Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Films That I Saw: February 2013

The Oscar season is finally over. Honestly, it’s been a relief as I had trouble trying to create Oscar predictions where I eventually decided not to do it and make a fool of myself. Still, the show was decent. I’m glad Anne Hathaway, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Lawrence, Ang Lee, and Adele won though I’m upset that Roger Deakins once again loses. Now that it’s over, it’s time to focus on what is ahead as I’ve already started the 2013 season with a winner in Side Effects.

Though February is the shortest month of the year, I was able to see a damn good number of films this month as I saw a total of 45 films. 30 first-timers and 15 re-watches. Not surprisingly, down from last month except in first-timers though some of those first-timers were short films. The highlight was definitely Mona Lisa. Particularly as I now have that Genesis song In Too Deep stuck in my head. Hey, I’ll take that over that fucking Lumineers song. Plus, it allowed me the chance to explore some of the other films from the famed Handmade Films company that was co-founded by George Harrison. Here is the top 10 list of the best first-timers that I saw this month (excluding Mona Lisa):

1. Walkabout

2. Killer of Sheep

3. Withnail and I

4. The Kid with a Bike

5. Wet Hot American Summer

6. Close-Up

7. The Long Good Friday

8. Summer Hours

9. La Promesse

10. Side Effects

Monthly Mini-Reviews:

The Horse/When It Rains

Since Killer of Sheep was one of the highlights of the month, the only other film of Charles Burnett that I had seen prior to that film was the very underrated cop drama The Glass Shield. In the two short films that I was able to record during a re-airing of Killer of Sheep on Turner Classic Movies. I saw what are undoubtedly two great shorts. The Horse is this rich yet tense film about a boy waiting for his father to kill a dying horse as the boy is comforting that horse in its final moments. When It Rains is a much more hopeful short about a musician who tries to help a friend pay her rent by asking people for some money he was owed to on New Year’s Day. These shorts are must-sees as it emphasizes on how underrated Burnett is as a filmmaker.

That’s My Boy!

I have masochistic tendencies to watch bad movies. Notably as I wanted to know how bad they are and how much I can take the awfulness of that film. This is one I will never watch again as I will be continuing my boycott of Adam Sandler. While this is a major improvement over the abomination that was Jack & Jill, it’s not enough to help the awfulness of this film. It’s bad enough that this film celebrates statutory rape and pedophilia in such crude humor that is brought to you by wine coolers, Yoo-hoo, NBC TV movies of the week, Budweiser, and other stupid product placements. Yet, there’s also a lot of gross moments that will test a viewer. Still, it’s nothing compared to the climax that involves incest that if this film was being shown on a plane. I would be the first to jump off.


From the school of bad filmmaking courtesy of Michael Bay, this film is an emphasis on how to not make a summer blockbuster. It’s all over the place in terms of action and drama. Too many fast-cuts that doesn’t make any sense. The talents of people like Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgard are totally wasted in favor of people like Rihanna. The villains are lame. Plus, it has some of the worst usage of rock music out there. It’s bad enough that AC/DC is being overplayed to death. The icing on the cake for me is the usage of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son at the end which is an anti-war song. It’s usage in a film that is supposed to spout all pro-military propaganda is just flat out insulting.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. The New World

2. Kill Bill Vol. 1

3. The Love Bug

4. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

5. North Country

6. Steamboat Willie

7. Miracle

8. Dr. T & the Women

9. The Great White Hype

10. Sonny

Well, that is it for February. For March, there will be a focus on a few things for the month. Notably the films of Whit Stillman who will be the next subject of my Auteurs piece. There will also be a few reviews of films by Jane Campion in anticipation for her upcoming mini-series Top of the Lake on the Sundance Channel in late March. Also slated for March will be a slew of reviews of Asian films, notably a lot of old-school Japanese films where one of which will be one of my Blind Spot entries. I will finally go into my vault and retrieve and re-write reviews of films by Francois Ozon as I hope to catch up on some of his recent films and some of his shorts. As far as new releases, Stoker is the one film I’m aiming to see though there could be additional possibilities as well.

I will also be starting work on the LiT10 project though I don’t think I will start publishing them since I want to do more than just write about the film. I want some banners and some visual ideas that will accompany some of my ideas as well as new DVD copy. Plus, can anyone teach me on how to make banners and such? Until then, this is thevoid99 signing out.

© thevoid99 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

History of the Eagles

Directed by Allison Ellwood, History of the Eagles is a two-part documentary exploring the career of one of American popular music’s revered bands led by Don Henley and Glenn Frey. Along with interviews from various members as well as associates, the film explores the band’s career from their hey-day in the 1970s to the break-up that occurred in the early 1980s that would later be followed by a reunion in the early 1990s. The result is a fascinating and entertaining documentary about one of the most popular bands of the 20th Century.

In this documentary that is split into two parts where the first part is about the band’s hey-day in the 1970s to their break-up in 1980 while the second part is about the band’s 1994 reunion and afterwards as they’ve become bigger than ever. While its leaders Don Henley and Glenn Frey both do a lot of commentaries since they did find the band with original members Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner. They do allow the former members that include Don Felder to have their say in the interviews while letting other members in Timothy B. Schmidt and Joe Walsh have their say. Other personnel such as manager Irving Azoff and people like J.D. Souther and Jackson Browne are among those who are interviewed for the film.

Throughout the bulk of the film, the band and Azoff do reveal a lot of wild stories about drugs and such as the film does reveal some archive footage of the band’s wild days in the 70s. Notably as it included a third encore in which a beautiful naked lady is dancing onstage while the band is playing. How can anyone not enjoy that? The band is also upfront about the fact that they’re not always likeable guys for the fact they can be assholes. The stories about Leadon and Meisner’s departures definitely show a side of why they left where both Henley and Frey were quite fair towards them about why those guys left. Yet, Frey is a bit more outspoken as it relates to former guitarist Don Felder who was fired from the band in 2001 over financial disagreements.

