Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games

Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is the story about a post-apocalyptic world where a young girl volunteers, in place of her younger sister, to be part of a game where kids kill other kids in a televised contest. In the game, she has to survive while she would befriend one of her competitors. Directed by Gary Ross and script adaptation by Ross, Collins, and Billy Ray, the film is the first part of a trilogy of stories about a young girl who would eventually rebel against the games that would force her to kill various people. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Furhman, Willow Shields, and Donald Sutherland. The Hunger Games is a sprawling yet chilling film from Gary Ross.

In the aftermath of an apocalyptic period that left parts of Panem in poverty and separated in 12 different districts. Children between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected to participate in a brutal game of survival where only one survives in game known as the Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a young girl whose younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) has just turned 12 as the selections of who will represent the district is ahead. Led by its representative Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Primrose is selected until Katniss decides to volunteer while a teen named Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is also selected to represent District 12. Sent to the lavish Capitol City, Katniss and Peeta meet their mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) who shows them what to do while Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) helps them get ready to be introduced for the world.

The game’s director Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) meets with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to discuss the upcoming games while Katniss and Peeta try to deal with the media attention where Haymitch helps them in doing what is to be said as they’re portrayed as star-crossed lovers. With Katinss being the odds on favorite despite the competition that is ahead, the Hunger games go underway. In the course of two weeks, many are immediately killed as Peeta reluctantly joins the sadistic Cato (Alexander Ludwig) in an alliance while Katniss tries to evade everything despite making a few friends along the way. Yet, she realizes what is going on as many watching where rules are eventually changed as she does everything she can to survive this game.

The film is the story of a young girl from a post-apocalyptic world who volunteers for her younger sister to be in the games. Unaware of how brutal the games are as well as what the powers that be are trying to do in order to make the game much more complicated. She does all that she can to survive but she becomes emotionally attached to those she starts to care about including her old friend Peeta who is the underdog in these games. Yet, it would be seen by these people who run the game as they hope to make a big event out of their relationship where emotions run high and things become complicated.

The story about the game itself where children have to kill children in order to survive definitely harkens back to the story Lord of the Flies. The screenplay that is created succeeds in exploring the circumstances these characters have to do. It’s not just in the game they’re playing but also make an impression for those watching on TV all over the country. Behind the scenes become much more complicated as the game’s director sees something that can get ratings but the actions of Katniss will end up threatening everything where even the country’s president starts to notice. A lot of its narrative is told from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen who is this young woman that is just trying to take care of her younger sister and mother in this poverty stricken town. She also has a boyfriend in Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) whom she also cares for. When she volunteers to spare her sister’s life from participating in these games where it’s very likely that she’ll die. She realizes that it’s not just training to survive that she must do.

Since it’s a media event, she has to be presentable to a public clamoring for people to root for. She may be the most skilled person in these games where she would make a grand impression on Crane. She is also the most troubled due to the emotional baggage that she’s carrying as her mentor Hamish is a former participant that remains haunted by his own participation as he tries to help her out as well as Peeta. Peeta may not be as interesting as Katniss as his only skills of survival is his strength and to hide via camouflage. He is aware of the dangers and the fact that he’s a long shot while he also has feelings for Katniss. Though the script does have a few flaws since there is a lot of exposition needed to be explained. It does succeed in creating an element of suspense and terror that occurs as well as creating a world that is truly surreal.

Gary Ross’ direction is pretty good for the way he creates this very different world through amazing wide shots for its locations, in North Carolina, as well as being in the center of the chaos that occurs in these games. He definitely knows how to build suspense in the scenes during the game where it’s all about the uncertainty of survival and what people will do to get ahead. Though a lot of the film in that section isn’t as plot-driven as the film’s first half, Ross does do enough to make it very engaging. Even in moments where he knows to slow things down so that some of the characters can catch a break and strategize.

While it’s among a lot of the highlights of the film that Ross does, the one part of the direction that doesn’t entirely work is the approach to shooting the film on hand-held cameras. In some parts of the dramatic moments of the film as well as the action scenes, the hand-held camera shots do become too shaky where it becomes confusing over what is happening. While it’s not as shaky as some of the current action films of the 2010s, it does become jarring at time where there’s a demand for the camera to remain still. Ross is able to create some amazing tracking shots and controlled camera work yet it’s the hand-held material that really falls flat for the film. Despite the flaws in the direction, Ross is able to succeed in making a solid and entertaining action-thriller.

Cinematographer Tom Stern does a nice job with the film‘s colorful yet lush cinematography from the naturalistic look of the forest scenes to the more extravagant lighting schemes for the capital city scenes. Editors Stephen Mirrione and Juliette Welfing, w/ additional work from Christopher S. Capp, do excellent work in the editing to play up the chaos of the Hunger Games while not delving too much into traditional fast-edits for the action scenes despite the shaky hand-held camera work. Production designer Philip Messina, along with set decorator Larry Dias and art director John Collins, do great work with the set pieces such as the design of the capitol city world as well as the interiors for the training room and penthouses the games‘ participants live in.

Costume designer Judianna Makovsky does an extraordinary job with the lavish costumes created for the film that includes the dresses that many of the female characters and participants wear for the interviews portion of the pre-game scenes. Makeup designer Ve Neill does brilliant work with the crazy look of Effie Trinket as well as some of the camouflage that Peeta wears. Visual effects supervisor Sheena Duggal does some very good work with some of the visual effects made such as the capital city exteriors, the game console room where creatures are created, and the fire that Katniss has to wear on her costume to make her first impression to the public.

Sound editor Lon Bender and sound designer William R. Dean do terrific work with the sound from the naturalistic environment of the Hunger Games location as well as the sound of cannons to signify a death in the game as well as raucous crowd sounds in the capitol city scenes. The film’s score by James Newton Howard wonderful for the bombastic orchestral pieces that is created in some of the film‘s tense moments, notably in the Hunger Games scene, while some of the music is mixed in with dabbles of folk and country courtesy of music supervisor T-Bone Burnett who also compiles a soundtrack ranging from folk to country to play the poverty-world that Katniss and Peeta lived in at District 12.

The casting by Debra Zane is superb for the ensemble that is created for the film as it includes notable small roles from Toby Jones as a Hunger Games reporter, Willow Shields as Katniss’ sister Primrose, Liam Hemsworth as Katniss’ friend Gale, Stanley Tucci as the games’ flamboyant emcee Caesar Flickerman, Lenny Kravitz as the sympathetic make-up artist Cinna, and Elizabeth Banks in a very lavish performance as games representative Effie Trinket. In the roles of some of the participants of the Hunger games, there’s standout performances from Amanda Stenberg as the young District 11 participant Rue, whom Katniss befriends, and Isabelle Fuhrman as the sadistic Clove. In the role of the vicious Cato, Alexander Ludwig is terrible in the part as he is very unconvincing in playing a smug, despicable character. Wes Bentley is excellent as the controlling Seneca Crane who tries to mastermind the game on his own terms.

Donald Sutherland is wonderful as the devious President Snow who tries to control everything around him including the games. Woody Harrelson is brilliant as the troubled mentor Haymitch Abernathy who tries to show Katniss and Peeta the ropes to survive while aiding them outside the confine of the games. Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta who tries to deal with his odds as well as his feelings for Katniss though it’s not entirely remarkable as Hutcherson seems lost in his portrayal of the young kid who doesn’t have a lot of survival skills other than to hide and have physical strength. Finally, there’s Jennifer Lawrence in a marvelous performance as Katniss Everdeen as Lawrence brings a real sense of grit and determination to a character trying to survive as well as wonderment when she deals with the world she’s in. It’s a true star-making performance for the young actress as she makes Katniss Everdeen her own.

