Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Films That I Saw: January 2013

A new year has already begun and already, it’s time to start anew. Now that I’m able to keep track of everything I’ve seen thanks through Letterboxd. I can get the chance to find out what films I saw for the very first time not just for the month for the entirety of this year. The year definitely started off very well. Not only was I able to catch up on some 2012 releases but also get a chance to make some discoveries along the way.

Instead of comparing everything I had seen in the month prior, I feel like I should start the new year with not how many more films that I saw in the month before. This way, I can set standards for myself in terms of what to do for the rest of the year. For this month of January, I saw a total of 47 films. 29 first-timers and 18 re-watches. Not a bad way to start 2013. Notably as I used this new year to take part in the Blind Spot series as I began the series with Citizen Kane. Wow… now that is a film. Plus, it allowed me to check out more films by Orson Welles that I’ve grown and fell in love with. I have one more film that’s in DVR list to watch so I’m going to watch that one for next month. Until then, here are the 10 best first-timers that I saw this month… not counting Citizen Kane.

All films chosen for the Blind Spot series will be disqualified from all top-ten first-timers list.

1. Touch of Evil

2. Amour

3. Boy A

4. Zero Dark Thirty

5. The Lady from Shanghai

6. The Raid: Redemption

7. Bob le flambeur

8. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

9. F for Fake

10. The Impossible

Monthly Mini-Reviews

The Three Stooges

The Farrelly Brothers used to be great when it came to comedies but then came a film called Shallow Hal and since then, they had never recovered the greatness they once had with films like Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary, and Me, Myself, & Irene. This was a film I was hoping to never see since I feel like the Farelly Brothers haven’t really learned anything new. I finally saw it late one night and it was excruciating to watch. I love the Three Stooges but the actors they chose for the roles were not funny at all. It was too repetitive, too dumb, and just uninspiring. Even if the film had used the original casting of Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro, and Jim Carrey, it still wouldn’t work. Sure, there’s Kate Upton’s nice cleavage but why waste time watching that when it’s already in various web sites.

Footloose (2011 film)

I like the original 1984 with Kevin Bacon and Chris Penn though it is still a cheesy film. Remakes are something I tend to avoid but since this is directed by Craig Brewer who I do like. I decided to give the film a shot. It’s an OK remake though I feel the use of country and hip-hop weren’t very good as well as the remakes of the songs themselves. The leads weren’t very good either though there was one person in the film that I did like. Miles Teller in the Chris Penn role as he really puts his heart and soul into the performance and isn’t afraid to be funny. He is definitely someone to watch out for.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1

I despise all of the Twilight films I’ve seen so far. I find all of them to be very dumb with very lame performances. This film was on TV and I wondered how bad it was going to be. Wow… I can honestly say that so far, this is the best film of the franchise. Largely because of how bad it is. Taylor Launter attempting to emote had me laughing. All of the bad CGI including CGI baby and a lots of very unnecessary establishing location shots. If the film had gotten any campier, I think I would be able to enjoy it just for something that is so bad, it’s good. Unfortunately, the film takes itself way too seriously to even go into that route.

Glass Spider

I am a big David Bowie fan and I’m glad he’s coming back with a new record. I’m saddened that he might not tour though it’s obvious why. Yet, I would rather just have the new album. I saw this concert video on YouTube just to see what Bowie was doing in the second half of the 1980s which was creative nadir for him at the time. While I did like most of the set list that featured some obscurities, I felt the stage show was quite silly at times. It was Bowie trying to recreate elements of the old 1974 Diamond Dogs tour with new effects of the times. Yet, it felt a bit like watching Spinal Tap playing or something. I would only recommend it for Bowie fans though it’s obvious there will be mixed on opinions on the overall stage show.

The Wrath of the Titans

I wasn’t fond of the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans due to its silly visual effects and some very hammy performances. The sequel to that film is a million times worse. Not only does Sam Worthington sport an even worse haircut than in the first but he also fights more lame villains including Edgar Ramirez as his half-brother. Sure, it was fun to see Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson team up but they’re given pretty lame material to work with. Toby Kebbel was quite wasted as he ends up getting the worst comedy material while Rosamund Pike is also wasted since she doesn’t really get much to do but fight and look dirty.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Aliens

2. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

4. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

5. Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007

6. The City of Lost Children

7. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

8. Back to the Future Part III

9. Airplane!

10. Valley Girl

Well, that is it for January. In February, aside from the next film in Blind Spots list that will include films relating to that film. There will be a lot I will cover for that month. I was supposed to have some new Robert Altman reviews coming but I got distracted as I will finally review some films of his that I’ve seen or haven’t seen that I have on my DVR. Also slated for February are a few 2012 films including those nominated for the Oscars as well as reviews of films by the Dardenne Brothers, Charles Burnett, Steven Soderbergh’s new film Side Effects, and some French films along with the next Auteurs piece on Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off.

© thevoid99 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Touch of Evil

Based on the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson, Touch of Evil is the story of a Mexican narcotics officer who is being targeted by a drug lord’s family in an attempt to get him to not testify in a big case. Yet, he later deals with an American cop who has his own idea of justice as he pulls some strings to ensure the elimination of this narcotics officer. Written for the screen and directed by Orson Welles, with additional script contributions from Paul Monash and Franklin Coen. The film is an exploration into the world of corruption and a man’s attempt to do the right thing. Starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, and Marlene Dietrich. Touch of Evil is a gripping yet mesmerizing film from Orson Welles.