There is controversy over the way Frey and Henley handled Felder’s termination over the fact that Frey and Henley get a bigger pay check over everyone else. Then again, they wrote most of the songs and are the leaders of the band. At least Felder got a chance to state his case while Frey states his case for the band. There are also revelations into why the band broke up in 1980 where a lot of answers are revealed as well as the fact that there was some regret over the way things were handled towards the end. Many of the film’s first part that chronicles the band’s early beginnings to their 1980 break-up is definitely the strongest section of the film. Notably for some of the entertaining moments such as a recording of a 1980 benefit show where Glenn Frey wanted to kick Don Felder’s ass over what Felder said to a senator.

The film’s second part about the aftermath of the break-up and their eventual reunion isn’t as interesting since there’s a few moments where things lag a bit. Still, there are moments that are interesting that included Joe Walsh’s substance abuse issues and how he was able to get clean before the band’s 1994 reunion tour. Through Alison Ellwood’s direction, she definitely gathers a lot of rare footage of the band from the early years as well as some inspiring dramatic shots courtesy of cinematographer Samuel Painter. With sound designer Ruy Garcia and sound editor Philip Stockton, the band’s music is given some remastering that includes the band’s 1977 Washington D.C. concert which was sort of the band at their peak at the time. Overall, Ellwood crafts a very insightful and fun documentary about the Eagles.

History of the Eagles is a remarkable documentary about the famed country-rock band that will definitely please fans as well as people who are casual fans of the group. While they aren’t for everyone, the band does make their case into why they’re so popular as well as being upfront for the fact that they can be assholes at times. In the end, History of the Eagles is an excellent documentary from Allison Ellwood.

© thevoid99 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Raging Bull

Originally Written and Posted at on 12/7/05 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on Jake LaMotta's biographical novel co-written with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage, Raging Bull is the story about the rise and fall of the middleweight boxing champion who succumbs to failure as due to the pressures of the world as well as life outside of the ring. Directed by Martin Scorsese and screenplay by Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader, the film is an exploration into a man who rises high only to undo himself as he deals with failure as it stars Robert de Niro as Jake LaMotta. Also starring Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, and Cathy Moriarty. Raging Bull is a visceral yet harrowing film from Martin Scorsese.

The film is an exploration into the rise and fall of Jake LaMotta as he was once this fearless middleweight fighter in the early 1940s only to become a wreck of a man doing a comedy routine in 1964 as the film begins with this once revered man who is now a fat bum. In the course of the film, LaMotta is portrayed as a gifted fighter who is able to fight his opponents with great skill though he would lose a few matches. Some of which by decision much to the dismay of the people who knows how good LaMotta is. Outside of the ring, LaMotta is a very complicated man who doesn't treat people very well like his first wife Irma (Lori Anne Flax) while leaving all of the business matters to his young brother Joey (Joe Pesci). Once Jake falls for a 15-year old girl named Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) whom he would later marry, things would seem to go well. Yet, bad decisions in and out of the ring, paranoia, and jealousy would lead to his own undoing as he later becomes a retired fat man trying to become a stand-up comedian at his own club in the mid-1950s.

The classic rise-and-fall storyline is always done in some kind of formula but in the way Martin Scorsese and his writers Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin chose to approach it by making it into a simple character study. Going for a visually, poetic style of directing with hand-held cameras, freeze-frames, frame-speeds, and all sorts of unconventional style. Scorsese presents a beautiful yet harrowing tale of a boxer who had it all only to realize that he blew it. Overall, it's Scorsese's realistic take on drama that gives the movie a lasting quality from what goes on in the ring to what happens outside the ring. There's never a moment where the drama is over-the-top, especially in famous scenes where Jake asks Joey to hit him or the jail-cell scene in where Jake ponders why he's done this to himself.

While the film's dramatic moments is wonderfully done thanks to Scorsese's direction, a lot of the credit should go to the screenwriters, Martin and Schrader. Easy enough to follow along in their structure, the story pretty much is told in a simple yet stylized way from the domestic drama to everything that goes on in the ring. The first act of the story is Jake working his way into the top and the second act is where Jake reaches it only to find ways to blow it. The third act of the story isn't necessarily a boxing movie but instead becomes an aftermath of what happens when a boxer is done and becomes in what Marlon Brando's Terry Malloy in Elia Kazan's classic 1954 film On the Waterfront says "I could've had class, I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum". That line itself pretty much sums up the failures of Jake La Motta who realizes what he's done in the end.

While Scorsese gets a lot of the credit for the film's presentation, Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin deserves equal credit for their realistic view on storytelling as well as the film's authentic dialogue. Especially in the film's spectacular boxing sequences which are some of the most beautiful and downright bloody images captured on film. With the real Jake La Motta serving as a consultant, the boxing sequences aren't just choreographed right down to its essential but also the camera movements and presentation including one sequence of a man getting knocked down with the camera falling down with him. Even in short sequences there's movements of freeze-frame shots, slow-motion angles, and everything.

It's not just Scorsese, La Motta, and the screenwriters who gets credit but some very important collaborators who capture the grit of what goes on in the ring. Cinematographer Michael Chapman's lighting and use of flashbulbs with the black-and-white photography is evocative in every frame to see, especially from the shots where the cameras would flash their bulbs and to what goes on in the ring with smoky air surrounding the fighters. While Chapman's other work on the film is filled with great, authentic moments, it's his work in the boxing ring that brings poetry to those images. Another person who is responsible for the boxing scenes is Scorsese's longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker who's fast-cutting style and uses of freeze-frames, slow speeds, and stylized tone of editing gives the boxing scenes a moment of horror and wonderful imagery. Even in the shorter sequences, there's a great style as it's a masterwork in the world of editing.

The sound work of Les Lazarowitz and Bill Nicholson add a lot of chaos to the ring from the anger and excitement to the crowds to the swift punches and swings of the boxers inside. Even at moments, the sound is so authentic with every punch, the audience couldn't help but wince and groan at every punch delivered. Make-up artist Michael Westmore also deserves credit not just for his work in the ring with the blood coming out of the faces but also the make-up for the over-the-hill Jake La Motta that shows the sadness of a man who fell from grace hard. Helping the film with its authentic look on the New York sequences outside of the ring is production designer Gene Rudolf along with art director Sheldon Harber for many of the film's bar scenes and nightlife of 1940s/1950s America while Rudolf also does the design of houses and boxing rings in many of the film's other sequences. Costume designers John Boxer and Richard Bruno also do amazing work on the film's costume, especially the dresses of the female actresses and the suits of all the male actors.