The Hunger Games is a stellar yet thrilling film from Gary Ross that features a mesmerizing performance from Jennifer Lawrence. While the film is flawed due to a few directorial decisions, it is still a very engaging story that explores a dystopian world where it’s all about survival that features a strong female protagonist. In the end, The Hunger Games is an enjoyable suspense-drama from Gary Ross.

Gary Ross Films: (Pleasantville) - (Seabiscuit) - (Free State of Jones) - Ocean's 8

The Hunger Games Films: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - (Mockingjay Pt. 1) - (Mockingjay Pt. 2)

© thevoid99 2012

The Killer Inside Me

Based on the novel by Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me is the story of a sociopath deputy sheriff whose good-natured persona is a cover for a sinister one as he has a very troubled affair with a hooker that would lead to all sorts of trouble. Directed by Michael Winterbottom and screenplay by John Curran, the film is an exploration into the mind of a man carrying a very dark, troubled mind. Starring Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Ned Beatty, Tom Bower, Simon Baker, Elias Koteas, and Bill Pullman. The Killer Inside Me for all of its entrancing approach to suspense falls flat due to some very convoluted ideas.

After being asked by superior in Sheriff Bob Maples (Tom Bower) and a construction tycoon named Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), deputy sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) deals with a prostitute named Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) who is having an affair with Conway’s son Elmer (Jay R. Ferguson). Yet, Lou would have a sadomasochistic affair with Joyce while having a relationship with local schoolteacher Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson). With Conway wanting Joyce out of town, she and Lou devise a plan to extort Conway as Conway and Maples agree to the payoff. Yet, Lou would do something that would change everything that would have him risk his reputation as a law-abiding officer.

While District Attorney Howard Hendricks and a local journalist named Joe Rothman (Elias Koteas) suspect Lou. There isn’t a lot of evidence about Lou though Joe knows a lot about Lou’s troubled childhood where he suggests to Lou that he should leave town. After a suspect in a young local teen named Johnnie Papas (Liam Aiken) was arrested, Lou would help the kid although things start to get more grim. When Amy wants to marry him, Lou tries to aim for a normal life until a local bum (Brent Briscoe) reveal what he knows as Lou’s life starts to unravel. Even as more suspicion would arise leading to complications where Lou would face some dark truths.

The film is about a small-town deputy sheriff whose dark mind that involves an affair with a sadomasochistic-loving prostitute leads to trouble where murder, blackmail, and all sorts of mysteries would be involved. A story like this set in the 1950s and told from the perspective of its troubled protagonist would’ve a very interesting story told. However, drawn-out story lines, underwritten characters, and lots of flashback scenes about Lou’s life end up creating a story that loses its suspense as well as its impact. Screenwriter John Curran does a good job with the film’s narration and see how Lou would execute things but some of the narration goes a little overboard at times. Curran succeeds in exploring Lou’s mind and motivation but he doesn’t do enough to make the suspense be more surprising.

Director Michael Winterbottom does a superb job in re-creating the look of 1950s Texas, though it’s shot in New Mexico, while utilizing some very entrancing compositions of the locations as well creating wonderful shots for some of the film’s dramatic moments. The problem is that he is unable to do more with the film’s script in setting up the suspense as its score would often for-tell that something is about to happen. It’s an idea that is quite clich├ęd with suspense as one would expect a director as unconventional with Winterbottom to do something different. Instead, Winterbottom chooses to play things straight while utilizing offbeat music to play up some of the darker moments. Then there’s Winterbottom’s approach to the film’s violence where it is one of the most unsettling moments of the film. It’s definitely one of the more unforgettable moments of the film but it is certainly not for everyone. Still, there’s a reason for its graphic depiction to dwell into Lou Ford’s sick mind. Despite that approach as well as other moments in the film, Winterbottom unfortunately doesn’t do more to make the film more visceral and entrancing as it could’ve been.

Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind does an excellent job with the film‘s very colorful cinematography from the sunny yet lush look of many of the film‘s daytime interior and exterior settings to more entrancing looks for some of its nighttime scenes. Editor Mags Arnold does a nice job with the editing in utilizing rhythmic cuts to play up Ford‘s troubled state of mind though there‘s parts where the pacing lags a bit due to its conventional approach to suspense. Production designers Rob Simons and Mark Tildesley, along with set decorator Jeanne Scott, do great work with the look of Ford‘s lavish home as well as the look of the cars and appliances of that period.

Costume designer Lynette Meyer does a wonderful job with the costumes in the design of 1950s clothing that the women wear from the more conservative dresses of Amy to the more stylish look of Joyce. The visual effects by Mark Knapton and Gus Martinez do some work in the film‘s lone visual effects scene towards the end of the film where the results aren‘t very good. Sound editor Joakim Sundstrom does terrific work with the sound to create tension in some of the film’s chilling moments as well as quieter ones such as Ford’s conversation with Johnnie Papas.

The film’s score by Melissa Parmenter and Joel Cadbury is pretty good for its low-key orchestral score though at times, it is used to help set up the suspense which only makes things seem more predictable. Music supervisor Chadwick Brown provides a nice soundtrack of country, blues, and ragtime music of the 1950s though some of the way is used was very misguided.

The casting by J.C. Cantu and Mary Vernieu is terrific for the ensemble that is created as it includes notable small roles from Liam Aiken as the young accused teen Johnnie Papas, Jay R. Ferguson as Chester’s playful son Elmer, Brent Briscoe as the mysterious bum who tries to blackmail Lou, Elias Koteas as a sympathetic journalist who tries to help Lou get out of town, and Bill Pullman as an attorney who shows up late in the film despite a very bad and over-the-top performance when he first appears in the film. Tom Bower is very good as Lou’s chief Bob Maples whose love for Lou starts to fall apart once Lou becomes a suspect as he tries to cope with it. Simon Baker is excellent as the cunning D.A. Howard Hendricks who tries to push Tom’s button’s any way he can. Ned Beatty is superb as the smarmy Chester Conway who tries to get Lou to buy out Joyce.

Jessica Alba gives a pretty decent performance as the submissive hooker Joyce who falls for Lou where Alba has a nice screen presence although she gives a very awkward performance in the film’s heavier moments. Kate Hudson is horrible as Lou’s girlfriend Amy where it’s not just that the character is underwritten but Hudson’s performance is at times over-the-top or underperformed where she seems to be sleepwalking through the role. Finally, there’s Casey Affleck in a tremendous performance as the chilling Lou Ford where Affleck brings a wonderful charm to his character that is balanced by a very dark demeanor. It’s definitely a very entrancing performance by Affleck who definitely has the right touches to play this character.

For all of its ambition and emphasis to explore the dark mind of a troubled man, The Killer Inside Me is a truly lackluster film from Michael Winterbottom. Despite Casey Affleck’s performance and some fantastic moments in the direction, the film falls short in terms of building up its suspense as well as trying to draw-up too many things about the Lou Ford character. For fans of Michael Winterbottom, the film will serve as a letdown considering the fact that he chooses to create something more straightforward while not doing enough to make the suspense genre more intriguing. In the end, The Killer Inside Me is a very disappointing film from Michael Winterbottom.

Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - I Want You - (With or Without You (1998 film)) - Wonderland (1999 film) - The Claim - 24 Hour Party People - In This World - Code 46 - 9 Songs - Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story - The Road to Guantanamo - A Mighty Heart - Genova - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy) - (The Face of An Angel)

© thevoid99 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

9 Songs

Originally Written and Posted at on 12/11/06/ w/ Additional Edits.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom, 9 Songs is a half-concert film, half-love story about a young British climatologist and a young American exchange student having a passionate affair in London amidst the rock scene that's going on in London. Taking a cinema verite approach to the concert footage and the dramatic story, the film is told unscripted and an improvisational take. Starring Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stiley. 9 Songs is an intense, thrilling erotic-concert film that blurs the genres from the often unpredictable Michael Winterbottom.

