Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Auteurs #12: Nicolas Winding Refn

Among one of the new rising international filmmakers of the past few years, Nicolas Winding Refn is already becoming one of the hottest thanks in part to the critical and commercial success of his 2011 film Drive that gave him his first real exposure to the American film scene. Though the Danish-born filmmaker has already made a name for himself in the past 16 years in his native Denmark. The success of Drive has managed to acquire him new fans who are willing to discover his work. With another film set to come out in Only God Forgives, the current buzz for Refn is already ever-going as he’s become someone that film audiences are excited for.

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark on September 29, 1970, Refn was already born into the film industry as his mother Vibeke Winding was a cinematographer while his father Anders Refn was an editor who was most famous for his work with another Danish filmmaker in the very controversial Lars von Trier. Refn went to New York City with his mother and stepfather for some time where he would discover a world outside of Danish cinema. After returning to Denmark at age 17, Refn would return to New York after finishing high school to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Yet, he would be expelled after throwing a desk in the classroom where he returned to Denmark where he was asked to attend its prestigious film school only to turn it down. Despite these set backs, he would eventually make a short that landed on Danish cable TV channel that got lots of attention and would forge the start of a promising filmmaking career.

The short film that Refn made for Danish cable TV gained a lot of buzz as Refn was able to acquire a million dollars from his family to make the short into a full-length feature. With additional support from renowned Danish film producer Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Refn was able to turn his short about a mid-level drug dealer into a much broader story. Particularly as he co-wrote the screenplay with Jens Dahl into making the story as a day-by-day exploration into man’s life told in the span of a week.

The casting for the film would feature a diverse array of actors as it included Croatian-Danish actor Zlatko Buric as the drug lord Milo along with two rising actors in the Danish film scene in Kim Bodnia as the film’s protagonist Frank and Mads Mikkelsen as his sidekick Tonny. Shooting on location in Copenhagen, Refn decided to create a drug film that focused more on characters rather than the lifestyle that surrounded the drug culture. Notably as hard drugs like heroin were starting to become prevalent in the mid-1990s in Europe.

With a team that would include cinematographer Morten Sorborg, editor Anne Osterud, and music composer Peter Peter as they would be Refn’s collaborators for many of his films set in Denmark. Refn wanted to do something that played with the convention of gangster films as well as the drug movie without glamorizing the culture nor play too much into the violence. By having his characters not play stereotypes, characters like Frank, Milo, Frank’s prostitute girlfriend Vic (played by Laura Drasbaek), and Milo’s henchman Radovan (played by Slavko Labovic) were shown to be quite complex characters who are also eccentric despite the dark world they live in. Another aspect of the film as with the following films of the trilogy is that Refn would set up ambiguous endings for the protagonists such as Frank whose fate in the end of the film is unknown.

Wanting to play out the suspense of the film, Refn chose to shoot the film mostly in chronological order to play out the emotions that the character of Frank would go through as things start to intensify. Though the production was at times rough due to Danish union film rules, Refn was able to work around his limitations in shooting the film on location to give it a realistic feel. Notably the film’s chase scene where Frank tries to evade cops by running around the city and into a city lake. With a soundtrack that included fast-pumping heavy metal music, it would be an indication of the kind of work Refn would create in the years to come.

The film premiered in late August of 1996 in Denmark where it was a major hit in the country where it would gain a major cult following after its release. The success would mark a new alternative to the world of Danish cinema just as it was to enter the Dogme 95 movement that was co-founded by Lars von Trier.

For his sophomore feature, Refn wanted to change gears a bit to focus on something that was more dramatic and light-hearted. Re-teaming with his collaborators that included actors Kim Bodnia, Mads Mikkelsen, and Zlatko Buric, Refn decided to create a project that centered on young adults in Copenhagen dealing with the changes in adulthood. Entitled Bleeder, the film featured a main narrative about a man descending into darkness following the news of girlfriend’s pregnancy as he is unable to cope with the news.

Wanting not to repeat some of the visual traits and ideas of Pusher, Refn chose to go for a more polished look to the film to keep up with the changing times that was happening in Denmark. While the film would be shot in real locations including a video store that Mad Mikkelsen’s Lenny would work at. It gave Refn a chance to create a film that is very loose as it includes lots of hand-held tracking shots to follow characters around or to explore a world that is unique. Notably as Refn created a subplot where the anti-social character of Lenny falls for a book-loving diner worker named Lea, played by Refn’s wife Liv Corfixen, whom he has a hard time trying to get to know.

Though the storyline would represent a lot of what Refn wanted to experiment with, he still manages to find focus in a main storyline that involved Kim Bodnia’s Leo character who starts to become undone as there’s a chilling scene where he threatens his girlfriend’s brother Louis (Levino Jensen) at a movie screening with a gun. It shows the kind of striking composition that Refn wanted to establish the anguish of Lenny although it’s a scene also has some dark humor. That would later escalate in a much darker scene where Louis would take revenge over what Leo did to Louis’ sister. It’s this scene where Refn ups the ante of what is disturbing though he does in a very subtle manner while the violence also becomes more intense in a film’s climatic moment to establish the breakdown that Leo is going through towards the end of the film.

Released in August of 1999 in Denmark, the film was another hit as it would also give Refn the chance to expand beyond Denmark as the film got a chance to play the Venice Film Festival later that year as well as the Sarajevo Film Festival where Refn won the FRISPECI prize. At the Bodil awards, the film was nominated for Best Film where it lost to Susanne Bier’s The One and Only. Still, the film would help raise Refn’s profile as the Danish film scene was about to grow even further as Refn was one of its key participants.

The back-to-back successes of his first two features would have Refn form the production company Jang Go Star as a chance to develop projects such as the Danish TV series The Chosen 7 that he was involved as a writer. It was during this time where Refn got the attention of famed novelist Hubert Selby Jr. who was famous for writing the books Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream as the latter was successfully adapted into film by Darren Aronofsky. Refn collaborated with Selby on a project Selby had written for a film about a man who is trying to discover why his wife his murdered by some random event in a film called Fear X.

In collaboration with production companies from Canada and Britain, the film would become Refn’s first English-language feature. Shot in Winnipeg in Canada, the production definitely seemed promising due to the cast that Refn got for the film as John Turturro in the lead role of Harry Caine along with famed character actor James Remar and Deborah Kara Under in a role. The production would also have Refn start a collaboration with famed British cinematographer Larry Smith who was previously famous for being the lighting cameraman for Stanley Kubrick’s final film in 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Through Smith’s photography, Refn was able to create compositions that allowed him to set an atmosphere that is unsettling and evocative. Notably in scenes set in an elevator where Refn would later refine his technique in later films. The film also marked Refn’s first foray with ambient music as he was able to get the service of ambient pioneer Brian Eno to create a score the film with collaborator J. Peter Schwalm. The score that Eno and Schwalm made help intensify the film’s suspense as it would indicate the future ideas of how Refn would set a mood with low-key electronic music in his films.

The film made its premiere at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival where the film was well-received but the reviews would be mixed as the film would be a commercial failure in its native Denmark and in Europe. The film is often regarded as Refn’s weakest film as indicated in the film’s incomprehensive second half and an ending that has managed to frustrate viewers. Though Refn has tried to defend the ending, the film would spark a lot of trouble for Refn as his Jang Go Star production company went bankrupt.