While the film features a lot of old music from the likes of Perry Como, Tony Bennett, and other singers of the time, many of the film's music is from the works of composer Pietro Mascagni, especially the film's opening orchestral score in the opening credits of Jake La Motta boxing alone. The music helps in what Scorsese wanted in terms of its dramatic effect and ode to nostalgia. Helping Scorsese with the use of music is former leader of the Band, Robbie Robertson who was Scorsese's leading music producer for several of his films during the 80s. Robertson deserves credit for placing the music on where it should be that helps the film with its authenticity.

Finally, there's the film's superb cast of actors that features great performances from the men who play many of La Motta's opponents, notably Johnny Barnes in the role of Sugar Ray Leonard. Also mentioned for their cameo roles are Martin Scorsese as a bar hand in the film's final scene and his father Charles as Tommy Como's friend as well as early appearances from Michael Badalucco as a soda-pop clerk and John Turturro as a guy in the table in the party scene where Jake sees Vickie. While Theresa Saldana and Lori Anne Flax had small roles as the respective wives of Joey and Jake, they definitely are memorable, especially Flax as Jake's volatile first wife. Nicholas Colasanto is excellent as the sleazy but charming mob boss Tommy Como with his wit and corruptive power. Frank Vincent is also amazing as the hard-nosed and nasty Salvy who likes to get things into trouble and it's a memorable role since Vincent is a well-known character actor.

In her film debut at only 18-years old, Cathy Moriarty gives an amazing, sprawling performance as the beautiful but frustrated Vickie. Moriarty brings a toughness and grace to her role while having great scenes with Pesci and de Niro while standing on her own. Making her character more complex, even towards the end of the film, Moriarty grows from a battered wife who has been sexually and socially neglected to a woman who has had enough and wants to move on. This is a wonderful performance from the always brilliant and funny Moriarty. Joe Pesci gives an amazing, fierce performance as Joey with his tough-minded business attitude and as a conscience-of-sorts for Jake despite the bad things he does for himself too. Whenever he's near Jake, Pesci always tells him what to do and what is right but we also see a real mean side as he goes ballistic in a famous fight scene against Frank Vincent. Though Pesci hasn't been around in the film world since the late 90s, he's an actor that no one can forget as he is truly one of Scorsese's finest actors.

Finally, there's Robert de Niro in a performance for the ages as Jake LaMotta. It's a performance that is an example into why de Niro is so revered as he showcases a man who is one tough son-of-a-bitch who is not willing to be knocked down in a fight eve if he has to lose. There's also this vulnerability that de Niro displays as he makes LaMotta human by showcasing the man's insecurities whether it's through violence or not wanting to give in to sex for different reasons. Once de Niro becomes the older LaMotta, we see a man who is nothing more than a shell of his former self as there's layers to the performance not just in his appearance but what's inside as it's definitely one unforgettable performance.

Raging Bull is an outstanding film from Martin Scorsese that features a magnificent performance from Robert de Niro. Along with a great supporting cast that includes Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, and Cathy Moriarty as well as amazing technical work from Michael Chapman and Thelma Schoonmaker. The film is truly one of the most eerie portraits of a man who rises high and falls big as it is presented with such beauty and ugliness that captures the life of Jake LaMotta. In the end, Raging Bull is a phenomenal film from Martin Scorsese.

Martin Scorsese Films: (Who’s That Knocking on My Door?) - (Street Scenes) - Boxcar Bertha - (Mean Streets) - Italianamerican - Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore - Taxi Driver - New York, New York - American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince - (The Last Waltz) - The King of Comedy - After Hours - The Color of Money - The Last Temptation of Christ - New York Stories-Life Lessons - Goodfellas - Cape Fear (1991 film) - The Age of Innocence - (A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies) - (Casino) - (Kundun) - (My Voyage to Italy) - Bringing Out the Dead - (The Blues-Feel Like Going Home) - Gangs of New York - (The Aviator (2004 film)) - No Direction Home - The Departed - Shine a Light - Shutter Island - (A Letter to Elia) - (Public Speaking) - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Hugo - The Wolf of Wall Street - (The Fifty Year Argument) - Silence (2016 film) - (The Irishman) - Killers of the Flower Moon - (An Afternoon with SCTV)

© thevoid99 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Withnail and I

Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, Withnail and I is the story of two unemployed actors stay in a cottage for a week only for the holiday to go absolutely wrong testing the friendship of these two men. The film is an exploration into the lives of two very troubled men who drown their sorrows through alcohol and all sorts of vices only to find their holiday to be an unpleasant experience. Starring Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Ralph Brown, and Richard E. Griffiths. Withnail and I is a farcical yet witty comedy from Bruce Robinson.

It’s 1969 as two unemployed actors named Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and I (Paul McGann) go on a trip to the British countryside to take a break from their dilapidated lives only to find the trip to be unpleasant. Dealing with rain, lack of resources, and a willingness to get drunk, things get worse when Withnail’s uncle Monty (Richard E. Griffiths) arrives who tries to seduce I as things eventually go wrong for the two friends. It’s a film that explores the relationship of these two actors who are down on their luck as they’re waiting for a break yet nothing is happening. By taking a holiday, they hope that things will get better but they encounter lots of misadventures and moments that would test their friendship just as things were already problematic to begin with.

Bruce Robinson’s screenplay is based on his own struggles with alcoholism and life as a young struggling actor as the script is told largely from the perspective of I. A young man who lives in this very filthy flat with his friend Withnail as they’re both very talented but unable to find work as actors. There are some voice-over narration from I reflecting on his experiences as he also sees Withnail going through similar struggles except he is more selfish and comes from a very different background where he has a rich uncle who is gay. By going to the country to stay at Monty’s cottage on a week-long holiday, the two expect for things to be OK but it doesn’t. Monty’s unexpected visit would make things worse as Withnail would take advantage of his uncle’s generosity while making him claim that I is also gay.