Taking a trip to Antarctica, Matt (Kieran O'Brien) reflects on an affair he had with an American exchange student named Lisa (Margo Stiley) he met several months ago at the Brixton Academy where they both saw the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Immediately, an attraction develops both emotionally and sexually as she often lived in his British apartment where they would go see several shows by the Von Bondies, Elbow, Primal Scream, the Dandy Warhols, Super Furry Animals, Franz Ferdinand, and Michael Nyman. Despite they're dysfunctions, Matt and Lisa are deeply in love as they engage in many sexual antics as he shows her what he does as a climatologist while they dabbled in a bit of drugs and other sex games. The relationship becomes intense as they test their own individual passions where they know that it's not going to last despite this amazing experience.

Since the film has a lack of a plot, Winterbottom tells the story in a simple way where it's almost documentary-like to the point where everything feels natural and real. Especially the sex since a lot of the sex is shown explicitly as well as the fact that O'Brien and Stiley are performing unsimulated, uncompromising sex. Though audiences will debate whether the sex is pornographic, Winterbottom chose to tell it in a way where it is a love story of a different kind. The sex isn't really meant to shock but to titillate the audience where it's something that people can relate to in terms of sex. The concert footage is really shown in the way the characters of Matt and Lisa have a passion for not just themselves but for the bands they love. It's really a love story in the simplest of forms that's really more adult as it's wonderfully directed by Winterbottom.

Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind does wonderful hand-held DV camera work to give the film a documentary feel since it's all improvisational and looks real in many of the film's concert hall scenes shot in the Brixton Academy as well as the famous Hammersmith Odeon. Zyskind also brings a natural look to the film's dramatic sequences where it's wonderfully lit. Editor Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom bring a lot of style and jump-cuts to the editing where the film doesn't feel slow or too fast since it's wonderfully paced in its 69-minute running time. Sound recordist Stuart Wilson also does great work in bringing the atmosphere of the concerts as well as the world of Matt and Lisa. Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stiley meanwhile gives excellent performances where the two definitely have chemistry as well as differing personalities in which O'Brien is more laid-back and sensitive while Stiley is more outgoing and adventurous.

The film's soundtrack and performances from the bands are all wonderful while B.R.M.C. are given two performances to complete the 9 songs concept. Other tracks from Michael Nyman, Goldfrapp, Salif Kieta, Franz Ferdinand, and Elbow are also played in he background. The music is exciting and energetic to reveal the passion of the characters.

The Region 1 DVD of 9 Songs in its full, uncut version presents the film in the aspect ratio of 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen format with 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS Surround Sound. The special features are varied that includes interviews with director Michael Winterbottom who talked about wanting to do a concert film and a sex drama with a lot of realism. In the end, he admittedly improvised and worked without a script while shooting the sex scenes, he wanted to capture a realism and get the actors comfortable despite the fact that there's Winterbottom, cinematographer Marcel Zyskind, and sound recordist Stuart Wilson in the room while they have sex.

Actors Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stiley are also interviewed individually as O'Brien discusses meeting Winterbottom about the project and how he got prepared for the sex scenes where he and Stiley, prior to filming had to get to know each other. Stiley meanwhile, discussed how she auditioned for the part and how she felt protected by Winterbottom. While interview was the longest at 13-minutes, Stiley revealed her own personality which is different from her character and how she got involved in the creative process as she, O'Brien got to collaborate with Winterbottom.

One big feature that is a bonus for the fans of the bands playing is an un-edited, concert performance-only of all the bands playing their songs. More music bonuses come in the form of some music videos. Two from the Dandy Warhols, one from the Von Bondies, and one from Elbow. A photo gallery showing promotional pictures plus the locations on where the film was shot as well as the film's theatrical trailer which is very sexy along with trailers for Gregg Araki's brilliant Mysterious Skin, the highly-acclaimed Korean film Oldboy, and another independent film called Milwaukee, Minnesota. Overall, the DVD is filled with a lot of stuff fans of sex and rock n' roll can enjoy.

When the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival with no press, no promotion, and not even in any form of competition, it sparked a huge firestorm. It was considered to be the most sexually-explicit British film ever made and the result gave Winterbottom an international hit. Despite the controversy or because of it, it did give the film a lot of attention and having an audience and press divided over the film. Still, whether certain audiences like explicit sex or not. 9 Songs is still a wonderful achievement from Michael Winterbottom. After all, this is a good movie for those who wants some nice, hardcore sex with some good ol' rock n' roll music.

Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - I Want You - (With or Without You (1998 film)) - Wonderland (1999 film) - The Claim - 24 Hour Party People - In This World - Code 46 - Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story - The Road to Guantanamo - A Mighty Heart - Genova - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) - The Killer Inside Me - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy)- (The Face of An Angel)

© thevoid99 2012

In This World

Originally Written and Posted at on 6/29/04 w/ Additional Edits.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by Tony Grisoni, In This World is about two Afghan teenagers in a Pakistan refugee camp deciding to seek refuge in London. Leaving their families behind, the two boys go through the sections of Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Italy, France, and London, in a four-month trip from February to June 2002. Along the way, they endure political strife, cultural differences, and tragedy where freedom is come at a whole lot of costs. Winner of the 2003 Golden Bear prize at the Berlin Film Festival along with the British Academy Award for Best Non-English film, In This World is an amazing journey in today's chaotic world from one of Britain's finest filmmakers.

The film begins in February 2002 in Peshawar, Pakistan, near the border of Afghanistan where already, refugees from the war-torn country are fleeing. Living in the Peshawar camp is a small, 16-year old boy named Jamal (Jamal Udin Torabi). Living with his little brother and relatives, Jamal is seeking to get out of Pakistan with the war between the U.S. and Al-Qaeda increasing. With an older teenager named Enayat (Enayatullah), the two meet with men who are trying to get Afghans out of Pakistan. Jamal and Enayat take the offer with some money given to them for currency exchange in Iran along with some supplies needed. Jamal gets ready to leave as he bids farewell to his family along with Enayat as they make their way to Quetta, Pakistan for their first stop.

During their trip to Quetta, section patrolmen who are watching stop them and Jamal gives one of the patrolmen Enayat's Walkman as a bribe. Enayat couldn't believe that Jamal forced him to give him that but sacrifices had to be made. After stopping in Quetta, they drive south all the way to the Iranian border where they stop in a town. They meet a man who gives them shelter and new clothes so they wouldn't be suspected of being Afghans. Plus, they also had to talk in another Islamic dialect for more proof. After a few days, they take a bus but a patrolman stops the bus and learns that the two are Afghans were they were sent back to Pakistan on April 2, 2002. They are back in a Pakistan town for a few days where they get help and take a bus all the way to Tehran.

After a few days in Tehran, they take another car that will lead them to a nearby refugee camp in the Kurdistan Mountains where they meet fellow Kurdish refugees. They walk to the Iranian-Turkish border where they arrive in Turkey and stay at another camp. For the next several days, Enayat and Jamal worked in a factory to take them on a trip to Istanbul so they can take a ship with fellow Kurds to go to Italy. After days of working, trouble began to brew and the two companions set on a ride to Istanbul where they and fellow Kurdish refugees including a baby are in a metal compartment so they can smuggle themselves on a ship to Catanzaro, Italy. During the 40-hour stay in the metal compartment, everyone begins to lose their breath and upon their arrival, everyone but Jamal and the baby were the ones to survive but the rest had either passed out or died. Jamal is forced to survive by himself where he steals a woman's purse to buy a train ticket to Paris and then go a nearby camp near the English Channel where he meets Yusef. Yusef helps him to get to his arrival to London in June where Jamal makes it but at a lot of cost along with a very uncertain future.