The film is the story about Mexican narcotics officer in Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) who is at a Mexican-American border town set to testify against a famed drug lord as he later becomes a target. After witnessing a car explosion at the border with his wife Susie (Janet Leigh), Vargas takes part in the investigation as does a revered police captain named Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) and his partner Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia). Things eventually get troubling when Vargas believes something isn’t right about Quinlan while Susie is targeted by the drug lord’s brother Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) who makes a deal with Quinlan to discredit Vargas and his idealism. It’s a plot scenario that is film noir at its finest yet it goes even deeper into the world of corruption as well as what people will do in order to fulfill their idea of justice.

The screenplay that Orson Welles created, with contributions from Paul Monash and Franklin Coen, doesn’t follow a traditional formula of sorts as it starts out with a bang where Vargas and his wife witness a car explosion happened where the victim turned out to be part of some other kind of plot. Vargas, who is this idealistic officer, takes part of the investigation as he wants to know what is going on though he is unaware that he’s being targeted. With Vargas distracted by his work as he is unable to do things with Susie on their honeymoon, Grandi decides to go after Susie as a way to target Vargas who will be testifying against his brother. Grandi would send his nephews to keep watch on Susie as she ends up staying in a motel in the middle of nowhere as she finds herself in big trouble. Adding to this chaos for Vargas is the presence of Hank Quinlan who is this larger than life man with a notoriety for getting his criminals.

Quinlan is a unique individual who is this very big man who walks with a cane as both cops and criminals tend to fear him. Vargas knows about Quinlan but is baffled into why this man has a great reputation yet during an investigation where they question a young man named Sanchez (Victor Millan). Vargas realizes what Quinlan does where he realizes that something isn’t right about him that only few people seem to know. Vargas confronts Quinlan’s longtime partner Menzies who is either denying about Quinlan or doesn’t really know what’s happening once Vargas finally piece out Quinlan’s methods. Still, Quinlan is a man knows that he is in trouble where he makes a deal with Grandi to do something about Vargas. The script definitely has this air of suspense that occurs that builds up as the story progresses while it contains this very stylized language that is definitely an attribute of film noir.

Welles’ direction is truly stylish in the way he presents the film that begins with this very elaborate tracking shot that is truly one of the great openings of a film. It does a lot to establish what goes on where it has a medium shot and then goes into a full-on crane shot to reveal the place and the camera then goes back to the ground to follow Vargas and Susie. Then it cuts to the aftermath of an explosion and then cut back to Vargas as it’s among the many stylistic shots that Welles does. Notably as he uses cranes to not just establish the location but also create an atmosphere that is quite unsettling in some of the film’s intimate moments. Welles also keeps the camera very low-key in the scenes at the motel where he uses music to play out the tension where Susie is trying to sleep unaware of who is at the motel.

The direction also goes for long takes in one notable scene where Vargas and Quinlan try to question Sanchez where it’s all about the little details that Vargas would later notice. There would be more tracking shots that occur in order to intensify the suspense as well as a very elaborate climax where Vargas tries to figure out how to expose Quinlan. The way Welles creates this climax is once again elaborate in its setting but also in the way the camera moves where is able to utilize the frame to create something that is spectacular. Overall, Welles creates a truly phenomenal and entrancing film about corruption and justice.

Cinematographer Russell Metty does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the gorgeous look of some of the film‘s daytime interior and exterior settings along with more stylish lighting schemes for the scenes at night including a meeting between Quinlan and Grandi as well as the film‘s climax. Editors Aaron Stell and Virgil Vogel, with additional work by Walter Murch for its 1998 restored cut, do excellent work with the editing by using stylish cuts to play out some of the suspense as well as slow, methodical ones to build up the suspense. Art directors Robert Clayworthy and Alexander Golitzen, along with set decorators John P. Austin and Russell A. Gausman, do terrific work with the set pieces such as the motel rooms as well as the bars and places the characters frequent to.

The costumes of Bill Thomas is wonderful for many of the female clothing created for the female characters including Susie. The sound work of Leslie I. Carey and Frank H. Williamson, with additional sound editing by Richard LeGrand Jr. for the 1998 restoration, do superb work with the sound to create the sense of atmosphere that occurs in some of the interrogations as well as the raucous scenes at the motel. The film’s music by Henry Mancini is a major highlight of the film for its array of different music pieces from percussive-driven cuts to play out the suspense to the blues-based piano pieces in the scenes where Quinlan goes to a mysterious house as it’s definitely one of Mancini’s best scores.

The film’s ensemble cast is incredible as it features some notable appearances from Zsa Zsa Gabor as a strip-club owner, Mercedes McCambridge as a hoodlum, Joseph Cotten as a detective, Joanna Cook Moore as the victim’s daughter, Victor Millan as Sanchez, Val de Vargas as Grandi’s nephew Pancho, and Mort Mills as Vargas’ friend Al Schwartz. Other noteworthy small roles include Ray Collins as a district attorney, Dennis Weaver as the mentally-challenged motel owner, Harry Shannon as the police chief, and Marlene Dietrich as a mysterious woman that Quinlan meets named Tanya. Akim Tarmiroff is excellent as the criminal Grandi who hopes to get rid of Vargas for revenge over his brother’s incarceration. Joseph Calliea is terrific as Quinlan’s partner Menzies who is an all-around nice guy that is either unaware of his partner’s actions or is in complete denial.

Orson Welles is brilliant as the devious Hank Quinlan where he displays this larger-than-life persona as a man with a great reputation but there’s a darkness to him that is just engaging as it’s definitely one of Welles’ best performances. Janet Leigh is superb as Vargas’ wife Susie who is aware that she is targeted where she is confronted by Grandi while dealing with her husband’s work. Finally, there’s Charlton Heston in a marvelous performances as Miguel Vargas as a man with an idealist idea about what it means to be a cop. Notably as he also tries to balance the role of being a husband as Heston makes Vargas a man that is very flawed though he is someone intent on doing what is right.