After the failure of Fear X and sporting a huge debt as he and wife Liv Corfixen were the subject of a documentary called Gambler that was released in 2006. Refn decided to return to his famed 1996 debut film Pusher by creating a sequel. This time around, Refn decided to do something different by not picking things up where the first film left to focus on another character in the form of the sidekick Tonny who had been played by Mads Mikkelsen. With Zlatko Buric reprising his role as Milo for a small appearance, having Mikkelsen back as Tonny is what Refn needed as Mikkelsen was becoming a big actor in Denmark who was breaking into the international film scene.

Wanting to make the story something more thematic in terms of Tonny’s attempt to gain respect in the drug world, Refn wanted to take more chance to uncover the drug world as it had changed in Copenhagen. While researching the world of the drug culture to maintain a sense of realism, Refn’s life was also changing when he and his wife were expecting their first child. Refn would infuse his own personal take about becoming a father into the screenplay that would allow the character of Tonny to find some form of redemption later in the story.

One of the key elements for Refn’s approach to the direction was wanting to make the drug world unglamorous as it is often depicted in grand style in American films. Adding to this sense of unglamorous world was the music as Refn and music collaborator Peter Peter discussed creating a soundtrack that was European but also trashy. While Refn had always been fascinated by the world of electronic music, it would be the film’s soundtrack that would have him go full on with the genre as he and Peter chose several underground Danish acts to create music to set a mood for the film.

Released on Christmas Day in Denmark, the film became a hit in its native country as it would help Refn’s financial troubles following the failure of Fear X. The film would receive excellent reviews as it would be in sharp contrast to what was happening in the Danish film scene where the industry was set to face a creative and financial crisis that would shake things up for the country.

While working on research for Pusher II, some of the material that Refn gathered would give him ideas for the third film of the trilogy as he went ahead to create the third part. This time around, it would focus on Zlatko Buric’s Milo character who would struggle with changes in his life as he attempts to get sober on the day of his daughter’s 25th birthday celebration. The film would mark a departure of sorts for Refn in terms of its narrative in order to explore the day in the life of a man who is falling apart.

Retaining the same crew he had in the previous film, Refn wanted to maintain a look that was similar but have a different feel. Notably as the camera wandered around more while Refn wanted to create more entrancing compositions to contrast a world where Milo feels out of place with these new drug dealers. Notably as it include characters like Kurt the Cunt, Jeannette, and Muhammad who had both appeared in the previous film with the latter getting a bigger role. Another character who returns from the first film is Slavko Labovic’s Radovan where he appears in the third act as a changed man gone straight.

With a more stripped down narrative and a score that was also stripped down to include ambient and industrial rock cuts to play out the suspense. It’s Refn’s approach to explore Milo’s fall from grace as he’s dealing with a birthday party, trying to get sober, and these new drug dealers who order him around following some bad deals in which he got screwed. For the first two acts, Refn chose to follow Milo around as he tries not to fall apart as it culminates with this tense meeting that involves a sleazy dealer, his Polish pimp, a brothel madam in Jeannette, and a young hooker who had just turned 18. Yet, Milo is in the background having to watch this meeting go wrong because Jeanette refuses to take the girl in because she’s too young and she looks to scared.

It’s a very tense scene where Refn chooses to focus on these characters though he knows that Milo is watching where he’s eventually going to be pushed as he’s forced to bring food from a party and they’re being unappreciated. He tries to cheer up the young hooker by giving her a birthday cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to her as she is grateful. Yet, she would later run away where Milo and this Polish pimp go after her where Milo is forced to watch this young girl be beaten where he finally just loses it. It’s a sequence that is entrancing to watch for the way Refn builds up suspense as it later followed by another violent moment, a confrontation, and an old character returning to the fold where it is followed by one of the most goriest moments in film.

The film was released in August 2005 to a great reception at the box office despite very negative reviews from many critics in Denmark who were detesting Refn's filmmaking style. A month later, the Toronto Film Festival chose to play all three films for the festival where it became a major hit as it finally gave Refn more attention outside of Europe. The film’s success led to the exploration of the entire trilogy as a cult following started to grow outside of Denmark and Europe making way for Refn to emerge outside of his native country as Denmark was going through one of its worst period for the film industry.

Following the success of Pusher 3, Refn was working on a project that would be very different from his gangster trilogy that would become the basis for a film called Valhalla Rising. During the development of the project, Refn was hired to direct an episode for the British TV series Miss Marple where he met British producer Rupert Preston. Preston offered Refn a chance to develop a project about notorious British prisoner Michael Gordon Peterson who would rename himself after American film actor Charles Bronson.

Entitled Bronson, the film explores the peculiar life of Peterson who became a man of great notoriety as all he wanted to do was be famous through his violent demeanor. Realizing that Peterson‘s life doesn‘t fit in with the traditional narrative of a bio-pic, Refn collaborated with Brock Norman Brock to write a screenplay that was told largely from Peterson’s perspective as if it was this strange mix of dark humor and sheer terror. Notably as Peterson was a man who spent a lot of his life in solitary confinement while finding ways to entertain himself and get into fights with guards just to satisfy his craving for violence. Since the film would be told by Peterson, it would be presented as if Peterson was telling his story on stage that is inter-cut with the events of his life.

To play the role of Peterson, up-and-coming British actor Tom Hardy nabbed the role as Peterson where he put on 19 pounds of muscle and shaving his head bald to play the character. In order to create an accurate portrayal of Peterson, Hardy decides to meet with Peterson just to get to know him and portray him in a honorable fashion. That meant having to create a performance that is out of this world where Refn gave Hardy the freedom to act out the character and the result would be a performance that is unpredictable and uncompromising that is true to the character of Peterson.

Since the film’s narrative is meant to be a blur about what is real and what is fiction, it adds to the unconventional nature of the narrative since Peterson isn’t a regular person. The film’s mix of chaotic violence, abstract art, and black comedy would have Refn create something that is defies the conventions of the bio-pic while creating something that stands out on its own. At times, it’s a film that is visually entrancing thanks to Larry Smith’s cinematography but also extremely unpredictable for the way violence is portrayed or how Hardy’s performance seems to capture the craziness of Peterson’s persona. Even as Hardy at times has to be perform fully nude and covered in paint where he seems to relish the idea of just getting his ass kicked no matter how bad he suffers through the pain where he also enjoys it.

The film made its premiere at the 2008 London Film Festival in the fall of that year where it was a festival hit as it later got a wide release in Britain in the spring of 2009. The critical acclaim and the buzz for Tom Hardy’s performance help give the film a small American art house release in the fall of 2009. Its American release not only gave Hardy attention as he was cast in Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception but also raised Refn’s profile as he was becoming more well-known in the world of international cinema.

The success of Bronson allowed Refn to go back to the project he had been working after the Pusher trilogy in a project that would extremely different from anything he’s done. While the project would contain some of Refn’s exploration into the world of violence and fear, it would be Refn’s first foray into making a film not set in modern times. Entitled Valhalla Rising, the film told the story of a Norse warrior who teams up with a young boy who travel with a group of Crusaders to a mystical land full of dread.

The film would feature many of Refn’s old Danish collaborators as it would also mark a reunion between Refn and Mads Mikkelsen whom was just starting to emerge as big international film star thanks to his appearance in the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale as Le Chiffre. The only non-Danish collaborator Refn brought in was editor Mat Newman whom he had just previously worked with on Bronson as Refn wanted to aim for a film that didn’t rely a lot on dialogue but rather action. In this minimalist approach, Refn and co-writer Roy Jacobsen decided to focus on this mute-character named One-Eye and his travel across a dreary land.