Shot in DV-video handheld camera, the film almost has a Dogme 95-like feel, especially in that same realm director Michael Winterbottom used with cinematographer Robby Muller. The only differences is that the cinematography by Marcel Zyskind is more exquisite and ravishing in conveying the realism the journey with Winterbottom's fluent direction that gives the audience a real third-person view as if the audience is part of the journey as well. With only a small crew filming that included Winterbottom, Zyskind, and sound mixer Stuart Wilson, the film is given a minimalist feel with its jerky camera angles and worldly wide-angle shots. Tony Grisoni's screenplay gives the film a very simplistic tone, particularly in an epic-like journey where it relies on its simplicity and improvisational dialogue with its main characters.

To call In This World a foreign film made by a British director seems to be very pig-headed when really, it's a world film. The performances by Jamal Udin Torabi and Enayatullah aren't just realistic but also compelling and sympathetic. Torabi brings the more intellectual approach to his relationship with Enayatullah where he teaches him a bit of English and street skills. Enayatullah meanwhile, is more of the adult in the film and is more of a dream than his younger companion. These performances along with smaller roles throughout the film are very natural, particularly since they're playing as themselves and bringing light to the Islamic culture of Pakistan and Iran.

The cultural differences of this film is very stimulating to watch whereas Pakistan seems to be more in a Third World kind of background with its camps and abandoned buildings. Iran is a bit more modern, especially in it's clothing though some have chosen to wear the traditional robes. The film is an amazing look into the cultural differences of Asia and Europe. Especially with Dario Maianelli's melancholic, orchestral film score that really sets the town for the film's sadness and tragedy along with a wonderful film soundtrack of Islamic music from traditional to modern. From the viewpoint of an outsider like Winterbottom, we begin to see that while the look and sounds of Islam may be different from our own world but in truth, it's clearly not lost in translation since we all enjoy similar ideals and freedoms.

The 2004 DVD release from Sundance in comparison to its recent series is probably the most superior. Notably because of Michael Winterbottom's involvement by making an introduction on why he wanted to do the film and how he wanted to present the Islamic world to a wide audience. Along with its widescreen format along with English subtitles, the features include production notes and biographies when you put on your DVD-rom drive. The special features also include two different trailers for In This World,one American and another is British with different scenes and introductions. From Sundance comes highlights from its film series of movies like The Other Side of the Bed, Searching for Paradise, The Slaughter Rule, and many more movies.

The best features is a behind-the-scenes look of the making of the film with commentary from Winterbottom and screenwriter Tony Grisoni where they talked about the approach of the film and their relationship with the actors which turned out to be very playful. What is really surprising was given to the strict rule of the Islam nations; they actually allowed Winterbottom to film the movie since he had permission slips, papers, and such along with his crew and actors. Also shown in contrast with the film's dark tone is a lot of football matches between the crew and actor and townspeople.

In This World is an entrancing film from Michael Winterbottom as it stands as one of his best films. A true genre-bending film that is part-road film and part drama, it is definitely an unforgettable film that explores what it takes to find freedom in the post-9/11 world. It's also a film that allows its audience to be engaged into a world that is foreign while being an extra passenger in this incredible journey. In the end, In This World is a sensational film from Michael Winterbottom.

Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - I Want You - (With or Without You (1998 film)) - Wonderland (1999 film) - The Claim - 24 Hour Party People - Code 46 - 9 Songs - Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story - The Road to Guantanamo - A Mighty Heart - Genova - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) - The Killer Inside Me - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy) - (The Face of An Angel)

© thevoid99 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Project Nim

Directed by James Marsh, Project Nim is the story about a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky who is used as research to communicate through sign language in order to develop contact with humans. The documentary explores the research with interviews from scientists and animal trainers about the late chimpanzee and how he managed to touch the lives of those he communicated. The result is a truly heartwarming yet exhilarating story about a chimpanzee who touches the lives of those who cared for him.

The film is about a little chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky who is taken from his mother in Oklahoma two weeks after he was born to be part of a research to see how animals could communicate with humans. Though this research would span for nearly five years and through various female teachers who become part of this project headed by Herbert Terrace of Columbia University. With another man named Bill Tynan part of the project as it was moved to various locations including a very rich estate with a pond and trees in upstate New York. With media attention about this project and Nim’s progress from learning more than a hundred words via sign language. Things eventually fell apart through departures, financial difficulties, and Nim’s growing animal urges that led to the closing of the project as Nim returns home to Oklahoma in the place where he was born.

Despite difficulties in interacting with other chimps until Nim was cared by the eccentric Bob Ingersoll, Nim would find a human to connect with until he was taken away by a pharmaceutical animal testing lab from NYU. Controversy over what happens to Nim becomes public including Terrace’s piece about the project as Terrace would later express regret over the report he gave. Though Nim would be freed from the lab and purchased by the Black Beauty Ranch in Texas. The trauma that he faced at the lab only caused Nim to feel lost until the early 1990s when Ingersoll returned after being banned from the facilities for a decade. With a few chimps coming to the ranch, Ingersoll would help ensure Nim’s happiness as well as see the progression of the new chimps in learning to sign.

Told largely through archival home movies, news reports, and interviews with the people that took care of Nim. James Marsh crafts a film that explores the unique world of these people who have a very special connection to this chimpanzee. They all talk about how much Nim impacted them where they were more than just teachers. They treat him as if he is a human being despite his growth into being a full-fledge chimpanzee unaware of his strength. With a lot of these video footage about Nim’s progression from learning one word to more than a hundred. Marsh goes a very straightforward narrative to tell Nim’s story though he would use a few re-enactments for key scenes about the different environment Nim would encounter.

For the interview segments, Marsh would utilize certain frames for the people to tell their part in Nim’s story yet when they’re about to be gone from the story. Marsh’s camera would slowly pan in a tracking shot from the person to a wall. This approach to the style in these interview segments as it’s shot by cinematographer Michael Simmonds with set design by Markus Kirschner to give these people a chance to state their piece. The most interesting character aside from Nim is Bob Ingersoll who is this eccentric hippie that truly loved Nim as he taught Nim the sign language to smoke some weed. It’s among some of the funnier moments in the film as some of it is quite light-hearted but also serious. Overall, Marsh creates a truly engaging yet touching film about a chimp and the researchers that cared for him.

Editor Jinx Godfrey does a brilliant job with the editing in utilizing the home movies to help play up the narrative and inter-cut with the people who are being interviewed with this tight yet masterfully-crafted cut presented in a methodical tone. Music composer Dickon Hinchliffe creates a dazzling score that mixes low-key orchestral arrangements with folk instruments to enhance some of the drama that plays out during the film.

Project Nim is an engrossing yet enchanting film from James Marsh. It is definitely one of 2011’s most intriguing and heart-warming documentaries about man’s communication with an animal. Notably one as charming and loveable like Nim Chimpsky who is definitely one unforgettable chimpanzee. Project Nim is a marvelous film from James Marsh.