Touch of Evil is a magnificent film from Orson Welles that features top-notch leading performances from Welles, Charlton Heston, and Janet Leigh. The film isn’t just one of Welles’ best films but also one of the key films of the film noir genre. Notably as it plays to its schematics while taking on big themes of corruption and justice that adds a new layer of darkness to the story. In the end, Touch of Evil is an extraordinary film from Orson Welles.

Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - Filming OthelloThe Other Side of the Wind

Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1 - Part 2

© thevoid99 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Margaret (2011 film)

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Margaret is the story of a young woman who feels responsible for causing an accident that left someone dead. In turn, she deals with the guilt over what happened while going through all sorts of things in her own life. The film is an exploration into the tumultuous life of a young woman who goes through lots of changes in her life as well as trying to find herself. Starring Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Kieran Culkin, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, J. Smith-Cameron, Matthew Broderick, Jeannie Berlin, Allison Janney, and Jean Reno. Margaret is a haunting yet mesmerizing film from Kenneth Lonergan.

What happens when a young 17-year old student distracts a bus driver where an accident is caused resulting in the death of a woman as this young woman deals with the guilt over what happened? That’s pretty much the idea of what this film is about as it explores a young woman named Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) whose life changes due to an accident she caused all because she asked this bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) about his cowboy hat while he was driving the bus. For Lisa, she deals with the guilt over what happened as she has no idea what to do as she tries to protect the driver since what he did was an accident yet when she meets him to discuss the accident. Things don’t go well as she decides to change her statement to the police while contacting a woman to help file a lawsuit against the bus company in hopes the driver gets fired.

While the story largely revolves around Lisa’s tumultuous life as she deals with guilt and loss, there is a subplot revolving around Lisa’s mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) who finds herself in a relationship with a man named Ramon (Jean Reno) which causes issues between the two women who already have a troubled relationship. Notably as Joan is a stage actress while Lisa is just a high school kid who likes to smoke and do crazy things. The accident definitely causes a rupture in their relationship where Lisa starts to act out more in school and later befriend the friend of a victim where they go for a lawsuit. Yet, Lisa’s behavior becomes more complicated over the guilt she deals with families of the victim gets involved as well as other aspects of her life including relationship with boys and her attraction towards her math teacher Aaron Caije (Matt Damon).

The script also allows to explore the dynamic between Lisa and Joan as they’re two different women who are going through changes in her life. While Joan is concerned over what happened to Lisa, she has no idea how to talk to Lisa who starts to become more detached and angry. Yet, Lisa would also deal with the realities of how things are handled with the police and the lawsuits as it would cause more complications about who she is. Particularly as she is this 17-year old high school student who is in the transition into becoming a woman.

Kenneth Lonergan’s direction is very entrancing for the way he presents this very dramatic story that contains very heavy themes. Shot on location in New York City in the Manhattan area, Lonergan does make the city a character in the story though he does go a bit overboard in utilizing lots of insert shots to help fill the story though some parts are effective. Notably as the camera gazes through the city to show a world where things are already moving on despite the incident that had just happened. Lonergan’s direction also has a lot of unique framing devices to help capture the sense of loneliness and detachment that Lisa is going through. There’s also a lot of shots that are stylized including the big accident scene where Lonergan uses the crane to express the sense of loss and longing that Lisa goes through.

Another part of Lonergan’s direction that is unique is the fact that film also features scenes at the Metropolitan Opera House to establish not just the world Joan is in but also the drama she’s facing in her own life. Other scenes such as school discussions about politics show Lisa becoming more aggressive in her arguments where she will sometimes go way too far. These are moments to establish this detachment and anger these two women are going through where they will vent to each other and say things to each other that intensify. Yet, Lonergan will find a way for the women to reconnect where both women will face something that would overwhelm them leading to a powerful ending. Overall, Lonergan creates a very strong yet harrowing film about guilt and loss.

Cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski does excellent work with the film‘s photography as a lot of it is straightforward to complement the beauty of New York City in its day and nighttime settings. Editors Mike Fay and Anne McCabe, with additional work from filmmaker Martin Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker, do superb work with the editing to play out the drama as well as some of its intensity as it includes some stylized moments in the non-dialogue scenes. Production designer Dan Leigh, with set decorator Ron von Blomberg and art director James Donahue, does nice work with the sets from the look of the apartments to the look of the school.

Costume designer Melissa Toth does terrific work with the costumes as a lot of it is casual with the exception of the scenes at the opera house. Sound designer Jacob Ribicoff does brilliant work with the sound to capture the low-key atmosphere of the opera houses to the more raucous scenes in some of the film‘s exteriors and phone conversations. The film’s music by Nico Muhly is amazing for its low-key orchestral pieces with some haunting arrangements on the strings while the soundtrack features an array of classical and operatic pieces along with some few indie-rock and hip-hop cuts in the party scenes that Lisa goes to.

The casting by Douglas Aibel is a major highlight of the film for the rich ensemble that was assembled for the film. Among those making small appearances include Krysten Ritter as salesgirl, John Gallagher Jr. as a friend of Lisa in Darren, Olivia Thirlby as a classmate of Lisa, Sarah Steele as Lisa’s friend Becky, Kieran Culkin as another classmate of Lisa whom she has sex with, Michael Ealy as a lawyer who advises Lisa, Jonathan Hadary as a lawyer who deals with the suit that Lisa is involved in, Cyrus Hernstadt as Lisa’s younger brother Curtis, Josh Hamilton as an actor Joan works with, and Rosemarie DeWitt as the wife of the bus driver. Other notable small roles include Matthew Broderick as a drama teacher, Allison Janney as the victim who is killed in the bus accident, and Jeannie Berlin as the victim’s friend Emily who helps out Lisa with the suit.