Shot on location in Scotland with a mix of Danish and British actors, Refn decided to go for a look that really was a mix of the old visual style of his earlier films infused with the look he had created in his English-language films. Notably in some of the surreal moment such as a sequence where One-Eye, his young companion, and fellow Crusaders travel through a misty fog where Mort Soborg’s photography is awash with red colors to create the sense of dread that is to occur. With this approach to the directing where Refn wanted to create a film where there’s a beauty to the landscape but also something that is unforgiving and disturbing. Especially with the violence as it’s presented with a degree of style where there’s a beauty to these compositions but also a brutality to the way the violence is presented.

Adding to the unconventional approach to the film is the narrative as Refn admitted that the film is based on a book that his parents used to read him as a child. Wanting to maintain the idea of a book, Refn and Jacobsen chose to have the story be split into six chapters to help establish One-Eye’s journey as it gets more tense as the story unfolds. Notably as it include an ending that is truly visceral in its image and impact. The film would eventually show a newfound maturity in Refn’s work as a director while not delving into the tropes of ultra-violence that was becoming synonymous with American mainstream action films.

The film made its premiere at the 2009 Venice Film Festival where it received an excellent reception while got an official release in its native Denmark in March of 2010 to mixed reviews. Still, the film managed to increase Refn’s fan base all over the world including the U.S. as it became a cult film thanks to the IFC studio choosing to release the film in the U.S in 2010.

After two back-to-back internationally successful films that raised Refn’s profile all over the world including the U.S., Refn was approached by producers Marc E. Platt and Adam Siegel to direct a film they had been developing for years. Based on a novel by James Sallis, Drive is the story of a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for bank robbers at night where he befriends a young woman whose husband is in debt as he reluctantly takes part in an ill-fated robbery. The story that was adapted by Hossein Amini who wanted to create a different approach to the story as the book’s narrative was originally non-linear.

The development that went through different actors and filmmakers until Canadian actor Ryan Gosling signed on for the lead role as he wanted Refn to direct the film. Refn accepted the job as he learned that Gosling was a fan of his work as they would work closely together for the project. Refn’s involvement with the casting allowed him to get to know the actors better as the film’s ensemble cast included British actress Carey Mulligan who was also a fan of Refn’s recent work like Bronson and Valhalla Rising. The cast grew as it would American TV actors Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks as well as Oscar Isaac and famed character actor Ron Perlman. The film’s biggest casting surprise came in the form of American comedy actor/filmmaker Albert Brooks for the role of the film’s main antagonist in mob leader Bernie Rose.

Set in Los Angeles, Refn wanted to create a film that reminded him of the films he grew up watching as he and cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel aimed for a particular look. A lot of it was influenced by some of the Los Angeles-based films of the 1980s like William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. and Paul Schrader’s 1980 film American Gigolo. The latter of which was part of Schrader’s themes of the lonely man as Refn and Amini find a lot of common similarities to some of the protagonists in Schrader’s films, including Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver that Schrader wrote, in relation to the driver who is a man of great discipline and lives alone.

Another key influence that Refn wanted to incorporate in the film was cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky whose surrealistic ideas on existentialism had a huge impact on Refn’s work as he decided to put some of it on Drive. While the film was a mixture of the 1970s American car films with a mixture of American 80s cinema that included the film’s opening title credits. The film also featured Refn’s characteristic approach to violence as he decided to create more stylistic ideas of violence that also had a sense of shock and brutality. Notably a scene where the Driver and Mulligan’s Irene character are in elevator with one of Bernie’s men as they kiss and then the Driver assaults and stomps the man to death. It’s a scene where Refn creates a mood where it starts off slow and romantic and then just goes into an intensity where the Driver kills someone to protect Irene.

Another aspect of the film that made it standout from Refn’s work was the music soundtrack. While Refn had flirted with electronic music for many of his films, it wasn’t up until Bronson where Refn began to use the music of indie electronic music where some of it was coming from the Italians Do It Better label. Teaming up with Johnny Jewel and score composer Cliff Martinez, who is one of the collaborators of American filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, to create an electronic-based soundtrack. Martinez’s score would create elements of suspense and to calm things down while the music that was selected played to either create a sense of romance or to play as an accompaniment.

The film made its premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where the film played in competition for the Palme D’or as Refn was facing the likes of Lars von Trier, Lynne Ramsay, Pedro Almodovar, Nanni Moretti, Takashi Miike, Aki Kaurismaki, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and Terrence Malick who won the top prize with his 2011 film The Tree of Life. Yet, Drive was a surprise hit at Cannes where Refn walked away with the festival’s Best Director prize as the success at Cannes would lead to a U.S. theatrical release later that fall where it did well as it ended up grossing more than $76 million internationally.

The film also became a hit with critics and bloggers as it received numerous rave reviews while garnering several prizes from numerous film critics association. A lot of the prizes were going towards Albert Brooks’ supporting performance as Bernie Rose as it gave Brooks a major comeback after having been away for sometime. The film did receive an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Editing though many were upset that the film, Refn, Gosling, and Brooks were snubbed by the Oscars. Still, the film would become Refn’s biggest hit to date while some have considered it his best film so far.

Refn’s next project will have him team up with Ryan Gosling again for a revenge story set in Bangkok where a gangster faces up against a Thai policeman over the death of his brother in a Thai-boxing match. The film also stars British actress Kristin Scott Thomas as Gosling’s mother where it plays into Refn’s exploration of violence. Set for a late 2012/early 2013 release, the film is among one of the most anticipated features many are looking forward to as Refn’s name is already hot among film buffs.

Refn is also slated to be involved into various projects that he’s been attached such as a remake of the 1970s sci-fi cult film Logan’s Run, a possible feature film version of Wonder Woman, and many other projects that includes a TV series version of the late 60s cult film Barbarella.

While Drive may have made Nicolas Winding Refn a name that puts among the current crop of elite filmmakers. The fact is that Refn is no overnight success as the films he’s made like the Pusher trilogy, Bronson, and Valhalla Rising are an indication of who he is as a filmmaker. He’s definitely got his own style and isn’t willing to repeat himself except in the themes he wants to explore. This is why Nicolas Winding Refn is a filmmaker to watch as he’s already on his way to becoming one of the best that is working right now.

© thevoid99 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Way Home (2002 film)

Written and directed by Lee Jeong-hyang, Jibeuro (The Way Home) is the story of a city-born young boy who lives with his grandmother in a rural village in South Korea while his mother is looking for work in the city. The film explores culture clashes and age difference between a grandmother and a grandson as well as their relationship. Starring Kim Eul-boon and Yu seung-ho. Jibeuro is a tender yet mesmerizing film from Lee Jeong-hyang.

The film is essentially the story of a 7-year old city boy named Sang-woo (Yu seung-ho) who has to live with his mute grandmother (Kim Eul-boon) for the summer while his mother (Dong hyo-hee) has to look for work. What happens is that Sang-woo is essentially a spoiled child who is in a new world, couldn’t really understand what his grandmother is trying to say through sign, and is more concerned about getting batteries for his game and wanting to eat fried chicken. That’s pretty much a summation of the first half where eventually the boy does become more caring towards his grandmother although he remains a somewhat selfish boy that has no idea what it’s like outside of Seoul.