James Marsh Films: (The Animator of Prague) - (The Burger and the King: The Life & Cuisine of Elvis Presley) - (Wisconsin Death Trip) - (The Team (2005 film)) - (The King (2005 film)) - Man on Wire - Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 - (Shadow Dancer) - The Theory of Everything

© thevoid99 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Genova (2008 film)

Directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by Winterbottom and Laurence Coriat, Genova is the story of a widowed professor and his two American daughters who move to Italy after the death of their mother. There, they deal with their new surroundings as they all try to come to terms with loss. Starring Colin Firth, Catherine Keener, Willa Holland, Perla Haney-Jardine, and Hope Davis. Genova is a touching yet enchanting drama from Michael Winterbottom.

After the death of his wife Marianne (Hope Davis) from a car accident, Joe (Colin Firth) decides to take a job to teach English literature at a university in Genova, Italy. Taking his two daughters in 16-year old Kelly (Willa Holland) and 10-year old Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) with him for the entire year, they’re accompanied by Joe’s old college friend Barbara (Catherine Keener) who also teaches at the university. Things aren’t easy as Mary is ravaged with guilt over the accident as Joe has his two daughters take piano lessons from a local teacher. Kelly meanwhile, becomes interested in socializing as she meets a young man named Lorenzo (Alessandro Giuggioli). With Barbara showing Joe and the girls the sites in the town as well as other places as she gets to know Mary who claims to see her mother’s ghost.

When Barbara takes Joe and the girls to a beach that is nearby a monastery, Barbara takes Mary to a place to light candles where Mary suddenly wanders around and gets lost prompting Joe to try and find her. Joe becomes more worried about Mary while Kelly starts to come home late from parties as she starts to rebel and do things behind her father’s back. With Mary still seeing her mother’s ghost, Joe takes an interest in one of his students in Rosa (Margherita Romeo) much to Barbara’s chagrin where he would go out with Rosa on one particular day. With Kelly also out, Mary remains haunted by the visions of her mother prompting her father and sister to realize what has been happening.

The film is about a British professor who decides to try and start over following the death of his wife as he takes his two daughters to the exotic world of Genova. While he takes a job teaching English literature for a summer course in a local university, his two daughter go into very different directions to deal with loss of their mother. For the rebellious teenager Kelly, she ventures into a world of parties and falls for a young man while keeping it secret from her father. For the younger daughter Mary, she tries to find solace in attending spiritual places to light candles as she is surrounded by the ghost of her mother while dealing with the guilt over how her mother died. While an old friend of Joe in Barbara would try and help out, she would start to feel guilty thinking she’s getting too close.

The screenplay that Michael Winterbottom and Laurence Coriat create is an exploration of grief where they emphasize more on following these characters in this new world they’re adapting to rather than play to the conventions of a melodrama. Since the film doesn’t have much of a plot as it wanders around a lot for the characters to figure out how to adapt to this new environment. Yet, there are moments of repetition of what these people do for their surroundings though there’s a break every once in a while from these daily routines. Notably as there’s a few moments where Mary cries in anguish prompting Joe to comfort her as she remains haunted by the events presented early in the film. The characters are definitely flawed because they’re all unsure of how to move on. Though Kelly starts to act out by going home late and become cruel to her younger sister and dad. It’s only because she is at an age where she is trying to find herself but the loss of a maternal figure adds to her confusion.

Winterbottom’s direction is truly engaging in the way he presents the film without trying to make Genova into a world where it’s all about the beaches and luxurious buildings. Instead, Winterbottom avoids the postcard look of the film to go for something more realistic as he takes the camera into these narrow alleys where it’s a place that is very strange and dark. Since it is presented largely in a hand-held digital camera style, Winterbottom makes a film where it is about this new environment and this family trying to start anew. Though the early portions of the film shot partially in Sweden and Chicago, the first scene that involves the accident has Winterbottom create something simpler and then cut to black only using sound to emphasize what is happening.

The presentation of these early scenes are shown with a much tighter and controlled approach to the direction while everything else in Genova is much looser. Though the locations are a bit claustrophobic at times and other locations much more spread-out. There is something to that presentation that is engrossing to watch while the drama that unfolds makes it more entrancing. Notably the scenes where Mary would often see her mother either in her room or at a certain location. The overall work has Winterbottom create a truly mesmerizing film about grief and coping with loss.

Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind does an amazing job with the film‘s very vibrant and colorful digital photography to make the film have a more realistic look as well as maintaining some hypnotic lighting set-up for some of the film‘s interior setting. Editing the film with Michael Winterbottom is Paul Monaghan as the duo create a very stylish approach to the editing utilizing rhythmic cuts to play up some of the drama that unfolds in the film. Production designer Mark Digby does a nice job with the set pieces created such as the apartment Joe and his daughters live in to a few other set pieces in some of the locations in Genova.

Costume designer Celia Yau does a wonderful job with the costumes for the more youthful clothes of Kelly and Mary to complement their differing personalities. Sound designer Joakim Sundstrom does excellent work with the sound to capture raucous atmosphere of the locations including the party scenes and beaches. The film’s music by Melissa Parmenter is superb for its somber yet evocative presentation as it’s mostly low-key with piano pieces while a lot of the film’s soundtrack includes a mix of classical piano sonatas, a score piece by Georges Delerue, and alternative rock cuts from Modest Mouse.

The casting by Wendy Brazington is brilliant for the small ensemble that is created as it includes small appearances from Alessandro Giuggioli as Kelly’s Italian lover Lorenzo, Margherita Romeo as Joe’s Italian student Rosa, and Hope Davis in a very crucial yet ethereal role as Joe’s late wife Marianne. Perla Haney-Jardine is great as the young Mary who seeks some sort of spiritual answer from her late mother as she is filled with guilt for her mother’s death. Willa Holland is excellent as the teenager Kelly who tries to rebel by going to parties and explore her sexuality as a way to act her loss. Catherine Keener is terrific as Joe’s old friend Barbara who helps the family out while trying to understand what Mary is dealing with. Colin Firth is superb as the grieving professor Joe who tries to deal with Mary’s guilt and Kelly’s rebellious nature while wanting to start over as it’s a very touching performance from the British actor.

Genova is a rich and exotic film from Michael Winterbottom featuring top-notch performances from Colin Firth, Catherine Keener, Willa Holland, and Perla Haney-Jardine. The film is definitely one of Winterbottom’s most unconventional yet surprisingly accessible film in terms of its exploration of loss while adding a realistic look to the city of Genova. In the end, Genova is a radiant yet engrossing film from Michael Winterbottom.

Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - I Want You - (With or Without You (1998 film)) - Wonderland (1999 film) - The Claim - 24 Hour Party People - In This World - Code 46 - 9 Songs - Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story - The Road to Guantanamo - A Mighty Heart - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) - The Killer Inside Me - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy) - (The Face of An Angel)

© thevoid99 2012

24 Hour Party People

Directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, 24 Hour Party People is the story about the rise and fall of Factory Records from the late 1970s to the early 1990s told by its founder in a Granada TV reporter named Tony Wilson. The film explores Wilson’s desire to showcase something new in the advent of punk as he would launch the careers of acts Joy Division/New Order and the Happy Mondays all hailing from the city of Manchester. Starring Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Lennie James, Paddy Considine, Danny Cunningham, Paul Popplewell, Sean Harris, and Andy Serkis. 24 Hour Party People is a whimsical yet truly original docu-drama from Michael Winterbottom.

Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) is an unhappy reporter for Granada TV as he attends a local concert with his wife Lindsay (Shirley Henderson) and friend Alan Erasmus (Lennie James) where playing at the show were the Sex Pistols. Along with many soon-to-be-famous figures attending this legendary concert, Wilson creates a show called So It Goes that becomes a hit in Manchester as it explored this new wave of artists emerging from the punk scene. Tony decides to end the show in order to create a showcase for local bands as it would include Joy Division managed by Rob Gretton (Paddy Considine). Though Tony would later have a liasons with a couple of hookers, Lindsay would in turn have sex with the Buzzcocks’ Howard Devoto (Martin Hancock). With the help of Erasmus and Gretton, Tony decides to form his own label called Factory Records as he signs Joy Division to the label.