Jean Reno is wonderful as the very kind Ramon who falls for Joan as he tries to get to know Lisa. Matt Damon is excellent as Lisa’s math teacher Aaron Caije who is trying to understand Lisa’s behavior as well as her attraction to him. Mark Ruffalo is superb as the bus driver who causes the accident as he is aware of what he’s done while deals with Lisa’s aggressive manner towards him in the one scene they have together. J. Smith-Cameron is great as Lisa’s mother Joan who tries to deal with Lisa’s detachment while she falls for the businessman Ramon as she finds the escape she needed to deal with Lisa. Finally, there’s Anna Paquin in a remarkable performance as Lisa Cohen as a young woman dealing with tragedy as she becomes lost in her grief while becoming more angry over the way the world deals with what she is trying to do and such.

Margaret is an extraordinary yet engrossing drama from Kenneth Lonergan that features amazing performances from Anna Paquin and J. Smith-Cameron. The film is definitely an intriguing drama that explores the world of grief and detachment as well as interesting piece about the dynamics between mother and daughter. In the end, Margaret is a marvelous film from Kenneth Lonergan.

Kenneth Lonergan Films: You Can Count on Me - Manchester by the Sea

© thevoid99 2013

Partie de campagne

Written and directed by Jean Renoir, Partie de campagne (A Day in the Country) is the story about a love affair on a summer afternoon in 1860 France. Based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant, the film is a 40-minute short originally intended to be a feature-length film that Renoir made in 1936 only to leave it unfinished due to weather problems as it would later be released 10 years later. Starring Sylvia Bataille, Georges D’Arnoux, Jane Marken, Andre Gabriello, Jacques B. Brunius, and Paul Temps. Partie de campagne is a remarkable film from Jean Renoir.

The film is essentially a story about a rich Parisian family who take a trip to the countryside where a young woman named Henriette (Sylvia Bataille) catches the eye of a man named Henri (Georges D’Arnoux) who takes her on a boat ride as they fall in love. That’s the simple part of the story as it explores this young woman who is intrigued by this man when he was supposed to flirt with her mother. Yet, something happens as she is dealing with the fact that her fiancée is a buffoon while Henri is just a simple man who likes simple pleasures which is one of the reasons why she becomes attracted to him.

Jean Renoir’s direction is very simple and understated though it does have its air of style in terms of the way he shoots the river banks as well as the scenes of Henriette standing on a swing. Renoir doesn’t go for anything over-stylized in many of the film’s scenes as he wanted to maintain the simplicity and looseness of the country. While there are scenes of humor that occur involving Henriette’s father and her fiancée, Renoir is more focused on building up the romance as he does it very slowly while text does appear to fill in gaps to reveal what happens afterwards. Overall, Renoir creates a very fascinating yet compelling film about a summer romance.

Cinematographer Claude Renoir does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the gorgeous look of the scenes in the open countryside to the more shaded look in Henri‘s secret place. Editors Marinette Cadix and Marguerite Renoir do nice work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward to play out the serenity of the locations. Set decorator Robert Gys does terrific work with the film‘s minimal set piece which is a restaurant near the countryside. The sound work of Joseph de Bretagne and Marcel Courmes is wonderful for the sparseness that is in display for many of the film‘s locations. The music of Joseph Kosma is truly splendid for its playful orchestral score to play up the humor as well as more serene pieces in the dramatic moments.

The film’s excellent ensemble cast includes some notable performances from Jean Renoir as the restaurant owner, Marguerite Renoir as the waitress, Gabrielle Fontan as Henriette’s grandmother, Jacques B. Brunius as Henri’s friend Rodolphe, Andre Gabriello and Jane Marken as Henriette’s parents, and Paul Temps as Henriette’s dim-witted fiancée Anatole. Georges D’Arnoux is wonderful as the very quiet Henri who is intrigued by Henriette as he tries to woo her but not in a typical way. Finally, there’s Sylvia Bataille in an incredible performance as Henriette as she is this young woman excited by the countryside as well as a melancholia over what she’s facing as she finds something in Henri that fascinates her.

Partie de campagne is a delightful and mesmerizing film from Jean Renoir. While it may have not be the completed film that he had intended to make, it is still a very captivating film that explores unexpected love in a summer day. Notably as it features superb performances from Sylvia Bataille and Georges D’Arnoux. In the end, Partie de campagne is an excellent film from Jean Renoir.

Jean Renoir Films: (Backbiters) - (La Fille de l’eau) - (Charleston Parade) - (Une vie sans joie) - (Marquitta) - (The Sad Sack) - (The Tournament) - (The Little Match Girl) - (Le Bled) - (On purge bebe) - (Isn’t Life a Bitch?) - (Night at the Crossroads) - Boudu Saved from Drowning - (Chotard & Company) - (Madame Bovary (1933 film)) - (Toni) - (Life Belongs to Us) - (The Lower Depths (1936 film)) - (The Crime of Monsieur Lange) - Grand Illusion - (La Marseillaise) - La Bete Humaine - Rules of the Game - (Swamp Water) - (This Land is Mine) - (Salute to France) - (The Southerner) - (The Diary of a Chambermaid (1945 film)) - (The Woman on the Beach) - The River - (The Golden Coach) - (French Cancan) - (Elena and Her Men) - (The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment) - (Picnic on the Grass) - (The Elusive Corporal) - (The Little Theater of Jean Renoir)

© thevoid99 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Union (2011 film)

Directed by Cameron Crowe, The Union is a documentary about the making of the album of the same name by Elton John and Leon Russell. Crowe explores the collaboration between the two artists as well as John’s appreciation for Russell who had been overlooked in his career despite being revered by his peers. The result is a fascinating film into the making of an incredible album where Elton John re-introduces the world to Leon Russell.