The screenplay explores the dynamics between a boy and his grandmother who eventually bond despite their social, cultural, and age differences as well as the fact that the grandmother doesn’t say a word nor knows how to read or write. Yet, she isn’t some simple woman from a village as she offers a lot of love to the boy while trying to understand what he wants and be good to him. Sang-woo however is very na├»ve about what is out there in rural South Korea where he does meet a couple of young kids but is more interested in playing with his toys and a pocket video game. While Sang-woo is an un-likeable character who can be annoying, his development is compelling where he learns more about his grandmother and eventually worries for her where their bond really comes together in the third act.

Lee Jeong-hyang’s direction is very straightforward as it’s shot mostly in a cinema verite style to play out the realism of the film. Yet, there’s a lot of amazing compositions and wide shots of the locations set in Jeetongma near the Gyeongbuk Province in South Korea. The landscape itself is a character where Jeong-hyang establishes this very different world that doesn’t have a lot but the people there are very kind and are just living a very simple yet quiet life as opposed to the more vibrant world of Seoul, Korea.

There’s a few shots where the camera does have an air of stylized compositions but Jeong-hyang keeps it simple such as the scenes of a boy walking up a hill only to run from a cow. While a lot of the film’s story and plot points are quite predictable, Jeong-hyang does end it on a truly touching note that has an air of ambiguity but also a bit of hope. Overall, Jeong-hyang creates a film that features a truly universal story that will touch anyone about the grandmother-grandson dynamic.

Cinematographer Yoon Hong-shik does excellent work with the film‘s beautiful cinematography to capture the gorgeous landscapes of the locations along with some wonderful nighttime shots in the home of the grandmother. Editors Kim Jae-beom and Kim Sang-beom do nice work with the editing in creating a mostly straightforward approach to the cutting with a few uses of dissolves, fade-outs, and jump cuts to keep the film‘s pace moved at a brisk pace. Art director Shin Jum-hee does terrific work with the simple though drab look of the grandmother‘s home to establish her world.

The sound work of Lee Seung-cheol is wonderful for the way many of the objects and smaller moments are captured in the quieter moments of the film along with more raucous moments in the town sequence where Sang-woo and his grandmother visit to attend a market. The film’s music by Kim Dae-hong and Kim Yang-hee is brilliant for its plaintive and tender piano-driven piece with mixtures of melodic instruments to play out the innocence and charm of the film as it’s definitely one of the film’s highlights.

The film’s small but incredible ensemble cast is another highlight of the film as it includes notable appearances from Yim Eun-kyung as a kind farm boy, Min Kyung-hyun as a young girl Sang-woo is interested in, and Dong Hyo-hee as Sang-woo’s mother. Kim Eul-boon is great as the mute grandmother where her physicality and her willingness to communicate through her hands is a truly fascinating performance for someone is really a non-actor. Finally there’s Yu Seung-ho who is amazing as the spoiled Sang-woo where Seung-ho had to be a kid that is un-likeable to watch at first but does manage to capture the spirit of a 7-year old city boy who eventually starts to bond with his grandmother in the most touching gesture he could do without saying a word.

Jibeuro is an extraordinary and heartwarming film from Lee Jeong-hyang. Featuring a great cast of unknowns and a truly universal story about family bonds, it’s a film that is really accessible for the way it explores a boy and his relationship with his grandmother. It’s also a film that follows a boy’s evolution into a world that is new to him where he eventually gains an understanding despite the background he came from. In the end, Jibeuro is an enchanting film from Lee Jeong-hyang.

© thevoid99 2012

Killer's Kiss

Directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by Kubrick and Morris Bousel, Killer’s Kiss is a noir film about a prizefighter who finds himself the target of a gangster after saving a woman. The film is Kubrick’s second feature-length film as it explores a man whose good deed finds him in deep trouble. Starring Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, and Frank Silvera. Killer’s Kiss is an interesting film from Stanley Kubrick.

Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a welterweight fighter who is reaching at the end of his ropes as he is fascinated by a beautiful woman living across from his window at his apartment. On his way to his fight, the woman named Gloria Price (Irene Kane) is a dancer who works at dancehalls as she is picked up by her boss Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera) on her way to work. The two later watch Davey’s fight on TV as Gloria feels uncomfortable about Rapallo trying to seduce her. After losing his fight, Davey returns to his apartment as he gets a call from his uncle as he watches Gloria where he later hears her scream as she is harassed by Vincent who leaves the scene. After hearing about what happened to her as she recalls a story about her older sister that led to her becoming a taxi dancer. Davey decides to create a plan for the two to run away together.

At first things seem to be on its way with help from Davey’s manager Albert (Jerry Jarrett) but things eventually go wrong forcing Davey to have a confrontation between Vincent and his goons.

The film is about a fighter who gets himself into trouble with a gangster over a woman leading to some huge confrontations as he recalls everything he went through. A lot of it is told in a reflective narrative as the film begins at the ending where Davey Gordon is waiting a train station wondering how did he get into all of this trouble. It’s a narrative that is interesting as it features stories about a man who is at the twilight of his fighting career while he falls for this taxi dancer who feels smothered by this violent gangster who wants to control her. It’s a premise that isn’t compelling since it plays to the schematics of what is expected in a film noir where it would feature climatic fights and such towards the end of the film.

Stanley Kubrick’s direction is truly engaging for the way he creates amazing imagery through his camera as he also serves as cinematographer and editor. Shot on location in his native New York City, the look of the film is truly gorgeous as it would bear many of the hallmarks of Kubrick’s style in terms of lighting set-ups and eerie close-ups. Notably as it features some amazing scenes such as Gloria’s story about her ballerina sister in an amazing ballet sequence as well as Davey’s boxing match and the climatic moment between Davey and Vincent. Through some swift, effective editing and amazing compositions, Kubrick keeps the film engaging and thrilling despite the story’s shortcomings that includes a very conventional ending that is so un-Kubrickian. Overall, Kubrick creates a pretty solid film that manages to play off the conventions of the genre.

Sound recorders Walter Ruckersberg and Clifford van Praag do nice work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the boxing match as well as some of the more tense moments in the film‘s climatic fight between Davey and Vincent. The film’s music by Gerald Fried is excellent for its orchestral score to play up to some of the film’s suspense and drama along with dancehall music for the dancehall scenes including a composition by Norman Gimbel and Arden E. Clar for the film’s love theme.

The film’s cast is terrific for the ensemble that is created as it features some memorable appearances from Jerry Jarrett as Davey’s manager Albert, Ruth Sobotka as Gloria’s ballerina sister Iris, and the duo of Mike Dana and Felice Orlandi as a couple of Vincent’s goons. Frank Silvera is pretty good as the villainous Vincent who is a typical noir villain as he does make a fantastic impression of a man obsessed with this beautiful woman. Irene Kane is wonderful as the very beautiful Gloria who serves as the femme fatale who hopes to escape the clutches of Frank and find safety in Davey. Finally there’s Jamie Smith in a superb performance as the world weary Davey Gordon who tries to figure out what to do with his life while finding himself in danger over a woman.

Killer’s Kiss is a very good film from Stanley Kubrick. While it’s a film that isn’t so great due to conventional plot schematics and little character development. It’s still a film that people who are interested in Kubrick’s work should seek out. Even as it bears a lot of the visual tricks and compositions that he would refine in the years to come. In the end, Killer’s Kiss is an intriguing yet engaging film from Stanley Kubrick.