Joy Division becomes a success, with the help of its troubled producer Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis), but the health issues of its singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) nearly derails everything as a tour to the U.S. is about to happen. Instead, Curtis’ suicide would end things as Lindsay leaves Tony who forges ahead with the label’s next venture in a club called the Hacienda. With Hannett gone from the Factory Records label and Tony unsure about the label’s future as well as the future of the Hacienda. Joy Division is revived as New Order where their song Blue Monday becomes a hit despite the expensive packaging by Peter Saville (Enzo Cilenti). Then a new local band emerged in the mid-1980s called the Happy Mondays would arrive with a new sound as Tony signs them to the label.

With Hannett returning to produce the Mondays’ second album Bummed, a new culture was emerging as Manchester became the capital of cool while the local music scene became massive. The Hacienda becomes the place to party as Tony becomes enamored with success and gains a new girlfriend in beauty queen Yvette Livesey (Kate Magowan). Yet, things would eventually fall apart due to financial mismanagement, Martin Hannett’s death, and the drug use of Happy Mondays’ vocalist Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham). All of this would force Tony to do something that would be against everything he stood for.

Most music bio-pics or stories about a certain music scene/time period often deviates to certain formulas. What made this film stand out from the rest is the fact that it doesn’t play by the rules. Instead, the fourth wall is often broken by its protagonist Tony Wilson as he would comment on everything that is happening in this 16-year period of success and failure. At one point, the real Tony Wilson appears directing a TV show as its doppelganger would point him out to emphasize the absurdity of this film. While Wilson may claim that he’s just a supporting character in this film as it’s about the music and the men who made that music. There is clearly no doubt that he is the most interesting person in that story.

Frank Cottrell Boyce creates a screenplay that plays with the rise-and-fall formula by doing the one thing most music bio-pics or docu-dramas often do which is to take dramatic liberties with the real story. It’s something that is frowned upon by music critics and historians who feel that it takes away from the real story. What Bryce does is that he plays up to these exaggerations by having the audience be aware that some of the moments that is shown on screen is an exaggeration. One key scene is where Tony catches his wife Lindsay having sex with Howard Devoto as there’s a janitor stating “I don’t remember any of this happening”. That person is the real Howard Devoto as Tony would later admit that it never happened but Tony would counter that by stating that he’s sticking to the legend of what happened.

It’s the exaggerations, breaking the fourth wall, and not playing by the rules that allows the story to be more than just what it is expected in its genre. Boyce’s script is filled with lots of humor as well as pretty accurate portrayals of the individuals who would help contribute to the history of British popular music. Ian Curtis is portrayed as a troubled genius. Shaun Ryder is portrayed as a drug-addicted writer that Tony claims is the greatest Poet since Yeats. Rob Gretton is portrayed as a short-tempered man who is willing to get into fights with everyone. Peter Saville is known as a guy who creates these great posters and art work yet would often miss the deadline. Then there’s Tony Wilson who is portrayed as many characters would often call him. A twat. Yet, it’s a very comical character of a man whose principle about giving the artist the freedom to fuck off while just wanting a fair share of whatever profits are made.

Michael Winterbottom’s direction is definitely filled with style as he creates a film that plays up to its off-the-wall story. Shooting on location in Manchester, Winterbottom aims for the authenticity of that city as he would also create a look that is very engaging and vibrant. Notably as all of it shot on digital with elements of grain to heighten the look of the different periods that is displayed in the film. Featuring re-creations of the TV programs that Tony Wilson hosted inter-cut with actual archival footage of those programs. Winterbottom gets a chance to re-create a period in time that is never going to be replicated.

Another key element of Winterbottom’s direction is the comedy as Winterbottom opens the film with Tony Wilson reporting about hang gliding that is presented with Wilson acting like a moron. A lot of the humor is mostly improvised in order to not go for cheap gags while some of it is quite dark. The scene where Shaun Ryder meets Bez (Chris Coghill) for the first time via UFO is among one of the film’s most surreal moments as well as another scene involving Shaun and his brother Paul (Paul Popplewell) who throw bread to pigeons as if it was a war film. The overall work that Winterbottom does is truly phenomenal in terms of its emphasis to re-create a period in time and tell it with great humor.

Cinematographer Robby Mueller does an excellent job with the film‘s grainy digital photography to play up the grimy look of the 1970s and 1980s for its exteriors to the more colorful lighting set-ups in the Hacienda nightclub scenes along with black-and-white shots for some of the musical performances. Editor Trevor Waite does an amazing job with the film’s editing in creating unconventional rhythms for the film’s pacing while utilizing stylish cuts for some of the film’s transition and music scenes. Production designer Mark Tildesley, along with set decorator Lucy Howe and art director Paul Cripps, does great work in the re-creation of the Hacienda club for its interiors as well as the other club in the late 1970s where Tony presented the bands of Manchester.

Costume designers Stephen Noble and Natalie Ward do fantastic work with the costumes made from the bellbottoms of the 1970s to the more baggy clothing of the late 80s/early 90s. Makeup designers Janita Doyle and Jill Sweeney do wonderful work with the hair and makeup design for some of the characters, notably the Martin Hannett character, to emphasize the changing times throughout the film. Sound editor Zane Hayward does amazing work with the sound pieces such as the atmosphere of the Hacienda nightclub to the musical performances that occur in the late 70s set pieces.

Music supervisors Liz Gallacher and Pete Tong create a truly phenomenal soundtrack from start to finish that truly explores the best of what the music scene had to offer from 1976 to the early 90s. With music ranging from punk, house music, Madchester, post-punk, and new wave. It’s a truly intoxicating soundtrack to listen to as it features music from the Sex Pistols, the Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio, Joy Division/New Order, the Happy Mondays, 808 State, the Clash, A Guy Named Gerald, the Buzzcocks, the Jam, and many others. It’s definitely one of the great film soundtracks of the last decade.

The casting by Wendy Brazington does a truly outstanding job with assembling the film’s cast and cameos that appear for this film. Among those making cameos are the real Tony Wilson as a TV director, Happy Mondays bassist Paul Ryder as a drug dealer, Stone Roses bassist Mani, Mark E. Smith of the Fall, Clint Boon of Inspiral Carpets, Vini Reilly in a very brief cameo, Keith Allen as London Records executive Roger Ames, Kenny Baker of Star Wars as a zookeeper, Martin Hancock as Howard Devoto, DJ Mike Pickering, Happy Mondays backing vocalist Rowetta, and Howard Devoto as the janitor who calls out on his supposed tryst with Lindsay Wilson. Notable small appearances include Simon Pegg as a guard, Rob Brydon as a journalist, Peter Kay as club owner Don Tonay, Kate Magowan as Tony Wilson’s third wife Yvette, Dave Gorman as local icon John the Postman, and Enzo Cilenti as the always late graphic designer Peter Saville.

Playing the members of Joy Division/New Order, John Simm, Ralf Little, and Tim Horrocks are very good in their respective roles of Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris while Sean Harris gives a very haunting performance as Ian Curtis. In the part of the members of the Happy Mondays, Paul Popplewell and Chris Coghill are funny in their respective roles as Paul Ryder and Bez while Danny Cunningham is hilarious as drug-out sleaze-bag Shaun Ryder. Shirley Henderson is really good as Tony’s first wife Lindsay while Lennie James is terrific as Factory Records co-founder Alan Erasmus.