The film is about the making of The Union that began when Elton John was in a trip to Africa with his partner David Furnish who brought his iPod that featured a greatest hits record of music by Leon Russell. Russell was one of John’s idols when he was starting out in music as they hadn’t seen each other in nearly 40 years. During of which that John had become a superstar while Russell fell into obscurity though he would still play shows to a small audience. Realizing that the public had sort of lost touch with Russell, John felt the only way to get him back in the public spotlight is to collaborate with for an album together with just the two of them with T-Bone Burnett serving as producer. John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin would also contribute lyrics to the project as work on the album began in late 2009.

While there would be delays due to Russell’s health issues in which he had to have a brain operation for five hours and eventually came back to the studio 10 days later. The film reveals the process of making an album as well as John’s feelings about being an artist and what not to do. Particularly as he’s very open about what he doesn’t want to do as he knows the music industry has changed and is more realistic about album sales and such. Through Burnett’s approach to production, the album does come alive as it features a range of guests including Booker T. Jones, Robert Randolph, and Brian Wilson while Stevie Nicks makes a visit to the studio to chat with Russell.

With different kinds of film stocks as well as archival footage of performances by John and Russell, the film is presented in a documentary style where Cameron Crowe is there observing everything that happens. Even where he manages to get audio recording of an intro John wanted for the song that hadn’t been recorded by the engineers. Through the cinematography of Nicola Marsh, Kevin Long’s editing, and the sound work of Dennis Hamlin, Crowe is able to capture everything that is happening. Even in some of the film’s emotional moments such as Russell performing a song that even makes John overwhelmed.

Eventually, the film leads to the climatic show at the Beacon Theater in New York City where John and Russell play the new album in its entirety to an audience where both men hope for the best while John is hoping the album makes it to the top 10. Just so that John can say that Russell had an album in the top 10 in his life time.

The Union is a terrific documentary from Cameron Crowe about the making of Elton John and Leon Russell’s acclaimed album. The film is a great companion piece to the album as it gives fans of both artists and the album the chance to see how it’s made. Notably as it also reveals the process into the making of an album where one hopes to revive the career of another. In the end, The Union is a superb film from Cameron Crowe.

Cameron Crowe Films: (Say Anything) - (Singles) - (Jerry Maguire) - Almost Famous - (Vanilla Sky) - (Elizabethtown) - Pearl Jam 20 - We Bought a Zoo - Aloha

© thevoid99 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Magnificent Ambersons

Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons is the story about a family who face declining fortunes due to changing times as they also deal with social issues that are happening. Written for the screen, directed, and narrated by Orson Welles. The film explores the dynamics of a family who struggles with new changes as they try to maintain their way of life. Starring Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Dolores Costello, and Ray Collins. The Magnificent Ambersons is a captivating drama from Orson Welles.

The film is essentially the story about a family from the early 20th Century who were the darlings of a small town in Indiana only to be affected by changing times when the arrival of the automobile arrive as the fortunes of this unique family start to dwindle. Notably as it revolves around this young man in George Amberson Minafer (Tim Holt) who returns from college to find out that an old family friend in Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten) has also returned after a 20-year absence to present the Ambersons his new invention in the automobile. While George would have feelings for Eugene’s daughter Lucy (Anne Baxter), he learns that Eugene and his mother Isabel (Dolores Costello) have had feelings for each other that upsets George and his aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead). When George does whatever to stop this from happening yet it would lead to the downfall of the family whose fortunes and reputation were already dwindling.

Orson Welles’ screenplay explores the dynamics of the family as he narrates the film every now and then to give a few moments of exposition to establish who these people are. Notably George Amberson Minafer who arrives as a very spoiled son who the locals hope would get his comeuppance. When George becomes a young adult, he is still a young man with a lot of pride who is instilled about what the Amberson family should be. Yet, he would tease his aunt Fanny while often hanging around with his uncle Jack (Ray Collins) while still being devoted to his family. The arrival of Eugene Morgan would only complicate mattes as George thinks Eugene Morgan is ruining things with this new invention. Yet, the invention would become a major success as it would contribute to changing times.

Though Morgan’s intentions are noble as he wants the Ambersons to be part of his success, George and Fanny each are unsure that Morgan is doing the right thing. Notably as George learns through Jack and Fanny about his mother’s relationship with Eugene and that they were still in love with each other when Isabel married George’s father (Donal Dillaway). Now that George’s father is gone, Isabel and Eugene can renew their love affair yet it hurts George very much as he’s also infatuated with Eugene’s daughter Lucy. It would be his pride for himself and his family that would cause the downfall as he tries to shun Eugene away from his mother only for things to go wrong that led to their downfall.

Welles’ direction is definitely stylish in the way he presents small town Indiana in the 20th Century where the center of this small town is this estate that represents the Ambersons. Through his narration, Welles establishes what kind of family the Ambersons are where even though they are revered by the locals. There is also a bit of discontent in the way young George would have this belief that he owns the town. By the time he returns from college, he’s still that kid of sorts who feels like he is the man of the town as he and his mother are the hosts of this annual lavish party they would have. It’s in this party where Welles would set the stage for everything that would mark the beginning of the end for the Ambersons.

