-within-a movie that also stars Claire Danes. Other small appearances from Raul Aranas as a gym employee, Jeffrey DeMunn as Linda's cosmetic surgeon, Kevin Sussman and J.R. Horne (who was also in O Brother, Where Art Thou?) as a couple of lawyers are good as they each stand out. Elizabeth Marvel is also good as Harry's wife who doesn't seem to like Katie Cox very much while having a secret of her own. Olek Krupa is excellent as a Russian government official who is intrigued by the files while having a couple funny lines about the content. David Rasche and J.K. Simmons are great as the CIA officials who try to piece up everything that goes in the film as their scenes and dialogue together are some of the film's best highlights. Richard Jenkins is also great as Ted Treffon, the gym manager who pines for Linda and tries to express his feelings only to do so at the wrong time.

Tilda Swinton's performance as the cold, icy Katie Cox is underwritten as Swinton is given really not much to do but act bitchy, be very cold, uncaring, and just stuck-up as Harry's wife says. It's a shame since Swinton isn't given the chance to say something funny or do something funny either as she can be. John Malkovich does get to have some funny moments and one liners as the very angry Osbourne Cox. Yet, scenes where's cursing repeatedly comes off as over-the-top and a bit excessive where his character becomes a caricature as Malkovich is reduced to look silly at times. George Clooney gives a good performance though his character doesn't have much to do either but sleep with women, exercise, build things, and get paranoid. Clooney's performance in the third act following an incident doesn't really work as he tries to be dramatic and it doesn't click with the rest of the film.

France McDormand is excellent, as usual, as Linda Litzke, a superficial woman who feels its time to get plastic surgery and try to go dating while leading the blackmail scheme against Cox. McDormand's performance is one of the highlights as her character tries to remain optimistic and has a clear goal in what she wants. The film's most zaniest and most enjoyable performance goes to Brad Pitt as Chad Feldheimer. Pitt definitely sells the idiocy of this character with a goofy hairdo, a silly smile, and movements to the iPod. Pitt's performance is always welcome and engaging as his character often brings a smile while his antics and shenanigans just keeps on bringing laughs. It's definitely one of Pitt's best performances in his career that as of recently, has been more challenging and taking on very different roles.

While Burn After Reading maybe slightly better than the Coen Brothers' previous comedies of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, fans expecting a superb comedy might be feeling somewhat disappointed. Despite top-notch work from Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand along with a slew of actors in smaller roles, Burn After Reading does succeed in bringing out its entertainment factor and humor. Yet, fans of Joel and Ethan Coen might feel like they've been let down a bit as their expectations are often high. Especially in comparison to the Brothers' other comedies like Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? In the end, Burn After Reading is a good entertaining film from the Coen Brothers but considering their prolific film history, it could've been much better.

(C) thevoid99 2012