Once in the country, Withnail and I enter a world that is far removed from their life in Camden as they don’t understand the way things work as they feel like they can come in and do whatever they want. Through some of Robinson’s witty dialogue, the two would often quote lines from plays and such while use their acting skills to bullshit their way through any situation. By the third act, things do go into chaos as it involves not just prospects for one of the men but also an indication of where things are going just as the 60s are about to end.

Robinson’s direction is very lively in the way he captures a period in time that reflects his experience in the late 1960s. Notably as he creates scenes that play up to this world of dreariness that is in sharp contrast to the peace-and-love vibe of the times. Withnail and I don’t look or dress like hippies but rather men who live in their own world filled with booze, pills, and other things. Yet, they’re comfortable with it except they’re low on money and are unable to find work. Robinson uses a lot of medium shots and some close-ups to establish the mood of these characters as well as some wide shots of their environment including some beautiful locations in the British countryside near Shap and Bampton. There, Robinson uses these wide shots and other compositions to establish the sense of alienation of these two men from this world they’re in.

Robinson’s approach to comedy is based on a sense of improvisation to add the sense of something unexpected. Notably in one of the film’s most famous scenes in which Withnail and I go into a tea cafĂ© and demand cakes and wine just as the place is about to close. There are also some very comical moments involving Monty’s attempt to woo I as Monty is clueless to the fact that I isn’t gay and I becomes very uncomfortable. Still, Robinson does maintain that air of theatricality in the performances as it relates to Withnail and I acting their way into a situation as if they’re doing Shakespeare in certain places. Overall, Robinson crafts a very charming and off-the-wall comedy about a holiday gone wrong.

Cinematographer Peter Hannan does nice work with the film‘s low-colored photography from the dreary look of Camden and the countryside in the daytime during the rain to the more low-key lighting schemes in some of the film‘s nighttime interior scenes. Editor Alan Strachan does terrific work with the editing by using rhythmic cuts to play out some of the film‘s humor along with some straightforward cutting in some of its dramatic moments. Production designer Michael Pickwoad and art director Henry Harris do wonderful work with the look of Withnail and I’s dirty flat as well as the cottage they stay in.

Costume designer Andrea Galer does superb work with the costumes to complement the dreary look of the film while giving Monty some finer clothes to represent his flamboyant personality. Sound editor Alan Paley does some excellent work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the scenes in the cottage as well as some scenes in the flat. The film’s music by David Dundas and Rick Wentworth is brilliant as it’s mostly a folk-based score to play out the emotions of the characters while its music soundtrack consists of music from the times that included some jazz as well as cuts by King Curtis, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles.

The casting by Mary Selway is amazing as it features some very memorable small roles from Michael Elphick as a poacher from the countryside and Ralph Brown as the philosophical hippie Danny. Richard E. Griffiths is splendidly funny as Withnail’s uncle Monty as he tries to woo I while dealing with some of the chaos that goes on in his cottage. Finally, there’s the duo of Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann in outstanding performances in their respective roles of Withnail and I. Grant brings a very wild performance as a man who loves to drink and takes control of any situation where Grant is always commanding while spouting all sorts of quotes. McGann brings a more reserved performance as the straight-man I as he also displays some great comic reactions to his own situations including those involving Monty. Grant and McGann together make a fantastic comic team as they pillage and act their way into every situation as they are a major highlight to the film.

Withnail and I is an incredible film from Bruce Robinson that features brilliant performances from Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann. It’s a film that is truly filled with absurd and shocking moments while not giving in towards convention as it’s also very funny. It’s also a very captivating film that explores a holiday gone wrong when it involves two unemployed men with nothing to do in the late 60s. In the end, Withnail and I is a remarkable film from Bruce Robinson.

Bruce Robinson Films: (How to Get Ahead in Advertising) - (Jennifer 8) - (The Rum Diary)

© thevoid99 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Long Good Friday

Directed by John Mackenzie and written by Barrie Keeffe, The Long Good Friday is the story of a gangster seeking to go legit only to see his empire being crumbled by an unseen foe. The film is an exploration into changing times in the wake of social and political turmoil in the 1970s in Britain as it revolves a gangster dealing with these changes. Starring Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Bryan Marshall, Eddie Constantine, Derek Thompson, and Paul Freeman. The Long Good Friday is a suspenseful yet thrilling film from John Mackenzie.

In the world of the mob, there are rules about what to do when deals are made and how to conduct things. For this mob boss in Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins), he’s always been careful and making sure he get things done while he doesn’t deal in drugs in the hope to do something good for Britain. Just as he’s about to make this deal with an American mobster in Charlie (Eddie Constantine) that would help ensure London’s status with the world. Something goes wrong as a series of bombings and murders occur as Shand and his men wonder what is going on. Even as Shand tries to get the police involved as the film becomes a mystery of sorts about not just this new enemy that Shand is facing but an indication that the old ways he’s been known for is on its way out.

Barrie Keeffe’s screenplay is an exploration into the fall of a crime boss’s empire just as he’s eager to become a legitimate businessman. Yet, these incidents that revolve around the death of some of his key personnel all takes place in the span of nearly two days starting on Good Friday. For Shand, he’s baffled into why all of these deaths are happening as he doesn’t have many enemies while it comes at the worst possible day. With his mistress Victoria (Helen Mirren) trying to smooth things out for Charlie and his lawyer Tony (Stephen Davies), even Victoria is aware that Charlie knows something as she doesn’t bullshit them but does manage to keep them in Britain for another day so that Shand can conclude their deal.

Of course, things do become complicated for Shand as he targets associates and such as he has no idea who to trust. Yet, his right-hand man Jeff (Derek Thompson) and a police official in Parky (Dave King) have an idea on who is targeting Shand. What Shand would find out is that the enemy that he’s dealing with are from an entirely different world as well as the fact that they don’t play by the old rules. Jeff and Parky would try to tell the old-school Shand to not approach this with violence but Shand has this belief that once something can be taken care of. It will go away. Still, there are things that become more complicated when Shand will do things that become overwhelming as Victoria would be the one person who will step in and try to sort things out but from afar as she is the closest person that Shand could trust.