© thevoid99 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012


Originally Written and Posted at on 12/2/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Directed by Akira Kurosawa and written by Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima, Yojimbo is the story of a samurai who finds himself in the middle of a gang war between crime lords as he gets involved in hopes they kill each other off. The film has Kurosawa taking elements of the Western as it set in 19th Century Japan just as guns were introduced as the days of the samurai were finished forcing them to fend for themselves. Playing the lead role of Kuwabatake Sanjuro is longtime Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune as the film also stars Tatsuya Nakadai, Takashi Shimura, and Isuzu Yamada. Yojimbo is a phenomenal and adventurous film from Akira Kurosawa.

Walking into a village is a samurai warrior named Kuwabatake Sanjuro who overhears a farmer and his son arguing about the means to survive as the son wants to join one of the gangs in a gang war. After meeting the officer Hansuke (Ikio Sawamura) who suggests to Sanjuro to join one of the gangs, Sanjuro goes to a tavern where he meets the tavern keeper Gonjin (Eijiro Tono) who reveals to Sanjuro about the ongoing feud over control issues between a boss named Seibei (Seizaburo Kawazu) and his right-hand man Ushi-tora (Kyu Sazanka). Each men have different sponsors as Seibei is supported by a silk shop while Ushi-tora gets support from the sake brewer Tokuemon (Takashi Shimura) leading to an all-out war. Realizing the troubling situation, Sanjuro tells Gonjin that he'll play on both sides so both gangs could kill each other off.

After killing a few of Ushi-tora's men to get Seibei's attention, Seibei's wife Orin (Isuzu Yamada) and her son Yoichiro (Hiroshi Tachikawa) suggest to pay him an advance and later kill him. However, Sanjuro hears them as the battle between Seibei and Ushi-tora is halted when Sanjuro changes his mind once an official investigator shows up forcing the feud to be halted. After the investigator leaves to go to another town about a murder, Sanjuro thinks something is up after overhearing Ushi-tora's men having a drunken conversation as he captures them for Seibei while revealing to Ushi-tora about what he knows. Ushi-tora's brother Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai) arrives to up the ante as he captures Yoichiro while revealing to hold a pistol as an exchange for Ushi-tora's men went bad as he reveals to also have Tokuemon's mistress forcing Sanjuro to join Ushi-tora's gang after learning about the woman.

After tricking Ushi-tora's brother Inokichi (Daisuke Kato), Sanjuro frees the mistress telling her to flee with her husband and child with the money he's received. With this incident, Sanjuro watches the feud get more intense until Unosuke realizes what Sanjuro is doing as he captures him. Though Sanjuro was able to escape barely with Gonjin's help by taking him to a shelter. Sanjuro realizes what must be done in order to end a bloody war that is tearing a small town apart.

While the film visually and stylistically is inspired by American westerns, notably the films of John Ford. The film is also inspired by the novel Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett about a gangster who plays both ways in the middle of a gang war. The script by Kurosawa and co-writer Ryuzo Kikushima is really about a study of a man with no moral justification or motivation rather than just kill for money and food. While the character of Sanjuro does have a few moments of morality including helping out a family in one important scene. He remains a loner and an observer who tries to figure out how to find peace in a little town ravaged by war. While Sanjuro may seem to be a very skilled, tough samurai, he's really a man who has to use his wits to play a game. The result is a great study of character who is trying to find his role for any kind of gain.

Kurosawa's direction is more stylish than any of his previous films, notably in the way he pays homage to the American western and John Ford. Particularly the way he sets up his shots in a way that is very stylized. With the use of the widescreen presentation that he started to use since The Hidden Fortress, Kurosawa manages to get more of what he wants in his presentation. Not only does he go for close-ups to observe the behavior of the characters but also the atmosphere they're surrounded by. With Kurosawa also serving as editor, he brings a nice, stylized pacing to the film that builds up on its momentum while it doesn't move too slow or too fast. Yet, the direction and editing also captures the intensity of battle with notable uses of the side-wipe transitions to shift scenes. The result overall is Kurosawa delving into style while bringing excitement and tension to the film as the direction is extremely masterful.

Cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, who also shot Rashomon, does some amazing work in the black-and-white photography to capture the tension and intimacy of some of the interior locations while a lot of the nighttime sequences are done with amazing style of shading lights and texture to convey the eerie tone of those scenes. Miyagawa's work is brilliant for its emphasis on the wide-scope that is true to the American western genre. Production/costume designer Yoshiro Muraki does great work in creating the look of the costumes that is true to 19th Century Japan while the look of the homes is great to show the differing worlds of the bosses where Seibei's place is a brothel and Ushi-tora's is more about sake. Sound recordist Choshichiro Mikami does excellent work in capturing the film's tense atmosphere of wind and rain to emphasize the tone of the western. Music composer Masaru Sato brings an amazing film score that is intense and unconventional with its mix of traditional, percussive Japanese music with a mix of dense saxophones and instruments to add the element of the western throughout the entire film.

The film's cast is truly superb with small performances from the likes of Namigoro Rashomon as Ushi-tora's giant, Ikio Sawamura as the cowardice officer Hansuke, Atsushi Watanabe as the cooper who reluctantly helps Sanjuro in the film's final moments, Kamatari Fujiwara as the silk-making owner Tazaemon, Yoko Tsukasa as Tokuemon's mistress Nui, Yoshio Tsuchiya as Nui's husband Kohei, Yosuke Natsuki as Kohei's son, Susumu Fujita as Seibei's samurai instructor Homma, and Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura in a small role as the sake brewer Tokuemon. Throne of Blood star Isuzu Yamada is great as the greedy wife of Seibei who demands control while Hiroshi Tachikawa is good as Seibei's cowardice son. Seizaburo Kawazu is great as the experienced Seibei, a boss who is trying to vy for control while Kyu Sazanka is also great as Ushi-tora, the rival boss who has a gift for strategy.

Kurosawa regular Daisuke Kato is great as the dim-witted Inokichi, who is memorable for his round, ugly face while often being fooled by all as he brings some great comic relief for the entire film. Tatsuya Nakadai is brilliant as the pistol-wielding Unosuke who is in some ways, Sanjuro's intellectual equal as he tries to figure out his plans while being a cold-blooded killer who cheats with his pistol. Eijiro Tono is amazing as Gonjin, the tavern keeper who, like Sanjuro, is an observer who tries to figure out what Sanjuro is planning. Unlike Sanjuro, he's a man of morals and in some ways, is the film's conscience as he doesn't try to get involved yet is amazed at his brilliance in playing double.

Toshiro Mifune, a longtime regular of Kurosawa, is equally as powerful and brilliant in his performance as Sanjuro. In previous performances, Mifune often has to play some kind of maniacal character in films like Rashomon, The Seven Samurai, and Throne of Blood. In this film, Mifune is more stoic and subtle in his performance as he doesn’t do any kind of over-power drama. Instead, he is restrained as he tries to figure out what to do while in the more action-like sequences, his intensity is just unstoppable. Mifune's performance is just amazing to watch as he takes his own spin on the western protagonist by being the anti-hero. One with no moral justification and yet, he isn't the traditional hero as well.

Yojimbo is an exhilarating yet thrilling film from Akira Kurosawa that features an incredible performance from Toshiro Mifune. The film is definitely among one of Kurosawa's best films as well as a great introduction to anyone new to Kurosawa. Fans of westerns will no doubt see this film as a unique interpretation of the genre that would influence a great remake in Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars. In the end, Yojimbo is an outstanding film from Akira Kurosawa.