While a lot of the shots are quite straightforward, the mood that Welles puts into the shots add to the dramatic stakes. Notably in some of the exteriors where it features some tracking shots where Welles would follow the camera around the characters as they’re walking in this small town. Still, the direction does have its sense of style in the way Welles would position the actors in some key dramatic moments that occur. Notably in the third act where the downfall of the family finally comes into play through as Welles maintains that air of style that occurs. Yet, it would be followed by an ending that isn’t what Welles had intended as it would be helmed by his assistant director Fred Fleck and editor Robert Wise. Even though the final results are just an idea of a much bigger story Welles wanted to create, the final film version is still an engaging piece about drama and pride.

Cinematographer Stanley Cortez does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to create moods for some of the film‘s interior scenes while the exteriors are more straightforward. Editor Robert Wise does wonderful work with the editing by taking on some straightforward cuts as well as stylized uses of dissolves and wipes. Production designer Albert S. D’Agostino and set decorator Darrell Silvera do amazing work with the sets from the looks of the car and towns to the lavishness that is the Amberson estate.

Costume designer Edward Stevenson does fantastic work with the costumes that the women wear to create their personalities from the lavishness of Isabel, the more prim look of Fanny, and the more youthful style of Lucy. Sound recorders Bailey Fesler and James G. Stewart do terrific work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the film‘s party scenes as well as the tense moments in the film such as George‘s dismissal about Eugene‘s idea about the automobile. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is superb for its soaring orchestral score to play up some of the melodrama that happens in the film.

The film’s cast is quite stellar for the ensemble that is created as it features notable small roles from Bobby Cooper as the young George, J. Louis Johnson as the Ambersons’ butler Sam, Richard Bennett as the Amberson patriarch Major Amberson, Erskine Sanford as a law clerk who tries to help George in the third act, and Donald Dillaway as George’s ailing father Wilbur. Ray Collins is superb as George’s uncle Jack who tries to figure out what is best for the family while dealing with the chaos that is happening around them. Agnes Moorehead is great as George’s melodramatic aunt Fanny who pines for Eugene Morgan as she tries to help George sway Eugene from Isabel. Anne Baxter is wonderful as Eugene’s daughter Lucy who has feelings for George as she tries to deal with his immaturity. Dolores Costello is radiant as Isabel who deals with the loss of her husband as well as Eugene’s presence in the hopes to find someone to be with only for things to get complicated.

Joseph Cotten is great as Eugene Morgan as a man who wants to show the world his invention as he intrigues the Ambersons while gaining the ire of George over Isabel. Finally, there’s Tim Holt in a marvelous performance as George Amberson Minafer as a young man who is threatened by Morgan’s new rules and ideas as he tries to hold on to his old ways only to succumb to his own selfish pride and immaturity.

The Magnificent Ambersons is an incredible film from Orson Welles. Featuring an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Joseph Cotten, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Anne Baxter, Dolores Costello, and Ray Collins. It’s a film that explores the world of changing times and people trying to hold on to the old ways. Notably as it also reveals the sense of fear just as the world is about to change in the eyes of a young man. In the end, The Magnificent Ambersons is a remarkable film from Orson Welles.

Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Stranger (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - Filming OthelloThe Other Side of the Wind

Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - The Eyes of Orson Welles - They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1 - Part 2

© thevoid99 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Lady from Shanghai

Based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King, The Lady from Shanghai is the story of a man who finds himself in trouble that involves a tycoon and his seductive wife. Written for the screen and directed by Orson Welles, with additional screenplay contributions by William Castle, Charles Lederer, and Fletcher Markle. The film is an exploration into a man who finds himself intrigued by a couple only to get himself into deep trouble. Starring Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, and Everett Sloane. The Lady from Shanghai is a chilling yet rich suspense film from Orson Welles.

What happens when an Irish sailor comes across a beautiful woman who is married to a famed lawyer as he falls for her and later finds himself in trouble when he’s involved in an embezzlement plot? That’s the idea of the film as it explores this man named Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) who meets this beautiful woman named Elsa (Rita Hayworth) as she is intrigued by him where he becomes a sailor on a yacht owned by her husband Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane). An attraction ensues between Michael and Elsa as it gets the attention of Bannister’s partner George Grisby (Glenn Anders) who conspires to fake his own death with Michael receiving $5000 to do the deed. Yet, things become complicated when Michael realizes that something didn’t go right when a private detective named Sidney Broome (Ted de Corsia) is involved trying to figure out what is going. Notably as it leads a chilling climax for Michael to realize what’s really going on.

The screenplay does create a lot of schematics that would become part of the formula that is expected in the world of film noir. There’s this drifter who finds himself attracted to this gorgeous blonde who is married to a disabled criminal defense attorney. There’s the woman herself as she exudes all of the qualities that can get men to do her bidding as she is also troubled by the fact that her marriage is failing and she is in love with this sailor. There’s this defense attorney who is unaware of what is going as he becomes a target for an embezzlement scheme. Then there’s his business partner who wants to fake his death as a way to use it as a ruse so he can plot something else and blame this drifter for the crime.

It’s all part of the set-up that Welles and his contributing writers would do in this story as it involves all sorts of genres into the story. Romance, suspense, and crime all involving this Irish sailor who is reflecting on everything he’s been through in this journey. From the first meeting he has with Elsa to his meeting with Grisby where Michael finds himself taking the deal in the hopes that he and Elsa will be together. Michael is unaware that he is being played for a fool where he finds himself in big trouble where Bannister has to defend him in court where there’s some revelations that occur. Notably where Michael realizes what has been done to him and why as it’s up to him to piece everything together.

Welles’ direction definitely has an air of style in the way he presents the film though he does manage to keep things straightforward in second unit shots and vast location shots in San Francisco and nearby locations as well as some shots in Acapulco, Mexico. Welles still maintains that air of style in the close-up and medium shots to establish the tense mood that is happening as well as the romance between Michael and Elsa. Welles also plays up the air of suspense that occurs where he knows that audiences will expect something but he’ll find a way to build up that momentum very slowly and do something either expected or unexpected.