John Mackenzie’s direction is definitely entrancing not just for some of the compositions that he creates but also the way he sets up the air of uncertainty that occurs in the suspense of the film. The film does start off with this montage involving a business deal that would set the stage for what is to happen. Yet, it doesn’t involve Shand directly yet it does involve his men. Though Shand is oblivious as he’s more concerned about this deal as it is presented with such lavishness on his yacht where behind him is the London Tower bridge in the frame. It’s an image to display Shand’s idea for the future of London while maintaining an air of tradition of what Britain is about just as he’s unaware of some of the things that is happening in his empire. Mackenzie does use a lot of stylistic shots from the use of cranes and tracking camera shots including some amazing images that play up the suspense.

Mackenzie’s approach to suspense is at times slow-building but also comes in for some unexpected moments as it does involve some key characters. After a few bombings, there is that sense that something could go wrong and another bomb might come in. Once there’s an idea of who the enemy is, things become more complicated as it all goes back to the beginning of the film. It reveals how this small deal involving one of Shand’s key men would lead to all sorts of trouble. The camera work becomes much tighter as well as ominous because it establishes the idea of a new world order emerging to get rid of the old. Especially if this new group is an organization that no one including the crime world should fuck with because the rules are different as Mackenzie puts in little moments that would establish this idea of a new world order. Overall, Mackenzie crafts a very haunting yet powerful crime drama about changing times and a crime boss’ fall.

Cinematographer Phil Meheux does brilliant work with the film‘s very vibrant cinematography for many of its daytime scenes while creating more stylish lighting schemes for scenes at night including some of its interior settings. Editor Mike Taylor does terrific work with the editing to play out the film‘s suspense along with some rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s violent moments. Art director Vic Symonds does nice work with the look of Shand’s yacht and penthouse that he shares with Victoria as well as the look of the meat locker where he confronts some suspects.

Costume designer Tudor George does wonderful work with the costumes from the look of the men’s suits to the dresses that Victoria wears to display not just her persona but also as a woman of great importance. Sound editor Russ Hill does excellent work with the sound from the tense atmosphere in the dinner scene between Victoria, Charlie, and a couple of associates to the more chilling moments involving some of the film‘s violence. The film’s music by Francis Monkman is absolutely phenomenal as it’s a mixture of rock and electronic music driven by synthesizers to play out the sense of dread and uncertainty that occurs in the film as well as some eerie pieces that adds to the drama of the film.

The casting by Simone Reynolds is amazing as it features early film appearances from such future figures in British cinema like Dexter Fletcher as a kid watching Shand’s car, Paul Barber as an informant Shand confronts, Kevin McNally as a man in a Belfast bar, Karl Howman as Parky’s associate, Gillian Taylforth as a young woman who makes a chilling discovery, and Pierce Brosnan in his very first film role as an Irish hitman. Other notable small roles include Stephen Davies as Charlie’s lawyer Tony, P.H. Moriarty as Shand’s brutish hitman Razors, Bryan Marshall as councilman named Harris, Paul Freeman as Shand’s best friend Colin who gets killed early in the film, Dave King as the police official Parky, and Derek Thompson as Shand’s right-hand man Jeff who eventually reveals the kind of trouble that Shand is dealing with.

Eddie Constantine is great as the American gangster Charlie who knows more than what is going on as he becomes reluctant to do business with Shand over the incidents that’s been happening. Helen Mirren is fantastic as Shand’s mistress Victoria who deals with some of the chaos that is happening as she tries to keep the business going while keeping Shand in check as it’s a very captivating performance for a role that could’ve been conventional. Finally, there’s Bob Hoskins in his breakthrough performance as Harold Shand as an old-school gangster who attempts to go legit only to unravel by various incidents as he tries to hold on to the old ways in a world that’s changing. It’s a performance that allows Hoskins to be tough but also vulnerable as it’s a very mesmerizing performance from Hoskins.

The Long Good Friday is a remarkable crime thriller from John Mackenzie featuring incredible performances from Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren. The film isn’t just an intriguing gangster film but also a study into changing times as it revolves around a gangster’s empire crumbling by these changes. Notably as it involves enemies that are coming from a different world with different ideas making things difficult for the old world order. In the end, The Long Good Friday is an exhilarating film from John Mackenzie.

© thevoid99 2013

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Blind Spot 2013: Mona Lisa

Directed by Neil Jordan and written by Jordan and David Leland, Mona Lisa is the story of a small-time criminal who becomes a driver for a high-class prostitute only to be entangled into a dark underworld involving the sex trade. The film is an exploration into a man trying to do the right thing when he realizes he is a new world as he tries to help a prostitute find someone. Starring Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Robbie Coltrane, and Michael Caine. Mona Lisa is a gripping yet evocative film from Neil Jordan.

What happens to a former criminal who takes a job as a driver for a high-class prostitute for his boss only to enter this dark underworld involving the sex trade? That is the premise of the film as it revolves around this man named George (Bob Hoskins) who returns from a seven-year prison stay seeking redemption as well as compensation for doing his time for his former mob boss Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine). Mortwell gives him this job as a driver for a hooker named Simone (Cathy Tyson) where the two become friends as she asks George to help find a friend of hers whom she believes has gotten herself into serious trouble. George does what Simone asks only to go very deep into this dark underworld where it involves Mortwell trying to legitimize himself through the sex trade that also involves drugs forcing George to do what he feels is right.

The screenplay by Neil Jordan and David Leland is quite complex in not just the exploration of prostitution and this underworld that includes that along with other aspects of the sex trade. It goes very deep into that world where it is controlled by this mob boss who is seeking legitimacy by using prostitutes to service men who have power. Men like politicians or movers-and-shakers that Mortwell wants to take part in so he can have money, power, and respectability so he wouldn’t be in trouble with the police. For a man like George, it’s a world he doesn’t know very much about as he is more interested in making a living and not get in trouble while trying to re-establish a relationship with his daughter Jeannie (Zoe Nathenson) whom he hadn’t seen since going to prison. Upon working for Simone, George learns what he has to do as a chauffer as well as dressing like one where he learns about what kind of work Simone does.