The film’s best supporting performances go to both Andy Serkis and Paddy Considine in their respective roles as producer Martin Hannett and Joy Division/New Order manager Rob Gretton. Serkis brings a very dark yet comical performance as the very brash Martin Hannett who serves as a fellow troublemaking confidant to the Mondays. Considine brings a wonderful sense of humor to the role as the short-tempered Gretton who is always ready to beat someone up and isn’t afraid to say anything. Finally, there’s Steve Coogan in a truly marvelous performance as the late Tony Wilson. Coogan brings a great sense of wit and swagger to a man that is kind of an idiot while proving to be an ambitious fuck-up. It’s definitely the best performance that Coogan has given in his career.

24 Hour Party People is a truly fun yet ravishing musical docu-drama from Michael Winterbottom. Thanks in part to a truly brilliant ensemble cast led by Steve Coogan along with Frank Cottrell Boyce’s whimsical screenplay. It is definitely one of the great films about a piece of musical history that explores the world that would help shape the British indie scene. Particularly as the film serves as a great introduction to Madchester, punk, post-punk, and house music thanks in part to a top-notch soundtrack. In the end, 24 Hour Party People is an extraordinary film from Michael Winterbottom.

Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - I Want You - (With or Without You (1998 film)) - Wonderland (1999 film) - The Claim - In This World - Code 46 - 9 Songs - Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story - The Road to Guantanamo - A Mighty Heart - Genova - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) - The Killer Inside Me - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy) - (The Face of An Angel)

© thevoid99 2012

Wonderland (1999 film)

Originally Written and Posted at on 5/27/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by Laurence Coriat, Wonderland is an ensemble-based feature about three sisters and their parents preparing for Guy Fawkes Day while dealing with their own individual lives. The film reveals the dysfunctions and loneliness in family life as sisters often coming together to talk about real-life problems. With an all-star cast that includes Gina McKee, Molly Parker, Shirley Henderson, Ian Hart, and Stuart Townshend. Wonderland is a powerful, poignant family drama from Michael Winterbottom.

It's another typical Thursday night for Nadia (Gina McKee) as she looks for love at a party. Her older sister Molly (Molly Parker) is late in her pregnancy as she talks to her older sister Debbie (Shirley Henderson) who is dealing with life as a singler mother to her 11-year old son Jack (Peter Marfleet). While Nadia would often babysit Jack for Debbie who is also trying to find love after divorcing Dan (Ian Hart), Nadia's love-life gets a boost when she meets a photographer named Tim (Stuart Townshend). Outside of London, the youngest brother of the sisters in Darren (Enzo Cilenti) is taking a trip with his girlfriend Melanie (Sarah-Jane Potts) as he's been estranged from his family for years. Their parents in Eddie (John Simm) and Eileen (Kika Markham) are going through issues over Eileen's frustrations towards a barking dog next door.

A young shy man named Franklyn (David Fahm), whom Nadia sort of knows, is trying to live alone while Molly's husband Eddie (John Simm) is dealing with the upcoming birth of his first child as he finds himself unhappy with his job. It's Saturday where Dan takes Jack for the weekend while Debbie is at work where things don't go well due to Dan's lack of attentiveness towards Jack. Molly learns that Eddie has quit his job as he wanders around London as she becomes very emotional over what is going on. Notably as Nadia's date with Tim doesn't go well while her parents' marriage is falling apart after Bill decides to spend a day with Eileen's friend Donna. With Eddie still gone, Nadia and Debbie try to comfort Molly while Nadia's bad date with Tim has her thinking about an encounter with Dan. Jack is suddenly missing where the family comes together despite all of the turmoil that is happening.

While family life isn't always easy and at times, very lonely. Director Michael Winterbottom chooses to convey realism in a documentary-like fashion in his approach to the film. The theme of the film is indeed loneliness and the urge to connect with people. A family as unique as the ones in this film are portrayed with sympathy and complexity. They don't make the right choices sometimes and they let things get in the way.

Yet, Winterbottom lets the audience to relate to the characters and get to know them in the film's first act. The structure of the screenplay is set on a weekend where the Thursday-Friday segment reveals on who these people are and how they're dealing with everyday stuff. The second act reveals more of those troubles and alienation and this is where the story really begins. By the third act, we see everyone be more human as well as secrets into why this family who aren't often together trying to seek some form of happiness.

It's Winterbottom's direction that really brings life to the film. He observes every moment captured on film. Whether it's Franklyn wanting to get the attention of Nadia, Nadia seeking love, or Eddie struggling with the arrival of a child and a huge responsibility that comes with it.

It's in that direction, that is almost similar to the improvisation styles of both Britain's Mike Leigh and the late American director Robert Altman, where the audience get to see these characters and how they're connected in some way. Even the shots of London reminds the audience of where they are and how vast this city is where people try to find something and as big as it is, it's also easy to feel very lonely there. Winterbottom surpasses the expectations of what is needed in a family drama or an ensemble drama. He chooses to capture a moment, even when audiences know it's going to be happy or sad.

Helping Winterbottom in his documentary-like vision is cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. Using 16mm film and with low light, the film has a grainy yet homemade feel that adds not just a sense of realism but also style as if the audience themselves are immersed in the moments. Bobbitt's photography is exquisite in its authenticity that includes for the fact that all the camera work is hand-held. Production designer Mark Tildesley helps create the look of working-class London with its array of appliances and such along with the pictures and posters that surround Franklyn's room. Costume designer Natalie Ward also adds to the look of the working-class by not choosing anything flashy or expensive but rather the clothes that everyday people wear.

Editor Trevor Waite brings a lot of style to the film's editing with some wonderful speed sequences to convey the energy and loneliness of the characters while slowing things down at times. With uses of jump-cuts and perspective cuts, the editing is stylized yet works to convey the drama and observation of Winterbottom's direction. Sound editors Louis Bertini and Ian Wilson help capture the feel of London with natural sounds and a feel from the fireworks and the noises that the audience can feel right at home.

The film's soundtrack features cuts by acts like Pulp, Massive Attack, James, Faithless, the Jam, Ali, Alisha's Attic, and Dusty Springfield. The songs in the film are often played in the background on a radio or something just to give it a feel of realism or as someone's personal soundtrack. A lot of the music is performed by composer Michael Nyman. Nyman's score is really a highlight of the film. Nyman adds a somber yet delicate touch to some of the film's piano cuts to convey the loneliness and struggles of everyday life. Then there's his orchestral work with is filled with huge arrangements and power that isn't manipulative or overdone. It's very real and also emotional to convey where the characters are at the point of the story. If there's anyone other than Winterbottom that should be commended for his work, it's Michael Nyman.

Then there's the film's wonderful ensemble cast features memorable small performances from Sarah-Jane Potts as Darren's girlfriend Melanie, Ellen Thomas as Franklyn's frustrated but caring mother Donna, and Ian Hart as Jack's irresponsible, pub-going father Dan. Peter Marfleet is great as the neglected Jack who is forced to fend for himself when his own father isn't doing a lot while having to grow up quickly that his parents aren't always there despite the fact that they along with his immediate family do care for him.

Enzo Cilenti is also good as Darren, the son who is estranged from the family as he spends the weekend with his girlfriend though is desperate to reconnect with the family he left. Stuart Townshend is also in fine form as a flirtatious photographer who seems to be the right guy for Nadia but is also very shady in his own intentions. David Fahm is excellent as the shy, lonely Franklyn who often hides in his own room while often seeing Nadia from afar as he tries to find the courage to speak to her.