Akira Kurosawa Films: (Sanshiro Sugata) - (The Most Beautiful) - (Sanshiro Sugata Part II) - (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail) - No Regrets on Our Youth - (One Wonderful Sunday) - Drunken Angel - (The Quiet Duel) - Stray Dog - Scandal (1950 film) - Rashomon - The Idiot (1951 film) - Ikiru - The Seven Samurai - (I Live in Fear) - Throne of Blood - (The Lower Depths (1957 film)) - The Hidden Fortress - The Bad Sleep Well - Sanjuro - High and Low - Red Beard - Dodesukaden - Dersu Uzala - Kagemusha - Ran - Dreams (1990 film) - (Rhapsody in August) - (Madadayo)

Related: A Fistful of Dollars - (Last Man Standing (1995 film))

© thevoid99 2012

007 James Bond Marathon: Thunderball

Based on Ian Fleming’s story that was written with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, Thunderball is the story of James Bond trying to stop SPECTRE from destroying two major cities with nuclear missiles as he faces off against SPECTRE’s second-in-command. Directed by Terence Young and screenplay by Richard Maimbaum and John Hopkins, the film has James Bond taking on more expansive locations including underwater along with an increased use of gadgets as Sean Connery plays Agent 007 in the fourth of his seven appearance as Bond. Also starring Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, and Bernard Lee as M. Thunderball is a thrilling and stylish film from Terence Young.

After the death of an associate, SPECTRE plans to steal bombs from NATO to threaten the world as heading the operation is its second-in-command in Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi). With the help of his associate Count Lippe (Guy Doleman) to organize the plan, Lippe goes to a health spa where James Bond is attending to recover from a recent mission where he notices Lippe’s tattoo as well as a man whose face is covered in bandages. After a failed attempt on Bond’s life, Bond later finds a dead man named Francois Deveral (Paul Stassino) who had been killed by the mysterious man pretending to be him to steal two nuclear bombs from a plane. The mission is a success as Largo eventually takes care of a few loose ends with help from his associates.

After a briefing from M on what to do, Bond notices the picture of Deveral with a woman who is revealed to be his sister Domino (Claudine Auger) as Bond travels to Nassau to find her thinking she’s connected to Largo. Arriving at Nassau with his assistant Paula (Martine Beswick), Bond finds Domino as he learns she’s Largo’s mistress as he later meets Largo in a game of cards. Needing to find the bombs, Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter) aids him with some gadgetry assistance from Q (Desmond Llewelyn). While Bond goes on the search for the missing bombs, he meets up with a mysterious woman named Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) whom Bond notices is an associate of Largo.

After what was supposed to be a night with Domino and Largo, Bond learns something goes wrong as he’s eventually captured by Volpe and Largo’s men only to escape once again. A breakthrough is eventually made when Bond and Leiter find the plane but realizes the bombs are missing as Bond decides to make an unexpected move. The move would have Bond realize what Largo is up to as it’s up to him to stop Largo from destroying the world.

The film is another James Bond story in which he faces off against another member of SPECTRE where he tries to stop another dastardly plan to destroy the world. Yet, what makes this film different from its predecessors is that Bond is facing a new foe whose ambition is to take nuclear weapons to destroy the world unless he can get 100 million pounds in white uncut diamonds. That’s pretty much as the plot is simple to tell although the screenplay is much more drawn out as it features more scenes of how Largo’s heist is planned and executed as well as new foes who prove to be great challenges to Bond.

Emilio Largo may not have the ambition or intelligence of Goldfinger nor the physicality and killing skill of Red Grant. Yet, he is interesting because he is someone who can create grand schemes and lead the way as there is a reason why he’s SPECTRE’s second-in-command. He’s a man that keeps the job simple though he knows he has to find some way to outwit Bond. He would find that in Fiona Volpe who is aware of Bond’s seductive attributes as she goes head on to be seduced but knows that it’s also Bond’s flaw for always going after women. What happens would present great challenges to Bond as he remains the same but also more sensitive in how he handles things including having to tell Domino about what really happened to her brother.

Terence Young’s direction is much broader than in previous films due to big action sequences set underwater as well as a thrilling prologue where Bond kills a SPECTRE agent in grand style. It would set up this meeting with an amazing set piece where the mysterious Blofield (Anthony Dawson with Eric Pohlmann’s voice) is there looking at all of his people as they would plot the next big move. Young’s direction does succeed in creating a lot of suspense and building it up where it would include some amazing action sequences.

However, there are a few flaws in the direction where part of the film does take place underwater. Even though the scenes are beautiful and do establish key moments for the story to set up the plot. They go on for a little too long where it would drag the film a bit despite some of the exciting action sequences that do happen. With some beautiful locations shot around Nassau and Paris plus set pieces set in Pinewood Studios, Young’s direction is truly extraordinary to get the James Bond story into bigger places and bigger moments where the results do live up to the grandeur as Young does an excellent job.

Cinematographer Ted Moore does superb work with the film‘s cinematography from the gorgeous look of the underwater sequences to the beautiful sunny locations of Nassau in the day time exterior scenes. Editor Peter R. Hunt does amazing work with the editing in creating stylish jump-cuts for some of the film‘s action sequences including transitional wipes to keep the film moving. Production designer Ken Adam, with set decorator Peter Lamont and art director Peter Murton does incredible work with the set pieces such as SPECTRE‘s Paris meeting room, Bond‘s Nassau hotel room, and the home of Largo.

Special effects supervisor John Stears does nice work with some of then-primitive visual effects created such as Bond escaping a rocket in the film‘s prologue as well as other gadget-related stunts. Sound recorders Maurice Askew and Bert Ross do terrific work with the sound from the location setting such as the carnival scene where Bond tries to escape Volpe and her men along with some moments in the film‘s underwater sequences. The film’s score by John Barry is brilliant for its bombastic score filled with soaring orchestral arrangements to play up the suspense and action as well as a mixture of Caribbean-based music for the scenes in Nassau. The title song written by Barry and lyricist Don Black is a wonderful song that plays up to the grandeur of the film as it’s sung by Tom Jones.

The film’s cast is outstanding for the ensemble that is assembled as it includes some memorable small roles from Bill Cummings and Michael Brennan as a couple of Largo’s henchmen, George Pravda as Largos’ physicist Kutze, Earl Cameron as Leiter’s assistant Pinder, Molly Peters as Bond’s health spa therapist, Martine Beswick as Bond’s Nassau assistant Paula, Philip Locke as Largo’s top henchman Vargas, Paul Stassino in a dual role as Domino’s brother Francois and the double who pretends to be Francois for SPECTRE in the plane raid, and Guy Doleman as the agent Count Lippe who tries to kill Bond at the spa. Lois Maxwell is wonderful as M’s secretary Miss Moneypenny as she gets more things to do with Bond and M while Desmond Llewelyn is superb as the witty inventor Q.

Rik Van Nutter is excellent as Bond’s CIA associate Felix Leiter who aids in the search of the missing plane while Bernard Lee is very good in his small role as Bond’s superior M. Luciana Paluzzi is great as Largo’s associate Fiona Volpe who tries to outwit Bond with her sensuality and arms skill as she proves to a formidable opponent. Claudine Auger is wonderful as Largo’s mistress Domino who is charmed by Bond while becoming aware that something isn’t right about Largo in relation to her brother’s disappearance. Adolfo Celi is great as the ambitious Emilio Largo who is trying to organize a great scheme while dealing with Bond as he tries to find his way to outwit Bond.