Simone is an interesting individual who is a prostitute that is willing to service men of power for lots of money but there are things that she does that do become questionable as Mortwell asks George to find out the things she’s doing. Yet, she knows about the sex underworld that is prevalent in London as they always drive through the bridge above King’s Cross that is filled with young hookers and all sorts of seedy people. By asking George to find one of her friends whom she believes is dealing with the worst sort of people, George goes inside as he makes some unsettling discoveries. Yet, he finds himself drawn to Simone as he tries to ensure her a world of hope but things eventually become more complicated as Mortwell gets involved.

Neil Jordan’s direction is very engaging for the way he explores the world of London’s sex shops and its connection to the world of the rich-and-powerful. Notably as he shoots it on location in London where it is a world that is unique but also very seedy in some of the areas like the King’s Cross bridge or some of the streets in London. The direction is also filled with these array of mesmerizing images of the way some of the hotels that George and Simone frequent to or other locations such as Brighton late in the film. The camera is often moving in several scenes such as a montage of George walking through the sex shops, peep shows, and other places in London trying to find this mysterious young woman.

The direction also has a moment of intimacy in some of the scenes between George and Simone where Jordan uses some close-ups and medium shots to express their growing friendship that also has a hint of romance. Jordan infuses a lot of genres into this story though it’s mainly a suspense-drama with bits of humor and adventure. Yet, he also tries to create something that is unsettling where George and Simone are aware they’re in trouble as it does involve some chilling moments of violence. Even as it features this climax involving Mortwell where a lot of revelations occur but also some moments that would prove to disheartening for George. Overall, Jordan crafts a very powerful yet fascinating film about a man’s willingness to do the right thing and find redemption.

Cinematographer Roger Pratt does brilliant work with the film‘s photography from the look of many of the film‘s daytime exteriors and interiors in London to some of the stylish lighting schemes for scenes at night or at the garage owned by George‘s friend Thomas. Editor Lesley Walker does excellent work with the editing by creating a wonderful montage of George trekking through the sex underworld as well some stylish cuts in some of the film‘s suspenseful moments. Production designer Jamie Leonard and art director Gemma Jackson do terrific work with the look of some of the peep shows and sex shops that George treks through as well as the garage that Thomas lives in.

Costume designer Louise Frogley does wonderful work with the costumes from the classy dresses and lingerie that Simone wears to the suits that George wears that allows him to fit in with the world of the rich. Sound editor Jonathan Bates does nice work with the sound from the way some of the sex shops sound like to the more intimate yet layered work in the posh hotels as well as the crazier moments in the London streets.

The film’s music by Michael Kamen is superb as it is a mixture of serene orchestration along with some suspense in the strings as well as some eerie electronic cuts to play out some of the dark elements of the film. The rest of the music is largely based on the works of two artists in Nat “King” Cole and Genesis. The former has two songs that play to George’s yearning for the old ways as well as his attraction towards Simone in When I Fall in Love and the title track. In the latter, the Genesis ballad In Too Deep is featured in a montage of George trekking into the sex underworld as it plays to his own emotions and loneliness as the music is a major highlight of the film.

The casting by Susie Figgis is amazing as it features a brilliant ensemble cast that includes some notable small roles from Joe Brown as an associate of Mortwell in Dudley, Sammi Davis as a young hooker named May, Katie Hardie as the woman George is trying to find for Simone, Clarke Peters as a brutish pimp named Anderson, and Zoe Nathenson as George’s daughter Jeannie whom George is trying to reconnect with. Robbie Coltrane is great as George’s friend Thomas who tries to piece out all of the things George is going through while helping him out a bit. Michael Caine is brilliant as the devious Denny Mortwell as a man who wants to ensure that George is doing well though the things he does are very seedy as it is one of Caine’s finest performances.

Cathy Tyson is excellent as Simone as she displays an air of class to her role as well as a grittiness that is just captivating to watch as a woman who knows how to navigate to the scenes while being very troubled by some of the circumstances that occur. Finally, there’s Bob Hoskins in a magnificent performance as George. Hoskins display that sense of working class ethics and naivete while becoming more refined in his choice of clothes while showing a sensitivity to his role as a man who is really determined to find Simone’s friend while being a friend to Simone as it’s one of Hoskin’s greatest performances.

Mona Lisa is an outstanding film from Neil Jordan that features a riveting performance from Bob Hoskins. Along with brilliant supporting work from Cathy Tyson, Robbie Coltrane, and Michael Caine. The film is definitely one of the great films of British cinema as well as one of Neil Jordan’s finest works. It’s also an intriguing study of a man trying to help someone and seek redemption for some of his past actions. In the end, Mona Lisa is a tremendous film from Neil Jordan.

Neil Jordan Films: (Angel (1982 film)) - (The Company of Wolves) - (High Spirits) - (We’re No Angels) - (The Miracle (1991 film)) - (The Crying Game) - (Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles) - (Michael Collins) - (The Butcher Boy) - (In Dreams) - (The End of the Affair) - (The Good Thief) - (Breakfast on Pluto) - (The Brave One) - (Ondine) - (Byzantium)

© thevoid99 2013

Friday, February 22, 2013

Summer Hours

Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, L’Heure d’ete (Summer Hours) is the story of a group of adult siblings pondering what to do with their childhood home following the death of their mother. The film is an exploration into family and nostalgia as well as taking the next step in the aftermath of death. Starring Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier, and Edith Scob. L’Heure d’ete is a ravishing yet captivating film from Olivier Assayas.

The film is about the life of a family that involves this woman who has been taking care of the artwork of her uncle as she tells her eldest son about what to do with her estate and the artwork once she passes away. When she does pass, three siblings have to figure out what to do with their mother’s home as well as all of the artwork she’s been taking care of. Yet, two of the younger siblings have news that would force their eldest brother to make drastic decisions about what to do with the home as it would involve a lot of uneasy decisions. Some of which would see that some of the artwork and objects would be available for the world to see but would also leave some sad reminders of the world they once lived in.