Kika Markham is excellent as Eileen, a frustrated, agitated woman who seems to find fault in a lot of things while dealing with a barking dog next door. Jack Shepherd is also excellent as Bill, who seems to be overwhelmed in his rocky marriage as well as being the only man in the house. Shepherd's performance is amazing for how he tries to deal with all the turmoil as well as his wife's own cruelty. John Simm is great as Eddie who is trying to deal with the new changes in his life while wandering London looking for some answers about his upcoming new role as a father.

Molly Parker is amazing as the pregnant Molly who is anxious awaiting for her new child but when she learns Eddie quits his job and disappears, Parker's performance is amazing in reveal her sadness and anger. Shirley Henderson is also great as the eldest yet irresponsible Debbie who is more interested in sleeping with other man than taking care of her own son. When Jack gets lost, Henderson reveals the depth of her performance as she realizes her own faults and such. Gina McKee is also great in her role as the youngest sister Nadia who seeks companionship with men only to find disappointments and heartbreak while dealing with her own role as a sister, aunt, and daughter.

Wonderland is a powerful yet very complex family-ensemble drama from Michael Winterbottom. The film is among one of Winterbottom's finest films as well as a truly intricate and compelling portrait of a dysfunctional family told with many layers by screenwriter Laurence Coriat. Featuring a truly outstanding ensemble cast, it is truly one of the great films of the 1990s as Wonderland is an engrossing yet hypnotic film from Michael Winterbottom.

Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - I Want You - (With or Without You (1998 film)) - The Claim - 24 Hour Party People - In This World - Code 46 - 9 Songs - Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story - The Road to Guantanamo - A Mighty Heart - Genova - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) - The Killer Inside Me - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy) - (The Face of An Angel)

© thevoid99 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Want You

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/18/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by Eoin McNamee, I Want You tells the story of a young, mute boy obsessed with a young hairdresser whose ex-convict boyfriend returns. The ex-convict is obsessed in reestablishing his relationship with his girlfriend while the boy who is observing it is recording their every move. Starring Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola, Luka Petrusic, and Labina Mitevska. I Want You is a sexy, harrowing drama from Michael Winterbottom and company.

After an eight-year sentence for murder, Martin (Alessandro Nivola) returns to his home in the north of England as he has to maintain reports with his parole officer Sonja (Geraldine O'Rawe). Martin hopes to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend Helen (Rachel Weisz) who works as a hairdresser at a salon while her boyfriend Bob (Ben Daniels) is a radio DJ. Meanwhile, a 14-year old Slavic mute named Honda (Luka Petrusic) has fallen for Helen as he lives with his older sister Smokey (Labina Mitevska) who is a local club singer. Martin's obsession leads to troubling phone calls and a tryst with a stripper (Dee Dee Menta) who dances the song I Want You by Elvis Costello & the Attractions.

While Honda befriends Helen who is dealing with her own troubles with Bob, Honda and Smokey pull a prank on Bob as he later meets Martin who would surprise Helen at a club she attends. Helen is surprised by Martin's appearance as she talks to Honda about what Martin did eight years ago. Martin and Smokey embark on an affair as she reveals about Honda's strange behavior as he would often record conversations. Particularly at a night when Martin visits Helen as they rekindle old passions leading to trouble circumstances where Honda learns what Martin had done eight years ago. After Helen learns what Honda knows, she tells him what really happened as she filed a complaint to Sonja leading to troubling confrontation between Martin and Helen with Honda witnessing everything.

The film in many ways is about obsession with the character of Helen being the object of desire. While the script definitely builds a momentum of suspense to the third act, the twist that is unveiled doesn't live up to its climax. Yet, it goes back to the theme of guilt that is talked about during the film. Even through the perspective of Smokey and Honda. The character of Honda as the film's main observer shows how he interprets things through his mind and recordings.

It's where Michael Winterbottom chooses to focus where he is telling this story of an obsession relationship between a man and a woman from the perspective of a third-party outsider. Winterbottom's direction is unique for its imagery and moods to show where the characters are emotionally. Particularly Honda who sees things in a blurry, grainy look where his own interpretation of these situations is more interesting than the protagonists. While the film has a creepy tone that might turn off some audiences, it's Winterbottom's direction and compositions through the locations that makes the film worth watching.

Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak creates an array of colorful palettes ranging from bright yellow to convey the outside scenery of north England to blueish colors in the sequences involving water and such. Even the color green at one point for a scene in an aquarium as well as blurry, grainy images for the mind of Honda. Editor Trevor Waite also channels the film's emotional tone to bring a unique rhythm to the film's fantasy sequences from the mind of Honda to more suspenseful pacing throughout the entire film.

Art directors David Bowes and David Bryan along with production designer Mark Tildesley create unique looks to the film's location with the dilapidated home of Martin and Smokey to the more hotel-like home of Helen. Costume designer Rachel Fleming create a wonderful look with the clothes for both Rachel Weisz and Labina Mitevska for whatever social situation they're in. Sound editor Ian Wilson brings another technical highlight for the film's sound to represent the perspective of Honda, including a sequence of Honda listening to Martin and Helen making love through the song I Want You that is muffled a bit but has an emotional resonance.

The film's music features mostly a trip-hop like sound that is reminiscent of acts like Portishead and Massive Attack. With original music by Adrian Johnston and the band Rare, the music does have a hypnotic, moody feel to convey the drama. The soundtrack also features cuts by the Troggs, the late Kirsty MacColl, Julian Cope, Violet, One Dove, Travis, and Chakra. Then there's the film's title cut by Elvis Costello & the Attractions from their 1986 album Blood & Chocolate. The song's emotional, obsessive tone fits right in with the mood of the film as well as Martin's behavior.

The film's cast features a wonderful cast that includes Phyllida Law as a woman at hairdresser, Des McAleer as a flower salesman, Graham Crowden as Smokey and Honda's grandfather, Carmen Ejogo as Helen's salon friend Amber, and other small performances from Steve John Shepard and Dee Dee Menta. Ben Daniels is fine as Helen's DJ boyfriend Bob, who had hoped to sleep with her for so long until a prank broke them up. Geraldine O'Rawe is excellent as Martin's parole officer who tries to understand his behavior while continuing to warn him about contacting Helen.

Labina Mitevska is wonderful as the maternal Smokey who is trying to deal with her own loneliness as well as her little brother Honda. Mitevska also performs several of the original songs in the film as she have a voice that is similar to the trip-hop acts of the 90s. Luka Petrusic really gives the film's best performance as the mute boy Honda. Not saying a word throughout the entire film, Petrusic really shines with his expressions and observation as his character is the one that is the most interesting throughout the entire film.

American actor Alessandro Nivola is excellent as the creepy, obsessive Martin who is trying to deal with his own crimes along with the lost relationship with Helen. Rachel Weisz is in brilliant form as the beautiful Helen, who is trying to deal with the return of Martin as well as her own failed relationships with men only seeking comfort in Honda. Weisz exudes sexiness as well as the kind of depth her character needed to deal with the failure that is her relationship with Martin.

While it's not up to par with later films, I Want You is still an interesting, provocative film from Michael Winterbottom. Fans of Rachel Weisz will no doubt, see her in an early film role just before she would breakthrough into the mainstream a year later in The Mummy. While it's considered a minor effort of sorts for Michael Winterbottom. I Want You still has something to offer for those who enjoy complex storylines and wonderful images. In the end, I Want You is a fine effort from the talented, prolific Michael Winterbottom.

Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - (With or Without You (1998 film)) - Wonderland (1999 film) - The Claim - 24 Hour Party People - In This World - Code 46 - 9 Songs - Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story - The Road to Guantanamo - A Mighty Heart - Genova - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) - The Killer Inside Me - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy) - (The Face of An Angel)

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