Welles also plays into this element of style in the way he sets a mood for some tense scenes involving the suspense where it does become intense. Notably in the courtroom scenes where it’s all about Michael O’Hara being the target for all that is happened and what could be unveiled. Even as it leads to this very surreal yet dazzling climax where O’Hara not only unveils the mystery but also what it was all about. It’s one of the most thrilling moments of the film as well as something that is really unexpected in terms of the way Welles presented with a large degree of style. Overall, Welles creates a very fascinating yet mesmerizing thriller that plays to the attributes of film noir.

Cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr., with additional work from Rudolph Mate and Joseph Walker, does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the beautiful scenery in some of the film‘s beach locations to the stylish interior shadings in some of the film‘s nighttime scenes. Editor Viola Lawrence does amazing work with the editing as it‘s very stylized with its use of dissolves as well as dazzling cuts in the film‘s climax. Art directors Sturges Carne and Stephen Gooson, along with set decorators Wilbur Menefee and Herman N. Schoenbrun, do terrific work with the sets from the look of the courtroom and places the characters go to as well as the place for the film’s climax.

Costume designer Jean Louis does wonderful work with the gowns and clothes that Elsa wears to complement her unique sense of style. Sound recordist Lodge Cunningham does terrific work with the sound from the tense moments in the courtroom to the more low-key atmosphere in the scenes on the yacht. The film’s music by Heinz Roemheld is superb for its intense orchestral moments that is filled with lush string flourishes to play out the drama as well as eerie bombast for its suspenseful moments.

The film’s cast is brilliant as it features some notable small performances from Carl Frank as the district attorney, Erskine Sanford as the judge, and Ted de Corsia as the private detective Sidney Broome. Everett Sloane is terrific as Arthur Bannister who is unaware of Elsa’s attraction towards Michael while he tries to defend him in court where he realizes what has been going on. Glenn Anders is excellent as the scheming George Grisby who tries to get Michael involved in a plan to steal money from Bannister. Rita Hayworth is marvelous as Elsa where Hayworth is just intoxicating to watch as a woman who is clearly falling for Michael as she also deals with the consequences they’re dealing with. Finally, there’s Orson Welles in a remarkable performance as Michael O’Hara where Welles plays him as a man trapped by his surroundings and the situations he’s in. While some of Welles’ Irish accent isn’t perfect, it is still engaging for the way he tries to piece out everything that’s been happening.

The Lady from Shanghai is an incredible film from Orson Welles that features a fantastic performance from Rita Hayworth. The film isn’t just one of Welles’ finest films but also one of the key films of the film noir genre of the 1940s and early 1950s. Notably in how it creates the air of suspense while engaging the audience into figuring out what is going on throughout the film. In the end, The Lady from Shanghai is a rich yet phenomenal film from Orson Welles.

Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - Filming OthelloThe Other Side of the Wind

Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - The Eyes of Orson Welles - They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1 - Part 2

© thevoid99 2013

Blind Spot 2013: Citizen Kane

Directed by Orson Welles and written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, Citizen Kane is the story about the life of a publishing tycoon as people investigate his final words as they reflect on his triumphs and scandals. The film is an exploration into the life of a man and how he became successful but also infamous as Welles plays the lead role of Charles Foster Kane. Also starring Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, and William Alland. Citizen Kane is a towering film from Orson Welles.

The film is essentially the story about the rise and fall of a publishing tycoon who tried all he can to make the world love him and be loved in the hopes to find happiness. Instead, he dies a man who has surrounded himself with all sorts of things like statues and various objects yet keeps uttering the world “rosebud”. That word would set the story in course as a reporter named Jerry Thompson (William Alland) tries to uncover the mystery about this word. Is it about someone in his life or an object he held very dearly? By talking to various people in this man’s life, Thompson finds himself trying to figure out what does it all mean. Yet, he also learns that the life of Charles Foster Kane is just as mysterious as the meaning of Kane’s final word.

The screenplay that Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz creates does use the rise-and-fall schematics as part of a plot device. Yet, it is told unconventionally since it’s more about the life of a man told by other people. The film begins with Kane uttering his final words and then goes into this newsreel montage of who Charles Foster Kane is. Through this newsreel, Kane is revealed to be a man who was adopted by a rich banker only to be surprised by Kane’s ambitions to run a newspaper and then become a man of great power. Yet, Kane would be married twice in his life and later divorced while becoming obsessive in building a paradise of his own called Xanadu. Kane would also endure scandal and failure as his desperation to be loved by the world only has him driving away those who cared for him where it leads to his own downfall.

Since it’s a story about a man’s life told by others, it allows the character of Thompson to figure out what “rosebud” means. There, he goes through the archives of Kane’s late guardian Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris) while interviewing associates like friend Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), business manager Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), and his butler Raymond (Paul Stewart) at Xanadu. Then there’s Kane’s second wife Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore) who would be the woman to end Kane’s first marriage and his political campaign to be New York state governor. With the exception of Raymond, the individuals that Thompson meets would reveal a lot about who Kane is but also his flaws as a man where they all endured his cruelty though none of them including Raymond know who or what “rosebud” is.

Welles’ direction is entrancing for the way he presents the story about the life of this man in such a wide range of style. From the use of newsreels to help establish who Kane is before the film’s main narrative begins as well as the array of montages and stylish compositions. The direction is often filled with an array of arresting imagery from the look of Xanadu shown from its gate with this amazing mountain castle as it’s backdrop to the presentation of the opera scenes that Susan performs in. It’s all part of this world that Kane lives in as it lives up to the sense of grandeur of who this man as he is a larger than life figure. Welles uses all sorts of unique crane shots and other stylized compositions to establish this larger-than-life persona that Kane is including in the scene where he makes his campaign speech to the people.