Olivier Assayas’ screenplay does have play to a traditional structure where the first act is about the family’s time with their mother Helene (Edith Scob) as they visit her in this beautiful summer home with their children who definitely love the place. Yet, Helene knows she will pass on soon as she leaves a lot of the responsibility to her eldest son Frederic (Charles Berling) who is definitely more attached to the home as he is also the one sibling who still lives in France. While his younger siblings in Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) and Jeremie (Jeremie Renier) also have feelings for the house. They have no use for it as both of them live outside of France as they also have jobs that will prevent them from being involved fully with what to do with some of the objects in their mother’s home.

Helene definitely anticipated this as Frederic would make decisions about what to do with his great-uncle’s artwork as some of it would be uneasy as he also wants to do something for his mother’s longtime caretaker Eloise (Isabelle Sadoyan). It’s not just that the siblings are having issues with what to do with all of these objects as some of them have very sentimental value that they want to keep. Yet, they do need the money as both Adrienne and Jeremie have jobs that will require them to live a certain way as neither of them stay in France very much while Jeremie also has children to take care of. For Frederic, losing this home hits him the hardest as he hopes to pass it on to his teenage children who adore the place.

Assayas’ direction is very entrancing for the way he presents the life of a family dealing with death and the end of something. While a lot of the direction doesn’t go for any kind of style. It is still entrancing for the intimacy that is portrayed in family life as Assayas moves the camera around a bit with wide shots or in medium shots. Yet, Assayas does find ways to create something that does look like a painting in some of the framing while a lot of the scenes at Helene’s summer home are exquisite and naturalistic in comparison to the scenes set in Paris. The direction in the scenes in Paris are much more controlled but also have that air of intimacy. Even as features moments that are quite melancholic as it would also involve moments with Eloise who is really a part of the house. The film does feature a somber ending as it relates to the home as well as the freedom that it has for those who are there. Overall, Assayas creates a touching yet heartfelt drama about a family dealing with loss.

Cinematographer Eric Gautier does brilliant work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography from the very naturalistic yet gorgeous look of the film‘s summertime exteriors in the estate to the more intimate yet lush settings of some of the film‘s interior scenes. Editor Luc Barnier does excellent work with the editing by using some rhythmic jump-cuts for some scenes as well as fade-outs to help flesh out the film‘s structure. Art director Fanny Stauff and set decorator Sandrine Mauvezin do amazing work with the look of Helene‘s home as well as the more modern look in Frederic‘s home. Sound editors Nicolas Cantin and Olivier Goinard do fantastic work with the sound to capture the intimate atmosphere in the scenes at Helene’s home in contrast to the loudness of city life.

The casting by Antoinette Boulat is superb for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small performances from Kyle Eastwood as Adrienne’s American boyfriend James, Emile Berling and Alice de Lencquesaing as Frederic’s teenage kids in Pierre and Sylvie, Valerie Bonneton as Jeremie’s wife, Dominique Reymond as Frederic’s wife, and Isabelle Sadoyan as Helene’s longtime caretaker Eloise who Frederic sees as part of the family. Edith Scob is wonderful as Helene as this old woman who seems to have lived a full life while knowing what will happen to her as she tries to ensure Frederic about what to do.

Jeremie Renier is excellent as the youngest sibling Jeremie as he tries to instill his ideas about what to do with the house while admitting that he needed the money as he’s set to move to China to work. Juliette Binoche is great as Adrienne as the middle child who is always moving around as she tries to help Frederic with handling the estate as well as deal with her own changes in life. Finally, there’s Charles Berling in a terrific performance as Frederic as he deals with his mother’s estate while becoming melancholic over what he might be losing as it starts to affect him greatly while he also ponders about what will happen to some of these personal objects that his mother has been holding for years.

L’Heure d’ete is a remarkable film from Olivier Assayas. Featuring superb performances from Charles Berling, Juliette Binoche, Jeremie Renier, and Edith Scob. The film is a truly heartfelt yet mesmerizing drama about loss and the shadows that are left by the previous generation. It’s also a film about family as well as the bonds that siblings try to make as well as preserve something that their children can cherish for years to come. In the end, L’Heure de’ete is an extraordinarily rich film from Olivier Assayas.

Olivier Assayas Film: (Disorder) - (Winter’s Child) - (Paris Awakens) - (A New Life) - (Cold Water) - (Irma Vep) - (Late August, Early September) - (Sentimental Destinies) - (Demonlover) - Clean - (Boarding Gate) - Carlos - (Something in the Air) - Clouds of Sils Maria - Personal Shopper

© thevoid99 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Taxi Driver

Directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader, Taxi Driver is the story of a former U.S. marine who has become a taxi driver in New York City. Alienated by his surroundings and unable to connect, he decides to plot an assassination against a political candidate while he befriends a 12-year old hooker as he wonders what to do. The film is an exploration into a man dealing with his isolation and the world he’s surrounded by as he tries to connect while becoming unhinged by what’s happening around him. Starring Robert de Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, and Peter Boyle. Taxi Driver is a dark yet mesmerizing film from Martin Scorsese.

The film is about this lonely man who works as a taxi driver in New York City as he is troubled by what goes on in the city. Unable to connect with people as he makes various attempts that fail. He starts to go mad as he hopes to kill a famed political candidate in order to get some attention as he is also intrigued by a 12-year old prostitute who he hopes to help. In this journey that Travis Bickle (Robert de Niro) ventures into, it’s the story of this lonely man who feels isolated by the world around him as he’s just trying to make a living yet is troubled by his surroundings. He does descend into madness after a date with a campaign volunteer in Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) doesn’t go well due to his lack of social skills. There, he turns into dark and violent thoughts while wanting to help this young hooker named Iris (Jodie Foster) so she can return home and stay away from this dark world that includes a pimp named Sport (Harvey Keitel).