Finally there’s Sean Connery in the role of Agent 007 James Bond where Connery definitely seems more comfortable in playing the role as he exudes the same kind of charm and professionalism the character needed. There’s also a new sensitivity to the way Bond deals with a few things such as loss as it includes a very tender moment where he reveals to Domino about what happened to her brother. It’s Connery at his best as he definitely gives another solid performance as Agent 007.

Thunderball is a fantastic film from Terrence Young featuring another superb performance from Sean Connery as James Bond. While it is a bit of a step-down in comparison to its predecessors due to a few pacing issues. It is still a very fun and adventurous film that allows its audience to be entertained while getting involved with all of its suspenseful moments. In the end, Thunderball is a spectacular yet exhilarating film from Terence Young.

© thevoid99 2012

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Brave (2012 film)/La Luna (short)

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell with a screenplay by Andrews, Chapman, Purcell, and Irene Mecchi from a story by Chapman, Brave is the story of a Scottish princess who rebels against her mother over her duties as she turns to a witch for help only to cause problems. The film marks a departure of sorts from Pixar studios as the story is driven by a female heroine who tries to deal with her role as well as family as explores the complex relationship between mother and daughter. Featuring the voice cast of Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger. Brave is a heartwarming film from Pixar Animation Studios.

La Luna

Written and directed by Enrico Casarosa, La Luna is a short film about a boy who goes on a journey with his father and grandfather where he discovers what they do. In his discovery, he finds a way to help them in their job as he would live up to the tradition of their work. It’s a true little gem that explores the dynamics between three different generations of men told from a young boy’s perspective. Featuring a wonderfully melodic score by Michael Giacchino, Enrico Casarosa’s La Luna is definitely among one of Pixar’s great shorts.


It’s 10th Century Scotland as Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald) is being groomed to be heir to the throne as she is taught endlessly by her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Merida however is unhappy with the on-going lessons to be a proper princess as she has already become a skilled archer ever since her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) has given her a bow at a young age on the same day he lost his left leg to a bear named Mor’du. When Fergus and Elinor receive word that three clan leaders are willing to present their sons to marry Merida, Merida isn’t happy by the news as the clan leaders arrive hoping to discuss something where Elinor and Merida suggest that the three sons should compete in a contest to win Merida’s hand in marriage.

Instead, the contest has Merida taking control of what she wants to leading a huge argument between herself and her mother where Merida tears a part of Elinor’s tapestry family portrait. Running away with her horse Angus, Merida encounters a trail of Will O’ the Wisps where she finds a mysterious home that belongs to a witch (Julie Walters). After discovering what she is, Merida asks the witch to make a spell that will change her mother as the witch does. What happens would have Merida realizing that she is causing a lot of trouble as she returns to the witch’s home with a cryptic message on how to break the spell. Eventually, Merida realizes that the spell had to do with a legend her mother had told her years ago as she would try to find a way to break the spell before her father discovers what happened to his wife.

The film is essentially a story about young princess who defies her mother’s strict rules about how to be a princess by going to a witch to create a spell only to realize how much her mother really cares about her. It’s a film that explores the dynamic between mother and daughters where all a mother wants to do is prepare her daughter for the role she is set to play. Yet, she has to deal with the fact that her daughter isn’t ready to marry someone nor is she willing to do a lot of the things that is set for her as she tries to rebel against her mother. It’s a relationship that drives the film where it is all up to this young woman to discover the true meaning of bravery as she is someone who has to accept her fate as well as respect her mother.

The screenplay does play to a lot of the schematics of fairy tales as the story is quite conventional though the screenwriters do a lot more in fleshing out the characters such as Merida, Elinor, and King Fergus. There’s also an additional subplot of sorts that involves a story that Merida often has to be reminded of as it would reveal a lot of what would happen if the spell that she accidentally called for doesn’t break. It would add to the stakes that is raised up in the film’s second half where Merida has to play both princess and warrior in order to keep her mother’s secret hidden as well as deal with something far more sinister that relates to the legend that she knew as a child.

The direction of Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell is truly a feast for the eyes for the way they recreated the Scottish landscape with its mountains, hills, and various locations to play true to the world of 10th Century Scottish warriors. With some amazing scenery for those locations, the directors managed to infuse something that does play to the world of fairy tales while balancing the story with warmth and humor. The latter of which shows Pixar willing to be a bit raunchy but in a restrained, childish manner.

Through some amazing compositions and close-up of the characters, the direction of the film does exactly what is needed as well as setting up elements of suspense and humor that culminates into a real showdown between Merida and the curse that had been created. Overall, the team of Andrews, Chapman, and Purcell do a spectacular job in creating what is a truly enjoyable but also engaging for creating a story about mothers and daughters.

The editing by Nicholas C. Smith is excellent for creating elements of suspense as well as playing to the rhythm of the humor and the dramatic scenes of the film. Sound designers Gary Rydstrom and E.J. Holowicki, along with sound editor Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, do great work with the sound from the way arrows are shot to the clanging of swords as well as the growl of the Mor‘du bear in the film‘s opening prologue. The film’s music by Patrick Doyle is brilliant for its mixture of orchestral flourishes and traditional Scottish music that plays to the world of Scotland. Even as the film’s soundtrack includes amazing contributions from Mumford & Sons with Birdy, Julie Fowlis, Emma Thompson, Peigi Barker, and Billy Connolly.

The voice-casting for the film is extraordinary for the people that is assemble as it includes longtime Pixar regular John Ratzenberger and Patrick Doyle as a couple of guards, Sally Klinghorn and Eilidh Fraser as the voice of the family maid Maudie, Callum O’Neill and Steven Cree as a couple of Merida’s suitors, Peigi Barker as the young Merida, and Steve Purcell as the witch’s pet crow. Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, and Kevin McKidd are very funny in their roles as the clan leaders who offer their sons to marry Merida while McKidd also voices one of the suitors. There’s also some great non-speaking parts such as the horse Angus and Merida’s young triplet brothers in Harris, Hubert, and Hamish where they provide a lot of hilarious moments for the film.

Julie Walters is wonderful as a secretive witch who provides Merida a dangerous spell as it’s a very charming character that is filled with humor and intrigue. Billy Connolly is great as the boisterous King Fergus who tries to understand both his wife and daughter while dealing with the clan leaders as Connolly provides a lot of funny moments for his character. Emma Thompson is brilliant as the stern Queen Elinor who tries to deal with her daughter’s rebelliousness while trying to understand her as it’s truly Thompson in one of her best roles. Finally there’s Kelly MacDonald in a fantastic voice performance as Merida. MacDonald provides all of the right notes to display Merida’s angst as well as her humility to create a truly engaging character that lives up to the many great characters from Pixar.

Brave is an enchanting and dazzling film from the team of Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell. Thanks to an amazing soundtrack, an outstanding ensemble voice cast, and a heartwarming story, it is a film that definitely carries a lot of what is expected from Pixar in terms of storytelling and great visuals. Although it might live up to some of the great films from the studio, it does at least provide a female heroine who does live up to a lot of the great characters that Pixar has created. In the end, Brave is a touching yet incredible film from Pixar Animation Studios.