The direction also has Welles create compositions that are striking in the way he puts an actor in the background while another is placed very closely to the camera. It’s Welles establishing of what is happening such as a scene where the eight-year old Kane (Buddy Swan) is playing outside of the house while the focus is inside where Thatcher talks to Kane’s parents about adopting him. It’s a framing device Welles would use to establish the sense of detachment that occurs between Kane and the people in his life. These are among the many stylized shots including the film’s opening sequence that is filled with an array of dizzying dissolves and special effects shots courtesy of Vernon L. Walker. Notably as it play to Kane’s death and what he was craving for in his final word.

While Welles does use a lot of stylized shots to establish key dramatic events or environments that play up to the characters Thompson interviews. There’s also moments where Welles would create images that are simple yet ominous. Notably at objects where it plays to the obsessive mind of Kane who fills his life with statues and things yet it also reveals the emptiness he is as a man. It all comes back to that final word that he says in “rosebud”. “Rosebud” does get revealed but what is revealed says a lot more of not what just Kane lost in his life but the path he had taken in his life that had brought him a lot of things but also ruin. Overall, Welles creates a very fascinating yet exhilarating portrait of a man who has everything and then loses everything.

Cinematographer Gregg Tolland does what is truly some of the most exquisite use in the art of photography. From the simpler shots for some of the film‘s exterior scenes to the gorgeous compositions for many of the film‘s backdrop settings. Tolland‘s photography is a major highlight in the film‘s technical field that includes some mesmerizing shots in many of the film‘s interiors from the way he uses shadings and lighting schemes to set the mood. Editor Robert Wise does fantastic work with the editing to play up the sense of grandeur that Kane is where Wise definitely goes from style from the use of transitional cuts in dissolves and wipes as well as montages to play up Kane’s rise and fall. Art director Van Nest Polglase and set decorator Darrell Silvera do amazing work with the set pieces from the look of Xanadu in all of its spectacle landscapes and buildings that plays up to Kane‘s persona to the sets such as the Inquirer newspaper building and the opera staging for Susan.

Costume designer Edward Stevenson does wonderful work with the costumes from the suits that Kane wears to play up his persona to the clothes that Susan wears to establish who she is as a woman that eventually becomes lost in her role. The makeup work of Maurice Seiderman does excellent work with the makeup for many of the film‘s male characters to age to represent what they‘ve become including Susan who looks like a woman who‘s been worn out. The sound work of John O. Aalberg is fantastic for the atmosphere it creates from the scenes at the opera house to the more chilling, intimate moments at the Xanadu estate.

The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is superb for the sense of drama that it plays to with its orchestral score from the ominous opening scenes to the more heavier moments with bombastic arrangements to play up the melodrama. The film’s soundtrack consists an array of music from opera to jazz as it plays to the times that Kane has lived in as well as some of the emotional moments of the film.

The casting by Rufus LeMaire and Robert Palmer is outstanding for the ensemble that is created for the film. Notable small roles include Buddy Swan as the young Kane, Sonny Bupp as Kane’s young son, Erskine Sanford as the newspaper publisher Kane gets rid of, Harry Shannon and Agnes Moorehead as Kane’s parents, and Ruth Warrick as Kane’s first wife Emily who was the niece of the then-U.S. President where their marriage eventually becomes strained. Paul Stewart is very good as Kane’s butler Raymond who reveals to Thompson about the moment Kane’s life falls apart while Everett Sloane is wonderful as Kane’s longtime business manager who very loyal to him as he watches Kane slowly fall apart. George Coulouris is excellent as Kane’s guardian in the banker Walter Parks Thatcher who is baffled by the young Kane’s ambition as he ends up being forgotten by Kane.

Ray Collins is superb in a small but memorable appearance as Kane’s political rival Jim W. Gettys who would be the one to expose Kane that would lead to his own political downfall. Dorothy Comingore is radiant as Kane’s second wife Susan Alexander as a young woman Kane falls for as he tries to make her into a great singer only to find herself unhappy with the role Kane expects her to be as she ends up a worn out woman. Joseph Cotten is great as Kane’s best friend Jedediah Leland who deals with Kane’s ambition as he finds himself overwhelmed and disillusioned where he later reflects on what kind of man Kane was. William Alland is terrific as the reporter Jerry Thompson who tries to piece the mystery about Kane’s final words as he becomes more baffled by what he finds.

Finally, there’s Orson Welles in a remarkable performance as Charles Foster Kane who becomes a man of great ambition. Welles displays great charisma and energy to a man who is larger than life only to be brought back down to earth as he starts to lose everything where Welles’ performance becomes more eerie in its final moments. Notably as he tries to become a man of defiance who wants the people to love him as he only finds himself become a man that people despise. It’s truly a performance for the ages as well as an indication of what kind of actor Welles is.

Citizen Kane is an outstanding film from Orson Welles. Thanks to a great ensemble cast and amazing technical work highlighted by Gregg Tolland’s photography, Robert Wise’s editing, and Bernard Herrmann’s music. It’s a film that definitely lives up to sense of grandeur that Welles wanted to display in the rise and fall of a man who craves to be loved only to lose something far more valuable. It’s also a film that definitely indicates into why Orson Welles is so revered by film buffs and filmmakers as it also serves as a true introduction into his work. In the end, Citizen Kane is a triumphant film from Orson Welles.

Orson Welles Films: The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - Filming OthelloThe Other Side of the Wind

Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - The Eyes of Orson Welles - They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1 - Part 2

© thevoid99 2013