Paul Schrader’s screenplay explores a man’s isolation and his descent as he finds himself dealing with the chaos that he’s in. Yet, there is a semblance of humanity in Travis Bickle as he tries whatever it takes to connect with people as he often confides in another cab driver named Wizard (Peter Boyle). Still, his attempts are often misguided when he takes Betsy on a date by going to a porn theater. It’s not just that Bickle has poor social skills, it’s just that he is in a world that is in ruins and some of the passengers he meets are very despicable people including Sport whom he treats Iris like a father figure and a lover. Driven by this sense of isolation and the duty to wanting to set things right. He decides to go after this political candidate named Palantine (Leonard Harris) in order to bring things back to balance but things eventually become complicated. With Iris’ troubles, Bickle offers to help her out but she is unsure if she wants to come home as it gives Bickle a reason to do something.

Schrader’s script is very layered in terms of its presentation as it features a lot of voice-over narration to reflect on Bickle’s isolation and paranoia as he would state things like “I’m God’s lonely man”. There’s elements of film noir in the narration and in the narrative of the script but there’s also a bit of plot schematics of the western that is involved. A lot of which had to do with Bickle playing cowboy in order to save Iris from this dark and seedy world. Yet, in the wake of what Bickle might do. There comes a lot of questions about the aftermath whether Bickle has become better for his actions or has it made him worse.

Martin Scorsese’s direction is very entrancing for the way he explores a man’s isolation set in mid-1970s New York City where it’s a place that is truly troubled by its decay. Notably as he uses a lot of unique framing devices and stylish presentation to convey this sense of isolation and intimacy that is present in the mind of Travis Bickle. With the use of slow-motion camera shots that would either convey a desire that Bickle wants or to establish his descent. There is something in the film’s direction where Scorsese that is unsettling yet very hypnotic in the way he slowly goes for a close-up and to play out Bickle’s madness. Even in one of the film’s most famous moments in which Bickle talks to himself in a mirror and say “you’re talking to me” as it shows Bickle ready to take on the world.

While Scorsese also presents some moments of intimacy in the way Bickle interacts with various characters in some medium shots or in close-ups. Some of it is shown with simplicity but there are moments where it adds a mood to the film as it maintains Bickle’s slow descent. By the third act where Bickle gets ready to kill Palantine, there is that element of suspense of whether Bickle will do something but there is also that sense of trouble where he might just back off. Then there’s the film’s violence where it is very stylized not just in the way Scorsese presents the action but also its impact as it is very disturbing in the way blood looked and such. Overall, Scorsese crafts a very gripping yet visceral film about madness and isolation.

Cinematographer Michael Chapman does amazing work with the film‘s very grimy cinematography from the eerie nighttime look of the city to some of the more haunting interior colors in some scenes set at night. Editors Marcia Lucas, Tom Rolf, and Melvin Shapiro do great work with the editing as it plays an air of style with its jump-cuts and various rhythms to play out the sense of action that occurs throughout the film. Art director Charles Rosen and set decorator Herbert F. Milligan do terrific work with the look of Bickle’s apartment to establish his personality as well as the more colorful look of Iris’ room.

Costume designer Ruth Morley does excellent work with the costumes from the clothes that Iris wears when she works to the stylish clothes of Betsy. Sound mixer Les Lazarowitz does nice work with the sound to capture the chaos of many of the film‘s exterior setting as well as some of the tense moments inside the cab. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is truly ravishing for the sense of melancholia that is played in its jazz-based score filled saxophone and jazz scales to capture that sense of decay where it’s seductive but also disturbing as it’s one of Herrmann’s best scores.

The casting by Juliet Taylor is brilliant as it features some wonderful small performances from director Martin Scorsese as a passenger wanting to kill his wife, Leonard Harris as the political candidate Palantine, Richard Higgs as a Secret Service agent, Steve Prince as a gun salesman, and Albert Brooks as a fellow co-worker of Betsy who provides some funny moments in the film. Peter Boyle is great as the veteran cabbie Wizard who provides a lot of insight and wisecracks about what it takes to be a great cab driver. Harvey Keitel is amazing as the pimp Sport as he brings a lot of charisma to a role that is very complex as he’s very fatherly to Iris while he has some very cool exchanges with de Niro. Cybill Shepherd is excellent as Betsy as this woman who is intrigued by Bickle but is also disturbed by his lack of social skills.

Jodie Foster is brilliant as the young prostitute Iris who is curious about why Bickle wants to save her as she is a young girl who is just very confused about what she’s doing as it’s very chilling yet sprawling performance for the actress who was only in her teens at the time. Finally, there’s Robert de Niro in an outstanding performance as Travis Bickle. In this role of a troubled cab driver, de Niro displays the sense of loneliness in his voiceover narration as well as an awkwardness to a man who is really struggling to connect as de Niro also provides a craziness to his performance as it’s definitely one of his best.

Taxi Driver is a magnificent film from Martin Scorsese that features a chilling yet fantastic performance from Robert de Niro. Along with strong supporting performances from Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, and Peter Boyle. It’s definitely one of Scorsese’s great films as well as one of the most eerie studies in isolation and madness thanks in part to Paul Schrader’s harrowing script. In the end, Taxi Driver is a tremendous film from Martin Scorsese.

Martin Scorsese Films: (Who’s That Knocking on My Door?) - (Street Scenes) - Boxcar Bertha - (Mean Streets) - Italianamerican - Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore - New York, New York - American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince - (The Last Waltz) - Raging Bull - The King of Comedy - After Hours - The Color of Money - The Last Temptation of Christ - New York Stories-Life Lessons - Goodfellas - Cape Fear (1991 film) - The Age of Innocence - (A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies) - (Casino) - (Kundun) - (My Voyage to Italy) - Bringing Out the Dead - (The Blues-Feel Like Going Home) - Gangs of New York - (The Aviator (2004 film)) - No Direction Home - The Departed - Shine a Light - Shutter Island - (A Letter to Elia) - (Public Speaking) - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Hugo - The Wolf of Wall Street - (The Fifty Year Argument) - Silence (2016 film) - (The Irishman) - Killers of the Flower Moon - (An Afternoon with SCTV)

© thevoid99 2013