Pixar Films: Toy Story - A Bug's Life - Toy Story 2 - (Monsters Inc.) - (Finding Nemo) - The Incredibles - Cars - Ratatouille - WALL-E - Up - Toy Story 3 - Cars 2 - Monsters University - Inside Out - The Good Dinosaur - (Finding Dory) - (Cars 3) - Coco - Incredibles 2 - Toy Story 4 - (Onward) - Soul (2020 film) - (Luca (2021 film)) - Turning Red - (Lightyear) - (Elemental (2023 film)) - Inside Out 2 - (Elio) – (Toy Story 5)

© thevoid99 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pusher 3

Written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Pusher 3: I’m the Angel of Death is the story of a Serbian drug lord who struggles to maintain his sobriety as he faces many challenges in the wake of his daughter’s upcoming birthday. The third and final film of the Pusher trilogy, the film explores the character of Milo who had been in the previous films as he is played by Zlatko Buric. Also starring Kurt Nielsen, Slavko Labovic, Levino Jensen, and Ilyas Agac reprising their roles from the previous films. The cast also includes Marinela Dekic, Vasilije Bojicic, and Kujtim Loki. Pusher 3 is a ominous yet hypnotic film from Nicolas Winding Refn.

Milo’s daughter Milena (Marinela Dekic) is about to celebrate her 25th birthday at a lavish party in a Copenhagen dining hall as Milo is trying to handle all of the festivities. After learning that Milena is dating a drug dealer named Mike (Levino Jensen), Milo is struggling to maintain his business as well as his newfound sobriety as he’s been going to meetings for recovering addicts. Still wanting to maintain his role as a drug lord, a shipment he was supposed to receive from an Albanian supplier named Luan (Kujtim Loki) revealed to be ecstasy rather than heroin as Milo has no idea what to do with it. Luan’s partner Rexho (Ramadan Hyseni) suggests that Milo should sell it so he can get a new shipment of heroin in return.

When one of Milo’s associates in Muhammad (Ilyas Agac) arrives with his daily take, he tells Milo about the ecstasy as he decides to help Milo sell it as he asks for a bigger cut in return. Milo agrees as he’s trying to prepare food and gather things for Milena’s party as his henchmen become ill with food poisoning forcing Milo to do things himself. At the party, Milo becomes worried about the food as he tries to order fish to replace some of the food he cooked. Instead, an encounter with a dealer in Kurt the Cunt (Kurt Nielsen) adds to trouble while Rexho and his Polish arrive at Milo’s home base with a young hooker forcing Milo to do things as Muhammad hasn’t returned with the money.

With Rexho ordering Milo around to remind him of the huge debt he has, things get worse after a bad deal between Rexho’s Polish friend and a brothel madam named Jeanette (Linse Christansen) over the young hooker. Milo decides to take matters into his own hands where he turns to his old friend Radovan (Slavko Labovic) for help.

The film is about the day in the life of a drug lord who finds himself becoming irrelevant as he’s dealing with his daughter’s birthday, younger drug dealers, and trying to be sober. All of it is told from Milo who was seen in the past two films as a powerful yet friendly drug lord who carries an air of respect. In this film, Milo is a shell of his former self due to these changing times while he is forced to cater to these newer, younger drug dealers who feel like they are more powerful than he is. It’s all part of the world that Nicolas Winding Refn creates to explore this man’s fall as he tries to do what he does while being a good father to his daughter who at times can be a bit selfish towards him. Even as she knows about her father’s business and wants in so her boyfriend can do better.

The screenplay is really a character study of sorts where it follows Milo doing all sorts of activities while going to these addict meetings where he reveals his struggle and such. In the course of the day, things escalate as he has to deal with his daughter, her ambitious boyfriend, all these new dealers, an old one, and everything else where things eventually escalate in the third act. Since the film revolves around a man dealing with these new dealers where he gets screwed in the process. It leads to this third act where an old character from the first film in Radovan is re-introduced but as a very different man who still has his old skills.

Refn’s direction is definitely more engaging in the way he explores the day in the life of this man as it begins with Milo in an addicts anonymous meeting where he reveals he’s been sober for five days. With a lot of hand-held cameras including a scene around the party at a dining hall where the camera is always wandering the table. The direction is very potent to establish the fall of a once powerful drug lord who is struggling to get through an entire day. Particularly as it features scenes of Milo inside a room all by himself where he’s just smoking a cigarette just to get through the day. Even as the film is progressed where Milo would smoke something that is laced with some drugs.

The film eventually gets darker where Refn’s camera becomes much tighter and more in control with these compositions where it’s shown from Milo’s perspective as he’s looking at what is happening around him. Notably the scene involving Rexho, Rexho’s Polish friend, and a brothel madam discussing about the transfer where it’s a simple scene where nothing drastic happens but some of it is shown from Milo’s perspective where he is later seen in the background. The film’s third act is really the most intense moment due to the violence that eventually occurs where there is a newfound brutality that Refn does present as it features the return of an old character from the first film. Overall, Refn creates a truly mesmerizing and chilling film that serves as an intriguing study in the day of a man's life.

Cinematographer Morten Soborg does amazing work with the film‘s stylish photography from the moody interiors created for the party scenes and exterior nighttime shots to the more brighter but crisp look of Milo‘s home base at night. Editor Miriam Norgaard and Anne Osterud do great work in the editing by creating stylish jump cuts to play around with Milo‘s state of mind as well as slower more methodical cutting sequences to help enhance his troubled mood. Production designer Rasmus Thjellesen does nice work with the set pieces such as the place that Milo runs to the dining hall where Milena is having her party with its balloons and such.

Costume designer Jane Whittaker does terrific work with the costumes from the suit that Milo wears to more stylish clothing that the younger dealers were to contrast the different worlds the characters live in. Sound designer Jens Bonding does superb work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the birthday parties to the sparse sounds of some of the locations that Milo is at. The film’s score by Peter Peter is a wonderful mixture of driving rock and ambient music to set a mood for Milo’s troubled journey in a tense day of his life as it is easily the best score of the trilogy.

The casting by Pernille Lembecke is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features some memorable small performances from Linse Christiansen as a brothel madam, Vasilije Bojicic as Milo’s henchman Branko, Levino Jensen as a low-level drug dealer/Milena’s boyfriend Mike, Kurt Nielsen as the troublemaking drug dealer Kurt the Cunt, Kujtim Loki as an Albanian supplier named Luan, and Slavko Labovic as Milo’s old friend Radovan who steals the show as a hood who turned straight. Ramadan Hyseni is very good as a sleazy gangster in Rexho who serves as Luan’s translator while Ilyas Agac is excellent as a young dealer named Muhammad who tries to help Milo with a deal only for something to go wrong.

Marinela Dekic is wonderful as Milo’s daughter Milena who is trying to have a lavish birthday party while wanting to ensure about her financial future as she’s a character who is quite complicated where Dekic allows her to not be a completely un-likeable person. Finally, there’s Zlatko Buric in a marvelous performance as the Serb drug lord Milo. Buric’s performance is very different from the performances he gave in the previous film where he allows himself to show humility as well as a man on the edge as he tries to deal with a tense day. It’s definitely the best thing Buric has done as he creates a truly exhilarating performance as Milo.

Pusher 3 is an incredible film from Nicolas Winding Refn that is highlighted by Zlatko Buric’s brooding performance. While it may not have some of the more intense, exciting moments of the previous films of the trilogy. It is still a very interesting film for the way it highlighted a day in the life of a character losing control. In the end, Pusher 3 is a phenomenal film from Nicolas Winding Refn.

© thevoid99 2012